Sunday, April 23, 2017

Executive Order by Max Allan Collins with Matthew V. Clemens: Reading Room Review





Ready! Set! Action!   One of the best measures of a book being a great read is that you simply cannot put it down.  Executive Order engages the reader on the first page and doesn’t let go until the last page.  Political thriller, murder mystery, crime story.  This third and final Reeder and Rogers book has it all, and Max Allan Collins and Matthew Clemens tell it so well that I knew I was in the presence of great storytellers.  Before reading this series, starting with Supreme Justice and followed by State of the Union and Executive Order, I would have argued that political stories were just not my cup of tea.  Of course, the Reeder and Rogers series taught me a thing or two about making such predictions ever again. 

When four CIA operatives are killed in the Eastern European country of Azbekistan as the Russians invade that country, the President of the United States enlists the aid of Joe Reeder, an ex-Secret Service agent and currently the owner of an international security company.  The President had given orders that no agents were to be sent to that area and needs to find out who sent them and why.  Reeder has proven his usefulness and brilliant investigative skills in prior situations of national security. 

Reeder’s preferred partner in working difficult national situations is Patti Rogers, the leader of the FBI Special Situations Task Force.  Rogers and her team have just begun to investigate the death of the Secretary of the Interior from an allergic reaction to a delivered lunch.  Reeder, with his radar for reading people and uncanny hunches starts to suspect that the two events aren’t as unrelated as they first appear.  Reeder and Rogers start pooling their information, and it’s not long before others start to die and the unthinkable becomes the reality.  A well-hidden conspiracy must be rooted out and brought to light, but Reeder and Rogers become targets themselves in a fight where winner takes all. 

Collins and Clemens have given us a thriller with a storyline that is as timely as it is frightening.  Set in Washington, D.C. in the not too distant future, the world stage and the problems of the United States seem all too familiarly frightening, but with unseen enemies pulling strings that raises the level of concern to a frantic level.  The gripping aspect to this story is that it is plausible.    The characters, both major and minor play their parts well, and the dialogue is a witty success.  The authors started this trilogy with a bang, and they have ended it the same.  I’m sure to be one of many who wishes there were more Reeder and Rogers to come. 







Monday, April 10, 2017

The Day I Died by Lori Rader-Day: Reading Room Review



Reading Room Review:

The Day I DiedThe Day I Died by Lori Rader-Day

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


How to start the review of a book that is so special you held it to your bosom after finishing it. Well, luckily the brilliant author, unbeknownst to her, provided me with the perfect opening. Lori Rader-Day recently posted a previous piece she had written about repeatedly watching a Prince guitar performance and why she kept watching it. She stated,
“Mastery shows. Mastery is worth the effort. When an artist is in command of his or her form, you want to be a part of it.”
Yes, mastery does show, and The Day I Died shines with it from start to finish.

Anna Winger is a single mother of a teenage boy living in a small Indiana town. Sounds rather ordinary. Oh, but Anna is anything but ordinary, and her life with her son has been one on the run, from town to town, hiding in amongst the ordinary. Anna’s job is highly unusual, as she is a handwriting analyst. Not a parlor trick or a festival fundraiser, Anna is a skilled handwriting analyst hired by companies wanting to screen prospective employees and sometimes by people wanting to screen their love life partners. It’s a job that she can do from anywhere, so moving around hasn’t impaired her ability to make a living. However, it has impaired her ability to make meaningful connections with people other than her son, thirteen-year-old Joshua. But, Joshua is beginning to need more than a life of uncertain connections and unanswered questions.

Anna is struggling to keep her world contained in its no frills, minimum contact style when she is asked to examine a ransom note in a local missing child case. Arriving at the sheriff’s office to analyze the handwriting on the note, she first meets Sherry, the receptionist, and then Sheriff Russ Keller. She learns some about the missing boy and his family, and she is already more involved in a community’s problem than she ever intended. What started as a favor to her mentor/boss, who makes sure work comes her way, quickly becomes a slippery slope into emotions previously held in check and participation in a community where she had hoped to remain aloof. The missing toddler and his also missing mother triggers a protective response from Anna in what could easily be a dangerous family dynamic. The discovery of the child’s nanny dead and obviously murdered raises the stakes of the investigation, and Sheriff Keller, who had been dismissive of Anna’s skills, now turns to her as a resource.

As the usually reticent Anna becomes more immersed in the missing child case, her own secrets are getting harder to keep, especially from her son. Being on the run for thirteen years has taken its toll on both. Then, Joshua goes missing. Anna knows her attempts at a sequestered existence have fallen apart. Her search for her son will reveal Anna’s backstory of why she has spent her life running and afraid, and lives will be changed.

It’s too simplistic to say that Rader-Day’s novels are character driven, although the main character is undeniably expertly crafted. The ordinariness of the character reveals an extraordinary story, a life fought for and paid for with a high emotional price. Anna Winger is an extraordinary survivor disguised in an ordinary life. The job she works as a handwriting analyst is symbolic of her uncommon self. The author surrounds Anna with a cast of characters who are also called on to rise to the telling of the story and be more than they look on the surface. The characters are given great advantage to accomplish their work with a plot, pacing, and dialogue that are remarkable.

Lori Rader-Day has written a book that requires a warning label. “Do not read until you have a clear schedule.” I luckily could devote a day on my Hawaiian vacation, as well as a night, to reading The Day I Died. You will not want to leave it, so plan accordingly. From the enticing prologue, “On the day I died, I took the new oars down to the lake,” to the twist of an ending, Lori Rader-Day spins a tale whose mastery will make you want to read it again and again.

I received a copy from the author for review purposes.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen: Reading Room Review

Rhys Bowen is a force of writing, with few who can equal her.  She writes the Molly Murphy series, the Royal Spyness series, the Evan Evans series, and the young adult Red Dragon Academy series (with her daughter Clare Broyles).  Oh, then there are short stories, too.  So, with all of that writing, which is all brilliant, going on, what does Rhys do?  Take a vacation?  Play the Celtic harp for her amazing husband John?  Paint a scene of the Arizona desert?  No, Rhys writes a stand-alone book.  And, what a book it is!  

In Farleigh Field hits the bookstores today.  Here is my review of another outstanding novel from one of my favorite authors.   




My Review:


I have been a fan of author Rhys Bowen's writing for quite some time, having read and enjoyed all of her Molly Murphy and Lady Georgie series.  I have a few more to go in her Constable Evans   series.  It's already impressive that Rhys can write two series a year that maintain brilliant writing, never slipping into predictability, always evolving.  Now, this prolific author has given her eager readers a stand-alone entitled In Farleigh Field.  I knew it would be good, but it is a stay-up-all-night-reading good.  It hits so many of my favorite reading buttons, with the setting being England during WWII and the involvement of M15 and Bletchley in a thrilling plot of deception and daring.  So many small cogs in the big wheels that had to turn for Great Britain to survive the Germans, and Rhys Bowen places us dead center in the machinations of that survival.

It's springtime 1941 in England, and Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain have already claimed the lives of many soldiers and battered London and its civilians, too.  The men and women who wear the uniform acknowledging their fighting for their country are respected and admired.  However, there are many young people who are vital to the war effort who must remain silent about their participation and suffer the attitudes of others that they aren't really doing much to help.  In this world of behind the scenes participation is young Ben Creswell, 21 years old and the son of a vicar.  Ben suffered an injury to one of his knees before the fighting started, and he is to all appearances doing an unimportant desk job in London.  But, Ben is a part of the central nerve of the war machine, working for M15, and due to his connections to the Farleigh Estate in Kent and its residents, he is tapped for an investigation into the death of a parachutist, who falls from the sky into a field of the Farleigh grounds.  There is much suspicion surrounding the dead man, as he is dressed in a British uniform, but with too many mistakes on that uniform to be considered anything other than a spy. 

Pamela Sutton, the third daughter of five daughters of Lord Westerham, owner of Farleigh Place, is a close friend of Ben's, having grown up with him and played as children on the estate.  She, too, must suffer the appearance of doing boring clerical work for the war, but she is working at the code breaking center Bletchley Park, where her talent at discovering the unusual doesn't go unnoticed.  She is given an assignment to decipher some information that will ultimately lead to a parallel path with Ben's mission of ferreting out why a German spy would end up in a Farleigh field.  Pamela, or Pamma, as friends and family call her has long had the attention of Ben Creswell, but he has never pursued a relationship because she and their other cohort in youthful adventures, Jeremy Prescott, another aristocrat, had long ago laid claim to Pamma.  Jeremy is a member of the RAF and recently escaped from a German prisoner-of-war camp in France, now recuperating at his father's estate at Nethercote in Elmsleigh, Kent.  Pamela, Jeremy, and Ben all find themselves reconnected at home while Ben is pursuing clues to the strange death at Farleigh.

And, there is Pamela's sister, Margot, who finds herself stuck in Paris after the Germans invade and occupy France.  Margot's lover is a member of the French Resistance, and, thus, Margot is herself in danger of being arrested by the Nazis.  Ben is also tasked with discovering whether Margot or any other member of Pamela's family may be in collusion with the Germans.  It is hard for Ben to believe that there are English who want the Germans to invade and the fighting to end by their occupation of England.  However, certain aristocrats and others in England are actually involved in efforts for just such an outcome.  The answers Ben needs to discover require dogged pursuit and belief in the unlikely.  Of course, time is always of the essence and lives hang in the balance in finding those answers.

Major kudos to Rhys Bowen in achieving a smashing success with this new novel.  It is historical fiction and mystery combined to their best, a puzzle to piece together in the midst of a war which threatens to destroy a country and its way of life.  The suspense is first-rate, with the chance of betrayal or discovery nipping at your heels.   The characters are so well developed that I felt a personal stake in the outcome, and the parts they play are built upon their relationships to one another.  Pamela and her four sisters are all intriguing in their own right.  The plot is a great puzzler with an unexpected, but absolutely plausible, ending.  And, one of my favorite parts of historical fiction is learning history through the well-researched bits and bobs that we don't usually read in the history books.  The comparisons and contrasts of how the ordinary citizens and the aristocratic families dealt with supply shortages and what were considered hardships by both are most interesting.  In Farleigh Field is sure to be one of the most read books of 2017, and already one of my favorites.

I received an ARC of In Farleigh Field, which in no way influenced my amazing experience in reading it. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Third Annual Valentines Snail Mail Revival



When you belong to the mystery and crime community of authors and readers and publishing personnel, you are set for life with great friends and great reading.  The conferences often seem like love fests as much as book fests.  We truly do love each others' company.  And, there are activities that are always bringing us together to enjoy life and have loads of fun.

Author Lisa Alber started an activity three years ago that is more fun than the law should allow.  I only joined in this year, and I can't wait to do it again next year.  Lisa is the brains behind the Annual Valentine Snail Mail Revival on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/events/1992323274328230/).  Anyone can join in, and, well, let Lisa tell you about it in her own words:
     "For years I'd lamented the demise of the hand-written letter, and I'd find myself buying stationery and cards that I didn't use, including Valentine's cards--the cute kind kids give each other in grade school. They're adorable! Three years ago I felt a kind of desperation--I wanted to send Valentine's! I took my idea to Facebook and basically begged volunteers to exchange cards with me. The response was awesome--I was so surprised. So the annual Valentine snail mail revival was born!"

I thought it would be lovely to give Lisa credit for a great idea and post some pictures from those who participated.  So, here you are:

From the mantel of Lisa Alber



                              From the sideboard of June Lorraine Roberts



From the entry hall table of Kathy Reel



From the mailbox of Brandi Shelden



From the gathering stack of Stacy Allen



From the welcome home from Hawaii mail of Eleanor Cawood Jones



From the Mocha approved arrivals of Kirsten Hey-Yenser
















 

Friday, February 3, 2017

Garden of Lamentations by Deborah Crombie, My Review











Garden of Lamentations is the 17th book in the Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid series by Deborah Crombie, and the many fans of this series have been waiting a bit to have questions answered brought forth by the previous book, To Dwell in Darkness.  I can tell readers that seldom has a book been so worth the wait.  Crombie writes with the agility of a high-wire performer, and the result is just as thrilling.  And, like that performer, so many things must be gotten just right and kept in balance for the success of the act.  Garden of Lamentations gets all right, and the balance of the different story threads is exquisite.  Each character, each action, each storyline is on cue.  There are indeed the awaited answers, and arriving at them is a journey through 400 pages of great suspense.   In my review of To Dwell in Darkness, I mentioned a deliberate progression of the storyline.  There is, of course, always a progression of character development and personal and work life, but the storyline progression that Crombie achieves from the cliff hanger ending of The Sound of Broken Glass through To Dwell in Darkness and into Garden of Lamentations shows a brilliance of forethought that puts Deborah Crombie in a very special class of writers.

After the tragedy at St. Pancreas Station in London in the last book, To Dwell in Darkness, Gemma and Duncan are finally settling into their new jobs, Gemma as a Detective Inspector at Brixton and Duncan as a member of the Borough of Camden’s murder investigation team at Holborn Police Station in central London.  But, before Gemma can get too comfortable at Brixton, she is requested to attach herself to Notting Hill for a case headed by DI Kerry Boatman.  A young woman, who served as a nanny at one of the affluent Notting Hill houses is found dead in a private community garden.  Reagan Keating’s death is determined to be murder, and Gemma’s connection to the dead girl is twofold.  Gemma’s son Toby takes dance classes at the same studio as Reagan Keating’s charge and one of Gemma’s best friends was using the nanny as a model.   As Gemma and Kerry get closer to the truth of this tragedy, Gemma realizes that there are other losses that will follow its resolution, and she must tread carefully with children involved and nerves unraveling. 

Duncan is at last putting some pieces together in his suspected corruption of Scotland Yard, where he worked before his boss, Denis Childs, had Duncan transferred to Holborn.  Denis had disappeared before Duncan could confront him about the transfer, but now Denis is back at Scotland Yard and requests a secret meeting with Duncan to explain his absence.  Denis is brutally attacked on his way home from their meeting, and Duncan is sure it was a calculated attempt to kill Denis, although it was unsuccessful.  Now, Duncan must determine the connection of the corruption to Childs and other officers who have died untimely deaths.  Past cases require discreet reexamination by Duncan and the only people left he feels he can trust, Doug Cullen and Melody Talbot.  Gemma is too busy with her own case, and Duncan fears for the safety of his family.  Answers will come, but at what price?    

Deborah Crombie has now written seventeen books in this series, and each one is a splendid piece of storytelling.  Crombie compares to Louise Penny in terms of developing unforgettable characters, complexly intriguing storylines, and setting as a tour de force.  It’s no surprise that readers who love one author’s series will love the other author’s series, too.  There’s a brilliance of timing in Crombie’s plots that is deeply satisfying, and her ability to keep the maze on track to its clever conclusion is masterful. 

A note about reading series.  With many long-running series, it is possible to start reading at a later point than the first book or so, and there are places in this series where that’s possible, too.  But, I highly recommend that you don’t start with Garden of Lamentations in this series.  There are issues and secrets set in motion several books back that come to resolution in this book.  It’s possible the reader could start with #16 and be okay, but I suggest that to gain the full effect of #17, the starting point would need to be #14, No Mark Upon Her.  Of course, I think that starting at the beginning of this series is the best, as every book naturally builds upon the other in terms of character development, and the characters of the Duncan and Gemma series are some of the best in my long reading history.