Red Widow @AlmaKatsu

Of course I’ve read The Hunger and The Deep and I assumed that Red Widow would follow along those lines, lines which I loved for the record. I could not have been more wrong. How can an author write such completely different genres!? Aaaaah, but lest you think that I was disappointed, I was not. This is, by far, one of the best spy novels I’ve ever read and, wow, I’ve read all of the original Tom Clancy novels, the ones before he jumped the shark and then, well, he died. Red Widow is amazing! Fabulous. Incredible. Just wow.

Let me state up front that I hate spy novels. Hate! Tom Clancy actually ruined them for me. I loved them until I realized that the majority of them always (!) are nothing more than US propaganda. There always (!) will be the bad guy (them) and the good guy (the US) but somewhere along the line I became a real live adult with a brain and recognized that the world operates in shades of grey and the US sure as hell is not always the “good guy,” not even most of the time. So I stopped reading spy novels even though I loved them. (sigh) Had I known that is what Red Widow was about, I never would have read it and then I would have missed out on one terrific book!!

This is set in current time and involves – yes – the US, Russia and other modern day players. There are references to current events that you will recognize and some of the things that happen in the book will make you pause and think “wait, didn’t that just happen,” but even if you search for it, it’s not there. The premise is, perhaps, too realistic which is why I love it. The characters are spot on and there’s a reason for that. Did you know that Alma Katsu used to work for the CIA!? AND the DoD!? Yeahhhhh, there is a reason she gets it so right and I love the book for that!! Not to mention that the ending is the best, absolute perfection.

So, can you tell I highly recommend this book? There also is a movie in the works for this one and I may just have to break my no t.v. or movie rule to see it. READ THIS ONE!!!!

Beyond the Headlines

Beyond the Headlines is the fourth book in the Clare Carlson series and the second that I’ve read. Clare is a seasoned journalist now working in a news room but the hard core journalism bug never quite let go of Clare. When she comes across a good story, she runs with it – which is exactly what she does in Beyond the Headlines. Clare goes beyond the 5 second sound bite to get at the truth, something I sorely miss in the news today.

If you are old enough to remember the old Murphy Brown series starring Candace Bergen, the dry wit and sardonic humor that was prolific in that show is very present in this book series. In fact, I have a hard time separating out the vision of Murphy Brown from Clare Carlson when I’m reading these books. That’s most likely why I love them as much as I do. And, yes, I do realize that I just aged myself considerably. Now that I’ve read the last two books in the series, I’m going back to grab the first two. There’s so much to catch up on! Obviously, I highly recommend the book and the series.

Recent Reads and Rapid Reviews: The Hive, When a Stranger Comes to Town and The One I Left Behind

This is the third book I’ve recently read involving cults, bees and the perfection of their hives. It’s weird BUT I absolutely loved this book! Gregg Olsen is a hit or miss author for me and this one definitely was a hit.

If you think about Mary Kaye Ash, the home based “beauty” guru, and put her philosophy on drugs then you have the main protagonist of The Hive. Marnie, the “queen bee” is obsessed with bees and their royal jelly. All of her beauty products are made with it. In addition, she forms a community of women who help her with her empire – they are called “The Hive.” It’s a cult but it’s a strange one. These women are encouraged to leave their family, their husbands, children and homes behind in order to fully encase themselves into The Hive. As with most cults, it eventually turns deadly.

This is a terrific police procedural, something that Gregg Olsen does very well, and despite knowing the “who,” it is the why and how that is important. If you like good crime fiction then you should enjoy The Hive.

WHEN A STRANGER COMES TO TOWN, various authors, edited by Michael Koryta

Living in a very small town I have found that one of the most used phrases here is “there’s a stranger in town.” Living in the city is so different – who would know if someone is a stranger or not? But here, everyone knows. Are they here for good for bad? That’s always the question.

When A Stranger Comes to Town is a compilation of short stories based on the premise of a stranger in our midst. Admittedly there were some stories that I enjoyed more than others and, surprisingly, some of those were by “new to me” authors. Of course, there also are stories by some of the best mystery writers of today: Michael Connolly, Dean Koontz and Joe Hill (shivers on the thought of Hill and his entry) but you’ll find a collection of really good mysteries throughout the book.

This would make a great summer read because you read each mystery at your leisure, at the beach or beside the pool, in between innings. 😉 This one is a great addition to my library and one I highly recommend.

THE ONE I LEFT BEHIND by Jennifer MacMahon

I read one Jennifer McMahon book and then another and now I cannot stop. I’m hooked – all the way. Her writing style is so fluid that once you begin a story, you simply cannot stop until the end. Literally. I need to sleep but I have another book ready to go. Sleep can wait!

The One I Left Behind, on the surface, is about “Neptune,” a serial killer who cuts off the right hand of his victims, leaves it on the police station steps and then four days later he leaves the body of the dead woman, sans hand, lovingly bandaged, naked with stomach contents of a recently eaten lobster dinner. Bizarre, right? But the real story is that of Reggie and her friends, Tara and Charlie, three outcasts who bonded years ago during the time of the Neptune killings. Reggie’s mom was the only victim to be taken but never returned – now she’s back and the three friends are reunited. This is their story, told in two different timelines. It’s raw, edgy, suspenseful and satisfying. As always, I adored the ending. I truly believe that the powerful stories that McMahon tells make her endings all the more beautiful. And now, I’m off to read another McMahon book….

Tuesday Shorts: The Sacrifice of Lester Yates, The End of Men, Find You First and The Moonlight Child

Of course I’ve been neglectful of writing blog posts and reviews; of course I have. It’s spring and that means gardening for me. That doesn’t mean I stopped reading. In fact, I think I’ve read more books already this year than I did last year during the height of the pandemic. So, bear with me as I post some short, quick reviews of some of the books I’ve read thus far.

From beginning to end The Sacrifice of Lester Yates captivated me. Robin Yocum, a new-to-me author, can seriously write. His descriptions and knowledge of the grittier side of Ohio and midwestern politics are so spot on; it truly is impeccable writing. Labeled as a “legal thriller,” I thought it was more political suspense. It’s a story told well, not an edge of your seat thrill ride.

What was most interesting for me is that the book is told from a Republican politician’s viewpoint which is something I tend to avoid. However, here was a pro-death penalty guy working like crazy to get an innocent man off of death row. He also does a great job of showing the nasty underbelly of party politics which we see so often today in the US.

I loved the book and highly recommend it. I’ll be reading the prequel now and am happy to have found another great midwestern author to follow.

THE END OF MEN by Christina Sweeney-Baird

The End of Men is one of those books where I think the hype is influencing the reviews. I’ve read two other books about a pandemic that wipes out males and they were far better than this one. Far too many characters to keep them straight and, in the end, there still was just greed and nations fighting over crap. I’d like to think that women could do better than this but given the results of the pandemic, perhaps I’m overly hopeful. Read Athena’s Choice for a far superior book about the end of men.

FIND YOU FIRST by Linwood Barclay

Normally I love Linwood Barclay’s books and I did really like Find You First until I didn’t. First, exactly how many people know and are willing to hire “hitmen?” Is this just something that I have missed throughout my life? Executioners around here are generally so stupid that they get caught and then turn out to be young men on drugs. In Find You First there is a plethora of these men just waiting to be hired and apparently screw the wealthy person hiring them. Who does that!? I liked the premise of the main character finding his “offspring.” That was an interesting storyline. However, the book totally went off the rails in the end with the Winnebago. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a serious piece of crime fiction that resorted to something so ridiculous. Ever. So, I gave it three stars because I was semi-sort-of hooked until the end.

Lest you think I haven’t enjoyed my reading material this year, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite books so far:

The Moonlight Child by Karen McQuestion

I didn’t expect to love this as much as I did! This is a beautiful story of horror, loss, love and forgiveness. This author is new to me but her writing is mesmerizing, pulling you into the lives of each character and then wringing your heart out with emotion.

The Moonlight Child is the story of wee little girl named Mia who is kept hidden by a family that she knows is not her own. She knows that her world is different from other children; she is well fed and cared for but also is forced to do the housework which is expected to be done perfectly. The child is only five years old. It is also the story of Nikki, a foster home “graduate,” who knows there is more to life than what she has experienced to date. She is intelligent, caring and, currently, at loose ends. Nikki is taken in by Sharon, her social worker’s mother, and the relationship between these two women is one of the most beautiful that I’ve ever read. Together, Sharon and Nikki try to unravel the mystery of the girl they only see in the moonlight.

This book is emotional and beautiful and one that I I highly recommend.

Have your read any of these books while I’ve been away? What did you think of them? Am I once again out in left field? Let me know!

Madame Secretary. Full Stop.

Of all of the elections, appointments, historic firsts, et al that the US has experienced in 2021, having the first true native American serve in a presidential cabinet is the one of which I am most proud. Three generations ago my family was split into two parts – the Creeks who stayed in the southern US due to a “white” marriage and those who were forced onto the trail of death by the US government. For far too long this country has demoralized and kept its indigenous people under the thumb of the US government, treated them as outcastes, attempted to hold them back and push them down. Today, the real Americans finally have a voice in this government and over its land as Secretary Haaland becomes the watch dog of our sacred lands as Secretary of the Interior. May Gaia watch over her and protect her.

Snow by John Banville

Not realizing that John Banville was actually one of my favorite authors who used a pen name, I wanted to read Snow, literally, due to the title. We were under a blizzard warning and it seemed quite a appropriate. Imagine my surprise when I discovered I was reading the famed Booker prize winning author whom I’ve always love but by a different name!

Snow is a very traditional piece of crime fiction. St. John Strafford is sent out on a murder inquiry in a small town in Ireland. The year is 1957 and the Catholic church is well in control of everything. As St. John carries out his duty, Banville provides us with a critique of the Catholic church at the time, and the present because not much has changed, the Irish “troubles,” and does so while beautifully using the Snow as a character all unto itself. At times the Snow is beautiful; at times it is oppressing but always it is present as Strafford works to uncover the killer.

Banville has a style of writing that is slow, methodical, atmospheric and brilliant. I’ve grown a bit weary of “fast paced thrillers” and their formulaic gimmicks, so I truly appreciated the writing that Banfield provided in Snow.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradel

Kitchens of the Great Midwest is such a lovely tapestry of a tale. From beginning to end, the story of Eva envelops you whole and does not let you go long after you’ve turned the last page.

I have an ever growing love for midwestern authors especially since moving to this beautiful region of the US. The writing style of the authors in this area is distinctly different from their counterparts in the rest of the country and has a flavor all its own. When that style is combined with metaphors of food, cooking and love then the result is nothing short of brilliance and that is exactly what happens within Kitchens of the Great Midwest. It is difficult to describe the plot because, while the story intricately revolves around Eva as she grows and matures into both a gorgeous, kind young woman as well as a talented chef, there are stories of so many others in Eva’s life, each of whom made a difference to her, her path, her ultimate success. Their stories are just as important as hers even though they are secondary. It is the whole, the complete when combined that makes this book so delicious – not unlike the perfect menu.

I highly recommend Kitchens of the Great Midwest and sincerely hope that you enjoy it as much as I have.

The Virus by Janelle Diller

I’m not entirely sure that early 2021 was the best time to read The Virus especially as the various vaccines are being rolled out across the world and all are being thrust upon the population and lauded as “safe” and “effective.” Nevertheless, I did read it for the PopSugar Challenge and it was eye opening.

The Virus begins with the death of one person, a middle easterner, from Smallpox. Soon there are unconfirmed cases popping up all over the US and deaths are reported in every region of the country. Smallpox is a virus that has been tackled before so the government quickly ushered out a vaccine before the economy could suffer too badly and before too much hysteria set in. In order to travel, attend school, etc., you had to have the vaccine. 🙂 Sounds a little familiar already, doesn’t it? The itty bitty problem is that there is no “vaccine.” What it actually does do is for you to find out by reading this fast paced, wonderfully written thriller.

After reading other reviews I would like to post that this is not an anti-vaxxer book. It is a government conspiracy book not unlike so many others out there. That is what fiction writing is about – asking the what if’s, how about’s, could it be’s…. To read something other than what it actually is into this book shows that reviewer’s own prejudices. This was a great thriller and I highly recommend it – even now.

Shadow Falls by #WendyDranfield

Finally! A seriously great crime fiction novel that does not sugar coat the US legal system. Thank you Wendy Dranfield!!!

I first read about Shadow Falls, the first in the Madison Harper series, on Zooloo’s Book Diary blog. It sounded so intriguing and different from the norm that I had to give it a try. I am SO glad that I did. Madison Harper is a former detective who is on early parole for manslaughter of a fellow cop. She insists that she was set up and is determined to prove her innocence. To help her, she enlists the aide of Nate, also a recently released prisoner who was wrongfully convicted of murder and was on death row in Texas -three months out from his death sentence. Now this is a great combination right here. Seriously! When writers come up with flawed characters this is not the norm but they are so, well, I won’t say perfect together but they are great. However, their perspectives are so incredibly spot-on for what we are experiencing in today’s US society that I was shocked with its accuracy. All politics aside, though, the real mystery in this first book is a missing child that Nate has been hired to find. Madison’s answers have to wait until this child is found and what a crazy, mixed up world this poor child has fallen into. Don’t ever send your child to summer camp!!!

To say that I loved this book is an understatement. Not only did I read it in one sitting, I immediately downloaded book two and read it!! Now what!? I want MORE!!!!! Thank you Zoe for another terrific review and putting me onto another great read and author!!

The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves

Finally! I’ve seen Ann Cleeves books for years but never could find the time to go back to the beginning. I’ve even watch the television show, Vera, based on these books but never got around to reading the actual series. With Covid, the time arrived and I’m so glad!

The Crow Trap is divided into sections devoted to the primary characters ending with Vera. We aren’t really introduced to her until halfway through the book, although we do get a glimpse of her early on. There is a suicde, a murder, lots of suspicion and another murder before the book finally settles down into a proper police procedural. For some readers I suspect that the book would read “too slowly.” Cleeves is well known for her descriptive, atmospheric, very detailed writing and it really comes through in these early books more so than in her later series. It is this style of writing that I particularly love about British writers, however. Perhaps you remember books from an earlier time period and recall that it took us more than one day to read them. Yes? That is because of the detail; they contained more than fast paced action and tons of dialogue. I had started to miss that type of writing despite really adoring crime fiction. My answer – Ann Cleeves. If you like crime fiction told with very well developed characters, a great whodunnit with loads of atmospher then give Ann Cleeves a try. She is worth every minute (days) of your time.