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Book Club Recommended
A Pleasure

What a pleasure THE UPRIGHT PIANO PLAYER by David Abbott is to read! The publisher compares this to books by Ian McEwan, which I love, but I doubted this book could be that good before I read it. I can tell you, though: yes, Abbott’s style is similar to McEwan’s. And THE UPRIGHT PIANO PLAYER is even better. Honest.

THE UPRIGHT PIANO PLAYER begins with a tragedy. But, although you can then expect description of a man broken by heartache, you will want to keep reading. This is how Abbott is like McEwan. Their writing, alone, warrants the read.

But beautiful writing does not necessarily make a page turner. And this book is.

The second part of THE UPRIGHT PIANO PLAYER begins before the tragedy occurred, when Henry Cage, a divorced man living alone, is retiring from a company he built. He had been forced out, and now he is lonely. Through frequent flashbacks, you will learn why this is so.

Then Henry is a retired man taking a long walk home from a friend’s new year’s eve celebration. The crowds on the streets are great, and he is accidentally shoved into man with a violent history. The man learns who Henry is and where he lives and subsequently stalks Henry, vandalizing his home on several occasions.

During this time Henry learns that his ex-wife, who he threw out because his pride was hurt, who still loves him, will die soon of incurable cancer. And the way he learns this is part of the story, too: Henry received a letter from his son, who he also had not seen or heard from since the divorce, who he had rejected long before the son rejected Henry. And while he is later on his way to see his son, he discovers that he also has a grandchild.

Henry made his bed but now is not the same Henry and doesn’t want to sleep in it. I didn’t want him to, either; I rooted for Henry.

Pay attention to the quotation that precedes the story: "The consequences of our actions take hold of us, quite indifferent to our claim that meanwhile we have improved." This is Henry’s problem.

I have a short list of authors whose books I’m sure will be good enough to preorder even before they’re published. David Abbot has been added to my list. I hear he’s writing another, and I’ll preorder it as soon as possible. But “as soon as possible” may be when has it because I might not be able to wait until it is available in the United States.

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson
Slow, Boring, Poorly Written
Too Much Padding

ONE GOOD TURN by Kate Atkinson begins with a road rage incident involving one crazy guy beating a man with a baseball bat and another man, a wimpy writer of popular crime novels, knocking the crazy guy down with his laptop computer. From there we meet all sorts of seemingly unrelated characters who all become connected.

It's actually a pretty good and simple story. But here's what I guess happened.

My guess is that Atkinson had a pretty good short story. Someone (publisher, editor, agent, whoever) told her she had to give them a book-length novel. So she took this perfectly good short story and padded it. And the result is ONE GOOD TURN.

Open this book to almost any page (except the last few), and you'll see it. One line, occasionally one or two paragraphs, of the story sandwiched between paragraphs of padding. Whatever happens reminds a character of something else that reminds the character of something else. Then back to the story soon to be followed by more padding.

I had intended to read another book by Atkinson. Now I won't.

The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry
Interesting, Dramatic, Confusing
She's a liar

THE LACE READER by Brunonia Barry begins with the narrator, Towner Whitney, calling herself a liar and warning the reader to suspect everything she says. So you have to wonder as the book progresses if any of her first-person accounts are true. But, at times, the book does switch its point of view with the accounts told in third person and from another perspective.

The setting is Salem, Massachusetts. Towner has been gone for the last 15 years but has retuned to Salem because her great aunt was missing. Turns out, though, she’s there for her great aunt’s funeral.

Now come pages and pages of character description, each reminding Towner of her history with them: her twin sister, who committed suicide and the mysterious reason; her mother, who doesn’t go to the funeral because she’s so solitary and the mysterious reason she gave up Towner’s twin; the circle of lace makers, abused women who her mother leads; a policeman who’s interested in Towner and usually has a hard time coming up with the right words; her brother and his fiancé; her uncle who makes her sick and the mysterious reason; and the rest of the mixture of Christians and Calvinists and witches who inhabit the town.

In keeping with the notorious locale, Towner’s family all have some degree of paranormal ability, at least according to Towner. She reads minds whether she wants to or not. She mostly doesn’t want to. But there it is anyway.

This is a relatively short book, but more than 70 pages of it are character introductions. Little by little, Towner is reminded of the history she tried to forget by escaping to California 15 years ago.

Later, though, THE LACE MAKER finally gets interesting, then un-put-downable. Mysteries are upon mysteries are upon mysteries, the biggest one being Towner, herself. Another big one is the reason Towner’s twin committed suicide. And there are the mysteries of why Towner’s mother won’t leave the island and why she gave up Towner’s twin. Or is Towner misunderstanding? And did Towner’s uncle kill her great aunt? And what went on between him and Towner’s twin? Or was that just Towner’s imagination? And what went on between Jack and Towner’s twin and between Jack and Towner?

There are so many more questions, and they’ll keep catching you up. But you have to be careful when you try to figure the mysteries; remember, Towner is a liar (and, as you will come to see, somewhat crazy) and the policeman’s opinions are partly based on Towner’s writings.

While I like Nancy Pearl’s “Rule of 50” (read to the bottom of page 50 and then give up if the book still isn’t good), I obviously read further, and it turned out to be the right move. Although Berry’s writing style, divulging facts in a scattered manner, slowly and little by little, was sometimes hard to follow, it also perpetuated mystery and finally sucked me in.

It seemed to me that when the story confused me, when I wasn’t sure whether it was in the past or present, Massachusetts or California, Towner, herself, was confused.

Although Barry tried to wrap up the story in the end, she still left some unanswered questions.

The first 70 pages rated two stars; the rest rated four. So I guess that makes three.

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake
Interesting, Informative, Dramatic
Wrong Title

THE POSTMISTRESS by Sarah Blake takes place in the early 1940s, shortly before the U.S. entered World War II. But it was raging in Europe, and Londoners were enduring continual German bombings.

I don’t know why this book is called THE POSTMISTRESS because the postmistress is just one of the main characters. (By the way, there’s no such thing as “postmistress” in the U.S. She would nave been properly called “postmaster.”)

There’s also a young doctor who feels a mysterious need to leave his new wife and go to London to help the victims of the German bombings.

And there’s the young wife left behind who, of course, is left pregnant. (Isn’t that almost a cliché?)

And there’s the Austrian man who everyone thinks is German. He’s Jewish, but he doesn’t tell anyone. And, to show how mean we are to people we think represent the enemy, most everyone is suspicious of him.

And there’s the postmistress’s (postmaster’s) boyfriend who watches for U boats.

And there’s an American radio reporter in London who gets an assignment to travel on trains across Europe and record refugees trying to get out.

I thought the book was a bit dull at first but got better with the story of the radio reporter in Europe recording refugees on trains. But when the story moved back to the US, it was a bit syrupy for my taste, with people having premonitions of bad news.

Blake tried too hard to remind the reader that this was the 1940s, so different from the 2010s. Everyone smoked at every opportunity, and she even went so far as to describe a woman having her period in the time before tampons. Blake even described the woman's use of a kotex belt rather than the oh-so-modern adhesive.

Gimme a break; that was more than I needed to know!

The book wasn't bad, but it didn't live up to the recommendations I read.

Fun, Adventurous, Interesting
It put me to sleep

On the basis of its high ratings and, finally, of seeing it billed as one of the best of 2009 on, I purchased THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE by Alan Bradley. I'm sure now that Bradley must be a very nice and well-liked person. How else could his ratings be so high?

I expected a mystery. But enthralling, which it was called, it was not. Rather, it was meandering.

A dead bird shows up on the doorstep. What does this mean? Who is it meant for?

A man is murdered in the backyard. Who is it? Why was he murdered and by whom?

What do these two incidents have to do with each other?

So, yes, there's the mystery. But the book meanders, says so much of little consequence, it put me to sleep.

Once Upon a River: A Novel by Bonnie Jo Campbell
Unconvincing, Pointless, Informative
It didn’t grab me

ONCE UPON A RIVER by Bonnie Jo Campbell begins with description of the natural surroundings in the rural Michigan area where the story takes place and Margo Crane’s interaction with them. Margo is a teenager. Maybe because I’m an adult and teenagers who aren’t my relatives bore me, this wasn’t a good beginning for me.

The book continues with Margo’s story.
• She’s gorgeous.
• She doesn’t talk much.
• She is exceptionally good with a gun.
• Her grandfather Murray had one of his children, her father, out of wedlock. His other son, Cal, and Cal’s family live right across the Snake River from her family.
• She has a beautiful mother who hated the life in rural Michigan so took off, promising to return for Margo, except she didn’t.
• Margo lives with her very short father who did work at a metal shop and now works at a grocery store for much less money.

That Margo is gorgeous turns out to be a problem. While most would count this as a lucky asset, in her case, it just means trouble. That’s because, in this book, too many grown men in rural Michigan can’t keep their hands off beautiful teenage girls.

And Margo says nothing. Her father (who Margo thinks of as Crane, their last name) wants to go to the police in one instance, but she will say nothing. And she continues to say nothing when she should be speaking up, maybe yelling, kicking, and screaming, throughout the book.

Many writers use this device, but it is not a good sign. That is, when a character is wronged but refuses to talk about it or defend herself, it seems that the author couldn’t think of a better reason for what happens next. Besides, this device is terribly frustrating and makes the story predictable.

Other readers of ONCE UPON A RIVER post mostly praise for the book on the Internet. So I think it must be a good book for some. But it’s not for everyone.

My trouble with this book is that it didn’t grab me. That’s because no character, Margo in particular, was given enough depth for me to care about her. If you think, as I do, that this style is more appropriate for a short story, then this book may not be for you.

Play Dead by Harlan Coben
Book Club Recommended
Harlan Coben's first book

Harlan Coben's first book, PLAY DEAD, had been out of print. It's reissued in paperback now.

A gorgeous model marries a Boston Celtics basketball player who disappears and is supposedly found dead. But something's going on that's fishy-fishy.

And so the reader is taken for a ride as everyone seems suspect of something. And another basketball player shows up whose moves on the court are mighty suspect.

Coben prefaces this book with a plea for readers who haven't read his other, later books: please don't read this one first, he says,

So I was all set to dislike PLAY DEAD. But I didn't. It kept me up reading until late at night, and that's a good book, I think.

I looked for something to be wrong, and here were my problems with it:

The awful brother
The end

If you like Coben's books, you will this one, too. Don't be put off by his preface.

Live Wire by Harlan Coben
Book Club Recommended
Adventurous, Dramatic, Interesting
Is this the final Myron book?

LIVE WIRE by Harlan Coben is the tenth book in his Myron Bolitar series.

A few years ago I went to a Harlan Coben event in St. Joseph, Michigan. At that time he mentioned that he was considering ending this series. I spoke out from the audience to say, please don’t. He’s written two Myron Bolitar (with his indispensable friend Win) novels since then, so I guess he was listening.

But is this the last in the series?

As a former basketball great and now co-owner of an agency that represents sports and entertainment personalities, Myron is visited by a client, Suzze, former tennis star. She wants Myron to find her husband, Lex, rock star and also Myron’s client. Lex ran out on Suzze, pregnant and all, when he saw an anonymous post on Suzze’s Facebook page: “NOT HIS.”

Right off the bat this book disappoints. Who would take seriously an anonymous post on the Internet? Everyone knows that anyone can say anything on the Internet.

But if you just go with it and not think about that, LIVE WIRE does have Coben’s typical plot and subplot, twists and turns, and Win. So Myron Bolitar fans can count on that even if the book doesn't quite measure up to Coben's others.

Myron, who can’t help but become involved in his clients’ lives, finds Lex in a nightclub and, coincidentally, also finds his long-lost sister-in-law, Kitty. Or is it a coincidence?

Kitty, another former tennis star, is now a mess. She's a heroin junkie so far gone she’ll do anything, I mean ANYTHING, to get a fix. And she’s at this nightclub without Myron’s (also long-lost) brother, Brad. Where is he?

Myron’s father wants him to find out. One thing we love about Myron Bolitar is that he loves his parents. So Myron, in spite of great danger, finds out. After all, he has Win.

While Myron looks for Brad, Myron finds his 15-year-old nephew, Mickey. And, wouldn’t you know it, Mickey is tall like Myron and a basketball player.

Does this introduction to Mickey signal the end of the Myron series? Is Myron now retiring? Clues seem to indicate that.

I love Myron, and I love that he’s getting older just like me. But could his age be reason to retire him?

Lots of readers have loved this series, and I think they should read this. It’s not Coben’s best, but they’ll want to know what's happening with Myron. I think they, like me, will not be happy that Myron might be banished to the sidelines in favor of a teenager.

Caught by Harlan Coben
Book Club Recommended
Confusing, Adventurous, Difficult
A Can't-Put-It-Down Book

Short and simple: Dan Mercer is set up; he is lured to the home of a troubled teenager only to be accused of pedophilia. Although a judge throws out the case in court, the accusation, alone, has ruined Mercer's life. Or so it seems.

And, although they are all now in their 40s, it seems that Mercer’s old college roommates are similarly accused of crimes they did not commit, each similarly ruined as a result.

Wendy, a TV news reporter, tries to get to the bottom of this. She’s the person who caught Mercer in the act, but now she’s not certain that she really caught him in the act.

As usual with Harlan Coben’s books, CAUGHT is full of twists and turns that I just condensed to three little paragraphs. It’s really not short and simple. It’s about blame and revenge and forgiveness. It’s up-to-date, involving the Internet, Google, Facebook, GPS, etc., unlike so many other authors’ thrillers that have only begun mentioning cell phones. It is honestly a book you won’t want to put down.

My only criticism of CAUGHT is when Coben describes one of the former roommates, Phil. He has been laid off his job and has been unemployed for a long time but not for lack of trying. Each morning he dresses in a suit and tie and sits at a restaurant perusing the classified ads in the newspaper. There’s my problem. It’s obviously been a long time since Harlan Coben has had to search for a job.

Harlan: a college graduate no longer searches a newspaper’s classified ads for a job. Harlan: consider rewriting that paragraph in later printings so that Phil brings his laptop to a restaurant where he can get on the Internet and search for a job.

In spite of that one gaffe, if you haven’t read a Coben book before, CAUGHT might be a good one to start with.

Hold Tight by Harlen Coben
Book Club Recommended
May Be Coben's Best

Everyone likes a not-put-downable book, the kind that keeps them up at night, the kind they even bring to the dinner table. Harlan Coben's novels are like that. The first of his that I read, No Second Chance, has always been my favorite. But in some ways his Hold Tight may be his best.

Before I read Hold Tight I thought it was about parents spying on their teenage son's computer use. It is. But there's also a story about kids spying on their parents, another about two sadistic nutcases, another about a child dealing with her classmates' cruelty, another about parents' search for a kidney donor for their son, and many subplots.

Hold Tight may be Coben's best because it asks questions parents today are asking and may be afraid of.

The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly
Book Club Recommended
Adventurous, Fantastic, Dramatic
Going Out Witih a Bang

Michael Connelly's latest book, THE SCARECROW, involves a soon-to-be-laid-off long-time LA Times reporter Jack McEvoy, who decides to "go out with a bang" by writing an investigative story about a black boy from South LA who may be wrongfully accused of murder. McEvoy finds a heck of a lot more than he thought he would as a high-tech company and some techno savvy employees there try to thwart his investigation. As a result, although the kid from South LA gets out of jail, McEvoy and his gorgeous (of course) FBI girlfriend nearly lose their lives every few pages.

THE SCARECROW may sound corny, but it really is a fun read. I hadn't read a Connelly novel before and wasn't expecting much but was pleasantly surprised. I really enjoyed it.

If you haven't read Connelly before but enjoy authors such as Harlan Coben, Lisa Scottoline, Stephen White, or Lee Child, you'll like THE SCARECROW. You'll probably want to read some of Connelly's others, too. I do.

Comment: I was pleased that Connelly didn't strive to be politically correct in his book. I know many authors would have described some of these characters differently so they didn't offend anyone.

Comment: The beginning of the book has a reporter with less experience than McEvoy who will take his place because she makes a lot less money. But she does have news writing experience between undergrad and grad school with a newspaper in Florida. And she does have a masters degree in journalism. Yet she has to ask McEvoy what it means to put "30" at the end of an article.

Give me a break! You can't take a single college journalism class and not know what that means!

Irritation: McEvoy is smart and performs as a smart person would--except when he is around his FBI agent girlfriend. She is unbelievably all-knowing. Whenever they're together, she bosses McEvoy around, and he meekly takes direction from her, suddenly out of his own ideas and dependent on her brains.

Because I read an uncorrected advance proof, I noticed many editorial and typographical errors. It would be interesting to see if these were all caught in the final published copy, especially one of my pet peeves: misuse of "ensure," "assure," and "insure."

Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Fun
Difference Between Guilt and Pure Evil

THE LINCOLN LAWYER’s ”Lincoln lawyer” is so named because his office is the back seat of his Lincoln. His real name is Michael (Micky) Haller.

This defense lawyer believes everyone is guilty but defends them just the same. And his clients almost always get away with it or at least have their sentences greatly reduced. But he worries that he will not recognize innocence when he sees it.

Haller thinks his current client, Louis Roulet, will bring him lots of money. Roulet is very rich and is accused of rape and attempted murder. He insists he’s innocent in spite of evidence to the contrary and will not agree to plead guilty for a reduction in his sentence.

So it looks like this case will go to trial. Haller loves it; that means more money.

In the meantime, though, Haller not only finds more evidence of Roulet’s guilt; he also sees the difference between guilt and pure evil. And he finds there was a time when he did not, in fact, recognize innocence.

This Michael Connelly book is so different from his other two books I read, I wouldn’t have thought they were by the same author. I wouldn’t have bothered reading this one except that this movie was coming out. I enjoy movies based on books I’ve read.

I was more pleased with THE LINCOLN LAWYER than I expected. So now I’m anxious to see the movie, out now.

Book Club Recommended
Identity Theft

Not worried about identity theft? Read THE BROKEN WINDOW by Jeffrey Deaver. You will be.

A serial killer has gone undetected because he has been able to pin the crime on some innocent person each time. The killer “knows everything” about his murder victims and so is able to get close to them and then plant evidence that proves the guilt of innocent people because the killer "knows everything" about them, too.

But how does he do it? How is he able to know everything about these people? Where does he get this information? And who could have access to it?

Enter Lincoln Rhyme, a recurrent character in many of Jeffrey Deaver’s novels, and his partner, Amelia Sachs. They get involved when Rhyme’s cousin is arrested for a murder and soon find that the real killer has access to both the cousin's and the murder victim's personal data. That's when they learn about data mining. In the process, so does the reader.

Data miners store personal data about everyone all the time--everything they do. Rhyme and Sachs learn that this is the only way the killer could “know everything.” So they investigate a large data miner and speak with the few people who can access all the data. The reader realizes that these people must be suspects.

But which one is it?

Whoever it is accesses Rhyme’ and Sachs’ personal data now, too, and can even use data mining “predictive software” to know their next move.

If you like thrillers/mysteries and have never tried Deaver, as I hadn’t, this would be a good book to start with. The privacy issues it deals with will really scare you and make you wonder how much of it is real. Deaver lists several Web sites where you can get further information.

Romantic, Informative, Beautiful
Boring Flashbacks

HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET, Jamie Ford’s first book, tells the touching story of Henry Lee, a Chinese-American, and his childhood friendship with and ongoing love for Keiko Okabe, a Japanese-American.

The book begins in 1986 with a discovery in the basement of the Panama Hotel of the old belongings of Japanese-American families who were taken from their homes and interred during World War II. The hotel is located in what was, before the Japanese-Americans were rounded up, Japantown and stood between there and Chinatown in Washington state.

Subsequent chapters in HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET are divided into flashbacks to the 1940s and continuation of 1986. In this way we discover Henry’s and Keiko’s story and a love that never ends or is forgotten in spite of bigotry, ages-old traditions, lies, and years of separation caused first by internment, then also by deception.

HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET is praised by many. It was because of all the rave reviews that I read the book. But, while I don’t consider it a waste of my time, I have to admit that I was bored by the many flashbacks to 1942 with Henry’s bigoted father and nasty classmates at his “all-white” school where he went “scholarshiping” at his father’s insistence. I also found the flashbacks to be too slow and predictable.

Even so, that’s me. I’m sure most readers will find satisfying what I thought was predictable. The book is well written and full of accurate historical details. And, although I was not surprised at the ending, I think I would have been unhappy if it had been any other way.

Insightful, Interesting, Informative
A Story Within a Story

Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a story within a story. One is the clever telling of the other.

At a café in Pakistan, a Pakistani man tells his story to an American man. The men are strangers. We learn about the Pakistani man through his narrative. The American remains a mystery man throughout. In paragraphs between parts of the Pakistani man’s story are hints about the American man, the purpose of his encounter with the Pakistani man, and perhaps even the Pakistani man’s purpose in telling his story.

In this short novel, the Pakistani man tells of coming to America to attend Princeton and then work for high wages at a New York company. He falls in love with an American who’s in love with a dead person. But she’s rich and gets him into all the right places. He’s living the high life.

Then, surprise, he decides on 9/11 that he’s disillusioned with America. He now sees America as that big, bad, obnoxiously rich and power-hungry nation that waves its flag as if it can’t get over itself and is stuck in some black-and-white movie. He smiles at the sight of the destruction of the Twin Towers.

I wouldn’t have bothered reading more. But I had read so many reviews of The Reluctant Fundamentalist that were favorable and praised its suspense. I figured something must be about to happen that would justify all this, and it was such a short book I stuck with it.

The Pakistani man continues to describe his disillusionment with America and his doomed love affair. He goes on to explain why he is back in Pakistan and what he is doing there. I guess the reviewers referred to the mystery American when they mentioned suspense.

The Pakistani man speaks of the necessity of knowing history but obviously knows little history himself. He complains more than once about the awful Americans invading Afghanistan for no reason and of Pakistan helping America but the Americans refusing to take their side when they go to war with India. He, of course, doesn't mention the Taliban in Afghanistan and their promise of another 9/11. He also forgets (I don't know how since he lived there) that Pakistan and India have been going at it with each other for years and that this war with India was a frequent occurrence.

So the Pakistani man’s story is told, and he and the American man are still at the café at the end of the day. And then comes the ambiguous end. My guess is one of two possibilities.

I can’t recommend this book.

Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
Dramatic, Fun, Beautiful
“Best friends for life”

“Best friends for life” they called themselves. Kate and Tully met when they were in junior high and became friends shortly after when Tully was raped. They both lived on Firefly Lane.

They were in high school in the 70s. Tully was beautiful with her Farrah Fawcett hair, and she claimed to Kate, “I have a gift,” as Tully streaked Kate’s hair with blond. Kate had been a wallflower, but Tully took care of that; she was popular and, by extension, now so was Kate.

Kate and Tully really did remain best friends for life, even though Tully chose one path and Kate chose another.

Although they both graduated from the same college with the same major, Tully pursued her career more aggressively and Kate fell in love with their boss. (Yes, Tully ensured that they both worked for the same TV station.) Although their boss, Johnny, was interested in Tully, not Kate, and tried hard to snag her, Kate snagged him by . . . . Well, I’m not going to tell you, but she sure isn’t a great role model for teenagers.

In the meantime, Tully continued to pursue her career aggressively and ended up . . . . I’m not going to tell you that, either. But, although she was a big success, you wouldn’t want your teenager to live like her, either.

FIREFLY LANE is chick lit. I thought I’d never read chick lit before and, from the sound of it, I never wanted to. But I did.

It surprised me to learn that I sort of had read chick lit before. Some of the books I read when I was in high school could have been called “chick lit,” I guess, except girls didn’t pick up men in bars in the books I read. And they sure didn’t snag their husbands the way Kate did, either.

Maybe chick lit is the modernized version of what I read when I was 13, 14, and 15?

So I didn’t think I’d like what I outgrew. You could say I did enjoy it, though, in the same way I still enjoy catching an episode of “General Hospital” once a year.

For readers who like chick lit and Lifetime channel movies, this book is good. I don't recommend it for teenagers, though.

Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Adventurous, Interesting
A 13-Year-Old's Seaerch for His Sister

A 13-year-old boy, Johnny, and his friend, Jack, search for Johnny's twin sister, Alyssa, a year after she has gone missing, after everyone else, it seems, has given up. "It seems" because the case still haunts police Detective Hunt as well.

Jack has described his last sighting of Alyssa: because her father forgot to pick her up, Alyssa was walking home at dusk when a car stopped and she walked up to the open car window, smiling. That's when she was grabbed and pulled into the car, and the car drove away.

Johnny's mother blamed his father for Alyssa's abduction, and he has subsequently walked out on Johnny and his mother. So Johnny is now trying to put his family back together by finding known pedophiles in his county and spying on them, determined to find Alyssa alive. In the process, he uncovers another crime.

John Hart is a great author. THE LAST CHILD, his latest, is a page turner. But I can't praise it as I did DOWN RIVER, Hart's 2006 book, because THE LAST CHILD has a flaw that comes up again and again throughout the book. That is, Johnny's mother, Katheryn, and Detective Hunt's infatuation with her.

Katheryn is described as beautiful. Yet she is also described as addicted to all sorts of drugs, rarely combing or washing her hair, and always unaware of her dirty home and of Johnny's absence. That doesn't sound beautiful to me.

But Detective Hunt is drawn to her even as she disgusts the reader. And at the same time, he is described as smart and capable, seemingly the best detective in his police force. The two descriptions, Hunt's infatuation with a disgusting woman and his high intelligence, just don't jive for me.

Something else that irritated me but probably won't bother most other people: Hart's use of the word "that" when he should use "who." This, too, occurs throughout the book and I would think should have been caught by an editor.

But don't skip this book because of that one flaw or because of what I see as an editorial error. I bought it at Borders and don't feel cheated, that coming from a person who feels cheated when she pays $2 for a bad book. I'm still anxious to read Hart's KING OF LIES, his first book.

The King of Lies by John Hart
Book Club Recommended
Who killed the king of lies?

In John Hart’s first novel, a lawyer, ”Work” Pickens, is accused of murdering his father, Ezra, when his body is found. It seems clear to the police and the district attorney that Work had seen his father’s will and wanted the $15 million being left to him before Ezra changed his mind. And Work, sure that his emotionally disturbed sister, Joan, did it, is willing to take the rap for her.

Work and Joan had been raised in a dysfunctional family with a very rich, very despicable father who hated girls/women. He always domineered over Work’s life and still did even when Work was an adult and able to make his own choices. As he put it, he “lived Ezra’s truth,” letting his father choose his career and his wife, and even allowing Ezra to alienate Work from Joan.

As the book progresses, we see Work realize more and more how he has been living the “truth” of the king of lies.

Because I had read and loved Harts later novels (DOWN RIVER and THE LAST CHILD), I expected THE KING OF LIES to be at least as good. I was right.

Down River by John Hart
Book Club Recommended
I loved this book

Without giving away too much of the story, I'll say that John Hart's Down River centers on a young man, Adam, who had been accused of murder five years before, was acquitted, moved out of town for five years, and is now back in his hometown. I won't say why because that's one of the mysteries that makes the book enjoyable.

Back in Adam's hometown are his father, a very, very rich farmer, who owns millions of dollars worth of farmland; his stepmother, who testified against him at his trial five years before; his stepbrother and stepsister, twins; his father's best friend and foreman of the farm and the "grandaughter" he is raising; some of the townspeople, including the police, who remember and hate Adam; and Adam's former lover. All these lives, we learn, are entwined.

Half the town wants Adam's father to sell his farmland to a power company; some want it desperately because it means money for them. Adam's stepmother still resents him, probably hates him. The stepbrother and stepsister don't hate him but they each have serious issues that have affected Adam in ways that the reader will come to see. And the reader will find mystery upon mystery upon mystery with all the characters.

Down River is a mystery and thriller, but it's more than that. It's also literature. I loved this book.

My words aren't adequate to describe how good this book is. Do yourself a favor and read it.

Iron House by John Hart
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Graphic, Beautiful
It will suck you in

IRON HOUSE by John Hart begins with Michael and his pregnant lover, Elena, but soon switches to flashback so we understand what he means when he worries that she doesn’t really know him or know about all the horrible things he’s done. We learn that Michael and his brother, Julian, were partly raised in an orphanage, Iron House. It was a miserable place, for Julian especially. He was a very weak person, but he did have Michael to protect him. And here is where Michael learned to be tough.

Julian is adopted by rich parents, and Michael is not. He ends up, instead, being raised in a Mafia-type mob. Then he meets Elena, and he wants out.

But Michael kills, an act of mercy, the dying “old man” he loves. The “old man” was the head of the mob, the person who rescued Michael when he was a boy. So Michael becomes the mob’s enemy. They hunt for him. And, he learns, the mob is also trying to get to Elena and Julian, who Michael hasn’t seen since Julian was adopted.

In the meantime, Julian lives with his adoptive parents, even now as an adult. But, in spite of every material advantage and his mother’s love and devotion, he never does well. He is permanently scarred by his experiences at Iron House. And he doesn’t have Michael to protect him anymore.

Now Michael and Elena are on the run for their lives. Rather than leave the country, though, Michael insists they find Julian so all these years later he can once again protect him.

IRON HOUSE, like Hart’s other novels, will suck you in right away. And you won’t be able to put it down easily, either. I tried. A book arrived in the mail after I had started IRON HOUSE. I needed to read the other book in 3 days. I couldn’t.

IRON HOUSE got better and better, right to the end. Whatever I guessed turned out to be something else.

Few authors can write a thriller like Hart does. While most are plot driven and formulaic, Hart’s are character driven as well plot driven and far superior. So it not only keeps you up at night like a great thriller should; it also makes you care about the characters.

Michael is the star of this story, and of course you’ll love him. But I wonder if I don’t love Julian’s mother even more.

A Disappointment

Written in 1950, Patricia Highsmith's Strangers on a Train is said to be a classic among thrillers. Alfred Hitchcock even based a movie on this book. But I was disappointed.

I don't like to say too much about a book's story because I resent book flaps that give it away and don't want to do the same. It's enough to know, then, that Strangers on a Train begins with two men meeting on a train. One immediately becomes obsessed with the other and stalks him throughout most of the rest of the book, although, of course, a book written in 1950 wouldn't use the word "stalked."

Most of the rest of Strangers on a Train also consists of the other man's thoughts, his feelings of guilt that seem to be on the brink of driving him crazy. He feels guilty about actions he took that he feels were forced on him. And his many thoughts that went on and on and on with endless repetition were so monotonous and difficult to read that I found myself skipping paragraphs.

I'm also not a fan of this book because everyone but one detective is stupid. Granted, because the book was written in 1950, the dialog sounded exactly like a 1940s movie, in which I always thought characters (with the exception of Jimmy Stewart's characters) didn't talk the way people really talk. But that isn't to say they sound stupid. In this book, they do.

The man being stalked, especially, makes one stupid decision after the other. And then, in spite of the stupidity of everyone in the book, the one exception I make, a detective, miraculously understands what happened with the two strangers on a train. Yet nowhere are we told how he figures it out other than his prior understanding of the stalker.

Although I thought I saw all the Alfred Hitchcock movies, I don't remember seeing this one. So I'm going to borrow this DVD from the library and see what Hitchcock did with it.

Book Club Recommended
Inspiring, Dramatic, Informative
It’s a can’t-put-it-down book that will keep you up at night

UNBROKEN by Laura Hillenbrand (author of SEABISCUIT) is nonfiction. I’m afraid many readers will miss this book for that reason. They think nonfiction is dull. But I promise, UNBROKEN is not dull. It’s a can’t-put-it-down book that will keep you up at night.

Louie Zamperini was a track star in the 1930s. He was good enough to go to the 1936 Olympics in Germany, and all expected, with more experience, he would be a medalist in the next Olympic games. Instead, World War II interfered, and Louie was drafted into the Army Air Corps.

Then Hillenbrand relates his life as a wartime flier. But Louie’s experiences, even compared with other fliers who saw combat, weren’t typical. Although “war is hell” is true for everyone involved, Louie’s hell was progressively worse. Just when I thought, this is more than a person can take, it got even more hideous.

Somehow, in part because Louie was so physically fit, he kept going. But he wouldn’t have if not for amazing mental strength as well.

If you expect a summary of what happens, I’m sorry. It would be unfair to you. I found the book un-put-downable just because I wasn’t familiar with Louie’s story. I would be doing you a disservice by summarizing the book’s various parts.

Do yourself a favor: don’t read the book flap or other reviews, either, until you’ve read the book yourself.

I can tell you this. UNBROKEN begins with a prologue. Louie and two other men are floating on a rubber raft in the ocean. They’re starving to death and weak when a jet flies low over them. Louie thinks it is American, and they are about to be saved. But it’s not. What happens on that ocean is really bad. But after the prologue and after the story begins with Louie’s early life to his experiences as a runner to the Olympics to the military, it then keeps getting worse.

Even so, I didn’t think this was a depressing book. I’ll admit, sometimes it was hard to read, and, if you’re like me, you may get so caught up in the story you’ll even get a headache at times. I wanted to keep reading because, even though bad kept happening, Louie kept overcoming.

Hillenbrand continues the story after Louie’s military service, and we see his (and others who were with him) ability and inability to cope. We see lives forever changed, often disastrously.

And we also see . . . . Well, I can’t continue without giving away what you should read and not anticipate because of something I said. But hint: I learned some unpleasant facts about Japanese civilians during World War II and after, even to present day.

Although I read slowly, I read a lot. I usually find one, maybe two, books a year that are so wonderful I can’t speak highly enough of them. This is one of those books.

House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III
Slow, Unconvincing, Poorly Written
Frustrating Story

HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG by Andre Dubus is a frustrating story because everyone is stupid. And they just keep piling on the stupid, one stupid action after the other.

Part 1 is full of sex and stupidity. That's a sign of a bad, at least second-rate, writer. It seemed he padded the book with sexual details that were unnecessary to the story except to show the reader that two of the characters didn't think with their brains.

Although the author seemed to be trying to get the reader to sympathize with all three main characters, I just couldn't. What was to like?

Part 2 gives glimpses of good writing. It made me wonder if two different people each wrote a different half of the book.

Although everyone except the Iranian teenager is stupid in Part 2 as well as Part 1, the author did make the reader sympathize sometimes in Part 2. For example, when Lester considered his kids (but was so stupid he didn't do that for long), when Behrani's wife's headache was so bad the description actually made my head ache, and especially when Behrani's thoughts were given during and after the episode with his son and Lester.

Unfortunately, the book didn't get good until the second half of the second part. These were the few pages of exceptionally good writing when the author described Behrani's devastation.

Stardust: A Novel by Joseph Kanon
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Confusing
Historical Fiction as Thriller/Mystery

It’s post-World War II, and Ben Collier, on leave from the U.S. Army Signal Corp in Germany, has come to Los Angeles. His brother Danny, a director there, has fallen from a balcony and is now in a coma and near death. Danny dies soon after Ben's arrival, almost immediately after Danny awakens to beg Ben not to leave him.

Ben discovers that this was not an accident and not attempted suicide. Danny was somehow involved in the beginnings of the “witch hunt” for Communists in Hollywood, and someone wanted him dead. Now Ben tries to be Danny and hunt for Communists, hoping he will learn who murdered him.

At the same time, Ben is putting together a documentary. He wants the world to see what had been going on in the concentration camps during World War II. He has convinced an owner of one of the Hollywood movie studios to provide him with what the Army could not so he can produce this. Therefore, he is intimately involved with the goings on at the studio and with the people who worked with Danny there.

Joseph Kanon, who has written four previous novels of historical fiction (THE GOOD GERMAN, LOS ALAMOS, THE PRODIGAL SPY, and ALIBI), once again presents historical fiction as thriller/mystery. So this book is action packed and hard to put down while the reader learns about this historical period.

And once again I give Kanon’s novel an A.

Galway Bay by Mary Pat Kelly
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Adventurous, Inspiring
Author's Ancestors' Lives in Ireland

Mary Pat Kelly’s GALWAY BAY is a 551-page story of the Keeley and Kelly families beginning in Ireland in 1839 all the way to their lives in Chicago and their get-together at the Chicago World Fair in 1893. While the book is fiction, it is based on the lives of Mary Pat Kelly’s own ancestors and stories told to her by her cousin, Sister Mary Erigina, who lived to be 107. She grew up on these stories told to her by this book’s narrator, Honora Keeley Kelly, who really was Mary Pat Kelly’s great-great grandmother.

But GALWAY BAY isn’t just stories of Mary Pat Kelly’s ancestors. You want to read this for its accurate historical details that Kelly researched for 35 years in both Ireland and the U.S. It covers so much that I thought I knew but didn’t. And the advantage to its being historical fiction rather than a history book is that the reader can feel how people lived through these times.

For example, I learned details about living through the Irish Potato Famine that I never knew before. I was ignorant to think the Potato Famine is capitalized because of a terrible blight that killed the Irish potato crops. That, alone, wouldn’t have been enough to send them packing for Canada and the U.S. or to merit capitalization. It was the blight three years in a row combined with English laws that seemed designed to wipe out the Irish and, indeed, did lead to so many deaths they were almost annihilated.

GALWAY BAY is full of many other examples of historical events and people. It might make you want to learn more, especially if you, too, have ancestors who lived through this. That’s what I plan.

Informative, Boring, Dark
Not Just Pat Tillman's Experience in the Army

I preordered Jon Krakauer's WHERE MEN WIN GLORY so I could read it soon after it came out. I expected to read details about Pat Tillman’s experience and that this book would be as well written as Krakauer's previous books.

Pat Tillman, for those who many have been living in a tunnel a couple of years after 9/11, was the NFL football player who gave up a $3 million job to join the Army Rangers not long after 9/11. He was killed in Afghanistan by what the Army claimed was enemy fire only to admit later that Tillman was killed by “friendly fire,” by men from his own platoon.

I thought WHERE MEN WIN GLORY dealt with this, and it does. Unfortunately, though, it also wasted a lot of time telling me things I didn’t care about.

Most of the first 200 pages of WHERE MEN WIN GLORY told me more than I wanted to know about Tillman. I didn’t care about the high school football jock or about his scores in his college games. I also didn’t need details about how the mess in Afghanistan got started; I already knew.

But if you persevere and get to about page 250, Krakauer does deliver what he promised. And I can honestly say I’m glad I stuck with the book that long. It was worth it to read the details of what happened with Tillman’s platoon that lead to his death in Afghanistan, to know who said what, and to discover how the Army dealt with it for years after.

I recommend the book for it’s later chapters but warn you that you may be in for some preliminary bordom.

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson
Informative, Insightful, Slow
A Page Turner It's Not

THUNDERSTRUCK by Eric Larson tells two stories, and you won’t know what one has to do with the other until almost the end.

On one hand, there’s Marconi. He’s from Italy but lives in England. Marconi made possible (although that is contested by others from the start) practically instantaneous ship-to-shore communication.

On the other hand is Dr. Crippen. He’s from the United States but lives in England. He killed his wife.

Although THUNDERSTRUCK gets good reviews, I found it tedious. It went on and on about every little inconsequential detail. This was more than I wanted or needed to know.

And Larson knows it. He prefaces the book with a warning that he does this.

Somewhere I read that this book is a page turner. It’s not.

Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Insightful
Germany Pre-World War II

IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS by Erik Larson, author of DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY, is the nonfiction story of the Dodd family in Germany, pre-World War II, beginning after Hitler came to power there. The Dodds are Americans, William, the ambassador to Germany, with his wife and two adult children. The accountings are largely taken from or based on the writings of William and his daughter, Martha; Larson also adds background so the reader is aware of of what the Dodds’ witness.

When he was offered the ambassadorship, William had been looking forward to having extra time to spend on his farm in Illinois and to work on a book he was writing. Instead, he and his family were transported to Germany, totally unaware that this was a new Germany, not the same place it was when William lived there years before. Gradually, so gradually it was maddening, he came to wonder if everyone there had gone mad, how there could be all around him such a "strange indifference to atrocity."

After the Dodds' first year (1933 to 1934) in Germany, William was struck by the "willingness of the populace and the moderate elements in the government to accept each new oppressive decree, each new act of violence, without protest. It was as if he had entered the dark forest of a fairy tale where all the rules of right and wrong were upended."

Martha was also slow to accept that she was witnessing evil. Long after she should have known better, she was happy to see that Germany was only trying to better itself. So she enjoyed herself: as a 24-year-old divorcee, she partied often and had affairs with several men, one the head of the Gestapo, another an official from the Soviet Union. (And she became a spy for the Soviet Union; but that's another story.)

In the meantime, William, new to government work, came to be disliked by many other American government officials and representatives, in large part for his frugality and his criticism of their lack of it. At a time when most Americans were living with or just getting over the Depression, the American representatives in Germany had servants, cooks, chauffeurs, mansions, and new clothes for every occasion. Of course, they shot back with their own criticism that William’s frugality was possible at the expense of the Jewish man who owned the home the Dodd’s were renting so cheaply.

And once he took off his own blinders about the state of affairs in Hitler’s Germany, William also came to be critical of America for being so unwilling to acknowledge what so many witnesses were reporting, so unwilling to criticize the new Germany.

Larson, himself, poses this question when it was still 1934:". . . why were the State Department and President Roosevelt so hesitant to express in frank terms how they really felt about Hitler at a time when such expressions clearly could have had a powerful effect on his prestige in the world?"

So many books have been written about Nazi Germany, I wouldn’t have been anxious to read this one if not for its author. Larson is a master at getting it right and making it readable. Again, with IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS, he’s a historian who wrote not a history book but a book of history that was a page turner.

This is particularly true after William and Martha see Germany as a mere visitor there could not.

But this book of history was, as all history books are, significant because history repeats itself. Or we learn from it and avoid the same mistakes.

Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane
Book Club Recommended
Another Great Dennis Lehane Book

MOONLIGHT MILE by Dennis Lehane is a continuation of his Patrick-and-Angela series. Lehane had said he’s all out of ideas for this series, and this book even sounds like it may be his last. Lehane fans, fear not. I mean his last in the series, not his last book. And I even might be wrong about that.

Patrick and Angela are private investigators. In this book, they’re married and have a 4-year-old daughter. Consequently, they’re a bit more careful than they used to be. And Patrick hates his job.

If you’ve been reading this series, you remember when Patrick and Angela found a child who had been kidnapped from her neglectful (and trashy) mother. It turned out that the little girl had been taken by a loving couple who the child would have been better off with. The couple went to jail. Against Angela’s wishes, Patrick returned the child to the awful mother.

Now it’s more than 10 years later, and Patrick and Angela revisit this case. The girl, now 17, is again missing. And, although Patrick and Angela can’t afford it, Patrick gets sucked into the case.

Speaking of “can’t afford it,” our country’s sorry economy is a theme in this book.

This is another great Dennis Lehane book. It was a quick read because I didn’t want to put it down, which is as all books should be but so few are.

A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane
Book Club Recommended
Read it before you read the reviews on

Don't read reviews of A DRINK BEFORE THE WAR on before you read it. They give too much information and spoil the story.

Dennis Lehane’s A DRINK BEFORE THE WAR introduces two PIs, Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro. They’re hired by a politician to find a cleaning lady who he claims has stolen some important documents from him. That’s all the politician wants. Once they find the cleaning lady, their job will be done. But Patrick and Angela learn there is more to those documents, and more than one person wants them.

Their exploits as they learn more and more make this book a true mystery/thriller you won’t want to see end.

But take heart when end it does. A DRINK BEFORE THE WAR is just the first book in a series about Patrick and Angie. And they’re all excellent. I can tell you because I read them all. But this book, in particular, is probably my favorite in the series because of Lehane’s comments spoken through the voice and thoughts of Patrick.

So now I’m sad. I read the series out of order (which you can do with this series because Lehane writes so well) and, although A DRINK BEFORE THE WAR begins the series, I already read the rest of the series. And I also already read every standalone book Lehane wrote. And now there are no more until he writes another.

Unconvincing, Slow, Dark

I’D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE by Laura Lippman begins with Eliza living a typical housewife life. The story continues for another 40 or so pages with descriptions of Eliza’s interactions with her children and her remembrances of growing up with her jealous and nasty sister. But what does all this have to do with the story, you wonder. Not much.

Then Eliza receives a letter. It is written by a female hand but is from her rapist.

Eliza had been abducted when she was 15-years-old. Her abductor was trying to find a girlfriend. Really. He grabbed countless, but at least three, girls and killed all but one—Eliza. He raped Eliza.

Now, shortly before his scheduled execution, he wants to speak with Eliza. So he dictates a letter to a woman who is against the death penalty, who has befriended him, and she mails the letter to Eliza. Really. It’s that easy for a rapist to contact his victim from prison, at least in this story.

Eliza, rather than contacting the authorities about this, goes through the trouble of having a separate telephone line installed in her house just for the rapist’s calls. Really.

And, remember, prisoners must make their calls collect. She accepts the charges. Really.

But now he says he wants to speak with her in person. So she arranges a last-minute-before-they-execute-him visit because her sister just happens to know all the right people. Really.

Eliza thinks he’s going to be honest with her. Really.

I was so disappointed in I’D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE! This story made me want to scream at all the characters. They all do stupid things. I list only a few here. (The least stupid is Eliza’s sister, the one who she remembers as such an awful person.)

Besides, every single page of this book has something wrong with it: if a character isn’t doing something stupid, something implausible is happening or paragraphs are rambling on and on about something that has nothing to do with the story.

This is an honest review of a book I won from the Early Reviewer program. It was an early look at the paperback edition of the book.

Book Club Recommended
Confusing, Interesting, Unconvincing
Not Great Literature But Enjoyable

I recommend only books that I found not-put-downable, and I recommend What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman. This book came with me to the dinner table, and I didn't put it down to go to sleep but fell asleep with it in my lap (so lost my place and left the light on). It's not great literature, but I enjoyed it.

What the Dead Know is about a woman who claims to be one of two sisters who disappeared in 1975, the five-day investigation into her story, and memories. She's so mysterious, you'll be trying to figure her out and changing what you think every couple of pages.

Slow, Boring

Joyce Maynard is the author of TO DIE FOR, a book of fiction based on the Pamela Smart case in New Hampshire in which Smart has her teenaged lover murder her husband. In INTERNAL COMBUSTION, Maynard again is interested in a case of a marriage gone so bad that a woman wants her husband dead. Only this time she sticks with the facts, nonfiction, as she saw them over her summer’s-long investigation plus a few shorter trips before and after. And this time the unhappy wife does it herself.

This is partly the story of Nancy Seaman’s murder of her husband, Bob, in 2004; of Seaman’s murder trial; and of the effects of the Seaman marriage and murder on their two sons, Jeff and Greg. They lived in an upper-middle-class Detroit suburb, Farmington Hills, Michigan, and weren’t wanting for material things but were a tragic family nevertheless.

As previously stated, though, that story is only part of the book. More than that is the story of Maynard’s investigation into the lives of Nancy and Bob Seaman, including their childhoods. Along the way, she interviews and gets to know many different people and not only those in Michigan. But she never meets with Nancy, Greg, or Nancy's coworkers. Still, it is through this process that she comes to a decision not about Nancy Seaman’s guilt, which is certain, but whether she was justified, as a "48 Hours" episode had claimed.

Maynard should have stuck with the story of the Seamans, relating fewer incidents that exemplified their horrible marriage. It got tedious. But even all those examples aren’t as bad as going completely off the subject, which Maynard does several times.

At various points, Maynard sticks in her little jabs at Oakland County (where Farmington Hills is) and Farmington Hills for their racism and tells little stories of her trips to the city of Detroit, none of which have anything to do with “THE STORY OF A MARRIAGE AND A MURDER IN THE MOTOR CITY” (the book’s subtitle, which is inaccurate because Farmington Hills is not the motor city.)

I grew up and still live (minus a 20-year-long stay in California) right in the area Maynard speaks of. I even grew up in the same city where her ex-husband did. That’s why I picked up this book. I lived in California at the time this took place and moved back to Michigan around the time the trial ended. So I was unfamiliar with the story other than what I had seen on TV in California.

Although Maynard's impressions of Detroit and area suburbs are interesting, they have nothing to do with the reason I wanted to read the book. So I found it maddening that they were stuck throughout the book, kind of like padding.

Maybe if Maynard had been able to speak with Nancy, her son Greg, and the teachers Nancy worked with, she could have stuck with “THE STORY OF A MARRIAGE AND A MURDER IN” Farmington Hills.

Solar by Ian McEwan
Book Club Recommended
Comic and Serious

Although the two reviews of SOLAR that I read would put off a less die-hard McEwan fan, I found it to be, first, a comical view of the irony of global-warming and environmental activism, later, still ironic but a more serious consideration of this subject.

The first part of SOLAR shows the ironic life of a nobel-prize-winning scientist. He is the head of a center bent on exploring some politically correct discovery involving wind turbines even if they know it is useless. But he doesn't really run the place, and he doesn't really care, anyway.
Besides, he has more urgent matters to attend to such as his fifth marriage to a gorgeous woman who is running around on him. Although he's had several affairs, he cares when the tables are turned.

Suddenly, the scientist comes home to his wife's lover, someone the scientist hadn't expected, someone who has a theory that may truly impact energy conservation and global warming. And so ends the first part of SOLAR.

The second part of SOLAR skips ahead a few years. The scientist is a convert to the environmental movement. His fifth wife is gone, he vows never to marry again, and he lives a disgusting life while he gives speeches to would-be investors in his new-found technology that will save the world.

I love Ian McEwen's writing. He writes beautiful sentences. And I'll always want to buy his books as soon as they're available as a result.

But a page turner this is not. I felt like I had to read it slowly because he was implying something. I never was sure of what it was, though. So I read more reviews of SOLAR, hoping to find a reviewer who would give me some insight. No luck.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
Interesting, Informative, Insightful
Fiction That's Mostly Fact

Hadley Richardson Hemingway was Ernest Hemingway’s first wife. THE PARIS WIFE by Paula McLain is Hadley’s first-person account of their life together before, during, and after they were married. But this is a novel, not an autobiography.

Hadley and Ernest met when her friend Kate invited Hadley to Chicago, where Kate lived. It was party, party, party all the time there. Poor little Hadley from St. Louis, where her life was dull, boring, and anything but a party, was happy to return again and again, particularly because Ernest was there. He was 8 years her junior, but he was full of life, and she yearned for that now because she had missed out on so much when she was younger. So, although most 29-year-olds might have thought a 21-year-old was too immature for them, Hadley was attracted to Ernest right away.

Eventually, Hadley and Ernest began writing to each other between visits. When Ernest’s letters told Hadley about his intention to go to Europe to further his career as a writer, she was disappointed. Then he told her that he wanted her to come with him as his wife, and she jumped at the chance with little thought to what she might be getting herself into.

So not long after they married, they went to Paris. They met and interacted with various writers and other artists there and became friends with the likes of Gertrude Stein and her partner and Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda. Although Hadley liked them, they bothered her, too. My opinion: they were a strange gang. They partied and drank all the time and hoped they’d sell books. How did they do it? They were either independently wealthy or, like Hemingway (“Hem”), they shared their wife’s trust fund.

But Hadley had assured Ernest before they were married that she’d never stand in the way of his writing career. She told him that she would only be his partner and encourage it. So she didn’t usually complain but went along with everything. That even included threesomes for a time. No kidding. Hadley was miserable but felt one with Ernest and didn’t know how to live without him.

Ernest’s actions were not a result of Hadley’s neediness, though; I think they were because of Earnest’s association with the eccentric (read self-centered and hard-drinking) writer community in Paris. Their marriage was doomed from the beginning of their lives there.

McLain says that this book of fiction is mostly fact. That makes THE PARIS WIFE interesting. Still, I couldn’t take it in large doses because of my disgust with Ernest and the rest of those expatriate writers in Paris and also with Hadley. While I could understand how a wife could be a sap for her husband, I couldn’t sympathize with her plight when she was putting up with threesomes every day, even in her bed.

Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Dramatic, Pointless
Edith and "the Sisters Blyth"

THE DISTANT HOURS by Kate Morton first introduces us to Edith. Edith is an editor who gets stuck having to, needing to, or wanting to unravel various mysteries throughout the book. All of them in one way or the other have to do with “the sisters Blythe” and their author father.

There are three “sisters Blythe”: two twins and their much younger half sister. We meet them first in 1940s England, during World War II. They live in a castle with their father. And we get snippets of their lives in both flashbacks and the 1990s as the story progresses. In this way, we learn more and more about each of them and the castle’s hold on them.

The Blythe family is strange. But Morton tells their story well, so well that by the second half of the book, I didn’t want to put it down.

But I had to get through the first half first. It was all interesting and told me what I really did need to know about the Blythe family history. But I could have done with fewer details.

The second half, though, is outstanding. I’m very glad I stuck with it.

Her Fearful Symmetry: A Novel by Audrey Niffenegger
Interesting, Dark, Pointless
The Ghost in the London Flat

HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY by Audrey Niffenegger begins in a hospital room. A woman, Elspeth, dies and immediately thereafter watches her lover, Robert, mourn her. Somehow after that, though, her ghost is confined to her flat in London.

Edie, Elspeth's twin sister, lives in America with her husband and twin daughters, Julia and Valentina. Elspeth and Edie are estranged, and the truth of that is eventually revealed.

In the meantime, Elspeth has left a lot of money and her large London flat to J and V. And, as already mentioned, that's where Elspeth's ghost is.

Note, also, that J and V have a strange relationship with each other. Although it's understandable for twins to be close, their dependence on each other is quite strange.

Then V decides to do something about that. She could simply live her own life, but that's not enough. Instead, she and the ghost cook up a plan.

THE NEW YORK TIMES gave HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY a good review while the reader reviews I read were bad. I'd say it's someplace in between.

The book seemed pretty corny to me. But I stuck with it because Niffenegger’s fantasy, THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE, seemed corny, too, but still grabbed me. HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY didn't grab me.

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Book Club Recommended
Romantic, Interesting, Beautiful
Love Over Time

Put shortly, Audrey Niffenegger’s THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE is the story of Claire and Henry. Claire meets Henry when she is 6-years-old and Henry is an adult. But in real time he is only 8 years older than she is. Henry is a time traveler.

Because Claire is not a time traveler, she is always in real time and grows up with Henry at various ages, sometimes older, sometimes younger. Sometimes they're both in real time. And we watch as their love develops.

But Niffenegger has put together a beautiful love story, not something drippy as love stories almost always are. And this certainly is not a romance novel. But THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE is also, obviously, science fiction.

After I began reading THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE, I thought it was going to be monotonous even if not a silly love story. The dialog was so well written, though, I continued to read it. But I’m not the love story type, so I still wasn’t optimistic.

It was the continual time travel that I thought would get monotonous. Instead, I became attached to Claire when the story was told from her point of view, then attached to Henry when it was told from his.

What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn
Slow, Boring
You're supposed to trust the author

In Catherine O’Flynn’s WHAT WAS LOST, a 10-year-old girl, Kate, fancies herself a detective. She watches people, makes up stories to herself about them, and takes great care with her notes about following them. Then one day she disappears.

The police’s immediate and only suspect is a young man, Adrian, who was her neighbor and had befriended this lonely little girl. When he could bear the suspicion of neighbors and his family no longer, he, too, disappears.

Flash forward 20 years. Adrian’s little sister, Lisa, now an adult, is an assistant manager at a music store in a huge mall, the largest in England. Also working at the mall is a security guard, Kurt.

And now we spend the rest of the book trying to figure out what either of them has to do with Kate, who we assume is the subject of the story. But as we continue to read, we have to wonder why we keep getting off the subject, exploring Lisa’s feelings of uselessness and Kurt’s imaginings. Isn’t this about the disappearances of Kate and Adrian?

I read several good reviews of this book. So I wondered what was wrong with me. Why did I skip paragraphs because they were dull?

O’Flynn does a lot of character examination in the second part of the book. It was too much for me because she doesn't point out the connection to Kate until almost the end. I guess I was supposed to trust her

The Map of Time: A Novel by Félix J Palma
Unconvincing, Interesting, Fun
Iis this book a joke?

THE MAP OF TIME by Félix J. Palma, Nick Caistor (Translator), begins with the tale of Andrew, spoiled son of a rich man in Victorian England. Andrew is an adult who’s never had a job, never done anything productive. He falls in love with a prostitute upon viewing her portrait.

To make matters worse, he then has to borrow his servant’s clothes so as not to be noticed when he searches for her where she lives, Whitechapel. You mean Andrew has nothing but finery to wear? You mean he does nothing that might require casual clothing?

Once he finds the prostitute, he pays her fee, and they have sex. (She mentions that she has to get her husband out of the house, but this information doesn’t seem to phase Andrew.) And so it goes every night thereafter. They don’t talk much except when she expresses her concern that Jack the Ripper is lurking around Whitechapel and dissecting all the prostitutes there. And, of course, she was right to be concerned because Jack gets her next.

Although these characters are shallow and the author doesn’t give the reader one good reason to like or even care about them and although the prostitute never gave Andrew one good reason to like or even care about her, he spends the next eight years (yes, EIGHT years) in mourning. When he’s on the very brink of suicide, we get to the reason the book is called THE MAP OF TIME.

This story made me wonder, is this book a joke, or is Palma serious? I wasn’t sure.

Anyhow, that’s just the first story. Other reviews of this book say it contains three stories. That’s because the book is divided into three parts, each a separate (but sort of connected) story. But within each part (story) are stories within stories. This first part contains at least five stories, and at least two of them are spoofs.

For example, in the first part, after Andrew’s story (which we get back to), this part of the book continues with the stories, first, of Andrew’s father and, second, of the man Andrew and his cousin hope can send them back in time. Then that man tells a story, then H.G. Wells enters, and we get his story, then back to Andrew when H.G. Wells gets involved, and so on.

By the end of Part 1, I realized, I think, that Palma really is joking. Andrew’s story was too ridiculous to be serious.

At this point, I read various reader reviews of THE MAP OF TIME. I hoped they would verify my suspicion that Palma isn’t being serious. But I found to my dismay that the other readers were in even more fog about this book than I am. And the crazy thing about it is that they don’t even know they don’t understand.

I continued with Part 2, the story of Claire falling in love with a man from the future who really isn’t from the future. More ridiculousness, especially about everyone not realizing that they’re being spoofed, that it’s really not possible to time travel. This makes it even more obvious that Palma is joking. But other reader reviews didn’t see it that way.

Onto the third part. It seemed excessively wordy. But maybe that’s because I was getting pretty tired of all the nitwits in 19th century England who were so enamored with the possibility of time travel that they believed it was possible.

This is an honest review of a prerelease (but finished) copy of THE MAP OF TIME, which I received from Atria Books/Judith Curr.

Adventurous, Slow, Confusing
Reads Like a YA Novel

The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penny is a mystery that is very different from your usual mystery. That's why I read it.

The story takes place in Canada around the time of the U.S. Civil War, maybe a little before then. People from various parts of Europe have come there to brave the elements and live in a settlement together, all speaking English but with lots of different accents. A French trapper has been murdered, and the obvious suspect is a 17-year-old who has fled the settlement.

Most of the book involves the boy's mother, a halfbreed Indian, and an employee of the Hudson Bay Company hiking across Canada in a search for the boy.

The mystery is, at first, who killed the French trapper. It turns out to be more than that, though.

Yes, this is quite different from your usual mystery. But, frankly, most of it bored me. It was so darned slow! There isn't anything thrilling about it.

I wouldn't have read the whole book but for two factors: 1) it wasn't a long book and 2) the book was a gift.

I also felt like this book was beneath my reading level. That is, it seemed to be a book I might have liked when I was in the eighth grade.

It's possible, though, other readers will disagree.

Sarah's Key by Tatiana De Rosnay
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Dramatic, Insightful
1942 Alternating With 2002

A Jewish 10-year-old girl is rounded up with her family and all the other Jews in 1942 Paris, but she locked her little brother in a cupboard, where she thought he would be safe. She thought she’d be right back to let him out.

An American woman works as a journalist in 2002 France. She’s lived there for years and has a French husband and daughter. Her article for an upcoming issue of a magazine involves research into France’s 1942 roundup of Jews who were then sent to Auschwitz.

Chapters alternate between Sarah, the child in 1942 France, and Julia, the adult in 2002 France.

It was difficult for me to read some of the Sarah chapters with their upsetting details about children being torn from their mothers and the horror the children lived in.

But then the book got very good. Julia, the 2002 journalist, is researching for her article and finally learns of Sarah in particular.

Still, the book would have been better with more character development, especially of Sarah. There was some character development of Julia, but it was pretty soap operaish, in my opinion. Carly Simon’s “Your So Vain” could have been written for her husband, but who cares?

The last couple/few chapters about Julia trying to find Sarah are full of characters saying and doing too many implausible things with contrived coincidences. Another writer could have done more with this storyline.

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
Book Club Recommended
Confusing, Difficult, Dark
Unusual Style

In unusual writing style moving from the end of the story to the middle to the beginning to the end throughout the book, finally ending in the middle, Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things tells a story of a well-off Indian family, most of it from the perspective of one or the other of twin children, one a boy and the other a girl. It’s a dysfunctional family, of course, and just about everyone in it is more or less nuts.

Except I’m looking at it from the perspective of an American, not an Indian, so what may seem nuts to me may be a cultural difference. But Roy does seem to criticize Indian culture, herself, when she shows us how a culture with a history of touchables and untouchables affects lives and personalities.

The style as I speak of it sounds confusing and mixed up, but the book is not difficult to read at all. As a matter of fact, its back-and-forth movement leads to more suspense as Roy gives more and more hints about the middle and the end.

The God of Small Things received many great reviews in the last decade (or more). And it is a very good book. But I wouldn’t rate it a five out of five because I have a big problem with it.

From the very beginning, Roy points out a difficulty with one of the characters and comes back to it again and again. Yet she never answers the question she presents to the reader. Most readers will be surprised when they get to the end of the book and may think they have a defective copy that ended in the middle because the character’s life and readers’ questions are unresolved.

The book also annoyed me because Roy used so much pointless capitalization. At first I thought it did have a point: from a child’s perspective, some words are a lot bigger and more important; they’re proper nouns. But she did this so much, so often, even when we were seeing the story from an adult's perspective, that all those caps lost their intended meaning, whatever it was.

I know there are many readers who loved this book. I liked it.

Doc: A Novel by Mary Doria Russell
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Fantastic
Fiction Based on Fact

In DOC by Mary Doria Russell, John Henry Holliday is introduced as an only child whose father was a military officer rarely at home and whose mother doted on him. When he was still a child, his mother died, and he was subsequently raised with his aunts and uncles and many cousins in Georgia. He became a dentist and planned to open a practice in Georgia with his cousin. But he had to move out West for health reasons. He was in Texas (where people began calling him “Doc”) for a while.

But our story really begins after Doc moves to Dodge City, Kansas, with the whore (“Big Nose Kate”) who has become his friend. And the story concentrates on his time there, before the famous shootout at the OK Corral in Arizona.

Dodge City is wild and unruly, where saloons abound and gambling is rampant. Although Doc is the only dentist there, he is forced to supplement his income as a card dealer. He makes a lot of money at this but feels guilty taking it.

In walks Wyatt Earp. (Actually, he was there before Doc, but Wyatt was on a manhunt.) He has several brothers, and they all stick pretty close together. Wyatt, alone, does not drink or gamble. He becomes a policeman in Dodge City.

An extremely intelligent and well-liked “black Indian” boy died in a barn fire. Before Wyatt was back in Dodge City, the county sheriff, Bat Masterson, pronounced the death accidental. But Doc saw signs that it wasn’t. Doc tells Wyatt and his brother Morgan, also a policeman, that the boy had suspicious-looking injuries to his head, injuries sustained before the boy died.

This is the mystery: who is guilty of the murder?

I loved this book. And I loved that Russell’s Web site has pictures of the real characters.

Although the book is fiction, it is more fact than I expect most historical fiction to be. Russell even says as much when she thanks the various people who helped her research. So names I’ve known and have seen in movies of the old West for years are now presented after research into who they really were and how they really lived. Heck, even the toothbrush is described (because, after all, Doc is a dentist), which is a foreign object to so many people in Dodge City. Really, Wyatt has never seen one, and Doc has to teach him how to use it. Just think of all the rotten teeth and bad breath in Dodge City!

I’ve read all of Russell’s books, beginning with THE SPARROW. Although all but the first two (THE SPARROW and CHILDREN OF GOD, which is a continuation of THE SPARROW) are different from each other, I’ve noted a couple pleasant similarities.

First, in all but one of her books (DREAMERS OF THE DAY), one of the characters is a priest, a Jesuit. I’m going to have to ask her why the next time I attend one of her book events.
Second, all her books begin with the cast of characters. The fictitious names are italicized. I wish all authors did this.

Did I say I loved this book? Now I’ve added “My Darling Clementine” and “Gunfight at the OK Corral” to my Netflix queue.

Poorly Written, Slow, Boring
Boring Book, Interesting Story

Adventurous, Interesting, Dramatic
Too Put-downable

In Lisa Scottoline's DEVIL'S CORNER, Vicki is a U.S. prosecutor trying, first, to find the killers of her partner and of a potential wittness. Then somebody else is murdered, and she takes it upon herself to find that killer, too. She's aided in her quest by Reheema, a gorgeous woman who just got out of jail.

The majority of DEVEL'S CORNER involves Vicki's and Reheema's exploits. Scottoline does a great job with their dialogs, and you've got to enjoy the book for that. But it's not her best.

Another story going on in the book is the romance between Vicki and another prosecutor, Dan, a married man she spends too much time with after work. It's predictable.

Overall, I'd say it isn't a bad book, but it is disappointing. I know Scottoline can do better--and she does.

Although DEVIL'S CORNER is a who-done-it with great dialog, I didn't find it thrilling; it's too put-downable.

The Vendetta Defense by Lisa Scottoline
Book Club Recommended
Seemingly Unsolvable Legal Dilemma

Lisa Scottoline’s novels present interesting legal dilemmas.

In Scottoline’s THE VENDETTA DEFENSE, an old Italian man, “Pigeon Tony,” who lived in prewar Italy under Mussolini and the Black Shirts and fled to America with his young son, is now accused of murdering another Italian-American, Angelo Coluzzi. Coluzzi is a rich man who is corrupt and has ties to the Mafia.

During flashbacks in the book, we see why their ages-old feud, back to their lives in Italy, where Coluzzi was one of the Black Shirts, led to the killing. And, according to Pigeon Tony, that’s what it was—killing, not murder.

THE VENDETTA DEFENSE is one book in Scottoline’s series about a Philadelphia law firm. One of the associate lawyers in the firm takes on this case, made more difficult by Pigeon Tony’s ongoing insistence that he tell the judge that he did, in fact, kill Coluzzi. Pigeon Tony was sure the killing was justified because it wasn’t murder; Coluzzi killed Pigeon Tony’s wife in Italy many years ago and his son and daughter-in-law more recently in Philadelphia.

While this book wasn’t a not-put-downable thriller, it was interesting and did make me want to keep reading. Scottoline seems to like to set herself up to solve unsolvable legal dilemmas.

Look Again by Lisa Scottoline
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Dramatic, Adventurous
A "Not-Put-Downable" Book

Lisa Scottoline's thriller, LOOK AGAIN, tells the story of a journalist who adopts a baby only to discover three years later that the adoption may not have been legal and that the child's biological parents may still be searching for their missing son.

This was my first Scottoline novel, and I expected it to be another less-than-thrilling thriller, as I think most thrillers are. So-called thrillers usually spend the first 100 or even 200 pages painting a picture of the thrills to come. Not so with LOOK AGAIN.

As every book that bills itself as a thriller should do, this thriller started the suspense on page one. LOOK AGAIN is one of those rare "not-put-downable" books, and I highly recommend it.

Informative, Interesting, Fun
Dishonest Reviews?

Mine is a different opinion of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.

I had been reading reviews of this book for a year or so. ALL raved, practically drooled.

Here's what I learned before I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: it is made up of a series of letters written after World II through which the reader will both fall in love with the people of Guernsey and learn history they probably never knew.

That's mostly true, except for the falling-in-love part. Because this book is a series of letters, the reader never really knows much about any one character. How can you fall in love with someone you don't know? I guess you could argue that people do all the time. But I don't really think so.

The fact is, the book is just plain silly and predictable. Also, because this book is written the way it is (as a series of letters), it never grabbed me and made me anxious to read more.

It's nice that it ended the way it did, but I'll bet you can guess the ending after you read the first few letters.

So why did this get such great reviews? I can only guess why, but it's obvious to me that most weren't honest.

Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Insightful

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS by Rebecca Skloot is part examination of the HeLa cell, a cell taken from (not donated by) Henrietta Lacks when she was being treated at Johns Hopkins for cervical cancer. The other part of this book tells the story of Henrietta, and her family both before and after her death.

During the 1950s Henrietta Lacks had a two-timing husband, five children, and several medical problems that she left untreated, including syphilis. When she learned she had cervical cancer, she also ignored that for as long as she could but eventually went to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where she could receive free treatment.

Shortly before Henrietta died, Johns Hopkins took a tissue sample from her cervix. As was routine and perfectly legal in the 1950s and for many years later, no one asked for her or her family’s permission. And no one acknowledged her for her “donation” when the resulting HeLa cell made possible so much medical research and discoveries.

I should mention that Henrietta was black because that fact has everything to do with her children’s reactions years later.

Because the HeLa cell could live indefinitely, which other cells could not, HeLa was reproduced in large quantities. Johns Hopkins gave the HeLa cell to just about anyone who asked all over the world at no cost.

As a result, medical research was advanced, but for years Henrietta’s family was never aware of any of it. No one was deliberately hiding anything from them; but no one felt it necessary to tell them. The first the family heard of it was when Johns Hopkins wanted to test their blood 20 years later. And there began the first of many, many misunderstandings.

Day, Henrietta’s husband, got the call but understood that they wanted to get blood samples from Henrietta’s children to test them for cancer. So they all gave blood samples, then became angry when they were never given results of the “tests.”

The Lacks family was angry with Johns Hopkins Hospital and University and the researchers working with HeLa cells for more than 30 years for various reasons, all misunderstandings. And they most often didn’t change their minds, even when told otherwise.

The author of THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS, Rebecca Skloot, had the patience of a saint! She gave up years of her time in pursuit of information for this book, much of it wasted because of the family’s misunderstandings. And even when things appeared to be going well, a family member might suddenly mistrust her, again as a result of a misunderstanding (that she was working for Johns Hopkins, who they also mistrusted as a result of misunderstanding). Once, one of Henrietta’s children, Deborah, even went so far as to physically attack Skloot because of a (you guessed it) misunderstanding.

So much of this book is devoted to clearing up misunderstandings, I found it mostly frustrating. However, Skloot did clear up the misunderstandings and, in doing so, told interesting stories within this story, for example, the actual history of Johns Hopkins, so mistrusted by not only the Lacks family but many other black people as well.

Skloot also related science in easy-to-understand language. It was a pleasure to read for that reason but also because, although I was aware of the various research projects she mentioned, I had not known how a minute cell had made them possible.

The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith
Book Club Recommended
Fiction With Factual Background

Tom Rob Smith’s The Secret Speech is the sequel to his Child 44, in which Leo Demidov is a state security officer with the MGB (later called the KGB) in Stalin’s Soviet Union. Leo gets to the bottom of a series of crimes, serial murders of children, at a time when murders were not talked about and denied because of the claim that there was less crime under Communism.

The Secret Speech is three years after the end of Child 44 with Leo, his wife, and their two adopted daughters. It is 1956, Stalin is gone, and Khrushchev has replaced him. Khrushchev is more liberal and criticizes Stalin’s rule and tactics. And now the people who were persecuted, jailed, and tortured under Stalin are looking for revenge.

I praise The Secret Speech just as I did Child 44. Like Child 44, The Secret Speech is historical fiction at its finest, i.e. it’s a not-put-downable novel that is so well researched you might find it difficult to distinguish fiction from fact.

I advise that you read Child 44 before you read The Secret Speech. You’ll appreciate more the feelings of Leo’s wife and daughters, which are key to understanding The Secret Speech.

Inspiring, Insightful, Beautiful
Too YAish

When I get another dog I’ll talk to him or her more and I’ll turn on the TV whenever I leave the house so he or she can watch it. I never thought about doing these things until I read THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN by Garth Stein.

The book’s title refers to the love and respect Enzo, a dog, has for his master, Denny, a race car driver. As Enzo narrates the story of his life with Denny and his wife and child, Enzo continually speaks metaphorically about the need for someone to act in a certain way that a truly great race driver, as is his beloved Denny, knows. So, as Enzo tells of Denny’s wife’s death and his subsequent dealings with his in-laws, he shows over and over why he knows that Denny the race car driver is brilliant.

And Denny always talks to Enzo. It’s because of this and what Enzo has learned from the TV that he is sure this life of his is not the end, that he will return as a human. And he is preparing himself for that eventuality.

So if you are apprehensive about reading Enzo’s life story because you know that a life story must necessarily end in death, I don’t think you should worry.

Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Inspiring, Interesting
Don't pass this up!

Two black maids and one young white woman in early 1960s Jackson, Mississippi, alternately narrate THE HELP, a fictionalized account of the production of a book of true accounts. The white woman, Skeeter, is writing the book. Various black maids tell her stories of their everyday lives working in white households.

The civil rights movement is going on; apparently, though, some rich society women are slow to catch on. So the reader can easily forget that these are the 1960s and not the 1860s as black women not only cook and clean six days a week for white families; they even raise the white children.

I admit this put me off for the first few chapters. I grew up during the 1960s, and I sure never saw evidence that black women knew how to raise children better than white women did.

But I'm not from Mississippi; and all was not as it seemed to me at first. I now know that Stockett's accounts are fair. At times I even doubted this is fiction.

More than that--I found, although before I read THE HELP I thought it might bore me, I was, instead, enthralled with it. I hated to see it end. But Stockett does, afterward, explain her truth and motivation for writing this book.

THE HELP is an exceptionally good book. You don't want to pass on this one.

Ripped From the Headlines

As they say in advertisements for “LA Law,” this story was “ripped from the headlines.” FACE OF BETRAYAL by Lis Wiehl (one of the Fox News commentators) and April Henry sounds like the Chandra Levy case.

In this book a Senate page, last seen as she was setting out to walk her sister's dog, is now missing. The case is receiving national attention and, maybe because of all the 24-hour cable news coverage, it has even gone worldwide. People speculate on the relationship the page had with the senator who sponsored her, their affair is uncovered, and the senator is then accused of attempting to hide the facts by murdering her.

Sound familiar? It should unless you were living in a tunnel when Chandra Levy dominated the news.

I was reminded so much of the Chandra Levy case, I found the story in FACE OF BETRAYAL tiresome. News coverage of Chandra's case, although not unjustified, became so repetitious I wasn’t interested in hearing it all over again.

To be honest, the two cases aren’t identical. In FACE OF BETRAYAL the 17-year-old page was a little curly haired blond, and the story ends differently.

Most of all, the cases differ because of the “Triple Threat” in this novel: Cassidy, Nicole, and Allison. Cassidy is a local TV news reporter, Nicole is an FBI agent, and Allison is a federal prosecutor. Together, they work to find the missing page. But I didn't exactly find them threatening.

I read this book out of curiosity because I love Fox News and I love Lis Wiehl on Fox News. But I have to admit my suspicion about that station: they seem to have a publish-or-perish rule; it looks like all Fox News regulars write books.

At least this book was fiction. The nonfiction books written by others, such as Bill O’Reilly and Dick Morris, on Fox News are like reading transcripts of the shows I already watched.

I give this book only three stars because of its predictability. The best mysteries/thrillers build anticipation throughout and surprise the reader. I don't think I should be able to guess the end when I'm only halfway through the book. Nothing surprised me.

One Good Dog by Susan Wilson
Optimistic, Inspiring, Insightful
Should Be Market to Young Adults or Even Children

ONE GOOD DOG by Susan Wilson is the story of Adam, a highly paid business executive who has a breakdown and loses everything as a result, including his marriage. He gets stuck with a pit bull and ends up loving it.

I admit: I'm a sucker for good animal stories. And many other dog lovers had given the book high reviews. I believed them. That's the reason I bought ONE GOOD DOG.

But I am a well read adult who appreciates truly good books and depends on truly honest reviews. None of the reviews I read bothered to mention that ONE GOOD DOG is a children's book.

It's marketed to adults, and I can't for the life of me figure out why. This is a book I may have liked when I was 12. Even then, I think, I would have noticed how predictable everything in the story is. I knew what was going to happen pages before it happened. Everything, no kidding, was predictable.

Seriously, Susan Wilson would be better off with a publisher who would market this book to younger readers.

Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Dark

Last September (2008) I found Oprah's book pick, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski, astounding not because it wasn't a good book but because I agreed with her, and I so seldom do. As a matter of fact, I can think of only one other time when I agreed with her, Night by Elie Wiesel. Others I thought were just OK or terrible.

If you haven't read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle yet, I assure you, it's wonderful.

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Inspiring, Interesting

Although LEFT NEGLECTED by Lisa Genova is fiction, it is about living with a real affliction, left neglect. Left neglect occurs after damage to the right side of the brain. The affected person is unaware of the left side of their body and the left side of everything around them. Therefore, she can’t process or perceive anything on the left side of her body or environment. Yet, this is not because of blindness or paralysis or even lack of sensation on the left side.

In LEFT NEGLECTED Sarah’s brain damage happens when she is on her way to work, preoccupied with locating her cell phone. Her car flipps. The next thing she knows, she’s in the hospital. She had been in a coma for about a week and would soon discover the symptoms of left neglect.

Before her accident, Sarah had been quite a busy working mother of three. Not only that, but her job as vice president of marketing was so time consuming, it was a wonder she had time for her family at all. Somehow, this superwoman did. But all that was about to change at least temporarily.

While I’ve been seeing much praise of Lisa Genova for her skillful writing about this medical condition, I give her hats off, too, for her ability to describe for pages and pages the life of a busy mom while still keeping me interested. I think you’ll enjoy, as I did, Genova’s humor as Sarah deals with each child before and after work.

Soon, though, Sarah has her car accident and is in the hospital. Now we see her begin dealing with her left neglect and with the people working on it with her. I can assure you, her descriptions are accurate. And, yet, both Sarah and the author keep their humor throughout.

When it’s time for Sarah to go home, though, will Genova be able to retain her accuracy or just keep trying to be funny? I was pleased to see that, yes, she still does both.

As I said, I can assure you that Genova is accurate in her descriptions of the feelings and thoughts of a brain injured person forced to live with this unexpected and, put lightly, inconvenient condition. Although brain injuries vary and do not all involve left neglect but some other result, the thoughts and feelings of the afflicted person and the reactions of nonafflicted people around her are common

Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Dramatic
Not Your Formulaic Thriller

LEARNING TO SWIM by Sarah Henry begins, you guessed it, in the water, Lake Champlain, specifically. Troy (female) jumps into the lake from her ferry boat when she sees what appears to be a child falling from a passing ferry boat. This not-very-good swimmer somehow manages to find the drowning little boy, resuscitate him, remove his sweatshirt that ties his arms, then swim to shore with him.

The rest of Chapter 1 bugged the heck out of me: while Troy does call the police, she won’t give them her name or tell them where she is. Then she calls her boyfriend to explain why she isn’t coming over, but she doesn’t tell him what happened, either. I didn’t have high hopes for the rest of the book.

But I was pleasantly surprised. Turns out, Troy had reasons for not telling anyone. This issue was not ignored, as I had feared.

Now she has quickly become attached to the boy, who finally tells her his name, Paul. Troy later meets Paul’s father, Phillipe, and becomes personally involved with their lives in Canada and law enforcement there.

Throughout the story is the question: who tried to drown Paul? Troy has other questions as well, but that one question is what they all boil down to. The book becomes more and more suspenseful as every character, particularly Phillipe and his brother-in-law, is suspect and as Troy’s willingness to help Paul threatens to put her in danger.

This is a good thriller, and my initial impression was proved wrong. After Chapter 1, I was no longer aggravated by Troy’s mishandling of the legalities of Paul’s situation, and the story became more and more suspenseful with every subsequent chapter.

I was, however, aggravated that the book contained several grammatical errors throughout. Perhaps these stood out for me because I'm a technical editor, and most readers won't even notice. Regardless, Henry did say on her Facebook page that these will be corrected in the paperback edition of LEARNING TO SWIM.

I recommend this to readers who love thrillers and would appreciate a change from what they normally read, the formulaic mysteries/thrillers. This is different. And I’m happy to tell you that Henry plans a sequel.

Book Club Recommended
Fun, Inspiring, Interesting
I read it, and I loved it

DEWEY: THE SMALL-TOWN LIBRARY CAT WHO TOUCHED THE WORLD by Vicki Myron, Bret Witter (Contributor), was published in 2008. Obviously, I didn’t read it right away. That’s because I was afraid it would be a tear jerker. But the cover picture of that cat finally proved irresistible when I found the book at a used book sale. I read it, and I loved it.

If you like cats, you’ll love this book, too. And there’s enough description of library work that librarians would also enjoy this book, regardless of how they feel about cats. But a librarian who is also a cat owner absolutely should not miss DEWEY.

Some of DEWEY is funny, all of it is touching. But it’s more than a MARLEY-type book, with descriptions of crazy incidents.

DEWEY begins with a book depository. That’s where Vicki Myron, the director of the Spencer, Iowa, Library, finds the 8-week-old kitten one freezing cold morning. He was near frozen to death, and his paws were frostbitten. But he loved her and everyone else who would hold him immediately. And all the librarians there loved him back. So, of course, they kept him.

And now you might expect the remainder of the book to describe cat antics. But Myron actually tells us how Dewey helped so many people on a daily basis, truly helped them. He even improved the library. And it even may not be a stretch to say that he gave some status to the small town of Spencer, Iowa. Sure, cat antics are in there, but they’re part of the stories of a cat who loved everyone and helped the lives of so many.

I highly recommend this book. It’s just as good today as it was in 2008 when it was getting so much publicity.

Book Club Recommended
Dark, Dramatic, Interesting
It’s full of suspense from beginning to end.

You won’t have to wait a chapter or two for something to happen in Under the Dog Star by Sandra Parshall. It’s full of suspense from beginning to end. And the suspense doesn’t take long to become edge-of-your-seat.

Rachel is a veterinarian. She lives with her boyfriend, Tom, a police captain. Both are involved with a problem in their county—a pack of feral dogs is roaming at night onto private property, sometimes injuring or killing livestock. Rachel wants to capture the dogs along with Animal Control. She knows that they were people’s pets, many of them stolen recently from backyards. Tom needs to stop some of the citizens from killing these dogs before Rachel can do that.

It isn’t long before a man is killed by a vicious dog. But Tom knows this was not a dog from the pack. This was a murder by dog. In other words, some person instructed the dog to attack. And those who blame the feral dogs need to be convinced of that.

Tom suspects that the vicious dog is part of a dog fighting ring. But he needs to find it before he can confirm it.

Because the murdered man’s own dog was with him when he was attacked and is now hurt himself, Rachel makes house calls to attend to his injuries. During these visits, she sees how dysfunctional that family is and worries, especially, for the welfare of one young adopted daughter. During Tom’s investigation of the murder, he, too, notes this and becomes frustrated with the uncaring attitudes of all but the youngest child.

And now Tom, as I said, a police captain, makes a deal with an attempted murder and vandalism suspect. I think this book needs a prosecutor.

Under the Dog Star is the fourth book in a series about Rachel. Because I haven’t read the first three (yet), I can’t say when Tom becomes part of the series. But I can tell you that, in this book, Tom is as much a main character as is Rachel, maybe more.

I was very pleased with Under the Dog Star. If the only thing I can criticize is the lack of a prosecutor, you can be assured that this book is a great read, suspenseful cover to cover. I recommend it.

The Sleepwalkers by Paul Grossman
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Dramatic, Fantastic
The Best Kind of Thriller

Sometimes I just can’t wait to blurt it out: THE SLEEPWALKERS by Paul Grossman is an outstanding thriller. Like Joseph Kanon’s books, this is excellent historical fiction as well.

The setting is 1932 Berlin. The body of a young woman has washed to shore. Willi, a Jewish police detective and former World War I hero, famous already for solving another huge case, is called to the scene. He notes that she was beautiful. But her legs are horribly deformed, almost as if they are backward. And her hair has been shaved. She is also missing both wisdom teeth, indicating she was probably American. She’s dubbed “the mermaid.”

Before he has a chance to get anywhere with this case, Willi is given another, higher profile assignment—to find the missing princess of Bulgaria, who had been visiting Berlin with her husband. According to the doorman at the hotel she walked out of, she looked like a sleepwalker. Willi’s subsequent investigation finds many more missing persons cases involving sleepwalkers.

With his assistant Gunther, Willi uncovers more and more evidence that the unthinkable may be going on in Germany. And it may all begin with a hypnotist.

I highly recommend THE SLEEPWALKERS. But I admit I did have a problem with Willi’s prostitute. She’s a friend of the American he feels may be “the mermaid.” But she soon becomes a love interest to Willi. He turns off his brains when it comes to sex because he hasn’t had any in 2 years. Is this reason enough to leave a prostitute alone in his apartment all day while he goes to work or to trust her with details of his cases? This tarnished an otherwise fantastic read for me.

In spite of that one criticism, I still insist that THE SLEEPWALKERS is the best kind of thriller. If you hesitate to read it because you aren’t familiar with Grossman, it’s time to expand your horizons and read a new author. He’s so good that I’m preordering his next book, CHILDREN OF WRATH, due out in February.

Book Club Recommended
Inspiring, Informative, Dramatic
Thoughts and Feelings of a Brain Injured Person

Although LEFT NEGLECTED by Lisa Genova is fiction, it is about living with a real affliction, left neglect. Left neglect occurs after damage to the right side of the brain. The affected person is unaware of the left side of their body and the left side of everything around them. Therefore, she can’t process or perceive anything on the left side of her body or environment. Yet, this is not because of blindness or paralysis or even lack of sensation on the left side.

In LEFT NEGLECTED Sarah’s brain damage happens when she is on her way to work, preoccupied with locating her cell phone. Her car flipps. The next thing she knows, she’s in the hospital. She had been in a coma for about a week and would soon discover the symptoms of left neglect.

Before her accident, Sarah had been quite a busy working mother of three. Not only that, but her job as vice president of marketing was so time consuming, it was a wonder she had time for her family at all. Somehow, this superwoman did. But all that was about to change at least temporarily.

While I’ve been seeing much praise of Lisa Genova for her skillful writing about this medical condition, I give her hats off, too, for her ability to describe for pages and pages the life of a busy mom while still keeping me interested. I think you’ll enjoy, as I did, Genova’s humor as Sarah deals with each child before and after work.

Soon, though, Sarah has her car accident and is in the hospital. Now we see her begin dealing with her left neglect and with the people working on it with her. I can assure you, her descriptions are accurate. And, yet, both Sarah and the author keep their humor throughout.

When it’s time for Sarah to go home, though, will Genova be able to retain her accuracy or just keep trying to be funny? I was pleased to see that, yes, she still does both.

As I said, I can assure you that Genova is accurate in her descriptions of the feelings and thoughts of a brain injured person forced to live with this unexpected and, put lightly, inconvenient condition. Although brain injuries vary and do not all involve left neglect but some other result, the thoughts and feelings of the afflicted person and the reactions of nonafflicted people around her are common.

Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Addictive, Poorly Written
A Don't-Miss-It Novel

I’ll say it right up front: ONLY TIME WILL TELL by Jeffrey Archer is a don’t-miss-it novel, the first in a series that will continue the story of the Harry Clifton family and the Barringtons. It will make you anxious to read the next installment.

Harry is growing up without a father. He died when Harry was just a year old, but Harry doubts the cause of death that everyone gives him—a war injury. This is the novel’s first mystery.

A child with a “voice of an angel,” Harry receives a choral scholarship to a school attended by rich boys and encounters so much snobbery and mistreatment he runs away. But, at the urging of “Old Jack,” the mysterious man who lives in an old train carriage, Harry returns in time for breakfast.

He does become good friends with two boys at school. One, Giles Barrington, is the son of Hugo Barrington, Harry’s dead father’s former employer. Hugo Barrington is ONLY TIME WILL TELL’s bad guy.

The book is told in parts, each part a different character’s point of view. In this way, we learn more and more. And the mysteries surrounding different characters are cleared up or built up.

ONLY TIME WILL TELL follows Harry, his mother, “Old Jack,” and the Barringtons from 1920 to World War II . At each stage, we see how far Harry’s mother will go to see that he attends the best schools and wants for nothing and how far Hugo Barrington will go to see that Harry does not attend the best schools and is unsuccessful.

Family sagas such as this book can be overly long and boring, especially for readers who enjoy books of thrills and suspense. I’m betting, though, that even those readers will love ONLY TIME WILL TELL. What saves it is Archer’s style. By telling the story from different character’s points of view, he keeps adding mysteries and solving them, building suspense by way of Hugo Barrington and the limping former policeman he employs. Still, this is a family saga, not a thriller.

Also, Archer’s method, telling the story from various points of view, rounds out his characters. You’ll love some of them and care about them. So, even though the last part of the book is predictable and, I think, a little corny, you’ll still hate to see the book end. Your consolation is remembering that, while this book ends, the story continues.

Slow, Boring, Informative
Reads like a series of deleted scenes

SECOND SIGHT: A PAUL CHRISTOPHER NOVEL by Charles McCarry is a well-written novel. And that kept me reading it long after I otherwise would have given up. McCarry seems to be, in SECOND SIGHT, at least, a great writer but not a good storyteller. This is because it takes so long for anything to happen. At page 122 I almost stopped reading. I almost stopped again at page 145.

But some readers who have read SECOND SIGHT have given this book high marks. That’s because this is the seventh in a series, and they read it in order; I started with this one. A couple of reviews even stated that, to appreciate SECOND SIGHT, you have to read the other six novels in the series first. So I kept reading.

Unfortunately, SECOND SIGHT goes here and there, back and forth; no story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. This book is mostly well-written background material. As one reviewer back in 2008 said, it reads like a series of deleted scenes from the first six books.

Dark, Interesting, Informative
Jonestown massacre

A THOUSAND LIVES: THE UNTOLD STORY OF HOPE, DECEPTION, AND SURVIVAL AT JONESTOWN by Julia Scheeres surprised me. I thought the story of Jim Jones, his cult, and the mass murder-suicide (which, according to what is now known, was actually a massacre) that ultimately occurred was an old one, that nothing new could be said about it. Most of us know Jim Jones was a cult leader who lead his followers to a mass murder-suicide at Jonestown. But there’s so much more to know now, and that new information is related in this book.

First of all, A THOUSAND LIVES doesn’t use the word “cult.” Why not? Scheeres says something like, no one practicing a religion thinks it’s a cult.

Jones wasn’t always a creep. His life reminds me of a long-time politician’s life. They start their careers as good and sincere and honest, but the power they have over others’ lives eventually goes to their heads and corrupts them. It’s interesting to see Jones as good and sincere and honest and then become the creep who lied to his followers and became more interested in his power over them than in improving their lives.

But Jones became more than a creep. He became a mad man and was far worse than we knew.

And the book contains so much more previously unknown information. But I don’t want to give it away here; as some reviews will. Just believe there is more here for you to learn now.

Some of the information Scheeres divulges left me with more questions: how could so many adults, including several politicians and people in other positions of power, have been fooled by a monster? And how could so many of them do ANYTHING at his command?

I say “monster,” and I know you’ll agree with me that Jim Jones was after you read this. I remember what was said when the massacre happened. It wasn’t called “massacre” then. Read this, and you’ll see that it was.

Scheeres has gathered together this new information in a way that she can get more personal. She examines the lives of specific members of the cult, especially when they lived in Jonestown, Guyana. It was difficult to read sometimes but definitely more interesting than just a recitation of information. It even gets frightening as cult members try to defect and leave but can’t. They were trapped. Were they also drugged? Were they hypnotized? Scheeres presents evidence that they were but says not.

If I were gathering together this information, I would have organized it differently. And I would have posed my questions someplace near the beginning and then tried to answer those questions. But what a job it must have been to sift through everything now available to her! So much disgusting information that I’m sure will make you see some aspect of the Jonestown massacre differently.

I won an ARC of this book through’s First Reads program. This is an honest review.

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Insightful, Interesting
A Pleasant Surprise

WHEN SHE WOKE by Hillary Jordan was a pleasant surprise for me. From what I had heard, I had expected a futuristic book about a world where abortion was a crime punishable by turning the criminal’s skin red. Yes, there’s that. But there’s so much more to it. And Jordan’s writing is superb.

You can believe me. This comes from a pro-lifer.

Because the first part of the book deals with a young woman, Hannah, who had had an abortion and was, subsequently, sentenced to 16 years as “a red,” I thought my expectations were accurate. But, although pro-lifers in this book have tunnel vision and are cruel, which might have irritated me, the story has so many twists and turns, I really did enjoy it.

And it’s about more than abortion. “Reds” might have committed other crimes, and there are also other colors to signify other levels of criminal activity because this is preferable to over-crowded prisons.

My biggest surprise about WHEN SHE WOKE was that so much happens in a relatively short book. I say “relatively” because most books that have this much action are twice as long as WHEN SHE WOKE. I have always felt that too many authors love the way they write so much that they write too much and subject the reader to many paragraphs that can easily be cut without detracting from the story. Jordan has cut the garbage paragraphs in WHEN SHE WOKE. Don’t skip. Jordan’s writing is concise, and all of it is necessary.

22 Britannia Road: A Novel by Amanda Hodgkinson
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Dark
a wonderful book

22 BRITANNIA ROAD by Amanda Hodgkinson is a wonderful book. It was rated one of the best of 2010 by, but I just got around to reading it. Hodgkinson manages to tell four stories at once without confusing the reader. Instead, her organization of the four stories to tell one story creates more drama.

This is the story of a Polish couple, Silvana and Janusz, and their baby/child, Aurek, during and after World War II. They were separated for 6 years when Janusz went off to join the Polish army. Therefore, Silvana's story of her experiences during the War is told separately from Janusz's story of his experiences at the same time.

In chapters between these chapters are the stories of Silvana, Aurek, and Janusz after they are reunited in England. These stories are told from Silvana's point of view and Janusz's point of view.

Sound confusing? It isn’t.

I'm so glad I didn't read many reviews of this book because reviews often say too much. I promise I won't. But, as a teaser, I will say that there comes a point in Silvana's story after the War when she divulges a secret that just about knocked my socks off. You may do as I did and page through what you already read, looking for a clue. It's there. I missed it.

Petroplague by Amy Rogers
Book Club Recommended
Scary, Interesting, Informative
Real Science

On the basis of having read two books by Michael Crichton, I will tell you that if you like his books, you’ll like PETROPLAGUE by Amy Rogers, M.D., Ph.D. Except, in some ways, PETROPLAGUE is better.The book begins with an environmentalist who wishes he could do something really big. From there, we move to the main character, Christine, a biologist and Ph.D. candidate, working the La Brea Tar Pits. There’s an accident. Then there are further accidents in and around Los Angeles. All are the result of oil gone bad.
An eco-terrorist blew up an underground storage tank at an abandoned gas station, and now genetically modified bacteria is in the Los Angeles fuel supply. It’s eating up the fuel, causing accidents and halting the area transportation systems. And the environmentalist who wanted to do something really big now knows the really big thing he can do: spread the bacteria to other parts of the world so that no one can use oil, the root of all evil.
This idea of unintended consequences of environmentalists sounds so much like a Michael Crichton idea, I’d have sworn that Rogers cowrote this book with him if he were alive. But, even though I almost never think a movie based on a book is better than the book, I did feel that way with Crichton books. I don’t think that about PETROPLAGUE. It’s not that this book wouldn’t make a great movie. I’m sure it would, and I’d love to see it. But PETROPLAGUE is based on science, and probably because of Rogers’ credentials in microbiology and immunology, all of her book sounds possible. It’s not science fiction. When the accidents happen and cars and airplanes stop working, these really don’t sound like a stretch. This is compared with a Crichton book I read, STATE OF FEAR. Although this book, too, has to do with ill-informed environmentalists, its action scenes seemed to me to be quite a stretch. How could some of his characters go so many places and endure so much in one day? Christine tries to stop the petroplague in believable scenes. They are all based on real science.

Interesting, Fun
Great YA Novel but Not Good Book Club Read

SHELTER, Harlan Coben’s first young-adult novel, is a spinoff from his Myron Bolitar series, adult novels. Now we have the beginning of a new series based on the exploits of Myron’s 15-year-old nephew, Mickey Bolitar. As was Myron, Mickey is a high school basketball player. And as was Myron’s series, Mickey’s series is mystery/thriller.

Mickey and his mother were introduced in Coben’s last Myron Bolitar (adult) novel, LIVE WIRE. All you fans of Coben’s Myron Bolitar novels who are unhappy that this was Coben’s last because he has switched to YA and feel that Coben has abandoned the readers who made him--not totally. In this first installment of the Mickey Bolitar series, Mickey lives with Myron. Mickey’s father (Myron’s brother) is dead, and his mother has been an inpatient at a drug rehabilitation hospital. Mickey dislikes his Uncle Myron because of the way Myron treated Mickey’s mother. (And you know that can’t last. We love Myron)

Now Mickey is a new student at the high school that had been attended by his father and uncle. He’s a hunk so right away attracts girls and is attracted himself to one in particular, Ashley. But soon, without a goodbye, she disappears. This is the setup for one mystery.

As faithful Coben readers already know, his books are always mystery upon mystery upon mystery. Here’s another.

An old woman who lives down the street from Myron’s home opens her door one day to smile at Mickey and tell him his father isn’t dead. In Mickey’s quest to learn more from her, you guessed it, he runs into even more mysteries.

And just as Myron had his sidekick Win, it looks like Mickey has a sidekick, or maybe two or three. Maybe we’ll see more of “Spoon,” the announcer of random facts, and Ema (with a long e), the fat girl in black. There’s also another gorgeous 15-year-old girl for Mickey who may be a regular.

I am one of the fans of Coben’s adult novels, his standalones as well as his Myron Bolitar series. I wasn’t happy about his switch to YA and figured that LIVE WIRE was not only his last Myron Bolitar novel but, also, Coben’s last novel that I would read. Then along came an advanced reader copy of SHELTER (through Early Reviewers program).

My primary concern with this new book was not whether it would appeal to young adults. Personally, I don’t care. But because I’ve loved and bought every one of Coben’s adult novels and felt I was rudely abandoned when I read about his switch to YA novels, I cared about whether they might be suitable alternatives for his adult fans.

I’m here to tell you that Coben hasn’t completely abandoned us. This YA novel still contains recognizable Coben elements. I enjoyed it, although I wish I hadn’t been able to guess who some people really were early on. That’s a deviation from Coben’s adult novels.

I was also surprised at the violence in this YA novel, but what do I know about that? Maybe young adults nowadays are desensitized to violence.

So, although I expected to dislike SHELTER, I didn’t. But I do still think Coben owes us more adult novels. And he can do that without giving up Mickey’s series. SHELTER is a quick read, and I’m sure other books in the series will be, too. Coben will have plenty of time.

Since I wrote the above review, I received an email update from Coben's Web site. Apparently, he DOES plan to continue writing adult novels as well as this Mickey Bolitar series. He even has a standalone coming out next spring. And, surprise, he MAY write more Myron Bolitar books.

Lovesick by Spencer Seidel
Unconvincing, Boring
It's obvious who the bad guy is almost from the beginning

LOVESICK by Spencer Seidel is two stories. One is the story of Lisa, a psychologist and former abused wife. The other is the story of Paul, a 17-year-old who is accused of murdering his best friend, Lee, a crime Paul doesn't remember because of a head injury he sustained at the time.

Lisa is working with Paul's attorney to try to help Paul remember the crime. The attorney is a former policeman who worked with and was a friend of Lisa's former husband.

Lisa feels that the best way for Paul to remember is to have him recount his friendship with Lee. And so about half the book is about what Paul calls his "friendship" with Lee and the love triangle they were both involved in with the mysterious Wendy.

Paul's story is not told in first person, as you would expect. It's in third person, maybe so that it could be more detailed and stand on its own as a story separate from Lisa's. Whatever the reason, this third-person narrative did not seem at all like it came from a high school kid.

Paul's story was a good one, and Paul should have told it.

Another problem with this story was that it came across as one I would have liked when I was a teenager. My taste has evolved since then along with my reading level.

While Lisa listens to Paul's story of the high school kids' love triangle, her own memories that she's worked hard to forget make her consider giving up on trying to help Paul's memory. On top of that problem is a TV reporter telling lies about her, hundreds of other reporters trying to get her to talk, men harassing her, and a weird college student obsessing over her.

It was plain to me who the bad guy was almost from the beginning of Paul's story, yet Lisa didn't guess it until the evidence slapped her in the face.

Big Miracle by Tom Rose
Boring, Insightful, Informative
Nonfiction story of a nonevent

BIG MIRACLE by Tom Rose is the nonfiction story of a nonevent (Rose’s word) in 1988 that became so huge it captured the attention of the world and just about preempted a presidential election in the United States. In Barrow, Alaska, “the tip of the world,” three whales were trapped beneath ice and couldn’t migrate south to warmer waters as they did every year at that time. They would die when a hole in the ice froze over and they were unable to breathe.

This was a nonevent, says Rose, because it was not uncommon; whales became trapped under ice and died every year for thousands of years. This was wildlife. But it still became an event because the media made it an event.

Rose initially makes the mistake of subjecting readers, who probably expect the story of the whale rescue, to many long descriptions of whaling and the whaling industry and many long paragraphs of historical detail about whaling. While that interests some of us, it isn’t the animal story readers expect. Although Rose could argue that these details are necessary to understanding the story of the three trapped whales, I still insist that he overdid it. He could and should have stated simply that a long-time whaler in Barrow, Alaska discovered, just by chance, three whales trapped under the ice.

Rose is a successful journalist. But he wrote this book like he didn’t study journalism in college. Keep it brief, simple.

Although Rose continues with stories that were less dull, stories of life at the top of the world and how the media, the rescuers, and the players in the rescue did their jobs there, BIG MIRACLE is still easy to put down. Background information about most participants in the rescue, and even some of the reporters, added context to the story, but much of the historical was unnecessary. And so was the repetition. Sometimes I wanted to scream, too much information, Tom!

So, if you think this book is strictly about three trapped whales and the efforts to save them, think again. Rose also has a valid point to make: real news stories were ignored in favor of this nonevent. Rose was one of those reporters.

Book Club Recommended
Are you a sucker for animal books?

If you love animal books, particularly those about dogs, you’ll probably love ROAM by Alan Lazar. A curious dog roams too far from his “Great Love” (master) and just keeps roaming, encountering many different types of people along the way, always remembering his Great Love. It’s a darling story, and people who love animals usually are suckers for darling animal stories. I’m one of those people.

So I loved the story. But I didn’t like the children’s storybook feel to it. It even has a storybook ending.

How could it be any other way, though? The story is told from the dog’s perspective just as was another book before it, THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN by Garth Stein. That book, too, sounds like a storybook.

Since I was 8 years old I haven’t liked books that sounded like storybooks. But that’s just me. THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN was and still is popular with many other people, and ROAM should be for the same reasons.

So ROAM gets four stars for the suckers for animal books.

One More River by Mary Glickman
Book Club Recommended
I cannot recommend this book highly enough

I cannot recommend highly enough ONE MORE RIVER by Mary Glickman. I’ve been calling people to tell them to read it. I even convinced someone’s book club. Plus, ONE MORE RIVER is a 2011 National Jewish Book Award finalist in fiction, first runner up to Aharon Appelfeld's UNTIL THE DAWN'S LIGHT.

ONE MORE RIVER begins in the 1960s in Vietnam. That’s where Mickey Moe Levy is, associating what is around him with what he knows from home in order to live through his time there. In so doing, he recalls his family’s past.

Mickey Moe remembers especially meeting his wife, the beautiful Laura Ann. And now we need some background.

So we go back to Mississippi in the 1930s and 1940s before Mickey Moe was born. His mother, a beautiful high-born southerner, was somehow attracted to his father, an unattractive man with an unknown past but lots of money. They married, raised a family, and lived in a huge home in a swanky neighborhood and gave lavish parties. They always had lots of money, and were unaffected during the Great Depression.

But then Mickey Moe’s father died in World War II, and his mother couldn’t locate his money or his relatives. Mickey Moe was only 4 years old at the time. But it wasn’t until he was 25 that he bothered to look into the mystery that was Bernard Levy, Mickey Moe’s father. Mickey Moe needed to prove to Laura Ann’s parents that all his family history would meet with their approval.

So ONE MORE RIVER tells Bernard Levy’s story, beginning with his childhood. In alternating chapters, Mickey Moe recalls his and Laura Ann’s search for the truth about Bernard Levy. This is two stories, one mystery.

The writing is superb, the style original. At least, I can’t think of another author whose writing style is like Glickman’s. This book made me wish I could read it nonstop, with no interruptions, no need to go to work.

The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Informative, Dramatic
a fantastic read

THE INVISIBLE ONES by Stef Penney is, no exaggeration, a fantastic read. This mystery/suspense book is a keeper; get it in hard cover. And if you’ve read Penney’s other book, THE TENDERNESS OF WOLVES, this book, THE INVISIBLE ONES, is better.

Ray Lovell is a private investigator in England. The book begins with him in the hospital, but he doesn’t remember why he’s there. He’s mostly paralyzed, and he’s delirious. No one knows why. This is the first mystery.

Chapters with this hospitalized Ray alternate throughout the rest of the book with chapters about how this situation came to be. These chapters are told from two points of view: some chapters are of the earlier, able-bodied Ray and other chapters are of JJ, a 14-year-old gypsy.

A man whose daughter had been missing for almost 7 years hired Ray to find her. The man and his daughter are gypsies; Ray, himself, is half gypsy. The daughter married into a gypsy family, of course, so most of the investigation is of them. One of the members of this family is JJ.

Ray finds mystery upon mystery upon mystery. You’ll be guessing throughout, first one guess, then another. You’ll think you’re sure of one solution, then guess again. All your guesses will be wrong.

I loved this book. Really. I’m not easy to please, but THE INVISIBLE ONES is something special, not simply a plot-driven mystery/suspense book.

If you were to force me to say something negative about this book, it would have to be Ray’s attraction to one of the members of the gypsy family. I just don’t see our hero going for that combination of dyed black hair, red lipstick, and red high-heeled shoes, I guess. And he trusts her more than I would; he keeps telling her things that I wish he would keep to himself.

This review is of an advanced reader’s copy of THE INVISIBLE ONES, obtained from Putnam Books through Early Reviewer program.

The Lost Book of Salem by Katherine Howe
Unconvincing, Interesting, Informative
interesting take on Salem Witch Trials

THE PHYSICK BOOK OF DELIVERANCE DANE by Katherine Howe is an interesting take on the innocence of the women hanged as a result of the Salem Witch Trials. History has shown that they were all victims of others’ hysteria. But what if one of the accused really was a “cunning woman”? That is the supposition of this book.It’s 1991. Connie is a Harvard student working on her doctoral dissertation. At the same time, she’s living in the very old home left by her grandmother, supposedly getting it ready for sale. The home is near Salem, Massachusetts. Connie finds “Deliverance Dane” written on a piece of paper inside a key inside a very old bible in the house. Her curiosity about the name leads to an investigation, which leads to the subject of her dissertation: a “recipe” book used by Deliverance Dane to cure the ailments of local people and animals. (It should be noted that Deliverance sometimes failed in spite of her book.) Connie needs to find that book.
When she hits a wall and she thinks she can trace it no further, her advisor, a professor at Harvard, becomes furious with her. He seems to be taking Connie’s investigation personally. Why? What does he have invested in this? When this story deals with historical events, even those that are fiction, it’s enjoyable. Sometimes this is Connie’s research that so concerns her advisor. But sometimes we flash back to the 1600s and 1700s so that we see Deliverance’s book change ownership. In this way, we’re always a step ahead of Connie’s investigation.This story also has magic, but it’s not as annoying as you might think. Even though it doesn’t seem at first to add to the story line and even if the magic does seem silly at times, it’s not just padding.But other parts of the story did irritate me, especially Connie’s grandmother’s abandoned old home with no heat or electricity. It’s just too easy for Connie and her dog to live there. For example, at one point she makes a pot of pasta for dinner with a guest. How did she make it with no gas or electricity? And what about

I was never made angry, sad, touched, or happy for anyone.

ACROSS MANY MOUNTAINS: A TIBETAN FAMILY'S EPIC JOURNEY FROM OPPRESSION TO FREEDOM by Yangzom Brauen is made up of descriptions of one Tibetan family’s progression through different cultures, beginning in Tibet before the Chinese invasion and ending in Switzerland until they do a complete circle and return to Tibet many years later after the Chinese allow them back in. Each culture the family moves to is more technologically advanced than the last. This book is about their ability to cope in each new culture and how they view Tibet on their return. At least, that’s what I thought Brauen intended.
Actually, only two members of the family, the mother and daughter, make it all the way. The daughter’s daughter, Brauen, did not make the journey as the title and cover picture imply. She was born and raised in Switzerland but likes to call both Switzerland and Tibet her countries. Although she did go to Tibet with her mother, grandmother, and Swiss father many years later, their return wasn’t permanent.
But the book doesn’t end there. Maybe it ought to. Instead, it continues. Notice, I say the book continues, not the story. That is because my impression was that the continuation was another story, that of Brauen’s protests against oppression of Tibet and her hope that Tibet not be forgotten.
I have a problem with books that have no dialog, with unemotional, impersonal descriptions of people and things. That’s how this book is, especially in its first half. It contains so many details it drags. Details should enhance a story. But here they mostly don’t because the author tries to cover too much.
This is the risk I find in most nonfiction. Although I prefer nonfiction over fiction, most nonfiction fails for me because most authors don’t know how to write it other than to state the facts.
Although the second half of this book is better than the first, it, too, is made up of many impersonal descriptions. I was never made angry, sad, touched, or happy for anyone.
This book has received many favorable reviews on

Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Dramatic, Dark
forces the reader to become tense with suspicion

In BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP by S.J. Watson, Christine wakes up every morning with no memories. Every day her husband tells her who they are and what happened to cause this memory problem. This book is about Christine regaining memories, little by little. At first, it sometimes seems slow and repetitious because of Christine’s same routine every day. But it’s also more and more mysterious with each new memory. Some things are implausible. For example, Christine keeps a journal. Every day she describes that day, so she knows what happened in the days before. BEFORE I BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP is her journal. How does she have the time to both write it (in longhand) and then reread it every day along with anything else she does that day? But I just went along with it.Then Christine starts remembering enough to be suspicious. And just as she goes back and forth suspecting Ben or her doctor or her old friend, then suspecting her memory instead of them, I, too, went back and forth with my own suspicions. It truly became a thriller. BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP forces the reader to become tense with suspicion. It is this aspect that I think must be the reason the book is such a bestseller and garners so much praise. I can tell you that this is what won me over and is the reason I rate it so highly.

No Mark upon Her: A Novel by Deborah Crombie
Book Club Recommended
the best kind of mystery/suspense novel

Although NO MARK UPON HER: A NOVEL by Deborah Crombie is the 14th in a series, it’s the first book by Crombie that I read, and I really enjoyed it. Obviously, it can stand alone. But, although I don’t feel like I missed information vital to this story, I’m now anxious to read the previous 13.

This takes place in England and centers on the murder of an Olympic-class rower and Met detective, Becca Meredith. She was a difficult person, loved by some, hated by others. And those people all had roles in this story. Plus, there were Scotland Yard Superintendent Duncan Kincaid, who investigates the case and who the series is based on, and dogs.

NO MARK UPON HER is the best kind of mystery/suspense novel. It has many twists and turns, and it keeps the reader guessing until nearly the end. Just when you think you have solved the cases (yes, there's more than just Meredith’s murder), something else comes up

I highly recommend NO MARK UPON HER and thank for it.

Beautiful, Interesting, Adventurous
It's a fairytale

THE SNOW CHILD by Eowyn Ivey doesn’t live up to the many reviews of it that I read. It is simply a retelling of a Russian fairy tale.

But I would think that, in doing so, the author would have filled in the blanks, i.e., she would have made the tale seem more realistic by showing how the unrealistic might really have happened. And she does seem to be trying to do that. But the reader still needs a willing suspension of disbelief. The book is full of unanswered questions.

I knew THE SNOW CHILD was based on a fairy tale. I learned that that’s not all—-it IS a fairy tale.

I won this book from Freda's Voice blog.

Defending Jacob: A Novel by William Landay
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Insightful
The raves are true--this is fantastic

How can I adequately review DEFENDING JACOB by William Landay without spoiling the story? You need to have the story unfold just as the author writes it. I can promise you this: all those raves you’ve already read about this book are true. I’m adding it to my list of favorite books.

Read it. See what happens when the 14-year-old son of a district attorney is accused of murder. Watch as the DA and you both discover more and more about Jacob. And, even though the story is narrated by the father, pay attention to the mother’s reactions.

Slow, Informative
Narrator rambles so much that story is buried

PRAGUE FATALE by Philip Kerr is mystery/thriller-historical fiction. The book’s official synopsis describes a murder investigation at the home of Reinhard Heydrich in 1941 Czechoslovakia. But, it turns out, that’s not where the book begins. Bernie Gunther, the narrator, doesn’t even get there until well after 100 pages.

From page 1, this book is full of details about the people, places, and events in Germany and Czechoslovakia in the early 1940s. That could be why it’s reviews are so good. I take another view because I read this is also a mystery/thriller. But the story is overtaken by all the historical details as Kerr RAMBLES ON AND ON with Gunther’s thoughts about them. As a result, the story gets buried and is slow, not thrilling.

If you’re looking for combination mystery/thriller-historical fiction, better choices are any book by Joseph Kanon.

PRAGUE FATALE is one book in a series. This is the only one I read, though, and there are many reviews that are to the contrary of mine from people who read the series. I won it from the publisher through

Istanbul Passage by Joseph Kanon
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Informative, Dramatic
Historical Fiction as Thriller/Mystery--no one does it like Kanon

This book is historical fiction, and it’s a page turner. That’s because this book is also a thriller. Other people have tried it, combining historical fiction with a thriller, but no one in my experience does it like Kanon.

If you don’t know much about Turkey after World War II, you’re in for a learning experience because that’s when and where the story takes place. But, unlike some authors of this genre, you will never forget that this is also a thriller. Other authors would have you wait for the thrills while they paint you a picture. ISTANBUL PASSAGE won’t have you wait long for action and mystery to begin. And it never quits.

An American living in post-World War II Turkey gets unintentionally involved in politics and spies after he accidentally commits a murder. He learns that no one is really who they say they are in post-World War II Istanbul.

The Art of Forgetting: A Novel by Camille Noe Pagan
Interesting, Optimistic, Dramatic
This, in my opinion, is YA or chic lit

THE ART OF FORGETTING by Camille Noe Pagán is a young adult novel, and my three-star rating is for a YA book. I made the mistake of assuming it was a more advanced book, which I prefer, and would give it one star that. But I don't think one star would be fair just because I accidentally picked the wrong book for me.

I call this YA, but I'm over 50, and the term "chick lit" is new to me. I suppose that people more familiar with "chick lit" would call it that. But THE ART OF FORGETTING is one of the types of novels I read as a young adult. Therefore, I call it YA.

The reason I say it would not be approrpiate for a book club is that it is YA. I don't think I would want to belong to a book club that reads YA books.

I've read a couple of Kristin Hannah's books for book groups. These are YA/chic lit, and I didn't like them; at the same time, I know that this style is popular with many. If you are one of these, you'll like THE ART OF FORGETTING.

The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller
Book Club Recommended
Fun, Interesting, Dramatic
a wonderful mystery

What an excellent book! Alternating between one year from 1999 to 2000 and another year from 2012 to 2013, and told from three characters' perspectives, this book is a mystery about students and faculty at a private school. But it's a different type of mystery: who are the characters, really? What are their motives, really? What happened to Justin, really? Although this book is billed as a YA novel, a style that always bores me, Miller uses language and suspense in THE YEAR OF THE GADFLY that appeals to me. It is surely a novel for adults. I only have two problems with this book: Miller's descriptions of two "initiations." The first was so maddening and, I thought, unreal, that I could barely read about them.The second initiation description almost made me throw the book against the wall. But it is a wonderful mystery in spite of these two parts.

The Orphanmaster by Jean Zimmerman
Poorly Written, Gloomy, Confusing
I didn't like this book at all.

The book is about North Korea. It was difficult to read about such a hellish country and the sorry state of everyone in it. But it is also difficult to read such choppy writing. As a result, I thought throughout that I was missing something as I tried to get a handle on the orphan master's son, Pac Jun Do. In my opinion, someone did some great marketing of this book and put out there some stupendous reader reviews that really sold the book to a lot of readers who believed them. In reality, it's difficult to follow. It is hard to tell if description is imagined or true. The writing is clumsy. First Jun Do is here, then he's there, then you can't tell where the heck he is. Too much is left unsaid, left to the reader's imagination. Yet torture scenes are described in awful detail.

I didn't like this book at all.

Lake Country: A Novel by Sean Doolittle
Slow, Boring
I believed an author recommendation

I know better. But I believed an author recommendation of this book. Obviously, I did not enjoy it. I thought it was a thriller. And it could have been. But it takes 150 pages to get to anything thrilling. First are introductions to the characters and the beginnings of their stories. There’s a TV news woman who keeps coming in handy to the police and gets herself involved in the investigation. There’s a guy trying to bully his way into the action. There’s the beautiful college girl who is kidnapped by a guy who is mad at the girl’s father; the kidnapper was a Marine and in Iraq with a guy whose sister was accidentally killed by the girl’s father. (HUH?) And we have our good guy Mike, a friend of the kidnapper, who tries to make things right.

When the book finally gets to thrills, it’s only thrilling off and on; other chapters containing boring stories are stuck in here and there.

The end felt like “the end”; it leaves lots of questions and is as if the book is missing a final chapter.

I won this book through the Early Reviewers program.

The Conviction by Robert Dugoni
Book Club Recommended
If you like thrillers, you'll love this one

If you like thrillers, you'll love this one. THE CONVICTION by Robert Dugoni is a bring-to-the-dinner-table, stay-up-late, can't-put-it-down thriller. If you haven't read a Dugoni book and are hesitant to read this for that reason, throw your caution out the window. This will make you want to read his other books.

Every time I got to a part in this book that seemed to be a place where Dugoni wrote himself into an unanswerable question or a corny incident, he writes himself out of it by coming up with an answer or explanation. That is, all except once, and I let him slide on this.

One of his characters excuses his bad acts, including murder, with the very unequal bad act of the government: they took away his retirement package. It's not a good excuse so I hoped Dugoni would undo this somehow, but he didn't. But let it go because everything else in this book is a thriller the way all thrillers should be

Gone Girl: A Novel by Gillian Flynn
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Dark, Interesting
Looks like author didn't know how to end it

Right up to the second-from-last page GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn is a five-star book, i.e., it deserves the highest rating. Every page of the book builds more and more tension. It really is the best kind of book: unputdownable.

But the end: I didn't like it. It is as if Flynn couldn't think of an end to the story so just stopped.

The book's chapters alternate between Nick and Amy, husband and wife. The first chapter, Nick's chapter, hints of impending doom.

Amy's chapters in the book's first part are her diary; so we get flashbacks of Nick's and Amy's relationship and marriage. Nick's chapters remain in the present. The combination builds tension with every page.

After the first part, both Amy's and Nick's chapters are in the present. Now Nick has a better understanding of Amy. And every page builds tension. Amy is no ordinary person.

Personally, I think the end should be rewritten. This is a five-star book that loses a star because of the last two pages.

Thank you to for giving me this book.

TripTych by Karen Slaughter
Believe it, this book WILL grab you, although not right away

The many reviews that praise the thriller TRIPTYCH by Karin Slaughter must be based, I think, on the second half of the book. If so, then the praise is justified. But a book review should be based on a book’s entirety, and Slaughter paints a picture of characters and background for almost 200 pages before she gets to the suspense. She risks losing readers after page 50. But if you stick with it, it not only gets better; it gets great.

TRIPTYCH is the first book in a series about Will Trent, an agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. But the book doesn't begin with him. It begins with a newspaper clipping from 1985 about the murder of a 15-year-old girl in Georgia. This is why you may disagree with my opinion. Because the book begins with a murder, you might say, it begins with suspense. Maybe. But that little clipping wasn't enough for me.Especially in the case of that 1985 murder, the details are hard to read because they are so infuriating and frustrating. What needs to be said is never said, what needs to happen never happens.
One reader review of this book complains that the murderer is apparent halfway through the book. That person doesn't get it. True, we can figure out the mystery 200 or so pages in, but the suspense is just beginning. After we know who the murderer is, the book gets un-put-downable. Believe it, this book WILL grab you. But the last couple chapters may turn off some readers because it is so violent.

Bullying and sexual harassment in this book are not believable

This book is not what many of its reviews claimed in 2010 and 11. In every witness account of what led to and the day of a mass shooting, pages and pages of this book are nothing but wasted words that had nothing to do with anyone or anything that mattered to the story. All the accounts of bullying and descriptions of sexual harassment lead to nothing.Not a single character is this book is believable, and most seem exaggerated. Bullying and sexual harassment are real problems that need no exaggeration.This is an honest reader review.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Romantic, Insightful, Slow
Well written sentences don't add up to good story

BEL CANTO sounds promising at first. Patchett writes beautifully, leading her reader to believe that her description of a large, formal birthday party held at the home of the vice president of some South American country is the beginning of an engrossing story. When terrorists interrupt the party, though, fantasy begins. It's not so bad being a hostage in Patchett's story. Over the several weeks that the terrorists keep their hostages in the vice president's home, some of them, both terrorists and hostages, even feel they were never happier. What follows, then, are monotonous, unrealistic, even ridiculous descriptions of hostages' friendly relations with terrorists. Patchett's terrorists are sympathetic. They are poor, deprived people who don't want to hurt anyone. Patchett may have been trying to describe a real psychological phenomenon, hostages who end up caring for their captors, a type of Stockholm syndrome (capture-bonding). These feelings are understood to be irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims.

Playing Dead: A Novel by Julia Heaberlin
Book Club Recommended
good mystery

PLAYING DEAD by Julia Heaberlin is a good mystery/thriller. Tommie searches for clues about the secrets her mother and father kept from her all her life. Along the way, she discovers mystery upon mystery, a mark of excellence in this type of book and the characteristic that kept me turning the pages.But, assuming Heaberlin will write more books, I'd like to see a couple of changes. First, the story contained some unanswered questions. Successful mysteries/thrillers tie up loose ends. Second, I had to make myself accept that Tommie could be a highly educated psychologist and PhD candidate who walks into situations she knows to be dangerous. I'd like to reconcile Tommie's actions with her intelligence. In spite of those two problems I have with PLAYING DEAD, I did enjoy the story. Plus, the title intrigued me throughout. Thanks to Vera at for this giveaway.

McGrary Contrasts His Two Lives

People who like and care about animals are nicer people, I say. Brian McGrory, author of BUDDY: HOW A ROOSTER MADE ME A FAMILY MAN, is one such person. He loved his dog.

But loving a dog is pretty easy because dogs are people pleasers, even dogs not as perfect as his Harry. The second half of the book asks: what about a rooster?

This is the test: the woman he loves, his dog's veterinarian Pam, and her two little girls have a rooster named Buddy. McGrory doesn't like the rooster; Pam and the kids love the rooster. Now what to do?

So McGrory gives us accounts of his dealings with the rooster. That includes his experiences with Pam's daughters and his efforts to become a member of their family. These stories are funny and touching, and they're a pleasure to read especially if you, too, have struggled to find happiness and contentment with your husband's or wife's children or if you, too, have observed the lengths some divorced parents will go to to satisfy their children.

But back to Harry: almost the first half of the book is devoted to him. I loved reading about Harry but was wondering when I'd learn what he had to do with the title character. Turns out not much, although McGrory does try to relate the Harry accounts with the Buddy accounts when he says that Harry was the reason he met Buddy. Even though that's true (because Pam was Harry's veterinarian), the Buddy stories and the Harry stories are separate in time.

So this is pretty much what the book is: nonfiction presented in many short stories, first, about Harry, then about Buddy and family, all in chronological order. McGrory contrasts his two lives, and often recalls Harry during the Buddy stories.

I would have preferred that this book was one story rather than a series of episodes. It could have flowed very well from lonely McGrory after he lost his dog to McGrory's efforts to become a family man when a rooster is part of the family. That's what McGrory tries to do but in episodic form.

Serena (P.S.) by Ron Rash
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Dark, Fantastic
A Piece of American Literature

In SERENA by Ron Rash, Serena is married to Pemberton, co-owner of a lumber company, in 1929 North Carolina. From the start, you will see that the two deserve each other; they are both ruthlessly ambitious. Eventually you will see that Serena is much more than ruthless, and Pemberton, as mean as he is, didn't know what he got himself into.

Although Serena’s heartlessness is obvious to the reader, other aspects of this character are mysteries. For example, of her past we know only that she grew up out West with her father, also owner of a lumber company. After he died, she burned down their house and moved to Boston. That’s it.

Throughout the book Serena is mysterious. I expected answers to the mysteries, but that’s not Rash’s style.

For some reason, another character is often overlooked in most other reviews of this book: Rachel. Rachel is a former kitchen worker for the lumber company. She is also the sixteen-year-old who Pemberton impregnated, then left to fend for herself after he killed her father.

Rash writes beautifully and that may keep you reading long enough to see that SERENA is American literature. But this literature has the problem I find with several other books of literature: it lacks enough story, at least in the first 200 pages. Throughout the book, Rash describes characters and scenery so well, but he doesn’t do much with plot until after a couple hundred pages.

However, please DO STICK WITH IT. There IS plot as well as character development. It is an excellent story, and it DOES get unputdownable.

The end was no surprise to me, though; I expected it. But I didn't expect that to be the end. I wanted the story to continue. Good books end too soon.

Book Club Recommended
Informative, Inspiring, Interesting
Hildegard's thoughts, psychological insights, and dialog and keeps the reader's interest more than a biography would

ILLUMINATIONS by Mary Sharratt tells the story of Hildegard von Bingen, recognized as a saint by the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches and as a prophet by the Lutheran Church.

Hildegard's divine visions were likely the reason her mother gave her to a Catholic monastery when she was a child, where she was forced into a tomb-like existence for 30 years. Her visions continued her entire life. When she was sure they came from God, she saw the importance of writing a book about them. Further synopsis is in the publisher's comments.

ILLUMINATIONS is based on documented fact, but it is not a biography. Here, Hildegard's story is told as a novel. In so doing, Sharratt interjects Hildegard's thoughts, psychological insights, and dialog and keeps the reader's interest more than a biography would. For readers like me, that makes this book more readable, and that is why I rate the book so highly.

Toby's Room by Pat Barker
Book Club Recommended
This is literature and a pleasure to read!

What a surprise! I had never read anything by Pat Barker until TOBY'S ROOM. It is not simply a novel; this is literature. And what a pleasure it is to read!

Please read the synopsis above.

This book is apparantly a sequel to LIFE CLASS. But I read TOBY'S ROOM first and loved it anyway. Now I'll have to do it out of order and read the first book second.

If you are not familiar with Barker but you appreciate fine writing, pick up one of her books. I can vouch for TOBY'S ROOM.

Cascade: A Novel by Maryanne O'Hara
Beautiful, Insightful, Dramatic
Too Much Rumination

This book would be perfect for the reader who likes well-written romances that are far and away better than most books called romances. CASCADE has a story that does not depend on descriptions of sexual gymnastics. Still, I wanted again and again to skip through paragraphs and pages. A couple times I even considered giving up on the book entirely. That is because O\\\\\\\'Hara makes the common mistake of what I call \\\\\\\"too much rumination.\\\\\\\" The main character, Dez (Desdemona Hart), thinks, at length, too much. If the purpose of a novel is to capture and hold a reader\\\\\\\'s attention, to entertain them, CASCADE wanders from that intention too often with excessive narration. I believe that is the reason one reviewer said she could not finish this book. She thinks the reason is Dez. She thinks that Dez is too unlikeable to care about. But who says a reader has to like a main character for a book to be a success? Granted, Dez is detestable. She marries a good-looking successful pharmacist, Asa, just so she and her father have a home. At her every mean and selfish act, Asa forgives, even goes out of his way to be kind. How could she not love someone like that? Instead, she chases after another man, one she continues to love for years and years.

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
Book Club Recommended
Dark, Dramatic, Gloomy
DARK PLACES is every bit as good as GONE GIRL

DARK PLACES was written by Gillian Flynn before she wrote her 2012 smash success GONE GIRL. Although the two books are different, DARK PLACES is every bit as good as GONE GIRL, and I encourage you to read it. It\\\'s a five-star book. DARK PLACES should have been the success that GONE GIRL is. Who knows why it wasn\\\'t; it really is that good. But I predict that it will be recognized more now when readers of GONE GIRL become curious, as I did, to read Flynn\\\'s other books. Thanks to for sending me this book.

The Orchardist: A Novel by Amanda Coplin
Gloomy, Insightful, Beautiful
not much characterization or readability

THE ORCHARDIST is a lovely book, and many people rave about it. So you might not want to pay attention to my criticism. Maybe they're right and I'm wrong. But I have two problems with this book.
First, the author, Amanda Coplin, never lets her readers know any character. She glosses over everything.
Second, Coplin uses too many sentence fragments, and she doesn't use quotation marks. This is a device, I'm sure, but for what, I'm not sure. I only know that the result for the reader is choppy sentences that are difficult to read.
I won THE ORCHARDIST through blog.

Book Club Recommended
Confusing, Slow, Boring

Everyone is wierd, there\\\'s something wrong with everyone. So says SHINE SHINE SHINE, a good read, not a great one.

You could say that some parts are great because they\\\'re imaginative and unlike what you\\\'ve read before. And dialog between characters is funny.

But all the characters and scenery (including home scenery) seem sketchy, almost comic bookish. This sketchiness seems deliberate, a device. But it doesn\\\'t work for me, not enough for me to agree with the majority of reviews that insist this book is great.

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
Dark, Dramatic, Interesting
starts off excellent but becomes unbelievable

A RELIABLE WIFE starts off excellent but later contains circumstances that cheapen it. This book becomes too unbelievable. Although many would argue that, as fiction, it should not need to be believable, the fact is, the highest ratings go to those novels that grab readers and suck them in because they believe it. Even science fiction presents a story that readers come to believe, at least as long as they\'re reading it.

But A RELIABLE WIFE grabs the reader initially with its story of a lonely man who writes a personal ad for a reliable wife only to be deceived. He gets his wife, but she\\\'s not who she says she is, and her motives aren\\\'t pure. From there, though, the story disappoints. It\\\'s not bad, just not as good as its beginning promises.

Book Club Recommended
Informative, Insightful, Dramatic
nonfiction the way all nonfiction should be

FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL is nonfiction the way I wish all nonfiction books were: detailed without letting the details get in the way of an honest-to-gosh edge-of-your-seat story. This is an outstanding book, and any description of it won\\\'t do it justice.

You may think you know this story of New Orleans\\\' Memorial Hospital, its staff and patients, during and after Hurricane Katrina. But there\\\'s so much you don\\\'t, and it looks like Sheri Fink, the author of FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL, has done the digging for us and found it all. And her presentation won\\\'t bore you, either. Yet all the details are there, with a journalist\\\'s skill of maintaining objectivity; Fink gives us no opinion, just the facts.

The first half of FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL is the five days at Memorial, hard to stomach but necessary to really understand what doctors and nurses were faced with and what patients, particularly the severely ill, endured. The second half involves mostly how various staff (doctors, nurses, therapists, etc.) reacted to their experience and presented their reactions to law enforcement, newspaper reporters, medical societies, etc. And we can also finally understand what went on with the intended prosecution of one of the doctors, how the media influenced the outcome.

During a book event with Sheri Fink that I attended at the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield, Michigan, she stated that this story all comes down to how ill-prepared our hospitals are for emergencies such as this hurricane. Of course, that\\\'s true. But it might not be enough to entice you to pick up the book.

Really, it\\\'s about so much more than that. And you want to read it; you really do. Not many books of nonfiction do more than make you smarter. FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL will grab you until the end. And you won\\\'t want it to end. Gees, I\\\'m hoping the paperback will continue the Epilogue.

A Wilder Rose: A Novel by Susan Wittig Albert
Slow, Interesting, Informative
A WILDER ROSE is about Rose

A WILDER ROSE would interest past readers of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House series of children\\\'s books. The publisher\\\'s description that I read on the ARC I won from Kirkus says that this tells the story of Rose\\\'s and Laura\\\'s collaboration on the Little House books, which should come as a surprise to readers who always thought they were written by Laura. But, in fact, A WILDER ROSE is about Rose. Although A WILDER ROSE does describe the \\\"collaboration,\\\" that is not what the book is about. Her work on the Little House books was a part of her life and only parts of A WILDER ROSE. I had a hard time sticking with this book and found it too easy to put down.

The Buried Giant: A novel by Kazuo Ishiguro
Inspiring, Confusing, Slow
Most adults will be bored

Honestly, THE BURIED GIANT disappoints. That\\\'s an understatement. Obviously, this tells the story of an old man and his wife traveling (walking) to where their son is (anxiously awaiting them, they are sure) in post-King-Arthur England. Most reviews call this a fantasy, probably because of the dragon and sprites in the story. Actually, though, as James Wood says in THE NEW YORKER, this story is an allegory. I think Ishiguro was experimenting. I also think this experimentation failed. Most adults will be bored and may not want to finish this.

Almost Perfect by Diane Daniels Manning

This is a darling story that I would have loved when I was 11. That is not a negative comment unless you were hoping for adult reading material.

Because ALMOST PERFECT is a book for young people (younger than young adult), I can't review it adequately. I can only comment as an adult reader: I was bothered that the main character, 14-year-old Benny, talks, thinks, and acts like he is 11.

I think Manning's point is that immature Benny matures with responsibility. Good point, but, in the meantime, the kid sure did irritate me.

However, this book deserves a high rating for young readers.

In Wilderness: A Novel by Diane Thomas
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Fantastic, Beautiful
You want to read this

You want to read this. Please believe me: it\\\'s outstanding. This book is not a thriller, but you won\\\'t want to put it down.

I feel so lucky that I picked IN WILDERNESS from\\\'s list of giveaways the same way I always feel lucky when I\\\'ve just finished a great book. By \\\"great book,\\\" I mean one that is both well (in this case, beautifully) written and can\\\'t-put-it-down terrific.

But resist reviews that want to tell you the story. You\\\'ll love it so much more if you do. Let this suffice: It is the 1960s. Katherine, a 38-year-old woman with a successful career, buys a cabin and property deep in the wilderness and moves there alone, unaware that Danny, a Vietnam vet, has been squatting in the cabin and now is squatting in an abandoned home not too far from there. (Please don\\\'t object to Danny\\\'s thoughts, as some do, because they tell us who he is.) That is all you need or want to know until you read it.

Missing You by Harlan Coben
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Scary
MISSING YOU didn't grab me until the end of Chapter 1, not bad but not up to Coben's old standard

He's done it again. Harlan Coben has once again written a winning mystery/thriller in MISSING YOU. Or should I say "mysteries/thrillers" (plural)?

MISSING YOU has more than one mystery going on, one characteristic of all Coben novels. These mysteries all involve Kat (Katerina), a New York police detective whose father, also NYPD, was murdered 18 years ago. Of course, that's one of the mysteries: who did it? Kat also searches for a missing woman, who, it turns out, is one of several people who trust someone they met online, in another of the mysteries. And another mystery has Kat finding her old fiance, who now goes by another name, on that same online dating site.

As usual, this Coben novel is a can't-put-it-down thriller. And, as usual, I repeatedly wondered as I read it, how can Coben keep writing himself into seemingly unsolvable mysteries, only to solve them satisfactorily every time?

One disappointment: although MISSING YOU gets interesting sooner than most books, it is missing one characteristic common to all Coben novels until the last few years. That is, his novels were always tnrilling right away, from page 1 or 2. MISSING YOU didn't grab me until the end of Chapter 1, not bad but not up to Coben's old standard.

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
Interesting, Informative, Insightful

The concept of this book is a good one: fill in the missing details of a bible story, in this case, the story of Jacob and his family as told by his daughter Dinah. But there were problems with Anita Diamant's retelling that I couldn't stand and so gave up after Part 1 plus two pages of Part 2.

To quote a Goodreads reviewer, Stefani, this book is the "chick flick of biblical revisionism." I don't like chick lit. Those who give this book a high rating apparently do.

Also, as an adult, I don't care for young adult novels. And the writing in this novel seems to aim for the sixth grade reading level.

Again, to quote Stefani, while this book elaborated "on the amazing sisterhood and bonding that happens around the red tent," it implied "all the way that women have all the power, men take all the credit." It irritated me.

Book Club Recommended
I now look forward to more books by Greg Iles

Although I already have 40-some books in my wishlist, I now have to add at least one, maybe five, more. I like this book a lot.

THE DEVIL'S PUNCHBOWL is my first Greg Iles book, which is the third in a series about the Penn Cage character. While Iles is good about supplying background information, so a reader can start these books out of order, THE DEVIL'S PUNCHBOWL ends on a cliffhanger. Now I want to read the next and maybe the next and the next (still to be published) in the series.

In this book, Cage is the mayor of Natchez, Mississippi. A casino there, which he had hoped would help revive Natchez's faltering economy, is owned by a corrupt Irishman who is bilking Natchez out of tax money, running dog-fighting rings, and supplying his customers (and himself) with prostitutes. Cage gets wind of it when his old friend, who had worked as a dealer in the casino, is murdered, and the murder is apparently tied to the casino.

A couple parts of this book (descriptions of dogs and rape scenes) were hard for me to read; they were too graphic for me. But you can skim those if they bother you, too, and not lose track of the story.

One other criticism has to do with two of the other characters: Cage's friend Daniel Kelly (note Iles' use of a good-guy Irish-American to balance the bad-guy Irishman) and girlfriend Caitlin Masters. They seemed superhuman to me, especially Kelly. He was a Bruce-Willis-type character. She could kick off a tin roof with her bare feet after she walked up a wall and while she was upside down. They are both a little too amazing.

Otherwise, I really enjoyed this book and look forward to more by Greg Iles.

Cover of Snow: A Novel by Jenny Milchman
Book Club Recommended
Adventurous, Addictive, Dramatic
This is a grabber

Nora's husband had been a policeman in the small town where they live. In her quest to learn why he committed suicide, she learns some disturbing secrets about the police department. She also finds out more about her husband's past and how both his secrets and those of the police department are linked.

Although it has some faults, this book really grabbed me. That is, it kept me reading instead of eating and late into the night. I didn't want to put it down.

That grab-me factor is the biggest test of a good book but not the only one. While, it seemed to me that Jenny Milchman was careful not to overwrite, go on and on when a simple sentence or two will do, I sometimes wished for more description. For example, her emphasis on the cold and the small-town surroundings were excellent, but some of Nora's finding's about her husband's past and the people from his past were a little confusing.

Also lacking are good transitions from present to past and vice versa, differentiation between the past of 25 years ago and more recently, and careful use of pronouns. But these are not overwhelming and just mean the reader sometimes had to read sentences more than once.

No Book but the World: A Novel by Leah Hager Cohen
Book Club Recommended
This story, if true, might break your heart

This story, if true, might break your heart. Even as a novel, NO BOOK BUT THE WORLD will leave you sad and angry at the waste of a life.

Ava and her younger brother Fred have been raised by two parents who are free thinkers. They believe that most school systems are confining and putting a name to mental difficulty is labeling so also confining, not free. Therefore, they run their own school and do not get Fred, who clearly has mental difficulties, the help he needs.

Ava begins her story as an adult. Fred is in trouble with the law and hundreds of miles away. The book then consists, alternately, of her point of view and that of her best friend/sister-in-law, husband, and, finally, poor Fred.

The book goes back and forth from present, while Fred is in jail, to past. Descriptions of their childhood were overwritten sometimes. But the reader does need to know and understand how Ava and Fred were raised, how Fred dealt with his world, and how his parents, as free thinkers, just let him be.

The writing is beautiful. It made me think of Ian McEwan.

Sister: A Novel by Rosamund Lupton
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Slow, Interesting
This is get-nothing-else-done, stay-up-late unputdownable

Rosamund Lupton's SISTER is told in a manner unlike other novels, that is, as the past-tense story of Beatrice's learning about and investigation into the death of her sister Tess, as related in her present-tense statement to the prosecuting attorney (as we would call him in the U.S.) Mr. Wright, all within a letter to Tess. Yet it does not confuse. Rather, the structure adds to the tension in this excellent novel.

Beatrice, unlike police, detectives, even her own mother, is sure that Tess was murdered but by whom and why? With her investigation, Beatrice suspects everyone, and so does the reader. This much, alone, is thrilling, but there is also an underlying tension whenever we are in the present with Mr. Wright.

This novel has an ending that shocks as only a handful of novels do. It is also my favorite kind of novel for another reason: it is get-nothing-else-done, stay-up-late unputdownable.

The Fever: A Novel by Megan Abbott
Seems YA but Good Mystery

The first several chapters of this book make it seem to be a young-adult novel, The last few chapters of THE FEVER turns out to be a darned good mystery. That is better than just a good mystery. Add \"darned\" because everybody is suspect, anything could be it, and the solution is a surprise. Because it seems, at first, to be YA, it may bore readers who shy away from \"easy reading\" and prefer more complex novels that deal with adults and adult situations, But THE FEVER becomes very good, but its main characters are teenagers and it\'s an easy read.

High school girls are having seizures, getting sick, and talking strange, one after another. There are lots of high school settings and teenager dilemmas. So, if you shy away from YA, it will be tempting to skim some of the story. If you do, though, you may miss clues to what is to blame. Abbott sticks clues everywhere, in many teenager conversations and situations.

Even though this seems to be YA reading level, if you like good mysteries, you may still enjoy this one.

Informative, Interesting, Inspiring
seems to be written for a young adult

To be fair to this book, I have to review it for a young adult. Then I can compliment its historical fiction that does not delve so far into the history of the Civil War, the Underground Railroad (UGRR), and Sarah Brown's role in the UGRR that it turns off the early teen who is reading for enjoyment, not history class.

THE MAPMAKER'S CHILDREN also holds young adult interest by alternating historical fiction chapters with chapters about a modern-day couple who are unaware they live in a home along the UGRR in West Virginia. These chapters do have some problems, though, that may not bother a young teenager as much as they would an adult.

I particularly was not happy with the modern-day Eden. She was so unlikeable in the first few August 2014 chapters that I couldn't like her even in the later chapters. I think a young teenager will feel Eden redeems herself.

It is particularly pleasing, though, when present and past stories are connected. We see this mostly at the same time we see Eden try to make us like her.

The First Counsel by Brad Meltzer
Unconvincing, Boring

This is a ridiculous story with a dumb main character, a lawyer working at the White House, and a deranged and spoiled First Daughter. I dislike it so much that I forced myself to read half the book, then could go no further.

It doesn't seem fair to rate a book I have not entirely read,but Book Movement gives me no choice.

Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Insightful
Making Choices and Dealing With Consequences

Although THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS is set mostly in the 1910s and 1920s, Parts 1 and 2 of this book seemed sort of Jane Austenish to me. These two parts involve the reader in the lives of Tom and Isabel, who marry and then live on a small, uninhabited island. Tom is the keeper of the lighthouse there.

The couple see other people (other than two men who come occasionally on a supply boat) only once every three years. This is the perfect setup when they find a rowboat washed ashore their island, with a dead man and a live baby. This presents a dilemma because Isabel wants to keep the baby and Tom loves and adores Isabel. She gets her way, but Tom\'s conscience never stops eating at him.

Part 3 is unputdownable as Tom and Isabel deal with consequences. It\'s also sad, a tearjerker. My questions throughout this part were, how can this have a good end and how will the author write herself out of this.

So Cold The River by Michael Koryta
needs better editing to eliminate the unnecessary wordiness

Michael Koryta has written several books. I\'m told that SO COLD THE RIVER is not a good one to start with because it is so different from the others. But I did begin with this one.

SO COLD THE RIVER reminds me of a Stephen King novel. That is not to say that if you like King, you\'ll like Koryta. You might, but I found a problem that I don\\\\\\\'t have with King\\\\\\\'s novels.

This book starts out promising. Eric, a failed filmmaker hoping for a comeback, is hired to make a movie about an old, dying man. So Eric begins in the cities where the man grew up, West Baden and French Lick, Indiana. The cities and the great hotel in West Baden are not fiction, but the supernatural properties of the water there, obviously, are.

Koryta has a good story going. Problem, though: he is just too wordy. Many paragraphs in this book should have been whittled down to a sentence, or they should even have been eliminated because Koryta was only repeating himself.

But Koryta\\\\\\\'s writing is good; I\\\\\\\'d like to try his other books. SO COLD THE RIVER only needs better editing to eliminate the unnecessary wordiness.

Book Club Recommended
Informative, Beautiful, Epic
If you've never liked westerns, Russel will make you love one

Normally, can’t-put-it-down books are thrillers. So I am surprised to say that a novel about the men who were in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral turned out to be unputdownable. This from a person who never liked watching or reading westerns. But I've liked everything else written by Mary Doria Russell, so I read EPITAPH, only expecting that it would be as engaging and as well researched as her other books.

Now the trick will be convincing you that EPITAPH is more than a western, that this is literature. I began unconvinced. Then it sucked me in.

EPITAPH is a historical novel. All the characters (including Wyatt Earp; his brothers James, Virgil, and Morgan; their friend John (Doc) Holliday; and their “wives”) really existed. And, as Russell says in her “Author's Note,” the main elements of the story are based on real events.

All but the last chapters take place in Tombstone, Arizona. The city is full of dirty politics, unethical politicians, and criminal Cow Boys (as this term is spelled in the book) who steal cattle, drink, and stir up trouble. Here is the really true story of how the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday, but particularly Wyatt Earp, try to maintain order there and deal with lawlessness that led to their gunfight at the O.K Corral.

If you've never liked westerns, Russel will make you love one.

Slow, Boring
Read This Series in Order

HUNTING SHADOWS bored me, and I finished reading it only because it was a book group choice and I will be leading the group this month.

If you\\\'ve never read Charles Todd, as I hadn\\\'t, I would not suggest you start with this book, number 16 in a series. My friend started with number 1 and liked it. Perhaps it would have made a difference if I had read the series in order, but number 16 bored me so much that I don\\\'t want to read anymore of Todd\\\'s books.

The setting is various cities in England in 1920, shortly after World War I. Two murders and one attempted murder have occurred, and Scotland Yard\\\'s Inspector Ian Rutledge has been brought into the investigation. So we follow Rutledge (along with Hamish, who is never adequately explained in this 16th book in the series) as he tries to solve the murders, which seem to all be committed by one person.

But Rutledge encounters many suspects and many other characters along the way. It may be a trick for you to remember them all. Also, you will have to pay close attention to seemingly unimportant comments Rutledge makes early in the story; late in the book, he discovers what he wondered way back then.

This may be more interesting if you read the previous 15 books in the series first.

As Night Falls: A Novel by Jenny Milchman
Book Club Recommended
Dark, Dramatic, Scary

AS NIGHT FALLS is Jenny Milchman\'s third book. Although I\'ve read her first, I haven\'t read her second. It doesn\'t seem to matter if Milchman\'s books are read out of order. Each stands alone, even though the location and police are the same.

I liked Milchman\'s first book, COVER OF SNOW. I expected AS NIGHT FALLS to be just as good, but, SURPRISE, it\'s better. The story takes place (with several flashbacks) one evening (as night falls), one tense, seemingly endless evening.

Some would say they couldn\'t put the book down, they read it in one sitting. AS NIGHT FALLS really is that good, but let\'s be real: in the normal course of life, you have to put your book down, you have to get up to care for your children, answer the phone, clean the kitchen, whatever. But, I promise, when you put this book down, you will be anxious to pick it back up.

What a great book! I have only two problems with it that won\'t bother a less critical person.

First, Sandy\'s memory. Sandy is the wife and mother in this story. Without giving it away, I\'ll say only that I question her memory. I found it a little hard to swallow.

Second, some of the determinations made in this story are, I think, stupid. No examples because everything in AS NIGHT FALLS is better left a surprise.


Ruin Falls: A Novel by Jenny Milchman
Book Club Recommended
A rare review with nothing to spoil the suspense

If you liked Jenny Milchman's first book, COVER OF SNOW, and even if you didn't, you should like this, her second book, RUIN FALLS. I didn't read other reviews, though. If you read reviews before you read the book, you're taking the chance that something written may spoil the suspense you might have enjoyed discovering on your own.

So, to make a long story short in order not to give away what isn't mine to give, another resident of Wedeskyll finds herself in another predicament. This is a standalone story, though. In this one, a woman's children have been kidnapped, and she looks for them herself rather than passively wait for others to do it for her.

That's all you need to know. You'll thank me later.

Book Club Recommended

I initially read CRIMINAL ENTERPRISE only because its author, Owen Laukkanen, is to be part of a panel of authors I will be seeing at a book festival later this month. Turns out, though, this book is very good; I enjoyed it so much it made me put off doing things, such as sleeping, in favor of reading. I even suspect that Laukkanen kept the book's chapters short so that his readers could convince themselves they could read just one more little chapter.

Seriously, Laukkanen's two- and three-page chapters added to the feeling that so much was happening in a really short time. A regular guy turned bank robber to preserve his family's swank lifestyle, then turned murderer, and finally turned psycho. He is pursued first by Carla Windermere of the FBI. Then, by coincidence, Kirk Stevens, a state investigator, gets involved. Apparently, the same two characters are also partners in an earlier book, THE PROFESSIONALS.

But, although CRIMINAL ENTERPRISE is the second book in a series, it can be read as a standalone (one sign of good writing). I had no trouble. I did, however, wish I had read the first in this series simply because I enjoyed the second so much.

Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Epic
good but not unputdownable

Although NATCHEEZ BURNING is fiction, much of it is based on actual cases involving racial crimes in Louisiana and Mississippi during the 1960s. Add the typical Greg Iles style with thrills and suspense, and this book is a winner.

Penn Cage, a lawyer and mayor of Natchez, Mississippi, must save his father after he is accused of murder not once but twice. Natchez and close-by areas are full of corrupt characters, including city and state officials and even senior citizens. Penn is sometimes at odds with his fiance, Caitlin, an ambitious newspaper reporter and publisher who wants to write the story of these people and expose their crimes dating back to the 1960s to the present. Of course, Penn and Caitlin become personally involved and subject to (too much) violence.

Penn and several of the other characters in this book are continued from three previous books. But NATCHEZ BURNING is also the first in a trilogy. And the end does leave questions unanswered to be continued, I assume, in the second book.

This thriller is good but not unputdownable. It deserves high ratings because of its basis on real cases.

Slow, Informative
Detroit 1960s History

ONCE IN A GREAT CITY is a history book, and it reads like a history book. In other words, it contains lots and lots of information, but it's not a page turner. I want to read page turners, so perhaps this review is not fair to David Maraniss, considering all the extensive research he did for this.

But I saw this book on at least one best-of-the-month list and read that it told how, even with all the greatness of people and events in Detroit during the early 1960s, there were signs that the city was going to fall apart. This is not how I understand the book.

Granted, there are examples throughout of the city's greatness in the early 1960s, mainly the rise of Motown music, cars (particularly the Mustang), civil rights, and unionization. But so much of that ends up being political. And the political discussions are, as political discussions always are, the way some people, not all of them, saw what took place. A reader should be suspicious of an author's objectivity when he writes about politics or, at least, the objectivity of his sources.

The only discussion I see of signs of the city's downfall is a Wayne State University prediction. Yes, when Detroiters, both black and white, had the means to do so, they moved to the suburbs. But why? Something Maraniss presents as great wasn't. That's what should be discussed. What was wrong and could have been prevented?

The Martian by Andy Weir
Book Club Recommended
Adventurous, Dramatic, Fun
I didn't expect to like it but did

As a reader of both fiction and nonfiction but never science fiction, I truly enjoyed THE MARTIAN. I sure didn't expect to and was reading it only because my husband bought it for me so that I would go with him to see "The Martian" movie.

Mark Watney, an astronaut left for dead on Mars, did not die, after all, and spends more than a year managing to both stay alive and find a way to get back to earth. Sound corny? I thought so, too. But by the time I was halfway through the book, I agreed with the WALL STREET JOURNAL that it was brilliant. Yes, a lot of reviewers incorrectly describe books that way, but in this case, you'll see why it's true.

The story is told alternately in first and third person; that is, Watney logs his efforts in first person and NASA and the rest of the world root for him in third person. Watney's are the brilliant parts of the book. And, if you thought when you were in school that math was a useless and unnecessary subject, Andy Weir puts the lie to that here.

Now I'm anxious to see the movie.

The Alienist by Caleb Carr
Interesting, Informative, Dramatic

I found this book to beQ too slow, too difficult to keep my mind on it. Interesting history, but nothing much happens for too long a time. However, most of the rest in my book group said that they liked this book.

Book Club Recommended
Beautiful, Insightful, Dramatic

Because ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE won a Pulitzer Prize and because this book has so many great reviews, you may expect too much. I did. Because this book has been summarized so many times before, I skip that and, instead, describe my disappointment.

First understand, I do not claim that this book is bad, only overrated. It is not a five-star book, which a Pulitzer-Prize-winning book should be.

More than 400 pages of this book are snippets of information about the lives of a blind French girl and German boy-electronics-wiz, given in alternating chapters, in alternating years. This all seems to be building up to something. As a result, you will wonder for 400 pages how their lives will interact and what is the significance of a diamond. That's a big buildup. Then they finally come together for, what, a day? That's it. Then we're back to the snippets. Then the snippets skip decades. And that's it.

The second disappointment are all the skippable paragraphs. Many authors have this problem. They seem to be too in love with their writing. I compare it to a woman who is so in love with her beauty she wastes hours gazing at herself in the mirror.

So now you are warned. You will probably enjoy ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE more than I did because your expectations have been lowered.

In spite of my opinion, maybe because of it, this is a great book for book clubs. Most people love it, and an opinion like mine leads to some great discussion.

The Art Forger: A Novel by B. A. Shapiro
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Insightful
Detailed descriptions of copying and forging art

This review of THE ART FORGER contradicts most other reviews of the book. Honestly, though, more than half of it is boring unless the reader is an artist or art historian. For the rest of us, it is too full of details about composing a painting, a copy of a painting, and a forgery of a painting.

Half of the second half is interesting, but it still isn't a page turner. Claire, the main character, is an artist whose ambition has gotten her involved in the forgery of a painting she knows to be a forgery, not the original. Things have now come down to her lover being jailed for stealing the original and Claire's search for the original to prove that the (illegal) forgery is really a (legal) copy.

The other half of the second half (the last quarter of the book) is a page turner. So, considering that three quarters of the book is just ho hum, I can't say I liked it.

The rest of the members in my book club, however, said they did like it, so I gave it a thumb's up for that reason. They found it informative and interesting.

Slow, Boring

As you read WHERE MY HEART USED TO BEAT, you may wonder, where is this going. If you were to ask me, I'd say, no place interesting. Although Sebastian Faulks must have a point to this story, he's so slow in making it that he lost me.

This story is several stories within a story as the main character remembers episodes from his past, beginning with his boyhood, to his days as a student, to his World War II experiences, to his love life. Sometimes the stories alternate. They are slow.

I asked for and won this book from I wanted to try Faulks, a new author for me. I'm sorry because someone else who wanted this book didn't win because I did.

Slow, Boring, Interesting
It didn't grab me

THE WILD INSIDE has all the elements required for a winner.That's why I kept reading in spite of my disinterest. I thought it must be my fault, not the author's.

This is a novel of suspense.Ted Systead, an agent for the Department of the Interior, investigates a murder in Glacier National Park, and the reader accompanies him throughout.He is haunted by a bad memory that happened to him when he lived around there when he was a teenager.

But the story never grabbed me, made me anxious to read further.I did only because the story seems to actually be a buildup to a story that will finally grab me. But it didn't happen for me as much as I would have liked.

Book Club Recommended
Scary, Unconvincing, Difficult
Cold is setting but, also, determines everything characters do

While THE QUALITY OF SILENCE isn't quite as superior a story as was SISTER, Rosamund Lupton's first book, which won awards and was highly praised all over the world, I would still agree that she rivals Tana French. SILENCE made me cold, high praise considering that cold is not only the setting of the story but, also, the motivator the characters in this story work with and around, determining everything they do. I, too, was cold; I felt like I was there because of Lupton's convincing and powerful descriptions.

A mother and 10-year-old deaf daughter from England have come to Alaska to join their husband/father, who is in northern Alaska creating a wildlife film. But authorities there have determined that he died in a fire. Not believing this, mother and daughter, by EXTRA extraordinary means, travel to find and save him. The farther they get, the colder they (and I) got. Cold is the great driver, even more so than the suspicious blue headlights following them from a distance.

Here is my only criticism. While the main characters properly use words and expressions that are what I call English English (such as "cooker") because they are English, when Americans are speaking, their words and expressions should be American English (such as "stove"). But they aren't always. That sort of irritated me.

Another irritation, so I guess that isn't my only criticism. Lupton and her editor need to learn the difference between "further" and "farther."

I'm still anxious to read AFTERWARDS, Lupton's other book. Thanks to, I was able to read THE QUALITY OF SILENCE, her latest, still unpublished, as an ARC.

Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Beautiful, Insightful
this grabbed me right away, all the way through to the end

THE LONG AND FARAWAY GONE was such a relief for me to read after two stinkers in a row. I admit, I no longer give books much of a chance beyond page 50, so maybe I missed really good second halves, but I'm too old now to wait that long. THE LONG AND FARAWAY GONE grabbed me right away.

This is two related stories, although, yes, it is one novel. In one, two mysteries are going on: who is trying to intimidate a woman who has inherited a nightclub, and who committed mass murder at a movie theater in 1986, leaving only one employee alive? The other story involves just one mystery: what happened to a missing teenager the 1986 evening she left her 12-year-old sister alone at a fair?

More than that I won't go into. Too many book reviewers forget that a book is meant to be discovered as the author, not the reviewer, wrote it.

But I will tell you what every reviewer should, that is, whether THE LONG AND FARAWAY GONE will keep grabbing you to the end. Yes. You want to read this one.

Thanks for this to Library Love Fest, the HarperCollins Library Marketing team.

The Guest Room: A Novel by Chris Bohjalian
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Dramatic, Informative
Best of 2016?

Easy prediction: THE GUEST ROOM will be on many, even most best-of-2016 lists.

Richard gives his brother a bachelor's party that takes a couple of unexpected turns when the girls he thought were just strippers offer sexual favors to a bunch of drunks. It gets worse when there is a murder and it is soon discovered that the girls are sex slaves from Russia.

The majority of this book then examines how Richard, his wife, Kristin,and his nine-year-old daughter, Melissa, deal with the aftermath. Alternate chapters are written in first person by one of the girls, "Alexandria." She tells us that she is Armenian and describes how she was kidnapped and brought to Moscow to learn the sex trade. Eventually, she is brought to America.

Alexandria's chapters are difficult to read, at least until she leaves Moscow. Richard's, Kristin's, and Melissa's chapters are careful and thoughtful. The story is riveting, and I hated for it to end.

The Farm by Tom Rob Smith
Book Club Recommended
Addictive, Dramatic, Interesting
last bit of this book is the part I liked best

Daniel's father tells him that his mother has had a psychotic breakdown. Then Daniel's mother tells him that his father is dangerous. What follows is a four- out of five-star book. And that's generous; I considered three stars.

Most of THE FARM, that is, more than 3/4 of it, is Daniel's mother's story since she and his father retired in Sweden, as she perceives it. Page after page Daniel patiently listens to her paranoia. She is so obviously paranoid, even to the point of believing she knew what people were thinking, that I didn't believe a word of it. Daniel does, though.

The last bit of this book is the part I liked best, no more paranoid story. Something really happens. The story is such a surprise that I gave it four rather than three stars.

Don't think that THE FARM is the book that finally measures up to Tom Rob Smith's first one, CHILD 44. Not that THE FARM is bad. Maybe it's that CHILD 44 is so excellent that we expect too much.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Book Club Recommended
Dark, Beautiful, Brilliant
Sad Story Based on Fact

Agnes Magnusdottir was the last person to be publicly beheaded in Iceland. She had been convicted, along with two other people, of murder. BURIAL RITES is based on years of research into Agnes's life both before and after the conviction. While the book is a novel, even what Hannah Kent imagined is based on likelihood. Much is true.

While this book has received many five-out-of-five-star ratings, I found the entire book to be depressing so can only give it four. Every bit of this story is sad, but the writing is excellent.

The Codex by Douglas Preston
Slow, Boring

One person in our group said she liked the book, but not until after she had read 100 pages. There was very little to discuss.

Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier
Book Club Recommended
Dark, Romantic, Dramatic
1940s Sensibilities

The flowery (for lack of a better word) language that Daphne DuMaurier uses in JAMAICA INN (as well as her other novels) and the gender discrimination scattered here and there irritated me in 2016 while I accepted both when I read DuMaurier's REBECCA in 1969. But, after a while, I just enjoyed the story and accepted it as it was written in the 1940s.

Mary, the main character of JAMAICA INN, has come to Jamaica Inn to live with her aunt and uncle after her mother's death. Her uncle turns out to be a horrible man who Mary comes to detest. Mary learns, usually through deliberate snooping but sometimes against her will, her uncle's business.

DuMaurier clearly intended to show that Mary is above the usual role cut out for the 19th century woman. Even so, in order to enjoy this novel, the reader still has to accept that it was written with 1940s sensibilities.

Book Club Recommended
Slow, Interesting, Informative
Historical details interesting, not characters

This is historical fiction, an "accurate portrayal of the everyday details and social habits" of Jewish people, American Indians, and black people, beginning in 1828 North Carolina. The main character is a traveling peddler, so the areas covered extend beyond North Carolina and, through his eyes, the reader witnesses the injustices of the Indian Removal Act.

While this novel deserves high marks for its obviously careful research, the depiction of the Jewish peddler's life on the road is often silly enough that I suspected while I was reading that Mary Glickman, the author, was being sarcastic. I was never sure whether this was deliberate or my misunderstanding. I would like to have cared more for him and the other characters, but only their historical details interested me, not their personal stories.

If you read AN UNDISTURBED PEACE, start with the "Author's Note." Although this is at the end of the book, I wish I had read it first.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Adventurous, Interesting
INTO THE WILD was a great beginning

Jon Krakauer is one of the best writers of nonfiction. He first proved that in magazines, but his books began with INTO THE WILD in 1996.

If you haven't read this book about Chris McCandless, who, at 24, tried to live in Alaska wilderness and failed, you may be under the impression that this is the story of that attempt. But too much is unknown because McCandless did it alone.

Instead, Krakauer tells us right away that McCandless lived for four months by himself in the Alaska wilderness and ended up starving to death. So that isn't a spoiler. The rest of the chapters are examinations of how McCandless came to be the type of person who would want to do this, of other people who were this way, of whether he had a death wish, of whether he was stupid or naive. Krakauer even puts himself in some chapters when he compares one of his own exploits to McCandless' and when he visits the old bus that McCandless lived in. Krakauer finally makes some conclusions about McCandless, some guesses based on the evidence he has laid out.

INTO THE WILD was a great beginning to a string of Krakauer's other books of nonfiction. Those, too, are at least as good, some even better. And, we can assume, more is to come.

Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott
Slow, Confusing, Boring
It is too easy for a writer of fiction to explain mysteries with ghosts

This book is said to be a thriller, but it isn't. Instead, what could have been an intelligent historical novel was spoiled by supernatural silliness.

Lydia was ghostwriting the last couple of chapters of a scholarly work on Newton and alchemy that was being written by Elizabeth until her death. Cameron, Elizabeth's son, asked Lydia to do this. Cameron and Lydia are former lovers, and Lydia narrates this story as a letter to Cameron.

But the author lost me when she went supernatural, when Lydia visited a psychic and when she began to notice too many coincidences. It is too easy for a writer of fiction to explain mysteries with ghosts.

Book Club Recommended

Mahtob Mahmoody is the daughter in NOT WITHOUT MY DAUGHTER, a book written in the late 1980s by her mother, Betty Mahmoody, about their escape from her Iranian father, his family, and his country. If you haven't already read that book, do it now, before you read MY NAME IS MAHTOB. Otherwise, the latter book will be dull.

If you have read NOT WITHOUT MY DAUGHTER, you will appreciate Mahtob's view of those circumstances. Betty's account of their supposed "two-week vacation" to Iran took place when Mahtob was 4 to 6 years old. And Mahtob does remember that time in flashes, as most of us do, although her flashes were, perhaps, more memorable.

As an aside, I hope Mahtob somehow sees this review of her book so she can read my apology. Recently (February 2016) I went to her book event at a bookstore in Okemos, Michigan. I asked her how she could remember that far back. She explained (as she does in the book, although I had not gotten that far yet). All is believable, and I'm afraid I sounded like a skeptic when I asked that question.

MY NAME IS MAHTOB continues to her adulthood -because their story of terror does not end with their escape to freedom. As long as her father was alive, she and her mother had to be cautious of their every step because he never went away and neither did his threats to kill Betty and to kidnap Mahtob.

Slow, Boring, Interesting
Not as described

This book is not as described. The official description on such sites as,, and is way off what I just read. It's as if we're talking about two different books.

In the book I read, told in third person but from the point of view of the youngest of three children, the oldest of the three goes missing. Then the book goes on and on about the goings-on of the three children before then and petty politics, all unrelated to the disappearance.

I can't think of a book that bored me more than this one.

I won this book through

The Daylight Marriage by Heidi Pitlor
Not a Thriller

This book is not nearly as thrilling as reviews by others would have you believe. In fact, the suspense they all mention is pretty ho-hum.

Hannah and Lovell have a fight. The next morning all seems normal, but Hannah disappears after that. So the rest of the book, told alternately from Lovell’s and Hannah’s points of view, consists mostly of their memories. Sometimes they remember different occasions during their marriage, sometimes they remember when their kids were younger, sometimes they even think about their own childhoods. You can safely skim the latter; they don’t seem to contribute to the story.

Reviewers’ mentions of suspense probably refers to Hannah’s chapters during the final third of the book. I won’t tell you Hannah’s error, but I will say that I caught it long before she did.

I won this book through Thoughts in Progress blog (

Clever but not a thriller

This book is a mystery, and the mystery is presented well. But it is not a thriller. Mysteries-thrillers can be unputdownable. Minus the thriller element, this book is merely clever.

The author does an excellent job of carrying on the story of Sherlock Holmes as it had been written. It wasn't a thriller before, either. But Holmes was clever before. He still is.

Does Crosswhite need a rest?

IN THE CLEARING is a continuation of Robert Dugoni's Tracy Crosswhite series. She's a detective with the Seattle PD, and in this book she is involved in two cases, one outside her jurisdiction as a favor to a friend. Each case is a mystery to be solved.

The unraveling of mysteries is interesting, so that kept me reading to the end. Unfortunately for me, though, the stories were too easy to put down. And while they did contain suspense, it wasn't enough to make me anxious to pick the book back up. I liked it, though, just not enough to read it quickly.

This disappoints me because I know Dugoni can write a story that is unputdownable. Probably he should give Crosswhite a rest and write a standalone or get back to David Sloane's great courtroom drama. We need more like THE CONVICTION.

The 19th Wife: A Novel by David Ebershoff
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Insightful
Good historical fiction but Poor depiction of religious fundamentalism

Two stories are going on here. One is historical fiction and quite interesting, the other is a simple mystery with problems. The book is supposedly written as a master's thesis.

The historical figure presented is Ann Eliza Young, one of Brigham Young's wives. She was miserable as a plural wife, ran away, and became famous as a speaker against polygamy.

The mystery has to do with a woman accused of murdering her husband. They are members of a Mormon fundamentalist sect in the 21st century, and theirs was a polygamist marriage.

Ann Eliza's story really begins with her mother, Elizabeth, near the beginning of Mormonism. So the early history of this religion is described by way of her experiences until Ann Eliza enters the picture.

The murder mystery is too simple and too easy. Even the characters are too simplistic. It is a fact, though, that such fundamentalist sects exist.

Eventually, you will understand how the two stories are related. The book deserves high ratings for its historical fiction but is downgraded because of its poor description of the ongoing real problem of Mormon fundamentalism.

Afterwards: A Novel by Rosamund Lupton
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Addictive

I just added another book to my list of favorites, the second book by Rosamund Lupton included in that list. But I still haven't decided whether the word "afterwards" refers to after the loss of consciousness or after death.

There is a fire at a private elementary school. Whose fault is it and is it arson? Two of the people hurt in the fire watch the investigation while their bodies are unconscious. One of those people describes it for her husband.

That puts simply a most involved story with twists and turns that will keep your attention and have you guessing throughout. As soon as you are pretty sure, Lupton changes your mind and makes you sure of something else.

Plus this is the best type of mystery/thriller-- literary.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Insightful, Dark

Wow! And to think I almost passed this up. Had it not won a Great Michigan Read award, I wouldn't have read STATION ELEVEN and wouldn't have known how excellent it is.

Put simply (which the book isn't), the Georgia Flu eliminates just about everyone, some directly, others because the care they need for another ailment is now unavailable. We see lives before and after the Georgia Flu.

Throughout the book are mentions of two comic books/graphic novels about Station Eleven, who created them and under what circumstances, and who possessed each over the next 20 years. It is a story within a story, each parallelling the other in several ways.

The main story goes back and forth in time and contains many characters, with no single main character, although perhaps a main group of characters. It would be confusing if an author less skillful than Emily St. John Mandel had written it. I found it easy to follow. I recommend STATION ELEVEN.

Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Addictive, Scary
Literary thriller

You can always depend on John Hart to write an outstanding literary thriller. And he's done it again with REDEMPTION ROAD.

Various mysteries are going on here. Mainly, though, we're given the character Elizabeth. She's been a member of the police force for 13 years, and she's the daughter of a preacher who she hates. Why does she hate him? A former member of the police force, Adrian, is getting out of jail after 13 years. Was he guilty of the crime he was convicted of? Elizabeth didn't think so 13 years ago and did her best then to find proof of his innocence. Now the identical crime is happening again. Is Adrian guilty, or is he being set up? Those are only some of the mysteries in REDEMPTION ROAD.

The story is both character driven and plot driven. That's the best kind of thriller, and that's why you want to read this. But it isn't flawless.

REDEMPTION ROAD doesn't get my highest rating because of one character, Gideon. He is a 14-year-old boy. Hart speaks of him and has him act like he is 8. Hart even mentions Gideon's toys near the end of the book, when he could be 15. That irritated me.

But that's me. It may not bug other readers. I sure would feel better, though, if Hart would at least delete that reference to toys and if the person in charge of punctuation would delete all the commas after "but." (As a technical editor, "but," makes me cringe.)

Most Wanted by Lisa Scottoline
Interesting, Informative, Insightful
Stupid Main Character

I couldn't get over the style of MOST WANTED, which I think of as immature. It's a style I used to like when I was a teenager, so my review of MOST WANTED would probably have been different then.

If you like her style, for you MOST WANTED deserves a slightly higher rating than I give it. Still, though, it's missing the thrills that Scottoline books normally begin at the beginning or close to it. If you're looking for thrills, you can skip a couple hundred pages that describe the lean and muscular husband, the wonderful best friend, trips to the doctor's office, disagreements between husband and wife, and manipulation by an innocent or guilty man.

After a couple hundred pages, although thrills begin during an investigation into that man's innocence or guilt, I was so sick of the stupid main character allowing herself to be manipulated, it was too late for me. Whether it turned out she was right or wrong, she did one stupid thing after another so I didn't even care by then.

The Mask by Taylor Stevens
Unconvincing, Boring, Interesting
superwoman to too hard to swallow

THE MASK is not the first in a series about Vanessa Michael Munroe; rather, it is well into the series. But it passes my test: a book in a series should be understood without requiring that the previous books have been read. So that's one good point.

Another is its comments about Japanese society and laws, particularly when they are compared with American society and laws. And that's what the story is about: why Munroe's boyfriend was arrested for murder, why it is practically impossible to get him out of prison, and how to investigate what really happened.

Unfortunately, the majority of this book describes that investigation, and here is the problem with that: Munroe. She is superwoman and too hard to swallow.

If you are familiar with Lee Child's Jack Reacher, I would say that Munroe is a female version of Reacher. Like Reacher, Munroe is successful at most anything she tries to do. And boy does she, like Reacher, kick ass. In other words, she always wins a fight, even against a man, even against three men, even against three men with pipes and guns.

Just as unbelievable is Munroe's ability to be Vanessa or to be Michael. She can switch from a desireable woman to a man who can wear her boyfriend's clothes and fool everyone into believing she is Michael. No explanation is given about how she must have changed her voice. The reader is told only that she gets away with this because she is tall.

For these reasons, the book is boring and seems too long.

I won THE MASK through

Of Irish Blood by Mary Pat Kelly
Book Club Recommended
Slow, Interesting, Informative
Full of interesting historical detail, but didn't grab my attention

OF IRISH BLOOD is Mary Pat Kelly's continuation of GALWAY BAY. Both books are historical fiction based on the lives of her ancestors. While GALWAY BAY took place mostly in Ireland during the 19th century and concentrated on her great great grandmother Honora Kelly, OF IRISH BLOOD's main character is Mary Pat Kelly's great aunt, also Honora Kelly but called Nora. This book takes place in the early 20th century and begins in Chicago but moves to Europe, Paris mostly. There Nora takes up residence after her life is threatened (fiction) in Chicago and works with many (real historical) people for Ireland's independence. Mary Pat Kelly does know that her Great Aunt Honora moved to Paris, but the rest is fiction.

This book, like GALWAY BAY, deserves highest ratings for its historical detail. Fans of historical fiction will love reading about all the historical characters that Nora comes in contact with and the accurate descriptions of Ireland's struggle/fight with England before, during, and after World War I.

The rating for OF IRISH BLOOD is downgraded, though, because it does not have a story that grabs the reader and keeps her engaged. Sometimes after a few paragraphs I was happy to put this book down. Too much struggle, too much fight, not enough drama. Although the struggle and fight were real, since the book is fictionalized, why not add enough story to make the book unputdownable? Instead, Nora and the fiction seemed nothing more than vehicles to present history. Although that is enough for many historical fiction fans, I want the characters as well as the history to grab me.

I Am No One: A Novel by Patrick Flanery
Difficult, Insightful, Informative
Good story, but sentences are too long

I AM NO ONE is a book about privacy.

Patrick Flanery tells a good story about a college professor, Jeremy O’Keefe, whose life and experiences sound like they may be somewhat autobiographical (NYU, Oxford, film, Irish in England, etc.). Someone is watching O’Keefe and nosing into the private details of his life but who and why?

The book could have been cut in half, though. The story is simple, but it is told with too many sentences, and the sentences are too long. They are so long that, often, by the time I got to the end of one, I forgot the beginning.

I haven’t read Flanery’s other books, so I don’t know if this is his usual style. If not, I suspect that all the long sentences, all the reflection, were used to make the reader feel what O’Keefe is feeling. Maybe that was a good idea, but it sure makes this book difficult to read.

Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Beautiful
Excellent Mystery With Boring First Chapter

For the most part, THE VIRGIN OF SMALL PLAINS is an excellent mystery, the kind readers will be anxious to keep reading. It is a murder mystery, yes, but as the best mysteries are, this book is much more than that. It examines lies and relationships and the possibility of miracles. Plus, the substory of a separate character in need of a miracle is placed in this story to make it even more complex.

But it's a 4- out of 5-star book. THE VIRGIN OF SMALL PLAINS loses a point because its language is simple, sounding more like a young adult than an adult novel. This is especially true of the first and the last couple chapters. The book begins with teenage sex and their silly situation, neither of which do much for an adult reader. The last chapters tie everything up neatly, reminding me, again, of a YA novel.

Adults will still enjoy this, though, even the hard-to-please readers. It keeps you guessing, then guessing again and again.

YA Novel

COMES THE END would be perfect for the young adult scifi fan. While at first it seems to be another this-is-the-end, the-aliens-are-coming-to-get-us story, a YA reader will enjoy the suggestion of devils who befriend the main characters and the awareness of who the aliens really are.

It is easy to see this first book in a series as a television series. I heard that is planned, and I certainly look forward to it.

Book Club Recommended
Romantic, Insightful, Persuasive
Would I like Austen as much now as I did when I 14?

It's been many years since I read a Jane Austen novel. Would I like her as much now as I did when I read her PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and EMMA? I was 14 then. Answer: no. Or is it fair to compare those novels to PERSUASION, which was published after Austen died?

I don't remember needing to reread many paragraphs in order to understand them when I read PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and EMMA. But that is exactly why it took me a week to read PERSUASION, which is short and should have been a quick read.

Another problem with PERSUASION was probably also the same in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and EMMA. That is, the whole story is about nothing but romance. When I was younger, that appealed to me. Now I want more.

Maybe Austen intended to do some rewrites on PERSUASION before she published it. We'll never know.

Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Informative, Beautiful
One Novel, Two Stories, Three Periods

If you, like me, do not know or care much about the art world, including art history, painting restoration and sales, art museums, etc, you will still probably enjoy THE LAST PAINTING OF SARA DE VOS. I sure did.

This novel is two stories: one of Sara de Vos, a 17th-century painter in Amsterdam, and the other of Ellie Shipley, also an artist but working as a painting restorer, and Marty de Groot, the owner of a painting by Sara de Vos. The story of Ellie and Marty is during the 20th century, beginning during the 1950s in New York, then skipping to Australia in 2000. We move around among these three periods--the 1600s, the 1950s, and 2000—throughout the book.

While this devise Dominic Smith uses of skipping around from one story to another and one of three periods to another may seem difficult to pull off, he does so. This method is so effective that most readers will love the stories in all three periods. And they will think about these three characters even when they are not actively reading the book.

My book group at the Romeo (Michigan) District Library won copies of THE LAST PAINTING OF SARA DE VOS from

Security: A Novel by Gina Wohlsdorf
Unconvincing, Slow, Boring
Nothing is gripping, shocking, or thrilling

The book flap description of SECURITY dares to compare its writing with that of Steven King. If I were King, I'd sue. It goes on with phrases like "gasp-inducing terror," "brilliant narrative puzzle," and "multifaceted love story," none of which are true. Characters in this book are shallow and even cartoonish. Nothing is gripping, shocking, or thrilling.

Perhaps Gina Wohlsdorf did suceed in showing the irony in calling a hotel private and secure because security cameras are everywhere. In fact, security and privacy were defeated by the security cameras.

I won SECURITY from Algonquin Books' LibraryThing Early Reviewers giveaway.

Slow, Boring
Fourth in series cannot stand on its own

Although some authors can write a novel in a series to also work as a standalone so that the reader can enjoy it, even out of order, PANTHER'S PREY is not one of them. This is the fourth in a series about Leo Maxwell, a lawyer working as a public defender, and too much of this novel depends on your understanding of previous books.

Most of PANTHER'S PREY, however, can be understood. Leo has worked alongside a young woman, Jordan, defending a client who confesses to crimes he did not commit. Leo has a week-long affair with Jordan--ONE WEEK. In the majority of the book, then, Leo risks his life numerous times to learn what happened to Jordan. It would be easier to accept Leo's actions if they were on behalf of a wife of 30 years.

The story drags, i.e., it is slow. It is not thrilling. I didn't much care about any of the characters, even Leo, even Jordan's father. These two characters, especially, should have more personality. Instead, they bored me.

I won PANTHER'S PREY through

Leaving Berlin: A Novel by Joseph Kanon
Book Club Recommended
Fantastic, Dramatic, Adventurous
Kanon has written another winner

Joseph Kanon has written another winner. LEAVING BERLIN is a post-World War II novel that I would call historical fiction/thriller. Here is Berlin four years after the Nazis, now not yet totally Stalinist but divided into sectors. Alex Meier, a socialist who left Berlin before the war, has returned. He lives in the Russian sector.

But this book is, most of all, a thriller. Meier is recruited by the Americans to spy on his old girlfriend and, not much later, he is recruited by a German Communist. And, my, what a tangled web! Meier gets a real good idea of what life in East Germany is becoming.

This is an intelligent can’t-put-it-down book, both plot- and character-driven. I need a sequel.

Thank you to for the lovely hardcover copy of LEAVING BERLIN. It's a keeper!

Dark Matter: A Novel by Blake Crouch
Book Club Recommended
Addictive, Interesting, Confusing
Excellent Sci-Fi Thriller

If your favorite books are those that you don’t want to put down, that keep you up at night, read DARK MATTER. Even if you are not normally a science fiction fan but do love thrillers, read DARK MATTER.

This excellent novel presents happily married Jason who has a son and a job as a professor at a small college. He sometimes wonders what his life would have been like if he had taken a different path 15 years ago when he married his wife, Daniela. Don’t many of us wonder the same thing, how the road not taken might have changed things for us? Jason got an answer to that question.

DARK MATTER is Stephen Kingish. Some of his books do not have monsters or clowns but are about normal people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances. DARK MATTER is like those.

Or maybe Crouch should not be compared to King. Crouch is not a new author. He wrote the WAYWARD PINES trilogy, the basis for the TV series of the same name. But I did not read it; Crouch was new to me, so I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked DARK MATTER.

I won this book through

Book Club Recommended
Informative, Slow, Dark
deeply researched

As usual, Jon Krakauer has deeply researched his subject, rape and the justice system in Missoula, Montana during, mostly, 2008 through 2012. He presents specific case studies of acquaintance rape when the victims came under suspicion, a common result if a victim dares to report this crime to the police.

The University of Montana (UM) in Missoula is where the victims were students. The alleged perpetrators in most of these cases were football players for UM. Therefore, Krakauer also examines Missoula’s seeming adoration of the UM football team.

Although Krakauer’s research is impeccable, his arrangement of the facts seemed somewhat haphazard during the first half of the book. Well, maybe not haphazard but not the way I would have done it. The organization sometimes confused me until I got to Part Four.

Also, I found this book to be a lot like the research papers I wrote in college, lots of facts but easy to put down. MISSOULA does, however, clearly show a problem going on in this country: rape is prevalent on college campuses, and victims don’t want to report it.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Addictive
best mystery/thriller in recent years

All the reviews I have read of BEFORE THE FALL have praised it, some going so far as to say that it’s the best mystery/thriller of 2016. Believe it.

BEFORE THE FALL is the best mystery/thriller in recent years. No kidding. GONE GIRL and THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, the 2015 books that so many other mysteries/thrillers since then have been compared to, don’t hold a candle to BEFORE THE FALL. That is, BEFORE THE FALL is much better than those earlier books, much more literate and unputdownable at the same time.

A reviewer on, although she named this book a “Bets On Pick,” said that if she had edited BEFORE THE FALL, she would have cut more. I disagree. I didn’t want the book to end, so the more the author, Noah Hawley, told me about the characters, the better.

Simply put, the story begins with a plane crash into the ocean. There are two survivors. BEFORE THE FALL examines the backgrounds of each passenger and crew member. It also shows the experiences of the survivors after the fall. The mystery throughout: why did the plane crash and was someone responsible?

NOTE: One of the passengers on that ill-fated plane was a top executive at a 24-hour cable TV news station that is obviously meant to be Fox News, although the fictional TV station, per policy, makes (rather than just reports) news. And one of the news show hosts, who ”reports” recorded (bugged) telephone conversations of one of the survivors, is NOT, I’m sure, meant to be Bill O’Reilly.

Alias Grace: A Novel by Margaret Atwood
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Dramatic, Slow
don't be put off if beginning is boring

If you haven’t read a Margaret Atwood novel before, as I hadn’t, you might be put off by ALIAS GRACE if you give up before page 43. I almost did. Luckily, I reminded myself to give it a few more pages. It becomes a page turner after page 43.

Grace Marks was a real person, as are some of the other characters in ALIAS GRACE. (Atwood discusses the fact and fiction of this book in the “Afterword.” I read it first.) Grace was accused of murder in 19th–century Canada. Atwood fills in where the facts are not known.

Even if Atwood’s writing about Grace’s life before she moves to Canada (when she lives in Ireland with her parents and siblings) sounds monotonous to you, stick with it. You’ll be glad you did.

The Cove: A Novel by Ron Rash
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Dark, Beautiful

In the book THE COVE, the cove is a place where nothing good has ever happened to anyone who lived there. At this point in history, the end of World War I, can that be changed?

THE COVE begins with a mystery in the prologue, then soon after another mystery makes you forget about the first one.

Allow yourself to discover this mysterous story as it was meant to be discovered: as you read it. Don't read reviews. Don't even read the book flap or the back of the book until after you've read it.
THE COVE is an exceptionallly good book because it is mysterious. But I made the mistake of reading reviews of this book before I read it, and most of them revealed the solution to one of the mysteries. So I was deprived of the pleasure of slowly discovering the story as it was revealed. I might have given THE COVE five stars otherwise.

If you don't make that mistake, you'll love THE COVE.

Arrowood: A Novel by Laura McHugh
Interesting, Dark, Dramatic
What a disappointment!

What a disappointment! I was so happy when I won ARROWOOD from Laura McHugh's last book was so well received and had so many favorable reviews, I assumed ARROWOOD would also be good.

My two biggest complaints about this book: people keep saying and doing implausible things, and too much of the book describes boring events that seem to have nothing to do with anything (such as a too-long description of cleaning an old home). Is that three complaints?

I should have given up on this book when I got to page 50.

Book Club Recommended
A Character-Driven Novel

The IRISH TIMES says that Lisa McInerney is “arguably the most talented writer at work in Ireland today.” Most readers will probably agree after they read THE GLORIOUS HERESIES.

This is a character-driven book. And the dialog sounds so authentic and is so good that McInerney doesn’t waste paragraphs on descriptions of people and their surroundings, as so many authors do. Most of it is contained in the dialog. Also, McInerney assumes that her readers are intelligent and will understand her allusions.

The only problem with such a character-driven novel is that it can leave the reader wondering about the plot. The best novels, in my opinion, are usually both plot- and character-driven. I say “usually” because THE GLORIOUS HERESIES is so exceptionally written that I cared about most of the characters (even the crazy arsonist and the prostitute) and was as anxious to read it as I am the best plot-and character-driven novels. This book is the exception to my rule.

You’ll care about one character more than the others. For this character’s sake, by the time you read half of THE GLORIOUS HERESIES, you may be angry that nothing good ever seems to happen. It does get difficult to read bad news all the time. I’d like to read something by McInerney that deals with normal people who have jobs.

Another irritation: THE GLORIOUS HERESIES mentions several times the horrible economy in Ireland that some of the characters blame for their states in life. But they never consider that the problem could be the other way around. That is, maybe the way they live their lives is keeping the economy down.

Read THE GLORIOUS HERESIES. It may be the only character-driven novel that makes you anxious for the author’s next.

I won this book through

The 7th Canon by Robert Dugoni
Good but not as good as THE CONVICTION

THE 7TH CANON is a pleasant change. It is not part of a series; it is a standalone novel that Robert Dugoni has had around for a long time; he wrote the first draft 20 years ago. That made some things out of date in 2016. So he set the story in 1987.

A priest who ran a home for homeless boys in San Francisco is accused of murdering one of those boys. His lawyer decides that the only way to a successful defense is to prove the priest’s innocence and find the real murderer. Although I was pretty sure who the real murderer was early on, it was still fun following the lawyer’s investigation. Turns out, some of the characters he interacts with are based on real people in Dugoni’s life.

I’ve read several Dugoni novels. None has impressed me as much as the last book he wrote in his David Sloane series, THE CONVICTION. I’ve been watching for another to grab me like that did. His Tracy Crosswhite series wasn’t doing it, so I welcomed THE 7TH CANON. But, although it’s good, it’s not that good. Dugoni needs to return to David Sloane.

The publisher Thomas & Mercer sent me this book at my request.

Spilled Blood by Brian Freeman
it didn’t thrill me

SPILLED BLOOD would be classified as a thriller. I liked the story, but it didn’t thrill me.

There are a lot of lawyers in this book. One of them, Chris, is divorced from the mother of his teenaged child, Olivia. His ex-wife, Hannah, calls him to the small town where she and Olivia live because Olivia has been arrested for murder. For the rest of the book, Chris investigates who else may have committed the murder. I must have missed what “spilled blood” has to do with this story. But Brian Freeman chose those words for his title, so they must be in there someplace.

Others were thrilled by SPILLED BLOOD. So maybe you should listen to them and not me. But I think much of the story is predictable. Don’t worry about the final solution, though; it’s a surprise, although the very end isn’t.

June: A Novel by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
Unconvincing, Boring, Slow

JUNE disappointed me.

A young woman, Cassie, lives alone since the death of her grandmother, June, in the big, old home that has been in her family for years. When Cassie is told that she has inherited millions of dollars from a dead movie idol, Jack Montgomery, the mysteries begin.

This book is two stories: Cassie’s is the present-day story, and the other, for the most part, is of June and Jack in 1955. Here is the first disappointment: we are to believe that Cassie dreams the story of June and Jack. Another thing: the house is alive and making Cassie dream these dreams. Really.

Both stories are hard to swallow, and each has a nice, neat conclusion.

The Stranger by Harlan Coben
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Addictive, Adventurous

Once again Harlan Coben has written an unputdownable novel.

As always, Coben gives us a multilayered story that is actually story upon story upon story. That's what makes it unputdownable, but that also makes for lots of characters names to remember. So pay attention and don't read it too fast.

The main story is about Adam and Corinne. A stranger has revealed to Adam a secret Corinne has kept from him for a couple of years. After he confronts her with it, she disappears. Now the mystery(s) begins.

Every one of the stories involves a devastating secret and usually blackmail. They are all intertwined, and each builds on Adam's mystery. Each also keeps the reader trying to guess the solution. But I've never been able to guess the solution to Coben's mysteries. I didn't guess here, either.

Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Interesting, Dramatic

I discovered another author! That is what I say, usually to myself, when I want to read everything written by the author of a book I just read. And that’s how I feel about Amor Towles after reading RULES OF CIVILITY.

Simply put, this book is about a year in the life of a 25-year-old woman in New York in 1938. Her story begins when she is living in a boardinghouse and working as a secretary in the typing pool at a law firm. She soon becomes involved with people who have plenty of time and money to drink and party--and not just on weekends.

A story like that may not sound appealing. It didn’t to me. But in the hands (head?) of Towles, you should be pleasantly surprised, as I was.

RULES OF CIVILITY actually begins in 1966 when that woman attends an exhibition of photographs at the art museum. By chance, two of the pictures are of an old friend. So most of the rest of the book is her flashback, with that friend as one of the major influences on her year.

I never get emotional about a novel. It’s fiction. But at two points in this book, I got choked up, almost cried. It’s that good.

Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Persuasive
character-driven mystery

Although Ian Caldwell is non-Catholic, THE FIFTH GOSPEL is full of details about the Vatican and the priesthood. This is a literary mystery--who killed a religious scholar and why, is the Diatessaron really the fifth gospel and where is it, and is the Shroud of Turin really what is claimed and who does it belong to?

What fine character development in this novel! In particular, two priests, brothers, one Roman Catholic, the other Greek Catholic, are the main focus. Told from the point of view of one of them, Alex, this story is his investigation of these mysteries after Ugo, the religious scholar, is found dead, apparently murdered. Ugo had been studying the Diatessaron and found allusion there to the Shroud of Turin. Is this the reason he was murdered?

Catholic readers will appreciate all the research Caldwell did on the Vatican and the priests and bishops there. I'm not sure, however. if a non-Catholic would. I think THE FIFTH GOSPEL might have bored me if I were not a Catholic.

Or maybe I'm wrong about that. Maybe the reader will appreciate this novel for its character-driven mystery when so many mysteries/thrillers are simply plot driven.

All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren
Book Club Recommended
Brilliant, Addictive, Beautiful

The recent presidential campaign reminded me that I still haven’t read ALL THE KING’S MEN. It’s been in my parents’ bookcase all the while I was growing up, and I even tried to read it when I was in high school. I never finished it then through lack of interest. Forty years later the subjects of this book do interest me and I can understand why it won a Pulitzer prize in 1947,was rated the 36th greatest novel of the 20th century by Modern Library, and was chosen as one of TIME magazine's 100 best novels since 1923.

Even if you haven’t read ALL THE KING’S MEN, you must have heard of it. Your impression may be like mine was: this is a book about a politician who began with good intentions only to grow into a man who acts out of a lust for power. But while this IS one of the characters (Willie Stark), his story is really the background for Jack Burden’s story.

Burden narrates. He begins when he was a reporter who came across the young Willie Stark, then goes back and forth in time, studying how he acted as Stark’s right-hand man and how he related with old friends and family. You may want to reread this; Robert Penn Warren discusses so much, you may catch the second time what you missed the first time.

ALL THE KING’S MEN doesn’t get my highest rating for that reason. I don’t like to reread. But I think I need to. Robert Penn Warren took many breaks from the story to discuss and philosophize. This went on for many paragraphs before he resumed the story, causing me to forget it.

This is a style that can be good, especially if the discussions are as thoughtful as Warren’s. The problem I have here is the length of the discussions. His tangents are too wordy.

But this is minor. The book is exceptional.

Almost Missed You: A Novel by Jessica Strawser
Dramatic, Boring, Interesting
lots of secrets and lies

Just last evening an alarm sounded on my iPhone, signaling another Amber alert of a child abduction, probably a parental kidnapping. That is the main subject of ALMOST MISSED YOU. Violet’s husband, Finn, has left her waiting on the beach while he has taken off with their 3-year-old son. She did not see the problems in their marriage that led to this because of his lies of omission. And Violet realizes that she, too, kept quiet when she should have spoken up.

Meanwhile, Violet’s and Finn’s good friends, Caitlin and George, have hidden problems of their own, not to mention Caitlin’s lies of omission that contributed to Violet’s and Finn’s troubles. And, like Violet and Finn, Caitlin and George are each lying to the other by omission.

Fans of women’s fiction, which I am not, will love ALMOST MISSED YOU. The novel explores, mostly, the two couple’s friendships, marriages, and lies of omission that threaten to tear it all apart. This subject matter is too soap operaish for me, but is popular with so many people that the term “women’s fiction” was coined just for them.

So ALMOST MISSED YOU contains lots of secrets and lies, and that is essentially it. A story like this doesn’t appeal to me. Yes, lots of people would disagree with me. I would have disagreed, too, when I was a young adult.

Behind Closed Doors by B. A. Paris
Addictive, Scary, Dramatic
Don't read other reviews; they tell you too much

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS tells you by its title that something is going on at home that puts the lie to outward appearances. So it’s safe to say that this book is about a bad marriage. But my calling it a “bad marriage” is like the author Mary Kubica calling it “unsettling.” Both are understatements.

A woman gives up her career because her fiancé, a busy lawyer, fears he will hardly ever see her after they are married. He is happy to share responsibility for her younger sister who has Down Syndrome. But what does he have in store for them?

The story is simple, no great shakes. It could be told in a segment of a TV series like “Law and Order.” It isn’t, as some reviews have called it, “unputdownable.” For me, it was the opposite. I found it so unsettling and repetitive that I had to put the book down after I ended each chapter.

I won this book from St. Martin’s Press through a special contest.

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter
Book Club Recommended
Scary, Addictive, Dark
One of 2016's best

Of the Karin Slaughter books I’ve read, PRETTY GIRLS is by far the best. For that matter, PRETTY GIRLS is one of the best books I’ve read this year.

The pretty girls in PRETTY GIRLS are three pretty sisters. When the book begins, one of those sisters, Julia, has been missing for almost 20 years. The family, including her two younger sisters, Lydia and Claire, and her mother and father, have never felt closure. Lydia and Claire, as a matter of fact, have felt ignored by their parents as a result.

Eighteen years ago, Claire married Paul, a genius-level architect. They are rich and happy together. That happiness is not to last. First, Paul is murdered. Then, when Claire is going through his personal belongings, including his home offices and computers, she finds evidence that Paul had been leading a hidden life. And she is to discover much, much more. Paul had been committing and was responsible for horrors.

Since Julia went missing, Lydia became addicted to drugs, let herself go fat, and is estranged from her family. But when PRETTY GIRLS opens, she has gone straight, has a daughter, now a teenager, and has an ongoing relationship with the man who lives next door. Claire involves Lydia in the horrors.

I will say no more about this story. Doing so would deprive readers of learning what Claire and Lydia do while they are doing it. If readers don’t know their discoveries ahead of time, most will find this book can’t-put-it-down good.

To contradict myself, I should say this much more: some scenes involving torture are hard to read. But they are not gratuitous; they ensure that readers feel as horrified as they should.

Empire Falls by Richard Russo
Dramatic, Fun, Insightful

I did not want to rate this book because I did not read the whole thing. It bored me so much I had to put it down.

Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Addictive, Scary
French has another winner with THE TRESPASSER

No one writes a story like Tana French. Her style is original, not like any I’ve read elsewhere. And her dialog: it’s so good I feel like I’m there—in Ireland—and she even has me feeling at home with all the Irish slang. She also doesn’t waste space or my time with paragraph upon paragraph describing the atmosphere in which her story takes place, as so many authors do.

So much for French’s books in general. As for THE TRESPASSER in particular, while it’s not as good as her BROKEN HARBOR, which blew me away, it’s up there with FAITHFUL PLACE, which is her second best. I’ve read all her books, so you can take my word for it.

All her books, so far, are about different characters, detectives mostly, on the Dublin Murder Squad, although each stands alone and doesn’t depend on the last book. In THE TRESPASSER, two of the characters, partners Antoinette Conway and Stephen Moran, have also appeared in other books, although here they are main characters.

Conway is the narrator. Throughout the book we see what Conway sees and read how Conway feels about it. She is having a hard time as the only female on the squad. But the careful reader will sometimes suspect her perception.

She and Moran are tired of always getting the domestic murder cases handed to them. When they are given a case involving the murder in her home of a single young woman, they are sure it’s another cut-and-dry Domestic, easy to solve, even too easy. But this turns out to be more. This may even have the rest of the Murder Squad hating them.

Conway and Moran also have to deal with Detective Don Breslin, who seems to be trying to steer their case toward the victim’s new boyfriend, even after Conway learns details that point in another direction. When he speaks with Conway and Moran, they almost telepathically know what the other is thinking (evidence of a good partnership) and speak to Breslin accordingly.

French has another winner with THE TRESPASSER. I highly recommend it and only do not give it my highest rating because I gave that to BROKEN HARBOR.

I won this book from

Interesting, Dramatic, Addictive
Inspired by true-life story

In 1965, the two toddlers of Alice and Edmund Crimmins were found dead, and she was later found guilty of their murders. Her experience was Emma Flint’s inspiration for LITTLE DEATHS. Although the book is fiction, many of its details are the same as the real-life story, especially the opinion that Ruth Malone (the fictionalized Alice Crimmins) was convicted on the basis of her looks and her sex life. LITTLE DEATHS could have been a good story.

Ruth is a red-headed cocktail waitress, separated from her husband, Frank. She wears tight skirts and lots of makeup (to cover acne scars), and she sleeps around. So, when her two children disappear, Ruth is immediately suspected of hiding them because she and Frank are battling over their custody. When the children are found dead, she is immediately suspected of murdering them because of her appearance and her morals.

Part of the problem with LITTLE DEATHS is the reporter, Pete. He begins covering the story just like every other reporter, misjudging Ruth. Eventually, though, he decides she is telling the truth, then he becomes attracted to her. His actions are never explained adequately, so he is not understandable.

I guess I could say the same about all the characters in this book. That’s because the whole thing seems rushed, like there isn’t time to explore any of them. This is especially true of the last few pages. The end leaves the reader hanging. Not good.

I won this ARC from Hachette Books through

The Burn Palace: A Novel by Stephen Dobyns
Book Club Recommended
a book that any lover of mysteries/thrillers doesn’t want to miss

THE BURN PALACE is a book that any lover of mysteries/thrillers doesn’t want to miss. Several mysteries are going on at the same time, all in and around one small town

What happened to a newborn baby kidnapped from a hospital?

What is the significance of a snake in the baby’s place?

Why was a man scalped and who did it?

Why does the mother of the kidnapped baby hate him?

Why does this small town suddenly have a problem with cougers prowling the area and attacking humans?

Why are old people suddenly dying at a greater rate?

And more mysteries continue throughout. Stephen Dobyns skillfully brings them all together and solves each one.

However, be prepared for an overly long book. It could use more editing to eliminate a few redundancies. An even greater challenge to the reader is Dobyns’s use of SO MANY characters. I literally had to use a yellow highlighter to mark each new character name so I could leaf back a few pages when I needed a refresher of who was who.

The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens
Dramatic, Addictive, Interesting
too YAish for me

On the recommendation of a friend who loves my book recommendations, I read THE LIFE WE BURY. I am not as impressed with it as she is but not because it isn’t a good book. I found it too young adultish. Although many adults like YA novels, I mostly don’t.

Joe is a young college student who has escaped a lousy home life. His slovenly mother drinks too much, spends too much time at bars and casinos, and does not seem to care for her other son, Joe’s autistic half brother who is physically abused by his mother’s boyfriend. But that’s just a side story. The real story begins with Joe’s assignment for his English class.

The assignment is to write someone’s biography. So Joe finds in a nursing home an old dying man, Carl, who has spent the last 30 years in prison for a crime he claims he did not commit. Now the real story begins when Joe becomes convinced that Carl is, indeed, innocent. So he takes it upon himself to prove it.

I almost forgot Joe’s female college-student neighbor. Of course, you guessed it, they fall in love and she helps.

The blog Bookpage calls THE LIFE WE BURY “compulsively suspenseful.” Some will agree. I found it predictable. Yet, I did enjoy most of the book. Even if it is predictable, it goes the way I want it to.

This is Allen Eskens’s debut novel. He’s written a couple of others since THE LIFE WE BURY, and I’m going to try one. I read an excerpt of his THE GUISE OF ANOTHER, and it doesn’t sound YAish.


North of Boston: A Novel by Elisabeth Elo
Book Club Recommended
Fantastic, Informative
Great story, great characterization

I won NORTH OF BOSTON from two years before I finally read it. I didn't know what I was missing.

The book begins after Pirio is in a boating accident. She, alone, survives after floating for four hours in water temperatures that would have killed most people . She learns that a much larger boat collided with the one she was on and then left the scene – – it was a hit-and-run accident. Even worse, she later realizes that this was a case of murder; someone was trying to get rid of the captain of the boat Pirio was on.

Who was responsible, and what were they trying to cover up? Pirio wants to get to the bottom of it. Most of NORTH OF BOSTON is about her endeavor to do that.

What a great story, with such creative characterization! If you haven't read this yet, please don't put it off any longer.

The Little Red Chairs by Edna O'Brien
Dark, Difficult, Gloomy
made me feel stupid

Because THE LITTLE RED CHAIRS takes place at first in Ireland, I expected it to be about Irish people. And it seems so at first. But this is really about the mysterious foreigner, “Dr. Vlad,” who comes to a small village in Ireland. Who is he really? Why is he able to mesmerize so many of the people who live there? That’s at first.

Then this book is more and more about a beautiful woman there, Fidelma, who is married to a much older man and has tried and failed to have a baby. She wants one badly and gets help from “Dr. Vlad.”

By this point in the story, it is evident that THE LITTLE RED CHAIRS is not about Ireland but about the Bosnian War and its atrocities. But O’Brien just says this in bits and pieces.

There is also no character development in this story, even the two main characters. O'Brien leaves too much unsaid.

O'Brien seems to like to make the reader doubt her memory and deduce what she means. Therefore, THE LITTLE RED CHAIRS is difficult to describe.

I didn’t enjoy reading this book because, frankly, it made me feel stupid. I still have questions I don’t know the answers to and wonder if I somehow missed them or didn’t make the correct deductions. And I wish someone would at least tell me why the heck Fidelma is referred to twice as “Jenny.”

Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Brilliant, Addictive
Surprise and disappointment of end was also funny

Some books, like BEHIND HER EYES, present situations that make the reader ask, how will the author write herself out of this? And then sometimes the author does, but other times the author uses what I call "the easy way out" and makes the impossible possible with paranormal abilities.

BEHIND HER EYES really had me going for the majority of the book. Louise makes a few poor decisions when it comes to Adele and David, the first and probably worst being her inability to tell Adele that she (Louise) was sexually involved with David and to tell David that she (Louise) had become a friend of Adele's. Louise didn't want to give up either. So she made a whole lot of trouble for herself. This sounds like a silly romance novel, I know, but really it isn't. It is quite a page turner.

Where BEHIND HER EYES goes wrong is in the last couple of chapters. Whereas others say this end is a surprise, I would add that it is a disappointment. It is too easy to use paranormal abilities as explanations. So, while others gasped in surprise and then gasped again, I laughed.

Now I wonder, did Sarah Pinburough mean for the last chapter to be funny? Because, after the surprise/disappointment of the previous chapter, I think it is.

This review is of an ARC sent to me by the publisher.

Slow, Boring
tedious and predictable

Here is why I don’t trust blurbs written by authors about other authors’ books. They describe Swan Huntley’s WE COULD BE BEAUTIFUL as a thriller and a page-turning mystery. First, I would not call this book thrilling. As for mystery, sure, a little bit, but not until after about 200 pages describing a woman’s excesses with all her money, more than she knows what to do with.

Speaking of “woman,” Catherine is 43 years old but sounds like a teenager for most of the book. When she doesn’t sound like a teenager, she sounds like a 5 year old.

Catherine thinks it’s about time she found a husband. So she finds the ideal (at least he looks ideal) man, William, at an art show. About halfway through WE COULD BE BEAUTIFUL William says and does some unsettling things that may raise the reader’s suspicions. And Catherine’s mother (who suffers from Alzheimer’s) acts standoffish at mentions of William or his family. These are mysteries but certainly not engaging much less page turning.

This story had potential. It could have been a mystery/thriller. Instead, though, WE COULD BE BEAUTIFUL is tedious and predictable.

The Sleepwalker: A Novel by Chris Bohjalian
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Slow, Insightful
Another winner

Chris Bohjalian never disappoints. With THE SLEEPWALKER, he has again written a novel that is both plot- and character-driven, heavier on character. He gives the reader a can’t-put-it-down engaging story and examines its main characters as we, along with the narrator, try to figure out what happened to a missing wife and mother, Annalee.

THE SLEEPWALKER is told from the viewpoint of Lianna, one of Annalee’s daughters, years after the incident. When Lianna’s college professor father goes to a conference for the weekend, she and her younger sister wake one morning to discover their mother is not in the house. Immediately, they (and soon most everyone else) suspect that their mother had wandered off while she was asleep. Annalee has a history of sleepwalking.

In the remainder of THE SLEEPWALKER, Lianna observes the main characters. While her father and sister seem to be sure Annalee had died after sleepwalking, Lianna only suspects this. She becomes involved with a detective on the case, Gavin, and wonders about his involvement with her mother even while Lianna is more and more attracted to him.

Adding to the mystery are the italicized lines at the beginning of each chapter. Who writes them? Although Lianna narrates this story, those paragraphs are obviously special clues.

Perhaps some readers will not like the relationship between Lianna and Gavin. She is only 21 while he is 33. That age difference would have been illegal if they were a little younger, and you might think he would have considered her out of bounds. So maybe the story would work a little better if she was older. But maybe not; this way we can be suspicious of his guilt and his intentions.

Bohjalian’s THE SLEEPWALKER is another winner.

I won this book from

Beautiful, Insightful, Inspiring
Reading this book was too much work

Although OUR SOULS AT NIGHT appears to be a quick read because it is a short book, it is not. That is, the book seems much longer than it is. Even a slow reader like me should be able to finish such a short book in less than a day. But no. I looked for excuses to put it down. The end did not come soon enough.

OUR SOULS AT NIGHT has an interesting beginning. Addie proposes to her neighbor, Louis, that they keep each other company in bed at night. From there, the book continues: something happens, then something else happens, then something else happens, then something else happens, etc. It’s not much of a story.

But the story does seem to try to anger the reader a couple of times. Instead, though, I was angry with the author for writing such ridiculousness: Addie’s and Louis’s adult children reprimanding them, both in their 70s, for wanting to be together at night. RIDICULOUS!

To make matters worse, Haruf uses punctuation marks sparingly and quotation marks not at all. Why do some authors do that, regress to the time before people thought readability was important enough to invent those marks? I usually read for enjoyment. Reading this book was too much work.

Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben
Book Club Recommended
Addictive, Interesting, Adventurous
lots of mysteries going on

As is the case with all Harlan Coben novels, FOOL ME ONCE is a thriller with many different mysteries going on at once. And that’s what makes this book, all his books, unputdownable. Since I began reading this book, the only constructive thing I did was finish it.

We follow the beautiful but tough Maya, former army captain, a helicopter pilot, as she investigates and gets to the bottom of two murders, first of her sister, then of her husband. The reader will suspect everyone yet still be surprised at the outcome. It’s typical Harlan Coben.

It is also typical of Coben to grab the reader right on page 1 or 2. So I was disappointed that FOOL ME ONCE didn’t grab me until page 63. Still, other readers may differ because the story is interesting right away.

Book Club Recommended
This book leaves you with a lot of questions

I guess you could call I'M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS a creepy book, Hitchcockian.

It is short and takes place in just one evening. Jake and his girlfriend drive two hours to have dinner with his parents in their old farmhouse. She is thinking of ending things with him and ruminates on that throughout the book.

Everything that evening is strange. The farmhouse is strange, Jake's parents are strange, the girls at the Dairy Queen are strange, and their detour to the big school is strange. You'll be searching for correct explanations through it all.

Between chapters are discussions that are clues to what is really going on. When you finally figure it out, you'll probably want to go back and re-read those clues.

Or you might not figure it out. You might think, as I did, that you figured it out until you talk about it with your book club. Then you realize this book leaves you with a lot of questions.

I'M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS is Iain Read's first novel, although he has written two award-winning books of nonfiction. I'll be keeping my eye on him now.

Gloomy, Boring, Dark
Looking Forward to Novel

Anthony Marra is one of our best writers. He’s so good, I like to read his sentences over again for their cleverness. He proved that with A CONSTELLATION OF VITAL PHENOMENA and proves that again with THE TSAR OF LOVE AND TECHNO. Even so, TSAR is not another CONSTELLATION.

CONSTELLATION is an excellent novel in every way. TSAR isn’t a novel; it is a collection of short stories, which I usually avoid because they necessarily lack character development. Also, while short stories may be interesting, they are not able to grab me, pull me in so the book becomes unputdownable like a novel can.

TSAR’s short stories seem to try to have these qualities of a novel. The stories are interconnected; the book has a cast of characters who may appear in more than one story, and the places and certain objects remain the same. Therefore, some character development happens, but it’s not enough and left me disappointed.

So TSAR bored me. But I’m hoping that this book is just something Marra put out there to tide his readers over until he has the time to give us another great novel.

Ill Will: A Novel by Dan Chaon
Gloomy, Dark
After page 300, this book is great

ILL WILL does not have one main character. I would say there are five:

Rusty spent 25 years in jail after he was unjustly convicted of killing his adoptive parents. He’s now free, thanks to the Innocence Project.

Dustin, Rusty’s adoptive brother, had testified against Rusty and even now refuses to speak to him. He is now a psychologist.

Aaron, Dustin’s younger son, is a junkie. Dustin doesn’t notice. Dustin doesn’t notice a lot of things.

Dennis, Dustin’s older son, is a college student. He is extremely frustrated that his brother is a junkie and his father doesn’t notice his surroundings, acts spacey, and indulges one of his patients by going along with his search for a serial killer.

Aqil is that patient, later Dustin’s friend. He is a former policeman, whose quest for a serial killer appears clearly nuts.

Perhaps Dustin, of all these characters, is the primary because he ties them together.

ILL WILL is a very detailed psychological study of all these characters, in particular, of Dustin. How ironic that the character with the greatest psychological problems treats patients with psychological problems.

This is an overly long book.It doesn't get good until around page 300, which is about halfway. That's too many pages of details to call this a good book.

Until that point, about page 300, ILL WILL is, essentially, a setup of what will happen after that point. But if you can get past that setup, the book truly does redeem itself. Probably this is why a book that is only half good gets so many high ratings.

I won this copy of ILL WILL through

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
Book Club Recommended
Fun, Addictive, Dramatic
Better than most books about women's issues

BIG LITTLE LIES is a surprise to me. Although the subject matter, women’s issues, normally bores me, I was pleased that Moriarty built up suspense everywhere she could, particularly with the chapter titles and with the gossipy-sounding witness comments at the end, sometimes the beginning, of each chapter.

This book has three main characters, all women, each with a typical issue.

** Madeline has three children, one by the husband who left her, the other two by her second husband. Her oldest child has chosen to live with her father. He has not kept an eye on their child’s online activity.

** Jane, new to the community, has a child as a result of a one-night stand. The child is accused of being a bully.

** Celeste has twins and is dealing with domestic abuse.

All three of them have children in the same kindergarten class at Pirriwee Public school.

That much would have been enough to turn me away from BIG LITTLE LIES. But right from the start, the book contains chapter headings to indicate when events take place in relation to Trivia Night, a costume party for parents of children at Pirriwee Public school. So I knew that something big was coming up on Trivia Night and, because one of the commentators at the ends of chapters is a police detective, that the big thing had to do with the law.

Moriarty also injects suspense into the lives of each of the three main characters. What will become of Madeine’s oldest child? Will other mothers drive Jane from the community? And, especially, will Celeste leave before her husband kills her?

Another reason this women’s-issues book didn’t turn me away is that I enjoyed its dialog. It is quite witty, especially when Madeline is speaking.

So, even if you don’t enjoy books about women’s issues, you may want to give this one a try for its buildup of suspense and its dialog. If you do enjoy books about women’s issues, you’ll enjoy this one more than most.

Difficult, Dark, Graphic
Could Not Finish

HUMAN ACTS is translated from Korean. That is my problem with it, not that the translation is bad but that good writing and good writing style differ in different languages. So when I read a translation that is good at capturing the writer’s intended voice, I’m hearing a voice not intended for the English language.

At least I think that’s the reason I found this book so off-putting. I could say the writing is bad, but it’s more likely the problem is unique to me. HUMAN ACTS has received many favorable reviews by English speakers.

I won HUMAN ACTS through I could not finish it.

A gentleman in Moscow. by Amor Towles
Book Club Recommended
Beautiful, Brilliant, Insightful
a pleasure to read!

What a pleasure to read! The writing in A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW is delightful.

Sentenced in 1922 to house arrest for a poem he wrote, the gentleman, Count Alexander Rostov, may never again leave his home, a grand hotel in Moscow. But the hotel certainly is grand--the count befriends various employees there and becomes involved with so many aspects of life there. We see him make a large life for himself.

This book is full of elegant language, reflecting, I assume, the language of a gentleman; stories of the count’s past and of the lives of others in the hotel; friendships to last 30 years; and plenty of sarcasm. But don’t expect that this is similar to Amor Towles’ excellent RULES OF CIVILITY.

Frankly, I read A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW because I loved RULES OF CIVILITY. They aren’t alike; A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW is better.

I received my copy of A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW from

The Middlesteins: A Novel by Jami Attenberg
Book Club Recommended
Unconvincing, Confusing, Interesting

I didn't like this book but others in my book group did. The discussion was quite lively. So I suppose I should recommend it for a book groups.

Here and Gone: A Novel by Haylen Beck
Book Club Recommended
HERE AND GONE is what I call a “grabber”

HERE AND GONE is what I call a “grabber.” In the first chapters, you’ll want to know what is happening. Then, at about the halfway point, this book will grab your attention so tightly you will want to read late into the night.

Audra and her two children are traveling cross-country when they are stopped by a local Arizona sheriff. He plants evidence, says he suspects her of a crime, and arrests her. A deputy arrives to take the children to “a safe place.” Audra is put in jail and awaits a hearing.

I wasn’t happy with these chapters. The whole situation with Audra and the sheriff is too frustrating (she isn’t as smart as her 11-year-old son), and child abduction is too horrible. But the chapters are short and necessary to the story.

Next are chapters about Danny, the kind of person he is, and how he came to be that way. His child, too, was abducted in much the same way as Audra is claiming.

These chapters are necessary setup. Again, they are short.

After that, while HERE AND GONE is somewhat predictable, it is still a grabber. But this review will not take away from your enjoyment of this book by providing anymore details. It grabbed me because I didn’t read reviews.

I won this book through

Dramatic, Addictive, Adventurous
mystery depends on alcohol and drugs

Now I’ve read another of these selections, THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10. I’m afraid it’s just so-so, no great shakes. But others disagree with me.

Many reviewers say that THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10 is better than Ruth Ware’s last book, IN A DARK, DARK WOOD. That is true if you don’t count the first two thirds of CABIN 10. The last third of that book is, indeed, nailbiting. And that is good enough for most reviewer’s, I guess.

All in all, though, I would say that CABIN 10 is about average. If the entire book was as good as the last third, I would give it a four out of five.

The mystery depends on alcohol and drugs. What a disappointment!

Addictive, Dramatic
Maybe Yes, Maybe No

If you expect, as I did, that Paris’s THE BREAKDOWN is an improvement on her last book, BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, I would say, yes and no. The two books have in common a husband who appears to be deeply in love with and devoted to his poor, unsuspecting wife. After that, THE BREAKDOWN is better or worse than BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, depending on how you feel about the latter. I thought THE BREAKDOWN was better AND worse.

In THE BREAKDOWN, the wife, Cass, is concerned about both a murderer on the loose near her home and her forgetfulness. She and her husband, Matthew, fear she is suffering from early onset dementia. But this book isn't sickening as is BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, which is so sickening in the cruelty of the husband that I had to put it down frequently.

However, most of THE BREAKDOWN is an enumeration of the seeming symptoms (forgetfulness and paranoia) of Cass’s breakdown. It gets tedious.

Worse, THE BREAKDOWN is predictable. It is so predictable, I knew right from the beginning who was pulling tricks on whom. So most of what happened made me angry that the character could not see what was so clear to me.

If you like stories about rotten marriages, maybe you’ll like this. I sure didn’t.

Book Club Recommended
Unanswered questions could lead to lots of discussion

ALL OUR WRONG TODAYS has many five-star reviews. Perhaps that’s because the writing style and the first-person narrator’s voice are so engaging. I enjoyed reading this in large part because of Mastai’s writing; it reminds me of Harlan Coben’s style.

But I disagree that ALL OUR WRONG TODAYS is worthy of five stars. Why?

You could say the first third of the book is downright boring. It is at least putdownable. The second third, however, is much better. So I had high expectations of the last third. But it is "eh"—except for the narrator, Tom. I loved him.

Tom claims that ALL OUR WRONG TODAYS is not a novel but a memoir of his experience traveling to an alternate 2016. He claims that the 2016 he comes from is the right one and the alternate, our 2016, is wrong.

So Tom attempts to convince us of this by, first, describing the right 2016. It doesn’t sound that great to me except the part about no war. But he never adequately explains why a machine that generates lots of energy leads to peace all over the world. This is one of several questions I have about this book that are not adequately explained.

Could it be that Tom thinks his first 2016 is the superior one because it is the first one? The first anything seen as the best is one of the many subjects he ponders.

But the alternate 2016, the one we live in, is the 2016 that Tom is happiest in even though he sees it as the wrong 2016, full of corruption, wars, dirty politics, etc. So another quandary: is it fair, he wonders, that the world is stuck with the wrong 2016 when he has the power to switch back to the right 2016?

This isn’t a bad book. But its putdownable beginning and the unanswered questions I have about the story downgrade its rating from five to three stars. But I give it four stars because it will generate lots of discussion in book groups.

The Wind Is Not a River by Brian Payton
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Dramatic
combines fact and fiction

THE WIND IS NOT A RIVER is a perfect combination of fact and fiction. While presenting actual “events [that] are forgotten footnotes in the history of the Second World War,” Brian Payton tells a story of two people who might have been caught up in them.

In this excellent, unputdownable novel, John Easley is a journalist who was in the Territory of Alaska when the Japanese bombed a naval base and an army base on islands there. Although the U.S. government orders all press corps out of Alaska, ensuring that civilians are mostly unaware that the war has come to the U.S., John feels they have a right to know and it is his duty to sneak his way back in. On his third try, he gets in and then accompanies an aircrew running sorties over the Japanese-occupied village of Attu. The plane crashes. What a mix of fact and fiction!

THE WIND IS NOT A RIVER continues to mix fact with fiction as it tells, in alternating chapters, the stories of John’s survival while he evades enemy detection and of his wife Helen’s determination to find him.

This book truly grabbed me. Wherever I went, whatever I was doing, THE WIND IS NOT A RIVER was with me until I finished reading it. I not only enjoyed John’s and Helen’s stories; I also learned of this attack on the U.S. that the government mostly succeeded in keeping quiet.

This novel gets my highest rating. I didn’t want it to end so read the Acknowledgments and the Author’s Note to put it off.

Into the Water: A Novel by Paula Hawkins
Confusing, Addictive, Dark
A Good Try

INTO THE WATER is complex the way the best thrillers are. Various mysteries are going on, all interrelated, resulting in a smooth storyline.

* Why does Jules hate her sister Nel?
* Did Nel commit suicide or was she murdered?
* Are Nickie’s accounts of murder reliable or is she just a nut?
* Why did Katie, a 15-year-old girl who seemed to have everything going for her, commit a most unlikely suicide?
* Are Nel’s stories of all the women throughout history who have jumped or been thrown into the river fact or fiction?
* Why does Patrick maintain the cottage by the river? What went on at this site?
* What is Lena hiding that might give more insight to the reason Katie would commit suicide?
* Why does Helen have Nel’s bracelet? Does this mean she murdered Nel?
* And why has the river that runs through Beckford been the scene of the suicides or murders of so many women there? Why is it alluring?

These are only some of the mysteries going on in this book.

This complexity is good. But don’t expect INTO THE WATER to be like Paula Hawkins’ other novel, THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN. They’re not alike at all. That is not only in storyline. While I criticized THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, I also admitted that it is unputdownable at times. INTO THE WATER isn’t, ever.

Partly that is because most chapters of INTO THE WATER are first-person, some third-person, accounts, each by one of the characters in the story. While the book thus moves along, you may find, as I did, that this becomes an exercise in memorization. There are so many characters, each with his or her own viewpoint and mysteries, that I spent most of the book trying to keep them all straight and remember who did and said what. Many times I had to page back to previous chapters to remind myself.

INTO THE WATER is a good try. But, probably, readers who liked THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN will be disappointed in INTO THE WATER

The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
Book Club Recommended
Confusing, Interesting

Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich went to Harvard Law School, although she didn’t practice law long before she began writing full time. The title THE FACT OF A BODY, though, is based on something she learned as a first-year law student: (as I understand it and in my words, not hers) we have the fact of a child’s dead body. But where does the explanation, the story, for that dead body begin? Does it begin with that child entering his friend’s home and then being strangled? Or should the story begin sooner? A year sooner? Thirty years? Maybe even before the person who caused the death was born?

So Marzano-Lesnevich tells the story of both a murder and what led to the murder. That is, we learn of the murderer’s life and we learn, because this may be relevant, what happened before the murderer was born, even the circumstances of his mother’s pregnancy.

Should the story go back that far? Two different juries had to decide.

Interrmingled with these chapters about the murder and the murderer are chapters about Marzano-Lesnevich’s own life with a family that kept secrets in a home that was full of both pain and love. Throughout the book she compares her experiences and the inactions of her family members to the murderer and his story.

These comparisons are a stretch. Of course, pedophiles can be compared to each other. But it seems, to make that a book-length comparison, Marzano-Lesnevich compares her family members to the murderer’s.

These are the parts of the book that bored me. When Marzano-Lesnevich tries to compare her family life and the murderer’s, she seems to be trying too hard to make the two separate stories go together. Her effort is book length, though.

But THE FACT OF A BODY is probably TOO long. Worse than that, the book is haphazard, with both stories told first in one year, then another, sometimes back, sometimes back further, sometimes forward, up, over, etc. (“Up” and “over” are how it felt.)

Marzano-Lesnevich put together a book that might hove worked better if she left the comparison to her grandfather and the murderer. She could also cut out much of her irrelevant family life and try to keep to a timeline that is easier for the reader to keep track of.

Yet, this would be a good book for a book club. It would lead to lots of discussion and some may like it more than I did. This book already has plenty of great reviews.

I won an advance readers copy of THE FACT OF A BODY from the publisher, Flatiron Books.

Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Informative
Historical Thriller About the Dreyfus Affair

AN OFFICER AND A SPY is historical fiction about the "Dreyfus affair," which is the tragedy that occurred in France during the 1890s when a man in the French army was falsely convicted of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment at Devils Island. The story is told in first person by the officer, Georges Picquart, who discovered the error and tried to convince his superiors that Alfred Dreyfus was innocent.

After the original trial, Picquart had access to the documents that convicted Dreyfus. Picquart found in the secret files forgeries and handwriting that matched another suspect's. But the more he made his superiors aware of this, the worse they treated him.

This is, essentially, what Part 1 of AN OFFICER AND A SPY is about. Then Part 2 is unputdownable as Dreyfus is retried and Picquart strives to prove his own innocence and re-enter the army.

Just don't forget that, although this book is fiction, it is based on facts. And facts are not always pleasant. One gross injustice is piled upon another and another and another. That can make it hard to get through some of Part 1. But Part 2 is engrossing.

Part 1 of AN OFFICER AND A SPY gets tedious so is easily put down. I would give it three stars. But Part 2 is definitely worth five stars, making this a four-star book.

Book Club Recommended
when I got to the end of this long book, I didn’t want it to end

Although I haven’t read John Boyne’s other books so can’t speak for them, his THE HEART’S INVISIBLE FURIES is truly a winner, some will even call it wonderful. Coming from me, this is a compliment you can believe.

This book is partly a coming-of-age novel. If this type bores you, as it does me, you’re in for a surprise. Boyne’s dialog (and THE HEART’S INVISIBLE FURIES is packed with it) is so enjoyable, so clever, I promise, you won’t be bored.

I’m not sure if Boyne exaggerates when he describes Ireland in the 20th century or of Catholic priests there. The book begins in the 1940s when a 16-year-old Catherine is denounced by a Catholic priest in front of her church’s congregation, including her family. She is thrown out of her small village, and Catherine travels, penniless and pregnant, to Dublin.

So begins the life of Cyril, Catherine’s son. We meet him when he is 7 years old and follow his life in seven-year increments thereafter.

Throughout THE HEART’S INVISIBLE FURIES, Boyne seems to exaggerate. All Catholic priests in Ireland are cruel, Cyril’s adoptive parents are ultra-distant and insist he realizes that distance, his father and his father’s lawyer invite a jury for dinner, etc. But Boyne’s greatest seeming exaggeration in this book is 20th-century Ireland’s treatment of homosexuality. I say “seeming” because he probably doesn’t exaggerate there.

So it turns out that this book is about growing up through adulthood as a homosexual male in 20th- and 21st-century Ireland. Again, this subject may bore you, as it usually does me. It may even put you off. But in this case it won’t do either.

Boyne is such a skillful writer, he won me over, even with put-offish subjects. THE HEART’S INVISIBLE FURIES is the best kind of long book: when I got to the end, I didn’t want it to end. Now I want to read his other books.


Defectors: A Novel by Joseph Kanon
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Informative

All of Joseph Kanon's books are intelligent literary thrillers/historical fiction, and every one is great. But his latest book, DEFECTORS, is outstanding.

In 1961 a publisher, Simon, travels to the Soviet Union to edit the "memoir" of a former US citizen who defected to Russia in 1949--his brother, Frank. "Memoir" is in quotation marks because the truth of that book is suspect. The truth of anything Frank says is suspect.

So, when Frank tells Simon he wants to return to the US but can only do so with his help, Simon is on his guard but cannot refuse.

I will spare you further details so you can enjoy discovering them on your own. And you will.

Partly, that's because every word counts in this novel. Kanon never goes on and on with unnecessary descriptions, tempting his readers to skim, as so many authors do. Kanon never wastes his readers' time.

If I had to pick my favorite of all Kanon's previous books, it would probably be THE GOOD GÈRMAN. DEFECTORS ranks right up there with that book and may even surpass it.

Since We Fell: A Novel by Dennis Lehane
Book Club Recommended
Old Lehane is back

The old Dennis Lehane is back. Thank goodness SINCE WE FELL is not another of his historical mafia books. Looks like he’s done with those.

But SINCE WE FELL doesn’t begin like one of Lehane’s older novels. The first half of this book is a study of Rachel, the main character. It does not grip the reader almost immediately, as you might have expected of Lehane before his mafia books.

Instead, we learn of Rachel’s discontent with her mother, who refuses to tell Rachel who her father is/was. Eventually, Rachel looks for him on her own. This leads to her initial meeting with Brian, a supposed private detective, who refuses to take her money for a job he knows he can’t do.

We also learn a lot more about Rachel, maybe more than we need to know sometimes. For various reasons, though, she is frequently afflicted with panic attacks. They disrupt her life so much that she becomes almost totally housebound.

The second half of SINCE WE FELL is Lehane as we used to expect. Now we come to know Brian better. Is he all that he seems? Who is he, really?

There’s more plot to the second half. But the character study in the first half is what makes the book more than a plot-driven thriller.

I Found You: A Novel by Lisa Jewell
Book Club Recommended
Unconvincing, Addictive, Fantastic
A Safe Place to Start

If you haven't read a book by Lisa Jewell yet, I FOUND YOU is a safe bet to start with. This book was my introduction to Jewell, and believe it, it's unputdownable.

The story begins when Allison notices a man sitting on the beach in the rain. She befriends him. He has lost his memory so does not know who he is or where he comes from. Her child has dubbed him "Frank."

Then other chapters tell the story of a young woman, Lily, who has married an older man who has suddenly gone missing.With his friend, Lily searches for him.

Obviously, these are the same story.

And so it continues from different viewpoints. But we also see what happened in 1993. So now we wonder: who is this man who has lost his memory? Is he good, or is he a murderer? We have the advantage of knowing both Frank's snatches of recovered memories and Lily's few discoveries.

I thoroughly enjoyed I FOUND YOU. Plot-driven novels can be shallow, but this is an exceptionally good one.

I received an ARC of this book through

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
Insightful, Epic, Romantic
Fiction That May Cause Hard Feelings in Book Club

AMERICAN WIFE is fiction. Be sure to remember that, although the American wife in AMERICAN WIFE is based on Laura Bush. Just remember that she really is a character of Curtis Sittenfeld’s imagination. Then you may enjoy the book properly because you understand what it really is.

This book is mostly a soap opera. That should not put you off. After all, I call Tolstoy’s ANNA KARENINA a soap opera.

Just like a soap opera, AMERICAN WIFE takes time to get into, to grab you and make you care. So the chapters describing Alice’s (Laura’s) childhood and adolescence can be boring, as it was for me. But later, particularly when she becomes first lady, her first-person accounts are absorbing.

Because Alice tells her own story, she is also able to ruminate and does so frequently. The story does not progress during these times when she tells you what she really thinks and feels. This is when you need to be most conscious that Alice is a figment of Sittenfeld’s imagination.

Unconvincing, Boring
Simple mystery

is not what it claims to be, a novel of suspense. It is a mystery, yes. But suspenseful? Not really.

This book begins with a young woman, Maggie, visiting a doll maker/repairer, Sorrel. When Sorrel lays her eyes on Maggie's doll, she insists repeatedly that Maggie tell her where she got it.

The story actually began 40 years before the book does. Elisabeth and Janey, Sorrel's seven- and four-year-old daughters, were outside playing. When Elisabeth ran off to follow a puppy, Janey disappeared. Neither she nor her doll were ever found again until Maggie appeared with the doll 40 years later.

Now Elisabeth is an adult. She lives with her mother and has an adult child of her own. Together they try to find Janey or at least find out what happened to her, but the various mysteries they encounter lack suspense. Partly that is because they are predictable. Also, the book reads like a young adult novel. As an adult, I feel beyond that. So I was bored.

I won this book through

Book Club Recommended
Inspiring, Dramatic, Insightful
A Pleasure to Read

What a pleasure THE STARS ARE FIRE is to read! This book, although not a thriller, is so full of suspense, it is unputdownable and will keep you reading until late at night.

The great fire in Maine in 1947 really happened. The book's descriptions of causes and effects are fact. The story of Grace and her children could have been real.

Before the fire Grace feels trapped in a loveless marriage with Gene, although they both love their two small children. When the fire spreads out of control, Gene has been helping a group of men trying to prevent the fire’s spread to their homes. He is one of many who go missing. Now Grace and her children are homeless, they have no money, and their source of income is gone. Now, also, Grace does not know whether her missing husband is dead or just using the fire as an excuse to leave his family.

All Grace can do is wait. In the meantime, she does what she has to do to take care of her family, including her mother. She also becomes involved with men, both far better than her husband. You'll wish for an easy outcome. But no book as good as this one ever takes the easy route.

I found a new author. Anita Shreve is new to me, and I’m so impressed with her writing. Now I want to read her backlist of books.


The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
Book Club Recommended
Pointless, Unconvincing, Insightful
Observations of Reactions

THE LEFTOVERS is about the lives of people in one small town after millions of people all over the world suddenly disappeared. Many people think it was "the rapture," the belief among some Christian religions that all Christian believers will rise into the sky and join Christ before the end of the world. Rather than "the rapture," others call this the "sudden departure" because the phenomenon was random, i.e., it involved non-Christians as well as Christians.

The town is full of different reactions: cults develop and some people join them. Others are full of guilt or are upset because they, too, were not taken. One woman in town lost her entire family, and she sometimes seems to be the most confused of all. Many people in the town, people like Kevin, the Mayor, and his daughter Jill, have not decided what happened, but they want to get back to their lives as they were before. They have varying degrees of success.

This is a thought-provoking book. If I lost someone like this, if they just up and disappeared, would I figure they were gone forever? Or would I keep the faith that they might come back, that they could suddenly reappear just as they suddenly disappeared?

I did not want THE LEFTOVERS to end. Even so, I've decided that it's a 4-star novel, not 5. Why?

Although its observations about the human condition, all the possible reactions to life-changing events, is well written and right on, although this book is a page turner, it didn't grab me the way 5-star novels have. It kept me expecting something more.

All He Ever Wanted by Anita Shreve
Book Club Recommended
a story of obsession

ALL HE EVER WANTED is a story of obsession. It is fiction written in the form of a memoir by a man who had been obsessed with his wife.

I felt sorry for this man, Nicholas, for about the first two thirds of the book. I forgave him his faults when (as I see from previous reviews I’ve read) others did not because it was apparent to me that this memoir is Nicholas’s confession. He now sees his errors and is sorry. Later, though, I wondered: is Nicholas sorry because of what he had done or does he just feel sorry for himself.

Throughout ALL HE EVER WANTED, Nicholas gives hints of the outcome. Even so, this “memoir” is unpredictable. I didn’t know, while I read the last third of the book, why he was writing this. Was it meant to be a memoir, a confession, or a justification for bad acts.

I’m afraid that some other reviewers gave this book a low rating because they found the narrator/main character to be despicable. As I see it, Anita Shreve’s INTENTION was to, first, show what a sap Nicholas was and, later, horrify the reader with Nicholas’s actions. I don’t rate a book on the likability of its characters.

Book Club Recommended
Difficult, Brilliant, Pointless
FOURTH OF JULY CREEK is about much more than Fourth of July Creek

What a great book! I’m not alone in thinking this, either: since FOURTH OF JULY CREEK was published in 2014, it has won numerous awards.

But, right up front, I want to say I have two issues with this book: its genre and its title.

I do not agree with the genre the book is classified under (at least at my library), Mystery and Suspense. To call it that is a stretch. Although part of FOURTH OF JULY CREEK wonders what became of a family, that is only a part. The book is literature more than it is mystery and suspense.

And FOURTH OF JULY CREEK is about more than Fourth of July Creek.

The book centers on Pete Snow, a social worker in Montana. Fourth of July Creek has to do with one of his cases that begins with the discovery of a filthy and somewhat wild boy, Benjamin Pearl, who lives in the wilderness with his father, Jeremiah, a paranoid man, suspicious of everyone, always afraid that his freedom is threatened.

Pete seeks to gain their trust so they will accept his help and, in so doing, learns the Pearl family also consists of a wife and several more children. Where are they?

But that is just one of Pete’s cases featured in FOURTH OF JULY CREEK. Also, issues in his own life make up half the book, with a runaway daughter who resorts to prostitution because she thinks she is maintaining her freedom and a brother who is evading prison.

All the parts of FOURTH OF JULY CREEK, Pete's social work and his personal issues, have in common the desire for freedom.

Smith Henderson is an author I’ll be watching for. His writing is brilliant, a word that may be overused but, in this case, is applicable.

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier
Book Club Recommended
Unconvincing, Slow, Difficult
Suspicions and Suspense

Although I liked this book very much, as did everyone but one person in my book club, Daphne du Maurier did not outshine herself, i.e., her book REBECCA, which she wrote in 1938, is better than MY COUSIN RACHEL, which she wrote many years later, in 1951.

This story is told in first person by Philip, who is first concerned for his sick cousin Ambrose and his mistreatment by the woman he married, another cousin, Rachel. Twenty-four-year-old Philip hates Rachel, sight unseen. But after his cousin dies, Philip quickly and immaturely falls in love with her and gives her everything he inherited from Ambrose in spite of Ambrose's letters of discontent.

Throughout MY COUSIN RACHEL are displays of Philip's immature pining after Rachel and Rachel's suspect behavior. Suspicions fill this book and even end it. Different readers have different understandings of it.

Book Club Recommended
Slow, Unconvincing, Interesting
Depressing becomes unputdownable

Although the first third of THE PILOT'S WIFE is depressing, it is so well written you won't want to give up on the book. Then it becomes unputdownable.

Kathryn's husband, a commercial airline pilot, is killed when his jet explodes over Ireland. So most of the beginning involves her dealings with the airline union and newspaper and TV reporters. She almost comes to depend on one union representative, Robert, in particular.

When Kathryn finds small clues that something suspicious may have been going on with her husband in England, THE PILOT'S WIFE becomes so suspenseful you may not want to eat or sleep until you finish reading it.

Anita Shreve is known for her portrayals of strong women. And Kathryn sure is that. She lives through a nightmare that keeps getting worse.

This was written pre-9/11. I wonder if the story would have been different 10 years later.

No more Angie, please

THE KEPT WOMAN is the eighth in Karin Slaughter's Will Trent series. I also read the first book (Triptych) in this series. Although I've read and enjoyed some of Slaughter's books outside this series, I won't be reading the other six books in this series.

Here's the simple reason why: Will Trent and his series concentrate too much on Angie Polanski. And that aggravates me.

Polanski is Trent's wife but not in the normal sense. She flits in and out of his life, and she just causes trouble. So how can such a character last? Yet seven books later, here she still is.

Trent is with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. He is investigating a case of apparent murder, with a couple of unidentified bodies. Throughout THE KEPT WOMAN it appears that Polanski is dead, then it doesn't, then it does, then it doesn't.

Will this series ever be rid of her?

I love Slaughter's writing and am anxious to read more of her books. But she has taken this Angie-Polanski-the-ball-buster theme too far. I'm sick of reading about her.

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