Monday, September 25, 2017

Review of "Murder as a Second Language: A Claire Molloy Mystery" by Joan Hess

In this 19th book in the series Claire Molloy, bookstore owner and amateur sleuth, recently married Deputy Chief Peter Rosen of the Farberville Police Department. They live in a lovely home with Claire's college-bound daughter Caron. Caron and her pal Inez plan to pad their college applications by volunteering at the Farberville Literary Council (FLC), which teaches English as a second language (ESL) to immigrants. Claire, now having a manager for her bookstore, agrees to help out at the FLC as well. 

There are a host of employees, volunteers, and students at the FLC - and as happens with a diverse group of people - all kinds of sparks fly. Before long the dead body of an unpleasant, bullying Polish ESL student named Ludmilla is found in the copy room of the FLC - and against the wishes of her husband Claire jumps in to investigate. 

Claire's attempt to solve the crime involves questioning people involved with the FLC again and again. She talks to them on the school's premises, in restaurants, and at their homes. Claire even breaks into one employee's house when she doesn't happen to be at home. It seems like almost everyone at the FLC has things to hide and Claire is followed and threatened as she pursues the murderer. 

Unfortunately the various 'suspects' in the book are not very interesting or distinctive, the interrogations go on and on, and the story becomes tiresome. Meanwhile, who knows what the actual police are doing because they don't seem to make any progress in solving the crime. 

The story is punctuated by various snarky conversations between Claire and Caron - typical mom and teen daughter stuff - which are meant to be humorous but aren't. Claire also has intermittent interactions with Peter, some romantic, some about Claire sticking her nose in police business when she shouldn't. Of course Claire eventually solves the crime but by then I didn't care much who did it. I was just glad to be finished with the book. Unless you're a hard core fan of the Claire Molloy series and want to see what the characters are up to I'd say skip this book.

Rating: 2 stars

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Review of "Skinny Dip" by Carl Hiaasen

I always enjoy Carl Hiaasen's satiric, comic novels - which generally highlight some atrocity humans are inflicting on the state of Florida. In this book, Hiassen concentrates on Everglades pollution.

The story: Chaz Perrone - who likes to be called 'Dr. Perrone' - has a Ph.D. in marine biology and a cushy job for the state of Florida - monitoring pollution in the Everglades. The thing is, Chaz should really be called 'Dr. Scumbag' because he's being paid off by Red Hammernut, a south Florida farmer whose fertilizer is contaminating the region. Chaz pretends to test Everglades water samples, makes up fake results, and collects his payoff. Job well done (in his own mind)!

Things start to go bottoms up when Chaz thinks his wife, Joey, has cottoned on to his scam. So Chaz takes Joey on a luxury cruise for their second wedding anniversary, and throws her overboard in the middle of the night. Chaz pretends to be overwrought about his 'missing wife', but Detective Karl Rolvaag - who gets the case when the ship returns to port - is immediately suspicious.

Meanwhile, Joey - a champion swimmer - has survived. She evaded predatory wildlife, latched onto a bale of marijuana, and drifted toward shore on the Gulf Stream.....all the time seething at her husband. Luckily, Joey was rescued by Mick Stranahan, a fiftyish ex-cop living on a tiny island off Florida's coast. After hearing Joey's story Mick wanted to call the police, but Joey had a better idea. She planned to drive that lowlife Chaz crazy!!

Chaz, convinced he got away with murder, proceeds to live his life. He rids the house of Joey's belongings; romances his long-time girlfriend/hairdresser Ricca Spillman; and dreams of a fruitful, long-lasting partnership with Red. Though Chaz is repeatedly questioned by Detective Rolvaag (à la Columbo), he believes there's no proof of his crime.

Joey starts her campaign against dirtbag Chaz by hanging a favorite black dress in her (now empty) closet and leaving a torn photo under his pillow. Chaz is bewildered, and thinks some stranger is breaking into his house. When Chaz reports the intrusion to Red Hammernut, the farmer saddles Chaz with a 'bodyguard' - a big, hairy galoot named Earl O'Toole ('Tool').

Tool is in pain from a bullet lodged mid-butt, so he sneaks into hospitals/nursing homes and peels Fantanyl patches off elderly patients - then puts them on his roughly shaved back. In the course of this larceny Tool meets an elderly lady, Maureen, and they develop a rather sweet friendship.

Through all this, Joey continues to play tricks on Chaz - with the help of her brother Corbett and Mick. As the pranks excalate, Chaz's anxiety increases, and he becomes alarmed when he 'can't get it up anymore.' Chaz starts taking 'little blue pills' - and the results are priceless. Eventually Joey and her fellow tricksters perpetrate a jaw-dropping hoax, which is wonderfully effective. As they spend time together, Joey and Mick develop an attraction, which should appeal to romance fans.

As Chaz's life falls apart, he starts to become suspicious of everyone around him. In fact - in the course of the story - Chaz 'kills' several people. However, none of them stay dead. LOL

All this action and hilarity leads to an appropriate climax that's quite satisfying.

Some fun animal characters in the story (besides the Everglades alligators and mosquitoes that freak Chaz out) are: Mick's dog - a lovable, but slow-witted Doberman called Strom, who tries to bark potential intruders away from the island; and Detective Rolvaag's two pet pythons - who don't have much personality....but might just be eating the building's pet cats and dogs.

I enjoyed the book, which made me laugh. Recommended to fans of light, amusing books (with a message).

Rating: 3.5 stars

Saturday, September 23, 2017

My review of "About Face: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery" by Donna Leon

This is the 18th book in the Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery series, which is set in Venice, Italy.

Police Commissario Guido Brunetti and his wife Paola have been invited to dine at the home of Paola's wealthy, aristocratic parents - Conte and Contessa Falier - so Guido can meet businessman Maurizio Cataldo. Cataldo wants the Count to invest in China with him and Falier - a cautious man - asks his son-in-law to check the businessman out.

At the elegant dinner, Guido is seated near Cataldo's much younger wife, Franca Marinello. Guido is struck by Franca's face, which has an oddly frozen expression. Franca's 'mouth is permanently parted in a small smile; her cheekbones swell up in knots the size of a kiwi fruit; and her nose starts higher on her forehead than is normal and is strangely flat' - all clearly the work of a plastic surgeon. Guido is intensely curious about Franca, wondering why a beautiful woman would do this to herself.

To investigate businessman Cataldo, Guido asks his boss's secretary - Signorina Elettra - to work up a file on the man. Signorina Elettra is a whiz with computers while Guido can barely log in. Nevertheless, Guido gets a yen for his own computer in this book....and we'll see if he gets one. LOL

Meanwhile, another case crops up. Maggiore Filipo Guarino of the Carabinieri (military police) asks Brunetti to help find the killer of a truck company owner named Stefano Ranzato. Ranzato had been caught cooking the books, and was pressured into becoming a police informant. Moreover, Ranzato - who was hauling goods for the Camorra (organized crime) - had a lot to inform about. Guarino suspects the Camorra discovered Ranzato's double dealing and murdered him.

The issue central to the plot is Italy's trash problem. Naples has mountains of uncollected garbage that can't be burned because the incinerators are being used to torch trash that's trucked in from other areas. Even worse, industrial waste is being brought to Italy from other countries. These toxic substances are disposed of locally or shipped to third world nations. Apparently, garbage is a very lucrative business....and the Camorra is at the heart of it.

Before long another person connected to the Ranzato case is murdered, and Brunetti has two crimes to solve.The Commissario follows various clues and identifies a suspect who likes to gamble at the local Casinò. A couple of trips to this gaming establishment uncovers some surprising things.

In the end, the murder cases are resolved, we find out what businessman Cataldo is up to with China, and we learn about Franca Marinello's face. Not surprsingly, all these threads are connected.

Though the Brunetti books are mysteries, they always have a heavy dose of the Commissario's personal life, including his interactions with family and colleagues. In this story Bruno takes a lot of boats around Venice; has coffee and hot punch at the local café; has home-cooked meals with his family (these sound scrumptious); marvels about his wonderful children; has heart-to-heart talks with his in-laws; deals with jealous, underhanded cops; has discussions about Virgil, Cicero, Ovid, and Henry James; and so on. Some of my favorite parts of these books are the scenes where Brunetti and Signorina Elettra slyly maneuver around their vain, blowhard boss - Vice-Questore Patta - who never saw a job he couldn't evade doing.

For me this book is just average. I enjoyed visiting with favorite characters, but the plot is too convoluted - and the ending doesn't provide total closure. It seems like 'justice' is impossible to get in Italy, since half the officials are corrupt....which is too bad. :(

Still, I'd recommend the book to fans of the series.

FYI: The story can be read as a standalone with regard to the mystery, but readers familiar with the characters will enjoy it more.

Rating: 3 stars

Friday, September 22, 2017

Review of "Tail Gait" by Rita Mae Brown & Sneaky Pie Brown

This cozy series - set in Crozet, Virginia - was once a favorite of mine. The main character, 'Harry' Harristeen, was a divorced postmistress and amateur sleuth. Harry solved mysteries with the help of her 'talking pets', two cats and a corgi. The lovable animals commented on Harry's activities, philosophized about people, rode mail carts around the post office, protected Harry, and helped solve crimes. The stories also had an array of recurring characters that added fun and depth to the tales. Most importantly, the mysteries were interesting, with plenty of suspects and clues. The last few books in the series, however, were more political diatribes than cozy mysteries and I decided I'd had enough.

Nevertheless, I decided to check this latest addition out of the library. This book is more of a historical novel about the American Revolution than a mystery and many of the well-liked recurring characters are absent or marginally present. As for Harry, she's now re-married and living on her farm. Thus, there's no chit-chatting with folks in the post office or snacking on baked goods prepared by fellow postmistress Miranda - which was an entertaining aspect of previous books. The talking pets are still present, but not as fun as they once were.

The story: A beloved retired history professor, Greg "Ginger" McConnell, whose specialty is researching and writing about the American Revolution, is shot on the golf course. Harry and a cadre of college football players - who were Ginger's students decades before - are profoundly grieved. Soon afterwards the death of another person with a connection to Ginger occurs.

Harry and the cops don't know anyone who disliked or had a grudge against Ginger. Thus Harry decides (for no obvious reason) that the murder probably was linked to Ginger's historical research. Unlike standard mysteries, there's not much questioning of suspects or searching for clues. Instead, Harry examines local geography, maps, and old records and becomes very interested in a historically accurate housing development under construction.

The book alternates between the present and the past. In the 'now' parts Harry investigates the murders, caddies for her golfing friend Susan, assists some homeless people, and tends her farm and horses. In the 'then' parts the American Revolution has started and British prisoners of war are housed in a barracks in Virginia. The historical sections are depictions of the lives of the POW's, who were treated fairly well in the circumstances. They had beds and food and were sent out to work at local farms and businesses. The POWs were friendly with their guards and the local population, and many remained in the colonies when the Revolution ended.

The story is okay, and the solution to the crimes makes sense. Still, the book seems more like an excuse to write about the American Revolution than a mystery. It would make more sense for Rita Mae Brown to publish literary novels about her areas of interest rather than add more psedo-mysteries to this (formerly well-liked) series.

I wouldn't recommend this book to mystery fans but if you're interested in POWs during the American Revolution you might like it.

Rating: 2 stars

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Review of "The Returned" by Jason Mott

One day the previously dead start returning, not as zombies, but exactly as they were when they died. One returnee is 8-year-old Jacob Hargrave, who drowned 30 years before. He shows up in China, and after being processed by the 'Bureau of the Returned' is brought back to his now elderly parents - Lucille and Harold -  in Arcadia, Missouri. Though a bit befuddled, the Hargraves take in Jacob and care for him. Another local family, the Collins', all of whom were murdered, also returns to Arcadia and takes up residence in the church.

Some townsfolk support the returnees but many are frightened, hostile, and want them gone. Moreover, when the initial trickle of returnees becomes a flood the American government turns Arcadia into a holding site and starts busing in masses of returnees. This type of situation is mirrored all over the world as more and more undead show up. The holding camps are okay at first but soon become overcrowded, dirty, and foul-smelling. 

The local clergyman in Arcadia, Pastor Philips, encourages patience but 'the real living' want to know what's going on, and they want to know now! Unfortunately, no explanation is forthcoming. The situation soon spirals out of control with dire consequences. 

The book is at least partially a treatise on how people deal with death - can they mourn the dead and move on? can they accept returned loved ones? returned strangers? a world where there may be no death? I thought the story had intriguing characters and it kept me interested. I was anxious to see what happened next and to find out how the returnee phenomenon was explained. In that I was disappointed because the phenomenon was not explained at all. Thus, though I enjoyed the story, I was left with a feeling of dissatisfaction (though I expect there will be a sequel to the book).

There is now a TV series based on this book (called Resurrection).

Rating: 4 stars

Review of "Emma in the Night" by Wendy Walker

Three years ago the Tanner sisters, fifteen-year-old Cass and seventeen-year-old Emma, vanished. Emma's car, containing her purse and keys, was found at the beach - but all of Cass's personal belongings were still in the house. What could have happened?

FBI Agent Leo Strauss heads the investigation, assisted by forensic psychologist, Dr. Abby Winter. Dr. Winter senses that's something's 'off' about the girls' family - especially the mother (Mrs. Martin). The psychologist wants to look more closely at the parents, but is discouraged by Strauss - who has other ideas about the case. In any case, the girls aren't found.

Now, three years after her disappearance, Cass shows up at her family's front door - and Agent Strauss and Dr. Winter are back on the case with the full force of the FBI. Cass tells a harrowing story. She says a married couple named Bill and Lucy held the girls prisoner on an island. Cass explains that a boatman named Rick periodically brought supplies - food, clothing, books, DVDs, and so on.....and that the island house had a satellite dish and television. With long and careful planning Cass was able to escape, and is now desperate for the authorities to find Emma.

Cass goes on to say that Bill and Lucy treated the girls (more or less) like 'family': they all ate together, played board games, did chores, etc. Moreover the girls were homeschooled and not sexually abused. However, they were not allowed to leave! With long and careful planning Cass was able to escape and make her way home.

When questioned, Cass tells the FBI how she and Emma came to be on the island, describes the location/geography of the isle as best she can, details all aspects of life on the island, and works with a sketch artist to draw the suspects. The FBI goes full out to try to identify the perps, find the island, and rescue Emma.

The book is told from the alternating points of view of Cass and Dr. Winter. In Cass's chapters - which take the form of an 'internal monologue' - she talks about growing up in her family, the twisted interactions among family members, and how this affected herself and Emma.

In Dr. Winter's chapters, the psychologist (and Agent Strauss) go over Cass's story, and the doctor decides that some parts sound sketchy. Dr. Winter also concludes that Cass's mom has narcissistic personality disorder, which means that - to maintain her feelings of superiority - Mrs. Martin is compelled to manipulate and control everyone around her. This makes for an extremely toxic family dynamic.

The story has an array of additional characters, including: Mr. Tanner - the girls' biological father; Witt - Mr. Tanner's son from a previous marriage; Mr. Martin - the girls stepfather; Hunter - Mr. Martin's son from a previous marriage; and Lisa - the school guidance counselor. All of them play an important part in the story. Let's just say, the book's conglomeration of attractive females and various males.....spells trouble.

The book held my attention and I was immersed in Cass's stories about what she and Emma experienced growing up, and what happened to them on the island. I was also intrigued by Mrs. Martin's mental illness, and dismayed to see how far she'd go to preserve her inflated - and precarious - self-esteem. In the story, Dr. Winter notes that girls who grow up with a narcissistic mother tend to repeat the destructive behavior, and I wondered if Cass and Emma were irretrievably damaged. There are some surprising elements in the book, and I liked these twists.

On the downside, I think that Cass is too knowledgable, cunning, and sophisticated for a girl with her life experience - and I sometimes had a hard time suspending disbelief. The story's conclusion also struck me as a bit unlikely.

All in all I think the book is an okay psychological thriller. It's very cinematic (IMO) and could probably be adapted into a good movie. I'd recommend the book to fans of psychological dramas.

Rating: 3 stars

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Review of "Moriarty" by Anthony Horowitz

Several days after Sherlock Holmes and criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty go over the Reichenbach Falls, a dead body - identified as Moriarty - is fished out of the water. Two detectives descend on the scene: Frederick Chase, a Pinkerton Agent from New York and Athelny Jones from Scotland Yard.

At the urging of Chase, Moriarty's body is searched for a letter from Clarence Devereux - an American criminal mastermind believed to be in England to join forces with Moriarty. A letter written in secret code is found. Luckily, Athelny Jones - who has intensely studied Holmes' methods - is able to decipher the letter, which has the time and place of a meeting between the evil masterminds. Hoping that Devereux believes Moriarty is still alive Chase impersonates Moriarty at the meeting while Jones is set to follow anyone who shows up.

This maneuver leads the detectives to Devereux's gang and a series of clues point to the location of the American criminal genius, who is essentially untouchable. There's much murder and mayhem in the wake of the detectives' investigations and they work valiantly to nab Devereux while endangering their own lives. This is especially harrowing for Jones, who has a wife and young child dependent on him - but he and Chase forge ahead to a dramatic climax and finale.

Sherlock Holmes fans will recognize many nods to the original stories in this worthy 'sequel', which is entertaining and clever and has the feel of 'real' Sherlock Holmes stories. Highly recommended to fans of the original tales.

Rating: 4 stars

Monday, September 18, 2017

Review of "Dog Dish of Doom" by E.J. Copperman

When famous Broadway director Les McMaster is auditioning dogs for the role of Sandy in 'Annie', Kay Powell - a talent agent for animals - has just the pooch for the job. Her client Bruno, a shaggy brown dog who looks like a hairy ottoman - is friendly, follows directions, and can cry on demand. Bruno is having a fine tryout - and would be a shoo-in for the job - if only his owner would shut his mouth.

Trent Barclay and his wife Louise adopted Bruno from a shelter, trained him, and have plans for his show business career. Trent - an obnoxious loudmouth who thinks he knows best - interrupts Bruno's audition, calls McMaster a hack, and says he's a bad director. Thus, when Bruno gets the job his contract states that Trent and Louise can't attend Bruno's rehearsals.

Kay doesn't mind since she'd just as soon handle Bruno's career herself - and has the experience to do it. Kay's parents, Jay and El, were performers at a Catskill resort - and Kay joined their act when she was four (Jay, Kay, and El.....get it. LOL) . Kay sang, danced, and did skits with her parents until she went off to college. Kay then went to law school to learn about contracts, and started her career as an animal agent. Meanwhile, Jay and El took their act onto cruise ships, where they traveled and had fun while getting paid.

Jay and El are between gigs right now, and staying at Kay's house in Scarborough, N.J. To pass the time, Jay is producing a revue for the Scarborough Senior Center, and he and his wife are auditioning the elderly talent in Kay's living room. This is pretty hilarious. To add to the foofaraw at Kay's place are her two dogs, Steve the dachshund and Eydie, the rescue greyhound - both of whom have big, endearing personalities....and a fondness for liver treats.

The day after Bruno's audition, Kay wakes up to shocking news. Trent Barclay has been found stabbed to death in his kitchen - with his face in Bruno's water bowl. Detective Alana Rodriguez of the NYPD - who's so stiff 'you couldn't get her to move a facial muscle without dynamite' - shows up at Kay's house to ask about the kerfuffle during Bruno's tryout.

Before long Lt. Rodriguez recruits Kay - asking the agent to sniff around the theater people and report anything suspicious. Rodriguez actually gets a 'threefer', because Jay and El want to be amateur sleuths as well. The trio of Powells get up to all kinds of mischief while they're investigating (can you say breaking and entering).

As the murderer is being sought, odd things start to happen. People keep trying to abduct Bruno.....and Kay gets threatening messages to hand over the dog. The agent has no intention of losing her client, and there's some desperate behavior on the part of Bruno's would-be abductors. Bruno gets to spend some time at Kay's house, where he becomes best friends with Steve and is (mostly) ignored by haughty Eydie.

Many secrets come to light before the murderer is exposed in a dramatic climax where Bruno shows his mettle.

The book is chock full of humorous scenes and zingy remarks that made me laugh. There's also an array of interesting characters, including:
- Sam Gibson, the owner of Cool Beans Coffee Shop. This potential romantic interest for Kay gives her free coffee and muffins, helpful advice, and dog-walking assistance when needed.
-Akra Levy, Les's ubiquitous assistant. Akra seemed to be 'seven hundred clones' because she's everywhere Les needs all the time - clipboard in hand.
-Consuelo, Kay's 'manager/assistant/entire staff' - who organizes Kay within an inch of her life. Consuelo is angling to be an animal agent herself.
-Diego (Dee), Consuelo's 22-year-old son, whose common sense provides vital clues to the mysteries in the story.
-Maisie, a macaw Kay took in lieu of payment. Maisie - 'a diva and a brat' - resides in Kay's office, and wants everyone to go away and leave her alone.

One of my favorite lines in the book is when Consuelo tells Kay, "You have an appointment with that parakeet at eleven-thirty, then a phone call with the bear cub and a callback for the calico cat." Ha ha ha

I enjoyed this well-written, cozy mystery and highly recommend it to fans of the genre.

Thanks to Netgalley, the author (E.J. Copperman) and the publisher (St. Martin's Press) for a copy of the book.

Rating: 4 stars

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Review of "Movie Cat" by Garrison Allen

Hollywood hotshots descend on the town of Empty Creek, Arizona to film a Western and the townsfolk - many of whom are extras - are excited. But soon after filming begins the very unpopular director, C.D. Masterly, is murdered in a most bizarre fashion.

Penelope Warren, former marine and  current owner of a bookstore - and her cat Big Mike - help the sheriff's department investigate. This is the only book I've read in the series and I'll admit I expected Big Mike to be more involved in the investigation, sort of like the cat Mrs. Murphy in another mystery series. That said, Big Mike is entertaining as he inadvertently uses the computer and inserts himself into the movie.

After Masterly's death a new director is hired and while the movie is being filmed the investigators and Penelope question lots of people, formulate several theories, and run into a lot of dead ends. Meanwhile there must be something in the air in Empty Creek because there are scads of romantic relationships with plenty of fun (not graphic) hijinks. This makes up a good portion of the book.

Eventually the mystery is solved in a (to me) surprise twist. There were a lot of characters in the story -  including Masterly's many girlfriends, the movie cast, the film crew, writers, townsfolk, investigators, etc. - and I had some trouble remembering who was who. All in all I'd recommend the book as an entertaining light mystery.

Rating: 3 stars

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Review of "Murder Boogies with Elvis" by Anne George

This is the last book in Anne George's 'Southern Sisters' cozy mystery series, written shortly before the author died. The books feature two sisters in their 60s who live Birmingham, Alabama and occasionally stumble over dead bodies. Each book in the series can be read as a standalone, but it's fun to start at the beginning and see what the women get up to over time.

The older sister, Mary Alice Crane (nicknamed Sister), is a flamboyant force of nature - 6 feet tall, 250 lbs - who's been married three times to rich, much older men. Mary Alice had a child with each husband before he died.....and left her buckets of money. Mary Alice recently got engaged to Sheriff Virgil Stuckey, and is happily planning her nuptials and honeymoon. To the dismay of her wedding party, Mary Alice has chosen the colors magenta and sunflower for her festivities....and their dresses.

The younger sister, Patricia Anne Holloway (nicknamed Mouse), is a prim, retired English teacher - 5 feet tall and slim - married to her childhood sweetheart, Fred. The Holloways have three children and recently found out that their daughter Haley - who's currently living in Poland with her husband - is expecting a baby girl. Thus there's much excitement in the family.

In "Murder Boogies With Elvis", the murder victim is an Elvis impersonator.

Early in the story Mary Alice, Virgil, Patricia Anne, and Fred are attending a benefit show at the Alabama Theatre - to raise money for the repair of Birmingham's 'Vulcan' statue. The show's grand finale features a long row of Elvis impersonators frolicking like the Radio City Rockettes. As the impersonators sashay to the front of the stage, one of them stumbles and falls into the orchestra pit. Turns out he was stabbed in the back with a knife.

The victim is identified as Griffin Mooncloth, but nobody seems to know who he is or how he came to be in the Elvis chorus line. As it happens, Virgil's son Buddy and his son-in-law Larry are also Elvis impersonators, and were on either side of Mooncloth when he fell. In fact, Larry says he saw a figure behind Mooncloth, but wasn't wearing his glasses - and can't identify the person. This apparently spooks someone, because Larry is attacked and falls into a coma.

Patricia Anne and Mary Alice don't try to get involved in the murder inquiry until the murder weapon that killed Mooncloth - a switchblade - shows up in Mouse's purse. Patricia Anne is arrested by her former student, who's now a cop. Of course Patricia Anne is soon released - and the cop begs her not to tell his mother. LOL

After Mouse's arrest the sisters take a real interest in the case - and 'investigate' as they go about their day to day business. The gals go to lunch with friends; look at wedding dress catalogues (Sister and her brother-in-law Fred oddly bond over this task....ha ha ha); visit Larry and his family in the hospital; gossip with friends, neighbors and acquaintances; and so on. The amateur sleuths identify a number of possible suspects, and there are some surprising twists before the killer is identified.

The 'mystery' is the core element of these books, but most of the reading pleasure comes from the characters, their lives, and their colorful cohorts. Patricia Anne and Fred exchange affectionate banter - and have tasty meals purchased at the Piggly Wiggly Supermarket; Mary Alice has an over-the-top glamazon wardrobe (including purple boots) and a boisterous personality to match; the Hollowells dog, Woofer, gets lots of walks and adores his Igloo doghouse; Sister's cat Bubba invariably lies - unmoving - on a heating pad on the kitchen counter (Mouse periodically checks for signs of life); Patricia Anne is babysitting Haley's cat, Muffin, who loves to cuddle with Woofer (much to his chagrin); Mary Alice's daughter plans to have artificial insemination (like her sister in a previous book) - and Mary Alice laments that this 'isn't the usual conduit'; and more. There's always a lot going on with these ladies.

Anne George is missed by her fans, but luckily we still have her written works. If you crave cozy southern mysteries, this series will fit the bill. In case you're interested, the first book in the series is Murder on a Girls' Night Out.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Review of "The Enemy Inside: A Paul Madriani Novel" by Steve Martini

Steve Martini is well known for his popular legal thrillers. In this 13th book in the 'Paul Madriani' series he veers off that genre, and the lawyer characters act more like detectives than attorneys. Thus this is more a conventional thriller than a legal thriller.

The story: Alex Ives, a journalist for an online news site, is investigating a Washington, D.C. lawyer named Olinda Serna for a tell-all exposé. After a beautiful stranger inveigles Alex into attending a high-class party at a California mansion, the reporter is involved in a deadly crash that kills attorney Serna. Alex ends up in the hospital, charged with drunk driving and manslaughter. The thing is, Alex remembers nothing beyond arriving at the party and having one drink.

Alex's DUI case seems like small beans, but attorney Paul Madriani takes the case at the behest of his daughter, who knows the defendant. Madriani - working with his partner Harry Hines and investigator Herman Diggs - learns that Alex was drugged and the crash was staged. Knowing this isn't enough however. To get Alex exonerated, Madriani will have to find out why the accident was arranged, how it was pulled off, and who did it.

Unfortunately, there are several people who are determined to keep the truth from being revealed. These include: Cletus Proffitt - the managing partner at Serna's law firm; 'The Eagle' - a mysterious, older gentleman who walks with a cane; and General Cheng - a government official in China. Moreover, a powerful U.S. Senator named Maya Grimes - whose wrongdoing has put her into the clutches of a power-hungry manipulator - also has a stake in the case. To top things off, a brilliant female mercenary - who designed the device that caused the cars to crash - is hanging around.....trying to get her hardware back. For much of the book, each of these people has his/her own storyline, which is a LOT to keep track of.

In many ways this is more like a spy novel than a legal thriller. All the antagonists seem to have top notch espionage devices - regular microphones, hyperbolic microphones, hidden cameras, phone taps, GPS devices (in short, all manner of surveillance equipment) - most of it aimed at Madriani and company. Thus, every move the lawyers make is closely scrutinized.....and people they interview tend to end up dead. I thought the lawyers were a bit naive about this - going on their merry way without realizing they had a trail of followers.....until they finally caught on.

In any case, Madriani realizes that Ives' life is in danger, and the reporter is spirited off to a safe house in Mexico. For their part, Madriani and Hines travel to the Caribbean and Europe to 'follow the money' that's at the heart of the trouble. The surveillers stay on their tails, though, and all kinds of mayhem ensues.

Steve Martini injects some of his political opinions into the story, and - if U.S. politicos are as venal, greedy, and corrupt as he suggests - we're in a sorry state for sure. (Sadly, I don't think he's totally wrong.) In some ways the book is very relevant to current affairs, with foreign countries allegedly sticking their fingers into U.S elections and so on.

The basic plot of the story is intriguing but there's too much going on - and it gets a little tedious. Moreover, the scoundrels are more like comic book supervillains than real people. They can see and hear everything that's going on everywhere, follow people without being detected, line up thugs as tough as Navy Seals at the drop of a hat, and so on. Even the good guys get hold of some nifty devices. It's just not credible - and some parts of the book seem more like science fiction than mystery thriller.

Martini is a good writer, but this isn't one of his best books - and I can't wholeheartedly recommend it. Still, the story has lots of action and some nifty tech devices - so readers who like that type of thing might enjoy the story.

Though this book is part of a series, it can easily be read as a standalone.

Rating: 3 stars

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Review of "I Suck at Girls" by Justin Halpern

Justin Halpern's book 'Sh*t My Dad Says' is very funny, so when this memoir was recommended on Goodreads I decided to listen to the audio version. Halpern's anecdotes about incidents in his life - ranging from childhood through early adulthood - are very entertaining. Justin's dad again contributes some priceless bon mots, but most of the yarns focus on the author himself.

I'll give some examples of stories in the book.

Nine-year-old Justin, hearing about sex from a friend, gets worried about his wedding night. Eager to consult his mom about this troubling issue, Justin picks the lock on his parents' closed bedroom door..... and what do you think he sees? Good opportunity for Justin's dad to teach him the word 'ironic.'

Young Justin and his Little League teammate find a stash of porn near the ball field and plan to steal it. Their codeword, in case the coach is spotted, is 'my dog peed in the house.' Of course the coach comes right over and Justin - wanting to warn his porn-hiding friend - hysterically yells 'my dog peed in the dog peed in house.' The coach must have thought Justin was nuts.

After high school Justin goes on a jaunt to Europe with his friend Ryan, hoping to meet girls and have sex. In a Florence hostel, Justin and Ryan pal up with a young Asian man, 'Vietnam Joe.' Joe's English vocabulary is very limited. Food is either 'large delicious', 'delicious', or 'not delicious'; temperatures are either 'large hot' or 'not hot.' Joe's one complete sentence is 'Second-year guard Ray Allen has a silky smooth NBA ready game'.....cribbed from a basketball card. Still, Joe is the first of the group to meet a girl and go off with her. (Maybe she was a basketball fan. LOL)

Eventually, Justin and Ryan arrive at the 'party island' of Ibiza. The boys ask a party promoter about 'the hottest party in Ibiza'.....and are told they can't handle it. The boys are also warned off 'the second hottest party' on the island. Frustrated, Ryan finally says 'Just tell us about a party that's appropriately hot for us!' This made me laugh.

Overdoing the partying in Ibiza, Justin gets a terrible stomach ache and has to go to an emergency room in Spain. The doctor, not fluent in English, points to two dark spots on Justin's x-ray and says "Your stomach is very mad. It do not work." The doctor then says a few words to the nurse who adds "Too much poo poo and fart." Ryan thinks this is the most awesome diagnosis he ever heard.....and I have to agree. (Justin got meds for the constipation and gas, and all was well.)

In other anecdotes Justin talks about working at Hooters Restaurant, losing his virginity, dating a hot girl that's out of his league, and - by the end of the book - proposing to his girlfriend.

The book is all good fun, recommended to readers who like humorous memoirs.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Review of "The Last Dark Place: An Abe Lieberman Mystery" by Stuart M. Kaminsky

Detective Abe Lieberman ('the rabbi') and his partner Detective Bill Hanrahan ('Father Murphy'), veteran cops of the Chicago Police Department, are friends as well as partners. As this 8th book in the series opens, though, they're working on different investigations - several of which unfold during the course of the story.

At the start of the book Lieberman is in Yuma, Arizona, tasked with bringing killer-for-hire Connie Glover back to Chicago. As Lieberman and a local cop are escorting Connie through the airport, an elderly janitor steps up and shoots the hitman. The janitor, shot by the Yuma cop and hospitalized, admits to accepting money to kill Connie. Trying to find out who ordered the hit, Lieberman finds clues that lead him back to Chicago.

Meanwhile, in Chicago, a gang of young roughnecks has been on a tear - beating, raping, and killing. One of their rape victims is the wife of Detective Sergeant Hugh Morton, a respected black police officer. Hanrahan, and his temporary partner Detective Bill O'Neil - an irritating big-mouthed racist - need to catch the hooligans before Morton exercises frontier justice and ruins his career.

At the same time, a mob war threatens to break out between local Chinese and Puerto Rican gangs in Chicago. Tensions were already high between the gangs and - after a Chinese thug is thrown out a window - things threaten to go ballistic. Lieberman, who has an odd friendship with the leader of the Latin gang, tries to broker a truce with the help of a Chinese 'godfather'.

And in the category 'inexplicable nutcases', Wayne Czerbiak - a seemingly mild-mannered sign painter - decides to shoot country singer Lee Cole Carter. Czerbiak announces his plans quite freely, but people think he's talking about photography....until they don't.

Lieberman and Hanrahan also have a lot going on their personal lives. Lieberman and his wife Bess are the guardians of their grandkids and are planning (and paying for) their grandson's upcoming bar mitzvah. This requires a good deal of preparation as well as some tense interaction with their daughter Lisa - a troubled gal who's flown in for the event.

And Hanrahan and his new Chinese wife, Iris Chen Hanrahan, are expecting a baby. This disturbs Iris's cousin, a member of the Falun Gong, who wants to prevent the birth of this ethnically mixed ('mongrel') baby. The determined Falun Gong member starts his campaign with harassing phone calls to Iris, which doesn't sit well with a lot of people.

Lieberman and Hanrahan, as always, spend some time in Maish Lieberman's delicatessen, eating delicious food and kibitzing with the 'alter cockers', a group of old men who have an opinion about everything.

All in all, a very pleasant visit with Lieberman and Hanrahan, who go about their business skillfully and without undue drama. I enjoyed the book and recommend it to mystery fans. You can't go wrong with Stuart Kaminsky, a respected author of several acclaimed detective series.

Rating: 4 stars

Monday, September 11, 2017

Review of "The Fireman" by Joe Hill

A horrible malady is spreading like wildfire through the human population. Caused by spores from a fungus called Draco Incendia Trychophyton, the illness - named Dragonscale - is manifested by gold and black scales on the skin. On the upside, the scales are rather pretty and decorative. On the downside, they cause victims to spontaneously suddenly burst into flames and incinerate. And there's no treatment or cure.

Harper Grayson is a twenty-something nurse who's tending to Dragonscale patients in Maine's Portsmouth Hospital. Like other caregivers, Harper wears a protective rubber suit to shield her from the spores. One day a fireman carries an ailing boy into the hospital, and Harper - suspecting the child has appendicitis - helps them jump the line to get help. This turns out to be a pivotal event in the nurse's life.

Despite her precautions, Harper starts to see gold and black streaks on her skin.....and knows she's doomed. The nurse has an added concern, however. She recently got pregnant and desperately wants to see her baby born, in the belief that fetuses don't contract Dragonscale from their mothers.

When Harper's husband, Jakob, sees her Dragonscale marks, he's enraged. He blames Harper for bringing the illness into their home and - afraid of being infected - takes off. Harper quarantines herself in the house, but is running out of food and supplies when Jakob suddenly returns - with a gun. He thinks he has Dragonscale, and plans to kill Harper and himself before they spontaneously combust.

Harper escapes from Jakob and is rescued by the fireman (a British man whose name is John Rookwood), a teenage girl, and the boy from the hospital - who happens to be deaf. The trio leads Harper to an out-of-the-way enclave called Camp Wyndham, which houses a secret community of Dragonscale victims. The group, led by a man called Father Story, has learned to tame the disease.

According to Father Story, 'if you create a feeling of security, the Dragonscale lives in harmony with you'.....and you don't burn to death. The people at Camp Wyndham attend services every day, where they sing together. This engenders a peaceful feeling that makes the people glow - a condition called 'The Bright.' And one spore-carrier, John Rookwood, has even learned to ignite parts of himself - with no permanent damage. This is a formidable weapon when the fireman needs one!

Most of the story is set at Camp Wyndham, which contains a variety of inhabitants - some good, some bad. I don't want to give away too much of the plot, but I will say that, in time, the community gets a new leader and becomes a kind of dictatorship - with harsh, medieval punishments for people who break the rules. In part, this is to ensure the residents' safety. The outside world has gone crazy, and rogue 'cremation squads' make it their business to hunt down and shoot Dragonscale victims - who they call burners. Jakob has become an ardent member of an assassination crew and is determined to kill his wife, among others. There are some exciting, action-packed scenes where kill squads meet up with burners.

As in any community, love sometimes blooms in Camp Wyndham. Harper and Rookwood are attracted to each other, but - for various reasons - their relationship is very complicated. Another couple bonds as well - two people who'd probably never meet in the real world. It's all very sweet.....and fans of romance novels will probably enjoy these minor plotpoints.

Harper experiences a host of difficulties in the course of the story, but is driven to survive - at least until she gives birth. The nurse hopes to give the child to a healthy couple to raise. This seems a tall order to me. Who would believe this baby wasn't infected? I understand a mother's hopes though, and the drive to reproduce.

"The Fireman" - in which a community of 'survivors' is divided into 'good' and 'evil' factions - was clearly influenced by Stephen King's book "The Stand." This isn't a surprise, since King is the author's father. Still, "The Fireman" is very original in its chosen catastrophe - an illness that causes spontaneous combustion is certainly unique (and horrifying)! And the story plays out much differently than The Stand.

There are a lot of interesting characters in the book, including: a delusional leader who wants to maintain total control; acolytes who'll do anything to please the boss; a man on the side of the angels; chauvinist burner-bashers who think they can do whatever they please; a sweet orphan who longs for a mother; bullying teenage girls; hormonal teenage boys; escaped convicts; and more.

The book is perhaps a bit overlong, but the story moves along at a good clip and held my attention. The tale has many references to popular culture, including: well-known celebrities and politicians (many of whom go up in flames); Mary Poppins; Harry Potter; and others. These were fun and added a touch of humor to the story. I had an idea about what would happen at the climax - and I was right - but this didn't diminish my enjoyment of the book.

Very good horror/thriller, highly recommended to fans of the genre.

Rating: 4 stars

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Review of "The Accident" by S.D. Monaghan

David met Tara five years ago, when he was a 35-year-old history lecturer at Dublin's Trinity College and she was a 25-year-old student in his class. David was very taken with the beautiful young woman, who was smart and had 'curious brown eyes, full lips, and free-falling auburn hair.' At the time, Tara was dating a working class bloke named Ryan, and David reluctantly kept his distance.....even after the class ended.

Eighteen months later David happened to see Tara again, displaying her original paintings at a sidewalk art show. David and Tara began to chat and - due to a rainstorm and happenstance - David helped Tara sell several paintings to a very rich American buyer.

Skip ahead a few years and David and Tara are married. Tara is a wealthy, successful artist and David functions as her business manager while still teaching and pursuing his Ph.D. degree. The sudden prosperity is a big change for the couple, who grew up in rough, impoverished neighborhoods.

David and Tara - who are expecting a child - have renovated a huge home on Lawrence Court, and are about to move into 'the best house on the best street in Dublin.' Ironically, Tara's old boyfriend Ryan is the builder who's upgrading the mansion under the direction of Gordon - a snobby blueblood architect who looks down his privileged nose at all of them.

On the evening before David and Tara are scheduled to move into their gorgeous (but not quite completed) new house, David decides to stop by on a whim - to look the place over and revel in his good fortune. David is shocked to see Tara kissing Ryan, and - after she drives off - finds her panties on the floor. Furious and hurt, David confronts the builder- whose tan, muscled, tattooed body is clad only in jeans. The two men argue and tussle, and Ryan falls off the unfinished balcony. Looking down, David sees that Ryan has fallen three floors into a pit, and appears to be bloody and dead.

David starts to run downstairs to check on the builder, but accidently knocks himself out. When David wakes up the next morning, there's no body and no pit. Instead, there's a patio with freshly laid limestone and travertine slabs. Ryan's workers have inadvertently buried the body!

Before long Ryan is an official missing person, and David doesn't know what to do. If he goes to the police, he'll be accused of murder. And - though David is very angry at Tara - he still wants to be with her and the baby. While David is mulling it all over, he's hit with terrible news. Someone knows he killed Ryan and wants a HUGE amount of blackmail money to keep mum. So much moola, in fact, that David and Tara will lose EVERYTHING they own and be forced to live in poverty.

What to do....what to do? That's what David has to decide. Should he confess? Kill himself? Pay the extortion money? And there's an added problem. David and Tara's neighbor, Shay, comes over to report that something under their new patio is blocking the sewer - and smelly, disgusting sludge is backing up into his house. Shay insists that the builders fix the problem immediately. If not, he'll take matters into his own hands.

The story alternates between the present - where David has to deal with Ryan's unexpected demise, and the past - where David and Tara meet and embark on their relationship. This literary device works up to a point but results in too many cliffhangers, which is annoying and impedes the continuity of the story.

The book's plot is engaging, with plenty of twists and turns - some of which the astute reader may guess (or maybe not. LOL). The villains are appropriately venomous, and I was hoping they would get their just deserts. However, I didn't find the 'good guys' totally likable either. David's 'mooning' over Tara - 'her presence, her voice, her warmth, her mind, her art, her body, her gaze' - was too adolescent and soppy for my taste. And Tara - when confronted with her adultery - couldn't understand David's anger. 'David was suddenly a stranger to her. The David she knew would try to understand.' (Understand her shagging another - much hunkier - guy? Are you kidding me?!)

Overall, I found this to be an enjoyable psychological thriller, good for a few hours entertainment.

Thanks to Netgalley, the author (S.D. Monaghan), and the publisher (Bookouture) for a copy of the book.

Rating: 3 stars

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Review of "Allegiant" by Veronica Roth

I finished Allegiant by Veronica Roth, and have now completed the entire "Divergent" trilogy. IMO the trilogy doesn't live up to the hype. I feel like the author loses her way somewhere along the line and whatever point she is trying to get across to the reader is not clear.

It seems (to me) that Veronica Roth is suggesting that family and loved ones are the most important thing in life and should be cherished above everything. I think she also wants us to understand that the characters in the series who don't agree with the views of the government are not "genetically damaged" - and they shouldn't be considered inferior and eliminated.

I can understand why young girls like the books. The romance between Tris and Four - all the scenes of kissing and snuggling - is aimed right at them. I do understand why many people were especially disappointed with Allegiant....they wanted a happier ending than they got.

For me this just wasn't a totally successful series.

Rating: 3 stars

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Review of "Pattern Recognition" by William Gibson

New York resident Cayce Pollard is a marketing consultant who instinctively knows what the public will find 'cool'. Cayce is also a follower of a website called 'Fetish Footage Forum' (FFF) where mysterious film clips - periodically published online - are discussed and analyzed by large numbers of people around the world. As the story opens in August, 2002 Cayce is in London, having been hired by the 'Blue Ant' company to evaluate a proposed new shoe logo.

At a meeting with Hubertus Bigend - Blue Ant's boss, and Dorotea Benedetti - representative of the logo's designer, Cayce nixes the proposed logo. She also senses huge antagonism from Dorotea, a woman she's just met. Soon afterward someone breaks into the London apartment where Cayce is staying, making her feel nervous and paranoid.

These unexplained occurrences remind Cayce of her missing father, Win Pollard, an intelligence agent who disappeared on September 11, 2001, when planes flew into the World Trade Center. Cayce and her mother have done all they can to find Win, with no success.

After Cayce okays a second proposed shoe logo, Hubertus hires her to find the makers of the inscrutable film footage on FFF. He apparently has a scheme to use the film clips to make money. Cayce reluctantly agrees to work with Hubertus, and during her search for the filmmaker Cayce meets an array of interesting people and travels between London, Japan and Russia. Everywhere she goes, however, Cayce senses she's being followed, which seems to be proven when she's attacked in the street.

The book is chock full of engaging characters, starting with Cayce - who's 'allergic' to logos and cuts the labels off all her clothing and possessions. Other interesting characters include several FFF analysts, fetishists of old technology, a computer whiz who's supposed to help Cayce find the filmmaker, and more.

I enjoyed the book which essentially reads like a thriller, as Cayce rushes here and there to discover something that unknown (and hostile) 'others' also want to know. All this leads to an exciting and believable climax. Very good book, highly recommended.

Rating: 4 stars

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Review of "Insurgent" by Veronica Roth

In this sequel to Divergent the war between the factions is well under way; Tris is feeling overwhelming guilt because of the deaths of her parents and her friend Will; and the romance between Tris and Tobias (Four) is tested by divided loyalties.

I liked this book better than Divergent. I appreciated the more extensive explanation of the factions and the deeper development of the characters. We discover that the "good guys" and the "bad guys" are not that clear cut and that some characters are harboring unexpected secrets.

The basic thrust of the story is that Erudite is trying to take over the city and become the main governing faction. To this end Jeanine, the head of Erudite, is trying to develop a serum that gives her control of every person in the city, including the Divergents. Jeanine will do anything to accomplish this goal - manipulate, torture, kill, whatever it takes - and enlists some unexpected allies to help her.

Jeanine needs a test subject for her serums, which turns out to be Tris. In any case, there is a huge secret behind Jeanine's machinations and the revelation of this secret at the end of the story is the bridge to book three.

I thought Tris was too whiny in this book, constantly thinking of the deaths of her loved ones and wondering if she was better off dead as well. This got old. And the romance between Tris and Tobias got too icky for me with constant scenes of kissing and pressing their bodies together. It's possible, though, I would have loved these scenes when I was a teenager.

I'm planning to read book three (Allegiant) to see how the rest of the story plays out.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Review of "Divergent" by Veronica Roth

The dystopian society in this book has five factions, and when a person reaches the age of 16 he/she is tested to see where they fit in. A small number of people are "divergent" and don't belong anywhere. They are considered dangerous and must hide their identity.

The premise of the book is that there is growing tension between some of the factions and this seems likely to lead to conflict. To me the story seemed like a bit of a mash-up of 'Hunger Games' - teens fighting/killing each other and 'Twilight' - the unlikely romance between a gorgeous, hunky, brilliant guy and a plain girl (in this case the girl was tiny and child-like in appearance, which made it even more unbelievable). But assuming these are essential elements in dystopian Young Adult literature the book still has serious flaws.

The society that contains these factions is not well-defined or explained; I got the feeling the factions were all in a smallish area, like five neighborhoods in a city. So I kept wondering what's happening in the rest of the country? And the reason for the sadistic training regimen of the Dauntless recruits (the faction our heroine Tris joins) was never made clear. I wanted to know how this compared with the training regimens of the other factions.

There are a minimal number of adults in the book, and kids seem to be in charge of everything in the Dauntless faction. Where are all the grown-ups? The book mostly (and rather repetitively) trots along describing the training of the Dauntless recruits until, towards the end, the pace picks up and events propel the story forward - toward the second book in the series.

Some Young Adult books hold just as much interest for adults as young readers. To me this one doesn't, both because of the writing and the story line. I will go on to the second book though, out of curiosity to see what happens.

Rating: 3 stars

Review of "Lemon Meringue Pie Murder" by Joanne Fluke

Hannah Swensen, owner of a cookie shop, is surprised to hear that one of her boyfriends, dentist Norman Rhodes, has purchased a house - lock, stock, and barrel - from Rhonda Scarf. He plans to tear down the house and build a dream home.

Before the house is demolished Hannah and her mom, an antique shop owner, go out to look for treasures. In addition to a few valuable antiques they find the dead body of Rhonda Scarf. Hannah's other boyfriend, detective Mike Kingston tells her to keep her nose out of the investigation but Hannah can't resist and dives right in.

This is a real cozy mystery in the sense that the police/detectives seem to do nothing at all. As Hannah runs around questioning people and making phone calls and taking photos of the crime scene, etc. it seems like she's the first one on the scene every time.

Soon after the murder, money from an old bank robbery starts circulating through town, which provides clues to the crime. The book is chock full of fun characters - Hannah's sisters, mom, and friends. It's a fun light mystery that includes recipes for lemon meringue pie and a variety of (what sound like) delicious cookies.

Rating: 3 stars

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Review of "Wishful Drinking" by Carrie Fisher

This book is (more or less) the written version of Carrie Fisher's stage production "Wishful Drinking."

Carrie is probably best known for her role as the beautiful, intrepid "Princess Leia" in the Star Wars movies. Carrie was 19 when the first movie filmed and - perhaps coincidentally - this was when the actress transitioned from habitually smoking pot to using hallucinogens and opiates. In time Carrie became a drug-addicted alcoholic with manic-depressive disorder (bipolar disorder 2). In this humorous mini-biography - written when Carrie was 52 - the actress relates her story.

Carrie was born a celebrity, being the child of actress/singer Debbie Reynolds and crooner Eddie Fisher. Debbie starred in iconic films like 'Singin' in the Rain' and Eddie has a long list of oldies, but is 'better known for his scandals than his singing.' In a bombshell incident reminiscent of Brad Pitt leaving Jennifer Aniston for Angelina Jolie, Eddie Fisher left Debbie Reynolds for the gorgeous widow, Elizabeth Taylor.

As it happens Eddie also largely abandoned Carrie and her younger brother Todd. According to Carrie, Debbie raised the kids in Los Angeles and Eddie 'checked in from time to time' while flitting from one woman to another. Eventually, Eddie married a Chinese woman - Betty Lin - and after she died 'he started to date all of Chinatown.' Carrie notes that 'this was fitting because Eddie had gotten so many facelifts that he looked Asian himself.' LOL

Carrie sang in her mother's nightclub act from the ages of 13 to 17 and - as it happens - also started doing drugs at 13. Carrie got hold of a bag of pot and 'experimented her brains out' with a friend. Carrie started seeing shrinks at the age of 15.....but was not diagnosed as manic-depressive until years later. By that time Carrie was in her mid-20s, and heavily into alcohol and drugs. She used these 'to turn down the sound [in her head] and smooth her sharp corners.'

Carrie's second shrink diagnosed her with bipolar disorder 1 and gave her prescription medication - but Carrie didn't want to take it. Instead, the actress jumped on a plane, went to New York and married her boyfriend, singer/songwriter Paul Simon. Carrie notes that her first marriage mirrored her mother's first union - both Paul Simon and Eddie Fisher were 'short, Jewish singers.'

Carrie was in her late 20s when she overdosed and had her stomach pumped. Realizing that her life had become unmanageable, Carrie started attending 12-step programs....thinking alcohol was her big problem. Over the years Carrie had four relapses or 'explosions.' During these she would become sexually promiscuous, spend excessively, and abuse substances.

Finally, Carrie's third and best psychiatrist correctly diagnosed her with bipolar disorder 2, and medicated her. Unfortunately, two of the pharmaceuticals interacted badly and Carrie was taken off her meds. She ended up psychotic. This eventually led to eletroconvulsive therapy which helped Carrie get better - but robbed her of many memories. Luckily, Carrie had enough remembrances left to write this book.

Carrie notes: 'After all the rehabs and all the mental hospitals, I thought to myself, if what doesn't kill you makes you stronger I should be able to lift Cedars Sinai Hospital and glow in the dark.'

Interspersed with the tale of Carrie's addiction and mental illness are interesting snippets about her life. Here are a few examples:

Carrie's stepfather Harry Karl (Debbie's second husband) was not a handsome man, but was wealthy and well-groomed, said to be distinguished looking. Carrie notes, 'That's ugly with money.' To Carrie's amusement, the very handsome Alec Baldwin played Harry in a movie. LOL

Harry had a 'barber' (pimp) who showed up every day with a 'manicurist' (wink wink). When Debbie caught on to Harry's shenanigans she high-tailed it to New York with the children - to do a musical. The couple soon divorced.....but not before Harry squandered all of Debbie's money.

When Todd (Carrie's brother) accidently shot himself in the leg with a gun, Debbie called Carrie from the hospital with the following instructions: 'Rush home and hide all the guns and bullets and flush Todd's marijuana down the toilet. Carrie notes, 'More like a mafia family than a show business one.'

Carrie adored her mother. She describes Debbie as 'the prettiest, funniest, kindest mother; quick and witty; a consummate performer; and an insanely strong life force.....but a little bit eccentric.' Debbie thought Carrie should have a baby with her (Debbie's) third husband, Richard Hamlett, because he had 'nice eyes.' Carrie declined.

Carrie had a beautiful daughter, Billie, with her second husband Brian Lourd. When Billie was one, Brian left Carrie for a man named Scott. This devastated the actress.....and perhaps exacerbated her mental illness.

After Star Wars became a megahit, Carrie was 'merchandised' into a little doll, a shampoo bottle, a soap, a watch, a Mrs. Potato Head, a Lego figure, a stamp, and a Pez dispenser. Much to Carrie's dismay, she's even a sex doll. Carrie notes, 'If someone tells me to go fuck myself, I can give it a whirl.' Ha ha ha.

Towards the end of the book Carrie acknowledges, 'The place I've arrived at in my life isn't everyone's idea of heavenly....but I'm in a good place.' Both Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds died in December, 2016 and they're missed. Fortunately, we'll always have their stories and films.

The book is entertaining and amusing - and provides an instructive and uplifting story about coping with addiction and mental illness. If you're interested in the subject, it's well worth reading.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Review of "Bomb: The Race to Build - and Steal - the World's Most Dangerous Weapon" by Steve Sheinkin

This is the story of the development of the atomic bomb during World War II. Once scientists learned that uranium atoms could be split, leading to a chain reaction that would cause an enormous explosion, the race was on. The U.S. assembled a team of physicists, chemists, and other specialists which secretly worked night and day to build a bomb from radioactive uranium and plutonium. At the same time Germany was producing and shipping large quantities of heavy water out of Norway, to facilitate their own bomb development. And the Soviet Union, lacking the know-how to make an atom bomb, planted spies to steal the plans from the U.S.

Steve Sheinkin's book presents a fascinating picture of how the first atomic bombs were built. Needing a large number of top physicists to accomplish the task, the U.S recruited people from universities across the country. Overrnight, scientists would 'disappear' from their jobs, secretly making their way to Los Alamos, New Mexico where a bomb-making research facility was assembled.

The book mentions many scientists/support staff at Los Alamos, especially Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, who was in charge of the facility. Oppenheimer oversaw every aspect of the work, working himself to the bone to accomplish the goal. At the same time a few scientists sympathetic to the Soviet cause stole plans to send to Russia.

As they built their own bomb the Allies were desperate to prevent Germany from doing the same. Thus they trained a skilled team to parachute into Norway, sneak into the heavy water plant, and sabotage the facility - which would greatly slow down Germany's research. This is a fascinating section of the book, suspenseful and exciting.

Though the outcome of the bomb research is not a mystery, the reader inevitably gets caught up in the excitement of the tale. The story covers building, testing, and eventually using atomic bombs - and the ambivalence of the scientists who created this devastating weapon. A well-written interesting book.

Rating: 4 stars

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Review of "The Pact" by Jodi Picoult

Melanie and Michael Gold and Gus and James Harte have been neighbors and friends from the time Melanie and Gus were pregnant with their first children. The kids, Emily Gold and Chris Harte, grew up together, became a couple, and are now high school seniors preparing for college. As the story opens Emily and Chris are on a date at a local carousel when a shot is fired. Cut to the hospital: Emily, shot in the head, is dead; Chris is disoriented with 70 stitches for a scalp laceration. When the police arrive Chris says that he and Emily had a suicide pact but that he fainted and fell before he could shoot himself. Before long Chris is arrested for murdering Emily. 

The book moves back and forth between the past and present, going all the way back to the time the Golds and Hartes first met as two young married couples. They soon became close friends, dining out together, vacationing together, confiding in each other, and so on. The two sets of parents were prosperous, happy, and well-adjusted and - before the tragedy - thrilled that Chris and Emily were sweethearts. We also come to know a great deal about both Emily and Chris, and see how their bond developed.

In the present, the Golds are devastated by Emily's death, bewildered by the notion that she was suicidal and they had no inkling. Their daughter was a talented artist with applications on her desk to the finest art schools, including the Sorbonne. What would make her want to kill herself? When Chris is arrested the Golds at least have someone to blame. 

During the course of the story we see how each person in the Gold and Harte family deals with the tragedy, separately and together. We observe Chris as he waits in jail for his trial, a difficult and harrowing experience. The last part of the book is a well-wrought courtroom drama, including a fierce rivalry between the zealous prosecutor and Chris's capable defense attorney. 

I know many readers gave this book rave reviews but for me it was just okay. For one thing I didn't buy the book's basic premise.

                                                                SPOILER ALERT!

Though Emily had legitimate concerns I couldn't believe they would make her suicidal. Moreover, I couldn't accept that - once Chris knew Emily wanted to kill herself - he didn't get help. After all, he had plenty of time.
                                                             END SPOILER ALERT!

Thus, though the book addresses an important issue - teen angst that's invisible to the parents - it didn't ring true to me. I also thought the book was about twice as long as it needed to be. It seemed to go on and on and I got impatient reading it.

Rating: 3 stars

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Review of "Mission to Paris" by Alan Furst

It's the late 1930s and Warner Brothers sends Austrian-born Hollywood actor Frederic Stahl to Paris to star in a movie. During this time Hitler is waging a propaganda and intimidation campaign across Europe, meant to expand Germany's power without war.

To this end Hitler's minions plan to rope in the popular, well-known Stahl - have him hobnob and be photographed with Nazis and so on - to make it seem that Stahl agrees with Hitler's philosophy. Stahl resists these tactics and wants to just make his movie, eat some good meals, and have some romances. It's not to be, however, and Stahl soon finds that he's spied on, followed, pressured, and threatened.

Meanwhile, an American diplomat suggests that Stahl play along with the Nazis so that he can help with a spot of espionage. It's all quietly exciting and makes for a good story.

Rating: 4 stars

Friday, August 25, 2017

Review of "The Well" by Catherine Chanter

I'm not sure this book should be categorized as a mystery, but there is a death to be solved - so it more or less fits into the genre.

The story: Ruth and Mark Ardingly are looking to get out of London for two major reasons. Mark, a lawyer, has a damaged reputation because he was accused - though exonerated - of looking at child pornography; and Mark always dreamed of farming. So the Ardinglys purchase a property called The Well on a hilltop in the English countryside.

Oddly (to say the least) The Well has plenty of water and rain when the rest of England is suffering from a ruinous drought. The drought has made food scarce and put people out of work. Thus, desperate people resent the Ardinglys' green oasis and accuse the couple of all manner of nefarious deeds, including stealing water and using witchcraft.

To stop a mass invasion of their property, the Ardinglys close it off with fences and gates and get police protection. The couple do, however, let their semi-estranged daughter Angie camp on the land with her five-year-old son Lucien and a group of 'travelers' (hippies). Before long the nuns of a religious cult called 'The Sisters of the Rose' also insinuate themselves onto The Well property. The group's leader, Sister Amelia, convinces Ruth she's the 'chosen one' who's responsible for The Well's water.

The presence of the nuns causes big problems. Ruth starts spending a lot of time with them, praying and spreading their gospel. Moreover, Sister Amelia wants The Well to be inhabited solely by women. She has no use for men and influences Ruth to become estranged from Mark. Sister Amelia even resents Ruth's grandson Lucien - whom Ruth adores - because he'll eventually inherit The Well.

Living conditions at The Well becomes fraught: the government takes an interest in the property; the Ardinglys become isolated because the townsfolk hate them; Mark and Ruth fight with each other and with their daughter Angie; Ruth becomes overly enamored with the The Sisters of the Rose; and so on. And then one day Lucien is found dead and Ruth is accused of killing him - perhaps while sleepwalking.

The story is told from the point of view of Ruth who's now under house imprisonment at The Well. In the present, Ruth - besides being devastated by Lucien's death - is alone and lonely. She has no communication with her family and the nuns are long gone. The only people Ruth speaks to are her guards and occasionally a priest. Ruth spends most of her time either sleeping or thinking about the events that led to her current dire situation - attempting to figure out what really happened to little Lucien.

The author writes beautifully, with lush descriptions of the landscape and engaging characterizations of Ruth, Mark, Angie, Sister Amelia, the other nuns, the priest, the guards, etc. That said, I didn't enjoy the book. it was too long and there was too much praying and proselytising by The Sisters of the Rose - which became tedious. I also thought the solution of 'the mystery' of Lucien's death was predictable. A proper police investigation would have exposed the culprit in a jiffy.

What I really hoped was that the author would address the mystery associated with The Well's abundant water supply but she didn't. Just not the book for me.

Rating: 2 stars