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Cruelest Month, The (2008) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-07-29)
In another story of Chief Inspector Gamache of the surete du Quebec, the reader is taken to the colorful, wintry village of Three Pines, a forgotten village like a Canadian Brigadoon (without the singing.)

The story opens as the villagers are getting ready to celebrate Easter and having an Easter egg hunt. Then they decide to celebrate Easter and the renewal of life, with a seance. It is to be at the Timmer Hadley house which brings up bad memories for at least one villager.

The headlines of the paper the following day after the seance is that a woman is scared to death at a seance.

Gamache is sent to investigate and he must find if there is a crime and then find a possible murderer, all the while where is office is filled with intrigue and the prior superintendent is serving time in jail thanks to Gamache's diligent work. However, this man had friends and they aren't the type to forget Gamache's actions.

Even in his own family, there are things he must deal with with his daughter and son-in-law living in Paris and Gamache's wife, wanting to spend more time with them.


(This review refers to the expression titled “Cruelest Month, The”.)

Crazy Mountain Kiss (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-07-26)
I enjoy novels of the American West. After seeing the cover blurb in "Crazy Mountain Kiss," that the story would be perfect for fans of Craig Johnson, I was sold.

A member of the Madison River Liar and Fly Tiers club comes to a rented mountain cabin in order to work on his manuscript. Wanting to warm the cabin up, he checks the chimney and finds a Santa hat there. Then he climbs on the roof of the cabin and finds the body of a teenage girl wedged in the chimney.

How could the teenager get into this spot? What caused her death? These are questions that on again off again private investigator Sean Stranahan is hired to find out.

The story moves at a liesurly pace as we learn about the characters and life in the Montana mountains.

The deceased, Cindy Huntington is well described. She seemed so full of life and ready for the happiness in her future that her untimely death hits the reader and the other characters hard.

Stranahan keeps at his trade and discovers that there is an adult couples club that would rent the mountain cabin from the Forest Service. Sean begins interviewing the members of the club and comes across a group of wacky characters. Then he begins to get closer to the person responsible for Cindy's death.

It is easy to see why there is a comparison to the work of Craig Johnson. One of the characters is a consultant for a modern TV show about the American West. The show has an American Indian as the sidekick to the sheriff and the sheriff himself, being a tall man who has to duck his head to enter rooms, good comparison to Johnson's TV show, "Longmire".

The life of the characters is well portrayed but the action suffers and it is drawn out before Stranahan makes further headway into solving the crime.

McCafferty is skilled with the character descriptions and tales of their adventures but I would have enjoyed it more if he got right to solving the mystery. In addition, some of the characters seemed to be right out of a Hallmark TV movie. However, "Crazy Mountain Kiss" is an enjoyable read and excellent for a book to read on a vacation.

I received a free copy of this book for review.

(This review refers to the expression titled “Crazy Mountain Kiss”.)

Retribution (2004) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-07-22)
In this fine novel which was nominated for the Anthony Award for the Best First Mystery Novel, a predator stalks and rapes law student Chloe Larson and escapes.

12 years later, a string of murders has occurred in the Miami area. The killer is dubbed, cupid and the cupid killer. A policeman pulls a car over for a traffic offense and when the driver refuses to allow the author to check his trunk, a K-9 unit is called. The dog whiffs something. On popping the trunk, they find a dead girl with a missing heart. William Bantling demands a lawyer.

He's brought before the court and prosecutor C.J.Townsend. Is Bantling the serial killer or a copy cat? Then, C. J. hears the man's voice and remembers it. Even though it's been 12 years, C.J. remembers the attack, the break-up of her relationship and her nervous breakdown. She had moved to Florida, changed her name and passed the Florida bar exam. She's able to survive with drive and periodic visits to her analyst.

When C. J. recognizes the voice she becomes more determined than ever, to make sure that the man who raped her and killed the woman in his trunk gets what he deserves. C.J. must walk a thin line between justice and retribution.

This is a wonderful plot driven novel. C.J.Townsend is a first rate protagonist, sympathetic yet strong in her resolve. The author adds an interesting but somewhat predictable plot twist at the end which heightened the enjoyment.

Film rights have been sold to Warner Brothers and John Wells Productions, the film is currently under development.

(This review refers to the 2004 version titled “Retribution”)

In the Blood (2014) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-07-22)
I was really in the mood for a good book when I began "In the Blood."

The complex story tells of Lana Granger, a college student who has a limited trust fund. The manager of the trust advises her to get a job to supplement the trust income, something easy to do while she continues her studies. She sees a notice about a babysitting job and accepts the position.

Luke is the boy Lana will be taking care of. He's age eleven and has a troubled past. He's been expelled from numerous schools and is a demanding and controlling boy.

Lana's own life has been a nightmare. There is a major memory of her mother's death and now her college roommate, Beck, disappears. Beck (short for Rebecca) is also Lana's best friend.

The reader learns that Lana is a habitual liar so it's difficult to know when to believe her. There are questions about Beck's disappearance and that of another girl a few years before. Lana's reaction to these incidents don't seem to make her very upset. She comes across as a self centered and selfish woman. She is also hard to like.

However, as the reader learns more about her past, feelings change. There are some surprises to the story and one of them had me wondering how it could be possible.

Luke, although only eleven, seems to make Lana do his bidding and I found this unlikely.

Overall, not many likable characters. The story does move fast but I wish there was more to it.

(This review refers to the expression titled “In the Blood”.)

4th of July (2005) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-07-19)
Det. Lt. Lindsay Boxer, SFPD is with friends from the women's murder club when her former partner tells her that there is a lead on a vehicle from the scene of a murder. After a chase of the vehicle, a shootout ensues. Lindsay and her partner are both shot, one of the two teenagers in the car is killed and the other injured.

After Lindsay's release from the hospital from her injuries, she learns that the father of the twenagers in the chase is suing her for wrongful death, excessive use of force and police misconduct.

This is a very timely topic. If only the teenagers were black the headlines would have been horrific. However Lindsay is put on leave while the case comes to trial.

During this time, she travels to her sister's home not far from San Francisco. While there a true policeman's or policewoman's holiday takes place. A number of murders take place in Half Moon Bay and Lindsay offers her expertise in an attempt to solve the murders.

This is a great book for a summer read. Fast moving action, a good protagonist, her dog, Penelope, a large Vietnamese potbellied pig and a number of murders.

Not much character development but it's not really necessary, most of us have read of Lindsay Boxer and the women's murder club. (Although they aren't a factor in this story.) Some well placed surprises and a clever novel to read.

(This review refers to the 2005 version titled “4th of July”)

Cartel, The (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-07-18)
Don Winslow has created another edge of seat thriller with "The Cartel." I was totally captivated by the story and rate it among the best novels I've read this year.

In a story that seemed so true that much of the action could have been taken from the pages of the newspaper, DEA Agent, Art Keller is up against Adan Barrera, the head of El Federation, the most powerful cartel. Barrera murdered Keller's partner and betrayed Keller's friendship. Finally, putting Barrera away costs Keller the woman he loves.

However, Barrera escapes and Keller sets out on a marathon chase to bring him to justice.

As I was reading the story, the news of El Chapo's escape from prison brought this story home with a wallop. In "The Cartel," Barrera, like El Chapo" breaks out of prison and resumes his active leadership of his cartel.

We see the other cartels in action in most parts of Mexico and their unstoppable rise to power.

Barrera and the leaders of the other cartels are utterly brutal. They think nothing of killing innocent women and children in horrendous manners. As their power grows, the cartels between to clash and a war between the crime families ensues. Neither the local police nor government forces seem able to stop their rise to power and the spread of their empires.

The characters are colorful and well drawn. Anyone picking up this massive novel and expecting an easy read will be disappointed. Instead, it is a powerful expose of the Mexican cartels and the manner in which they become so powerful. Art Keller is an excellent protagonist, true to life, with flaws but heroic.

(This review refers to the expression titled “Cartel, The”.)

Blood Foam (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-07-13)
Lewis Cole is getting back on his feet after the action in "Fatal Harbor." His friend, Det. Sgt. Diane Woods, of the Tyler, New Hampshire continues her recovery after almost being killed in that adventure.

Now, Lewis former lover and current assistant editor of "Tyler Chronicle," Paula Quinn asks his help in finding her fiance, Mark Spencer, a local attorney who has been missing for a number of days and nothing seems to be done about it.

Lewis has resigned from his job as a magazine columnist (his prior work was as a DOD analyst.) and undertakes to help Paula as a private citizen. This hampers Lewis actions as a number of people refuse to speak to him in his private role.

Felis Tinois, a recurring character in the Lewis Cole adventures, does agree to help Lewis. He provides his usual assistance in any areas that are needed, from weapons to food to transportation.

A key to Lewis investigation is learning Mark's social security number which indicates where he was born.

There are numerous obstacles placed in Lewis' path but with guts and determination, he continues his investigation.

The theme of friendship and love are well described and a good lesson to have. Louis does so much for his dear friends and his love of life and those near and dear to him.

I received a free book in return for my honest review.

(This review refers to the expression titled “Blood Foam”.)

Rise of the Iron Eagle: A Novel (2014) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-07-08)
This novel grabbed my attention with the concept of a serial killer who kills other serial killers.

Make no mistake, Roy A.Teel, Jr. knows how to write a novel that is gripping and will keep the reader glued to the pages.

The violence is graphic so not advised for under eighteen. It was actually more graphic than I care to read. I also felt that a number of circumstances were just too coincidental. One villain kidnaps the best friend of another person he's kidnapped and this new person happens to be a person of interest to another key character.

The killings take place around the city of L.A. and the three main characters are well drawn and their motivation properly described and understandable.

There were two early killings in which the main killer diverted from his or her subject of killings. One person is said to have been getting too close to the killer and another older man associated with someone who was evil but I didn't understand how. It may be me but I usually follow the trend of stories.

I also felt that some paragraphs were overly long and when two people were speaking to each other, paragraph breaks would make it easier for a reader to follow who the speaker is.

I enjoyed the pace of the story and killers being caught and made to pay for their crimes. It was also a change of pace when one of the protagonists gets involved in a menage a trois.

Overall, an excellent story but more brutal and graphic than my usual choice in suspense and mysteries.

I received a free copy of this book in return for an honest review.

(This review refers to the expression titled “Rise of the Iron Eagle: A Novel”.)

Our Souls at Night (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-07-08)
"Our Souls at Night" is a nostalgic little book about life, much the same as "The Bridges of Madison County."
The setting is Holt, Colorado, home of all Kent Haruf's wonderful fiction.
Addie Moore's husband had died a number of years ago and she's lonely, the nights are cold and there's no one to talk to. Louis Waters is a neighbor whose wife died a number of years ago also. It's a small town and the two have known each other for decades.
One day Addie visited Louis and suggests that he come and live with her and to sleep with her. She's not talking about sex but to have a warm person next to her at night and someone to talk to when she wakes up.
Their life together was serene and one day, Addie's grandson Jamie, age six, comes to live with her when his parents were going through rough times.
Life gets better and Jamie adds a youthful innocence and joy to their lives. They still continue their relationship and Louis feels that Jamie is lonely and needs a dog, Bonnie is added to the family and the lives of contentment continue.
There are discussions when Addie's son comes to visit but we see that the couple have found happiness and something to close out the empty lives they had been living.
The descriptions of the town and their life histories are well described.

(This review refers to the 2015 version titled “Our Souls at Night”)

Memory Man (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-07-04)
As I was being entertained by the story, "Memory Man," I kept thinking how good a writer and storyteller David Baldacci is.

This novel introduces a new protagonist, Amos Decker. He was a pro football player who suffered a massive hit on the helmet by another player. The helmet to helmet collision ended his career and caused an unexplained side effect - he never forgets anything.

Decker went on to be a cop in Burlington and was very successful until a killer murder his wife and family - including his ten-year-old daughter. He resigned from the police department and from life. He ended up sleeping on the streets until he rebounded enough to live in a motel and start a private investigator business. Since he can't forget anything, he continues to see events of that night and it almost brings him to the brink of suicide.

Over a year later, a homeless man confesses to the killing but when Decker gets to question him, he can't provide the small details of the crime.

During this time, there is a mass killing at the high school. Decker ic called back to the job to help with the investigation.

Are the two crimes related? If not, the odds of two horrific killings a year apart don't seem possible.

With the homeless man set free, Decker and his old partner attempt to recreate the crimes to see who might be the killer. They go into Decker's past and come up with various obstacles and surprises.

Since Decker can't forget things, he's able to look at evidence in a minute manner and make progress.

Super entertaining!

(This review refers to the expression titled “Memory Man”.)

Less Than Hero (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-06-27)
S. G. Browne has written a contemporary, change of pace novel that packs a strong message in a wrapper of fun.

"Less than Hero" is a social commentary introducing Lloyd Prescott, a thirty-year-old professional guinea pig. For the past five years he's participated in over 150 clinical trials.

The pharmaceutical companies have volunteers who test experimental drugs for cash. In a typical month, Lloyd can make over $3,000. He also has a part-time job where he stands in Central Park with various signs for handouts. One states that he will accept money for abuse. People call him all sorts of things and he just thanks them as he accepts their money.

Lloyd and a group of five friends who are also human guinea pigs. They wonder if all the drugs they put in their bodies could have any effect. This is answered in a humorous fashion as Lloyd and his friend, Randy, are on the J train to Manhattan. Three punks enter the train and begin harassing a homeless man. Eventually Randy tells them to leave the man alone. Lloyd is expecting the worse but stands beside his friend facing the punks. Lloyd nicknames them Cue Ball, Cornrows and Soul Patch.

As the train pulls into Essex Street station, Cue Ball's skin turns bright red and blotchy and he becomes covered with hives. His friends back away from him and Lloyd and Randy casually depart from the train.

There are many parts of the story that had me laughing out loud. Lloyd and his friends all exhibit various powers. Lloyd has the ability to fall asleep before him, another in the group causes diarrhea and vomiting.
The men decide to use their powers to protect the innocent. Examples of this are funny and funnier.

To add to the uniqueness, Lloyd's girlfriend is a human statue. She stands in Central Park as a Fairy, sprinkling pixie dust on those who leave her a contribution.

The characters are well described, the scenes are most entertaining and the story is a fun romp and is a critique of a broken and corrupt pharmaceutical industry.

For those wanting a good story and something different, this is the book I recommend.

I received a free book in return for my honest review.

(This review refers to the 2015 version titled “Less Than Hero”)

Liberated: A Novel of Germany, 1945 (2014) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-06-25)
In a story reminiscent of "The Monument Men," Steve Anderson used research that he performed on a Fulbright Graduate Research Fellowship in Munich from 1993-94.

It tells of actions in Munich, Germany in 1945. Capt.Harry Kaspar, U.S.Army, is appointed military leader of Heimgau, a Bavarian town. Upon arriving at his assignment and with plans of the good he would be doing, he finds three men on the road, recently killed. Upon entering the town, he meets Maj.Robertson Membre who is also assigned as MG (Military Governor). Since Membre's orders come from Frankfort, it's a higher command and they take preference.

As a consolation, Member assigned Kaspar as Public Safety, he is to be the acting police chief.

The story details the power of the conqueror, Germany is defeated and the to the victor belongs the spoils.

Harry goes about his work and finds a good German man, Herr Winkl, a former policeman, to be his assistant. With all the good intentions, Harry is stymied by Membre and a Col. Spanner who has his own plan.

We see the corruption and the few who want to do something about it. It is interesting to see some of the activities at the end of the war such as the prisoners and soldiers coming home and wanting their old homes. It is also to see the few Jewish survivors who have so little but deserve more.

The bulk of the novel tells of Harry and his attempt to prevent the small town from turning to a corrupt area and criminals such as the man, Jenke, a convict, turned S.A. thug appointed to a new position of authority.

There is a romantic side as Harry meets Katrina who is well described and someone the reader will want to succeed with what she has in mind for herself and a number of Jewish friends.

There is a great deal to be considered in the story such as corruption, greed and how war can affect various people and communities.

I received a free book in return for an honest review.

(This review refers to the expression titled “Liberated: A Novel of Germany, 1945”.)

Billy Bathgate (1989) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-06-22)
As a reader opens the pages of "Billy Bathgate" they are taken back to the days of prohibition and notorious gangsters.

One of those famous gangsters wi Dutch Schultz. He befriends Billy and becomes a father-like figure to the fifteen-year-old boy. Shultz who was born in the Bronx in 1901 built his criminal network from bootlegging, gambling and murder.

Billy lives with his mom in a run down area of Lenox Ave and 125th street. He had no father and no direction in life. He comes to idolize Schultz from his power, the way he's revered in the community and by many of New York jet setters.

There are many shady characters in the story. The reader gets to share some of the words of Walter Winchell and hear Schultz's remarks of Thomas E. Dewey.

Schultz has a girlfriend and Billy spends a great deal of time with her she is much of the reason for his sexual awakening.

I enjoyed the story and look back into a time that many of our parents and grandparents enjoyed. Their stories may be gone but in this story, some of the events of that time are brought to life once more.

The characters are well developed and become likable in their own way. It is particularly fun to witness the Jewish Schultz conversion to Catholicism as nears his trial date and he attempts to build a good-guy image.

(This review refers to the 1989 version titled “Billy Bathgate”)

Rope, The (2012) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-06-21)
For fans of Anna Pigeon, if you are curious as to how she became involved with the National Park Service, this is the story of how that came about.

Anna is in her first days with the NPS. She's age thirty-five and just off a bus from New York where she leaves some heartbreaking memories.

She gets a job as a seasonal employee doing mundane work and living with a group of other seasonal employees.

Being a nature lover, on her day off she decides to go for a hike. She sees something but is hit on the back of the head and wakes up at the bottom of a dry well, naked and with no clear memory of what happened. She also has a word scratched into her leg which she can't figure a reason for.

She continues to call for help and wonders why no one comes to find her. However, her clothes have been removed from her room and the other employees figure she didn't care for the job and went back to New York.

The interest in the story is to learn about Anna's early life. It is also to see the relationships between other seasonal employees living in close proximity. Much of the action is centered in the Lake Powell area which is a waterway created after a dam was built. For those really interested, I did a web search of Lake Powell and the party boats that people rent there, it's truly beautiful.

Nevada Barr is a former Nation Park Service Ranger and she speaks from experience. It is also enlightening to read about what Park Rangers and other employees come across in their dealings with the public and with the politics of the National Park Service.

It was a good story and one I'd recommend to Nevada Barr fans and those interested in the outdoors. The characters are well developed and Anna is a very likable character as are a number of the other employees she encounters. There are a number of surprises that add to the entertainment value of the story.

(This review refers to the expression titled “Rope, The”.)

Storm Prey (2010) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-06-18)
During John Sandford's "Storm Prey" four men rob a hospital pharmacy. When one of the employees tries to call for help, one of the robbers kicks him so hard, the older man dies of complications.

The robbers also had an inside man who let them into the hospital. Later, we learn about him and his dependency on drugs that caused him to be part of the robbers' scheme.

Lucas Davenport's wife, Weather Karkinnen. is a plastic surgeon at the hospital. She's involved in a major surgical procedure where many of the hospital staff are working together to separate two little girls joined at the head. As Weather came to work on the day of the robbery, she got a good view of the driver of the get away car.

Much of the remainder of this engrossing novel deals with the robbers having a fallout between themselves and attempting to eliminate anyone who could identify them.

They aren't killers so they hire a crazed young killer from California. When the shooter, Cappy, attempts to shoot Weather on her way home from work, we are thrilled by her observing the would be assassin and turning the table on him. She's a true cop's wife and alert to circumstances that get in her way.

The reader gets an immediate sense of drama that the author is noted for in his wonderful series involving the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Lucas Davenport and his leading detective, Virgil Flowers.

The story moves swiftly - so much so that I kept putting off my dinner so I could read the next exciting segment.

It is interesting to watch Lucas, Virgil and various police departments join in the search. The compulsive story continues chapter by chapter until its exciting climax.

(This review refers to the expression titled “Storm Prey”.)

Speaking in Bones (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-06-15)
In this contemporary novel, Kathy Reichs places Dr. Tempe Brennan in a number of suspenseful and interesting situations.

Tempe is approached by Hazel "Lucky" Strike. She's an amateur detective and matches unidentified bodies with people who have gone missing. She's a member of a group called Websleuth.where people compete to solve cold cases.

Lucky plays a tape for Tempe where a woman appears to have recorded her own murder. Further, Lucky is positive that the voice is of a missing eighteen-year-old girl, Cora Teague. Cora went missing a number of years ago and Lucky believes that Teague's bones are being held by Dr. Brennan's office, under unidentified subjects.

Although doubtful, Dr. Brennan contacts Det. Zeb Ramsey from the town where Teague's family lives. They work together in investigating the facts.

There are two interesting subplots to the story, in one, Tempe's on again off again boyfriend, Lt. Det Andrew Ryan from Canada, asks her to marry him. Tempe has to make a decision and facts from her past come into play.

In the other subplot, Brennan's mother is in a nearby health facility with cancer. She is lonely and wants attention. Brennan visits her mother and then her mother asks about the case and wants to help via her computer.

As Brennan looks into similar cases, it's gripping to so many people whose bones have been found but the are not identified.

Cora Teague was a member of a fundamentalist church. Her family refuse to help and tell Brennan that their daughter ran away with her boyfriend. The pastor of their church stands in the way of any investigation. Tempe and Ramsey have difficulty understanding why there is this reluctance to help as the group conveys utterances of lost souls and evilness.

Not to reveal plot, but the reader follows the story as suspense and tension increase. There are several surprises along the way.

The story focuses on relationships, faith and Dr. Brennan's persistence in learning the truth.

I received a free copy of this book in return for my honest review.

(This review refers to the expression titled “Speaking in Bones”.)

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