What I’m Reading: The Steel Kiss by Jeffery Deaver

The Steel Kiss

Jeffery Deaver

Grand Central Publishing

March 2016

 

The Steel Kiss is the latest in the Lincoln Rhyme series by Jeffery Deaver. I received an advance copy through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

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Rhyme, who is now teaching instead of working with the NYPD to solve crimes, is nevertheless drawn into an interesting case: a man was trapped in a moving escalator and died from the resulting injuries, and Rhyme is hired by the widow’s attorney to figure out how the maintenance door managed to spring open so that the man could fall through it.

On a parallel track, Detective Amelia Sachs is now working the Major Crimes squad as a direct result of her severe arthritis. She is hunting a killer who is targeting people who use “smart” apparatus: computer-controlled appliances and cars that can be accessed via smartphone apps and wearable technology. Rhyme and Sachs soon find out that their investigations dovetail, and former rookie Ron Pulaski–still dealing with head injuries incurred in The Coffin Dancer–is almost caught in the crossfire.

Deaver weaves his usual interesting story while continuing the not-so-subtle rant against our computer-dependent society that he began in The Broken Window. The divergent cases, as well as the plot twists that lead to a rather satisfying yet unpredictable conclusion, are classic Deaver. Still, I did not enjoy this latest Rhyme novel as much as I have others. While I understand the need for character growth in order for a series to remain successful, the direction in which Deaver is taking his Rhyme and Sachs characters aren’t as riveting as in previous books. Still, Deaver knows how to deliver a story, and both fans and non-fans alike will enjoy it.

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What I’m Reading: The Widow by Fiona Barton

The Widow

Fiona Barton

Berkeley Publishing Group

February 2016

DISCLAIMER: I received a free e-galley from Berkeley Publishing (via Net Galley) in exchange for a fair and honest review.

 
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I was invited to participate in a blog book tour for the February 2016 release of The Widow by Fiona Barton. Here’s my review for this stop on the tour.

The Widow, by Fiona Barton, is a pretty interesting read. Set in the United Kingdom, it follows Jean Taylor, the recent widow of accused child kidnapper (and possible murderer) Glen Taylor. The story opens as Jean is still reeling from the sudden death of her husband after being hit by a bus. Glen had never been formally charged with the kidnapping of Bella Elliott, though he’d been questioned heavily after her disappearance. The interference of the police alienated the Taylors, particularly Jean, from their neighbors and forced them to rely on each other even more for support and camaraderie. The police, as well as reporters, had always suspected that Jean knew more about Bella’s disappearance than she said. With Glen’s death, Jean was free from any obligations that she may have had to her husband while he was alive. And Jean decided to start talking.

Barton did a very good job of building suspense throughout the novel. What I especially liked was the eventual humanization of Jean’s character. At first, she came across as somewhat of an caricatured automaton, a mousy wife who was completely controlled by her psychologically abusive husband. As the book progresses, we see the layers of Jean, alluded to by the character herself as “Jean” versus “Jeanie”. These hidden facets belied a keen cleverness and mastery of subtle manipulation, and I as a reader became hooked by Jean’s character as each layer was revealed.

Barton did another good job in the character of Kate Waters, the ambitious reporter who eventually scores a coveted interview with Jean. This was another case of a cookie-cutter character who becomes more than meets the eye. No apologies are made for Kate’s ambition or methodology, and there is no moral undertone to her success in the vein of “everything has a price.” Still, the character manages to garner sympathy as she manages to outwit her competition to garner an interview with perhaps the most famous widow in recent times, and strain her relationships with those who helped her get to Jean.

Unfortunately for Barton, she did rely on clichés with her male characters, particularly Detective Inspector Bob Sparkes. Sparkes became the quintessential over-obsessed law enforcement official who pursues a case to the detriment of his personal and professional lives. Sparkes’s boss, was the superior who wanted to make the headlines, even at the cost of those who worked under him. Likewise, Glen Taylor becomes just another garden-variety pedophile and narcissist; his behavior and personality are textbook, and leave little to the imagination. Perhaps this is because Barton wanted the women in the book–Jean, Kate, and Bella’s mother Dawn Elliott–to be the focus of the story. Indeed, the entire story is very female-centric and a statement on how women are actually the complicated creatures we are often made out to be, and are usually not how we appear to be.

The ending of the book was a bit anticlimactic, which marred an otherwise gripping story. There was also an issue with changing points of view near the end of the book, especially with Detective Zara Salmond. Her POV seemed abrupt and out of place, and Barton would have been better served sticking to those of the primary characters in the story–Jean, Kate, and Sparkes–and relegating Salmond to the background with the other characters.

Others have compared The Widow to the novel The Girl On the Train, which is a bit of a disservice since I found the latter to be underwhelming and not deserving of the hype surrounding it.   The Widow is much better, and a psychological thriller worth trying.

Advance Notice: Crimson Shore by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Hi, all! “Advance Notice” is a new section where I review the galleys (advance reading copies) I received via Net Galley and other sources. Most of these books are near their public publication date, so consider this a spoiler alert!

Crimson Shore

Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Grand Central Publishing

Publication Date: November 10, 2015

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I usually try to alternate between fiction and nonfiction books when I post what I’m reading, but this time I had to jump into Crimson Shore when I was recently approved to read the galley by Net Galley. And yes, there were other galleys that had earlier publication dates, but I was in a Pendergast kind of mood.

I have been a longtime Preston/Child/Pendergast fan since Relic, which introduced the irreverently unorthodox FBI Special Agent Aloysius X.L. Pendergast, of the New Orleans Pendergasts, in 2007. I first picked up Relic at a used book sale for fifty cents, and was hooked. I even read some of the separately written books by both Preston (I recommend The Codex) and Child (Deep Storm was good).

Crimson Shore is the fifteenth installment in the Pendergast series. This book has Pendergast taking on what appears to be a routine wine theft on the outskirts of Boston, Massachusetts, except that the wine overlooked by the thieves was of an extremely rare vintage. Pendergast, being a great oenophile, took the case on the condition that he would receive a bottle of the wine as payment (no small gesture, as one bottle was worth at least $10,000). He also saw this as an opportunity to further socialize his ward and quasi-forbidden love interest Constance Greene, in an attempt to re-cage the savagery she exhibited in Blue Labyrinth. Pendergast navigates the abusive power of the local police chief, and utilizes the assistance of the deputy chief–who comes from one of the town’s prominent families–when the wine theft reveals roots in the town’s dark history regarding a local shipwreck in the 1700s. Bizarre deaths lead a gruesome trail to an unexpected ending, which may finally use up the last of Pendergast’s seemingly nine lives.

Preston and Child still deliver excitement in Crimson Shore, but I can’t say that I’m that enamored of Constance as a more prominent character. Her role has grown in each book since The Cabinet of Curiousities, but I rather liked her when she was confined to an enclosed space, be it Pendergast’s Riverside Drive home; a cruise ship; or a mental institution (she was actually at her best there). Constance on the loose in society, and struggling to acclimate herself to modern public ways, was an incongruous note in an otherwise harmonious book.  I’m also on the fence about Pendergast’s obvious feet of clay since Fever Dream; while humanizing his character (Pendergast driving a Porsche? Really?), the razor-sharp investigative skills and abrasive, yet genteel Southern charm that put him on the public map seem to be eroding since that book; this becomes more evident in Crimson Shore. Still, Pendergast fans will enjoy his latest adventure, and the cliffhanger, while surprising, will not cause too much worry among the Pendergast fan club. There is also a recipe of sorts for preparing Sole a la Pendergast, a fillet of fish with a wine-based, creamy mushroom sauce.

Crimson Shore is available for pre-order at a discount; the book will be released on November 10, 2015, at full price.

RETRO READS: Dark Paradise by Tami Hoag

Hi all!  Welcome to Retro Reads, where I talk about my favorite books that were published at least ten years ago. You can still find most of them online, though sometimes they have been re-released with a different cover and/or title. I will let you know if a book is out of print and/or otherwise unavailable.

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Original paperback cover

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Re-release paperback cover

Dark Paradise
Tami Hoag
Mystery/Suspense
Publication date: 1994
Status: In print/Available

Yesterday, I noticed that some neighbors a few houses down have llamas in their front yard. Being that I live in the city part of Atlanta, I was a bit taken aback; wildlife of that magnitude isn’t usually seen around here (although the Mennonite church a few blocks down has sheep, which are available for rent to chew up rogue shrubbery, but I digress).

Seeing the llamas reminded me of Dark Paradise, the first Tami Hoag novel I ever read. The novel is set in Montana and tells the story of Marilee Jennings, a court reporter in California who takes a leave of absence from her job to pay a much-needed visit to her friend Lucy. Lucy was a fellow court reporter who came into a mysterious inheritance and ditched her job to live in Montana a year prior. When Marilee (“Mari”) arrives on Lucy’s doorstep, she finds Lucy’s expensive-looking house ransacked and learns the news of Lucy’s allegedly accidental death–and that Lucy left everything to her, including the llamas in the spacious backyard. Mari soon figures out that Lucy’s death wasn’t an accident and someone took the fall for it.  Her quest to bring the true killer to justice almost gets her put in a grave next to Lucy–even as she fends off the pressure from John “JD” Rafferty, the attractive owner of the neighboring ranch who wants her to sell Lucy’s land to him, to further his own agenda.

Dark Paradise has the right balance of suspense and romance; indeed, the character development is as enjoyable as the plot–which doesn’t have a stereotypical “happily ever after” ending. . What I like best about the characters are their flaws; Hoag makes them truly human, questionable decisions and all. The plot is an interesting commentary on gentrification and how it is furthered in areas considered playgrounds for the wealthy, and the ripple effect on long-term area citizens. This book was written back in 1994, before gentrification became so prevalent here in America, yet the message still resonates today.

I’ve gone on to read and enjoy other books written by Hoag, but Dark Paradise remains my favorite. It’s an engaging read that is worth the trip.

Thanks for stopping by.

What I’m Reading: The Gauguin Connection by Estelle Ryan

Like many, I like to take advantage of free (and reduced price) ebooks offered through sites such as Bookbub; it’s a good way to discover new (to you) author.

[It’s also a good way to clog up your e-reader with ebooks you intend to read “someday”, “when I have time”,  but I digress.]

The Gauguin Connection, by Estelle Ryan, popped up last year on Bookbub as a free ebook.

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I’m a fan of mystery/thriller/suspense novels, and this one had a rather intriguing premise: an art investigator who was also a high-functioning autistic. A good friend of mine is also high-functioning autistic, so I was curious to see how this condition would be woven into a story.

I wasn’t disappointed.

The Gauguin Connection introduces Dr. Genevieve Lenard, an autistic art investigator for an insurance company in France. She is sucked into a murder/theft/forgery case when a college girl is found murdered, and a piece of a famous Gauguin painting is found on her body–the same painting that is insured by Genevieve’s company. Genevieve uses both her investigative skills and her astuteness at reading body language to solve this case and many others to which the murdered girl was connected.

Genevieve’s character, by dint of her autism, relies heavily on body language in order to function adequately in society. She doesn’t understand slang, colloquialisms, or sarcasm, to the frustration of most who meet her. She also has a limited filter, and often speaks her mind with no concern as to whether or not someone’s feelings (or ego) might be hurt. I found myself laughing aloud at the character’s bluntness; she reminded me a bit of myself, many years ago (no autism, just a tendency to speak without employing diplomacy :D). Autism is not a laughing matter, but Ryan wrote Genevieve in a way that allowed the underlying humor of her remarks to shine through. Plus, I’m a smartass, so I appreciated Genevieve’s responses to asinine questions and replies.

I was also fascinated by Genevieve’s interpretation of body language as a means of assimilating in society. It is often said that most communication among people is nonverbal, and this book reiterates that. I picked up some interesting kinesthetic clues that bear further study, and it made the story even more interesting.

The book may have been a bit heavy-handed on the whole “socializing Genevieve” concept, along with a couple of stereotypical characters (e.g., the overstressed, focused lawman intent on pursuing justice; the lawman and criminal who constantly outwit each other, yet have a grudging mutual respect). Still, I found The Gauguin Connection to be an entertaining read, and I already purchased the next book in the series (which is up to eight books, so far).

[Heads up: the ebook is still free !]

Thanks for stopping by.

RETRO READS: Within the Shadows

Hi all!  Welcome to Retro Reads, where I talk about my favorite books that were published at least ten years ago. You can still find most of them online, though sometimes they have been re-released with a different cover and/or title. I will let you know if a book is out of print or otherwise unavailable.

WITHIN THE SHADOWS
Brandon Massey
Horror/Suspense
Publication year: 2005
Out of print/available used

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I have been a longtime Brandon Massey fan, ever since I reviewed his first commercially published book, Dark Corner. I met Brandon in person at Book Expo America in 2005, where I received my autographed copy. He has provided good writing advice over the years (thx, Brandon!), even as he has successfully adapted to the ever-changing publishing landscape.

Within the Shadows is Massey’s third book and the story of Andrew, a successful writer in the Atlanta area who becomes involved with a beautiful woman, Mika. Mika, however, turns out to be a stalker on a whole ‘nother level, aided by seemingly unlimited funds and a Grand Canyon-sized sense of entitlement. While trying to fend off Mika’s increasingly unwanted advances, Andrew also tries to rekindle his relationship with his estranged father, Raymond, which had taken an unexpected nosedive after both were involved in a car accident in rural Georgia. Unbeknownst to Andrew, Raymond was compelled to cause the accident and his secrecy ends up getting a few folks killed…and Andrew may be next.

Massey continues his recurring theme  of strained father/son relations, which is present in most of his books. He also spins on the “sins of the father” trope in Within the Shadows. Massey utilizes the supernatural in a way that taps into that part of us that we as people don’t like to acknowledge: the knee-jerk denial of the otherworld. The strong secondary characters of Eric, Andrew’s best friend and Carmen, Andrew’s not-so-unrequited love, help round out the story. While Mika’s character can be too over-the-top at times, it ends up working within the context of the greater story. Perhaps the best part of the book is realizing Raymond’s part in this whole mess and how it both harms and heals his relationship with Andrew.

Within the Shadows won’t keep you up at night, but it will provide some thrills and chills.

Thanks for stopping by.

Another One Bites the Dust

I finally got around to reading Festive in Death by JD Robb (the mystery-writing pseudonym of bestselling romance author Nora Roberts).

Festive in Death

This is the 39th book in the popular In Death futuristic mystery series, and perhaps that’s why this book is further proof that Robb/Roberts is losing her touch.

At first, I thought that I wasn’t that into the book because it was my first time reading an e-book on Google Play Books, instead of my usual Amazon Kindle app. Perhaps that was the reason I kept putting the tablet down while attempting to read this book: an unfamiliar e-book delivery system. But no; when I read another book via Google Play Books, I was able to stay engaged and had a hard time putting the e-book down. So the platform delivery was not the issue; the book content was.

I noticed that the quality of the In Death plots began to decline with Salvation in Death, book #27 in the series. At the time, I thought the book had a phoned-in quality, like Robb couldn’t be bothered to put forth her best efforts. Random reviews from different bookseller and fan sites showed that I wasn’t alone in my thinking; indeed, many were not pleased by the lack of her normal plot and character depth. She redeemed herself in subsequent books until she reached Indulgence in Death (book #31), which was a poor rehash of the plot of Seduction in Death (book #13). Again, all was decent until Calculated in Death (book #35, which was another poor rehash of the subplot of Born in Death, book # 23).

[yes, I’ve read the entire series from the very beginning, and have most of the books, so I can pinpoint a lot of these changes–so can a lot of other fans.]

There have long been rumors (since around the time of Indulgence in Death) that the In Death series/JD Robb books were being ghostwritten, rumors that Roberts/Robb vehemently denies. Yet continuity errors (character names, character backstories, noticeable difference in writing style from earlier books in the series, etc.) in latter books belie her denials. Given the state of the last three or so books, I’m leaning toward the ghostwriting school of thought for at least some of the books in the series.

Hey, I get it: Nora Roberts has  “written” forty of the JD Robb full-length novels (#40, Obsession in Death, comes out in 2015), plus short stories surrounding the main character, Lieutenant Eve Dallas of the New York Security and Police Department–all in addition to putting out her romance novels under her real name. Nora Roberts got her start, and made most of her money, writing in the romance genre (indeed, her full-length romances are almost instant bestsellers. She’s a very prolific writer who seems to churn out a new book once a month or so), and it can be argued that romances are her first writing love. That being said, it’s easy to see why she’d want to take a break as JD Robb and fall back on what made her famous. It happens.

I’ve seen other of my formerly favorite authors go down the same “phone it in” path: Mary Higgins Clark and James Patterson are two of them. Patterson started the “ghostwriting via collaboration” trend that Higgins Clark is now picking up, as he turned his attention to Young Adult novels with his Maximum Ride series. Perhaps that’s what happens when you publish a certain number of books, or been in the writing and publishing game as long as they have:  you become numb, writing-wise. I’ve seen it in Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta novels; Terry Brooks‘s Dark Legacy of Shannara series (The Dark Legacy of Shannara: Witch Wraith: what was that?!); and both Brenda Jackson‘s Madaris and Westmoreland romance series, as well.  For all of these authors (who are pretty prolific), I stopped reading them on a regular basis years ago because the spark that fueled their first twenty, thirty, forty books had gone dim. I no longer enjoyed their newer offerings and found myself reading their older works (and enjoying them more). Robb/Roberts has now been added to the list.

This is one of my fears as an author: writing so much that I will grow weary of my craft, and start turning out subpar stories just to say I published another book; or worse, hire someone to do most of the heavy lifting and rubber-stamp my name in order to retain and maintain my fan base. I’m not at that level yet, but given the amount of mental energy that goes into writing and publishing a book, I can see where the aforementioned authors are coming from. As Whitney Houston once sang, it’s not right, but it’s okay.

Thanks for stopping by.

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