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Book Review: The Fever by Megan Abbott

The Fever

 

The Fever by Megan Abbott

Little, Brown, and Company

June 17, 2014

ISBN-10: 0316231053

ISBN-13: 978-0316231053

320 pages

“The mood, the tone, the characters, the dialog, the entire story will draw you in and hold you . . .”

Megan Abbott didn’t win an Edgar Award by accident. She writes wonderful stories with wonderful words and creates worlds and characters that stay with you long after you close the book. The Fever is just such a book. Set among high school angst, and with a dose of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll, this is a dark and sinister story that revolves around friends, several of whom suffer a mysterious illness. Is it real or simply a case of mass hysteria? Is it the result of recent HPV vaccinations or perhaps caused by a potentially toxic pond that seems to draw students to it—as such lore-filled pools seem to do. The mystery is convoluted and unfolds through the lives and social connections that only teenagers seem to live. The mood, the tone, the characters, the dialog, the entire story will draw you in and hold you until the final page. Highly recommended.

 

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2014 in Book Review, Writing

 

Book Review: The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

WoB Cover

 

 

The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Pub Date: March 11, 2014

ISBN-10: 0812995201

ISBN-13: 978-0812995206

320 pages

This story is convoluted and complex but the real delight is the writing, the voice, of the author.

This story will grab you by the lapels and drag you right into the woods and hills of the Missouri Ozarks, where the novel is set. It revolves around two women, mother and daughter, separated by time and the mother’s untimely disappearance. Is mother Lila dead or alive? This is the question that haunts daughter Lucy Dane. Oh yeah, and the brutal murder and dismemberment of her childhood friend Cheri Stoddard. The story jumps between Lila’s story in the past and Lucy’s in the present. The two are similar in appearance and temperament and each tale is as scary and deeply disturbing as the other. This story is convoluted and complex and populated with a host of unusual, deeply-drawn, and deeply-flawed characters, but the real delight is the writing, the voice, of the author. It will stay with you long after you finish reading.

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2014 in Book Review, Writing

 

Book Review: The Bubble Gum Thief by Jeff Miller

Bubble Gum Thief

 

 

The Bubble Gum Thief by Jeff Miller

Thomas & Mercer

December 4, 2012

ASIN: BOO7RZ0716

426 pages

This is my first crime. My next will be bigger.

“This is my first crime. My next will be bigger.” So begins The Bubble Gum Thief. This message is found on a card to which a stolen stick of gum is taped. What follows is a series of crimes that escalate is horror and body count. Solving the crimes falls to FBI agent Dagny Gray, who has a handful of personal issues, not the least of which is severe anorexia. Dagny must fight through her medical problem, an FBI bureaucracy that hinders her every step, and a serial killer that is increasingly cleaver and brazen. Well written and fast paced and populated with interesting characters, especially Dagny who is well drawn and likable. A good read.

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2014 in Book Review, Writing

 

Book Review: Notorious by Allison Brennan

Notorious

 

 

Notorious by Allison Brennan

Minotaur Books

March 25, 2014

ISBN-10: 1250035058

ISBN-13: 978-1250035059

336 pages

… a fun and fast-paced thriller …

Maxine “Max” Revere, investigative reporter turned TV crime show host, returns to her hometown for the funeral of an old school classmate, Kevin O’Neal, who apparently committed suicide. Another of Max’s classmates, Lindy Ames, had been murdered years earlier while they attended Atherton Prep in California. Kevin, though never arrested or tried, was the only suspect and was deemed guilty by public opinion. Thus the motive for his taking his own life. Or did he? Max believes not. That his death was at the hand of another. But how can she prove it? And what about Lindy’s murder some 13 years earlier? Is it in anyway connected to Kevin’s “suicide?” Add to this the untimely death of a young construction worker at Atherton and Max’s radar is on full alert. She launches into solving all three deaths and runs against obstacle after obstacle, some of which threaten her own life. This is a fun, fast-paced thriller that will keep up late. Max is a character you will definitely want to hang with again and again. Hopefully more Max books are coming.

http://www.allisonbrennan.com

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2014 in Book Review, Writing

 

Book Review: The Kill Switch by James Rollins and Grant Blackwood

Kill Switch

 

 

The Kill Switch by James Rollins and Grant Blackwood

400 pages

Harper Collins

April 8, 2014

ISBN-13: 978-0-06-213525-4

Does some ancient microbiological material hide deep in the Earth? One that, if recovered, could foster marvelous advances in science and medicine? Or in the wrong hands lead to mankind’s ultimate destruction? This is the premise behind The Kill Switch, the latest thriller from James Rollins (and co-author Grant Blackwood). Typical of Rollins’ work, the story jumps across the globe from Russia, to Istanbul, to Africa, to the US, and offers a diverse cast of well-developed characters and a tightly woven plot that grabs the reader and doesn’t let go.

US Army Ranger Tucker Wayne, along with his constant canine companion Kane, a military trained Belgian Malinois, is charged with infiltrating Russia’s most secret and well-guarded institutions and extracting Dr. Abram Bukolov, who just might know where to find the elusive LUCA—the progenitor substance that holds so much promise—-and danger.

Extracting Bukolov proves to be no easy task. Tucker and Kane, with the help of Russian billionaire industrialist Bogdan Fedoseev, Bukolov’s former student Stanimir Utkin, and Anya, Bukolov’s assistant and daughter, must avoid Russian military and GRU spy network, beautiful and ruthless Swedish sniper Felice Nilsson, and Russian General Artur Kharzin, who has evil plans for LUCA. Plans that echo the worst Cold War nightmares.

After safely escorting Bukolov from Russian territory, a convoluted and harrowing adventure in its own right, Tucker’s problems are just beginning. The intrepid group immediately heads to South Africa, the presumed location of LUCA. But where is it? Based on his study of Doctor Paulos de Klerk’s journal, which survived the bloody and prolonged Boer War, Bukolov believes the Earth’s only living source of LUCA is deep in the jungle enclosed a long-lost cave. With such detailed information, could finding the LUCA remnants be that difficult? And what of General Kharzin and the ruthless Felice? Can Tucker beat them to the prize?

The convergence of these forces raises tension, the pace quickens, and the twists and turns become unnerving as Tucker is dragged deeply into an inhospitable terrain, Kharzin and Felice in pursuit.

This is a classic Rollins tale that draws on a broad range of science, warfare, pursuit and escape, and plot twists on very page. Rollins’ fans will love it, and new readers will immediately join the Rollins bandwagon. Highly recommended.

Original review for the NY Journal of Books

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2013 in Book Review, Writing

 

Book Review: The Tenth Circle by Jon Land

10th Circle

 

 

The Tenth Circle by Jon Land

Open Road Media

December 2013

ISBN-13: 9781480414709

536 pages

Blaine McCracken, former Green Beret and now an off-the-grid CIA agent, along with his cohort Johnny Wareagle, have just completed an harrowing mission deep inside Iran and have returned to the US for some much needed R&R. But in Jon Land’s fiction world that’s never the case. Instead McCracken must unravel a sinister threat to the President from the formidable Reverend Jeremiah Rule and his shadowy gang. In a story that reaches back to the 16th century Lost Roanoke Colony and forward to a world turned sideways by a seemingly unstoppable force, McCracken must not only prove his own innocence but also unravel a secret cabal, stop a weapon that will open the Tenth Circle of Hell, and save the presidency and indeed the world as we know it.

Classic Land, classic McCracken, this fast-paced story will pull you forward at break-neck speed.

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2013 in Book Review, Writing

 

Book Review: A Tap on the Window by Linwood Barclay

Tap On WIndow

 

 

A TAP ON THE WINDOW by Linwood Barclay

NAL

August 6, 2013

ISBN-10: 0451414187

ISBN-13: 978-0451414182

512 Pages

If you are a fan of Linwood Barclay, and you should be, A Tap on the Window will reinforce that feeling. If you aren’t yet one of his devoted followers, this book will drag you into those ranks. It’s good. Very good.

Cal Weaver is a broken man. Years earlier, he lost his police officer status for various misbehaviors and now he is reeling from the recent death of his son, Scott. A hallucinogenic-drug-induced, one-way-flight from a tall building. His marriage to wife Donna, whose brother is Griffon’s police chief, is fractured along with his psyche as he attempts to right his ship and focus on his work as a private investigator.

His cases are mostly boring, someone stealing meat from a local butcher for example, and his obsession with digging into the cause of Scott’s apparent suicide leads him to some fairly sordid and threatening arm-twisting of kids who knew and attended school with Scott. I mean locking one of them in the truck of a car for Christ sakes. His life seems out of control, confused, disoriented, and in many ways purposeless. But everything changed one stormy evening with “a tap on the window.”

While waiting at a stop light, a rain-soaked teenage girl raps on the passenger window and asks for a ride home. She’s Claire Sanders, the mayor’s daughter and a friend of Scott’s. He couldn’t leave her in the rain could he? But when she asks to detour by a local bar to meet a friend, everything changes. She goes, in, Cal waits. And waits. Finally he searches the bar but she is nowhere to be found. Then, he finds her sitting in his car. Back on the road, he quickly realizes the girl sitting next to him is not Claire. Sure she looks a lot like her, but it’s not her. After he calls her on it, the girl jumps from the car and disappears into the stormy night. Only to later turn up murdered.

From this beginning a story unfolds. One of small town politics, graft, corruption, infidelity, abuse of power, and family secrets that run deep and wide. The story is convoluted and brisk, keeping the reader guessing until the end. An excellent story, very well written.

 

 

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2013 in Book Review, Writing

 

Book Review: Deadline by Sandra Brown

Deadline

 

 

“… intelligently written, deftly paced, and convoluted…”

Sandra Brown has built her stellar career on gritty stories that always involve high tension: political, social, personal, psychological, and, of course, sexual. Often with anti-hero protagonists, chilling antagonists, and a cadre of deeply drawn supporting characters, her stories are edge-of-the-seat, deep-into-the-night tales. Deadline is such a story.

Dawson Scott is a highly-respected journalist, freshly back from war-torn Afghanistan where he brought back a bag full of soldier stories as well as a dose of PTSD so severe he must self-medicate with alcohol and psychotropic drugs to fend off his nightmare-driven insomnia. The last thing he wants is another story about a damaged soldier. But retiring FBI agent Gary Headly, who is Dawson’s godfather, convinces him to dig into the love-triangle murder of Marine Jeremy Wesson and Darlene Strong by Darlene’s husband Willard.

Dawson resists the story, thinking sitting in on the trial a waste of time. But since his godfather requested he do so and since his other option was to follow orders from his editor and cover a story about blind balloonists, he plops down in the courtroom, bored and disinterested. Until the beautiful Amelia, Jeremy Wesson’s ex-wife and witness for the prosecution, walks into the courtroom. After her direct testimony is completed, the trial recesses for a long holiday weekend after which she must return for what is anticipated to be a grueling cross examination. Dawson follows her to a small coastal South Carolina island where she and her two young sons are hiding from the media storm surrounding the sensational case. He leases the house next door in the hopes of an interview, not to mention getting to know her a better, unaware of how their lives will intertwine.

But is he the only one keeping an eye on Amelia? Is there more to the story than a simple double murder?

For Amelia, the long weekend is anything but relaxing. Odd things begin happening. Lost articles turn up in strange places, broken items are miraculously repaired. By whom? Why? The stranger next door, Dawson Scott, befriends her sons and her nanny, who later turns up murdered while a violent storm hammers the coast. Her only ally seems to be the kindly old man who has rented the house next to hers every summer for many years.

From Dawson, Amelia learns more about her ex-husband’s past than she ever wanted to know. More than she wants her sons to know about their father. And each revelation raises more questions. Is her ex truly dead? After all, he body was never found. Where is her long-missing father-in-law Carl Wingert, a domestic terrorist and one of the FBI’s Most Wanted. When last seen decades earlier, he was head of the Rangers of Righteousness and disappeared during a Ruby Ridge-type shootout with Agent Headly at Golden Branch, Oregon. Has he reentered Amelia’s life? Does he have a role in the double murder, or the strange happenings? Who killed her nanny? Who wants her dead? And more importantly why? Who can she trust?

The answer to each of these questions is revealed in a fast-paced conclusion that will keep the reader guessing until the end. Not to mention up late flipping pages.

This story is classic Sandra Brown. It is intelligently written, deftly paced, and convoluted to the point that each character must dig deep into his or her own past and current psyche to make sense of the chaotic world around them. Highly recommended.

Original review for the NY Journal of Books: http://nyjournalofbooks.com/review/deadline

 
2 Comments

Posted by on November 25, 2013 in Book Review, Writing

 

Book Review: Light Of The World by James Lee Burke

LTOW JPEG

 

Light of the World by James Lee Burke

560 pages

Simon & Schuster

July 23, 2013

ISBN-10: 1476710767

ISBN-13: 978-1476710761

“…the characters rise to haunt you long after you read the final page.”

Full disclosure here: I’m a fanatic James Lee Burke fan so am biased toward anything he writes. I’ve followed his tales of Louisiana bayou homicide detective Dave Robicheaux from The Neon Rain to the latest and 20th installment in the series Light Of The World. Each book is a lesson in literary crime writing but LOTW is one of the best.

 

The theme of this story is evil. Pure unadulterated evil. Does it exist as a tangible object? A living, breathing entity? Is it buried deeply in each of us? Does it dwell in the hearts of some more than others? Light Of The World is a story of revenge, violence, corruption, and ultimately how one copes with the presence of raw evil in human form.

Or as Dave says:

I was never good at solving mysteries. I don’t mean the kind cops solve or the ones you read about in novels or watch on television or on a movie screen. I’m not talking about the mystery of Creation, either, or the unseen presences that reside perhaps just the other side of the physical world. I’m talking about evil, without capitalization but evil all the same, the kind whose origins sociologists and psychiatrists have trouble explaining.

Thus begins Light Of The World.

Dave, along with wife Molly and lawyer/novelist daughter Alafair, as well as former partner Clete Purcel, travel to the wilds near Missoula, Montana for a little R and R. All is well until an arrow flies from nowhere and nearly kills Alafair while she is on a mountain jog. To Dave, the most likely suspect is Wyatt Dixon, an ex rodeo champion and felon, who reprises from Bitterroot (2001) but other suspects quickly jump up on Dave’s radar. One, the sexual sadist and convicted serial killer Asa Surrette, who apparently died in an explosive prison transport van crash. Or did he? Could he have survived? Somehow escaped from the mangled, charred vehicle? Alafair has no doubts. She has seen his face, in town, following her. Dave isn’t convinced. Could Surrette not only be alive but be hell-bent on exacting revenge against Alafair, for whom he holds a deep-seated hatred after she wrote a series of articles blaming him for other crimes? Can Dave protect her from such a relentless force?

Perhaps the most interesting character in the story is Gretchen Horowitz, Clete’s estranged daughter, introduced in Creole Belle (2012). A former contract killer for mob types, she is now reinventing herself as a documentary film maker. A fascinating and deep character with a history, she enters the fray in a no-brakes, in-your-face fashion. Smart, tough, and relentless, she employs her own brand of violence to protect herself, and Alafair.

This story is written in James Lee Burke’s usual style. Richly poetic writing mixed with down and dirty storytelling. The setting comes alive, the story drags you along at a breathless pace, and the characters rise to haunt you long after you read the final page. Classic JLB.

Original review for the NYJournal of Books: http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/review/light-world

 

 
11 Comments

Posted by on October 25, 2013 in Book Review, Writing

 

Book Review: Bad Monkey by Carl Haissen

Bad Monkey JPEG

 

 

Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen

336 pages

Knopf

June 11, 2013

ISBN-10: 0307272591

ISBN-13: 978-0307272591

“. . . a fun, fast read and a wild ride.”

BAD MONKEY is vintage Hiaasen. A quirky protagonist, surrounded by even quirkier characters, mired in odd-ball intrigue, in South Florida, of course. This story revolves around Florida Keys detective Andrew Yancy, newly busted to the role of restaurant inspector, aka “roach patrol,” for attacking one Dr. Clifford Witt, husband of a former Yancy lover, with a hand-held Black & Decker vacuum cleaner. All videoed by cruise liner tourists with cell phones in hand. Yancy embarks on several hit and miss attempts to get his badge back. No easy proposition. Particularly since his boss, Sheriff Sonny Summers, opinion is that Yancy was lucky they didn’t “charge you with sodomy.”

But the warm waters off the Florida Keys offer up salvation in the form of a severed arm, middle finger extended as if to say, well you know. Seems the arm belonged to a wealthy crook, who scammed various medical insurance companies for millions, only to die in a boating accident, leaving the arm behind to be hooked by a tourist on a fishing charter. But in Hiaasen’s world things are never as they seem. Not even close.

The police want the missing arm case as well as a murder and a suicide (or not) to go quietly into the archives. But, Yancy doesn’t buy it. He sees nefarious activity in the shadows. And he has a plan. Solve the murder, disprove the suicide, and prove that the wife offed the arm’s previous owner. Or did she? Tie up all these loose ends and they’ll have to return his badge. Won’t they?

This story is totally Hiassen. It bounces around the Keys, South Florida, and the Bahamas. Reminiscent of his earlier works such as SKINNY DIP, STORMY WEATHER, and STRIP TEASE, BAD MONKEY is filled with easy one-liners, believably unbelievable occurrences, and odd ball characters: love interest Dr. Rosa Campesino, a medical examiner with a penchant for sex on the dissecting table; The Egg, a homicidal brute who has Yancy in his sites; the Dragon Queen, a Bahamian scooter-riding VooDoo witch who delights in kinky sex and casting black spells; and of course Driggs, the “bad monkey.” Bad doesn’t quite cover it. Maybe petulant, combative, or recalcitrant. No, vile. That’s the word. What else could you say about a monkey who attacks without warning and tends toward flinging excrement on a whim? Yeah, vile works.

As if all this didn’t fill Yancy’s plate, his neighbor is constructing a massive mansion that will block Yancy’s view of the water. Yancy’s attempts to waylay those plans are numerous and insane (in a Hiassen sort of way).

Through solving murders, tracking down folks who have gone missing, messing with his neighbor’s head, and avoiding The Egg and Driggs as best he can, Yancy attempts to develop a real relationship with the good Dr. Campesino.

You’ll need a scorecard to keep up with all the characters, many having a couple of aliases, and all the scams within scams, but the pages will fly by. For Hiaasen fans (like me) this book will cause more than a few laugh-out -loud moments and for new fans, welcome to his world. It’s a fun, fast read and a wild ride.

Original review for the NY Journal of Books: http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/review/bad-monkey

 
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Posted by on October 10, 2013 in Book Review

 
 
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