The Take by Christopher Reich

I REALLY wanted to like this book. I had read and enjoyed his prior books Numbered Account and Rules of Deception, and when I read the blurb that referred to this as a “stylish breathtaking ride” in “the grand tradition of The Day of the Jackal and The Bourne Identity,” I was ready! And I am very grateful to Mulholland Books and NetGalley for a copy in return for my honest review. Having set aside a DAY to dive in and savor this book, I am sad to say I couldn’t finish it.

The plot sounded awesome: the protagonist, Simon Riske, is a “freelance industrial spy” (hmmm, I thought, whatever that is) who restores luxury cars and lives quietly in London. After getting out of prison, he has worked for banks, insurance companies, and even the British Secret Service – but now has been hired by the CIA on a case that involves and old acquaintance, Tino Coluzzi. Tino was Riske’s accomplice years ago on a job for which Riske took the fall. It seems that Tino has stolen the briefcase of a wealthy Saudi prince. And while the CIA doesn’t really care about the money, they do care about a letter hidden in the case. Once Riske hears it is Coluzzi who is the target, he is all in.

Along the way, Riske works with Nicolette Perez, a French police office who is less than thrilled to be assigned to work with him. There is another female, a Russian assassin who has been assigned to kill Riske at all costs.

Early on, when Riske stole a fabulously expensive wristwatch right off the arm of a man, I thought maybe this one would require a certain level of willing suspension of disbelief. And I was okay with that…until the part where he was in prison and successfully defended himself using a RAZOR BLADE HIDDEN IN HIS MOUTH. Seriously.

Anyway, Simon Riske is part James Bond, and many fans of this genre will love this, but it was a bit cartoonish for me. It will likely make a fun movie and I still think Christopher Reich writes well, but I can’t go past three stars on this one.

P.S. I just noticed that every review on Amazon is 5 stars at this point, so I may be totally off base – but there it is.

 

Crusade and Jihad by William Polk

The subtitle of William Polk’s Crusade and Jihad really grabbed me: “The thousand-year war between the Muslim world and the Global North.” Maybe, I thought, THIS will help me understand the mess in the Middle East, the hatred of Muslims that is not only overt but seemingly encouraged under the current US Administration, and just the weirdness that surrounds religious conflict.

For starters, I am neither a Muslim nor a Christian, so I had not preconceived bias – but early on, I found myself thinking that a few very religious people I know would be reaching for the smelling salts by about the third page. The author’s extensive background (including roles as historian, policy planner, diplomat, peace negotiator, and businessman) and meticulous research are impressive, and the book is his attempt to “lay out in this book, as accurately as I could, what I think is actually so—not what we would like to be so…”

The book is extensively sourced and (be still, my librarian heart!) has an amazing index, so if there is a particular incident, individual, location, or other point of interest in the vast topic of Christian-Muslim history and relations, the reader can get right to it.

And, to be honest, by the time I was about 20% through the book, I had a flashback to 1968, when I was a history major in college, and became seriously depressed by my realization that history was just tales of who killed whom over and over, and that we were probably completely doomed – so I did what any disillusioned 19-year-old would do: I dropped out, got married, and read fiction for a few years. This book has MORE than enough detail for anyone with an interest in history, and I was woefully ignorant about MOST of what I learned while reading Crusade and Jihad. It’s not an easy read, but it is THOROUGH.

Although I had been a history major in college for a few years back in the 60’s, my retention was faulty enough that I only was vaguely aware of the history of Islam: I knew that after its beginning, Islam spread across North Africa into Europe, had a caliphate in medieval Spain, and was actually the “bright light in a European Dark Age.” But there was so much I didn’t know, and I had such huge gaps in awareness of the thousand years of battle. Polk labels the opposing sides as the “Global North and South,” and his book includes everything: Russian’s wars in the Caucasian Mountains, the Moro Rebellion, French rule in Algeria, the creation and rise of Hezbollah, and more, right up to Boko Haram, the Islamic State, the Taliban, and the ongoing disaster in Afghanistan.

Despite having spread throughout the Middle East, Africa, and into Southeast Asia, Islamic civilization (the Global South) began a decline at he same time that Europe (the Global North) began its overseas expansion. The Portuguese, Dutch, English, and Russians all participated in the defeat of Muslims, leading the conquered people to go so far as to try embracing Western concepts of dress, ideas, and armies. Then the 19th Century was basically a century-long assault of Muslims – from what seems like all sides. And finally we get to more recent history, where things have just totally convulsed in too many ways (for me) to comprehend.

TBH, it was too much for me, and while I really wanted to know more, perhaps not THIS much more. At the end of the book, what really had an impact was Polk’s frank discussion of the blindness many of us experience as we struggle to understand the hatred on both sides. One line really resonated with me: “An American newspaper editor once said that a dogfight on Main Street is more important than a war in a distant country.” America First, indeed. Very sad.

I suggested to a friend that they read the first 15-20% than move to the summary chapters, and skim the index to find any specific areas of interest. I don’t know many people who could really deal with the density and detail in this book.

But it is awesome, and I appreciate the opportunity to read this incredible book — thanks to Yale University Press and NetGalley – in exchange for my honest review. Five huge stars.

 

Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

Like many Anglophiles, I tend to enjoy stories about the British elite, especially if there is a mystery or (even better) a juicy scandal involved. So I was happy to receive a copy of Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan (thanks to Atria/Emily Bester Books and NetGalley) in return for my honest review.

We first meet Kate, a criminal barrister who has just lost a case. She is eager to get back to winning, and is assigned the prosecution of a sexual crime – her specialty. The accused is an important public figure: a Junior Minister in the House of Commons named James.

We then meet Sophie, whose husband James (aha!) seems to be perfect: he is handsome, a loving father, and a successful public figure with am important government position – but he has been accused of. a terrible crime (one that sort of cries out “ripped from the headlines”). Sophie is convinced he is innocent and she is desperate to protect her family from what she is sure must be lies that are threatening to destroy her carefully constructed existence. She and James are members of the upper class, and in “…their set, where success is understood as inevitable but naked ambition considered vulgar…” they are extremely aware of their position and public image.

Kate is the consummate professional, fully aware of appearances: “Chatting with fellow counsel, or clients, with ushers, with police, we all look down from time to time, so as not to appear confrontational.” She is a single woman in her early 40s with a keen insight into the ways her position and career have impacted her as an individual and women in general. “But the truth is, women are often scared of antagonizing their assailants or they feel conflicted; not so very long ago they may have been charmed by them. And we women aim to please. It is hardwired into us that we should placate and mollify—bend our will to that of men. Oh, some of us have fought against that, and we’re seen as hard-nosed, difficult, assertive, shrewish. We pay the penalty. Why don’t I have a proper, live-in partner? It’s not just because I’m unsure if I can trust anyone sufficiently. It’s because I refuse to compromise. I refuse to woman up, you might say.” Kate ALWAYS wants the truth, and she is certain James is guilty and that she will be the one to be sure he pays for his crimes.

In flashback, we also meet Holly, an extremely bright student at in the early 1990s, who is even as a teenager is revealed to be an extremely bright woman who sees the struggles ahead for her: “If there was a crime worse than being bright, it was failing to disguise the fact under layers of sarcasm and thick mascara.” She goes to Oxford, and then…

Who is right about James, Kate or Sophie? Sophie has led a privileged life, yet she is well aware that her carefully managed life can be in danger. She has experienced this kind of risk, back in the days when she and James were at Oxford and she saw firsthand how easily a “prefect” existence could turn into tragedy.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s well written, and despite the slightly soap opera-ish tone, it touches on important issues, especially in the time of political scandal and #MeToo. Highly recommended. Five stars.

 

The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian

I’ve been a fan of Chris Bohjalian for many years…I think possibly Midwives was the first one of his that I read. Anyway, he has written a ton of good books, many of which had unique characters, settings, or situations. In addition to Midwives, I especially liked The Sandcastle Girls because I learned so much about the Armenian genocide while reading an entertaining story…and The Guest Room was another fave, for its tension and suspense while dealing with a social issue (human trafficking).

Thanks to Doubleday Books and NetGalley, I received a copy of The Flight Attendant in exchange for my honest review – and it was great fun to read despite the ick factor that is the first thing the reader encounters.

Cassandra Bowden, aka Cassie, wakes up one morning in a hotel room in Dubai, painfully hung over, in bed with a man she just met the night before. Neither of these is rare for Cassie, whose life as an international flight attendant consists of episodes of one-night stands and binge drinking between flights. The difference this time is that the man is dead, brutally murdered, and the bed and Cassie are covered in blood. ICK!!! Not only does Cassie not know all the circumstances of how she ended up there, she isn’t quite sure whether she was the one who killed Alex Sokolov. She remembers meeting him on the flight, flirting with him, then agreeing to go out on the town in Dubai…but she has a(nother) blackout episode (a recurring event for her) and kind of freaks out. So she does what she often does: she lies. To her crewmates, to the FBI, to pretty much everyone. As the plot unspools, there are many questions about both people (was he a spy? Is this related to Cassies’s brother-in-law whose high-level security clearance has something to do with weapons of mass destruction? Who was the other woman in the hotel room?) and events (who killed him? Can Cassie trust her fellow flight attendants?)

The book is told with the alternating points of view of Cassie and that mysterious other woman, interspersed with interview reports as Cassie and others are interviewed by the authorities. The building of suspense is terrific, and I really couldn’t go to sleep til I had finished it. As usual for me, I didn’t guess the ending in advance (although I did have concerns and suspicions early on as I learned Cassie was not only a liar but a thief, getting gifts for family from hotels around the world). I really liked it, even though I went into it with my usual bias toward Mr. Bohjalian, expecting to love it. It didn’t disappoint – five stars.

Poison by John Lescroart

Poison is the 17th book in the Dismas Hardy series by John Lescroart. It begins with Dismas recovering from gunshot wounds, easing into retirement, when a former client shows up. He had defended Abby Jarvis on a DUI charge eleven years previously, and she needs help again.

With her record, finding work hadn’t been that easy, but she her friend Gloria Wagner got her a job as a bookkeeper for the extremely successful Wagner family business. Gloria is one of the four adult Wagner children, all of whom have all worked in the business for their father Grant, who has just been murdered. Dismas agrees to help Abby, who is the primary suspect. It turns out that Abby has been receiving a LOT of cash under-the-table from the company, but she insists she didn’t kill Grant. Dismas also begins to wonder whether the cash was embezzled (as the police believe), or if Abby’s claim that Grant knew all along that she was taking the cash is true.

As he prepares for the trial, Dismas investigates the Wagner family, and discovers that the lives of these four adult children include secrets, heavy sibling rivalry, jealousy, betrayal, and blackmail. As his investigation gets closer and closer to the truth, Dismas figures out that the company’s multi-million dollar market value gives at least one of the siblings motive, and realizes that he has become a target as well.

A parallel storyline involves two SFPD detectives, focusing particularly on one of them, Eric Waverly. This added narrative provides some additional procedural plotline and makes for a more interesting story.

Fans of Lescroart will love this book. With thanks to Atria Books and NetGalley, this one gets four stars.

 

50 Hikes With Kids: Oregon and Washington by Wendy Gorton

 

50 Hikes with Kids is a handy guide for anyone looking for guidance on finding great places to hike in the Pacific Northwest (specifically, Washington and Oregon).

Although it is being promoted as something designed “for Northwest parents, educators, and caregivers that want to spark a love of nature,” my primary reason for wanting to look through 50 Hikes with Kids is because I am a senior, married to a senior who has limited hiking ability. We have family in Oregon and I was hoping to find some ideas for day hikes we could all do together.

The hikes in this book may have been designed to be “perfect for little legs” with distances under four miles and an elevation gain of 900 feet or less, but that also makes them ideal for people in our demographic.

Each entry in the book includes simple directions, a detailed map, specifics on the length of the hike and elevation gain, things to see along the way, options for food near the hike, and (hooray!) bathroom access!! There are also some terrific color photographs.

I’m sure this will be helpful for people wanting to “nurture a life-long appreciation and reverence for the natural world,” but I would encourage the marketing department for Timber Press to consider releasing this in a slightly modified  edition with a title along the lines of Day Hikes for Active Seniors. Seriously! This book was perfect for my needs, and I appreciate Timber Press and NetGalley providing a copy in exchange for my honest review.

I originally rated this four stars. I admit I was predisposed to look with my own biases and needs, and that was why I dropped a star, so I rethought it and decided that this book as written for its intended audience is TERRIFIC. Five stars!

The New Neighbors by Simon Lelic

I’d never heard of Simon Lelic before I got this book, but because his latest book The New Neighbors got a positive blurb on the cover from Tana French, I figured if it’s good enough for Tana, it’s good enough for me!

The story revolves around a young couple named Jack and Syd who have recently been able to (at long last) buy a house in London. It came with all furnishings, including some weird stuff, but they felt terribly lucky to have been picked by the seller to be the buyers of his house, especially as they didn’t have enough money to afford such a big place.

Before long, they start to clear out some of the detritus left by the former owner, when Jack makes an unsettling discovery in the attic. Around the same time, Syd befriends a young girl from the neighborhood – a girl who is apparently being abused by her father – a fact that hits very close to home for Syd. Neither Jack nor Syd shares either of these factoids (the attic find and the abuse) with the other.

The story is told in alternating points of view, as Jack and Syd each write about what happened. There are twists and turns, and suspense as the book moves toward the big reveal – which I (as usual) did not see coming. This has “MOVIE” written all over it – not necessarily a bad thing. For fans of Girl on the Train, Gone Girl, or The Couple Next Door. Escapist entertainment. Well done, and even though  I doubt I will remember it in another month,  four stars (and thanks to Berkley Publishing Group and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for this honest review). I will probably pick up one or more of Mr. Lelic’s earlier books – pure entertainment!

The Bad Daughter by Joy Fielding

 

With all the crap going on in the world, I have been ready for some good fun escapist entertainment. Hoping for something to take over my brain for a few hours, I began reading Joy Fielding’s The Bad Daughter (thanks to Random House-Ballantine and NetGalley who provided a copy in return for my honest review).

Right off, I loved the vulnerability of the protagonist, Robin, who at the very beginning of the story starst to have a panic attack when she picks up a voice mail message from her sister Melanie. They haven’t spoken in two years, and have been estranged ever since their father married Tara, who was Robin’s best friend growing up. Oh, and by the way, Tara was engaged at the time to the Robin and Melanie’s brother when she ran off with their Dad. Got that? In any case, Melanie calls to tell Robin that their father, Tara, and Tara’s young daughter have been brutally attacked in their home in Red Bluff, CA. The kid was shot, the wife/mom is dead, and dad is in the hospital clinging to life.

When Tara married her father, Robin left Red Bluff and went to Berkeley where she got her master’s in psychology, became a therapist, and got on with her life. She’s now living in L.A., engaged to an apparently perfect guy – or is he??—and she feels like the “…panic attacks she used to experience on an almost daily basis were part of her past. “

So Robin heads back to Red Bluff. As she looks into the situation, she begins to wonder if this might have been something more than a home invasion/botched burglary attempt. It seems that everyone—her sister Melanie, her autistic therefore less-than-communicative nephew, her absent brother, and even Tara, her father’s wife—had something to hide.

For those who don’t know, the setting is interesting: “Approximately 14,000 people lived in Red Bluff, most of them white and straining toward middle class. The town’s motto was “A Great Place to Live,” although Robin had always thought “A Great Place to Leave” would probably be a more suitable slogan.” Personally, I’ve always been a bit creeped out by Red Bluff ever since I read Perfect Victim, the book about the “girl in a box.” It’s the true story about a young woman (Colleen Stan) who was kidnapped and held by a mill worker named (I’m not kidding here) Cameron Hooker and kept in a box for SEVEN YEARS. Oh and the neighbors, who knew she was there, with Hooker AND HIS WIFE AND KIDS, never thought there was anything weird. It’s a long story, but it left a lasting impression on my view of Red Bluff. Plus, it’s hotter than hell and it seems people get weird in that kind of relentless heat…

Anyway, figuring out who exactly is The Bad Daughter totally entertained me for several hours. A tiny bit of willing suspension of disbelief required her and there, but nothing too blatant. Not great literature, but doesn’t pretend to be. For what it is, four stars.

 

Force of Nature by Jane Harper

Last year, I read Jane Harper’s debut novel, the thriller The Dry, which introduced Australian Federal Agent Aaron Falk. I LOVED it, so I jumped at the chance to read the second novel featuring Agent Harper, Force of Nature (thanks to Flatiron Books and NetGalley) prior to publication in return for my honest review.

In this second installment in the series, Aaron Falk and his partner Carmen are called to the Giralang Range, because a woman is missing. A corporate team building trip, with five men hiking in one direction and five women going another way goes awry. The two groups were supposed to meet up after three days in the wild, but something has gone wrong and only four women return.

The story follows the police, the search party, and Aaron as they investigate and look for the missing woman (or her corpse?). This progress is related in chapters alternating with the story of the trek as told by the other women who were on the trip. There was so much going on behind the scenes, with tons of secrets, corporate intrigue, grudges and jealousy, so there is a ton of material for Aaron to unravel.

LOTS of suspense, and vivid descriptions of gorgeous scenery and interesting characters. While The Dry focused more on Aaron’s own personal story, Force of Nature continues to reveal details about his past.

While there is violence, there is no gore. I love this writer and this series, and eagerly await the next one from Jane Harper. Five stars.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Kristin Hannah’s books are beloved by millions (think The Nightingale), partly for their vivid descriptions of both place and people. They also evoke strong emotional responses to situations and relationship[s that may not be part of the reader’s everyday experience, but yet seem completely familiar because of the author’s skillful writing. So I was particularly happy to receive a copy of The Great Alone (to be released in early 2018) from St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley in return for this honest review.

First, let’s get this out of the way: one of my stranger quirks is that I have a hard time reading novels set in cold climates (I HATE being cold). So I read at least half of this snuggled under a down comforter even though today (Thanksgiving) it’s in the mid-70s here on the Central Coast of California. That made me less likely to love this book, but I am glad I persisted.

Set in the 1970s, The Great Alone revolves around the family of Vietnam vet, ex-POW, and PTSD sufferer Ernt Allbright, who has tried to get his life together after returning from Vietnam a completely changed man. He is enduring sleepless nights, flashbacks, nightmares and bursts of anger. He’s not the only one suffering: his wife Cora and their 13-year-old daughter Leni are deeply affected by Ernt’s struggles. Things are rocky in the Allbright family as Ernt has trouble holding a job, they move regularly, and the parents frequently fight – all of which are very troubling for Leni, who longs for stability. So when Ernt inherits a cabin and land in Alaska from a dead soldier, he takes his family north with the idea that they will live off the land and be free of the stress they have been experiencing. A new start! They buy a VW van (very 70s!) and set out, completely unprepared for the harsh wilderness they encounter in Kenaq, Alaska.

The descriptions of the dilapidated shack called a “cabin” (no electricity or running water) were (literally) chilling. Despite the family’s hard work (assisted by some interesting community members) and effort to make a go of things, Ernt’s condition worsens as his battles with alcohols increase. Leni and Cora have a close relationship, and Leni learns to find comfort in books, something I imagine many readers can relate to.

Over time, Leni develops friendships and she and Cora find support in the community. The alcoholism, domestic violence, and harsh conditions are terribly challenging. The mother-daughter relationship is fascinating, although I wonder how many readers will find themselves wishing for such a bond and similar support in their own challenging family situations.

The bottom line is there is much to love about this book, especially seeing Leni searching for her identity and some stability at the same time, and her search for identity and roots. At the same time, it’s instructive about both the effect of war on both military members and their families – and instructive about the reality of trying to live off the land vs. the dream shared by many. Another winner for Hannah. Five stars.

 

Look For Me by Lisa Gardner

 I am a big fan of mysteries, and each year I read what seems like a ton of them – especially those featuring a “plucky heroine.” So I was pretty sure I had read Lisa Gardner before, but looking through goodreads and my blog, I see a bunch of Lisas (See, Wingate, Jewell) – but nothing by Lisa Gardner. So I am clearly a bit late to the party here, but thanks to Dutton and NetGalley, I just read Look for Me, Lisa’s latest (published 2018), AND  I just learned this is the TENTH novel featuring Detective D.D. Warren of the Boston Police Department. (Like I said, late to the party).

This latest in the series  all takes place in a dizzying span of a couple of days, and begins when Detective Warren is called to a homicide scene, where four members of a family have been savagely murdered. The fifth member of the family, a sixteen-year-old girl named Roxanna (or Roxy) is missing, along with the two family dogs.

Roxy is a likely suspect, or possibly she was out walking the dogs and narrowly escaped being the fifth victim, D.D. isn’t sure which. An Amber Alert goes out, and she and her team start an intense search for Roxy (and the dogs). They are joined in the hunt by Flora Dane, who was a crime victim featured in Gardner’s Find Her (#8 in the D.D. Warren series), and now is on a mission to avenge crimes (including burning a rapist to death) and provide support for survivors.

 Some of the chapters are told in the first person by Flora, gradually revealing her backstory and explaining the reason she is so hot to find Roxy (no real spoiler here, but Roxy has recently joined Flora’s online chat group, which is by invitation only – Sarah, who is one of Flora’s rescued victims and another member of the group, has befriended Roxy and invited her to join, so Flora has some insider info that D.D. needs). D.D. and Flora both are looking for justice, but it might come in different forms… 

There are also chapters that are essays written by Roxy’s little sister Lola, one of the murder victims. She wrote them as a series for a school assignment, and they gradually reveal some of the horror endured by the sisters during their time in foster care.

As a former foster parent, the stories of the children in foster care (and the system that “cares” for them) hit me pretty hard. And the suspense was terrific. I was seriously tempted to turn to the end to find out WTH had gone on, but I persisted J and am glad I stuck with it.

Good characterization, and the whole thing was chilling.  I’m still not sure how I have missed this series, and am also not sure if the others can stand alone or should have been read in order to fully appreciate them, but I am about to find out! And I will definitely look for future novels by Ms. Gardner. Anyone who likes a good suspenseful mystery/thriller without TOO much graphic violence and especially fans of plucky heroines and police procedurals (in this case, both!) will enjoy this. Five stars

 

The Bomb Maker by Thomas Perry

I started this book, and after a few pages of VERY intense and detailed narrative about bombs, bomb making,  and what they can do, I just put it aside. I just wasn’t in the mood for something so dark. Then my husband picked it up and he REALLY liked it and thought I would as well. He was right! So, with thanks to Grove Atlantic/Mysterious Press and NetGalley, I give The Bomb Maker four enthusiastic stars – and I will be reading more o Perry’s work.

The story opens with a threat called in to the LAPD Bomb Squad, and the results of the detailed bomb-making in the opening of the book result in a horrific event. Half the entire bomb squad (including the man in charge) has been obliterated, and they need a hero. The protagonist, Dick Stahl, is asked by a friend and former colleague to come and take over on a temporary basis until they can get things somewhat up to speed (it takes a full year to train a bomb squad technician).

Stahl was both a cop and in the military and he knows about people as well as bombs, so he is the perfect guy to figure out the process and techniques of the extremely evil villain, a guy who has been recruited by an unnamed organization who promises to pay him ten million dollars for his skills.

Along the way, Stahl gets involved with co-workers in various ways, and although I don’t think many people are as ideal (smart, beautiful, thoughtful) as the two main characters, it actually didn’t seem weird to me that they hooked up right away.  It was handled fairly well, even though there was a bit of male fantasy fulfillment in the actions of Diane at the end of Stahl’s first day on the job. But it’s going to make a great movie – in fact, as the tension mounted and the situation with the bomb maker was resolved, I found myself thinking that if it ended in a certain way, it was probably written with a screenplay in mind. It did, it probably was, and I will most likely go see it when it comes out.

Mindful Aging by Andrea Brandt

I’ve been thinking a lot about topics related to what I’d call “Healthy Living for Seniors,” which includes nutrition, exercise, positive attitude, and mindfulness. Frankly, I was spinning in circles, so I was particularly pleased to receive a copy of the new book Mindful Aging from PESI Publishing & Media and NetGalley in return for my honest review. The author, Andrea Brandt, a therapist in the Los Angeles area, says she has “… discovered that body-oriented therapy is the most effective treatment available today for people who seek to bring their inner world and external world into harmony…” I expected the book to expand on her thoughts about how a mindset she calls ‘realistic positivity can help the reader interested in incorporating mindfulness to their aging process.

The blurb for the book promised to help me “throw out the old stereotypes about getting older and move toward the welcoming new evidence that your future is alive with possibility, providing steps to thrive today and into your golden years…” with “…tools to help …embrace a new mindset and blaze a new trail …fueled by passion, purpose, and creativity.” Since it also said it was full of tools and exercises, I was hooked, but wary with high expectations.

Some of the chapter headings were particularly intriguing, including topics such as “letting go” (of things that aren’t working), “finding joy,” “expressing your creativity,” and “developing your spiritual side.” Each of the chapters includes the personal life stories of real people to expand on the topic, and then (best of all!) she provides strategies and worksheet exercises to help guide the reader toward a more mindful aging process.

Included along the way are ways to cope with loss, embrace our mortality, deal with anger and/or negative thinking (all of which resonated with me), and become more positive in general.

I found that including the stories and the exercises in each chapter was especially helpful. I’ve read a fair amount on the various topics covered in Mindful Aging, and some of the people wrote in a very “woo-woo” way (too much even for someone from Santa Cruz). This isn’t the case with Dr. Brandt – her style is accessible and the readability is excellent. Five stars.

 

MAD Librarian by Michael Guillebeau

OK, full disclosure: I am a retired librarian, and the first 8 or 9 years of my life were spent in public libraries in Northern California. And, frankly, one of the big factors that made me leave to work in the private sector (aka “the dark side”) was having to go to the funding gods (Board of Supervisors, City Council) and GROVEL for money every freaking year. We would trot out the cute kids who talked about the Summer Reading Program, the studies showing…what everyone knows: libraries are ESSENTIAL. I just couldn’t face another budget cycle (and also being told to wear pink the Board of Supes meeting just about turned me into a lunatic). So, the opportunity to read MAD Librarian by Michael Guillebeau (thanks to Madison Press/IBPA and NetGalley) in exchange for my honest review was one I just couldn’t pass up!

The protagonist (heroine?), Serenity Hammer, is a mad librarian in the Southern town of Maddington – mad because the city council thinks libraries aren’t really needed, so they won’t give her adequate funding for the library. It’s so bad she can’t pay the library’s bills – until she is online and comes across a fund and transfers it to the library account. Voila! She can pay the bills! The child of hippies who is now married to a cop, Serenity has some pangs of guilt but since money keeps flowing into the account, she (along with some interesting staff members) perseveres. Revenge Fantasy!!!!

This book has apparently pissed off some readers—which literature SHOULD do, IMHO. But not everyone is mad for the same reasons you might think. Rather than be mad at the lack of support for libraries or the corrupt politics or the sexism Serenity (and seemingly all library staff) deals with, in some strange way I don’t quite follow they are mad at – the author? Not sure, but I just know this book was a lot of fun to read. As someone who found a small $$$ way to help a public library (not to the extent of adding a 7-story addition, but enough to improve things), I appreciated it – anything that makes me laugh AND think is always good!

Michael Guillebeau is generously donating $$ to benefit libraries, but that’s not the only reason this gets FIVE stars – it’s just great fun to read while making a valuable point about the need for libraries today more than ever (and if I hear one more person say we don’t need the new library being built in the town where I live because “everything is online” and “you can do research on Google,” I will scream). Thankfully, our mayor and a City Council member are both very active in our Friends group and huge supporters of the library!

 

Killing Pace by Douglas Schofield

Back in 2015, I read and reviewed Time of Departure by Douglas Schofield, so when (thanks to St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books  and NetGalley) I had the opportunity to read Schofield’s new novel, Killing Pace, in return for my honest review, I leapt at it.

Like Time of Departure, Killing Pace also features a female protagonist facing some crime-related challenges. Time of Departure was set in Florida, and while Killing Pace begins in Florida, it then moves back and forth between Sicily and Florida.

The first chapter is straightforward, and provided me with a good hook, as it described a woman named Lisa Green crawling bleeding and barefoot out of a car accident, completely confused. Not only does she not know where she is or how she got there, she doesn’t even remember who she is. In the next chapter, the woman begins to regain memory with flashes of remembrance related to Flight 103 (crashed over Lockerbie, Scotland), conversations with an older woman, and eating Nutella. She beats the crap out of the man who had been holding her captive and reports herself missing to the police. The next section, titled Sarah, describes the activities of a female Customs and Border Protection Office named Sarah Lockhart, and just as I was wondering if she was the woman in the car accident (despite the different name), the next section was back to Lisa. Because my reading was interrupted by a couple of weeks of personal chaos, I was a bit disoriented by the shifts among Lisa, Sarah, and yet another female character, Laura Pace – but in looking back over the book, I realize this was just me – Schofield did a great job weaving the sections together, and it all made sense.

The story becomes an international chase, involving not just Sarah’s efforts in Italy and Miami on behalf of the US Border Control, but expanding to include the Sicilian mafia, human trafficking (infants taken from Syrian refugees and made available for adoption to wealthy American couples, also known as “baby laundering”), and smuggling. There is also a tiny bit of romantic interest, which I would expect will be explored in the next Laura Pace novel (and I hope there will be one!). And I JUST realized the title is a play on words!!

There are several issues explored, including questions of trust, ethical behavior of government officials, and loyalty. Like Time of Departure, this novel requires some willing suspension of disbelief, but I read with the attitude of “just go along for the ride,” and I am glad I did. Following the two-week hiatus between when I started this book and yesterday when I picked it up again, I was hooked and spent the majority of the day yesterday reading it. I love mystery-thrillers than take over my whole day, and give this one four stars. I look forward to reading more from Mr. Schofield, whose experience as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney contributes to his ability to tell a story that hooks the reader.

 

 

Love and Laughter In the Time of Chemotherapy by Manjusha Pawagi

 

Manjusa Pawagi was in the prime of life: 47 years old, mother to 11-year old twins, with a rewarding career as a judge in the Court of Justice in Ontario, Canada. Then, in 2014 she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia, and this book is her memoir of the two years following that diagnosis.

I have two a good friend who is battling multiple myeloma and recently had a stem cell transplant. Like Pawagi, she has written about her battle with humor and honesty – and, also like Pawagi, she can be very funny.

I l0ve stories celebrating survival, and appreciate the forthright way this book faces difficult truths. Unlike some other “survival stories,” this is not at all faith based. In fact, she tells us in Chapter 7, “ I’m an atheist too, but I’m firmly convinced that if I turn out to be wrong and there is a God, and all the accompanying heaven/hell thing, I am definitely going to heaven. I have no theological basis for this, but I know it would be ridiculously unfair if I were barred because of what I consider to be a mere technicality, which I equate to the minor procedural irregularities I see in court all the time, and which I either ignore or patch up after the fact in some way. Because, while I do not believe in God, I do believe in justice’

Thanks to NetGalley and Second Story Press for the opportunity to read this in return for my honest review. Four enthusiastic stars.

 

The Plant-Based Solution by Joel Kahn, M.D.

I love good books that promote healthy eating/vegetarianism, so I was pleased to receive The Plant-Based Solution by Joel Kahn, M.D. from Sounds True Publishing and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. As a non-carnivore for 30+ years, I have had some concern about whether or not I am getting enough protein in my diet, how much protein a woman my size actually needs, and whether I really need as much protein as my husband keeps reminding me I do.

I’m kind of a skeptic about books which claim to have “the answer” to every nutritional issue, and I went into the reading of this hoping that the book wasn’t just a load of what I think of as nutribabble—lots of words and advice about how to eat without anything to back it up.

But I was happy to see how well sourced the book is, and how readable it is. There are chapters dealing with heart issues, diabetes, weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, cancer, brain function, the immune system, GI and kidney systems, animal ethics, and more…even including sex. Looking at the TOC, I wondered whether this was a mile wide and an inch deep, but he gets into each of these topics including personal stories to increase the “relatability factor.” He’s been vegan, not just vegetarian, for many years, which sometimes can come across as a bit preachy and hard to relate to – but the stories really help here, and Dr. Kahn’s personal story is compelling as well.

The second half is really a handbook that includes a 21-day plan (with recipes) to help people get started. This book will be a good resource for those interested in eating well without meat and who don’t really need or want to wade through scientific literature. Four stars.

 

The Wanted by Robert Crais

Let’s just get this out of the way: I have been a diehard fan of Robert Crais/Elvis Cole/Joe Pike for THIRTY YEARS. Seriously, when The Monkey’s Raincoat was published in 1987, I was working in a public library, grabbed it as soon as it came in, and was HOOKED. Since then, this has been one of the most reliable series in the mystery genre – consistent as in “OMG, <blank> has a new book coming out! YAY!” So I was happy to receive a copy of The Wanted from G.P.Putnam’s Sons and NetGalley in return for my honest review.

In this latest installment, a single mother named Devon Cole comes to Elvis Cole because she is concerned about her teenage son, who suddenly has cash, which makes her suspect he might be dealing drugs. Devon’s mom reveals that her son Tyson has serious anxiety issues and has been failed to succeed at several schools, finally landing in an alternative school. His mom first notices he is wearing new shirts from Barney’s, an extremely expensive store. Tyson tells her that one of his friend’s parents runs a studio’s wardrobe department and got them a great deal.

After the shirts, Tyson acquires an Xbox and a new computer with three monitors. Elvis discovers hidden cash totaling tens of thousands of dollars, and a Rolex watch worth upwards of $20,000. So clearly he is up to SOMETHING. The truth is that he and two friends have been burglarizing the houses of rich folks, getting lots of cash and new clothes in return. As it turns out, the Rolex provides a clue for Elvis, as it is registered to a specific person, and with that clue, Elvis is off and running. But the happen to steal the wrong thing from the wrong house, and one of them is murdered.

The victim, who REALLY wants his property back, hires two killers named Harvey and Stems, who are frantically looking for Devon and his girlfriend. Elvis, determined to find Devon and the girl before the bad guys do, brings in Joe Pile and Jon Stone.

In addition to just absolutely loving Elvis, I love Robert Crais’s writing, including structure, setting, character and plotting. The structure is terrific, going between Elvis Cole and two hired killers, Harvey and Stems. Each time the story shifts to another character’s point of view, we get another clue. The various areas of Los Angeles are familiar, and well described as Elvis searches for the missing teens at places including “…celebutante clubs with a squad of paparazzi camped at the door…”He not only captures the vibe of Southern California, he is great at describing people: one potential witness is “a flea market regular, this older woman with sun-scorched skin and liver spots…” and Devon “…carried herself with so much tension she might have been wrapped with duct tape.” Elvis is his usual intuitive self: “…something about her bothered me, but I wasn’t sure what.”

Then there is the scene where Harvey and Stems are passing time in the car, discussing the movie Psycho while staking out a house, watching for Elvis: one guy’s take is “The message was women are powerless. Here’s this lunatic, he’s stabbing her, what did she do, the chick in the movie? Just stood there. So what’s being modeled? Whatever some guy does to a woman, they’re supposed to take it. That’s the message.”

The plot is complex, as the story races forward at a pace that kept me up til nearly dawn when I got to the final reveal that felt just right. Robert Crais is one of the very best mystery writers out there, and although there are recurring people and places in this series, this story can be read as a standalone. I had huge expectations for The Wanted, and it met (or exceeded) them all. Five stars!

 

Don’t Let Go by Harlan Coben

I am generally a fan of Harlan Coben (although I admit I am less fond of his Myron Bolitar books, which is heresy to many of his fans!) so I was pleased to get a copy of “Don’t Let Go” from Dutton/NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

In this latest, we meet Nap (Napoleon) Dumas, a police detective in suburban New Jersey. Nap had a twin brother who died when they were in high school, and Nap has never really recovered. Since then, he has grown close to a cop named Augie who has been a mentor, and who Nap truly loves. They have something in common, as Augie’s daughter Diana was with Nap’s brother Leo when they were both killed on the railroad tracks across town. At the same time as this horrible accident happened, Nap’s goddess girlfriend Maura disappears, adding to the obsession Nap has about finding out what really happened the night Leo and Diana died.

For fifteen years, Nap looked for answers (and for Maura, sometimes going outside the ethical lines to search for clues to her whereabouts). Following a murder in a neighboring town, Maura’s fingerprints turn up in a rental car linked to the murder. Nap goes full bore into a search for the answer to the earlier deaths as well as the more recent deaths of people who had been in the same group as Leo back in the day.

In the foreword to the book, Coben tells the reader the two-pronged suburban legends he heard growing up: that there was a Nike missile launch center with nuclear capabilities, and that there was a mansion (complete with armed guards) owned by a member of the mob that was on property that supposedly included an incinerator/crematorium. He ends the foreword with the words “Years later, I learned that both legends were true.” When the Nike missile site appears as part of the story, I sort of kept expecting the Mafia guy’s estate/crematorium to figure in to the plot, but that part never happened.

There is, however, plenty of mystery, action and character development to keep this one rolling along. It help my interest right til the end. As usual, I hadn’t figured out the mystery (I usually don’t) and was somewhat surprised by the ending. I didn’t like a couple of key characters, but I did enjoy Nap and expect to see more of him in future Coben books. And, for the Myron Bolitar fans, he does make an appearance (although miniscule) early on. Four stars.

 

Clean Protein by Kathy Freston & Bruce Friedrich

As a non-carnivore, I have had some concern about whether or not I am getting enough protein in my diet, how much protein a woman my size actually needs, and whether I really need as much protein as my husband keeps reminding me I do, so I was pleased to receive Clean Protein by Kathy Freston and Bruce Friedrich from Perseus Books/Weinstein Books (really?doubtful this imprint will last) and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

I read that Freston is a well-known “author and vegan lifestyle expert,” and Friedrich is the Director of the Good Food Institute…which basically told me nothing. But I had read some of Freston’s work before  (including her blog), and I remembered that the GFI were the ones who had advocated for the addition of a veggie burger to the menu at In-N-Out, so I decided that for my purposes they were expert enough! This, of course, was as long as the book wasn’t just a load of what I think of as nutribabble—lots of words and advice about how to eat without anything to back it up.

I was happy to see how well sourced the book is, including peer-reviewed scientific studies and medical experts. When combined with the numerous personal stories they relate, the result is an information-packed handbook that will be a good resource for those interested in eating well without meat who don’t really need or want to wade through scientific literature. The book is extremely readable, and includes a plan, recipes, and tips for those who are moving toward a plant-based diet. Three and a half stars.