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Greg Rucka is an evil, evil man. Just so you know.
I read Alpha and now I can’t wait for the next one! I want it now!
Master Sergeant Jad Bell is sent undercover to head security and the popular theme park, Wilsonville. Rumors of a terrorist event have reached certain ears, and their solution is to place Bell and some of his team at the park to keep an eye on things.
Then his ex-wife and deaf daughter, along with her class, come to the park, and Jad is positive that they’ve chosen the wrong weekend. And he’s right. Now, is he compromised?
Action is a Rucka watchword, and he delivers in spades! Alternating between Bell’s point of view and the terrorist, “Gabriel Fuller”, the pace is relentless, and things are set up so that there are some big and potentially devastating complications lurking in future books.
You really have to pay attention to this book; it’s fast, it’s intelligent and it’s decidedly complex. There’s a fair amount of military jargon but Greg makes sure you can understand even without a military background. I love the fact that he makes me think!
While there’s a definite resolution to Alpha, not all the loose ends are tied up, and as I said, I cannot wait until the next one (which Greg said will be called Beta – you get the theme) comes out because someone has seriously ticked off Jad Bell, and that’s not a good thing!
Once in a great while, you find a book that completely sweeps you away. Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins is that book.
On an Italian coastline in 1962, a young innkeeper sees a vision of stunning beauty – a young, American starlet – and is heartbroken to learn she is dying. 50 years later, in Hollywood, an elderly Italian man appears on a studio backlot, searching for a woman he hasn’t seen since 1962.
The story weaves and folds between times in a way that, by all rights, should be confusing and annoying, and yet, with Walter’s deft touch, that weaving is joyous and easy and simply amazing. I was so caught up in the convolutions, the machinations and the sheer heart of the story that I was transported. From Italy to Seattle, London to Idaho, and of course Hollywood, this is wondrous journey of spirit and deceit and passion and love.
I know, it sounds like gushing hyperbole, but this is truly a work of literary art. JB, Adele and I all found ourselves staring at each other, wide-eyed, saying goofy things like, “Yeah, I know!” and “Wow!”. JB says it rivals Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl for best novel, and he’s absolutely right. They’re two completely different types of books, but man, oh man, what great reading!
Jess Walter is always superb, but with Beautiful Ruins, he has reached an amazing new and astonishing level of brilliance.
I know Fran wrote up Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter and JB already has but I have to say it is one of the best books I have read. A beautiful love story but not in the traditional sense.
The first time Peter May came to sign at the shop, he was wearing a kilt. There's no doubt he's Scottish through and through. And brave.
So when he told me he was writing a series set in the Upper Hebrides in Scotland, I knew I had to read it. The first in this new series, The Blackhouse (no signed copies that I'm aware of) will be out in October, and it was well worth the wait. And I have to admit that I was pleased to have a pronunciation guide as well!
Fionnlagh "Fin" Macleod grew up on Lewis Island, a windy, chilled, Calvinist land, but he left for the mainland, where he's been promoted to the rank of detective in the Edinburgh force. His life has reached a crisis point with the death of his son and his marriage dissolving before his eyes. So when he is called back in to work, to investigate a murder that has taken place back on his home turf, a murder that has disturbing similarities to a murder Fin was investigating there in Edinburgh before he went on bereavement leave, he is both apprehensive about returning to the place of his youth, but interested to see how much it -- and he -- has changed.
His presence on the new crime scene is resented by the Glaswegian Detective Inspector assigned to the case, but the fact is that, even having been gone for almost twenty years, Fin has more connections and can find out more than the CIO can. And the murdered man was a bully who terrorized Fin and his pals growing up, so there's much more to this than an outsider could ever hope to find out.
We, the readers, get to see bits of Fin's history on the Island. The current investigation is told in third person, but the historical reminiscences are all first person Fin, and it works. We get to see the history, not only of the Island itself, but of all the players involved, their passions -- both good and bad, their idiosyncracies, their messy relationships with each other. Anyone who's ever lived in a small town will recognize the dynamics.
And that's what makes The Blackhouse such a strong book: the people. The harshness of the land, its unexpected moments of beauty and indifference, is almost a character unto itself, but when it comes down to it, the people that Peter May has created are the true heart of this story, three-dimensional and flawed, unexpectedly generous and resiliant, and at times dark and as grim as the land that shaped them. There were a few small moments that I found a bit jarring, but I have to admit that, without knowing the culture there as intimately as May obviously does, the fault is most likely mine, and I think that being shaken up a bit by a book is probably a good thing! This is a powerful book about strong people, and I look forward to the sequels.
There are three things you need to know about James Rollins.
1 -- He incorporates cutting-edge science in his Sigma Force novels.
2 -- He loves dogs.
3 -- He can really, really write.
If you haven't read his Sigma Force novels, I strongly recommend starting from the beginning. Otherwise this one, Bloodline (no idea if we'll get signed copies, but if we do, you know we'll let you in on it!), may be a bit confusing, since it builds strongly on events of the past. However, what I can tell you is that the President's very pregnant daughter is kidnapped, and in the course of attempting to rescue her, the Sigma Force group will uncover some of the secrets they've been searching for, and it may mean the end of Sigma Force altogether!
Anyone can take wildly disparate concepts and throw them together, but it takes a writer with the talent and skill of James Rollins not only to bring them together but to make them so believeable that they will linger in your mind long after you've finished the book. His vision of where technology is taking us kept me up late, and will haunt me for a long time to come. For those of you in the know, at the back of each book, Rollins tells you what's fact and what's fiction. In this one, he links to websites and videos that illustrate his sources. Let me tell you, when he warns you that what is seen cannot be un-seen so proceed with caution, he's deadly serious. Some of what he has incorporated into Bloodline is the stuff of nightmares, but it's disturbingly possible.
The unsettling aspects of Bloodline are typical Rollins, though. In this book, however, he also pays homage to the military dogs that have served our country through the years, in the form of Kane, a Belgian Malinois, and his handler, Tucker. Theirs is a special bond that has a depth that will grip any dog lover, guaranteed.
If you are at all interested in nanotechnology, the staff of Moses, Somali pirates and DNA modifications, this is the book for you, and James Rollins is the only person who could pull it off! But as I say, if you haven't read the Sigma Force novels, start with Sandstorm. And brace yourself for one helluva ride!
If you’re going through Kate Shugak withdrawal, have I got an author for you!
Last year, I wrote up M. J. McGrath’s debut, White Heat, and with her follow-up book, The Boy InThe Snow, McGrath proves that her voice is solid and her characters are true and compelling.
Edie Kiglatuk is at home in Ellesmere Island’s sparse population and tundra, as we saw in White Heat, so when she’s plunged into life in Anchorage for the Iditarod Race, she’s completely out of her depth. She doesn’t like the noise, the crowding or the food, but she’s there for her ex-husband, Sammy, who’s running in the race.
When Edie finds a baby frozen in the ice of a spirit house, her sense of outrage and need for justice take her into a different kind of wilderness, one of politics and religion, of power and sex trafficking. With her good friend, Sergeant Derek Palliser, who is in Nome as Sammy’s other anchor for the race, Edie refuses to back down or stop until she finds out exactly what happened to Lucas Littlefish.
“You forget, Derek,that even in Alaska there’s such a thing called the law.”
“I thought you don’t believe in the law.”
“I don’t. I believe in justice.”
Edie’s indomitable spirit, her need to get to the bottom of what happened, her implacable pursuit of justice for the babies – because another one is found not long after Edie finds Lucas’ body – and her understanding of what it means to be “outsider”, someone who does not fit in with the locals makes her one of those outstanding characters who grab you and keep you interested.
M. J. McGrath explores not only the differences between the Anglo and Native cultures, but she goes into the splits and fears that can be and are generated when one religion comes up against another, employing fear of the “other” to cause great harm. The Boy InThe Snow is not only a gripping, action-packed novel, it’s a solid look into those among us who often are overlooked and misunderstood.
Last year I read the first three of Rebecca Cantrell's "Hannah Vogel" series one right after the other, and by the end, her evocative prose had me dreaming that Nazis were following me through Pike Place Market (really!). She's that good. But I figured that, since a year has passed, I wouldn't be so deeply affected again by a single book.
I was wrong. She really IS that good.
In A City of Broken Glass, Hannah is writing for a Swiss newspaper under her pseudonym, Adelheid Zinsli, and she is sent to cover the Feast of St. Martin in a small Polish town. What should be an easy assignment and a lovely day out rapidly becomes much more serious when Hannah, her son, Anton, and their driver, Fraulein Ivona, find some of the 12,000 Polish Jews that were deported from Germany in the fall of 1938 and then housed in silos and stables. Their plight becomes personal for Hannah when she meets her old friend, Miriam, exhausted, hungry and in labor. Hannah resolves to bring Miriam medical help, and her actions take her right into harm's way.
Kidnapped by two members of the Gestapo, Hannah is brought back to Berlin, where there is a price on her head. She is rescued by an unlikely duo, but after that, their escape out of Germany is complicated, not only by their lack of passports but by Hannah's need to find Miriam's daughter, Ruth, who was left behind when Miriam was taken.
Rebecca Cantrell caught the building tension and horror of the days leading up to Kristallnacht with a vengeance. The implacable and relentless determination of the Reich to eradicate the Jews, the Jewish resolve intermingled with anger and despair, and all through it, the ongoing search for two-year-old Ruth, born of a Jewish mother but with Aryan features, placing her squarely at the center of the spiralling hatred. It would not in the least surprise me to see these books used as textbook examples of what happened during those dark days. Cantrell weaves in so much actual history, it's hard to believe these are works of fiction.
If you haven't read the Hannah Vogel series, let me encourage you to do so. You absolutely need to read them in order, beginning with A Trace of Smoke, Cantrell's writing is powerful, compelling and altogether human. This is a series not to be missed!
"Miranda didn’t hear the sound he made when his face hit the sidewalk.” From the first sentence, Kelli Stanley grabs your attention and after that she will skillfully transport you to 1940’s San Francisco with an assurance and style you’d expect from a long-established writer. In City of Dragons, we meet Miranda Corbie, former escort turned PI. No one cares about one dead Japanese kid in Chinatown, but he died at Miranda’s feet, and from that moment on, she makes it her mission to discover why he was killed.
Stanley’s a fan of Hammett and Chandler, and it shows. Her prose is as sharp and staccato as Miranda’s high heels on the pavement. While some readers may find the short, terse sentences and free-flowing imagery difficult at first, Stanley’s style and talent will pull you into Miranda’s search for truth, filled with hard cops and duplicitous dames, double crosses and betrayal, and just a glimpse of love and hope. With the music of the day weaving a poignant counterpoint through Miranda’s investigation, I certainly found myself drawn completely into her world. Miranda Corbie drinks hard, smokes constantly, and refuses to be put into her place by anyone. Kelli Stanley has created a strong, memorable protagonist, and I think that Sam Spade would have had her back when the chips were down.
I'm not a fan of cutesy. My sweet tooth is dedicated to chocolate, and my reading tastes tend to be a bit sharper. So I'm serious when I tell you that the cover of L.A. Kornetsky's first "Gin and Tonic" mystery, Collared is a bit misleading. Collared certainly has some cute components, but it's got an underlying strength that elevates it from fluff to good reading (and there’s nothing wrong with fluff; it’s just not my thing). Virginia (Ginny) Mallard has a personal concierge service in Seattle, and she's good at organizing things, from picking up dry cleaning to arranging a child's birthday party. So when she overhears someone complaining about needing to find his uncle, who wandered off with some paperwork, Ginny figures that it can't be any harder than finding the perfect getaway holiday for a lovestruck couple and she jumps at the chance. But it's soon obvious to her that she's going to need help, and her bartender friend, Teddy Tonica, has the connections she needs. Ginny has three days to find Jacob and the papers, but he hasn't just wandered off -- he's deliberately gone into hiding, and there's a reason for it. Suddenly Ginny's job has become a lot more dangerous than she imagined.
L.A. Kornetsky manages to do something that is not at all easy to do: she throws in snippets of action as seen through the eyes of Ginny's Shar-pei, Georgie, and Teddy's bar cat, Mistress Penny-Drops. I didn't think it would work, but Kornetsky manages to keep their interactions intriguing and interesting. As I say, I'm not fond of cutesy, and Kornetsky doesn't go there, either with her human or animal protagonists. And it works. I liked that Ms. Kornetsky was willing to take the chances she did, allowing bad things to happen instead of taking the easy way out. She has created a couple of realistic and likeable humans, and her feline and canine protagonists are pretty darned cool too. I will say, however, that the art department did make one goof on the cover: no way is Miss Penny ever going to be collared!
Small towns have secrets. That’s no surprise to anyone who’s ever lived in one, but the depth of those secrets is what Nora Hamilton has to explore in Jenny Milchman’s debut, Cover of Snow (no signed copies that we’re aware of, but if that changes, obviously we’ll let you know).
Nora’s husband, Brendan, is a police officer in their small town of Wedeskyull, NY. And one snowy January morning, Nora wakes up to an awful silence; her husband has hanged himself. She is beyond stunned, and as she tries to make sense of what has happened, Nora discovers that things in Wedeskyull are not as peaceful as she has always believed, and that the secrets the town hides go back farther than she could have ever imagined.
Cover of Snow might very well have slid beneath my radar except that Jenny and her husband stopped by to discuss it this past summer (the personal touch matters!), and had I missed it, that would have been a shame. This is an excellent book! Milchman captures the biting winter cold, the sense of isolation that Nora feels as an outsider and her growing fear as she realizes she doesn’t know who she can trust. Having lived in a small town, I understood the fine line that residents can walk beween feeling wrapped in the comfort of knowing everyone and how quickly that comfort can turn into a feeing of being trapped.
While the first chapter seemed a bit choppy to me, the story was so compelling that I couldn’t stop reading it, and Jenny Milchman’s style smoothed out and took off. She has created memorable and astonishing characters, and I feel like I really know these people. Her ability to use the weather and the town almost as characters on their own is excellent.
I love finding debut authors, and Jenny Milchman is one to take note of!
"There's something dangerous about the boredom of teenage girls."
That's fair warning for the events that happen in Megan Abbott's latest novel, Dare Me, but it goes much deeper than boredom.
Addy Hanlon is a junior, on the cheer squad, and is the sworn right hand to Beth Cassidy, cheer Captain and established social leader. It's been that way forever, and Beth's hold over the cheer team is complete and total.
Then the team gets a new coach, Collette French, and Coach doesn't even seem to notice Beth. From the beginning, she takes tight hold of the team, pushes them to new heights and greater stunts. And she takes Addy away from Beth.
Teenage girls can be dangerous. And what happens through the following weeks will change everyone involved.
I remember how much cheerleading changed from my days in high school (and no, we're not talking how many but a bunch!) to the years when I taught. It went from being something athletic but kind of secondary to an actual competative sport in its own right. The trust and teamwork that goes into the stunts they perform is breathtaking.
Megan Abbott catches the sheer essence of teenage girl in a way that is casually brilliant. She tosses out small, seemingly insignificant asides about their diets, their interactions, their obsessions as if they're simply ordinary, and her writing is so amazing that you don't realize how deeply down the rabbit hole you've sunk with these everyday cheerleaders until you look up, take a deep breath and really think about it.
What scares me is that this kind of almost psychopathic drive probably IS ordinary for a great many teenage girls!
At times, I found myself wondering where the parents are in all of this, but then I had to remind myself that, for a lot of kids who are fairly well-to-do and at the top of their social circles, parental involvement is frequently fairly distant. I know from my own experiences teaching that parents frequently are the last to learn what their kids are up to, and the smarter the student, the less the parent knows. Sorry, parents, but it's true!
Dare Me is an astonishing and compelling book, deceptively easy to read because the real impact only hits afterward. People have been telling me for a long time to read Megan Abbott's Edgar-winning work, and now I see why!
If you knew the world was going to end, absolutely knew it, what would you do?
Ben Winters' newly minted detective, Henry Palace, knows. He'd go to work. That's the basic idea in The Last Policeman. An asteroid is going to hit Earth. It was discovered and dismissed, but then scientists discovered that the trajectory was misprojected. In October, there was a 50/50 chance it would hit us, by January it's a certainty, and now, in March, they're pretty sure where on Earth it will hit, although nobody's saying. And this isn't an ordinary asteroid. It's huge. A dinosaur-killer. The end of the world as we know it.
But Henry doesn't let that slow him down. He's always wanted to be a policeman, and he's got all the rules and regulations memorized. Because of the unusual circumstances, he's been promoted to detective early (the others have taken “early retirement” to live out their last months as best they can), and he's determined to excel at his beloved job. So when he discovers the body of Peter Zell, seemingly a suicide, Henry investigates further, because he believes Zell's death is suspicious. Told on all sides to let it go, Henry can't. He is, after all, a policeman.
The Last Policeman is the 1st of a pre-apocalyptic trilogy: the 2nd book will take place when the planet has just 3 months left; the 3rd will take place with just days remaining, and I have to admit I was curious about how Winters would handle a world spiraling toward destruction. Brilliantly, is the answer. He touches on all the expected responses, and is quite matter-of-fact about the various reactions, from rioting to religious fanaticism, from relief to a fatalistic "whaddya gonna do about it?" attitude.
And through it all is Henry, who's exclamation of choice is "Holy moly!", who is at times naive and ruthless, who is determined that the imminent end of the world will not stop justice from prevailing. I can't wait to see what happens in the few remaining months left to this strange and wonderful world that Ben Winters has crafted. I suspect it's going to spark more than one late night conversation, and Henry Palace is, I think, going to be the epitome of the policeman's policeman.
There are three things you can be assured of when you’re reading a novel by Louise Ure. 1. It will be action-packed and complex. 2. The protagonist will be deeply flawed but determined and compelling. 3. Justice will be served, but not perhaps in conventional ways. In Liars Anonymous all those elements are met with a vengeance. Three years ago in Tucson, Jessica Gammage was found not guilty in the death of Walter Racine, even though she actually did it. Now she’s living in Phoenix under the name Jessie Dancing, working for HandsOn, a roadside emergency service, when she gets notification that a car has been in an accident. When she first contacts the driver, Darren Markson, things initially seem to be ordinary – his nose may have been broken by the air bag - but then she overhears Markson being attacked. Then contact is abruptly cut off. Jessie is asked to go to Phoenix and talk the police and Markson’s wife about what she heard. But Mrs. Markson maintains her husband is in New Mexico and doing well, so things become complicated when his body is located, with Jessie’s name nearby. When another person is killed, the police, including Detective Sabin, who has always believed Jessie was guilty of the murder of Walter Racine, start looking at Jessie as part of the problem, and she has to figure out what is going on in order to save herself. If she can.
Louise Ure has lived in southern Arizona and she knows the people and the land, and it shows. You’ll feel the dust and the smothering heat, and you’ll get to know some of the seedier sides of life in the desert Southwest, including gang life, coyotes and illegal immigrants, and life across the border in Nogales. The landscape is as much a character in Liars Anonymous as the people, but it is the people who are at the heart of this novel. Complex, damaged, heart-driven characters bring this story of betrayal and rage and, in some ways, healing to vivid life. This is not, by any means, an easy read, but it is a must-read for those who are captivated by people who have a strong sense of justice and who will do whatever it takes to make things right.
With the third in her Indigo Court series, Night Seeker Yasmine Galenorn ramps up what’s happening in Cicely Waters’ life.
The Summer Queen is dying. Unless Cicely and her small, ragtag band can find her heartstone, summer will end and Myst will reign. They have great heart and determination, but is it enough to save the Lainule’s life? With the Consortium monitoring their movements, and Cicely’s unwilling ties to the Vampire Nation, things are looking grim.
One of the things I love about the Indigo Court series is that it is darker, edgier than the Sisters of the Otherworld series (but make no mistake, I love that series too!), and in this series, Ms. Galenorn is willing to take risks that let her expand her talents. This was a non-stop, no-holds-barred ride, and I can’t wait to see how things go now that Cicely and Rhiannon’s worlds have changed so drastically!
So I could only read Pest Control during the day, when I could distract myself. And I read at night, so I had to find something that wouldn't squick me out. I decided to read No Rest for the Dead, a serial novel about an art killing in San Francisco. Rosemary Thomas has been convicted of her husband, Christopher's, murder. She is sentenced to death, and that sentence is carried out. But Jon Nunn, the cop who caught the case, had never believed she was guilty, and now, ten years after her execution, everyone is gathered together again, and he's determined to figure out who did it.
There are 26 authors associated with this book, ranging from R. L. Stine and Alexander McCall Smith to J. A. Jance and Kathy Reichs. I'll list them all at the end of this. Serial novels can be exceptional, quirky, or incredibly bad. This one is the first. The story is complex and twisty, each author builds well on what the previous authors have provided, threads are woven through and picked up in odd and exciting places, and generally, this is a fabulous and fun bit of interactive work. The fact that the proceeds go to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society is another great benefit to buying this book. It was also a great way to distract myself from the buggy wonderfulness that was Pest Control. I don't know what it says about me that I'd rather read about a putrefying corpse packed into an iron maiden rather than walking sticks and katydids before I go to sleep, but there you go, that's how it happened. But whatever your reason, I'd recommend you read both of them. They're wonderful and entertaining and well worth your time!
No Rest for the Dead authors (in no particular order): David Baldacci (introduction), Sandra Brown, R. L. Stine, Diana Gabaldon, Alexander McCall Smith, J. A. Jance, Jeffrey Deaver, Kathy Reichs, Tess Gerritsen, Lisa Scottoline, John Lescroart, Phillip Margolin, Faye Kellerman, Matthew Pearl, T. Jefferson Parker, Michael Palmer, Jeff Lindsey, Marcus Sakey, Gayle Lynds, Raymond Khoury, Thomas Cook, Lori Armstrong, Jeff Abbott, Peter James, Marcia Talley, Jonathan Santlofer, and the editors, Andrew and Lamia Gulli.
P.J. Tracy’s Monkeewrench gang is back, and I couldn’t be more thrilled! They are going Off The Grid.
Grace has gotten away from her demons and Minnesota’s weather by sailing off the Florida Keys with ex-FBI agent, John Smith. The rest of the gang are working on a program for the police.
Then Magozzi and Gino catch a case: a young Ojibwe girl’s body is found in a field. She and four other girls were kidnapped on their way to school, and everyone is up in arms about it. Things take a series of bad turns. Grace and John are attacked on their boat, so they’re headed back to Minneapolis, where Magozzi and Gino find themselves working with the FBI to thwart what looks like a terrorist plot.
And then it gets complicated!
The magic is still here. Off the Grid brought the whole gang back together, and while I enjoy Magozzi and Gino, I’m a fan of the Monkeewrench gang at heart, so I was pleased that they were woven in and out of the terrorist action. And while I might have been happier with a more action-packed final confrontation (which says something about me, now doesn’t it?), it was satisfying, with the potential for some intriguing complications down the road, if they decide to take it that way.
If you haven’t met the Monkeewrench gang, I heartily encourage you to jump in with the first in the series, Monkeewrench. If you’re already a fan, you’ll join me in being happy that they’re back!
Again, I'm reviewing two books, but there's a reason these two are linked. Kind of. I've been meaning to read Bill Fitzhugh's Pest Control for ages, but just hadn't. I needed something light to read so I picked it up. What a complete and total hoot! Bob Dillon is fed up with his job as an exterminator. He hates using poisons; they're environmentally unfriendly and the bugs are becoming resistant. And so he quits, even though he doesn't have his eco-friendly "assassin bugs" ready yet, and he and his wife are barely making ends meet as it is. But he's optimistic, and Mary's supportive, right up until he breaks a promise to her. But he really is trying to find a job, so he answers an ad in the paper, but the ad turns out to be code. The "exterminator" being advertised for is really a contract killer. Thus begins a series of wacky and action-packed events that will put Bob in contact with all manner of people he had no idea he'd ever meet, all while trying to figure out which of his hybrid "assassin bugs" will best control New York City's pest problem. I know, with absolute certainty, I didn't get all the Bob Dylan references, but I got quite a few. Pest Control is punny and hysterical and incredibly well written. If you're looking for huge fun and lots of laughs, this is the book. Which leads me to my second review. See, I'm wickedly, horribly, astonishingly entomophobic. Seriously. I need therapy. I've been paralyzed by crickets. Charlotte's Web gave me nightmares. I can't stand bugs.
It’s no secret I’m a big fan of Susan Hill’s writing, and her latest, A Question of Identity is a gem. In 2002 in Yorkshire, Alan Frederick Keyes was accused of murdering three elderly women. Everyone knows he did it, his wife is terrified of him, but somehow he is found not guilty on all counts. Because public sentiment is so volatile, Keyes is put into protection, given a new name, a new life, and divorced from his wife. It’s now ten years later, and Keyes is long forgotten. There’s a new housing development in Lafferton, specifically designed for the elderly. Simon Serrailer will discover that evil has come from Yorkshire to his little town, and that evil has the village’s older residents firmly in its sights.
Susan Hill is gently, quietly Hitchcockian in her building of suspense. For the first third of the book, you know what’s going to happen, you can see it coming, but there’s nothing to be done to stop what is about to occur. The tension builds and the only questions are “when” and “who”. Hill’s characters are so layered and human that they become real. Still, with a year between books, it’s sometimes easy to lose track of exactly who is who, and she handles those nudges to remind you cleverly and well. If you remember exactly who everyone is, she doesn’t jar with backstory, and if – like me – people sometimes blur a bit, she reminds without being heavy-handed. But it’s the story, the people, the whole town. I often say I could live in Lafferton (despite the amount of crime that goes on there!), and that’s a solid tribute to Susan Hill’s talent. If you haven’t read her work and you enjoy British village mysteries, begin with The Various Haunts of Men. You won’t regret it!
"'The Irish have long memories,' Rabbi Hempel said. 'I have lived in Ireland for more than ten years, and this was my first understanding of its people. Were it not so, perhaps Britain might have had another ally against the Germans. Instead, Ireland sat on its hands and watched as Europe burned.'"
Stuart Neville's new standalone, Ratlines deals very much with long Irish memories. Its 1963, and for the first time ever, a sitting President of the United States is about to come to Ireland, so the government is really sensitive to the possibility of any scandal that might jeopardize such a momentous occasion.
But Ireland had been neutral during The Emergency, as they called WWII, and now were turning a blind eye to some of the more unsavory immigrants from that time. Lieutenant Albert Ryan had fought with the British against the Nazis, and works for the Directorate of Intelligence. When a German is found dead, the third such foreigner to be murdered within just a few days, Ryan is assigned to stop the killings before the truth is exposed: that they were all Nazis who had been granted asylum.
Ryan's good at his job, and discovers quickly that these murdered men were all linked to Colonel Otto Skorzeny, one of Hitler's favored commandos, the man who daringly saved Mussolini.
"Ryan still dreamed of them. Not as often as he used to, but sometimes. He thanked God he had not entered the camps. The stories travelled across Europe's wastelands, about the living skeletons, the mass graves, the bodies stacked high, half burned, half buried.
"Men like Skorzeny had done that. Willingly.
"And now Ryan was protecting them."
What happens throughout Ratlines is noir at its finest. Stuart Neville has the great talent to create very real characters, to make them real enough to care about, and then he runs them through hell. With an economy of words and a deft touch for imagery, Neville takes you deep into his world and along a journey where the cost of survival is incredibly high. Ratlines had me twitching to read the last page, just to see what happens.
This is not a fun, light, breezy read. Ratlines is for people who are willing to walk on the dark side of life, to go along on an inexorable journey, possibly toward redemption and justice, but definitely toward evening the score. Bad things happen and its Stuart Neville's incredible talent that keeps you wound into the story all the way to the end. If you're a fan of noir, this is the book of the year.
Are you looking for action? Do you like fast-paced spy novels? Then have I got a book for you!
The Right Hand by Derek Haasis the book you're looking for.
This is not one of his "Assassin" books. In The Right Hand, Haas introduces us to Austin Clay, covert CIA operative who does those things we all know happen but we pretend we don't. The left hand can't know what the right hand is doing -- plausible deniability, you know -- but some dark deeds must be done all the same. Clay is one of the best, and because his Russian is flawless, he is sent to Moscow to retrieve a compromised operative. It should be fairly routine, and it's the sort of thing Clay excels at: get the assignment, do the job, forget about it, move on to the next assignment.
And even the complication that mucks things up should be no real big deal. It's not as if Clay hasn't run into trouble before. But this time, this particular complication is shaking Clay's cool reserve, and he knows that if he becomes emotionally involved, things can take bloody turns. Still, he has to do what he knows to be necessary, even if it means going against orders.
Derek Haas has a proven track record of telling great stories at breakneck speed. From his Silver Bear series through his screenwriting credits (the latest 3:10 to Yuma, “Chicago Fire”) and now to The Right Hand, he proves he's a master. And we say that, not simply because of some of the twists he throws in, but also because of where he steps away from the predictable. I can't say more without spoilers, so let us just warn you that you may as well set aside an afternoon to read this, because once you start, you're not going to want to stop reading until the last page is turned.
This is Adele - Janine and Fran have been on me to read Derek for quite a while and I just read The Right Hand. What can I say, WOW! If you like action, this is the book for you. It looks like now I have to move one of my books piles over to make room for the rest of Derek’s books.
Local author J. R. Rain has compiled all four of his "Vampire For Hire" novels, previously published as e-books, into a hefty trade paperback book, Samantha Moon, and if you're looking for the perfect beach read, this is it!
Six years ago, Samantha was attacked by a vampire, and now that her life has altered, she has had to leave her job with the Feds and has become a private investigator. She and her husband have let it be known that she has a rare skin condition, but she can still make it to school in time to pick up her kids and get them to soccer practice (after a swing through a burger joint; she may not eat but they have to!), and she does some investigating on the side. In the first novel, Moon Dance, one of the things Sam investigates is where her own husband is going on those late work nights!
These are fast-paced and entertaining stories. While there are some inconsistencies that bugged me a bit -- perhaps the difference between e-reading and paper reading? -- the overall result is great fun. Moon Dance has some first-novel glitches, but as the books progress, Rain proves that there's a lot more substance to Samantha Moon's world than you might expect. He is not afraid to take some bold chances and go into dicey territory, which is great. There's also a certain level of whimsey that I hadn't anticipated, although the snarky humor kept me chuckling.
All in all, Samantha Moon is good fun, and a great way to spend lazy summer hours relaxing in the shade!
One of the things I like best about Kat Richardson’s “Greywalker” series is the fact that she makes me think. And sometimes grab a dictionary. In Seawitch, Harper Blaine is required to work with Detective Rey Solis to investigate the reappearance of a boat, the Seawitch, that’s been missing for 27 years, all hands presumably dead. Harper’s investigating for the insurance company that paid out all those years ago, and Solis is investigating because there’s an awful lot of blood, especially in one of the cabins.
One of the things I loved about this book is that it hailed back to earlier in the series, when Harper had a puzzle to solve and there weren’t a lot of over-arching themes and plots. Seawitch is a gem, brilliantly written and completely non-stop, and it gives us some serious character development, especially since Harper and Solis have to be more open with each other, because, as you know, investigations with Harper never go easily or without involvement in the Grey. We get to learn more about Solis, and their working relationship will never be the same after these events! The other thing that I especially liked about Seawitch is that Kat employed her knowledge of life on boats and boating (since she lives on one full-time, you see). Oh, and then there are the creatures of lore and legend, some from Ireland. There’s just a whole lot to like about this book! I’ll say this again: if you haven’t read this series (and if you like urban fantasy and wicked intelligent writing, this is the series for you!), you really must start with Greywalker because the series builds on it.
Oh, and the word I had to look up? Actinic. According to Mirriam-Webster: “of, relating to, resulting from, or exhibiting chemical changes produced by radiant energy especially in the visible and ultraviolet parts of the spectrum.”
I'm always interested in what twists Yasmine Galenorn will bring to her Otherworld series, and in her latest, the 12th in the series, Shadow Rising she has really ramped it up. Menolly and Nerissa's commitment ceremony is fast approaching, and given her choice, Menolly would leave all the arrangements up to Nerissa and just show up. It's not that she doesn't care, or that her love for Nerissa is waning --quite the opposite! If anything, Menolly's love for Nerissa has grown -- but let's face it. Given the choice of choosing colors and flowers or kicking a demon's butt, Menolly will kick first. Girlie things aren't her forte. However, the way things are piling up now, flowers and music are looking pretty good. The sisters are called back to the Otherworld, where a war is building, and where they will have to face their father. Here in Seattle, something unseen is attacking magic users, and the Lord of the Ghosts is probably behind it. And Menolly's tie to Morio is beginning to be truly problematic.
Yasmine has created a complex and beautifully peopled world, and I'm always pleased at how she brings in threads from previous books, little bits she's planted that were overlooked at the time but now suddenly have additional meaning and impact. Minor characters are now becoming major players, and everyone, including all three sisters, are growing and changing. I like that. And let me just say that she's hinted a bit at what's going to happen in the next one, Haunted Moon, due out in January, and I can't wait!
We all get Advance Reader Copies here, and obviously our favorite authors are the ones we nab first. But once in a while, something new comes along, and when it’s good, it’s a delight. Something Red by Douglas Nicholas was that book for me. Set in the thirteenth century in northwest England, a small troupe of travelers runs into something unexpected and evil. Irish healer, Molly; her granddaughter, Nemain; her lover and the troupe’s protector, Jack; and thirteen-year-old apprentice Hob are traveling through a particularly vicious winter storm in the mountains. They gradually become aware of something that is pacing them, stalking them. They take refuge in a monastery, later in an inn, and ultimately in a castle, where the evil must be confronted.
Told from Hob’s point of view, this is not only a story of coming of age and learning about how things work, but it’s a strong story of family. Hob is raised in the medieval Catholic tradition, Mistress Molly follows the old ways, and Something Red is an entertaining and fast-paced look at how different religions and cultures collide and work together. Until Chapter 18, I wasn’t sure if this was a straight-up mystery or if it fell in the urban fantasy realm. It’s urban fantasy, absolutely, although the “urban” here is a collection of isolated groupings of people – the castle certainly is a village unto itself – and the fantasy part is perfect. But it’s Nicholas’ take on medieval life that I found compelling. In a prosaic and everyday manner, he lets us glimpse what life was like during the thirteenth century in a way that makes me want to go back and re-read this book. It was so smooth, so seamless and so wonderful, and it was a surprising delight. It doesn’t hurt that Douglas Nicholas is an award-winning poet; his use of language is evocative without being flowery. All in all, one of the best books I’ve read in a while!
I’ve met Caitlin Kittredge, and I can vouch for the fact that she’s not British. But if you read the first in her new Black London series, Street Magic, you won’t believe me. She’s got the language and the settings down so completely, even I forgot she’s a local lady! When Pete Caldecott was 16, she was present when her sister’s boyfriend, Jack Winter, was killed while trying to raise a demon. Now Pete, who no longer believes in magic at all, is a detective with Scotland Yard, looking into the disappearance of a seven-year-old girl, when she gets a tip to meet an unknown informant at a seedy hotel. The informant is Jack, strung out on heroin and viciously angry with Pete. But when two other children go missing, Pete and Jack have to work together to stop any further devastation, and Pete is forced to accept that part of herself that she’s suppressed all these years. Even that, however, may not be enough to save either the children or Pete and Jack.
I’m a big fan of Caitlin’s “Luna Wilder” series, make no mistake!, but her Black London series promises to be the one where we see where her true talent has come of age, and it has come roaring out with a vengeance. Street Magic has substantially more depth, more complex personal relationships, and a woven wealth of plots and sub-plots that kept me not only entertained, as the “Luna Wilder” series does, but challenged me to look at events and places in new and sometimes uncomfortable ways. I was up until 3:00 in the morning because I simply couldn’t stop reading. I believe we’re seeing the beginning of a powerful new voice in a memorable new series, and I have no doubt I’ll be able to say, “I knew her when. . .”
I cannot begin to tell you how excited I was to hear there was a new Natalie Collins novel out! I'm not kidding; I figured she fell under the wheels of the Big Mid-List Death Machine, as so many authors have, but no, she has a new mystery out, and I couldn't be more pleased.
In Ties That Bind, we meet Samantha "Sam" Montgomery, former police officer with the Salt Lake City PD, now back home in Kanesville, UT, and the first and only woman on their police force. It would be tough to be the only gal in a small town force no matter what, but Sam has a few other issues as well. She is no longer a practicing Mormon, her family has dissolved and scattered but their influence remains, and she has an eating disorder.
But mostly she's doing okay, until three successive teenagers are found strangled, apparently suicide. That's hard on anyone, but it hits Sam even harder because her oldest sister died that way years ago. Still, Sam is a cop, and she intends to get to the bottom of this because she has doubts about the suicide aspect.
For those of you who have read Natalie's earlier work, Wives and Sisters and Behind Closed Doors -- both sadly out of print -- you'll know that Ties That Bind will delve into the complex relationships involved in a town presided over by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Without ever weighing down her story with polemic, Collins explores the complex world of a religious town and the ramifications when truth must be brought to light no matter the cost.
Ties That Bind is, first and foremost, a non-stop mystery. There are sociological aspects, religious aspects and some romantic aspeccts. My only gripe is that I wish St. Martins had proofread her work a little closer (paperbacks need love too!) since there are some typos and rough spots that a good editor could've fixed. Despite that, though, this really is a wonderful piece of writing, and if you haven't had a chance to experience Natalie Collins' work, now is the perfect time to start!
Cork and an old friend of his, Jubal Little, go bow hunting up by the promontory known as Trickster's Point. Cork and Jubal had been friends since Cork was in 7th grade, Jubal the 8th, and while their lives had grown apart over the years, they were still in touch, although Cork was definitely planning on voting against Jubal for governor in the upcoming election. However, when Jubal is shot through the heart with one of Cork's signaturely crafted arrows, things become treacherous. Cork knows he didn't do it, but who would want to frame him for something like this?
What we really liked about Trickster's Point is the background Krueger gives us about Cork and his formative years. As Cork investigates what happened, we're treated to glimpses of his past with Jubal and their friends. We enjoyed learning about Cork's history, how events shaped him into the man he's become. We also enjoyed seeing how those events are reflected in his dealings with people in the present, including his family. And we were especially pleased to see how Stephen is growing up!
Trickster's Point is a more reflective novel than some of those in the past, but that doesn't mean there's not some serious action, and the pace is deceptively fast. But then, considering the title, that's not entirely surprising!
If you haven’t started reading Krueger, come in, get Iron Lake and get started! And plan on being here on the 25th to talk about Cork with Kent!
It's been two years since I read the first book in Justin Cronin's trilogy, The Passage and I was afraid that when I read The Twelve that I would have forgotten a lot of what had happened.
Obviously Cronin anticipated that, and there's a really neat prologue at the beginning, in the form of an almost religious pamphlet, that gives enough of a summary to remind readers of the basics, and then as you go through the story, snippets are dropped along the way. It works.
The story picks up back in Year Zero, when the virals first escaped, and I was kind of surprised since I thought we'd covered all that in the first book, but there were players we had yet to meet. Later on, the story springboards up to 79 A.V. (After Viral) and catches up to where things left off in The Passage. Once again, we are on the road with Peter and Alicia and Michael and Hollis and Sara. And Amy, of course.
There's a reason this book took two years to write, and I suspect the end of the trilogy will be another two years out. I know that when it finally arrives, I'm going to have to sit down and read them all, back to back. The story is complex, it's twisty and interwoven in so many ways that I know I missed things on my first read through it. The writing is powerful, the images are graphic and the people are completely real, even the "red-eyes". I don't play chess, and I certainly am not up to 3-D chess, but I found myself telling people that The Twelve is literary 3-D chess; one thread begun at a specific spot crops up two hundred pages later in an unexpected but completely brilliant place, changing the dynamics. However, by the time I was 3/4ths of the way through it, I almost had to abandon the 3-D chess analogy when discussing the book. It almost becomes a literary DNA helix, it's that intertwined and fascinating. I found myself breathless and completely absorbed.
My only issue with The Twelve (aside from the fact that it did take two years to get to me; I'm not known for my patience!) is the staccato and sometimes seemingly disjointed transition from one group of people to the next. At one point you're with Peter and his group, then suddenly you're with Alicia on the road, then in a blink you're with Amy, and it knocked me out of the story at times. However, do keep in mind that I read an Advanced Reader Copy, and there is much polishing that can happen between now and October, so what jarred me might very well be smoothed out by the time you get into it. Or it could just be me being grembly.
Still, The Twelve was well worth the wait, and Justin Cronin will be at the top of my reads when the final book in the trilogy comes out!
I first ran across Dustin Thomason when he and his buddy, Ian Caldwell, wrote The Rule of Four, which I loved. It’s a bibliothriller.
Now Dustin has a solo book, 12.21 (no idea if we'll get signed copies, but we'll keep you posted) coming out, so I jumped at the chance to read it. I hoped it would have some of the same elements I so enjoyed in The Rule of Four: great characters, conspiracies, codes, long-hidden secrets come to light.
Wow. Does it ever!
December of this year, Los Angeles: Dr. Gabriel Stanton has been working on finding a way to treat infections in prions, the proteins in the brain that once infected, to date, have no cure. (Mad Cow Disease is an example.) Then he gets a call from a local doctor who has a case that's puzzling her; it looks like a prion infection, but something's not tracking properly.
At the same time, Chel Manu, a Guatemalan expert with the Getty Museum, receives a duffle bag from an antiquities thief. She reluctantly agrees to hold onto it, and naturally looks inside. What she finds is priceless: a codex from the classic era of the Mayans, from about the time their civilization vanished.
And the clock is ticking down toward that most inauspicious day, 12/21/12.
Thomason says in the Author's Notes that he became interested in prions while he was in medical school, and I can see where they must be fascinating. And it would be easy to dismiss 12.21 as taking advantage of the ongoing Mayan hype and, to a certain extent, it is. But it's handled in such a way that this book will be interesting even after the fateful day passes. 12.21 has action, human tragedy, intriguing science and is riddled through with Mayan hieroglyphs and a story from long ago that is as compelling as the modern-day saga. This is a rollercoaster ride, well written and beautifully paced, and Thomason's explanation about what happened to that ancient Mayan culture will have current resonance, I think. All in all, a hugely fun and thought-provoking book.
To all fans of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child's powerhouse series involving Special Agent Pendergast: Two Graves (no signed copies that I'm aware of but stay tuned, out December 11th) is a must read. For those who are not familiar with their wily, Sherlockian protagonist, this is not the book to start with. I'd say start with Relic or even The Cabinet of Curiosities. What happens in Two Graves is part of an ongoing story arc, and the full impact won't hit unless you're familiar with the characters.
That being said, fellow fans, this is a must-read. I can't say much about the plot because it's ALL spoilers. Let me just pose these two questions: What would it take to get the relentless Pendergast to give up chasing someone who has done him greivous injury? To get Pendergast to give up on everything? And the second part of the question is, what would bring him back once he's made up his mind?
I didn't see the answers to either question coming, and the twists and turns Preston and Child have brought to this story line are breathtaking. Oh, and one of Constance's secrets is revealed. I can't wait to see where Preston and Child take the story next!
I have to admit, one of the reasons I love reading Cornelia Read's writing is that she has a fabulous way with words. I mean, I love her protagonist, Maddie Dare, and I love the fact that the situations Maddie finds herself in are rooted in Cornelia's own history, but I seriously love Cornelia's use of language.
In Valley of Ashes (no idea if we'll get signed copies but we'll keep you posted), Maddie and Dean have moved to Boulder, CO, with their year-old twin daughters, India and Parrish. Dean's gone a lot because of his job, so Maddie's left alone with the twins on a regular basis. She has applied to a couple of the local newspapers in an attempt to get a job, partly for the money and partly for adult conversation. This is what she has to say about one of the papers:
"I kind of hated the Camera, since I'd sent them my clips and résumé when we first moved here and got a curt and badly xeroxed form-rejection postcard -- not even the simple courtesy of "You suck so profoundly we wouldn't employ your illiterate lack-talent ass if you were the lone hack to survive a pan-galactice nuclear apocalypse, neener neener," on actual letterhead."
Then Maddie does land a writing gig with another paper, breaking her way in as a restaurant critic. However, when she discovers there are a series of arsons, Maddie's investigative instincts kick in, although with twins to look after, she really doesn't want to get seriously involved. And since Maddie's housekeeping skills haven't improved -- Dean says she's a lightning rod for entropy in the universe -- Maddie's unsure about taking on more and riskier reporting.
Besides, Maddie's got enough on her plate. In addition to caring for the twins mostly on her own, Maddie's the sounding board for one of Dean's coworkers who's having trouble with their boss and Maddie's not too thrilled with the secretary who works at Dean's job, Maddie's mom just remarried, and she and Dean are having their own difficulties. Who needs to investigate random fires? For that matter, who has time, energy or clean clothes?
But when those fires hit close to home, how can Maddie not look into it?
If you haven't read Cornelia's work, you really should, and you should start with Field of Darkness (Grand Central, $13.99). Her writing is powerful, funny, literate, intelligent, and liberally sprinkled with foul language, much in the way Cornelia herself speaks. While her books are always filled with action and mystery, the stories revolve around family, and I would think they'd resonate with anyone who's had any sort of off-beat family member, a challenging relationship, or had moments of profound happiness. Which is to say, all of us. Seriously, read these books!
[ed’s note: Janine and JB also think you need to read all of Cornelia’s books. Really, get busy.]
It’s no secret that I’m a huge Val McDermid fan, and her stand-alone, The Vanishing Point (no signed copies that I’m aware of, but as usual, if that changes, we’ll let you know) absolutely delivers!
Five-year-old Jimmy Higgins is kidnapped, taken from the security line at O’Hare Airport by someone dressed as a TSA agent, while his guardian, Stephanie Harker, watches helplessly. But Jimmy is no ordinary child; his mother was the UK reality star known as Scarlett, who had made Stephanie Jimmy’s guardian as she was dying of cancer. So now Stephanie, along with FBI agent Vivian McKuras and Scotland Yard’s Detective Sergeant Nick Nicolaides, has to figure out whether this was a kidnapping for money, a crazed fan wanting Scarlett’s only child, or if it’s an attack aimed at Stephanie herself.
It takes a master-class writer to be able to switch between points of view so seamlessly. When Stephanie is recounting her past as Scarlett’s ghost writer, the story is told in first person, and when we’re barrelling along the current investigation, the story is told in third person. A less skilled writer could have mangled this, but McDermid’s talent blazes through and it is truly an amazing book.
My only quibble was the abrupt ending, which may not be in the final copy. But the more I thought about it, the more I think the ending I read gives new perspective to the title. In any case, it has certainly stayed with me, and may very well be one of my top picks of the year!
And a book that matches up nicely to the McDermid – and by a fellow Scot at that!
This review is for people who loved Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker’s Guide” series. If those sorts of books aren’t your thing, this one won’t be either.
Okay, just us? Year Zero by Rob Reid. It’s a hoot! You’ll have music you think you’ve forgotten rumbling through your head for days!
Nick Carter is a music copyright attorney in New York, on the verge of being promoted (if he can do something brilliant and unexpected to impress his boss, Judy) or canned (substantially more likely), when a couple of aliens come to his office hoping to recruit him into helping them save our planet. You see, on October 13, 1977, all the various beings in the Refined League (as it’s known by all the civilized members, of whom we’re nowhere close to being one) discovered that our planet has the one thing that can be found only here on Earth: Music.
And from that point on, they’ve been downloading all our music and spreading it around the Universe. The catch is that our laws say that royalties must be paid, and no one in the Refined League has paid anything, which means they owe us for back royalties. They owe us a lot. More than the Universe has available to pay us.
So there are some who figure that they’ll encourage us to blow ourselves up (they’d never kill us, that would be uncivilized !), and that’ll wipe out the back debt AND they can keep the music they’ve already got.
From that point on, things take off. Year Zero is a non-stop, rollicking roller coaster. It’s a quick read, and it’s tons of fun, and it even comes with playlists for the aliens! I’ve spent a lot of time listening to artists I’ve never heard of, and lots that I have, if only to wipe out the fact that the first song the aliens ever heard was the theme from “Welcome Back, Kotter”, which is still stuck in my head.
This just rocketed onto my Top Ten list, it’s that good!