A Passel of Teeny Reviews, Part 4

Once again, big surprise, I find myself with
an overload of books read but not yet reviewed
so I think it’s time for a roundup or two…

Unsub
Unsub #1
Meg Gardiner
Dutton, June 2017
ISBN 978-1-101-98552-6
Hardcover

If you’re ever in the mood for a nail-biting, gut-wrenching tale of police work, this is it. Detective Caitlin Hendrix comes very close to her own kind of obsession that plays like a counterpoint to the unsub’s sick and deadly obsession and, at times, it’s a little difficult to tell them apart. I don’t mean that literally—on the page, of course you know who is who—but the emotional turmoil that each feels has a sort of certain similarity and you can’t help wondering just how much the killer is affecting her, perhaps even twisting her mind, not to mention the agitation stemming from her own baggage. This unsub is pretty well terrifying and Ms. Gardiner had me flying through the pages.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2018.

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Poor Things
Daniel Barnett
CreateSpace, June 2016
ISBN 978-1533613080
Trade Paperback

Are you ready for some creepy vibes of the horror variety? From the opening scene of a deer dying on the road, I had a sense of what the title might refer to in a vague sort of way but I wasn’t prepared for how much I would like these characters, especially Joel and a new friend, Ash, a tomboy with an inner strength and a no-nonsense attitude. A high school superjock, Joel is typically obnoxious and a bit of a bully towards his kid brother but his life changes in an instant. He’s naturally full of anger and resentment but a kernel of compassion is there. All he can really hope for is to find acceptance for his new circumstances and, just maybe, a little happiness.

Too bad there’s something evil beginning to stir, maybe the end of the world…

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2018.

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Renting Silence
A Roaring Twenties Mystery #3
Mary Miley
Severn House, December 2016
ISBN 978-0-7278-8653-8
Hardcover

Jessie Beckett isn’t really a private investigator but she seems to have a knack for it so, when Mary Pickford asks her to look into a starlet’s death, she agrees, having no idea where her search for the truth will take her. Vaudeville’s colorful past, blackmail, an impending death sentence…all come into play but will these varying pieces lead Jessie to Lila Walker’s real murderer before Ruby Glynn hangs?

The mystery here is topnotch but it’s Ms. Miley‘s evocation of Hollywood in its early days that’s really the star of the show, pun intended. Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Myrna Loy, Zeppo Marx,  even Rin Tin Tin fill the pages with so much history and fun it’s easy to become mesmerized. I thoroughly enjoyed this episode in Jessie’s life and will be staring the next book, Murder in Disguise, as soon as I can.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2018.

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Resurrection Mall
A Penns River Crime Novel #3
Dana King
Down & Out Books,
ISBN 978-1-943402-65-6
Trade Paperback

A town that’s down on its luck, economically speaking, is ripe for drug trade and mob activity along with a rise in petty crime and that’s what’s happened to Penns River, leading to corruption on multiple fronts and a police department that’s sorely tested. The “Resurrection Mall” of the book’s title actually is a shopping mall, one that’s being refurbished by a minister trying to help the community or so he says.

Doc Dougherty, the quintessential cop we all want on our side in a crunch, still goes home for Sunday dinner because that’s the kind of guy he is, rooted in family and the truly important things in life. Police work in Penns River is generally not exactly unusual but this time it most certainly is, beginning with the mass murders of five top level members of the drug trade.

Resurrection Mall is a little more dismal than I usually like but Mr. King‘s elegant writing, his plot development and his characters (who are refreshingly normal) all kept me going because I became invested in this Rust Belt community and in Doc. There are two earlier books and I think I’m going to have to check them out.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2018.

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Crimson Earth
Modi Series #2
Anna Soliveres
Anna Soliveres, December 2015
ISBN 978-0-9960149-3-9
Trade Paperback

Aeva is a most unusual girl, even in her world that’s so different from our own, and is currently passing as the missing Queen Violet. Aeva is also right in the midst of the fight against a man who is obsessed with power, no matter what he has to do to obtain it and Aeva’s people look to her intelligence and strength to protect and lead them in this time of crisis. To do that, this remarkable young woman has become the strong, self-reliant heroine she was destined to be.

Crimson Earth is the sequel to Violet Storm which I read and enjoyed more than three years ago (https://cncbooksblog.wordpress.com/2014/09/24/book-review-violet-storm-by-anna-soliveres/). I didn’t feel quite the same connection to this second installment but I blame myself for not re-reading the first book before getting into this one and I really do recommend reading them in order to get the full effect of a really well-conceived dystopian tale.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2018.

Book Review: Confessions of a Celebrity Bodyguard by Thomas Fitzsimmons

confessions-of-a-celebrity-bodyguardConfessions of a Celebrity Bodyguard
Thomas Fitzsimmons
Thomas Fitzsimmons Inc., March 2016
ISBN: 978-0-9789-7626-2
Trade Paperback

As with the earlier novel by Thomas Fitzsimmons, Confessions of a Catholic Cop, which introduced readers to Police Officer Michael Beckett, and its sequel, Confessions of a Suicidal Policewoman, the current book’s authenticity is immediately apparent.  With good reason:  Following his service in the Navy during the Vietnam War, the author was an NYC cop for a decade in the notorious section of the South Bronx known as Fort Apache.  Not surprisingly, Michael Beckett has a similar background, which also includes acting on tv, the fictional aspect having Beckett portray – what else? – a cop, on the show “Law & Order.”  (His creator did work on NBC TV shows as well.  So he definitely knows whereof he speaks.)

Beckett is still dealing with the emotional aftermath of his sister’s death, of a drug overdose, at the age of 18, with all the attendant guilt and desire for revenge against the drug dealers who’d sold her the poison that had ultimately killed her.  That desire for revenge is perhaps what led Beckett to become involved with some former and current members of the NYPD known as “rockers” – a group of vigilantes who, for a price, do what the “legitimate” cops can’t do – among other things, rid houses of the drug dealers who inhabit them, “evicting” them by whatever means necessary, violent or otherwise.  The history of that group, who became known as “Beckett’s Rockers,” leads to a current investigation by the Feds, who seem determined to take over the NYPD altogether.

The more prominent investigation here revolves around the search for a serial celebrity stalker known as The Angel of Death.  Some of the celebrities he stalked have died from tainted heroin.  The first of these was six years ago, when a 21-year-old superstar was found dead by her bodyguards, then off-duty police officer [and moonlighting] Michael Beckett and his father, a retired NYPD police lieutenant.

The book opens with the current client of Lisi & Beckett Protective Services Inc. [owned by “Sweet Tommy” Lisi, mob-connected and his father’s business partner before his father’s death], a 19-year-old D-list reality TV star Francine “Tata” Andolini.  Beckett is working with his former lover, Destiny Jones, with whom he has a they-still-love-each-other relationship, complicated by all his former lovers who are still in the picture from time to time.  Tata is described as a “barely literate whack-a-doodle on an inane reality TV show.”  (That speaks for itself with no further commentary needed from me.)

There are several other tragic deaths in the background here, and some other horrific criminal acts, e.g., the night Destiny was gunned down in the line of duty, Beckett killing the perpetrator.  Also prominent is the death by apparent suicide of the fiancée of Tommy McKee, one of the Rockers, McKee still traumatized by her death years later.

Beckett is recently retired from the NYPD, after 18 years in the 41st Precinct, and doesn’t quite know what to do with himself, feeling like a “dinosaur” who didn’t fit in any more.  His father had been a cop for 35 years, as had two of his uncles. The author certainly brings to life the Yorkville section of Manhattan and its denizens, and other areas of the tri-State area, and has the patois – well, down pat!  He brings the book to an exciting conclusion, and I found the pages turning more and more quickly, reading it in less than 72 hours.  As with its predecessors in the series, this newest entry is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2016.

Book Review: June by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore—and a Giveaway!

JuneJune
Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
Crown, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-553-44768-2
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Twenty-five-year-old Cassie Danvers is holed up in her family’s crumbling mansion in rural St. Jude, Ohio, mourning the loss of the woman who raised her—her grandmother, June. But a knock on the door forces her out of isolation. Cassie has been named the sole heir to legendary matinee idol Jack Montgomery’s vast fortune. How did Jack Montgomery know her name? Could he have crossed paths with her grandmother all those years ago? What other shocking secrets could June’s once-stately mansion hold?

Soon Jack’s famous daughters come knocking, determined to wrestle Cassie away from the inheritance they feel is their due. Together, they all come to discover the true reasons for June’s silence about that long-ago summer, when Hollywood came to town, and June and Jack’s lives were forever altered by murder, blackmail, and betrayal. As this page-turner shifts deftly between the past and present, Cassie and her guests will be forced to reexamine their legacies, their definition of family, and what it truly means to love someone, steadfastly, across the ages.

When I first started reading June, I have to admit I was thinking I might be sorry because the opening pages smack of magical realism and I REALLY don’t like that. Happily, though, I pushed on and the story soon became a pretty straightforward tale, albeit set in two time periods 60 years apart. The POV in 1955 is from a girl named Lindie whose best friend, and object of her affection, is June. In present day, the focus is on June’s grandaughter, Cassie. It’s during Lindie’s and June’s time that we get the first hint of the dark things that happened back then.

These three young women are each very interesting in different ways. June appears to be the proper daughter raised in gentility who never breaks the rules and always does what’s expected of her. Lindie is the girl exploring her lesbianism and she goes overboard in trying to make herself unattractive, perhaps an effort to play down her girlness. And then there’s Cassie who initially seems to be in the grip of a deep depression, unable to cope with the necessities of everyday life, but she’s soon rocked out of her somber, uncaring mood by the news that she has inherited a huge fortune from a man who claimed he was her grandfather.

The coming battle between Cassie and Jack Montgomery’s acknowledged family is just what you might expect but her search for the facts leads to answers she certainly never anticipated and it’s June’s and Lindie’s stories that are really compelling.

Beautifully written prose and easy transitions from one time period to the other and back add to characters who are as appealing as any reader could want. Author Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, unknown to me before now, already has a reputation as a fine writer and June should be seen as another feather in her cap.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2016.

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About the Author

Miranda Beverly-WhittemoreMiranda Beverly-Whittemore is the author of three other novels: New York Times bestseller Bittersweet; Set Me Free, which won the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize, given annually for the best book of fiction by an American woman; and The Effects of Light. A recipient of the Crazyhorse Prize in Fiction, she lives and writes in Brooklyn.

Connect with Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

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Book Review: Shooting for the Stars by R.G. Belsky

Shooting for the StarsShooting for the Stars
A Gil Malloy Novel #2
R.G. Belsky
Atria, August 2015
ISBN 978-1-4767-6236-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Some thirty years ago, movie star Laura Marlowe was shot to death by a crazed fan in New York City, who then killed himself. The police ruled it a murder-suicide, the case was closed, and the beloved starlet faded away into history. But when New York Daily News reporter Gil Malloy re-investigates Marlowe’s death, long-buried secrets emerge and he begins to uncover the trail of a new serial killer. And more people are dying. Now, before he can solve the current crimes, Gil must find out what really happened to Laura Marlowe all those years ago.

There’s something that really appeals to me about investigative journalists, maybe because I admire their unwavering drive to find the truth. That liking for nosy reporters  😉 carries over to the fictional types and I was glad to discover that Gil Malloy can be added to the roster of those I like to follow.

Gil is an interesting guy, really into what some would call snooping but what I call having a true enthusiasm for following one lead after another until the facts add up. He also has a burning desire to hold onto his job at a time when print journalism is fading away and more and more emphasis is being put on TV and online venues and their natural inclination towards short clips of news. It doesn’t help his outlook when he’s assigned to do a promotional piece on a hotshot TV reporter who’s about to break a big story regarding a movie star who was murdered by a fan years earlier.

When Gil meets Abbie Kincaid, though, he’s in for more than one surprise, including the revelations that she’s been dating a Mafia boss’s son and she’s packing. He’s even more blown away when she tells him what her big exclusive is all about but the real shock is still to come.

Shooting for the Stars is a quick read and the pacing is nearly ideal. Mr. Belsky is sure-handed in his characterizations and plot development and I’m just sorry I haven’t encountered his work before now. Many good things have been said about Gil’s first adventure, The Kennedy Connection, and I’m looking forward to picking that up while I wait for the next one.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2015.

 

Book Review: Dead to Me by Mary McCoy

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Title: Dead to Me
Author: Mary McCoy
Publisher: Hyperion
Release Date: March 3, 2015
Genres: Mystery, Young Adult

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Dead to MeDead to Me
Mary McCoy
Hyperion, March 2015
ISBN 978-1-4231-8712-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

“Don’t believe anything they say.”

Those were the last words that Annie spoke to Alice before turning her back on their family and vanishing without a trace. Alice spent four years waiting and wondering when the impossibly glamorous sister she idolized would return to her–and what their Hollywood-insider parents had done to drive her away.

When Annie does turn up, the blond, broken stranger lying in a coma has no answers for her. But Alice isn’t a kid anymore, and this time she won’t let anything stand between her and the truth, no matter how ugly. The search for those who beat Annie and left her for dead leads Alice into a treacherous world of tough-talking private eyes, psychopathic movie stars, and troubled starlets–and onto the trail of a young runaway who is the sole witness to an unspeakable crime. What this girl knows could shut down a criminal syndicate and put Annie’s attacker behind bars–if Alice can find her first. And she isn’t the only one looking.

Evoking classic film noir, debut novelist Mary McCoy brings the dangerous glamour of Hollywood’s Golden Age to life, where the most decadent parties can be the deadliest, and no drive into the sunset can erase the crimes of the past.

There is plenty about Dead to Me that I should not like very much. I generally don’t care for books set in the film world, I’m not crazy about noir and/or hardboiled private eyes and the late 1940’s leave me kind of indifferent. Why on earth, then, did I sign up for this blog tour?

Truth is, I was intrigued by the story description, particularly the notion of a teenaged girl working so hard to get to the truth and find out who would do such a thing to her sister and why, not to mention learn why Annie had disappeared years before. The time period involved made it more interesting despite my usual antipathy precisely because Alice would have so much going against her in this era when teen girls were not exactly held in high esteem. Also, let’s face it, I was pulled in by my immediate feeling that this could be very Nancy Drew-ish and I have a fondness for that young lady. I’m happy to say that Ms. McCoy didn’t let me down in any way. Within the first three pages, I was captivated.

From the beginning, Alice shows herself to be intelligent and more than a bit nosy, great qualifications for a budding detective. Along the way, she encounters those who would harm her but also those who want to help and she needs them because the surprises start immediately when Alice  learns that Annie wouldn’t want their emotionally distant father to know what has happened. Alice isn’t perfect, though, in her zeal to get to the truth; she makes a lot of mistakes as you might expect and, without a private investigator named Jerry Shaffer, she likely wouldn’t have gotten very far.

A number of the characters in Dead to Me are seemingly quite stereotypical on the surface, right down to the seedy private eye and dirty cops, but Ms. McCoy gives them a bit of flair that makes them feel very real. Alice  even smacks a little of Veronica Mars, another of my favorite teen girl detectives 😉 I’ve become quite fond of Alice and Jerry and really hope Ms. McCoy will bring them back.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2015.

About the Author

Mary McCoyMary McCoy is a librarian at the Los Angeles Public Library. She has also been a contributor to On Bunker Hill and the 1947project, where she wrote stories about Los Angeles’s notorious past. She grew up in western Pennsylvania and studied at Rhodes College and the University of Wisconsin. Mary now lives in Los Angeles with her husband. Her debut novel, Dead To Me, is a YA mystery set in the glamorous, treacherous world of 1940s Hollywood.

 

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Book Reviews: Watching the Dark by Peter Robinson, Bad Blood by Arne Dahl, and The Brave by Nicholas Evans

Watching the Dark 2Watching the Dark
An Inspector Banks Novel
Peter Robinson
William Morrow, February 2014
ISBN No. 978-0-06-228397-9
Trade Paperback

Lorraine Jensen, a patient at the St. Peter’s Police Treatment Center, is in the habit of getting up around dawn when her pain is keeping her awake to sit outside before the other members of the Center are up. As the light grew stronger, Lorraine thought she could see something like a bundle of clothes at the far side of the lake. Since Barry, the head groundsman and estate manager was in the habit of keeping the artificial lake and natural woodlands tidy, it was unusual to see anything that looked out of place. Although the grass was still wet with dew, Lorraine walked to where she had spotted the bundle of clothes. She did not get all the way to the spot when she realized that it was a dead body she was looking at and not a bundle of clothes.

DCI Alan Banks was immediately dispatched to St. Peter’s as soon as the authorities had been notified. Banks had visited Annie Cabbot there during her recent convalescence. Now Annie was due back to work on Monday and Banks was looking forward to working with her again. When Banks and the Dr. in attendance turned over the body, they found that the victim had been shot with a crossbow bolt. Lorraine recognized the corpse as DI Bill Quinn. Banks stated that he knew Quinn too but only in passing.

When Quinn’s room is searched, some photographs were found that placed Quinn in a compromising position. Quinn’s wife was deceased but the photographs looked as though they had been taken some time ago. Inspector Joanna Passero, of the Police Standards Division, is assigned to work with Banks to determine if Quinn has somehow done something that would reflect badly on himself as well as the department.

Banks feels hindered by Inspector Passero but has no choice in the matter. As he digs deeper into the case he keeps going back to a six-year-old missing person case that Quinn investigated and Banks is beginning to feel that there are crooked police officers involved in the old case as well as the current case of Quinn’s murder.

This is a fast moving story that keeps the reader guessing.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, April 2014.

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Bad Blood 2Bad Blood
An Intercrime Novel
Arne Dahl
Pantheon Books, August 2013
ISBN: 9780375425363
Hardcover
A translation from the Swedish 1999 original.

This was an interesting experience, reading galleys from a book released over a year ago in the US. The original manuscript is even older, the book being first published in Swedish in 1999. All of that is explanation for the difficulties I encountered with this novel. Awkward strange phrases, missing words; are they the result of a less than stellar translation, difficulties with the original manuscript, or is some of the odd structure deliberate? Hard to say.

Still: Arne Dahl is a Hell of a writer. His vision of the world is often dark, troubling, awesome, and turbulent. Questions of good and evil, right or wrong, Islam or Christianity, dark versus light are all here, mostly unresolved. Crimes, the most horrific imaginable, perpetrated on the guilty and the innocent alike are here too in this dark crime novel. It is the story of a highly trained killing machine, a former member of a small elite American intelligence group that operated in Viet Nam. Disbanded after the war, the killing went on and the machine became a serial killer. But this is no ordinary serial killer.

An elite Swedish police unit is alerted by the FBI when a Swedish literary critic is murdered at an American airport. The killer eludes the police dragnet when he arrives in Sweden and subsequent information indicates he must be a killer who has long eluded the FBI. Or is he the reincarnation of a man destroyed in a fire years earlier?

The cast of characters, both in Sweden and the US is varied and excellent. The writer’s style is unusual and well suited to the subject matter, international conspiracy and crime. Add a large element of social commentary about some of our most troubling moral questions and the result is Bad Blood, a tension-filled thriller that is of immense proportions and a not entirely satisfying conclusion. Well worth the trouble.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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The BraveThe Brave
Nicholas Evans
Little, Brown and Company, October 2010
ISBN 978-0-316-03378-7
Hardcover

In a story set both in England and the American West during the late 1950s to the present, the tale is mostly told through the eyes of Tom Bedford. A lonely child with older parents and a loving big sister, he’s an English child obsessed with watching American cowboy shows on television. His hero? The actor Ray Montane in the role of Flint McCullough, the epitome of tracker, rider, shooter and all around good guy. Tom couldn’t be happier when the day comes that his sister Diane, a rising British actress, is called for a part in one of the shows. She and Ray fall for one another and it isn’t long before she’s off to Hollywood and American fame and films.

Then we learn that instead of being his sister, Diane is Tom’s mother. She’s able to finally claim Tommy now, with Ray’s support, and Tom happily accompanies them to America where he learns to ride and shoot, living out his dreams. Until, that is, a violent blow-up brings them all down.

Shoot forward three or four decades. Tom is living now in Montana. He’s divorced from his wife when it comes out that his son Danny, estranged from him for many years, is up for court martial charged with the multiple murder of an Iraqi family.

Since I absolutely hated The Horse Whisperer, especially the ending, I’ve been reluctant to read another Nicholas Evans book. However, I can categorically state that The Brave is excellent, and that I’m happy I received this book to review. The storyline, the characters, the emotion throughout are outstanding and, as one would expect from a writer of this repute, the writing is excellent. Learning about the Hollywood of the 1950s is riveting.

The Brave receives my recommendation.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, June 2014.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

 

Book Review: Silent Murders by Mary Miley

Silent MurdersSilent Murders
A Roaring Twenties Mystery #2
Mary Miley
Minotaur Books, September 2014
ISBN 978-1-250-05137-0
Hardcover

In an effort to escape her past, vaudeville actress Leah Randall has changed her name to Jessie Beckett and moved from Oregon to Hollywood, California. Jessie lands a job as a script girl, a position that makes her responsible for the continuity of the silent film she’s working on. Her efficiency soon brings her to the attention of actor and producer Douglas Fairbanks, and his wife, Mary Pickford. Aspiring actress Myrna Loy is one of Jessie’s roommates.

These connections are all very well and should work in her favor. Not so well is that Jessie garners the special attention of Bruno Heilmann, head of the studio where she works. This attention brings her an invitation to one of Heilmann’s notorious parties, renowned for the booze, the drugs, and the sleeping around.

Jessie, accompanied by Myrna Loy, attends the party, furthering her friendship with Pickford and Fairbanks. She and Myrna leave the party early. On the way out, they witness a shouting match between two actresses known for being mistresses of Heilmann. When Heilmann turns up murdered the next day, everyone seems to be a suspect.

Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the murders. Heilmann is shot, a caterer’s assistant is clubbed to death, a woman is drowned,and another man is poisoned. All factor in, making detection of the murderer even more difficult. When it turns out dirty cops have stolen a load of drugs from Heilmann’s house, everything becomes even more complicated. And then, when David, a man Jessie knew as a drug lord back in Oregon turns up, she doesn’t know what to think.

I loved the atmosphere of this novel. Prohibition, the roaring twenties, silent films, old Hollywood and silent film stars. What’s not to like? The history seems spot on, and while the motivation of at least some of the murders may be a bit contrived, the characters and the setting and era make this a lovely read. I like Jessie very much. She’s a character who comes alive in my imagination. And now she has a choice between two men in her life. I think we’re supposed to root for David, but I don’t know. I find myself drawn to Carl. I’ll be waiting for the next installment.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, September 2014.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.