Teeny Reviews: A Christmas Revelation by Anne Perry and How the Finch Stole Christmas by Donna Andrews

A Christmas Revelation
Christmas Novella #18
Anne Perry
Ballantine Books, November 2018
ISBN 978-0-399-17994-5
Hardcover

I stopped reading Anne Perry‘s books a few years back when they started getting so much longer than I care for but I’ve remained a fan of her stories about William and Hester Monk and Thomas and Charlotte Pitt plus a myriad of wonderful secondary characters. When this novella came along, I decided I needed to touch base again, so to speak, and I’m glad I did.

This episode is set in and around Hester Monk’s clinic where a young boy has found a family of sorts with a volunteer and a bookkeeper. When Worm sees a woman being abducted, he goes to Squeaky, the bookkeeper, for help and, against his better judgement, Squeaky jumps in. What the pair learns about the woman puts a real twist on things but, bottomline, the mystery surrounding the woman takes a back seat to the growing relationship—and mutual caring—between a child who’s had to grow up too fast and a rather crotchety older man. It’s a sweet story in many ways.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2018.

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How the Finch Stole Christmas
A Meg Langslow Mystery #22
Donna Andrews
Minotaur Books, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-11545-4
Hardcover

When Meg Langslow’s actor/professor husband decides to put on a production of “A Christmas Carol”, it becomes a family affair with the twins and Meg actively involved but it’s the actor Michael hired to play Scrooge who becomes the star of his own self-important, drunken show. Meg follows him, hoping to find out who’s supplying alcohol to Malcolm and also accidentally discovers an illegal exotic animal trafficking operation. Naturally, Meg and her animal devotee family have to get involved but finding a dead body wasn’t part of the bargain nor did they expect Malcolm to be pegged as the killer. And is the killing connected to the smuggling outfit or something else entirely? Meanwhile, a rescue group has Gouldian Finches being fostered everywhere and more are coming.

Anybody who hasn’t read a Meg Langslow book needs to run right out and remedy that omission but, please, start with the first one in the series. Otherwise, you’ll miss out on a lot of the humor and the family dynamics. Plus, you won’t get the full effect of Spike 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2018.

Book Review: The Silent Girl by Tess Gerritsen

The Silent Girl
A Rizzoli and Isles Novel #9
Tess Gerritsen
Ballantine Books, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-553-84115-2
Mass Market Paperback

An interesting departure from the usual circumstances in this powerful series. The novel begins in San Francisco when an unknown woman stalks a teenaged girl. We learn quickly that the stalker has benign designs on the girl. She is challenged to become a warrior child.

The novel switches to Boston, home of the main protagonists of this series. Maura Isles faces an unusual situation. As the Medical Examiner for the city of Boston, she must testify against the actions of one of Boston PDs most revered officers, a circumstance which causes her considerable anxiety and difficulty with the thin blue line, as well as distance with her friend, detective Jane Rizzoli.

A local boy, Billy Foo, who chooses to conduct paid walking tours of the central city of Boston, often takes groups to the site of a nineteen-year-old multiple murder, the Red Phoenix restaurant. And then, as night falls, one of the tour members discovers a freshly severed hand, lying in the alley beside the building housing the closed Red Phoenix. Murder, mystery, perplexing clues pile up and the atmosphere woven by this master storyteller grab readers forcefully.

This story examines in a thoughtful way some of the interesting and complicated and ancient mythology of the Asian world. But it is important to note that the author has not fashioned a fantasy. This novel is carefully rooted in the real and dangerous world.

The principal characters, as always, are exceedingly well and carefully drawn, the action persists in a steady drumbeat of action and reaction, interspersed with quiet intellectual or social scenes. The result is a fine strong novel that should satisfy any Gerritsen fan and bring her new devotees.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, April 2018.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Try Not to Breathe by Holly Seddon

Try Not to BreatheTry Not to Breathe
Holly Seddon
Ballantine Books, February 2016
ISBN No. 978-1-101-88586-4
Hardcover

Alex Dale and Amy Stevenson might be referred to as two lost souls. Alex Dale’s problem is alcohol. Alcohol is the main factor that destroyed Alex’s marriage and destroyed Alex’s career as a journalist. Alex fights her addiction but so far, it is a losing battle. Alex’s ex-husband is remarried and has a child. Alex is surviving as a freelance writer but just barely getting by.

Amy Stevenson was attacked 15 years ago. She is in a coma and has been silent the entire 15 years. Her only visitor is Jacob, her boy friend from 15 years ago. Jacob is married and his wife is pregnant but she is unaware of Jacob’s visits to Amy.

Alex is writing a freelance article about patients that are in a coma and the doctor who is trying to communicate with patients that he feels are functioning on some level. She visits the hospital and recognizes Amy from the story of her abduction fifteen years ago. Alex makes a decision to try to find out the true story behind what happened to Amy. Part of that decision is to make a stronger attempt to curb her desire for alcohol.

Amy as well as Jacob and Alex speak to the reader from the various chapters of Try Not to Breathe. Alex feels that she is reaching Amy and notices little changes in her.

The book is well written and an exciting read. I look forward to more books by Holly Seddon.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, February 2016.

Book Reviews: As Night Falls by Jenny Milchman and Dance of the Bones by J. A. Jance

As Night FallsAs Night Falls
Jenny Milchman
Ballantine Books, June 2015
ISBN 978-0-553-39481-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Sandy Tremont has always tried to give her family everything. But, as the sky darkens over the Adirondacks and a heavy snowfall looms, an escaped murderer with the power to take it all away draws close.

In her isolated home in the shadowy woods, Sandy prepares dinner after a fight with her daughter, Ivy. Upstairs, the fifteen-year-old—smart, brave, and with every reason to be angry tonight—keeps her distance from her mother. Sandy’s husband, Ben, a wilderness guide, arrives late to find a home simmering with unease.

Nearby, two desperate men on the run make their way through the fading light, bloodstained and determined to leave no loose ends or witnesses. After almost twenty years as prison cellmates, they have become a deadly team: Harlan the muscle, Nick the mind and will. As they approach a secluded house and look through its windows to see a cozy domestic scene, Nick knows that here he will find what he’s looking for . . . before he disappears forever.

Opening the door to the Tremont home, Nick brings not only a legacy of terror but a secret that threatens to drag Sandy with him into the darkness.

As Night Falls is Jenny Milchman‘s third book set in the Adirondacks area and, with this book, she confirms that no one does a better job at making the weather a major character. The middle book doesn’t really have that focus but Cover of Snow and As Night Falls are simply brilliant in their evocation of bonecrushing cold, enhanced by depths of snow that I’ll never see here in Virginia. And the snow never seems to go away, making me feel as though I’m buried in a snowbank with no hope of escape. And, yet, I’m driven to keep reading because I know the author is going to make it worth my while.

In As Night Falls, Ms. Milchman introduces a new element that I find as compelling as the weather and that’s the house. I just cannot imagine a house that would unnerve me as much as this one does. The heavy silence from room to room, the knowledge that no one would hear if something went wrong with the building or one of the residents had an accident, such as falling down the stairs, or intruders forced their way in is mindboggling to me. I don’t get the allure at all and, if I were Sandy Tremont, I’d have to question my husband’s sanity in wanting to live in such a house, especially when it’s out in the boonies where you can’t even hope that a passerby might notice that something is wrong.

Ah, but this is the beauty of Ms. Milchman‘s work, the ability to make her readers so uncomfortable that they must go on to find out how—or if—her characters will find a way to survive. Where Sandy is concerned, the house and the weather make her circumstances even more frightening than they would have been anyway.

Sandy herself is an interesting woman even before we know the truth of her past. I did find her more than a bit ingenuous, thinking that she could escape it forever, but I understood her wanting to once I knew the facts. Still, although Sandy is the purported focus of the story, it’s Ivy that I really came to love. This girl is just like every other teenaged girl who loves her parents but is trying to find her own place in the world and is fighting to be seen as capable of making her own choices. Ivy resonated with me in many ways, not least of which is the connection she forms with one of the bad guys and her sense of betrayal when she learns her mother’s secret.

Then there are the bad guys. They’re both surprising in that Nick intends to be vindictive and vicious but seems to be a little reluctant while Harlan is sort of a very damaged child with remnants of his once-caring soul. He is a tragedy all by himself. When these two men invade the Tremont home, life will change forever for everyone involved and, between beginning and end, the suspense grabs the reader by the throat. Well done, Ms. Milchman!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2015.

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Dance of the BonesDance of the Bones
A J. P. Beaumont and Brandon Walker Novel
J. A. Jance
William Morrow, September 2015
ISBN 978-0-06-229766-2
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Years ago, Amos Warren, a prospector, was gunned down out in the desert and Sheriff Brandon Walker made the arrest in the case. Now, the retired Walker is called in when the alleged killer, John Lassiter, refuses to accept a plea deal that would release him from prison with time served. Lassiter wants Brandon and The Last Chance to find Amos’s “real” killer and clear his name.

Sixteen hundred miles to the north in Seattle, J.P. Beaumont is at loose ends after the Special Homicide Investigation Team, affectionately known as S.H.I.T., has been unexpectedly and completely disbanded. When Brandon discovers that there are links between Lassiter’s case and an unsolved case in Seattle, he comes to Beau for help.

Those two cases suddenly become hot when two young boys from the reservation, one of them with close ties to the Walker family, go missing. Can two seasoned cops, working together, decipher the missing pieces in time to keep them alive?

I’ve enjoyed J. A. Jance‘s books for a long time, especially the ones featuring J.P. Beaumont, but hadn’t tried her Brandon Walker series so I thought Dance of the Bones would be a great way to “meet” Walker while spending a little time with Beau.  As things turned out, I sort of bought into their collaboration but, on the whole, it didn’t work as well for me as it could have.

The core of the story is a good one, linking a murder from years past to an ongoing case and also linking two very different locales. The introduction of a group that investigates cold cases off the books is an extra added attraction but I think it also might be at the root of my general discontent because there are just too many people involved to keep track of. Throw in a missing persons case and there’s way too much going on, making things rather cumbersome.

I did like the time Beau is on the page but there’s not enough of him and he actually could have been left out without causing much harm to the tale. As for Brandon Walker, I like him and I like his involvement with The Last Chance so I do intend to go back to the beginning and read more about the Walker family. I should note also that I enjoy learning about Native American lore but a little goes a long way and there was just a bit too much of it in Dance of the Bones, to the point of being distracting.

When all is said and done, the mystery parts of the novel kept me interested but they were overshadowed by the weaknesses I’ve mentioned. I’ll say, however, that every author makes the occasional misstep and, for me, this one was it but I think many readers will be very pleased with this outing. As for me, I’ll look forward with great anticipation to Ms. Jance‘s next book, Clawback, which happens to be in the Ali Reynolds series and is due out in March 2016. While I wait for that one, though, I think I’ll check out No Honor Among Thieves, the novella that brings Ali and Joanna Brady together. Maybe this alliance will suit me better 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2015.

Book Review: Cover of Snow by Jenny Milchman

Cover of SnowCover of Snow
Jenny Milchman
Ballantine Books, February 2013
ISBN 978-0-345-53421-7
Hardcover

Nora and Brendan Hamilton live in an old farmhouse nestled in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. Nora wakes up one wintry morning to find that her world has been turned upside down. Nora’s husband Brendon is a police officer in love with his wife, his job and his hometown. However, this wintry morning Nora discovers that her husband has committed suicide. He has not left a note or anything to indicate why he would take his own life.

As Nora attempts to find out the reason for her husband’s suicide, she finds every door is closed. No one will give her answers. Nora has never felt completely accepted by her husband’s family and friends and she has no one to turn to in her search for answers.

Every stone she uncovers only leads to more questions. This intriguing book leaves the reader quickly turning pages and looking for answers.

This is Milchman‘s debut novel and the winner of the Mary Higgins Clark Award. I hope to read many more novels by this author.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, June 2014.

Book Review: Ruin Falls by Jenny Milchman

Ruin Falls Ruin Falls
Jenny Milchman
Ballantine Books, April 2014
ISBN 978-0-345-54907-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Liz Daniels has every reason to be happy about setting off on a rare family vacation, leaving behind her remote home in the Adirondack Mountains for a while. Instead, she feels uneasy. Her children, eight-year-old Reid and six-year-old Ally, have met their paternal grandparents only a handful of times. But Liz’s husband, Paul, has decided that, despite a strained relationship with his mother and father, they should visit the farm in western New York where he spent his childhood.
 
On their way to the farm, the family stops at a hotel for the night. In the morning, when Liz goes to check on her sleeping children, all her anxiety comes roaring back: Ally and Reed are nowhere to be found. Blind panic slides into ice-cold terror as the hours tick by without anyone finding a trace of the kids. Soon, Paul and Liz are being interviewed by police, an Amber Alert is issued, and detectives are called in.
 
Frantic worry and helplessness threaten to overtake Liz’s mind—but in a sudden, gut-wrenching instant she realizes that it was no stranger who slipped into the hotel room that night. Someone she trusted completely has betrayed her. Though she knows that Ally and Reid are safe, Liz will stop at nothing to find them and get them back. From her guarded in-laws’ unwelcoming farmhouse to the deep woods of her own hometown, Liz follows the threads of a terrible secret to uncover a hidden world created from dreams and haunted by nightmares.

Anyone who has ever had a child or has even spent a few moments with one fears that the child will disappear. So many terrible things can happen to them and we can’t help imagining the worst; the truth is, monsters do exist. When Liz wakes up to find her children missing, it takes only a few scant minutes to go from a peaceful morning to outright panic. In the following hours, nothing happens to alleviate her terror and her husband, Paul, has to help keep Liz together while controlling his own despair. Control, after all, is what Paul knows best.

How much more frightening is it, then, to find out that her children are not really missing, not in the eyes of the law. Liz still doesn’t know where they are and all those people trained to help in such a terrible situation have now packed up and gone home. From this point on, Liz is virtually on her own and coming out from Paul’s shadow is the first thing she’ll have to do.

Liz is a protagonist who, for me, became more and more like a woman I’d like to know in real life as time went on. It’s easy to discount someone who allows another person to essentially rule her life but it’s so invigorating to watch that same person learn to stand on her own two feet when she really needs to. In an interesting twist, it becomes obvious that unnatural control is at the heart of everything that’s happening and a variety of characters respond to that control in different ways and in different periods of their lives, eventually dragging others into their spider-like webs. Liz grows into a completely different kind of person, the person she was probably meant to be all along, in a brief span of time that feels like an eternity to her and to the reader who wants her to find a happy ending.

Is there a happy ending here? In some ways, no, and there’s no doubt that Liz’s trust in others, including her best friend, has been permanently damaged. The reader’s journey is nearly as tense and frightening as this young mother’s and there were moments when I was chewing my nails, waiting to see what would happen next and whether certain people would survive. There’s a scene in Liz’s own home that’s about as creepy as it gets and I truly hope I never have such an experience.

Is this a perfect piece of crime fiction? No, not quite. The whole theme of “back to the land” is a bit overdone (and, honestly, made me think some of those people are kind of nuts). Occasionally, Liz is just a bit too oblivious or too ready to jump to conclusions and a brief bit of romance is not very believable or, for that matter, of any importance to the story. I also felt the actual denouement is a bit out of left field but all of that is easily outweighed by a crime that strikes right at the heart and by a protagonist who becomes more than she ever thought she could be. Ruin Falls is a novel of suspense that will stay in my mind for a long time to come and is a worthy follow-up to Ms. Milchman‘s excellent award-winning Cover of Snow.

Note: Ms. Milchman was very kind to include me in her acknowledgements and I’m honored to count Jenny as a friend as well as a favorite author. I can assure you, dear reader, that her thoughtful inclusion of me among those who are delighted to support her had no effect on this review. I had already formed my opinion of Ruin Falls before I even knew I’d been named  and I can truthfully tell you this is a book you’ll want to read 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2014.

Book Review: Frozen Solid by James M. Tabor

Frozen SolidFrozen Solid
James M. Tabor
Ballantine Books, March 2013
ISBN 978-0-345-53063-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

The South Pole’s Amundsen Scott Research Station is like an outpost on Mars.  Winter temperatures average 100 degrees below zero; week-long hurricane-force storms rage; for eight months at a time the station is shrouded in darkness. Under the stress, bodies suffer and minds twist. Panic, paranoia, and hostility prevail. 
 
When a South Pole scientist dies mysteriously, CDC microbiologist Hallie Leland arrives to complete crucial research. Before she can begin, three more women inexplicably die. As failing communications and plunging temperatures cut the station off from the outside world, terror rises and tensions soar. Amidst it all, Hallie must crack the mystery of her predecessor’s death.
 
In Washington, D.C., government agency director Don Barnard and enigmatic operative Wil Bowman detect troubling signs of shadowy behavior at the South Pole and realize that Hallie is at the heart of it. Unless Barnard and Bowman can track down the mastermind, a horrifying act of global terror, launched from the station, will change the planet forever—and Hallie herself will be the unwitting instrument of destruction.
 
As the Antarctic winter sweeps in, severing contact with the outside world, Hallie must trust no one, fear everyone, and fight to keep the frigid prison from becoming her frozen grave.
 

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As much as I don’t like, i.e., really don’t like cold weather, I’m inexplicably drawn to books set in very cold regions and, since this one takes place at the South Pole, I was automatically interested. I also love science-related thrillers so I was really on board with this one. I’m very happy to say I was not disappointed in the least.

When Hallie Leland arrives at the research station, it’s supposed to be a temporary assignment—finish the work of her predecessor who died and get out in less than a week, before all travel shuts down for the winter. The work involves diving into a lake under the ice and retrieving samples of a lifeform called an extremophile, code-named Vishnu, that seems to have properties that could stop global warming. The scientist who had died, apparently by suicide, was Emily Durant, a friend of Hallie’s, and Hallie has trouble believing Emily killed herself.

Before her first day is done, other women begin dying in horrific ways and it becomes even more crucial for Hallie to figure out what happened to Emily. While all that is going on, Hallie’s friends in Washington, Wil Bowman and Don Barnard, are picking up on signs that a major terrorist event linked to the research station and Hallie’s work may be about to happen. She’s pretty much on her own, however, because there isn’t enough time for anyone to fly into the station before the winter shutdown.

Mr. Tabor has a strong hand with plot development but I was even more taken with the characters, both good and bad, and I love that the central figure here is a woman who is intelligent and physically fit but also aware of her vulnerabilities without being weak. I also appreciated the fact that the bad guys she’s dealing with are not obviously the bad guys. The plot device that sticks in my mind the most is a trek that Hallie has to make from an outbuilding to the main structure; it really brought home the dangers of such a forbidding environment.

There was one stylistic thing I wasn’t crazy about—a scene ends on a climactic note, the next scene has the person explaining how they escaped (example: when Hallie’s suit freezes up while she’s outside). I’d rather see the person escape than be told about it after the fact. Other than that, I couldn’t stop turning the pages and was hurrying to find out how this would all end but also rather sad when I’d finished. The science may—probably does—have some gaps but details such as what the temperatures and the enforced isolation can do are compelling. The South Pole is the setting but is also a major character.

One last note, a warning actually—don’t read the Kirkus review if you can avoid it as it’s full of spoilers and you’ll miss out on a lot of the tension and fun. In the meantime, I’m off to find the first Hallie Leland book, The Deep Zone, while I wait for the next one.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2013.