Friday, August 13, 2010

I didn't like "Wicked Under the Covers" by Barbara Pierce.

I'm really surprised this book has so many 4 and 5 star reviews on Amazon. I was tempted to give it 2 stars but the writing is decent even if I didn't like the plot or the hero and didn't believe the way the heroine acted.

Fayre, the heroine, starts the book by sleeping with Lord Standish because she loves him and believes he loves her. Soon she discovers she is merely a pawn in a revenge plot by her father's ex-mistress. She is "ruined" but there seem to be few consequences other than not being invited some places and putting up with snide innuendo. What seems more unbelievable is that Lord Standish was free to go about trashing her reputation without any social consequences. Fayre asked her father and brother not to challenge Standish but it's hard to believe a duke wouldn't have some pressure to bear on Standish (directly or through his father) to get him to stop talking about her.

I really disliked the hero, Maccus. He has some characteristics of a good romantic hero -- rising from humble beginnings to become wealthy -- but he acts like a bully and a manipulator and I cannot tolerate that in a romantic hero. Knowing what happened to Fayre, he badgers her and treats her rather badly to get her to help him gain entry into society. If he had simply gotten an introduction and explained how his plan could benefit them both, it would have made sense. But he grabs her out of her carriage at the park and basically acts like a jerk around her. Despite this, Fayre agrees to his plan and then proceeds to act in a way that makes no sense for someone trying to overcome social ruin. She starts meeting Maccus regularly at his house for lessons on how to fit into society. (One would think a family with a ruined daughter would keep closer watch on her so this wouldn't happen.) Meanwhile, Maccus is all over Fayre physically with no consideration for her reputation. Some readers might consider him a handsome rogue but it wasn 't romantic or heroic to me. He came off as a jerk and bully. And with no thought to how badly sleeping with Standish turned out for her, Fayre gets physically involved with Maccus. She is supposed to be a smart and spunky heroine but she came across to me as careless and foolish, which didn't make sense considering the social position she was in. And that's even given the romance genre where young innocent women are overcome with passion and sleep with men to whom they are not married or betrothed.

I see there are other books in the series about the Carlisle family: "Sinful Between the Sheets (Carlisle Family, Book 2)" and "Naughty by Nature (Carlisle Family, Book 3)." I won't be reading them.

I bought this book at a library book sale.  At least I didn't pay full price for it.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

"Betrayed" by Robert K. Tanenbaum (4 stars)

I've been reading this series since the beginning and had not enjoyed the more recent entries as much because they had stopped being true legal thrillers and were more like terrorist thrillers starring the Karp family. This novel is a throwback to the classic early Butch Karp novels where the criminal case is the star of the book.

This book is the culimination to a series within the series with some related bad guys over the last several books. To follow the players, you should at least have read Capture (Butch Karp Thrillers) and probably should read Escape, Malice and Absolute Rage. These books all have the Karp family and friends involved in foiling terrorist plots against New York.

I think the series was at its best in the first 15 novels where Michael Gruber was involved in the writing and the stories were more courtroom oriented. In the last 5-6 books, the focus came away from the courtroom and weren't as interesting to me.

For that reason, I enjoyed this book much more than the previous several. If you loved all the terrorist plots and shootouts and Lucy in danger and are bored with the courtroom drama, you may be disappointed in this book. This book follows directly after "Capture" with the prosecution of Imam Sharif Jabbar for the murder of a young woman that occurred in the previous book. The characters don't face a new terrorist threat, although Nadya Molovo is still on the loose and is a threat to Karp's witnesses and family. Nearly all the action involving Karp takes place while preparing for and conducting the criminal trial of Jabbar. Marlene has her own legal work as Dirty Warren is charged with murder.

Because this book is centered on the criminal trial, many of the characters readers have grown to love from the series are not involved. Lucy, the twins, and Tran are just briefly mentioned. Jojola is a witness in the trial. Guma, Newberry and Espey Jaxon make brief appearances. That's one of the sad parts of the book being centered on the trial -- there's no reason for most of the characters to be involved in the story.

I enjoyed this book much more than the several books coming before it. It was almost a return to the kind of stories from the early part of the series. But I enjoy courtroom drama. If you enjoyed the thrills of the terrorist plots of the recent books and don't care for courtroom drama, you may not like this book as much. There are many good writers of terrorist thrillers. I enjoy when a lawyer tells a good courtroom drama so I thank the author for this throwback to the good old days of the Butch Karp series.

I got this book from the library.  Support your local library!

"Insatiable" by Meg Cabot. So-so vampire novel

Having read several other books by Meg Cabot, I had expectations of what this book would be like. It did not live up to those expectations. It was just so so for me but fans of vampire fiction might enjoy it more.

I'm not a fan of the dark and broody kind of vampire novels: I prefer my vampire novels to have a sense of humor. The two series I read are the Queen Betsy series by MaryJanice Davidson and the Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris (though both are getting a little too serious lately).

Although thankfully this book is not the dark and broody type, it also wasn't as humorous as I expected and it wasn't particularly romantic. The main character is Meena, a human who can sense when and how people are going to die. She writes for a soap opera and is a fairly likeable heroine. Her vampire love interest is Lucian, the prince of vampires. I never got a strong feeling for Lucian's character. For me, he was sort of just there like really handsome furniture. I didn't feel the love that Meena and Lucian expressed for each other, in part because they only had two dates. A love rival for Lucian is Alaric Wulf, a vampire hunter. His character pretty much annoyed me (and Meena) until some heroic action near the end of the book. Thes rest of the characters were Meena's brother Jon, her best friend Leisha, various co-workers, and her next door neighbors who are related to Lucian.

If you are a huge vampire fiction fan, you might like this. From the ending it looks like the author may have intended this to be the start of a series. If she continues it, I hope the rest of the series improves.

I got this book from the library.  Glad I didn't spend money on it!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

"Daring a Duke" by Claudia Dain

I had read one of the earlier installments in the author's Courtesan series ("How to Dazzle a Duke (The Courtesan Series)") and thought it was OK. Had I read this book first, I don't think I'd have picked up another. It wasn't very romantic and generally disappointed me.

The first point about this book will be a plus for some readers and a complete turn-off for others: there are no sex scenes. The most the couple does is one make-out session. So if you hate sex scenes, you'll like that and if you want your romances steamy, it's another reason to avoid this one.

This book follows shortly after "How to Dazzle a Duke" and most of the action takes place at the wedding of the hero and heroine of that book. The time frame is one of the biggest flaws of the book for me. A one-day romance doesn't feel romantic to me. I want my hero and heroine to get to know each other and to feel love build over the course of the book. By the end of the book, I wasn't convinced the couple even liked each other much less were in love.

Not only did I not think the couple liked each other, I didn't really like them. The heroine Jane Elliott was immature and often thoughtless or rude. The hero didn't seem to have much personality at all and decided he had "fallen in love" just by looking at the heroine.

And finally, there was too much other distraction going on with minor characters flirting with and trying to set up seductions with other minor characters. They may turn into the main characters of future books but their scenes took up pages that should have been used to create a hero and heroine the reader would cheer for and a relationship between the hero and heroine that feels romantic.

There are many better romances out there, even if you want one without steamy sex scenes. Mary Balogh's most recent Huxtable romance ("A Secret Affair") is a much better romance and also not very steamy.

I got this book from the library.  Support your local library!

"Chains of Ice" by Christina Dodd

This is not my favorite so far of The Chosen Ones series. Part of it is because the Chosen Ones group from the first two books is not in the first two-thirds of this book. John Powell and Genny Valente are completely new characters. Both have roots in the Gypsy Travel Agency and John had once been part of the Chosen Ones team.

Genny is not my ideal heroine because she lets others, her father in particular, bully or persuade her into doing things she doesn't want. Rather than follow her interests, she lets her father convince her to study pre-law undergrad, go to business school and take a job with a brokerage account firm. Her education is paid for under a contract that requires her to do a favor for her benefactors. For graduation her father gives her a dream trip to observe the Ural lynx but there is a catch. She is supposed to meet John Powell and convince him to come back to New York.

The largest part of the book takes place in Russia, the habitat of the lynx and where John Powell has come to hide since he left the Gypsy Travel Agency. I liked the way the romance started and developed. But after John believes Genny has lied to him, it got a little uncomfortable. There was a sex scene that started out in anger and with Genny unwilling and I just don't like those at all. And John used his gift to influence Genny re sex so that felt like sexual manipulation. That one small part was enough to reduce my enjoyment of the book. Ms. Dodd, this is the 21st century -- forced sex, even sex where the woman doesn't want it but the man pushes it until she is aroused, is not romantic.

The last third of the book takes place in New York with the whole Chosen One team. For people who haven't read the first two books ("Storm of Visions (Chosen Ones, Book 1)" and "Storm of Shadows (Chosen Ones, Book 2)"), the author includes a description of the Chosen Ones and their friends and enemies. So you don't need to have read the first two books to understand this one. I like the group aspect of the Chosen Ones series so the last third was my favorite part. The next book in the series ("Chains of Fire: The Chosen Ones") goes back to some of the familiar Chosen Ones and I am looking forward to that one.

I got this book from the library.  Support your local library!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

"Crashers" by Dana Haynes

I enjoyed reading "Crashers" but it wasn't my favorite thriller of the month, much less the year.   I'd give it 3 1/2 stars.

With a little introduction to set the stage, the book opens with a passenger jet crash. The reader knows (or can assume) it has something to do with one of the characters from the introduction. After the crash, the NTSB assembles a Go Team to investigate. The first person on the crash scene is technically not part of the team because he quit after an unsuccessful investigation. (The unsuccessful investigation gets mentioned by a number of different people on the Go Team. I found the repetition a bit tedious.) The Go Team ultimately has seven different people, each with a different specialty.

Interwoven in the investigation is a parallel plot involving an FBI agent, his (possibly) flaky informant, and a group of Irish terrorists.

With the number of people on the Go Team and the Irish terrorist side plot, I found the story a bit busy and near the end the "crashers" did some things that pushed my ability to suspend disbelief a little farther than necessary. Telling what it was would spoil the story for people who have a greater ability to suspend disbelief, but you will recognize it when it gets there.

This book was generally enjoyable to read but it wasn't a great thriller. It would make a good beach read.   I see on the author's web site that he is working on the sequel.  A second book would benefit from the introduction of the crash team in this book.

I received this book from Amazon Vine in exchange for writing a review.  My opinion is my own.

Friday, July 23, 2010

"Ten Things I Love About You" by Julia Quinn

I really enjoyed reading this book because the author made it more about the romance than the sex. A caution for those readers who want their romances steamy hot -- the hero and heroine don't have sex until almost the end of the book.

Annabel and Sebastian are fun and quirky characters and the author did a great job of building the story. Annabel feels pressured (by family financial circumstances) to marry an aging but wealthy earl who wants an heir to keep his nephew from inheriting the title. Sebastian is the nephew and doesn't know his uncle is interested in Annabel the first few times they meet. Without a sex scene every 10 pages or so, she uses the time to develop the characters and make their budding romance feel believable. This book is related to "What Happens in London" because Sebastian is related to Harry from that book and spends a lot of time with Harry and Olivia. The purple prose gothic novel from the earlier book also factors into the plot of this book.

This romance is sweet, fun and romantic but not very steamy. I liked it.

I borrowed this book from my local library.

"The Brazen Bride" by Stephanie Laurens

It's been awhile since I read the first two books in this series (The Untamed Bride (Black Cobra Quartet) and The Elusive Bride (The Black Cobra Quartet)) but I don't recall either of them being quite as steamy as this one was.

Linnet, the heroine, has sex with Logan before she even knows his name (and not just because he has amnesia and doesn't remember it himself) and while he is only semi-conscious. And when Logan regains consciousness and has regrets, she is the one to keep pushing them into ever steamier sexual encounters.   It was all a bit much for me.

I'm the first one to applaud a strong heroine in a romance but the character of Linnet felt like overkill to me. Between her various authority roles on the island and her sexual appetite, she was just too too much for me. And with all the pages dedicated to sex scenes, I felt like the sense of developing romance suffered a little.

There was another "relationship" in the book that had an incestuous "ick" factor. Saying anything more about it would spoil part of the plot, but you'll know it when you get to it.

I have enjoyed reading the series (though not nearly as much as the Cynster series or the Bastion Club series), but this was my least favorite so far. Probably my favorite part of this book was the "guest appearances" of a number of Cynster and Bastion Club characters.

I borrowed this book from my local library.

Friday, July 16, 2010

"Moscow Sting" by Alex Dryden 3 1/2 stars

This is the sequel to "Red to Black," which I had not read. You don't need to have read the first book to understand this one, but reading Moscow Sting likely will spoil the events of Red to Black. (For that matter, reading the plot summary of the second book probably spoils the first one.)

Anna is a former KGB colonel who defected to marry the British spy she was assigned to monitor. Her husband was killed by the KGB before the opening of the book and she is in hiding with her young son. The British, Americans and Russians all want her because they believe she is the only one who knows the identity of "Mikhail," who provided her late husband with Russian intelligence. An American private intelligence company gets to her first and a significant portion of the book involves the process of working her to disclose his identity and contact him to make him an American intelligence asset.

This book was OK for me but it didn't have the suspenseful tension that makes for a truly compelling espionage novel. The author has filled it with a lot of information about the politics of the spy business -- the use of private intelligence companies, the KGB's control of Russian business enterprises, political "horse trading" between the countries. But he tells it to the reader in a way that makes it just so many facts. (I'm assuming he has done the research to make it accurate.) Another thing that made the book less exciting is that it felt fairly believable. The Americans holding Anna didn't torture or drug her to get the information -- they interviewed her. Endlessly. And, with one exception, there aren't gun battles or wild chase scenes.

Believable action scenes that would be too tame for the typical blockbuster spy movie need something more to draw the reader in -- an emotional tie to the character. This book has so many different characters and points of view that it is difficult to get emotionally involved with any of them. Anna is the obvious center of the book but the author puts in too much extra stuff -- a subplot involving an assassin named Lars was an unnecessary distraction from the central story -- and the connection with Anna suffers.

Finally, some of the details make little sense in the context of the story. Anna's handler suggests she take a gun to a meeting where she will be otherwise unprotected. Of all the handgun possibilities, she improbably requests a single shot pistol with a very long barrel to hide under her clothes. And unless this is covered in the earlier book, Anna is much more familiar with New York City than she should be.

Fans of the espionage genre who like a lot of information in the story and don't need page-turning action should enjoy this book. For me, I wanted action or emotional connection to the characters and didn't feel either one.

I received this book from the Amazon Vine program in exchange for writing a review.  My opinions are my own.

Monday, July 5, 2010

"Deception" by Jonathan Kellerman: 4 stars

I have to start by saying I enjoyed the book. I didn't love it but I enjoyed it. Even so, I didn't feel like I was reading an Alex Delaware novel -- at least not the kind Kellerman used to write. As I read this book, I felt that Delaware wasn't acting as a psychologist but more of a ridealong sidekick to Milo. Other than the periodic references to Robin and his French bulldog, I felt it could have any been another detective with Milo and the book would have been the same. Delaware even did internet searches that any rookie cop could have done.

As a basic detective mystery, I enjoyed it. The plot had plenty of twists and turns that kept me from guessing the killer. Just when you think it is one kind of murder mystery, things change and you start to think it is something else and then it changes again. That kept things interesting.

The book didn't have as strong a sense of place as previous novels in the series, but I did learn a new architectual term -- dingbat. When an apartment building was described as being a dingbat, I had to go online to see what kind of building that was -- and it must be a fairly California type because I've never seen anything like that in Minnesota.

I hope Kellerman brings back more psychological aspects to future books in the series, but at least it was an interesting and entertaining read.

I got this book from the library.  Support your local library!

"Deeper Than The Dead" by Tami Hoag: 3 1/2 stars

The "romance" in this book isn't a full-fledged romance but it is enough to distract a little from suspense part of the book. Without it, the book could have been a stronger period police procedural. "Period" because the book is set in 1985 and the science of crime fighting has come a long way in 25 years. As the author notes in the introduction, DNA is not yet a standard part of the investigation, fingerprint evidence is compared manually, not by computer, and the Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI is not yet popular enough to have its own TV show.

A series of murders in a small California town leads the police to suspect they may have a serial killer in their midst and they call the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit. There isn't enough evidence for the BSU to send a team but injured agent/profiler Vince Leone offers to go help on his own. His injury was distraction enough, the romance he starts with a local teacher pushed the distraction a little too far for me, and a troubled child brought it too close to soap opera to be a really good mystery. With the various other local detectives, I didn't get a strong enough feeling for any of the characters to really care about them.

I thought the killer's identity was telegraphed a little too much (though the author gives the reader a few obvious options); I like to be surprised and learn who it is along with the investigators. Even so, it was a pleasant summer hammock read.

There is a second book coming out later this winter, "Secrets to the Grave."  I will probably read that book just to see where the series is going but it won't be at the top of my reading list.

I got this book from the library.  Support your local library!

"Dead in the Family" by Charlaine Harris: 3 1/2 stars

I started reading this series long before the TV series and the main reason I liked it was because it wasn't the dark and broody kind of vampire story. There was humor and a lot more lightness. The last couple books have become so dark, I don't think I would have kept reading if the first books had been like this.

"Dead in the Family" picks up shortly after the ending of "Dead and Gone." If you haven't read that one, you probably should wait to read this book because it will spoil the ending of the earlier book. Even though the ending of Dead and Gone was pretty traumatic, there isn't much emotional continuity with this book -- new events come into play and dominate the story.

I don't want to say too much about the plot because I don't want to spoil it but on both the vampire and Were sides, the stuff that happens is dark and unhappy. And on the vampire front, it is pretty far out there with another historic figure as vampire. I think the idea of Bubba is hilarious. This particular vampire is just weird and icky.

I want more lightness and humor back in the stories. The TV series seems darker than the books on which they were based and I hope that is not steering the author away from the humor that was present in the earlier books. Sookie needs a break from the drama and, as a longtime fan of the series, I do too.

I got this book from the library.  Support your local library!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

"The Taking of Libbie, SD" by David Housewright

This is the 7th book in the McKenzie series of mystery thrillers and it is one of the most enjoyable, in part because it is such a change of pace for the character. The series starts with "Dead Boyfriends" but if you haven't been reading the series all along, this would be a very good place to jump in.

Rushmore McKenzie is a former cop who left the St. Paul police force so he could collect a multi-million dollar reward for catching an embezzler. He has a deep sense of justice and chivalry and keeps himself busy doing favors for friends. Up to now, all the books have been set in the Twin Cities area -- and many are set in St. Paul. I love Minnesota mysteries by Minnesota authors so I have enjoyed the whole series, even if the last couple books came a little close to being travelogues.

The reason this would be a good book to try and see if you like the series is that the people and places that fill the other books are present mostly by phone -- and even then only occasionally. So the reader doesn't have to know the emotional nature of the relationships. McKenzie is completely out of his comfort zone (and out of the Twin Cities) in this book. The book starts as intruders break into his home, kidnap him and drive him in the trunk of a car to a small town in South Dakota.

A con man has used McKenzie's name and character to swindle the town and they sent bounty hunters to bring him back. They soon realize McKenzie is not the con man and ask him to help them find him and their money. McKenzie is angry at the treatment he received but eventually decides to do this, as much to learn why the con man chose to impersonate him as to help the town.

This is one of my favorite of the series, even though it isn't set in Minnesota, because the focus of the story is on the people -- McKenzie and the people of Libbie, SD -- rather than on geographical landmarks. It was fun following along as McKenzie talks to people to see what he can learn about the imposter in order to find him. There is plenty of action as well -- McKenzie hates bullies and he comes in contact with a couple of them in this small town.

I enjoyed this book a lot and recommend it. If you read this one, you will want to read the rest of the series!

I got this book from the library.  Support your local library!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

"The Double Comfort Safari Club" by Andrew McCall Smith

Reading the books in this series is like visiting some distant relatives who are so relaxing to be around that you feel comfortable sitting down with them. After so many books the characters feel like old friends or family members and the descriptions of Botswana's landscape and people -- especially the traditional values loved by Precious Ramotswe -- are enjoyable to read.

The cases that come to the detective agency are not the usual mysteries but instead are often about human nature and are handled not with a gun or violence but a listening ear, a kind heart and a cup of tea. In this installment, there is a question of spousal infidelity, a man who has been taken advantage of by a scheming woman, and locating the unnamed beneficiary of a bequest. And a fiance's aunt who wants Mma Makutsi out of the picture.

Reading these books makes me happy.
I got this book from the library.

"Once A Spy" by Keith Thomson

What happens when a retired master spy gets Alzheimer’s? This is one of the most creative ideas for a spy novel I have seen. Charlie Clark has a bad relationship with his father and barely speaks to him. Charlie’s mother died when he was young. Charlie believes his father spent his entire career worked for a third-rate appliance company and resents all the things he missed in his childhood because of his father’s job and reluctance to do anything interesting. Now Charlie is a gambler in trouble with the Russian mob for his losses at the track and his father Drummond has memory loss problems.

Charlie gets a call to pick up his father who has wandered away from home and soon learns that nothing about his life is as he believed. Drummond’s job with the appliance company was a front: he spent his career as spy. The book is full of fast-moving action as Charlie and his father are running from people trying to kill them. Drummond alternates between confused forgetfulness and the skilled master spy he had been. And in between ducking bullets and trying to escape assassins, Charlie and Drummond rebuild their relationship.

I loved this book. The premise is creative and it was fun to read.

I got the book from the library.  Support your local library!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

"Bodily Harm" by Robert Dugoni

This is the second book I have read in the David Sloane series by Robert Dugoni. The plot stands alone but you will lose some character development/understanding if you haven’t read at least one of the earlier books in the series – I think there was more explanatory character background in "Wrongful Death" than in this book.

The plot of this book is almost more about revenge than about a legal case – it’s much darker emotionally than the earlier book – and that got in the way of the plot for me. I think the book would have been better if Sloane had been acting as a lawyer and not out of personal motivation, but that’s just my personal opinion. The other thing that bothered me is that some crucial plot points often didn’t seem plausible: that a wrongful death malpractice case went to trial before a toy was ready for market, that a manufacturer wouldn’t notice that toys sent out for market research came back broken (or that they’d notice the damage but not take any action), that a manufacturer would be highly secretive about a new product but send it out to individual homes for focus group testing (I’d expect focus group testing to be in a controlled environment), and mostly that safety concerns about a “bet the company” product would be treated so cavalierly.

Readers who like their legal thrillers to have plenty of thrills will appreciate this book – there is danger surrounding several of the characters and lots of action. I love legal thrillers and enjoyed this book despite my reservations so will continue to read this author, but it was not my favorite example of the genre.

Monday, May 3, 2010

"Plan B" by Pete Wilson is a "must read" when you hit hard times.

This book, as one might guess from the title, is about those times when our life doesn’t go the way we planned (and not in a positive direction) and we wonder why God allowed these bad things to happen to us. The author wrote it to help people in Plan B situations move past the feelings of crisis, see God in their circumstances, make peace with doubt, find hope, and learn how to find spiritual transformation out of shattered dreams.

I loved this book as much as I hated being in circumstances that made it essential reading for me. I feel like I have been in Plan B so long I’ve exhausted the alphabet letters for “plans” and am hitting Plan B for the second time. The day I received this book, I had gotten discouraging news about a job I really wanted (and thought could be the job God wanted for me). I sat down to read it and wept as I read because it addressed the discouragement and anxiety I was feeling about my situation.

There are a couple things you need to know about Plan B:

1. It is unabashedly Christian and Bible based. The author brings it back to God again and again.

2. There are no easy answers or magic pill. This isn’t a Christian version of “The Secret” and there is no secret promise in the Bible for you to pray and claim to get out of your Plan B circumstances. The author says he doesn’t know why these things happen, how long they’re going to last and if we will ever understand the reasons they did. But what he does do is turn our focus back to God.

For me, the most important parts in the beginning of the book were the descriptions of people in the Bible whose lives went into Plan B mode (David, Joseph, Job, Naomi, Mary & Martha) and how God was with them during those times. And about halfway through the book, the author turns the focus away from the devastating effect of Plan B events and toward God – what He did for us on the cross, the power and hope of the resurrection (and how God works in hopeless situations) and the transformation that can come from tragedy. It helped me and I expect I will re-read parts of it periodically until I get out of my Plan B situation.

If you are frustrated, discouraged, angry at God, anxious, or whatever emotion you might be feeling because your life isn’t going in the direction you expected, you should read this book.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for purposes of writing a review.  You can download sample chapters at: .

Monday, April 12, 2010

"Hell Gate" by Linda Fairstein -- legal thriller set in NYC

There are two things I really appreciate about the Alex Cooper series of books. First, each book highlights a feature of New York history and/or architecture. I lived in New York for several years and enjoy reading about buildings I know and buildings I never had the opportunity to visit. And with so many images available on the Internet, I can look up the things Ms. Fairstein describes in the books. This book features historic mansions, especially Gracie Mansion. The publishers included a map of Manhattan that noted several of the buildings discussed in the book which was very helpful. I hope they do that for future books as well. From glancing at other reviews of the book, I think my fondness for the history and historical places in New York may be a minority view.  Also, it's a picky thing but the water tower pictured in the cover art is not the one described in the book. If you spend so much time talking about New York landmarks and the cover art features something that seems like it is one of the sites in the book, it would seem logical to actually use a photo of the landmark that is part of the plot.

The second thing is a legal thriller with a female protagonist. These books re definitely in the thriller category (rather than being courtroom dramas) because little of the book is spent in court. Alex goes out investigating with Mercer and Chapman and gets into the thick of things and often ends up in danger. Mercer and Chapman still treat Alex a little bit protectively but in this book she isn't relegated to damsel in distress, which I also appreciate.

The plot involves human trafficking and women brought to this country with promises of good jobs but forced into prostitution. That can be tough stuff to read, but most of the cases in this series can be a little tough as Alex Cooper is head of the sex crimes division. This wasn't my favorite book of the series, and it probably is weaker than the earlier books in the series, but I definitely enjoyed it. There were plenty of suspects to consider and I didn't guess the ending ahead of time.

Although I enjoy the New York history, I think it would be good if the next books returned more to the courtroom or at least more to the crime than the setting.

I got this book from the library.  Support your local library!!!

"The Bone Thief" by Jefferson Bass

This book is partly a continuation of "Bones of Betrayal: A Body Farm Novel"; two fairly personal side stories to the main mystery in this book are directly related to the events in the earlier book. If you haven't read that book you should read it before reading this book, not because you need to have read "Bones of Betrayal" to understand this book but because reading this one will spoil the ending of the other one.

The main story in this book starts with what should be a routine exhumation, but the body is missing its arms and legs. The resulting investigation brings the FBI to Dr. Brockton with a request that he go undercover to help them get evidence against suppliers of black market body parts by appearing willing to sell bodies donated to the Body Farm for personal profit. The interesting aspect of this book is that it is not about Brockton solving a murder by studying the remains but instead about crimes involving the bodies. And Brockton's undercover work shows a different side to his personality. And there is thought-provoking information about the business of medical research and transplants. I thought the book was very enjoyable.

I also read the Kathy Reichs "Bones" book series and think if you enjoy that series, you will also enjoy this series. Brockton is a much different character than Temperance Brennan but they have the same professional background. And Brockton is the fictional counterpart of one of the authors -- the founder of the University of Tennessee's Body Farm.

I received this book from the Amazon Vine program for purposes of writing a review.

"Shoot to Thrill" by P.J. Tracy. The latest Monkeewrench book!

I had been waiting for this book for more than a year (OK, to be honest, I'd been waiting for it as soon as I finished "Snow Blind", which I read as soon as it came out because this is one of my favorite mystery series). Sometimes that much waiting can build expectations too high so I worried I'd be disappointed. I really liked this book but it isn't my favorite of the series, probably because a couple of my favorite characters didn't get as much "page time" in this book as they have in my favorites (which are "Monkeewrench" (the first book in the series) and "Dead Run" (Monkeewrench, No 3)). But even so, it was fun to read and a good addition to a series I love. I recommend it.

If you are new to the Monkeewrench series, you definitely should read "Monkeewrench" first. This story does stand on its own but you will miss a lot of the character background if you haven't read at least the first of the books. In particular, you will not fully understand Grace and why she is so fearful/careful. The authors give brief information on what has happened in the past but you don't get the full flavor of it. Plus, Monkeewrench is such a fun book, you really want to read it. I haven't yet mentioned the second book in the series, "Live Bait." It's another good one but it isn't necessary to read before the current book.

The book starts with a couple of murders. And then the FBI brings in a bunch of computer hackers to help them track down people who are posting homemade snuff films online. And of course if serious computer geeks are involved, the Monkeewrench crew has to be part of the action. The Monkeewrench group agrees to write some programs to help the FBI so Special Agent Smith moves into Harley Davidson's Summit Avenue Mansion and the rest of the crew stays there as well so they can work around the clock. Not too much later, Detectives Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth and various other members of the Minneapolis Police Department join the investigation.

A careful reader will figure out who is behind the murders before the characters in the book do, but that didn't spoil the fun for me. My only criticism (other than that Annie wasn't in the book enough) comes from one of the reasons I love the series so much: Minnesota geography. I love these books because they are mostly set in the Twin Cities where I live. The authors took some liberty with a couple of things that distracted me enough to pull my attention from what was happening in the story. It's a minor thing but it did bug me enough so that I will mention it to them when I get my book signed later this month. (And I'll ask them to give Annie a bigger part in their next book as well!)

The very end of the book was unexpected and it will be interesting to see how that affects future books in the series. (No spoilers from me; you'll have to read it yourself.)

Bottom line: This isn't meant to be great literature but it is well written and very enjoyable. I love the series so I think people should read all the books.

I received this book from the Amazon Vine program for purposes of writing a review.

Monday, April 5, 2010

"How to Dazzle a Duke" by Claudia Dain

I have not read any of Claudia Dain’s other romance but after reading this one, I am going to find and read the earlier books in the series.

This is a historical romance with a slightly different twist. Penelope has a much more 21st century sensibility than one might expect in a young lady of the period. She knows what she wants in a husband ( a duke or the heir apparent to a duke) and sets out a plan to get what she wants. In particular, Penelope wants to marry the Duke of Edenham. To achieve her goal, Penelope requests assistance from Lady Dalby who has managed several marriages in the current social season.

Not content to let Lady Dalby handle matters, Penelope charges ahead with her own plans to get Edenham to notice her. Part of those plans involve the Marquis of Iveston. Penelope has no interest in Iveston beyond her plans and Iveston’s interest in Penelope is based on her being the only young woman to not chase after him. After Lady Dalby and Penelope set their own plans in motion, things happen quickly and no one knows if Penelope will end up with Edenham or Iveston.

For me the romance happened too quickly to feel much connection with the characters. I would have preferred the action to have taken place over a longer period of time. But it was an enjoyable read and I intend to read other of the author’s novels. Readers who don’t care for a lot of graphic sex scenes will like this books. There are several “heavy petting” type scenes but the couple doesn’t have sex until after they have decided to marry and even then it is “off camera” rather than played out in detail in the book.

I got this book from the library.

"The Cinderella Deal" by Jennifer Crusie

This book is a reprint of a long out-of-print romance from 1996. The reprint is good news for fans of Jennifer Crusie because the original was hard to find and used copies were selling for a premium. It is also interesting to see how the author's style has changed over the years.

The introduction indicates that she wanted to write a romance that was less about the humor and more about the emotions. Personally, the humor is what I like best about Crusie's books so I wasn't sure whether I would like this earlier novel as much. Crusie fans will be happy to know that even though this book concentrates more on emotions, there is not a lack of humor; it is just more subtle than in other of her books.

Daisy is an artist who (rather foolishly one might think given the present economy) quit her teaching job to paint full time but has not sold enough of her work to support herself. As the story opens, she has burned through her savings and is behind on her rent and in a financial pinch. In addition, she is not happy with either her life or her art. Daisy tells stories and wants to write herself a new one. Daisy's neighbor Linc has career success within grasp. All he needs to secure the job of his dreams is a pretend fiancée so he makes a deal with Daisy.

Daisy and Linc are wildly different in personal style but have a serious case of the hots for each other that they each assume is not reciprocated. Daisy is stereotypical artist, with a love of color, mismatched antique furniture and bohemian clothing. Linc loves black and chrome and track lighting. The plot gives the romance the chance to develop over a realistic period of time. And in contrast to the kind of romance where the couple has sex early and later fall in love, Crusie builds the sexual tension slowly along with the romance.

It isn't my favorite romance of all time (and not even my favorite Crusie romance), but I thought it was delightful.

I got this book from the library.  Support your local library!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"Solar" by Ian McEwan. Writing = 5 stars; story/main character = 1-2 stars. I didn't like it.

I never expected to dislike a book that has such wonderful writing; it makes writing this review very difficult. The short answer is that I loved the writing and didn‘t like the story and the main character. If the plot had matched the quality of the writing, I’d give the book 5 stars and if the writing had matched the plot, I’d give it 1-2 stars. So I’m splitting the difference and giving it a 3. If you are not already a serious fan of the author, this is not the book to start on. Ardent fans of McEwan should be aware that this book may test the limits of your loyalty to his work, depending on how you feel about the plot and the main character. If you like the plot, you will probably love this book and if you are a big fan of Ian McEwan, you may at least enjoy it more than I did. I’ll let you know what I hated about the story and you can decide if this is the book for you.

Writing: On the positive side, Ian McEwan writes lovely prose. Even though I hated the story, I often had to stop and savor particularly exquisite passages of writing. For some people this will be enough. For me it was not.

Story/Character: The main reason I didn’t like the story is that I really didn’t like the main character. Michael Beard has few, if any, redeeming characteristics. At the beginning of the book his fifth marriage is falling apart. His wife is openly cheating on him and has moved into a separate bedroom. The reader can’t feel sorry for Beard because he has cheated on all his wives, including the present one:  he had 11 affairs during their four-year marriage.

In addition to being serially unfaithful, Beard is lazy and resting on his professional laurels. He won the Nobel Prize years (decades) ago and coasts from one figurehead appointment to another without doing any actual work. His only new work, on solar energy, is not even original. He steals ideas he once ignored from a younger scientist. Lastly, Beard is a glutton. Reading about his excess eating can make a reader nauseous. I wondered if McEwan was trying to make a political statement by having Beard, with his gluttony and self-centeredness, represent contemporary industrialized society’s consumption of fossil fuels.

The professional reviews have commented on the comedic or farcical element of the book but I didn’t find it particularly humorous. It is mildly amusing when Beard gives a speech that is virtually all plagiarized material but he is accused of borrowing from urban legend the only true things he said. And I experienced schadenfreude when Beard’s misbehaving “member” gets frozen to his zipper in the Arctic during an ill-advised pit stop and he thinks it has frozen and snapped off.

I have read that some authors think that it is a good thing when readers hate a character because they have made you feel something. What it made me feel is that I would have put the book down and stopped reading it if I hadn’t received it specifically for the purpose of writing a review. All in all, I was really glad when I finished the book and will wait for reviews before deciding whether or not to read the author’s next one.

I received this book free from Amazon Vine for purposes of writing a review.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

"The Book of Spies" by Gayle Lynds: Entertaining, fast moving and action packed

From the book description:  For centuries, emperors, historians, and even the Vatican have tried to locate Ivan the Terrible’s magnificent Library of Gold — a long-missing archive containing gold-covered, bejeweled books dating all the way back to the ancient Greeks. Now one of the volumes, The Book of Spies, has surfaced, and along with it the highly secret book club that owns the Library of Gold. They form a cabal of the globe’s most powerful men – men who will do anything to achieve their aims and protect their interests.

This espionage thriller has tons of action and two lead characters that I liked and wanted to succeed. The female main character, Eva Blake, is not a professional spy; she's a museum rare book curator. As the book opens, Eva has been charged with causing the death of her husband while driving drunk. She pleads guilty and goes to jail. And then the book jumps ahead two years. Judd Ryder, the other main character, is also not a professional spy but has the training and background from his military service. Judd's father is killed in connection with reports of a legendary lost Library of Gold tied into possible terrorist actions and the CIA recruits him to investigate. They also arrange for a temporary prison leave for Eva to go with Judd.

Shortly after Eva and Judd arrive in London for an exhibit featuring The Book of Spies (rumored to be part of the Library of Gold), the action really heats up and soon Eva and Judd are running from hired killers across several countries and following clues to the location of the Library of Gold. Putting too much more in the review would spoil the plot; it is enough to say you won't be bored while reading this book and will have the chance to learn some interesting things. I enjoyed the interaction between Judd and Eva and that the author did not take the easy route of a romance between them to fill up the book. There were also a couple good villains for the reader to hate and hope for them to get what they deserve. As with many thrillers, the book often flirted with the line of believability and a few times crossed over. But the plot was so entertaining and the action so constant, that I found it easy to suspend my disbelief in most cases. The bottom line is that this is a very entertaining thriller on a subject not usually covered in the spy thriller genre.  I give it 4 1/2 stars.

I had not read any of the author's previous books. After reading this one, I am going to check out some of the earlier ones.

I received this book from the Amazon Vine program for purposes of writing a review.

Monday, March 15, 2010

I didn't care for "Back in Black" by Lori Foster

A couple preliminary things:

1. If you didn't like the "woo woo" (paranormal) factor in some of the author's recent books, you'll be happy to know this is completely down to earth.

2. If you like your romance novels steamy, this one fits the bill; there are two different couples tearing up the sheets.   If you value romance over sex scenes you should skip this one.  For me it was sex too much too soon and left no room for an actual romance to grow between the characters.

This book lost me near the beginning because I couldn't respect the heroine. Gillian is a PR expect hired to clean up Drew Black's image. Whether or not you think his image needs any help from prior books, that was her job and she intended to keep things professional because a success would give her the means to open her own business. But instead of acting like a professional, Gillian lets Drew talk her into sex almost right away because no one would find out. (And compounds the mistake by running outside his house wearing nothing but his shirt so now she is not only unprofessional but letting everyone know it.) Then later in the book she had the foolishness to feel offended because he treated her like a woman he was having sex with, not as a professional with a job to do. And we're also supposed to believe that even though Drew is falling in love with her without anything really to show it.

The second couple are Brett (a fighter) and Audrey (head of an organization protesting the SBC). Having two couples means there isn't time to build a real romance with either one. Basically they just have sex and decide they love each other without anything to show a developing relationship. It's like the book version of a reality dating show where the couple goes on a handful of dates and then expects the audience to believe they are in love and get engaged.

I think the story would have been stronger with just one couple and much more so if Gillian had acted like the professional she claimed to be and let the relationship grow into something before she made the decision to cross a line and sleep with him. I want more from a romance and expected more from this author.

I checked this book out from the library.  Support your local library!

Friday, March 12, 2010

"Fantasy in Death" by J.D. Robb is Fantastical!

I love this series and think I love it more each time a new book comes out! It's not great literature but the author writes a heck of an entertaining story.   If you are not familiar with the "In Death" series, it is a futuristic mystery series written by the romance author Nora Roberts under the pseudonym J.D. Robb.  Lt. Eve Dallas is a New York homicide cop in the mid/late 21st century.  This is the 30th full novel in the series and there are several novellas published in other collections.

This most recent entry in the Lt. Eve Dallas series is much more concentrated on the crime investigation than the last few. The down side for me is that few of Eve's friends (all of whom I love) make an appearance in this book. But the focus on the criminal investigation means it is a better place for readers new to the series to jump in than some of the more recent ones. I still recommend that you read the first book "Naked in Death" to see how Eve and Roarke meet but if you don't want to wait to read this book, I suggest a new reader find one of the In Death fan wikis to get the background information you will need to understand a lot of the references to the characters' past history. If the author tried to give enough background for new readers, it would take up too much of the book. As a long time reader I appreciate that she doesn't do that.

The victim is a major e-geek game designer and one of the co-founders of a computer and holo-game company. He is found beheaded in a locked holo-room in his home where he was playing his company's latest game under development, Fantastical. Because of the victim's business and the circumstances of the crime, the EDD unit and Rourke are heavily involved in Eve's and Peabody's investigation. I found the mystery in this book very interesting and enjoyed this book a lot.

The victim was friends with the other 3 co-founders of his company since childhood or college. Because of this, Eve does a lot of thinking about the nature of friendship during her investigation. If you have read the whole series (or at least several of the earlier books), you will appreciate how much Eve Dallas has grown emotionally over the length of the series. It is a nice touch and makes the character more interesting. There is a passage near the end where Eve really understands how Roarke must feel about her risking her life for her job that was very tender.

I checked this book out from the library.  Support your local library!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"Sweet Misfortune: A Novel" by Kevin Alan Milne is wholesome but just OK

Sophie was engaged to Garrett but he dumped her just before the wedding and refused to tell her why. Now Garrett has returned a year later and wants Sophie to go out with him so he can explain (and try to win her back). Sophie agrees if she gets 100 responses to a classified ad that show lasting happiness.

From the description, I expected a light-hearted romantic comedy but it is not. There is a lot of sadness in the book. Sophie has been carrying around a lot of hurt and guilt since she was 9 years old. Despite seeing a counselor in her childhood and everyone telling her it was not her fault, she still feels guilty.

The best thing I can say about this book is that it is G rated: you could give this book to your mother or your daughter or pretty much anyone and not worry about bad language or sex. According to the website, Center Street publishes “wholesome entertainment, helpful encouragement and books of traditional values.” This book fits their criteria: there are several scattered and general references to providence and/or God but not enough to bother someone who isn’t religious. I probably would have enjoyed it more if it had been an all-out Christian fiction novel with the characters turning to God for emotional and spiritual healing. But this is good for people who want the wholesomeness without the religion.

I think the author wanted to write something like a Nicholas Sparks-type book but it didn’t have enough of an emotional impact on me to fit into that category. This is partly because I didn’t like the two main characters enough to care about them but mostly because I didn’t believe the characters would act they way they did. And what bothered me most about the book is that the characters don’t grow emotionally over the course of the book. The ending isn’t the result of character development but some outside influence that felt like a cheap gimmick.

This isn’t a bad book and there will be many readers who enjoy it. But I didn’t think it was a very good book so I gave it a middling rating.

One more thought:  you can tell this book was written by a guy because there is all this talk about chocolate and not one recipe.  Who writes a book about making sweets these days without including at least one recipe?  Apparently guys do.

I received this book from Amazon Vine for purposes of writing a review.

"Eye of the Red Tsar" by Sam Eastland -- an engaging 4 star historical thriller

I enjoyed this book very much. I would have given it 5 stars but for one plot point that I could not believe (later on that – but no spoilers). But even with that, I would definitely read the next book in what I assume will become a series of Inspector Pekkala books (the next book comes out in 2011).

The main character is Pekkala. At the beginning of the book he is a prisoner in a Soviet labor camp assigned to mark trees for cutting; he has been there for nine years since the Tsar’s abdication. A young political officer (Kirov) comes to request his assistance in an investigation because Pekkala is a special prisoner: he was the Tsar’s legendary special investigator. Pekkala, along with Kirov and Pekkala’s estranged older brother Anton, is charged with investigating the murder of Tsar Nicholas and his family. He has a strong moral code without being a wimpy or goody-goody character and that makes him a very interesting character.

If you have a particular interest in or have studied the deaths of the Romanovs (I have not), you may have to give the author a fair amount of artistic license because the point of the book is Pekkala’s character and his investigation, not to be a novelization of historical facts. One thing marred my complete enjoyment of the book. Pekkala makes a mistake (I won’t say what or where in the book because it would spoil it) that is completely at odds with everything that has been written about him in the rest of the book. Nevertheless, it is a very enjoyable historical thriller. It will be interesting to see what investigations Pekkala does in future books.

I got this book from Amazon Vine for purposes of writing a review.

"Days of Gold" by Jude Devereaux is entertaining but not her best: 4 stars

I have been a fan of Jude Devereaux for many years and if this book had been written by another author, I might have given it only 3.5 stars but the 4th star is probably a very generous rounding up. Judged against Deveraux's best books (A Knight in Sning Armor for one), this is a 2 to 3 stars. Even thought it had some flaws, I enjoyed it.

This book is the second in the Edilean Series that started with Lavender Morning (Edilean). That wasn't my favorite of her books either but I always hope her new books will move me as much as her older ones. It starts in Scotland in 1770 and features the source of the name Edilean.

The beginning of the romance is really delightful. But right at the time the romance should kick it up a notch, a really unbelievable plot obstacle comes in and the rest of the book swerves past the limits of believability (even for a romance!). This interruption takes away from the depth of feeling the reader gets for the hero and heroine and as a result, it is a zero hankie ending. (This in contrast to some of the author's earlier books that had major tear-fest endings.)

I checked out this book from the library.  Support your local library!

"31 Bond Street: A Novel" by Ellen Horan -- a historical legal mystery

This enjoyable book is a little difficult to categorize. It is a historical novel but it is more about the murder and trial than about the period. It is a courtroom drama but in a legal system without the familiar rights and processes we see in modern legal thrillers. One of the jacket blurbs likened it to a combination of Caleb Carr and Scott Turow, which I think fits for the subject matter. (I don't think it is as good as The Alienist: A Novel.) I love legal mysteries and quite enjoyed the historical nature of the book. That it was set in one of my favorite cities, New York City, added to the enjoyment.

The story is based on an actual murder case from 1857 and several of the characters are based on the actual people involved in that case. The main characters are the suspect Emma Cunningham (a widow with two daughters and the "wife" of the victim), Henry Clinton her attorney and Dr. Burdell the victim. Important secondary characters are Emma's teenage daughters Augusta and Helen, Samuel (Burdell's driver), John (a young boy who does errands for Burdell), and Ambrose Wicken (a Southern gentleman who Emma wants as a suitor for Augusta).

The story starts with the discovery of the body and Clinton's early involvement in the case and the moves back to the beginning of the relationship between Dr. Burdell and Emma. The story continues by alternating chapters on the murder investigation and trial with chapters covering the lives and activities of the victim and suspect before the murder. Unlike modern legal thrillers, Clinton does not go looking for the real killer; his focus is on using evidence to prove that it is someone other than Emma. Also, this book is much more centered on the people involved than on the trial itself. As the book progresses, the reader will see a lot of motives for killing Dr. Burdell and wonder whether or not Emma is the killer or if Clinton will be able win her acquittal either way. Many parts of the ending came as a surprise to me.

Because of the focus of the book on Emma, I think women may enjoy this more than men, but I recommend it to anyone who enjoys either historical novels or legal novels. I think it would also be a good book for book clubs because there is plenty to discuss in it.

I got this book free from the Amazon Vine program for purposes of reviewing it.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"The Weed That Strings The Hangman's Bag: A Flavia De Luce Mystery" by Alan Bradley

A delightful mystery with a preternaturally precocious protagonist! This is the second in the Flavia De Luce series. I had started listening to the audiobook version of "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" before this book arrived and decided not to finish the first but just jump into the second. I probably missed some details of the family background but it did not limit my enjoyment of the book.

The setting is a small village in post-WW2 England and it is written in first  person narrated by the young protagonist. Flavia De Luce is 12 and the youngest of 3 sisters; their mother died when she was quite young. Her older sisters torment her as only older sisters can do – but even more so because their father is generally preoccupied with other things. Although Flavia is young, this is not a Nancy Drew-type mystery; it is definitely written more for adults than children. Flavia is a chemist (quite accomplished for one so young) and fascinated by poison and poisoners. She uses this knowledge against her sisters in particularly devious ways. She is outwardly polite to the adults she encounters but the politeness is often her cover to pump them for information.  She is particularly determined that the adults (the police in particular) are not going to keep her from solving the murder mystery.

There is a mystery wrapped up in the murder mystery and it was enjoyable to read about village life and learn “who done it.” Normally I prefer contemporary thrillers to period mysteries but I have become a fan of this series and will go back and finish the first book and wait patiently for the next in the series.

If you enjoy mysteries, put this series on your "must read" list.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"Blood Ties" by Kay Hooper; not my favorite Bishop/Special Crimes Unit book

I need to start this review with a caveat -- my feelings about this book may have been affected by something out of the control of the author. I got my book from the library and the person who had checked it out before must be a heavy smoker because the book reeked of cigarette smoke. That smell makes me sick so it might have contributed to a more negative reading experience than the book deserved.

The author did something new in this book that I have to applaud. After 12 books it can get a little difficult to remember all the various members of the SCU and Haven (not to mention their various special abilities) and what happened in the diffierent books. So Ms. Hooper did something to help us out: throughout the book there are footnote reminders of which book a referenced event or character was in and at the end of the book there are bios on the SCU agents and Haven operatives. I found this really helpful because it has been a long time since I read some of the books.

The footnotes and bios were especially helpful in this book because, unlike some of the other books in this series, most if not all of the SCU agents show up in one way or another in the course of this book. It is dictated primarily by the plot but it made the flow of the book less compelling than when there are just a few main characters. There aren't any new characters so that helps but it does spread out (and thin out) the emotional connection to the characters. I think the lack of focus on just a few characters (along with the smell) made this one of my less favorite books in the series.

This is the third book in the trilogy that starts with Blood Dreams (Bishop/Special Crimes Unit Novels) and Blood Sins: A Bishop/Special Crimes Unit Novel (Bishop/Special Crimes Unit: Blood Trilogy) so you should read those books before reading this one. If you start with this one, you will miss a lot of the references to what happened in those books.

The action in this book takes place in the small town of Serenade where several SCU agents have been called to investigate a grisly murder. They have been following what they believe to be a serial killer through various states and things escalate in Serenade. Although nearly all of the SCU agents appear at one point or another in this book, Quentin and Diana and Hollis and Reese are the central figures from an emotional perspective.

I don't want to give away any of the plot but if you thought Blood Sins completely ended the storyline, you'd be wrong.

As noted above, I checked out this book from the library.  Support your local library!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"Freedom(TM)" by Daniel Suarez is the exciting sequel to "Daemon"

If you have not read "Daemon" by Daniel Suarez, you have to stop and read it first. It is possible to read some sequels without having read the first book, but this is not one of them. The author jumps right into the story shortly after the end of "Daemon" and provides very little background information.

The first book was about the genesis of the Daemon and the shock of the terrible things it could do, it taking over systems and seeming to act like an all-powerful entity. In this book the Daemon has been spread worldwide and there is an established darknet community. People generally fall into three different categories: Daemon followers on the darknet, those who are unaware the Daemon exists (or who believe the cover story that it was a hoax), and those who want to either destroy the Daemon or find a way to use or corrupt it for their own economic benefit. There are several returning characters from the first book.

The scary part of Daemon for me was in wondering if someone could write a program that could do everything the Daemon did and react to threats as it did. The scary part of "Freedom" is the idea that our personal freedom could be at risk even in the United States. Some of the events in the book are right at the edge where "couldn't happen" meets "what if" and that makes the book more thought provoking than most thrillers. By the end I was just as conflicted as the main character who had to answer the question of whether the Daemon should be destroyed or not. (At the end of Daemon, I was convinced it was a completely evil program.)

I loved both Daemon and this book and definitely recommend them to anyone who wants an action-filled thought-provoking techno thriller.

I got this book from the library.  Support your local library!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

"The Breach" by Patrick Lewis is an exciting techno thriller

This book will keep you reading so intently you may miss your bus stop or stay up much later than you intend. It combines the usual action-filled chases and fight scenes you expect from a good thriller with a really interesting technology/science-type plot twist.

Travis Chase is an ex-cop and ex-con; he was in prison for 15 years and now trying to decide what to do next with his life. Out hiking in the Alaskan wilderness, he comes upon a downed 747 full of murder victims including the president's wife who has left a message for whoever finds them. He finds and rescues Paige, who draws him into a race to save the world.

I don't want to say more about the plot because that would spoil the thrills, but what they are dealing with doesn't seem all that farfetched given the concerns raised about what could happen from the large hadron collider. The twists and turns in the plot will keep you wondering until the very end. And when you get to the end, you will put the author's next Travis Chase novel "Ghost Country" on your wish list.

I checked this book out from the library.  Support your local library!

"Blonde With a Wand: A Babes on Brooms Novel" by Vicki Lewis Thompson

This is the first of the Babes on Brooms series from Vicki Lewis Thompson and it is charming and funny with lots of romance (and some hot sex scenes for those who want that) and not too much "woo woo" for a paranormal romance.

This book starts out with the two main characters heavy into lust with each other. Anica is a witch dating a nonmagic man, Jasper. She has not yet told him what she is and this date is looking like it might be "the" night so she has to make sure to tell him before they end up in bed. But before that happens, Anica and Jasper get into an argument. Jasper pushes Anica too far and in her anger she uses a spell that turns him into a cat. The problem is that this breaks one of the laws of her magic and she loses her powers and can't change him back. Not to mention that Jasper is furious and plans his revenge on Anica once he gets back to his real body. Although she feels terrible for what she did, Anica is still angry at Jasper over the reason for their argument and wants nothing to do with him after he returns to his human form.

Anica enlists her younger sister Lily to help her return Jasper to his normal self. They try various things that work temporarily and Jasper gets his human body back for short periods every evening. (It would be too creepy to have a romance where the hero is a cat the whole time, not to mention sex scenes with a cat would put this into a zoophilia or bestiality speciality category!) When Lily is unable to undo the spell, they call Ambrose and Dorcas from the author's earlier books Over Hexed (The Hex Series, Book 1), Wild & Hexy (The Hex Series, Book 2) and Casual Hex.

The romance in this book is really nice as Anica and Jasper develop feelings for each other stronger than the lust they had when the book started. The ending is particularly romantic.

If you are concerned about too much witchy spell casting stuff, this book is fairly light on that. There are a few spells cast (mostly goofy rhymes by Lily) and a potion made, but this is a romance primarily with not that much emphasis on the witchcraft. It is light and fluffy and not one of the paranormal romances that is heavy on the woo woo.

The next book in the series will be Chick with a Charm: A Babes On Brooms Novel (Babes-on-Brooms), which is about Anica's sister Lily. I'm definitely going to read that book.

I checked this book out from the library.  Support your local library!

A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh. 4 stars

This is a sweet and unexpected romance but too short for 5 stars.  If this romance were a little longer, I'd have given it 5 stars. But I think the length may have been dictated by the plot and it was lovely and sweet so I still recommend it.

This romance starts out like many others -- with an arranged marriage between two people who do not want an arranged marriage. Annabelle, daughter of an earl in need of a cash infusion, has been caught in the process of eloping with her father's groom. Now she is ruined and no one of her rank, much less one with the money her father needs, will offer for her. Reginald is the son of a man who made his fortune in the coal business but who cannot break into polite society no matter how he tries. Reginald has been educated as a gentleman and has picked up bad spending and gambling habits from his classmates. When Reginald's father learns that Annabelle, daughter of his snobbish neighbor, is ruined he goes to see the earl to arrange a marriage between their children. If Reginald does not marry Annabelle, he will be cut off from funds.

After this beginning one might expect the plot to go in a predictable fashion, but Mary Balogh is a master at changing up the expected romance plot and she does it again in this book. I won't give anything away to spoil the plot but what the author did with it was lovely. Those of you who want a steamy romance (i.e. lots of sex scenes) will be disappointed, but you should still give this book a chance. Readers who want romance first and foremost and don't really want steamy should definitely read this book.

I checked this book out from my local library.

Friday, February 5, 2010

"Think Twice" by Lisa Scottoline: 4 stars; enjoyable but not my favorite

This latest entry in Lisa Scottoline's series of books about the lawyers in Bennie Rosato's firm is a straight thriller, not a legal thriller. Very little of the action involves the law. It is not my favorite book in the series but it was still an enjoyable read.

If you are not familiar with this series, Bennie (Benedetto) Rosato is the partner in an all-women law firm in Philadelphia. Her associates are Mary DiNunzio and Judy Carrier. Mary's family plays a big role in this book and that is a big part of why I enjoyed the book. They are quite the characters. (I love that the dialogue for Mary's father -- who won't wear his hearing aid -- is in all caps so you know he's yelling.) Although it is not necessary to have read them to understand this book, Bennie first meets her twin sister Alice Connelly in "Mistaken Identity" and has another encounter with her in "Dead Ringer." If you haven't read the previous books, I highly recommend that you do.

This book starts with Bennie having dinner with Alice. Next thing she knows, she's been left for dead in a box. Meanwhile Alice impersonates Bennie so she can steal her money and leave the country. There is a plenty of action and a lot of plot "tricks" that allow Alice's deception to go unchallenged for longer than seems realistic. But half the fun of a thriller is allowing oneself to suspend disbelief and go along for the ride. I do hope Ms. Scottoline puts more of the "legal" back in her legal thrillers because I enjoy that genre and prefer the earlier books to this one.

I received this book free from Amazon as part of the Vine review program.

Monday, February 1, 2010

"Patched Together" by Brennan Manning Disappointed Me

Although "The Ragamuffin Gospel" had been on my "to be read" book for a long time, this was my first Brennan Manning book. My expectations were very high based on all I've heard about The Ragamuffin Gospel and, as a result, I was somewhat disappointed. (My disappointment increased after I started reading Ragamuffin Gospel.)  I would not recommend this unless you just want to read all of his books.

This "new" book is not entirely new. The first and sections previously were published as separate books about the story of Willie Juan. "Morning" is from his earlier out-of-print book "The Boy Who Cried Abba: A Parable of Trust and Acceptance" and is the story of a scarred and nearly friendless young boy who meets the Medicine Man aka the Man of Sorrows (Jesus) and learns about Abba's love. In "Noon," previously published as "The Journey of the Prodigal: A Parable of Sin and Redemption", Willie Juan is an adult who experiences fame, fortune, love, loss, and grief and forgets the Medicine Man but at the end re-experiences the love. The last section, "Twilight," is new for this book and completes the story of Willie Juan. The new part was the most difficult part for me to appreciate, partly because a miraculous event in the story was too distracting for me to find the parable meaning application.

I think there are a couple reasons why this book was disappointing. The first is that it is very much autobiographical to the author and that made it feel less applicable to me. Also, I often didn't understand the parable meaning of specific parts of the story. I don't know if the failure was in me or in the writing, but I didn't have an emotional or spiritual connection to the book except in a few places.  That being said, there are some lovely parts in the book, about God's love and forgiveness. I don't think this book will become as important as Ragamuffin Gospel but there are many people who will read it and remember how much God loves them and that will be a good thing.

After I read this book, I went back and started "The Ragamuffin Gospel."  Now I understand why people make such a big deal about Brennan Manning.  I'm not quite done with it, but now that I've read a good bit of it, I find "Patched Together" even more lacking.  I'll write about Ragamuffin Gospel when I'm done with it, but for now if you only read one Brennan Manning book, it should definitely be Ragamuffin Gospel.

I received Patched Together free from Amazon under the Vine review program.

"Bite Me: A Love Story" by Christopher Moore is twistedly hilarious!

If you loved "You Suck: A Love Story" and/or "Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story" (both by Christopher Moore, you definitely want to read this book. It continues the stories started in those books and is laugh out loud hilarious. If you haven't read either of those book, there are two things you need to know. First, if you look at the plot summary and think you'd rather avoid the whole teen girl angst and vampires scene, don't worry. This book is like the anti-Twilight. Second, you don't have to worry about missing important information; the first chapter of this book is a recap of the first two from the perspective of the main character Abby Normal. I was glad for the recap because it had been awhile since I read You Suck and was worried I had forgotten plot details. The story picks up right at the end of You Suck and goes off on crazy funny tangents.

My favorite character in "You Suck" was the skinny little Goth girl, Abigail von Normal, so I was excited she would be the main narrator of this book . Her "voice" is a combination of smart aleck Valley girl with a heavy dose of foul-mouthed snark plus pseudo-sophisticated Gothic romantic sensibilities blended into the usual teen girl body and self-esteem issues and rebellion against authority. I listened to the audio book of "You Suck," in which the narrator perfectly captured the essence of Abby, so her voice flowed along in my head as I read this one. It helps to be at least marginally familiar with internet and/or teen slang to know what she is saying. It also helps if you are not easily offended. Abby's snarkiness comes with a bit of a non-PC foul mouth and F-bombs are dropped by many of the characters.

Other returning characters are the young vampire lovers Tommy and Jody, officers Cavuto and Riviera, Abby's friend Jared, her boyfriend Foo, the Emperor of San Francisco, the Animals, and Chet the huge vampire cat. If you read [[ASIN:006056668X Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings (Today Show Book Club #25)]], you will recognize the Rastafarian fake Hawaiian Kona who makes an appearance later in this book as the captain of a vampire ship.

I laughed all through this book and was sorry when I got to the end. Even though the plot is completely over the top, the author makes you just want to jump in the river of craziness and go with the flow. You'd have to wonder what a dark and twisty place the author's brain must be to come up with this stuff, but you'll be too busy enjoying the result to care!

Friday, January 29, 2010

"The Disappeared" by M.R. Hall

Plot Summary: Still raw from an acrimonious divorce, former lawyer Jenny Cooper pops pills to control anxiety as she slowly adjusts to her new career as the coroner for the Severn Vale District, near Bristol, England, in Hall's solid U.S. debut. When a distraught mother asks Cooper to hold an inquest to declare her son legally dead, Cooper is hesitant to take the case. Nazim Jamal and a friend disappeared seven years earlier while at university and, according to the police, probably fled to Afghanistan to join al-Qaeda at the urging of a radical mosque. Nazim's mother is adamant her son was not an extremist. As Cooper's investigation broadens, she's met with resistance not only from the police but also MI5, who claim Nazim's disappearance may have national security implications.

There are a few things you need to know that will either help you decide whether to get this book or increase your understanding of it once you start to read.

The publishers compare it to a series that I don’t think it really fits. The book jacket starts out with the phrase: “In the bestselling tradition of Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta series….” I chose this book largely on the basis of that comparison and it is nothing like the Scarpetta series. The character Kay Scarpetta is (at least for most of the series) a medical examiner and is a forensic pathologist by training – the person who does the autopsies to determine the medico-legal cause of death. In the UK, a coroner is a judicial officer and must, like Jenny Cooper the protagonist of this book, be a lawyer. She has a pathologist to do the medical investigation.

So the first thing to know is that this book is more like a legal mystery than anything else. If you are looking for a medical/forensics mystery, you won’t find it here. This is more of a missing persons case. Jenny Cooper has been the county coroner in the Severn Vale District for six months. Two young men disappeared years ago and have been declared legally dead; the mother of one of them asks Jenny Cooper to hold an inquest to determine what happened. The book is about the inquest she holds as coroner and her attempts to discover the truth despite many obstacles put in her way.

The second thing to know relates to the ethnic labels we use in the US that are different than what use in the UK. The missing young Muslim men and others of similar ethnic origin are often referred to in the book as “Asians.” I was puzzled enough to email the author for clarification. He wrote back and told me that 'Asian' in Britain is usually used to describe those of Indian or Pakistani origin. If US readers keep this in mind as they read, they’ll get a more accurate mental picture of the characters.

I struggled with another aspect of the book. I like female protagonists who are strong and smart. Jenny Cooper is a wreck. She takes pills just to cope with her everyday life and is emotionally fragile. Her teenage son lives with her after her divorce and they have a rocky relationship. Often portions of the book concerning her emotional state overshadowed the mystery part of the plot and it wasn’t as much fun to read. I had almost decided not to read any other books in the series (the first book is "The Coroner") when I got to the epilogue and read the bombshell there. I won’t spoil anything about the book but it looks like Jenny could be a lot more interesting than I expected. I’m still not sure I want to read the first book but will look for the next one in the series before I make up my mind about the character.

Note:  I received a free copy of this book from Amazon as part of the Vine review program.