Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Bring Her Home by David Bell

Bring Her Home. David Bell. Penguin Publishing Group. July 2017. 464 pp. ISBN #: 9780399584442. 

Summer and her best friend Haley have disappeared.  Now, a year and a half after the death of Summer’s Mom, Bill, learns that his daughter Summer is in the hospital in the Intensive Care Unit and Haley is dead!  No one yet knows what happened; all that is known is that both girls were found badly beaten.  On his arrival at the hospital, Bill is angry about all the unknowns and wants to go speak to the guys the girls used to hang around.  Haley’s parents arrive to comfort him, remarkable to say the least since their loss is a million times worse than his. 

A few weeks later, the unbelievable happens!  It turns out that the girls used to switch clothes all the time and it’s really Summer who has been killed and Haley who is alive!  It’s beyond one’s imagination and one can barely understand Bill’s shock and grief.  Add to that another girl is missing!  Then there’s a question about whether it was Summer who was dead!  Crazy-making revelations!

This then is the story of a mystery left to unfold!  By now we know that Bill has a definite anger management problem and that he has been questioned about his own relationship with Summer and her Mom.  But that’s minor compared to the facts about to be revealed.  The solution lies with a very friendly neighbor and a bunch of guys trying to up the ante on their competitive reputation as womanizers, that is, tallying the number of girls they’ve slept with.  Silly and childish, right?  But what happens when some go too far?

Bring Her Home is a mystery, a crime thriller!  It also, however, is a satire on those who live daily lives without really paying attention to what spouses and children are doing on a day-to-day basis.  It’s a call to awareness as a few hours can make all the difference between life and death!

Stunning novel that, although somewhat contrived, is a spine-tingling, hair-raising read!  

A Mother Like Mine: Hartley-By-The-Sea No. 3 by Kate Hewitt

A Mother Like Mine: Hartley-By-The Sea No. 3. Kate Hewitt. Penguin Publishing Group/Berkley. August 2017. 384 pp. ISBN #: 9780399583797.  

Abby Rhodes, now a widow, and her 5-year-old son, Noah, have returned to Hartley-by-the-Sea and remained for two years now.  She’s just about taken over running the cafĂ© on the beach as her grandmother Mary has recently had a heart attack and is not well at all.  Imagine their surprise when a knock on the door reveals that Abby’s mother, Laura, has now returned and plans on staying indefinitely.  Laura was, as far as Abby is concerned, an absentee mother for as long as Abby can remember!

This is the story of their reunion and attempt to resolve pain from the past, an opportunity to reshape the future as a family.  Sounds lovely as an idea, but it’s a difficult labyrinth to travel.  No one knows how it will all end!
Abby lives in a constant tension of feeling anger and hurt at her mother’s failure as a mother and a mature attitude and effort to put it behind her.  Giving her mother a second chance is a tall order, but Mary begs her repeatedly to try.  Noah, as a child and grandchild, is innocent about it all and he is the glue that keeps the whole quagmire from exploding and decimating the family again.

As the story progresses, Abby and Laura discover that each carries an unknown story with elements that were unpredictable, causing choices that may or may not have been best for all involved. 

Eventually a great loss and a surprising revelation will change their lives forever.  This is a story of love with all its messy and wonderful moments, a healing journey that forges a new relationship to last forever!

Fine, fine story that is a tense, poignant but lovely read!!!! Highly recommended!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Shadow Girl: An Afton Tangler Thriller No. 2 by Gerry Schmitt

Shadow Girl: An Afton Tangler Thriller No. 2. Gerry Schmitt. Penguin Publishing Group. August 2017. 320 pp. ISBN #: 9780425281789.  

This old-fashioned mystery opens with the reader discovering that a woman packs a long-range missile and proceeds to calmly shoot down a helicopter, an act that not only obviously kills the pilot and his assistant but also causes numerous injuries when the pieces fall on the streets of Minneapolis.  What’s more important, however, is that the helicopter was carrying a brand-new heart that was supposed to be put into Leland Odin, the magnate owner of a home shopping network. Without it, Leland’s hours to live are dwindling rapidly!

Afton Tangler is the family liaison officer for the Minneapolis Police Department.  She and her partner proceed to investigate what starts as a crash and then evolves into a murder.  The pace is quick and the number of suspects grows with each turned page.   Is it the wife who seems normally concerned about this event but whose responses occasionally seem contrived?  Is it the strangely unconcerned daughter whose middle name could be “Frosty?’ Perhaps Leland’s partner, Bart, who is courting a buy-out of another home shopping network, has bigger plans that just might not include Leland?

While we discover who is the perpetrator half-way through the novel, that doesn’t spoil anything as more murders and a truly exciting search and find mission keep the reader’s adrenaline pumping.  Add to that we want to know the why of the crime as well as how it will all evolve! 

There’s an international espionage component to this story and it turns out that Afton Tangler is one hell of a great investigator, a fact that just might wind up with her being moved officially into the Police Department, that is if she survives being a target as she and her partner get closer to the enemy!!!

Fine, fine mystery that is a great read!!!! Highly recommended!

Pieces of Happiness: A Novel of Friendship, Hope and Chocolate by Ann Ostby

Pieces of Happiness: A Novel of Friendship, Hope and Chocolate. Ann Ostby. Carole Baron - editor. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. August 2017. 320 pp. ISBN #: 9780385542807.  

After Kat spent years traveling around the world with her husband Niklas on humanitarian missions, he dies and Kat is a bit lost.  So she invites her Norwegian high school best friends to live with her on the island of Fiji.  Ingrid, Maya, Sina, and Lysbeth agree and the reunion and aftermath is wonderful and stunning!

Age shapes all of us but sometimes a different circumstance propels a person into change. Each chapter is narrated by one of the five friends. Deciding to abandon one’s staid images, jettison a leech of a son, permit one’s sensual side to emerge, engage in leading the initiation of a “chocolate” enterprise, becoming a trusting child, abandoning one’s judgmental standards and so much more fill these pages.  These women cooperate with, challenge, and learn from each other. 

Atetha is a native Fijian who teaches them all about the rich culture of this land where people learn to find joy in life, no matter what problems exist, and share that richness with each other in dance, food, art, language and more.  A friend helps the women when they decide to produce a chocolate business from the cocoa trees on Kat’s property.  Many latent gifts begin to grow in each character during this time.

Secrets are a surprise that initially shock the reader but how these characters interact about these secrets is phenomenal, almost unreal but delightful!

When people think of the tropical islands, the relaxed, lush background induces one to relax and live a “vacation” style.  This is true but there is so much more that the islands have to teach these women and Anne Otsby has captured it all in a highly recommended, delightful read!!!!!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Trueluck Summer by Susan Gabriel

Trueluck Summer. Susan Gabriel. Wild Lily Arts Inc. October 2016. 350 pp. ISBN#: 9780998105000.

Ida Trueluck, a widow, moves into her son’s home in Charleston, South Carolina, in the summer of 1964. Her husband has just died, and she’s not quite sure she’s doing the right thing but she is willing to try it for a while. The only sure thing is her love for her granddaughter, Trudy, a 12 year-old girl full of spunk, questions and smartness. Little do they know at the beginning of that summer that they are about to change history forever.
1964 is the time of pre-Civil Rights Act conflict. The residents of Charleston know that change is coming but few are truly welcoming it. It’s not appreciated when a young African-American boy, Paris, saves Trudy’s life. In fact, it brings the Ku Klux Klan alive and their act appalls Trudy’s father, the Mayor of Charleston. Not only does Trudy find the Klan’s act terrible, but she is determined to continue her friendship with Paris. They also decide they need to do more to make things “right.”

This then is the story of their escapade, their plan to remove the Confederate flag outside of the capital building. When reading this, one wonders if their sanity has run amok as not only is it an impossible endeavor but the implications of success are terrible to contemplate.

To say more would spoil one of the most lovely coming-of-age stories this reviewer has read in a long time. Their actions are so realistically planned and carried out that the reader totally empathizes with their dream and roots for them to the very last page. They truly depict true friendship, loyalty and integrity.

Susan Gabriel conveys a realistic, sensitive point of view for all the characters involved herein, clearly reflecting and paralleling the state of segregation and evolution of that belief system during the 1960s.

Trueluck Summer is highly recommended historical fiction, lovely writing with thought-provoking scenes that apply to the present as well as the past!

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein

The Punch Escrow. Tal M. Klein. Geek and Sundry. July 2017. 300 pp. ISBN #: 9781942645589.  

It’s the year 2147 and nanotechnology reigns supreme!  There’s no more pollution because genetically engineered mosquitoes suck carbon dioxide out of the air.  Cars drive themselves and chits are used to pay for travel.  But the highlight of this world lies in teleportation, the ability to travel anywhere in the world in literally seconds.  It’s all controlled by International Transport, a company where Sylvia, Joel Byram’s wife, works.  The company is into changing life for the better, all with the science of quantum mechanics which IT’s scientists have completely dissected and applied to modern technology.  But nothing is perfect, right?

To start with Joel and Sylvia are about to celebrate an anniversary, and Joel realizes that this marriage isn’t working at all basically because communication between the two is nil, both in quantity and quality.  Whenever Joel gets close to a time when they can stop and talk, something happens and the talk never occurs. 

Now Joel’s on his way to Costa Rica for a much-needed vacation for Sylvia and him.  However, something goes very wrong and Joel is now the prisoner of IT scientists who proceed to explain that one part of him got transported to Costa Rica but another part of him, one might call “the soul,” is here, never left and ultimately probably dead although his body’s presence denies that last premise.

Something’s gone dreadfully wrong and it all involves a war between corporate higher-ups, who just don’t know when to curb their greed and realize what they can’t accomplish with science, and a bunch of religious maniacs who believe the new scientific world is evil, the Tower of Babel Biblical story updated by centuries.

All of this is accomplished with Joel’s snarky humor, clear descriptions (wee bit too many) of the hard science facts involved in the plot and this world, and a mystery filled with adventure and Sylvia and Joel go out of the box to find out precisely what IT Corporation has done that is science gone amok and why!!!  For science fiction fans, this is a gem! Enjoy it all!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Dollhouse: A Novel by Fiona Davis

The Dollhouse: A Novel. Fiona Davis. Penguin Publishing Group. July 2017. 368 pp. ISBN #: 97811.1985014.

The Barbizon Hotel for Women in the early 1050’s is a temporary residence for many single women who later became famous stars such as Sylvia Plath, Liza Minelli and more notable ladies. 

At the time when our story opens, Darby is a single woman who has left her nasty mother and stepfather to make a life for herself by studying in a secretarial school.  She’s given a room on a floor with other women studying to be models and they’re catty young women who intimidate Darby.  But little by little, after some harrowing experiences including a blind date that goes awry, new opportunities arise that change Darby’s entire world.  

The scene changes to the present day, when the character Rose has a boyfriend who decides he must dump Rose to go back to his ex-wife and his troubled daughter.  Add to that the fact that Rose’s father has had to be put in a special home because of his advanced Alzheimer’s disease.  She’s working in a news magazine, “Wordmerge,” as a secretary; it’s a company that hasn’t completely decided what it wants to be.  For Rose, that changes when she begins to learn more about the women who have lived in the Barbizon Hotel and its history, including why it’s known as “The Dollhouse.”  It’s a mysterious tale in the 1950s that involved an attack that totally disfigured the face of one woman and resulted in the horrifying death of another. 

This intriguing novel describes the simple account of Darby studying in a secretarial school she hates and Esme a maid who sings nights in a famous jazz club in Manhattan, the Flatted Fifth. It’s where Charlie Parker, Stan Getz and other jazz masters developed their craft.  It’s also where Darby sings with Esme and discovers she’s more than a quiet little mouse, a woman who can fashion dreams to pursue.  But there’s so much more going on in this club and in a return to contemporary times, Rose and a photographer friend Jason pursue the 1950s mystery as it gradually enfolds. 

The end of this novel is shocking but also heart-warming.  The entire story is told, the characters confess their parts and together face the future, freed of unnecessary guilt but determined to live their lives making up for the mistakes made in the passionate dreams of the times.  As the novel fluctuates between the past and the present, a type of parallel resolution occurs that is most pleasing to the reader. The Dollhouse is a great read that is carefully crafted and recommended.  Well done, Fiona Davis!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Perish from the Earth: A Lincoln and Speed Mystery No. 2 by Jonathan F. Putnam

Perish from the Earth: A Lincoln and Speed Mystery #2. Jonathan F. Putnam. Crooked Lane Books. July 11, 2017. 304 pp. ISBN #: 9781683311393.

Meet the characters who just might be responsible for the murder of a man who was angry over losing the possible love of his life:

The Gambler – a man who deals cards with an unheard-of speed and who sweats up a storm when one person figures out his tricks and lets others know.
A Drunken Fool – a man who is mourning something but not sober enough to speak about what it is but drunk enough to lash out at anyone who approaches him.

A young Artist who can sketch anyone’s facial image or a focused setting in moments but who can’t seem to make a living beyond that skill.

A Barkeep doling out drinks and scanning the crowd for trouble and maybe something or someone else.

A Dandy dressed “to the nines” with a Negro servant quietly knitting but also watching everyone quite carefully.

A vivacious Actress dressed in red who graces all with her becoming, fluttering eye glances.

The victim – John W. Jones of Ames Manor, Nashville, TN of the doughy face and passionate nature.

Joshua Speed – the investigator who assists Abe Lincoln in solving the crime of Jones’s murder

Abraham Lincoln- lawyer, fierce advocate of abolition of the slaves, who with Speed investigates the murder.

As legal cases in Nashville are heard on a “circuit” system, Lincoln and Speed have little time to solve the murder mystery or the accused perpetrator will have to wait almost another year before going on trial, a year in a jail that is cold and cruel enough to kill anyone.

It turns out Speed’s father owns the ship where these nefarious characters are traveling and interacting.  The card game is obviously rigged but for what purpose.  The money Speed is supposed to collect is supposedly unavailable and so one realizes there’s something about this steamboat and its members that’s hiding something nefarious.  Speed must clear his own name since it’s guilt by association.  One also notices that guilt is quickly assigned based on the conjectures of both witnesses and acquaintances of any of these characters.

Perish from the Earth… is a fine mystery that keeps the interest consistent through the whole tale and makes the reader want to read more about this duo who have sharp sleuthing skills and a passion for ending wrongdoing.  Lincoln’s passion for ending slavery is a subplot that only adds to the suspense.  Nicely done, Jonathan F. Putnam!

The Bookshop at Water's End: A Novel by Patti Callahan Henry

The Bookshop at Water’s End. Patti Callahan Henry. Penguin Publishing Group. July 2017. 352 pp. ISBN #: 970399583117. 

To be an Emergency Nurse physician requires finely honed skills that must occur automatically but still leave room for exceptional circumstances that just might change one’s normal protocol. So when Bonnie Blankenship’s treatment of a patient results in a disaster, she takes it very personally.  Of course, she doesn’t realize that when one’s personal life is askew, automatic emotional fatigue will take its toll and thereby betray one’s usual performance.  The end result is the good doctor has been ordered to go on a brief “sabbatical” until decisions at her hospital are made.  Bonnie makes some immediate decisions that she believes she should have made long ago; whether they are right or wrong remains to be seen. 

So off to Water’s End, a small South Carolinian vacation town, she and her best friend of many years, Lainey McKay, go with their children, minus spouses.  A mystery surrounding the disappearance of Lainey’s mother years ago almost stops Lainey from returning here.  It also seems that Lainey’s brother, Owen, is an old flame of Bonnie who comes and goes on his own needs, even though Bonnie and Owen are in love.

Bonnie’s daughter Piper is also along for the trip, albeit reluctantly.  She’s got a reputation for acting out but she’s also got a secret that’s behind her excess drinking etc.  Can Bonnie and Piper repair the damage of their tense relationship?

This is a novel involving a bookshop where everyone winds up getting the book or hearing words most need to hear.  Now, that’s truly remarkable!  It sounds like a silly but wishful premise initially until the novel and conflict twists and turns progress.

No, you can’t possibly predict where the complex layers of plot are going and it make the read even that more delicious!!!!  You will be satisfied!  Highly recommended contemporary fiction that is finely crafted!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Reading with Patrick: A Teacher, A student and a Life-Changing Friendship by Michelle Kuo

Reading with Patrick: A Teacher, A Student and a Life-Changing Friendship. Michelle Kuo. Random House Publishing Group. July 2017. 320 pp.  ISBN#:

Michelle Kuo is the child of immigrant Chinese parents.  Their expectations for their daughter are huge!  Michelle, however, wants to accomplish something meaningful with her life and she’s not sure that fulfillment includes only a posh job with a similar salary and home with a well-known business firm.  After graduating from Harvard University, Michelle puts decisions on hold and decides to become a Teach for America volunteer in Helena, Arkansas.  This account is just as much about Michelle’s internal life as it is what happens in her new school where abilities are negligible and interest is phenomenally non-existent.  Michelle describes the influences in her life that brought her to this moment.  What is absent from the noble speeches of African-American leaders is the agonizing difficulty of working in areas where poverty, racism, and hopelessness are rampant.

Here, however, is the magic within this nonfiction account.  Little by little, Michelle manages to show the students she cares and they begin to change in incremental ways.  The changes proceed so slowly one wonders what kind of future these students will have.  A year later students who were illiterate are beginning to read simple books and learn.  Michelle takes these students into junior high novels and autobiographies that enable students to consider not just on a reading level but also about self-worth and possibilities they couldn’t envision before meeting Michelle Kuo.

Funding ends the program, and Michelle goes to law school.  Upon graduating, she learns that one of her students, Patrick, has been arrested for murder.  The rest of the account is about her taking up a teacher-student relationship with Patrick, teaching him to read, watching him change from a condemned prisoner to a free citizen who pursues hope on his own, all of it due to the patient, caring attention of Michelle.  However, Michelle gives the credit for this transformation to the authors who penned the novels and nonfiction books she reads with Patrick.  Readers fall in love with these authors anew as they observe how words and sentences casually read are perceived as life-changing revelations to be contemplated and venerated by the Patricks of this world.

This is a magnificent story, invaluable because of its poignancy and limitless possibilities evident on almost every page.  This story is must reading for pessimists and optimists regarding the future of American youth!  Outstanding!

Betrayal at Iga: A Hiro Hattori Novel by Susan Spann

Betrayal at Iga: A Hiro Hattori Novel.  Susan Spann. Prometheus Books. July 2017. 250 pp. ISBN #: 9781633882775.

In medieval Japan, Hiro Hattori, the master ninja, and Father Mateo, the Jesuit and Portuguese priest are about to work together on a sensitive case.  Father Mateo has been hired by a very important samurai lord, from the same ninja clan as Hiro, to protect Hattori.  They travel together into the lands of that samurai lord and are invited to a welcome dinner.  During that dinner, there is obvious enmity between the members of a rival Koga clan and Hattori Hanzo.  Chaos erupts when one of the guests begins to get ill, quickly moves in seizures and dies after eating some of the lavish food they have been served.  The atmosphere quickly becomes lethal and is slightly quashed when Hiro Hattori is given a few days to solve the mystery of the poisoner.

The reader will become well-acquainted with the customs and rivalries of this 16th Century Japanese town.  It is the era of the Shogunate and the competition is rife for this position, a never-ending war in a way as gaining the title of Shogun is no guarantee that one can hold onto it.  The competitors are everywhere, both secular and sacred (Buddhist monasteries among the rivals).  It gets to the point where even family must be watched as suspicious contenders for the prize and no measure is deemed prohibited to effect victory.

Hiro Hattori and Father Mateo question the members of the Koga clan, Hiro’s own mother, a former lover and many more possible suspects.  The Koga clan were to discuss and form a peace agreement immediately after that dinner, but the chances of that happening are slim indeed!

Susan Spann has once again penned a captivating mystery, adventure story, and historical novel that keeps the reader captivated and guessing every step of the convoluted way to the bitter and surprising end!

Recommended for all fans of mysteries and Japanese samurai fiction!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Kennedy Imprisonment: A Meditation on Power by Gary Wills

The Kennedy Imprisonment: A Meditation on Power. Gary Wills. Open Road Media. June 2017. 346 pp. ASIN #: B072F1Q32V. 

Americans who lived in the 1960s believed in the Camelot image of the Kennedy family.  Garry Wills joins the troupe of political analysts who demythologize the Camelot image.  This particular account is the reissue of his 1982 book; an introduction to the text is a look back from 2017, suggesting that we have something to compare with the current government.  You decide whether there are parallel elements!

Power was the byword for the Kennedy family, beginning with Jack Kennedy’s father.   Money and connections were the ingredients of success that bought political office, connections with famous people, and deals that turned out to have major and minor significant in American history.  But those elements that guaranteed success also, according to Wills, encased the Kennedy family in a downward spiral that almost finished off the family until Teddy Kennedy finally got his act together to dismantle the destructive family patterns and dedicated the latter part of his life to “service” to the people he represented as a Senator.

While some may be intrigued by the aspects of sex, family, image, charisma, and power, others will be revolted.  Everything is relative to one’s point of view and priorities.  Ironically, every one of these aspects in which the book is outlined had potential for greatness.  The “prisoner” aspect of sex, for example, shows Jack Kennedy, despite his serious physical ailments, as a nymphomaniac who seemed unable to control his need for conquering women sexually.  Ignoring him was tantamount to a desperate campaign to win while the Kennedy women seemed to ignore Jack’s randy ways.  The other fascinating aspect is Jack’s obsession with famous people like Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, etc., etc.  The trashier the gossip, the more Jack loved to hear and share it.

Bobby Kennedy seems to have been the exception as far as women but his notorious temper and exertion of power on domestic and international issues cannot be denied. 

On and on it goes.  American strength separated us from everyone else and allowed us to threaten and challenge from that position when the reality was we were no different than weaker nations (Russia, Cuba, etc.) in insisting on dominating international politics.

There are some interesting portions of this analysis but for those very familiar with the Kennedy era, there’s not much new to learn herein.  The Kennedys certainly personalized the image of the American government, but Wills ultimately includes American citizens in his critique.  For we love the power, glamor, naughtiness, and machinations as much as we say we decry them.  The fact that Gary Wills’ book is being published anew says volumes about America’s fascination.  The question we are left with is, “Do we see the immense consequences of such worship and enablement?”  Reader, analyze and decide!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Child: A Novel by Fiona Barton

The Child: A Novel. Fiona Barton. Berkley. June 2017. 384 pp.  ISBN#:

Kate Waters decides to diversify from her boring journalistic ventures into something she can sink her teeth into.  During excavation of a building site, the skeleton of an infant of indeterminate age is found.  It’s a backstory of no particular attention due to the fact that the newspapers are paying more attention to the shenanigans around the upcoming Olympics in London, England. For some unexplained reason, however, Kate sticks to the story and begins to explore the neighborhood around where the child was found!

This story is told from four different points of view: Kate’s version as already described; a woman named Angela whose infant daughter was stolen from her hospital room when she went into the bathroom to take a shower; a woman named Emma whose dark secret has left her in a severe depression with anxiety that she finds impossible to handle even with medication; and Emma’s mother Jude, a self-centered woman whose lack of connection with her daughter leaves the reader thinking and feeling there’s more than meets the eye here. 

The story moves rather slowly in the middle of the book but then accelerates to roller coaster speed with a telephone call from Emma.  Her revealed secret to Kate is so stunning to Kate that she can barely handle it.  From there, the confusion rises as Angela’s obsession leads her to believe the dead child is her own and not Emma’s.  The reader will be amazed at the way this mystery unfolds and Fiona Barton is superb at plotting with sensitive time and interesting facts.  This could be anyone’s story but the way the lives of these three women interact is absolutely astonishing.  Kate Waters has not only a journalistic eye and ear but a sensitive soul that enables anyone she interviews to open up and expose supposedly insignificant facts.

This is fine, fine mystery or crime fiction reading and highly recommended to readers of all ages!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

UNSUB: A Novel by Meg Gardiner

UNSUB: A Novel. Meg Gardiner. Penguin Publishing Group. June 2017. 384 pp. ISBN #: 9781101985526.

Mercury, the Prophet, the Messenger is a serial killer.  He’s been silent since the 1990s but now has returned in malicious, blood-curdling ways.  His first killing in years is a double homicide, accompanied by his message pounded into his victims’ chests.  UNSUB stands for unknown subject.  

Detective Caitlin Hendrix cannot believe he has returned and is obsessed with finding him.  Her problem is that this killer is responsible for undoing her own father’s sanity and yet her father is probably the one who truly knows the psyche of this killer.  But insisting he unload all he holds in his mind may enable them to find the killer but destroy her father in the process. His partner had died in that investigation years ago and he had tried to kill himself.  This is obviously no mundane, predictable killer!

Clues begin to make sense, as more deaths occur and the killer sets his sights on Caitlin.  Caitlin seems like a vulnerable woman instead of an intrepid detective.  Her anxiety and fear of getting sucked into the power and control of this killer keeps the reader on edge as much as the grisly details of the killings set the reader’s psyche on shaky ground.  The plot’s intensity increases as Caitlin and other detectives figure out the time and even place where the next killing will occur but something always goes awry so they fail to nail the psychopathic killer.

The Prophet has some kind of affinity to the poet Dante and his famous work, The Inferno.  However, even knowing that doesn’t enable the reader to predict what the killer is thinking, feeling and how he will next act.

This is a superb psychological thriller that forces readers’ adrenaline to flow galore.  The twist at the end of the story makes one gasp with shock, an ending that guarantees a sequel to this novel.  Deftly plotted, Meg Gardiner!  We look forward to the follow-up to this amazing crime novel!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

A Decent Woman: A Novel by Eleanor Parker Sapia

A Decent Woman: A Novel. Eleanor Parker Sapia. Libertary Co. February 2015. 270 pp.  ISBN #: 9781620154007. 

Ana Belen Opaku is a midwife in turn of the 20th century Ponce, Puerto Rico (the author uses the old spelling of Porto Rico).  She’s working without a midwife certificate which could make a great deal of trouble.  She’s also illiterate which makes matters worse!  But Ana is a truly remarkable, perceptive, sensitive, skilled and compassionate woman! She delivers children for Serafina and becomes a good friend over time. 

The beauty of this story lies in Ana’s description of her fears and strength during fierce storms and hurricanes; her following African Yoruba spiritual practices and Western religious rites, combined with her skilled application of medicinal plants to facilitate easy births and protect the newborn lives she cherishes.  Folklore from Africa and Cuba make this a multi-layered tale that truly evokes understanding of Puerto Rico’s culture and society.

One of Serafina’s children is born stillborn and because her last child died shortly after birth, she must defend herself against criminal charges.  Ana provides the testimony Serafina needs to be judged innocent and that cements their close relationship forever.

Ana now must deal with the opposition of a local parish priest, Padre Vicente, and a local physician, Dr. Hector Rivera.  Their action pushes Ana to learn to read and obtain her certificate.  Serafina’s husband dies and she later marries a rich man. Ana follows her and their friendship grows even more as Ana’s life dramatically changes.

A Decent Woman... has no huge plot but instead gives the reader a gracefully evolving story of the struggle for women to survive independently in a male-dominated culture, the dignity of women who are treated as possessions meant to serve men, the need for women to share dangerous secrets which may bring trust or betrayal, and most of all the sharing of the beauty of the cycles of life and death.

A remarkable account that is obviously well-researched, understood and conveyed with grace and passion!  Highly recommended!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Knoll: The Last JFK Conspiracist by Stephen Hillard

Knoll: The Last JFK Conspiracist. Stephen Hillard. SelectBooks. June 2017. 256 pp. ISBN #: 9781590794214.  

Conspiracy theories abound about who was responsible for the assassination of JFK in November 1963 but no definitive answer has ever been publicly acknowledged other than that of Oswald, the supposed assassin.  Stephen Hillard’s novel, however, asserts that the truth is known by many people.  The problem is that each one of these known witnesses or collaborators winds up meeting a deadly end in horrific accidents or by being murdered. 

Now a House of Representative member from Texas vows to discover and expose the truth that will hopefully erase the stained reputation held forever in Dallas, Texas.  Columbus (“Bus”) McIntyre, a prosecutor now must change his plans of running for office when a scandal derails him from his dream.  Remarkably, he’s not that upset about the change in plans.  In fact, he is now about to change his focus dramatically.  One of the great moments of grief in his life concerns the murder of his father, a cop, in 1970. Now he is given a journal written by his father in which his Dad writes, “For what I did in Dallas, they will find me.”  From this moment on, the reader avidly reads every entry of that journal as Bus thinks about each entry and begins to assemble clues, acts that could just as well get him in trouble in which he would follow his father’s footsteps.

Woven into these steps of Bus’s discovery process are chapter in which we learn that NSA not only has all the facts about the assassination but has a woman design a program that combines facts and algorithms to know who is searching for the truth so that they can be eliminated.  It didn’t start out that way but is now a set program that brooks no interference.

Finally, something about the quashing of people associated with the JFK disaster concerns a Mafia leader, now dead for over twenty years, but whose legacy is still continuing the elimination process.  This then is the essence of the story and Bus’s investigative journey. 

There’s quite a bit of steam that entices the reader but the ending is somewhat anticlimactic.   Still, it will get readers of a certain age thinking anew of their memories of this horrific event and hungry to understand precisely what is meant by Carlos Marcello’s dictum, “Omerta is forever.”

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett

The Space Between the Stars. Anne Corlett. Penguin Publishing Group. June 13, 2017. 368 pp. ISBN #: 9780399585111.

99% of the world is dead!  A terrible plague has decimated innumerable planets where human live and all that is left are piles of dust.  Before the plague, Jamie Allenby moved to a quiet planet with that huge space that she so desired after leaving a suffocating, congested Earth.  The reader immediately thinks, “What would I do if I found myself in such a circumstance?”  Jamie initially thinks she’s the only survivor but after a week manages to pick up a signal from out of her planet.  This then is the story of the survivors who find each other, their complex personalities, and their desire to form a new society.  The only problem or problems involve different ideas of what should happen next.

We meet some who are curious about transporting survivors to where they want to go, allowing others to make choices, to be free.  However, we meet a group who believe they, the “upper echelon” of society, should form a new society under their control because they are better in so many ways.  We meet a religious woman who has a horrible secret from the past and is now finding her own survival totally dependent on “God’s will.” 

Jamie’s past lover is one of the leaders who is unable to accept that Jamie no longer loves him and tries to block her escape from this new world order that borders on a “1984” novel scenario.  Violence and blocking anyone from leaving become the norm which some characters manage to elude. 

All the characters have lost other human beings and each reacts differently, yet somehow the focus seems to remain on the present and future.  It takes quite a while before these people realize they must face these losses and what their present and future lives could be in order to truly create a new society.

Another perspective on those in this story is how strongly human desires haven’t changed at all, even considering the disaster all have experienced.

The plot is simple herein, but what holds the reader’s focus is on the static or dynamic evolution that dramatically changes Jaime and a friend she begins to draw closer to, the opportunity to become freer now they cannot take life for granted.
Interesting, recommended post-apocalyptic sci-fi read, indeed!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Cast the First Stone: An Ellie Stone Mystery by James W. Ziskin

Cast the First Stone: An Ellie Stone Mystery #5.  James W. Ziskin. Prometheus Books. June 2017. 290 pp. ISBN #: 9781633882812.

Ellie Stone, a newspaper journalist from the unknown town of New Holland, gets the chance to travel to Hollywood, California to interview Tony Eberle, formerly also of New Holland, who is about to star in his first movie.  Anyone who has met Tony admits he is definite “eye candy” who, if he has the goods on acting, is about to become a big Hollywood star. The problem is – he never showed up the first day of rehearsals.  The fury of both actors and staff is chaotic and Ellie Stone wonders if she’s got a bigger story here than she first thought. 

Ellie is definitely a tireless reporter as she sets about finding the MIA actor, only to find that his producer is also missing and a few days later is found dead.  No spoilers here!  The remainder of the novel focuses on the people who knew Tony and his producer.  At first they’re not willing to help Ellie one iota until she lies and says she knows where he is.  Then they’re all over her to cooperate and Ellie plays this little lie for all it’s worth.

The bottom line is that Hollywood is full of panderers in the 1960s, willing to do anything for a “moment in the sun” of stardom, be it top actor or extra.  There are rare people in this novel who do have good intentions and act with integrity, but they are the exception and not the norm.  The characters of the norm are too busy having a good, no – great time drinking, drugging and having sex with adults and – Oh No!
Ellie makes a clever sleuth and she’s got a wacky, always entertaining sense of humor that at times saves this story from its repetitive cycles of discovery, where Ellie often as to repeat former trips and conversations to get ahead one step at a time.

As an aside, film buffs will love the references and recommendations of actors, actresses, and films from the 1950s and 1960s.

The outcome is not what you expect but does differ from the normal Hollywood story ending!  Nicely crafted mystery, James W. Ziskin!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Washington Power Play: A Political Thriller by Allan Topol

Washington Power Play: A Political Thriller. Allan Topol. SelectBooks, Inc.. May 2017. 320 pp. ISBN #: 9781590794258.

China is planning a New World Order! A new name for a new attempt to take over both Asia and the United States.  Kelly Cameron, an FBI agent, has just completed a mission that is taken by her superiors to be both a success and a failure, a success in that she was able to stop a terrorist from committing mayhem and murder and a failure in that her killing the terrorist prevented her superiors from interviewing him to discover valuable information.  So is her sudden promotion to join a task force to find a government mole a true reward or something worse?

Kelly’s first task is to get up to speed on China, especially after a sudden attack on Japanese planes by Chinese jets.  Her first connection is with a powerful American lawyer, Andrew Martin, a man who, unknown to Kelly, has questionable ties with China as a delivery boy for secret messages to a Chinese diplomat.  Then there’s Xiang Shen, a former lover, who appears and supposedly wants to reignite their powerful connection.  Kelly’s not buying!  And Xiang has no choice but continue to pursue in order to guarantee his family’s safety back in China. A dilemma indeed!

And what about the head of the task force, General Darrell Cartwright, who desperately wants to run for President of the United States?  He’s not happy with several members of the task force and these snippy debates between the parties which are stopped one step away from being outright combat.  This seems a bit out of proportion to their task which is a clue that indeed something is rotten in Denmark.

Allan Topol knows how to ramp up the tension from the very first page. Although the reader thinks he or she knows where this is going, that’s not quite the obvious plot!  Kelly will risk death, be faced with action to save her kidnapped daughter, and discover there are more disloyal characters than one mole than she ever imagined.

Washington Power Play… is a fine political thriller with plenty of passion, debate, threats of violence and actual physical combat to keep the reader flipping the pages of this fast-paced, international power play plot!  Nicely done, Allan Topol, and definitely recommended reading!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Strange Times: Richard III in the 21st Century Book 3 by Joan Szechtman

·         Strange Times: Richard III in the 21st Century Book 3. Joan Szechtman. Amazon Digital Services LLC. May 2017. 169 pp.  ASIN: B071NMQBJS.  
Some background history is vital to understanding this account: A famous quote from William Colyngbourne refers to a rat, a cat and a dog who served under a hog.  The rat and the cat, Richard Ratcliffe and William Catesby respectively, are dead. The dog refers to the only survivor, Francis Lovell, who survived. This all occurred in the 1480s, and obviously, the hog, Richard III, who supposedly died when defeated by Henry Tudor, has borne a terrible reputation through the centuries.  He is labeled a tyrant and a murderer of the Princes of the previous King.  However, in the 21st Century, his reputation has undergone a complete revision and now the real Richard III is living in America.  In the previous two books in this series, he participated in clearing his name, although there are still descendants who want him captured and killed! Richard now longs to tie up one loose end.  Lovell, the dog who was truly a loyal servant to Richard, fought against Henry VII at the famous Battle of Stoke Field.  When we meet him, he’s hiding in a basement vault, fearful of capture and death.  Richard’s obsession in finding Lovell is understandable and serves as the beginning of this intriguing story.

Richard is running for a political office in Oregon but unforeseen circumstances block any further progress in that venture.  He and his wife, Sarah, are involved with a company that has built a time machine.  This is the story of two figures who accidentally get exchanged in the 15th and 21st Century.  Adrian Strange is a colleague who appears to monitor the progress on the time machine; he seems overbearing and suspicious about everything.  Because of this machine, he will be transformed in more ways than one although Richard and Sarah will have no idea what Strange is experiencing after he accidentally steps into the active time machine.   In trying to get him back, Richard and Sarah wind up bringing Francis Lovell into this future time.  What a disaster!

Obviously, Richard realizes things must return to the way they were but that plan is not so easily accomplished.  The important issue throughout this entire novel concerns what happens when individuals are transported to the past? How much of history can be changed, and should it be changed?  Would Francis Lovell have survived?  Were the Princes truly killed or did they survive and their descendants as well?  How will the past change Adrian Strange if he returns to the present?

Joan Szechtman has crafted a story with several mysteries running through the overall plot which keep the reader riveted to the story.  Most knowledgeable readers are rooting for Richard in whatever he plans and does but even the best laid plans go awry.  This author clearly knows her topic, with all its twists and turns, and carries the reader through all of them with thrilling skill!  Highly recommended historical fiction!