Category Archives: reviews

Lisa Black — That Darkness

Maggie Gardiner, forensic scientist with Cleveland police, sees a connection between three recent homicides. Jack Renner is a Cleveland police detective working on the same crimes. But Jack is also a killer—a vigilante. Some of the dead are his victims. This makes an interesting plot, with Maggie putting together clues and Jack trying to mislead her.

I enjoyed the book—the characters, the plot, the police work, and the different ending. It kept me reading into the wee small hours.

J.T. Ellison — Lie to Me

This is the story of a marriage falling apart. Sutton and Ethan Montclair are both writers who claim to love each other, but they don’t trust each other. Their lives are full of hidden secrets and lies. Both writing careers are in trouble and their infant son dies of SIDS. Then Sutton disappears. The police think Ethan has murdered her, except Holly Graham who is lead in the case.

The plot twists and turns, and we know from the beginning that there is some female villain who is manipulating things, but we don’t know who or why.

This was a good read. The story kept my interest. But I wasn’t thrilled with the characters. Both husband and wife are very self-centered. Sutton has hidden secrets about her life before meeting Ethan. She runs away from her life. Ethan tries to drink away his troubles, many times more worried about himself than his missing wife. The reader should like or identify with in some way the protagonists. I couldn’t dredge up much sympathy for either Sutton or Ethan, even though a very evil person was destroying their lives. I liked Holly Graham, but she was not the main character.

I did read the whole book, which I won’t do if it doesn’t grab me in some way.

John Grisham — Camino Island

Five rare, handwritten manuscripts of F. Scott Fitzgerald are stolen from the Princeton University Library. The insurance company that has insured the manuscripts for twenty-five million believes they are now in the hands of bookseller Bruce Cable on Camino Island, Florida. They hire Mercer Mann to spend the summer on the island and infiltrate the writer’s community and hopefully learn more about Cable and the manuscripts. Mercer is three years past due on a promised second novel and has been laid off from her teaching job with piles of student debt. She has part ownership of a cottage on Camino Island, which belonged to her late Aunt Emma. The job is a perfect fit.

I haven’t read a Grisham novel in a few years, so maybe I don’t remember how he writes, but Camino Island felt off his beaten path to me. Maybe I’ll have to re-read one of his earlier books to see if I remember correctly. First, it’s not a legal novel; second, it’s a slow-paced, relaxed, summer-vacation story (not a lot of tension or action); third, it has more “tell” than “show,” with several chapters that seem more like back-story than story. Despite all that, I did read the whole book and enjoyed it.

Here’s where my content editing got in my way and almost kept me from continuing reading:

Chapter One, 37 pages, tells us about the heist of the manuscripts. The details of how it was accomplished are interesting, but it’s almost all “tell” and could be eliminated or shortened, maybe even incorporated elsewhere in the book.
Chapter Two, 21 pages, is a character sketch of Bruce Cable. This chapter is covered in other ways in the rest of the novel. It could definitely disappear.

You could start the book at Chapter Three, page 59, and not miss anything except possibly the details of the theft.

This review sounds very critical, but I did enjoy the read. I guess that gives credit to the author’s writing. And I liked the way it ended.

Fiona Barton — The Child

During an excavation in London to upgrade an old neighborhood, the skeleton of a newborn baby is found. The police estimate the burial to be thirty to forty years ago. This grabs newspaper reporter Kate Waters’ attention, and she starts digging to find people who lived on the street at the time. She finds an old story about a baby stolen from the hospital, but as the date of the burial becomes clearer some things don’t match. The missing child was kidnapped a decade earlier and in a different neighborhood. Working the story, Kate finds more information and secrets, plus some unexpected surprises.

Trying to figure out what had happened, the book held my interest from the beginning, but it didn’t really grab me until the latter part of the story, keeping me up late the last night to finish it.

I guess the novel would be women’s fiction, mystery, maybe literary, maybe psychological thriller. I know that I say I’m not into women’s fiction, but there are some very talented writers in that genre. Author Barton kept me reading and kept me guessing. I would definitely read another of her novels.

Samuel Bjork — The Owl Always Hunts at Night

Police investigator Mia Krüger and her boss Holger Munch head a team looking into the strange death of a young girl found posed in the woods on a bed of feathers. They discover a film of the girl in a cage, running in a wheel like an animal in order to get food. What sort of sick person would do this?

Maybe it’s the cold and the long dark nights or maybe it’s the books I choose to read, but it seems that whenever I read a novel by a Scandinavian author, they are filled with gloom. Norwegian Bjork fills the story with characters (good and bad) who are depressed or psychologically damaged. It’s set in the beginning of a long, cold, dark, Norway winter.

Even so, I enjoyed the plot’s twists and turns, the unraveling of a very strange murder, and even those bleak characters involved in solving the crime.

David Baldacci — End Game

End Game takes place in a small town in Colorado, but it’s nothing like the quiet, safe, small town in Colorado where I grew up. This is one very bad town, with skin heads, religious cults, biker gangs…you name it.

Will Robie and Jessica Reel are partners—agents and assassins.  They were a couple, but in this novel they’ve split up, for reasons Robie can’t figure out. Their boss has been kidnapped while vacationing in his hometown. Robie and Reel are trying to find out who, where, and why and of course rescue him.

End Game is action-packed and full of twists and turns. A good read.

Although I enjoyed this story, my favorite Baldacci novel is still his first, Absolute Power. If you haven’t read it or seen the movie you should.

Sage Walker — The Man in the Tree

This novel kept me reading until 4 AM. As I said in my last post, science fiction can be almost any type of story. This one is a murder mystery, a romance, a generation ship story, a psychological thriller, hard science fiction, and much more.

The seed ship Kybele is almost ready to leave Earth after years of building and preparation, when a man is found dead in a tree. Helt Borrensen, the ship’s incident analyst is assigned the job of special investigator to determine if the death is suicide or murder and if murder, who is the killer. The investigation is complicated by the discovery that several of the colonists have apparently received large sums of money from an organization that opposes the seed ship leaving Earth orbit. The love story in the novel involves Helt’s attraction for the chief murder suspect.

Sounds like a romance novel, doesn’t it? But this is only a part woven into a complicated plot that explores the birth of a new world, human behavior and interactions, politics, multiple sciences, the controversy of surveillance, new ways to govern, creativity…the list goes on.

Sage Walker is an excellent storyteller.

Science Fiction

I know people who like reading fiction but say they don’t like science fiction (SF). But how can you write off a huge genre that contains everything from literary to trash? There are so many subgenres in SF as there are outside SF—genres and subgenres combined.

I just finished another SF novel that kept me up until 4 AM to finish it—The Man in the Tree by Sage Walker. I started to write another post about science fiction and realized I had already done that, so I am reposting it.

Science Fiction posted Jul 29, 2014.
I love SF books. At least some of them. They cover so much ground. The range from great to boring. But isn’t that true of all novels? There are many genres within SF: Adventure, Space, Hard SF, Soft SF, Paranormal, Cyberpunk, Alternate History, and many more. Some cross over genres into romance, mystery, fantasy, or mainstream fiction. Now they are sometimes calling it speculative fiction, which appears to covers more genres than even science fiction.

I first wrote my novel, The Janus Code, as science fiction or speculative fiction in 1995. When the world caught up with my imagination, I edited it to bring it up-to-date and published it as a suspense thriller.

Getting back to why I started this post, I stayed up ‘til 4AM a couple of nights ago reading a SF book – The Silent History by Eli Horowitz, Matthew Derby and Kevin Moffett. This is soft or social SF. I found the book fascinating for several reasons. One is the fact that it is a collaboration between three authors. Something that caught my attention was that the story was originally written as an iPhone app. Another reason is that they wrote in first person, but each chapter is from a different character’s point of view. You don’t see many books written multiple first person.

An interesting point is that these characters may show up in only one or two chapters or they may continue to appear throughout the book. This made the story a bit difficult to follow when I started reading. I kept thinking, “Did I see this person before?” But that didn’t last when I got into the story.

The plot: Children are born without language capability. It turns out to be a virus and more and more children are born with this condition.

I could get into the story and the characters’ reactions. I could tell you how it relates to the way people today respond to anyone who is “different.” I could tell you how the story progresses. Instead, I’ll let you read this very absorbing story.

I’ve started another SF novel – Mars, inc.: The Billionaire’s Club by Ben Bova, one of SF’s most accomplished and prolific writers. This is hard science fiction or maybe even mainstream fiction. The science is real; it could happen today. One man convinces a group of billionaires to finance a crewed mission to Mars. I can’t give you much more on this one because I’ve just begun reading.

For those of you who don’t read SF, give it a try. There are many variations and lots of good writing.

David Carlson — Let the Dead Bury the Dead

A Christopher Worthy and Father Fortis Mystery. The story feels a bit like a “cozy” mystery to me — amateur sleuth solving crime in a small town. Father Fortis, a Greek Orthodox monk, is the amateur sleuth who helps his friend, Police Lieutenant Christopher Worthy, solve the murder of a priest. The church community, even though in the city of Detroit, functions as a small town.

Worthy believes the killer is someone in the congregation. His nemesis on the police force, who continually interferes in the case, believes it‘s some punk from the projects close to the church—a robbery gone bad. Worthy and Father Fortis track down and interview several parishioners who appear to have motives for killing the priest. They are also searching for the priest’s journal, which they believe may hold clues.

At the same time, Worthy is trying to reestablish ties with his teenage daughter and attempting to understand his surly new police partner. The characters and interactions between them are interesting and add to the story.

The novel keeps a slower pace than many of the mysteries and thrillers in today’s market. But I enjoyed the story and kept reading.

Cassandra Rose Clark — Star’s End

Star’s End is the ultimate in corporate control. A science fiction story about the Four Sisters, four planets terraformed by Phillip Coromina. He not only owns the planets, he owns the people who inhabit them. Any person who doesn’t follow company rules disappears. Exiled or killed? The family business manufactures weapons. One product of the company is manufactured humans who are programmed in their DNA to be soldiers. They fight wars across the galaxy alongside normal human mercenaries hired by the corporations.  The manufactured soldiers are programmed to be loyal to each other and the corporations.

The protagonist in Star’s End is Phillip’s oldest daughter, Esme. Her mother is a soldier who left her to be raised by Phillip when she was born. Esme’s three-hundred-year-old father is dying. He has a disease which kills even those taking rejuvenation treatments. She is taken by surprise, but she has been waiting a long time. Esme will become CEO of Coromina Group. She wants to change the path of the company and no longer manufacture weapons.

There are also aliens living on the planets. Philip isolated them long ago and they have no contact with the humans. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Fear the aliens; fear anyone different from you instead of learning to live together; creating wars for profit.

Esme’s three younger half-sisters have all disappeared. She is trying to track them down and bring them home before her father dies. Each sister chose to leave when they found out how cruel their father was and what he had done to Isabel, the youngest. But Esme has stayed to work from inside to improve the system.

The novel jumps between present and past. The past POV is Esme, first person past, and the present is Esme, third person past. There are many secrets that we don’t learn until events occur in the past chapters or until Esme reaches a level in the corporation to learn them. Phillip is all about secrets. You are privy to more of what’s happening as you go up the ranks of the company. At the end of the story, Esme is one of the few Ninety-Nines, the highest level who can know all the secrets.

An interesting novel, obviously anti-corporate. I enjoyed it, even if I found Esme reluctantly following her father’s orders hard to take.