Category Archives: reviews

M.C. Beaton — Death of an Honest Man

Scottish Police Sergeant Hamish Macbeth is an offbeat character, and so are all the others in this murder mystery. Even a wildcat is a character in the story. A newcomer insults all the people he comes into contact with, so when his body turns up in the heath bog, Hamish’s list of suspects includes most everyone in the area.

This is a fun read full of unbelievable happenings and Hamish breaking the rules again and again. He also manages to lose every assistant his superiors send him—some to become chefs and sheep herders, one to marriage.

I will look for more of Beaton’s books.

Kristin Hannah — The Nightingale

The Nightingale grabs you in the gut—powerful writing!

Hannah takes you on an emotional journey through the German occupation of France in World War II. She follows two sisters with contrasting personalities through horrible events and upheavals in their lives and the world around them. Vianne tries to accept the hardships and follow the rules to protect her daughter. Isabelle resists in every way that she can. She creates an escape route through the Pyrenees, leading numerous downed Allied airmen to safety in Spain.

Usually when I enjoy a book, I read into the wee, small hours of the night. With The Nightingale, I found I needed to stop often to escape the pull of this story. Hannah is an excellent storyteller. She does everything right—the historical research, the characters, the setting, the reactions of the women living through this terrifying time.

Hannah’s novel is probably the best writing I’ve found in a very long time.

An interview with Kristin Hannah about The Nightingale.

Robert K. Tanenbaum — Fatal Conceit

In Chechnya, Americans are meeting at a remote outpost with a rebel leader. In the US, the president’s top security advisor and campaign manager watch live via NSA drone as the compound is attacked by Al-Qaeda terrorist overrun the compound, doing nothing to stop the attack. When the fight is over and the two men in the US see that two Americans are taken as hostages, the men order the drone to wipe out the compound before the hostages are safe.

Of course, there is a big cover-up, plus blackmail and murder. This where the protagonist, New York DA Karp, gets involved.

This was a good read. The only problem I had with the book was long narratives explaining connections between characters from past times, apparently from previous novels in the series. I don’t think you need that much explaining if people have read the other stories, or even for those like me who haven’t.

I did enjoy the novel, staying up into the wee hours to finish it.

John Keyse-Walker — Beach, Breeze, Bloodshed

BVI Constable Teddy Creque is called on to capture a shark that has attacked and killed a woman off Virgin Gorda. But sharks don’t usually attack humans unless they are dead or wounded, and Teddy sees a cut on the woman’s neck that doesn’t appear to be caused by shark’s teeth.

The story unfolds around unique characters, including a brilliant boy who almost never speaks, a parrot who repeats everything he hears, a Russian ex-spy, “De White Rasta” Teddy’s cohort from the previous story, and various other fascinating participants.

bananaquits
Bananaquits

For me, the setting draws me back to the islands. I can picture the people, the shops and houses, the tropical flowers, the warm humid air, the beautiful clear water—even the birds are familiar. I haven’t seen or heard of a bananaquit since I lived in the Bahamas where they would join me for breakfast on the veranda, stealing my food.

I also appreciate that the author didn’t drag us through the protagonist’s depression as many crime novels do. Teddy apparently went through a period of moping over his mistakes and his affair with a not-so-nice woman between novels. But he mostly has his act together by the time this story happens, although he doubts his policing skills from time to time.

Keyse-Walker’s second novel is as engaging as his first. He again captures the spirit of Caribbean island life. This time on Virgin Gorda, a tiny bit faster-paced than Anegada where his first book took place, due to more people, more tourists, etc.

I’m delighted that I went back for seconds.

Peter Cawdron —Retrograde

The scientific settlement on Mars receives word that nuclear war has broken out on Earth, then communications are cut. The community on Mars consists of four modules — U.S., Chinese, Russian, and Eurasians (from various countries). They start pointing fingers and blaming each other’s countries for starting the war. It appears that the module leaders are lying to each other. Then things begin to go wrong in the settlement. But Liz is determined to get everyone working together.

Cawdron paints a fantastic picture of Mars, both topside and in the tunnels where the scientists have built their settlement. His characters are believable, and their reactions to the disaster at home and the hardships imposed by the red planet are realistic.

For those who like hard science fiction, this is a good one. As stated by SpaceX engineer Dr. Andrew Rader in the Afterword of the novel, “…there are no scientific breakthroughs required for the human exploration of or settlement on Mars — only engineering effort and widespread dedication to the goal.” With a few exceptions, all of the technology and science in Retrograde is possible, if not now, in the near future.

Mars

Daniel Suarez — Change Agent

Singapore
Singapore

Kenneth Durand is an Interpol Agent chasing genetic crime in 2045. He is shutting down labs that create designer children for a price. Marcus Wyckes heads the cartel at the top of the black lab food chain. Otto, the “mirror man,” created to survive human disasters and repopulate the earth if humanity is wiped out, hates humans, and is Wyckes right-hand man. He injects Durand with Wyckes’ DNA, expecting Durand to die and be identified as Wyckes. But Durand lives through the DNA change.

We meet all sorts of characters, good and bad, as Durand travels through the underworld of genetics trying to find a way to return to his original self. The setting for the book is fascinating, starting in Singapore, traveling through Malaysia, Thailand, and Myanmar. Suarez takes us through cities, farm lands, and jungles. He extends today’s technology into the future with interesting devices and transportation. The author also covers many possibilities, promising and terrible, from the results of “editing” DNA in plants, animals, and humans.

Suarez is a NYT bestselling author, but this is the first of his books I’ve read. I could be tempted to read more.

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.