Escape from the ER
Review
4 Stars
Borrowed Time - David Mark

This is a dark & intense story that proves evil doesn’t come with an expiry date. A family secret leads a young man to question everything he thought he knew about himself & ponder that old debate of nature vs. nurture. Are you the product of your childhood or your DNA?

 

Adam Nunn is an likeable 36 yr. old guy who has spent his life drifting between questionable jobs & relationships. His personal life is bit complicated. He has a daughter with Grace but lives with girlfriend Zara & her 2 kids. It doesn’t leave a lot of time for his aging parents. And visits have become increasingly difficult since his Dad’s dementia took hold. Especially the last one when his father casually mentioned Adam was adopted.

 

It’s a bombshell that rocks Adam’s world. He’s always been a people pleaser, at the expense of his own sense of self. Now he literally doesn’t know who he is. So Adam hires a shifty PI to search for his birth parents. And he might have got some answers if the investigator hadn’t ended up as landfill on property belonging to an infamous mobster.

 

This single event brings Adam to the attention of Alison Jardine, daughter & heir apparent to a man who’s ruled the area for decades. But she too, is dealing with an ailing father. Luckily, when she took over the family business she also inherited Irons, a hitman with a terrifying reputation.

 

Adam’s search for his identity goes screaming off the rails as soon as Alison enters his life. She has a story to tell that feeds his growing obsession to learn the truth. But as he becomes more involved in her world of casual violence, you begin to wonder if there are some things it’s just better not to know. Because this is not a story of happy families. It’s about how secrets only gain power as they fester over time.

 

We slowly learn about a chilling & poignant event that has haunted Alison, Irons & her father for decades. It has a profound effect on Adam as well & just a heads up, it’s not pretty. The author provides enough description to make you uncomfortable but never stoops to gratuitous detail. From this point, you become desperate for Adam to find the answers that hold the key to his identity.

 

Once again, Mark has crafted a tale that pulls you in with gripping plot lines & a cast that holds your attention. Some of them you’ll relate to while others are downright repugnant. At the centre of it all is Adam & as his life spiralled out of control, I couldn’t decide what he needed most…..a hug or a good thump upside the head. Of all the characters, I particularly enjoyed Irons. I expect if I saw him on the street I’d either run screaming in the other direction or faint. But as we spend time with him, you realize his persona masks an overwhelming sense of grief & regret. 

 

And the ending? Well, I’m just going to throw down the gauntlet here & dare you to guess how this winds up. I paid attention the whole way through & never saw it coming. Like Adam, I felt like the rug got pulled out from beneath my feet & had to take a moment. This is the third stand alone book I’ve read by the author. The stories have been incredibly diverse but they all send the same message….this is a writer who is gleefully embracing his dark side.

 

 

  

Review
4.5 Stars
Dear Wife - Kimberly Belle

So this is what happened…..

 

 

Goodreads Buddies: Sandy? SANDY!

 

Moi: What?

 

GB: OMG, you have GOT to read this!

 

M: Really? Let’s see….riveting suspense, missing woman, suspicious husband….no. No. No. No.

 

GB: Just listen! I know you said you were done with the whole domestic drama/do you really know your spouse thing that has spawned a kabillion books since Gone Girl.

 

M: Aww, so you HAVE read my reviews *blushes*

 

GB: Em…sure. Anyhoots, this is different. It’s smart, has killer twists & a great MC.

 

M: Look, I appreciate you wanting to pass on a book you enjoyed. I truly do. But I read a whack of these & I’m going to be brutally honest. At the end of the day, I found most of the stories, characters & titles interchangeable & formulaic. Some of the MC’s really got on my last nerve & don’t even get me started on the credibility of plot lines. In fact I rolled my eyes so much..

 

GB: Yeah, yeah, you thought they’d get stuck backwards. You mentioned that. Several times. But this is the real deal! And it doesn’t even have “girl” in the title.

 

M: Valid point. Ok, tell me why you loved it.

 

GB: Oooh…where to begin. Two missing women, two men searching for them & one cop trying to figure out what the heck happened. The story is told through the eyes of 3 narrators. This keeps things ticking along at a great pace & heightens the suspense until you reach an ending that will knock your socks off. And you’ll love the MC. She’s smart, kickass & doesn’t make one TDTL decision. You’ll be cheering for her so hard you’ll need pom-poms.

 

M: Pom-poms. Seriously? For the love of….I might be speechless.

 

GB: *mutters* there’s a first time for everything…

 

M: Sorry?

 

GB: We said: you’ll get a thirst from reading this thing. It’s completely addictive & you’ll finish it in a day. So keep a beverage handy, stay hydrated.

 

M:

 

GB: Hello?

 

M: You’re kind of scaring me right now but ok, I’ll give it a shot.

 

 

And I did. True story. I’ve had a rocky relationship with this sub-genre & after trying many that were highly rated, came to the conclusion it was simply a mismatch between content & personal preference. But clearly they’re not all the same, just like the people who read them.

 

So do I recommend this one? From the bottom of my cold, dark heart. Don’t take my word for it. If you head over to Goodreads there are many reviews that make a more convincing & coherent case than anything I could throw together. Once again I have fellow crime lovers to thank for a great read.

 

BTW, if you pick this up & need a pair of pom-poms….

 

 

                     

Sign of the times.....Australian style

                                

 

Review
4 Stars
Deadly Anniversaries - Marcia Muller

I love anthologies. You can enjoy a fully formed story whenever you have a few spare minutes & It’s such a great way to find new-to-you authors. This volume is in honour of the MWA’s 75th anniversary so it’s only appropriate that all 19 entries have some kind of anniversary to be celebrated. Or not. Because these are crime & mystery writers so don’t go in expecting tales full of roses, cake & karaoke.

 

The first thing you’ll notice is the stellar line-up of authors. It’s veritable who’s who of the genre including Lee Child, Sue Grafton, Jeffrey Deaver, Meg Gardiner, William Kent Krueger, Laura Lippman & S.J. Rozan to name a few. The wide range of style, location & time period guarantees something for everyone. As usual, readers will have different personal favourites & I’ll just mention the ones that stood out for me.

 

 

If You Want Something Done Right - by the late, great Sue Grafton. ‘Nuff said.

 

Ten Years On - a shortie by Laurie R. King featuring Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes. I’ve read & loved this series for years so it’s always a pleasure.

 

Chin Yong-Yun Sets the Date - S.J. Rozan writes the popular Lydia Chin/Bill Smith series but every now & then pens a short story featuring Lydia’s mother, a woman I find frightening & hilarious.

 

Ten Years, Two Days, Six Hours - the take away message for me was do NOT piss off a woman the day she buries her husband. I’m ashamed to say Wendy Hornsby is a new author for me, something I plan to rectify after reading this.

 

30 and Out - by Doug Allyn, another author I haven’t read (must crawl out of my cave more often…). A gritty procedural that delivers a gripping & complete story in few pages. And there’s a police dog!

 

Those were my faves but there’s really not a dud in the bunch. Bring on the next one.

 

 

     

Review
4 Stars
Closing Time - Brenda Chapman

A moment of silence please, as I mourn the passing of one of my favourite series. I’ve enjoyed every one of these books & feel like I’m saying good-bye to old friends….friends with lives waaay more exciting than mine.

 

In the final instalment, we find Kingston police officer Kala Stonechild at loose ends. She has a good life in the city but can’t deny a growing urge to chuck it all & hit the road. She has some big decisions to make & in an effort to clear her head, she & niece Dawn head off to a cabin in the wilds of northern Ontario. The little resort promises spotty cell service & no wifi but plenty of rivers to explore by canoe followed by quiet starlit nights. Perfect. Or it should have been.

 

People staying in the cabins only see each other when they gather for meals at the main lodge. Among the staff & guests is Rachel, a pretty 16 year old working as a waitress for the summer. Unfortunately, Kala will only get to know her after her broken body is found on the side of the road. She’s been brutally murdered & the small, close knit community promptly goes into shock.

 

Enter OPP Officer Clark Morrison, a former colleague of Kala’s when she worked in a northern detachment. And due to staff shortages, he could really use a hand. Would she be interested in a temporary reassignment? This was supposed to be a break from bodies & paperwork but Kala can’t shake the feeling the killer is hiding in plain sight. And they might not be done.

 

Back in Kingston, boss Jacques Rouleau ok’s her request to join the investigation. But he’s worried. He & her partner Paul Gundersund have sensed Kala’s restlessness for a while & wonder if this is her first step toward saying good-bye.

 

 

Readers expect a lot from a final book. You want a great story but usually there are some long running plot lines to tie up as well. This strikes a good balance. The investigative aspect is detailed & loaded with red herrings that keep your brain veering in every direction. When the killer was revealed, I had to do the forehead smack….how could I forget the most basic tenant: cui bono? But in my own defence, my God, some of these people are a hot mess. When Morrison compared their shenanigans to Peyton Place, he wasn’t wrong (something for all you youngsters to google).

 

But it’s also a very personal read. If you’ve been following along, you know Kala had a rough start in life. It’s affected her ability to form relationships & recognize a home when she finds it. Her friendship with Jacques is the heart of the series & he’s become the father figure she never had. And after some bumps in the road, she & Paul built something solid. Or so I thought. As Kala pondered her future I found myself dreading the final pages as I had very firm opinions about where these characters should end up (one didn’t quite pan out so in my head I added a chapter. Go for it, Vera!).

 

This aspect of the story is about change, those life altering decisions that are scary. Where you call home, what you hang on to & what you let go. Several of the characters are at a crossroad & the choices they make are reflected in the book’s title. I’m sure the publishers would have loved the series to continue but hats off to the author for going out on a high. Hopefully she has a new gang of great characters lined up & I look forward to whatever comes next.

 

 

   

Review
4 Stars
Exit - Belinda Bauer

Recently I wrote about how my carefully crafted reading schedule goes up in flames every time I get a book by Sharon Bolton. Well, you’ll be relieved to know I gave myself a stern talking to. There’s a proper list to be followed so like a responsible adult I reached for the next book in the queue. Then I got the latest from Belinda Bauer.

 

*Sigh*….Here’s my review.

 

I should begin with a trigger warning for those of you passionate about garden gnomes. The book contains a scene that can only be described as complete & utter lawn ornament carnage. It’s not pretty so maybe skim that part. You’re welcome.

 

This is the story of how one simple mistake alters the lives of a handful of residents in the small village of Bideford. The cast is a mixture of decent folk & quirky oddballs who all weigh in as the book progresses. But the 2 main narrators are Felix Pink & PC Calvin Bridge.

 

Felix is a 75 year old widower. He lives a quiet, orderly life & has always played by the rules. After watching his wife lose a slow battle with dementia, Felix became an Exiteer…..one of a small group who witness the death of those who have chosen to end their suffering with assisted suicide. They work in pairs & for his next assignment, Felix is accompanied by new recruit Amanda.

 

They travel to the home of Charles Cann, an elderly man with cancer. One look & Felix knows it will be a short visit. In fact, he’s more worried about Amanda. Ah well, the first time is always the toughest. All they have to do is sit there so really, what could go wrong? Oh ye Gods, where to start…

 

In the blink of an eye, Felix goes from upstanding citizen to man on the run. Worse yet, someone called the cops which brings PC Calvin Bridge to the Cann residence.

 

Calvin is a 27 year old guy who is trying to remember why he became a cop. After a brief stint as a detective under DCI Kirsty King, he’s happy to be back in uniform & patrolling the streets. He knows the local criminal element well so when he gets a call about a home invasion, he figures he’ll have it solved by tea time. And he might have…if only he hadn’t found a body.

 

This is one of those reads where you should go in knowing as little as possible about the plot so I’ll quit while I’m ahead. But what you’ll find is a story that is just as much about the characters as who-dun-it. Compared to the author’s previous book, this is a slower paced tale full of warmth, humour & surprising twists.

 

It all kicks off with the body. Then we meet the cast & learn of the events & people that have shaped their lives. The MC’s are 2 men at very different stages but as the story progresses, both begin to reflect on the choices they’ve made. I particularly enjoyed Felix’s journey. When we first meet, he’s a man who is awaiting his own demise as he helps others on their way. But a funny thing happens as events spin out of control. He’s not allowed to passively stand by & is forced to participate in his life.

 

Bauer excels at characterization & with just a few sentences, even minor characters jump off the page. The dialogue is sharp & economical & as the pace picks up in the second half, it becomes an entertaining mix of mayhem & misunderstandings as characters race to either find or avoid each other.

 

It’s much more than a cleverly constructed murder mystery. Interspersed with devious twists & wry humour are moments that are poignant & all too familiar for those of us with elderly family members. Through Felix & Charles, we feel the heartache of losing someone bit by bit & frustration over the small things we gradually surrender with age. Multiple story lines eventually intersect & there are plenty of surprises in store. The ending brings the story full circle & I thought it was perfect. Wishing you red skies every night, Skipper.

 

Oops, I forgot to include a warning for those fond of vending machines. Oh well, you’ll get over it. Now…where did I put that damn list….

 

 

      

Review
4 Stars
The Split - Sharon Bolton

I have a long list of books to read, carefully stacked in proper order. Then I get a book by Sharon Bolton. And all my plans go out the window, along with the list. Every single time.

 

But here comes the hard part….writing a review. If you’ve read her stuff before, you know you rarely end up where you thought you would & I’ve learned to go in with a healthy dose of paranoia. Her plots are like those puzzles with 1000 tiles…you never know which piece might change the whole picture. In fact, my tip for all her books is to go in knowing as little as possible & just enjoy the ride. So what do I share here without giving the game away? If I follow my own advice it would go something like this.

 

 

Part 1: we meet the MC in a unique setting & by 10% in, I’m on high alert.

 

Part 2: Change of place as we go back 9 months to get some history & meet more characters. Stuff is happening and….wait. What?!

 

Part 3: Ah, some pieces are starting to click into place. I got this. It’s the guy with the thing, I knew it. Oh no. No, no, no.

 

Part 4: Ho…lee…crap. Sorry, what I meant to say was more stuff happens, my teeth are chattering and…seriously? Followed by big finale.

 

 

Too much detail? Ok, maybe I can expand a bit without spoiling any potential WTF moments.

 

The story begins in South Georgia, a small island between the Falklands & Antarctica. Felicity Lloyd is a glaciologist & part of a small research team working for the British Antarctic Survey. Their isolation is broken periodically by the arrival of cruise ships during the short tourist season. And Felicity can’t wait for it to be over. Just one more ship & she’ll be safe for another year.

 

We quickly realize two things about her. This is a woman who’s literally gone to the end of the earth to disappear. And she’s absolutely terrified of who may step off that ship. That would be Freddie Lloyd, her husband. Unfortunately, we already know where he’s been & where he is now. When Felicity sees his name on the ship manifest, her worst fear is realized. But she prepared for this day long ago & it’s time to put her plan into action.

 

The story is divided into 4 sections & this first one is relatively short. But boy, does it set the tone. The remote setting, frigid weather & Felicity’s fear….all of these are so well described you can feel them in your bones. The tension is palpable & the author has served notice you’re in for an unsettling ride.

 

Parts 2 & 3 are set in Cambridge, beginning 9 months prior to present day. Here we get some background on Felicity’s life & the people who crossed her path before she fled. As part of the medical requirements for the position in South Georgia, she has to get signed off by a therapist as fit for the job. And so she meets Dr. Joe Grant. Joe is a mild mannered, likeable guy with some interesting history of his own.

 

More characters & plot lines are added in these sections. A mysterious rollergirl, a troubled homeless man, Joe’s mother Delilah & several others weave their stories into the mix. Connections between them are slowly doled out as we continue to learn more about Felicity’s past.

 

That’s it, folks. I’m determined to keep this spoiler-free. The stage is set for our return to South Georgia in part 4 & by the time we get there, I guarantee you’ll have more questions than answers. There are tantalizing glimpses of where the story is going. But contradictory & unreliable versions of events make you feel like you’re standing in quicksand. Nothing is predictable & you’re never sure who you can trust or believe. It’s a psychological mind bender of a read that saves some of the best twists for last. Sure, you could argue a few moments stretch credibility & conveniently propel the plot but its strength lies in the author’s ability to create scenes so atmospheric that you feel you’re walking in a character’s shoes.

 

If you’re in the mood for something comfy, cozy & relaxing, look elsewhere. But if you want to spend a few hours on the edge you’ve found your next read. Your reading tool kit for this book should include: whale music, a Medic-Alert button, thermal underwear & wine.

 

 

   

Review
3.5 Stars
The Finders - Jeffrey B. Burton

What is it about a book with a dog on the cover? Seriously, I have no control.

 

Mason “Mace” Reid is an average guy who teaches obedience classes for people & their four legged children. But his real job is training cadaver dogs to find human remains for police departments in Lansing & Chicago. He’s still reeling from an unwanted divorce & the recent loss of one of his “kids” when he gets a phone call from a friend who runs a dog rescue. Seems he may have an addition for Mace’s team.

 

After he hears her story, Mace agrees to meet the golden retriever & it’s love at first sight. He promptly names her Elvira (Vira for short) & takes her home to meet the gang. Delta (Dawn), Maggie (May) & Sue (as in “A Boy Named..) Hmmm…I’m sensing a theme here. Her training begins & it’s soon clear there’s something different about her. Vira not only learns at warp speed, she has a spooky ability to make connections above her pay grade.

 

Kippy Gimm is a cop in Lansing who she rescued Vira after finding her at a crime scene. That she survived is a welcome bit of good news. She & partner Dave “Wabs” Wabiszewski are struggling with their search for a young woman who’s gone missing. And she’s not the first.

 

When Kippy checks up on Vira, she meets Mace & is intrigued by his dogs. She sees a way to speed up searching the areas she & Wabs need to cover & wonders if Mace might be interested. He is. But one search in particular leads to an event neither could have foreseen. It’s kind of a good news/bad news situation. They find what they’re looking for but the end result is a killer now has Mace in his sights. And so the hunter becomes the hunted.

 

In alternate chapters we meet a cold, intelligent sociopath who enjoys his “work”. So when some guy with a bunch of dogs screws up his plans…well, it really can’t be tolerated.

 

This is a quick, enjoyable book. There’s a bit of a slump in the middle but plenty of info on the science behind cadaver dogs & their training makes for an interesting read. Some creepy scenes & a steady rise in tension lead to an action packed finale.

 

When it comes to the two legged characters, Kippy is the best developed. She’s a smart, determined woman with a low tolerance for crap. As for Mace, he improves as the story progresses. It’s almost as if the author & his MC had to get to know each other & as events unfold, Mace’s personality & voice grew stronger. He’s a disarming & likeable guy whose world revolves around his furry crew & their strong bond is the heart of the story.

 

But the real stars are the puppers. Sue is the regal veteran who thinks of Mace as a barely adequate employee. Delta & Maggie have some sort of psychic connection & enjoy gaslighting their Dad. And Vira is always two steps ahead of everyone else. Now if she could just get those dense humans to pay attention! It’s a solid start to the series & I look forward to the gang’s next adventure. And yes, Sue…I’ll bring peanut butter.

 

 

                                    

Review
3.5 Stars
Midwinter Mysteries - Keith Moray
I love anthologies. It’s a great way to try on new authors before coughing up the big bucks for their full length novel on spec. It’s also nice to have something you can dip into when you’ve got a few spare minutes to read a short story.

This is a collection from Sapere featuring 11 authors giving their takes on mysteries set around Christmas. Some are period pieces, some are set in present day. There’s a real mix here & as with all anthologies every reader will have their personal favourites.

So I’m just going to mention the three I thought were standouts.

“Will Power” by Marilyn Todd is set in 1895 London & features Julia McAllister, a smart independent woman who makes her living as a photographer. The narrative is pacey & atmospheric & full of witty dialogue & sharp humour I really enjoyed. She’s a new author for me & after reading this shortie I picked up the first book in the series.

“Secret Santa” by Kim Fleet features Eden Grey, a private investigator in Cheltenham. Another new author, another great story & another series I’ll be checking out (I think my TBR pile just burst into tears).

And last but not least, one that reunited me with a character I’m very familiar with…the one & only Lieutenant Josef Slonský. “Away in a Manger” by Graham Brack takes us to Prague for Xmas where we follow the gang as they deal with some festive pickpockets. As usual, the dialogue kept me grinning through the whole story.

There’s something here for all mystery lovers & at only 99¢ for kindle, it’s a screamin’ deal.
 
 
              
 

 

Review
5 Stars
An early contender for my Top Ten of 2020 list
Roar Back - John  Farrow

Confession: when it comes to this series, I have not been a faithful reader *hangs head*. But I’ve been picking away at it & just recently finished “Ball Park” which I really enjoyed. So when this came along, I grabbed it. I could probably sum up the babbling that follows with 2 words. Loved it. But then I’ve never been known for my editing skills.

 

The book opens with an uncomfortable scene from 1958. A young cop is put through a hazing ritual to prepare him for going undercover to infiltrate the mob in Montréal. It’s a long term assignment…years. And if accepted, he no longer exists. He will become known as Coalface.

 

It’s now 1978 & cop Émile Cinq-Mars has just been promoted to Sergeant Detective. So it’s only fitting that with his new rank comes a new case. Someone has broken into an apartment building. Seventeen times. Yep, 17 flats & 11 storage sheds were robbed. While he admires the thief’s work ethic, the location strikes Émile as an odd choice. This is a poor area, it’s not like the tenants were rolling in flat screens & jewels. But in one of the apartments, something was left behind.

 

In alternate chapters we follow a man who’s been undercover for 20 years. He’s had a hard life & is no longer sure he can distinguish himself from the Italians, Russians & Hell’s Angels he mixes with. If there’s one lesson he’s learned it’s that you don’t have to be dead to lose your life.

 

Émile & his partner are trying to get their heads around the robbery when his old boss gets in touch. Captain Armand Touton is a legend on the force & was Émile’s mentor when he worked night patrol.  Although retired, Touton is still connected & has a job for his former protégé. He’s been contacted by a man known as Coalface with an urgent message. There’s a war coming between rival gangs & he has a request. After filling Émile in on the past, Touton makes it clear he’s passing the baton. Deal with it.

 

Buckle up, people. To quote Dr. Seuss, oh the places you’ll go. This is a dark, noirish mind bender of a story with an intriguing cast. On the surface it’s your basic cops vs. criminals but the characters & prose make it so much more. You’re dragged into a world full of secrets, violence & shifting alliances. And that’s just the police department. At times, there’s more honour & loyalty to be found among the so called “bad guys” but the downside is they tend to have a shorter life span.

 

The plotting is first rate but what puts it over the top are the characters. They’re diverse & so well depicted you can almost hear them breathing. Just be careful who you care about….they can be driving the story on one page & gone the next. Standouts for me include Émile’s partner Henri Casgrain, the smart & compassionate Reverend Alex Montour & hilarious neighbour-from-hell “The Bombardier”. And, of course, Émile.

 

If forced to pick one reason I keep coming back to the series, it would be this character. He’s a complex & compelling guy who is the beating heart of each book. Émile’s path to the police force was not a straight line. Initially he studied to be a priest until he had doubts about his calling. Then he turned toward becoming a veterinarian but that didn’t pan out either. However he has no regrets as those experiences proved valuable once he became a cop. Now he gets to hear confessions and deal with animals on a regular basis.

 

Émile is a thinker, a quiet & solitary man who often sees what others miss. His vocabulary & dust-dry humour frequently sail over the heads of colleagues. But not Henri Casgrain. For me, their relationship & dialogue was one of the highlights of the story.

 

If I had to give this book a label I’d call it a literary police procedural. From descriptions of the characters & their inner conflicts to the richly atmospheric setting, you become completely immersed in this fictional world. The plot is intricate, intelligent & sprinkled with dry, gallows humour (is it wrong that I was grinning during a funeral scene?). But it also reflects the brutal reality of the relationship between poverty & organized crime in a big city.

 

I’m a bit stingy when it comes to handing out 5 stars. It’s reserved for books that make me oblivious to my surroundings & completely engrossed in the story. This did that in spades & so just like that, I’ve got my first contender for the Top Ten of 2020.

 

 

  

Review
3.5 Stars
The K Team - David Rosenfelt

 

The K Team is officially open for business. When I heard about this series, I thought the premise was a great idea. Laurie Carpenter, Marcus Clark, ex-cop Corey Douglas & his 4 legged partner Simon Garfunkel are Paterson, New Jersey’s newest private investigators. Now all they need is a client. Be careful what you wish for...

 

If you’re a fan of the Andy Carpenter series you’ll already be acquainted with his nemesis, Judge Henry “the Hatchet” Henderson. Seems the judge has a wee problem….someone is trying to blackmail him & he wants them to find those responsible. His instructions for their meeting are clear: it must be completely confidential & he’ll require the presence of Laurie’s annoying husband.

 

I won’t get into the main plot line. It’s ingenious & complex & has our rookie PI’s chasing their tails. The first half of the book deals with setting the stage & introducing all the players. At the 50% mark, the pace picks up considerably following 2 pivotal events….the introduction of one character & the loss of another. As the frustrated team begins to make connections, you’ll be kept guessing as to who is behind it all.

 

I’ve always enjoyed the Andy Carpenter books but was looking forward to Marcus & Laurie being in the driver’s seat. I assumed the 3 human MC’s would split story telling duties with Simon contributing the odd growl. (I know what you’re thinking…..Marcus? using words? Ok, so maybe not actually speaking but I was hoping for some internal dialogue to balance out his vocabulary of pithy grunts.) And seeing events through Laurie’s eyes would give us a fresh approach.

 

Alas, it was not to be. While Marcus & Laurie play their parts, the story is narrated by Corey. And while he’s a smart & earnest guy, I’m not sure his character is is dynamic enough to carry it off. I’m glad the author chose to make him completely different to avoid comparisons with Andy but the result is he’s like vanilla ice cream. Nothing wrong with it, just a little bland. Hopefully his character is fleshed out in the next book so more of his personality shines through.

 

There are some holdovers from the original series. Andy pops in & out of the story as do Pete Stanton & accountant/hacker Sam. And of course Tara is always there to provide quiet wisdom & support. But the big surprise is the loss of a well known character & it will be interesting to see how the author fills their shoes. It’s a solid start to the series & i’ll definitely pick up the next one to see where the team lands.

 

 

                        

 

Review
3.5 Stars
Of Mice and Minestrone - Joe R. Lansdale

Joe R. Lansdale is an author who is not only prolific but consistently adept at whatever genre he chooses to spin his tales. The backbone of his works is the Hap & Leonard series which currently stands at 12 or so books.

 

How can you not love these guys? Hap is a philosophical white guy with a strong moral code & Leonard is tough, gay black man with an iron will. Growing up as best friends in east Texas, neither should have survived the ingrained racism & prejudice of the Jim Crow era. Lucky for us they did.

 

This collection of short stories takes us back to their early years. Hap is our travel guide & as he recounts these 5 vignettes, you get the feeling he’s shaking his head in mild amazement. He now grasps the significance of things that his younger self missed. Like the security of family, the mystery of his profound connection with Leonard & the importance of a good hot sauce.

 

The stories run the gamut. Funny, disturbing, poignant & violent…it’s all here. So grab your iced tea, pull up a chair & sit a spell as Hap reminisces about the good old/bad old days that shaped their friendship. There’ll be pie at the end. With real meringue, not that whipped cream crap.

 

The Kitchen: Hap is about 6 yr. old & recounts how extended family would gather at his grandmother’s with enough food to feed the county. The tradition of story telling is in the spot light & my God, I was starving by the end of this one (how can I be craving grits? I’ve never even had grits.)

 

Of Mice & Minestrone: Hap is 16 now & working at the local police station/jail for the summer. The racism is flagrant & it tells of his first brush with domestic violence & how it was “handled” by the cops. (And just as an aside, I may never have soup again)

 

The Watering Shed: Leonard comes on the scene & it’s the beginning of a friendship that breaks about a dozen rules of acceptable behaviour at the time.

 

Sparring Partner: Further adventures of Hap & Leonard in the summer before graduating high school. It highlights the real threat of not acting white enough or black enough but also shows how decency & kindness can pop up in surprising places.

 

There’s a wry humour that runs through all the stories but this one had some of the best lines. For example, Leonard takes Hap to an isolated old barn where they meet a group of black men. Needless to say, Hap kind of stands out.

 

“Leonard,” the big black man who had been doing the yelling said. “What the fuck is this?”

“It’s a guy named Hap,” Leonard said.

“He’s white.”

“Oh shit. You’re right.”

 

The Sabine Was High: Hap & Leonard meet up again after being separated for a time. While Leonard went to Viet Nam, Hap was in prison for dodging the draft. It sets up an interesting dynamic as the two swap stories of their experiences during a day of fishing.

 

Lansdale's atmospheric style makes for effortless reading. The dialogue is lean & the prose can swing from brutal to tender in a heartbeat. It's clear he loves these characters & you'll be rooting for them too as you fall under his spell. A must read for fans of the series.

 

 

      

Review
3.5 Stars
Strike Me Down - Mindy Mejia

Just wanted to say Happy New Year to everyone. The last few months have been a blur due to real life stuff but if I were to make a resolution it would be to spend more time on here. It's a little slice of calm in crazy times & I love the interactions, reviews & recommendations. 

 

To all of you, here's hoping 2020 is a year of peace, health, happiness & great books. 

Alrighty then, down to business....

 

 

 

This is a book that wastes no time grabbing your attention. After reading the blurb, you have a fair idea of the initial set-up. Then you read the first few pages. Wait…what? No worries, that’s just a little taste of what’s to come. The story then goes back in time to the previous week & how it all began.

 

Nora Trier used to be your average CPA. That was before she was named as the whistle-blower in a case that brought down a major corporation & made her a pariah, both personally & professionally. But her brains & tenacity were just what a man named Jim Parrish was looking for & she soon embarked on a new career as a forensic accountant. Now she’s one of 4 partners in a firm with an impressive reputation for uncovering fraud.

 

The secret to her success? Opportunity….pressure….rationalization. Find the person with all three & you’ve found your thief.

 

Which is exactly what their newest client needs. Gregg Abbott & his wife Logan Russo are the sole owners of Strike, a billion dollar athletics empire with a problem. One week from now they are hosting an international kick boxing tournament that is sold out. Just one tiny issue…the $20 million prize purse is missing.

 

Nora has reservations about taking the job & we soon learn why. But her partners are keen & in short order, she’s heading an investigation into the company that will dig up all it’s dirty little secrets.

 

I was a huge fan of this author’s previous book so was thrilled to get my grubby mitts on this one. Just a heads up…this is a big departure. Initially the investigation takes a backseat as it’s interspersed with extensive history on the principal characters including their childhoods, relationships & memories. This was a bit frustrating for a couple of reasons. First, the opening pages piqued my spidey senses so I was desperate for present day events to unfold. Second, despite all the personal information we’re given, oddly enough I never really connected with any of the characters. Part of that is necessary as it soon becomes clear at least one of them is lying. By obscuring their inner thoughts & motivations, the reader is kept guessing as to who did what until the final pages. But it also prevented me from feeling like I got to know them.

 

Nora is a coolly professional woman with no time or talent for social skills. She wears her business suits like armour but that facade begins to crack when her personal connections to the investigation threaten everything she’s worked for. As events take a deadly turn, a different Nora begins to emerge as she’s forced to fight for her life.

 

The investigative aspect of the plot is very well done. There’s enough detail re: accounting practices & financial data to allow you to understand what they’re doing but it never feels didactic. The story behind the missing $20 million is full of twists, lies & hidden agendas. All the characters have rational explanations for their actions. So who’s telling the truth? I’m betting your won’t have it completely figured out before you reach the big finale.

 

 

   

 

 

Tell Me My Name - Erin Ruddy

LTS

 

A while back I read Mike's post about how we should enjoy what we're reading. Instead of using DNF, he came up with (the brilliant) LTS….Life’s Too Short. It took me a long time to get to a place where I don't feel guilty about throwing in the towel, especially if it's an ARC. But I'm there. So I’m going to shamelessly steal his idea & apply it to this book.

 

When I decide to put a book down, it’s rarely due to poor writing skills. Instead, It’s like walking past a shop window & seeing a sweater that catches my eye. Everything about it screams “Pick Me!” so I dash inside & try it on. Then I look more closely. Hmmm….something’s not quite right. Maybe it’s the material, maybe it’s me. But clearly we’re not meant for each other.

 

That sums up my experience with this book. I had problems connecting with any of the characters & that hindered my ability to suspend my disbelief far enough to accept some of their actions & truly be gripped by the story. When I got to the 60% mark, I found my mind wandering to all the books waiting for me in my massive TBR pile & decided to say "uncle". Life’s too short to not be fully engaged by what I’m reading.

 

So it all comes down to a simple mismatch between reader & book. But just like with the sweater in the window, I know there are others out there that will find it a perfect fit.

 

 

     

Review
4 Stars
Watching from the Dark - Gytha Lodge

So imagine this. You’re on the computer late one night, waiting for your girlfriend to appear on your Skype feed. You can see her empty living room & it sounds like she’s in the bath. Suddenly, in the corner of the screen, you see the edge of her front door slowly open. Soft foot steps echo down the hallway. The next thing you hear is the sound of splashing water. Minutes later, you watch in horror as the front door quietly closes. Silence.

 

Aidan Poole doesn’t have to imagine it. He’s left staring at the screen, terrified by what he just witnessed. Clearly Zoe needs help ASAP. So then why is he strangely reluctant to call 999?

 

 

Now THAT’s how it’s done, folks. If this prologue doesn’t grab you, you’re…ungrabbable. Or possibly in a coma. If you read “She Lies in Wait”, you’ll be familiar with the returning cast.

 

DCI Jonah Sheens is back & as the story begins he receives a weird message at the Hampshire Constabulary: some guy called about some girl somewhere in the area who might be in trouble. Or dead. Huh? After consulting the records (and Google) he finally comes up with a name & address. A quick visit confirms that yes, Zoe Swardadine is in fact very dead. Time to gather the team.

 

Domnall O’Malley, Juliette Hanson & Ben Lightman make up his close knit squad & they waste no time assembling a list of Zoe’s nearest & dearest. Let’s see….there’s Aidan, the boyfriend with everything to lose. Angeline is a close friend who clearly has some issues. Maeve is her former room mate with a complicated love life. Victor is the co-worker who quietly carried a torch for her. And then there’s Felix, the older man who was her landlord.

 

What follows is a layered story full of people with something to hide. The challenge for the squad is figuring out which of their secrets are related to the murder. As little snippets of information surface, each of the people in Zoe’s life will top the list of suspects at one time or another.

 

Alternating with the present day investigation are chapters that begin 20 months before her death. Here we get the history of how Zoe & Aidan met & the complex relationships between the gang. As these progress, they begin to inform the present & change how you view each of the characters. You’ll find yourself giving one of them the side-eye & thinking Aha!. Then you read the next chapter & suddenly someone else becomes your prime suspect.

 

This is not an action packed, shoot-em-up kind of procedural. It’s a twisty psychological suspense story that touches on the darker sides of human nature such as obsession, jealousy, deception & the damage people do to each other. The middle section showcases the grunt work cops endure that makes or breaks a case. It’s also where they (and the reader) pick up the clues that ultimately point them in the direction of Zoe’s killer.

 

By the end of book #1, I knew the regulars were characters I wanted to meet again so I really enjoyed this. It’s a pleasure to come across a police force portrayed in a way that avoids the usual tropes of office politics & backstabbing. Instead you have distinct characters who actually get along & each brings something different to the table. Domnall is the elder statesman of the squad with a dry wit. Juliette is smart, keen & there are hints of a developing subplot concerning her past. Ben is a quiet guy who is bit of an enigma. And holding them all together is Jonah. He’s a likeable man who’s only really comfortable when he’s on the job. As for his personal life…well, that needs a little work.

 

All in all, a creepy & intricate story with an ending that may surprise many readers. Job done.

 

 

                         

Review
3.5 Stars
A Bad Day for Sunshine - Darynda Jones

I was a big fan of this author’s Charley Davidson series which was straight-up urban fantasy. Now she’s begun a new one featuring *gasp* humans. Yep, not a demon, ghoul or God in sight. Turns out she can also write entertaining mysteries featuring normal people. Wait….I may be using that term loosely.

 

Del Sol, New Mexico has always attracted the artistic, odd & eccentric. It’s the type of close knit community where everyone’s on a first name basis, even with the resident flasher (that would be Doug). It can be hard to keep a secret. But there’s one in particular that Sunshine (Sunny) Vicram would love to uncover.

 

Sunny grew up here but left after a horrible event that changed her life. Now she’s back with 14 year old daughter Auri in tow. She just got elected as the new sheriff which is great. But also a little confusing as she never applied for the job. Huh…probably best to just go with it.

 

Her first day reunites her with childhood BF Quincy, now her deputy & he brings her up to speed on current cases. Just the usual….they need to convince Doug to take a day off & someone has kidnapped Puff Daddy, a much loved rooster.

 

Meanwhile, Auri is trying to survive the hazing ritual that comes with being the new girl at school. A pack of mean girls have her in their sights. Then things go from bad to worse when the one friend she made during the summer disappears.

 

So much for easing into the job. Sunny & her team have a serious case to crack. And before it’s over, she’ll discover some startling information about the event that made her leave town.

 

I’ll come clean & admit the first couple of chapters had me worried. One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about Jones’ writing is her snarky sense of humour but initially I found it laid on a bit thick. If every second line is a zinger, it can be hard to find the story. Fortunately, this soon settled down so I could appreciate the witty dialogue & truly funny situations that are interspersed with more dramatic scenes.

 

From then on it became an entertaining & fast paced read. We learn Sunny’s history & the lingering effects of what she endured. The search for the teenager triggers memories of a time when she was another missing girl. But on the upside, her return also gives her a chance to reconnect with her parents, neighbours, Quincy & one Levi Ravinder. Oh, didn’t I mentioned him? He’s a handsome, enigmatic guy who once knew Sunny well (is it hot in here? feels hot in here *fans face*). All I’ll say is I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how that develops.

 

The crimes, high school drama & appearance of dangerous muffins ensures you’ll keep turning the pages but it’s the characters that hold it all together. Quincy in particular is a hoot & I loved the relationship between Sunny & Auri. You have to appreciate a mother who counsels her daughter to think “WWLSD” when faced with a tough situation. These people may have their quirks but there is genuine warmth between them & a sense they’ll always have each other’s back. There are a couple of running gags that pop up at the strangest times that always made me laugh.

 

I really enjoyed this & the ending makes it clear there is much more to come. While we wait for book #2, please join me in sending our thoughts & prayers to Puff Daddy.

 

 

                                 

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