COMPLETE COMPOST GARDENING GUIDE by Barbara Pleasant & Deborah L. Martin: The subtitle is "Banner Batches, Grow Heaps, Comforter Compost, and Other Amazing Techniques for Saving Time and Money, and Producing the Most Flavorful, Nutritious Vegetables Ever." This is everything you ever wanted to know about compost; all the different way of creating it, all the materials that are safe to use, different ways of storing it, and of course, the best way to use it. I know it is Fall/Winter throughout most of the country, but you can compost all winter and have enough for amazing soil come spring. Here in south Florida our planting/growing season is pretty much opposite the rest of the country, but we also compost all year long. A few years ago we bought a composting bin that is on a stand and can be turned without opening it up and having to mix the materials (although the authors recommend doing that anyway.) I also have a bin on the counter for waste scraps, a greener version of Rachael Ray's famous "garbage bowl." So I have some experience with composting, but I still learned lots from this book. This is an excellent reference guide for anyone who is serious about gardening, living greener and cleaner and of course, composting. Happy gardening! 12/13 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
INNOCENCE by Dean Koontz: A haunting, beautifully written book with roots in the "Beauty and the Beast" tale but going way beyond that theme. Utilizing first person narrative we meet Addison who has been taught to think of himself as so hideous that if people see him they will become enraged and try to kill him. His own mother keeps him hidden in an isolated area but when he is eight makes him leave their home rather than tolerate him anymore. He moves into an underground area in a large city coming out only at night to get food and necessary supplies. In narrating events and feelings of his existence Addison is shown to be very literate, a keen observer of the things around him and tolerant to a degree beyond understanding of the antipathy shown towards him by anyone meeting him by chance. He is a frequent, after hours, visitor of the library and it is there one night that he encounters Gwyneth also a late night visitor who is fleeing from an enemy of hers. She is the beauty in the story. They connect and begin meeting and talking. Addison makes sure that he is not seen and Gwyneth cannot be touched by anyone. Where events take them with their phobias leads to an ending of the book that is not expected but totally logical. I was totally captured by the writing and finished it in one sitting. Koontz has written a novel that could become a classic and is certainly different than anything else I have read. Highly recommended for a very rewarding literary experience. 12/13 Paul Lane
THE PURSUIT OF MARY BENNET: A PRIDE AND PREJUDICE NOVEL by Pamela Mingle: Poor Mary Bennet. She seems destined to be a spinster – a role even her own family is mostly resigned to. So when Henry Walsh, a friend of Charles Bingley’s, begins to pay her notice even she is certain it’s only for the pleasure of conversation. Surely he can’t have feelings for her, especially when her younger sister Kitty sets her eyes on him. Meanwhile, Lydia has returned to Longbourn under suspicious circumstances and very close to term with her first child. She and Wickham have split and the man in question has vanished in spite of all of Darcy’s efforts to track him down. With the gossip mill churning it will be hard to keep Lydia’s latest scandal under wraps, especially if a Bennet girl is to win the hand of Mr. Walsh. Pamela Mingle’s P&P tale is a fun follow up to the classic and, I felt, definitely in the spirit of Austen’s original. Mingle’s Mary is a much more sympathetic character but also one with depth and emotion this time around. I quite liked this version of the middle Bennet sister. 12/13 Becky Lejeune
THE FARM by Emily McKay: Scientists wanted to create a cure for the world’s various ailments. Instead their experiments resulted in a pathogen that turned everyone infected into a bloodsucking freak. They’re called Ticks and strangely enough they crave the blood of teens over all others. So the government came up with a plan to keep the teenagers safe: shipping them off to Farms where they’ll be protected until a cure is found. But the Farms seem to be less about protection and more about actual livestock control. The teens’ blood is harvested frequently and Lily is sure it’s to appease the infected. Even worse, the frequent donations keep the population of teens weak and easy to control. Lily has a plan to get herself and her twin sister, Mel, out the Farm but her plans are thrown awry by the arrival of Carter, an old classmate from before. Carter is up to something and Lily isn’t quite sure she can trust him but she quickly realizes that she’ll need his help if she and her sister are going to have any hope of surviving. This first in McKay’s post viral outbreak apocalypse series is quite good. The vamps are horrific (and there are actual vamps in addition to the Ticks) and the plot is intense. Technically a teen release, The Farm is perfect for horror fans well beyond their teen years as well. 12/13 Becky Lejeune
TWO SPOT by Bill Pronzini and Collin Wilcox: Interesting classic from 1978. Pronzini’s San Francisco based Nameless Detective (actually “Bill) becomes involved with the affairs of a prominent Napa Valley family owned winery. When one of the parties is murdered, Collin Wilcox’s Lieutenant Frank Hastings is called into the picture. Alternating chapters from the two authors weave a complex story in which various possibilities are assessed and discarded before the two men working together come to realize this no ordinary matter, but in fact, is the point of an explosion that could have international repercussions. Amazing how a book this old can continue to be extremely readable 35 years later. 12/13 Jack Quick
THE BULLY PULPIT: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin: I took a week off over the Thanksgiving break, and this book was my vacation treat. I don't consider a vacation successful unless I've read something wonderful, and with all the cooking and company I figured I'd only have one shot at it and figured Doris wouldn't let me down, and she didn't. Long after my family and guests were asleep, I was greedily devouring this book. Teddy Roosevelt coined the phrase, the "bully pulpit," and he took full advantage of it. He enforced the Sherman Act, the anti-trust act, by forcing J.P. Morgan to divest himself of his transportation monopoly in the public forum - a real eye opener. This book covers all that and more, especially the relationship between Roosevelt and Taft. Goodwin also delves into how the Republican party became splintered and lost power, and if that sounds familiar (Tea Party?) it should. This is fascinating reading and the pages just fly by - all 900+ of them. 12/13 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
OWN YOUR KITCHEN: Recipes to Inspire & Empower by Anne Burrell & Suzanne Lenzer: As a huge Burrell fan, I was really looking forward to her newest cookbook but all I can say is save your money; what a disappointment. This is a hodgepodge of recipes divided into Firsts; Seconds, Brunch; Sandwiches; Sides and Desserts and I was hard pressed to even find something I wanted to try. But try I did - starting with a "First," the Kale Caesar Salad which recommended letting the kale sit for 3-4 minutes to soften. Half an hour later it still wasn't softer, just slimier and not very appealing. It went into the trash. Next up was a "Second," Pollo a Mattone, chicken under a brick. This recipe actually included an entire page, with pictures, on how to spatchcock a chicken, which is boning it out other than the leg and wing tips. But the chicken was a bit dry despite cooking it for less time than directed, I'll stick with Ina Garten's Perfect Roast Chicken. I also made Zucchini Quick Bread, a "Brunch" item and it was good, but nothing great. It was too fruit-cake like for me with the pineapple, raisins and walnuts. Finally, I made the Caponata, a "Side" and it was fantastic, almost worth the price of admission. Chock full of veggies besides eggplant, like squash and fennel, the seasoning was spot on and it was a big hit with even my Sicilian mother-in-law. I would have liked to try her Mashed Rutabaga with Bacon, but I've never worked with rutabaga before and would have preferred more precise measurements other than "large" and no reference to size at all in the potatoes. Burrell's strength likes in her teaching ability, and while she offers lots of tips here, there wasn't much new or different from her previous cookbook and the forced cuteness just grew old. 12/13 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
THE HANGING JUDGE by Michael Ponsor: This legal thriller is told from the unique perspective of the Federal court judge presiding over the first death penalty case in Massachusetts in more than fifty years. The moral story here is highlighted by an occasional chapter dedicated to the telling of a true story of an 1806 hanging that was reversed two hundred years later. A drive by shooting is at the root of the present day case; a Hispanic drug dealer and an innocent bystander are killed, and a sharp cop ends up nabbing the getaway driver who gives up a name, Moon Hudson, as the shooter. Moon is a family man, married with a baby, but also has a past that the jury will never hear about. The state’s case hinges on the word of a gangbanger who has agreed to testify in exchange for a lighter sentence, and Moon’s life hangs in the balance. The death penalty case is compelling but the characters are not fully developed, leaving a bit of an emotional void. Richard North Patterson tackled a similar subject in Conviction with considerably more passion, but perhaps that is the impartiality of the judge as storyteller here. 12/13 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch Copyright © 2013 Booklist, a division of the American Library Association.
THE HANGING JUDGE by Michael Ponsor: Ponsor, who is an active Federal Judge and who presided over the first capital case in the state of Massachusetts in 50 years, delivers an emotionally charged first novel based on his own experience. David Norcross finds himself presiding over the trial of a man charged with murder in the shooting deaths of two people and is depicted as torn between his duty to act impartially and his inward doubts about the emotional necessity of pronouncing a sentence of death if the defendant is found guilty by the jury. As was the case with Ponsor this is the first capital case in Massachusetts in 50 years. The action of the book is involved with the trial, preparations by the prosecution, and the defense. The descriptions of the maneuvering by both sides to gain advantage both with the Judge and the Jury are as real as an actual Judge can make them. Ponsor allows us to look at the feelings of the defendant, his family and the families of the people killed in the crime. He also brings into play an execution in 1805 in which two men were hung based on the testimony of a young man and religious prejudices existent at the time. The two men were finally pardoned in the mid 20th century, but Judge Norcross is aware of the wrong doing that the 1805 execution involved and is totally insistent in his own mind on fairness. On another side, Norcross who has been widowed for five years meets a woman with whom he finds himself falling in love with and has the task of keeping that relationship out of his job. Emotionally demanding, and a fascinating read. One would certainly expect other novels of the same caliber from Ponsor in the future. 12/13 Paul Lane
THE PRINCE OF RISK by Christopher Reich: A novel incorporating two themes merged very well by Reich. The first is about a crisis based on a huge hedge fund's bet on devaluation of China's currency and the other about a planned armed invasion by mercenaries against New York City. Christopher Reich is extremely qualified to write about the financial world as his background includes experience working with Swiss Banks based in Switzerland. And he is no slouch at conspiracy themes. Bobby Astor (no relation to the Astors) is a manager of a huge hedge fund that he built up himself. It looks very promising that information that he received from a friend about a probable devaluation of China's currency in order to make them more competitive in international trading will enable Bobby to make an enormous profit betting on the loss against the dollar. Suddenly his world changes radically when his father, who is the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, is killed right on the White House Lawn as he arrives in order to deliver an important warning to the president. Before being killed his father, who has been estranged from his son for many years, manages to send him a one word text which changes everything for Bobby and plunges him into a world in which all he built up is brought to the cusp of disaster. He begins to investigate the murder and attempts to find out what the word he received from his father via text means. In doing so he finds that he is now involved in an international conspiracy which threatens the entire financial structure of the United States. His ex wife is a high ranked FBI investigator but Bobby hesitates to get her involved due to the manner that they split up. Reich brings Bobby's two problems neatly together with the Chinese prospective devaluation and the probable invasion of New York by armed mercenaries and even brings in his ex wife in order to help solve the problems. The Prince of Risk is easily one of Christopher Reich's best books to date and causes the reader to become enveloped in the action and not being able to put it down until the very end. 12/13 Paul Lane
THE LOST GIRLS OF ROME by Donato Carrisi: What if you held your sister’s killer’s life in your hands? As Carrisi’s latest begins, a medic finds herself in exactly this position. When an emergency call comes in from a remote estate, no one expects they’ll be saving the life of a murderer. The man bears the words “kill me” upon his chest and souvenirs from a handful of kidnappings are found in his home. Marcus and Clemente have tied the man to another kidnapping, one where they believe the victim may still be alive, but the criminal has been in a coma since his discovery. What’s more, Marcus and Clemente are not police; they work in secret and cannot reveal themselves to authorities. Sandra Vega, a newly widowed police officer, has yet to face her husband’s death or the questions it brings up. Ruled an accident, Sandra has avoided the fact that he was discovered in Rome when he claimed he was in Norway on a story. When Interpol comes calling expressing an interest in seeing his bags from that fateful trip, Sandra begins digging into it herself. What she finds points to murder and as she unravels the clues he left behind, she slowly begins to understand what he was investigating. Donato Carrisi is perhaps one of the most talented authors I’ve come across when it comes to intricate plotting. There are so many threads in The Lost Girls of Rome that at first it seems impossible they’ll all come together, but come together they do and in such a wonderful way. The Lost Girls of Rome is dark and brutal and truly excellent. Very highly recommended. 12/13 Becky Lejeune
ONCE WE WERE BROTHERS by Ronald H. Balson: In 1930s Poland, Ben Solomon and Otto Piatek became the best of friends. As a favor to his father, the Solomon family took Otto in and raised him as one of their own. Even when the Nazis came into power, Otto, whose mother worked high in party ranks, stuck by his adoptive Jewish family. By the time WWII had begun, however, Otto had turned against the Solomons and would betray them in the worst possible way. In the new century, an aging Ben Solomon comes across a television program honoring Elliot Rosenzweig. Rosenzweig is a well-respected member of Chicago society and a Holocaust survivor, but Ben is convinced he is really Otto. Ben’s ultimate goal is only for Otto to be recognized for who he is but who would believe a relative no one who accuses someone so renowned of such a horrific past? Balson’s debut is an admirable one: his attention to detail and historic fact is apparent and makes Once We Were Brothers an overall believable and fascinating read. There are a few moments, though, where the story lags and begins to feel like a classroom history lesson. It unfortunately hangs up the overall pacing on occasion but still provides excellent context for the story. 12/13 Becky Lejeune
SOMEONE ELSE’S LOVE STORY by Joshilyn Jackson: Shandi Pierce’s next step in life turns into a brand new start when she and her son Natty survive a convenience store hold up. They had been traveling just a few hours away from her mother’s house, ready to move into her father’s condo in the city, when they stopped for ginger ale. Next thing Shandi knew, they were facing down a gunman and she was reevaluating her entire life. William Ashe was the real hero of the day and Shandi couldn’t help but fall head over heels for him. But she doesn’t know a thing about him. She doesn’t know that he’s recently suffered great loss, and she doesn’t know that in saving everyone he’d actually hoped he’d get shot. She is certain, however, that William Ashe can help her find the answer to the biggest question in her life and it may just be that she can help him as well. Oh, I get it now. This is my first time reading Joshilyn Jackson and while I know how popular she is, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I immediately fell in love with Shandi and William and their respective friends and families. Someone Else’s Love Story is an adorably clever and funny (and a little heartbreaking as well) feel good read filled with Southern charm. 12/13 Becky Lejeune
TATIANA by Martin Cruz Smith: I saw a snarky blurb a while back that commented that John Le Carre and Martin Cruz Smith don't seem to realize that the cold war is over because they are still writing about Russia. They are still writing about Russia, not because of the cold war, but because Russia is a fascinating study of the impact that a post-cold war government can still have on its people, the nature of crime within its borders and the tasks of those who choose to spend their lives trying to police those crimes. There is no better example of this than Martin Cruz Smith's latest outing with inspector Arkady Renko continuing to struggle against organized crime inside and outside of his government. The story opens with Arkady and his sidekick Detective Sergeant Viktor Orlov observing the funeral of a very wealthy organized crime boss, Grisha Gregorenko. His observation is distracted not only by the likely successor's efforts to exclude him but also by a demonstration at the cemetery gates by journalists protesting the killing of one of their own, an intrepid investigative reporter named Tatiana. As the story continues, it is not surprising to learn that Tatiana may have been on the trail of deal between the Gregorenko's organization and government and business interests in both Kaliningrad and China. Apparently, a translator was required to facilitate these talks and he too has been killed. His notes are written in an indecipherable pictograph shorthand and have been lost. The unraveling of all this soon also involves a young man, Zhenya, who Arkady has taken into his home. As Zhenya becomes more involved, Arkady relives his own childhood and the impact his father the General had on his own life. The result is a novel that is interesting, exciting and emotionally involving. In other words, it is right in the mainstream of what good crime fiction ought to be. Note: A week or so ago, I read a piece in the New York Times about Martin Cruz Smith struggling with Parkinson's disease and having to dictate much of his new book to his wife. The next day, my copy came in the mail. I enjoyed it thoroughly and knowing how much work went into it made me appreciate it even more. So it was hard to keep from going over the top on this. 12/13 Geoffrey R. Hamlin
"The whole family is a bunch of dangerous freaks...Most are ex-cons or junkies or deranged from inbreeding. Five have died violently, three are back in prison, two have gone insane from untreated venereal disease, and one writes book reviews." ~ Triggerfish Twist by Tim Dorsey
THE ABSENCE OF MERCY by John Burley: John Burley's first novel and a great introduction for an author with a bright future. The story is a psychological study of murder in a small town, and the impact a serial killer has on the town and families faced with crimes not normally seen in the area they live in. Dr Ben Stevenson is the town medical examiner and lives happily with plenty of free time for his wife, two children and dog. His normal work routine involves nothing more traumatic than traffic deaths, and death by natural causes. His routine is shattered when the body of a young man is found in the woods horribly mangled, beaten, bitten and abused beyond any semblance to anything normal. The police jump on the case understanding that nothing less than a fiend is loose. Before too long a young girl on the way home from a party is also attacked in a wooded area, but somehow survives but with the same wounds and bite marks as the first victim. Ben is involved in attempting to help the police, and than the FBI with trying to develop a picture of the murderer from the method and results of the crimes. The solution to the identity of the killer is presented before the ending, and the impact and why of who it is becomes a fascinating study into human normal and abnormal psychology. The fact that it appears prior to the ending is a well thought out sequence and brings Burley's novel to a level more than a little beyond a murder mystery. I look forward to more novels by John Burley in the near future and am sure that his readers will feel the same way. 11/13 Paul Lane
BEYOND REDRESS by Kinley Roby: Private Investigator and Florida Game Warden Harry Brock returns in this ninth installment of this mystery series after Birds of Winter (2012.) Gwyneth Benbow, a wealthy socialite, hires Harry to investigate Henrico Perez’s murder. She is convinced the police just aren’t going to be thorough, but as Harry investigates, he realizes that Gwyneth is the prime suspect. When an attempt is made on her life, the investigation amps up and Harry finds out some disturbing information about her past. Harry has a lot of trouble with the women in his life, which adds another layer to the story. His daughter wants him to promise not to visit his dying ex-wife but only to go to her funeral. His friend Holly, a horse trainer, seems to have romance on her mind. In addition, his client, a divorced woman with plenty of experience, is putting his life in danger. Told almost exclusively in dialogue, this mystery slowly unfurls one clue at a time, until Harry solves the case. Fans won’t want to miss this latest installment. 11/13 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch Copyright © 2013 Booklist, a division of the American Library Association.
CATCH AND RELEASE by Lawrence Block: Among a roomful of awards, Block was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America in 1994. He’s written more than 50 novels, and among his series characters are Matt Scudder, a recovering-alcoholic private eye; Bernie Rhodenbarr, a gentleman thief; and Keller, a thoughtful hit man. Block is a master of the long-form mystery, and this collection proves he’s got the short form locked down as well. The 16 stories collected here are augmented by a short stage play. Rhodenbarr makes a brief appearance and ruminates on the nature of greed. Scudder spends a melancholy, nostalgic night at Grogan’s, his old watering hole, the night before it closes forever. The title story, Catch and Release is a very creepy visit with a serial killer, who adapts a fishing technique to his hobby with disturbing results. The others are just as good. Definitely recommended. 11/13 Jack Quick
CHARMING by Elliott James: All those things you thought were just fairy tales are real. John Charming knows this. As one of the Charming line (i.e. Prince Charming) and a knight – as in Knights Templar - to boot, he’s been trained to uphold an ancient enchantment that keeps all the things that go bump in the night under wraps. But John’s been on the outs with the Knights ever since his werewolf tendencies started to rear their ugly head. Now he’s become one of their targets. So John lives quietly, moving around a lot. When a vampire and a hot blond walk into the bar where he’s currently employed, he knows things are about to go south. Just how bad things will get all depends on the vampire and whether he’s part of a larger group (he is) and what they may be after. And the blond, she’s something altogether different. The first in Elliott James’s Pax Arcana series is excellent! First there’s Charming himself and his backstory, then there’s the great incorporation of various legends and mythology. I have high hopes for this series and look forward to reading more very soon. 11/13 Becky Lejeune
CHASING THE STORM by Martin Molsted: It starts with a woman being killed and a man being shot in the arm right in front of Norwegian lawyer and former elite soldier, Torgrim Rygg in Hamburg. The injured man turns out to be Marko Marin, a Russian journalist investigating the disappearance of a ship ostensibly carrying timber bound for Algiers. If there is such a thing as an honest Russian, it is Marko Marin. Disenchanted with his routine office-life Rygg agrees to help Mr. Marin, and together with Marin’s girlfriend, Lena, and their hacker, Sasha, he sets out on a journey to discover the truth about the missing ship. Suddenly he is in the middle of a series of life-threatening events and engaged in a relentless race against time to foil whoever is behind the disappearance of the ship, The Alpensturm. Not only are their individual lives at risk, but the fate of the entire world is in their hands. This is a well written thriller with a twist. The unique European perspective reminds me of some of the early work of Jack Higgins, particularly his 1982 Night Judgment at Sinos. The plots are entirely different but both have similarly well-developed and interesting characters. This one is definitely recommended. 11/13 Jack Quick
DAY ONE by Nate Kenyon: John Hawke was a big name in hacking until his son was born. Now with a family to support, he’s tried to distance himself from his shady past and Anonymous, the group he was affiliated with. It was narrowly avoiding jail time that did it, but a scandal with leaked documents also cost him his job with the Times. So when a friend gives him a lucky break writing for a tech magazine, John takes it. The current piece he’s researching involves James Weller, founder of Conn.ect, Inc and former employee of Eclipse. John thinks James may be on the brink of spilling a big story and he’s been given the chance to hear it from the man himself. The day starts as usual with John heading to the Conn.ect headquarters as he has for the past few weeks. Then things start to get strange. Protestors are gathering around the city and authorities are blaming it on Anonymous, but John’s few remaining contacts say it’s someone else. Then everything goes dark. Power goes out, emergency stations are set up, and the city is in disaster mode. And that’s just the start. John and the Conn.ect folks quickly realize that the technology that surrounds them has started to attack and the authorities seem to believe John is responsible. Now John has to try to find a way to prove who or what is really behind it all while evading authorities and trying to get home to his family. Whew! This was a ride! A technology gone bad apocalyptic tale with heavy horror leanings, Day One is sure to be a hit with Kenyon’s longtime fans and new readers alike. 11/13 Becky Lejeune
DEADFALL by Bill Pronzini: While staked out on a routine car repossession, Nameless all but witnesses the shooting of a San Francisco lawyer, Leonard Purcell. He arrives on the scene in time to hear Purcell's dying words, one of which is "deadfall." But Purcell dies in Nameless's arms before the cryptic word can be explained. The mystery deepens when Nameless discovers that Leonard's brother, Kenneth, fell to his death six months earlier. Is Purcell's death linked to the apparent accidental "deadfall" of his brother? Leonard's housemate thinks so, and he hires Nameless to prove it. The detective's search takes him into a labyrinth of bizarre relationships involving Kenneth's promiscuous widow, his unattractive daughter, her drug-addicted boyfriend, a shrewd society matron with a passion for antique snuff bottles, a bisexual Filipino, and a missing Mexican deliveryman. Before Nameless can learn the truth behind the demise of the Purcell brothers, the case takes a number of turns that leave his own life hanging in the balance. Interesting in the matter of fact way that the homosexuality of Kenneth is treated. A classic from 1988; wouldn’t be unusual today but this was 25 years ago. 11/13 Jack Quick
A DECENT INTERVAL by Simon Brett: It is always a special pleasure to read the adventures of Simon Brett's hard-drinking thespian crime solver, Charles Paris, who gives real meaning to the British slang term "piss-artist." At the outset, Charles has been going through a bit of a dry spell (at least work-wise), and is delighted when his agent tells him that he has been solicited for a part by a famous director. His dreams of fame and fortune are dimmed when he discovered that the director has sold out to do a very commercial version of Hamlet which will have as the lead characters a Reality TV star and the winner of a talent competition like StarSearch. Nonetheless, it is work, and Charles consoles himself by sneaking off for a quick drink between his appearances and hoping that he can induce an attractive female player to join him for what might be an indecent interval. Everyone's plans are shattered when the Reality TV star playing Hamlet is conked by a falling skull and the actress playing Ophelia is found dead in a pool of blood. The replacements are far superior to the original cast members and the show goes on. But while the show is going on, the investigation is continuing and Charles, with time on his hands, feels compelled to investigate. My favorite part of the Charles Paris books are the little reviews of his past performances that are inserted from time to time as he reflects on a part he has played in the past. For example, on page 54, "'Charles Paris played Horatio like a particularly slow-witted Dr. Watson.' - Oldham Evening Chronicle." There is much to appreciate in a well-written, light-hearted murder mystery. But still, one comes away feeling a little sad for Charles. 11/13 Geoffrey R. Hamlin
THE ENGLISH GIRL by Daniel Silva: Daniel Silva delivers another excellent thriller starring Israeli master spy Gabriel Allon. When a beautiful young British woman vanishes on the island of Corsica, a prime minister’s career is threatened with destruction. Allon is called upon to help in a venture that turns out not to be as intended. Allon ends up back in Moscow and may not be able to escape this time. Only negative is poor editing on this one. The same exact sentence appeared on subsequent pages in the first fifty pages. Editing appeared better later on but there still seemed to be some plot “sag” in the middle. 11/13 Jack Quick
FIXING TO DIE by Elaine Viets: This is the latest entry in the Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper series and this time Josie is mystery shopping home contractors. Josie is also trying to find a house, a place to make a home for her daughter and her new husband. When his veterinary partner Christine offers up a property she inherited, they snatch it up, despite the work it needs. But things take a turn for the worse when they tear down the ramshackle gazebo behind the house and find a body - Christine's sister. Christine is arrested for the murder and Josie is determined to prove her innocence. The characters are likeable and real, the home improvement angle is certainly timely, judging by the popularity of the HGTV and DIY networks, and the research impeccable as always. It's a fun read and another terrific mystery from the über-talented Viets. 11/13 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
THE HIDDEN by Jo Chumas: Egyptian history buffs will love this complex story of love, betrayal and political machinations. Set in 1940 Cairo, Egypt, a young professor is murdered, and his wife Aimee, is determined to find out why. Upon cleaning out his desk at the university, she finds her mother’s diary. Aimee never knew her mother, can’t understand why her husband had the diary, and the story starts moving back and forth between the 1940’s murder and the diary, set in 1919. Her mother was the daughter of Egyptian royalty, forced into an arranged marriage when she was 11 years old, and her life in the harem makes for compelling reading. Meanwhile there is a political uprising planned to overthrow King Faruk, and spies are everywhere. Aimee befriends Farouk, a newspaper editor, in her quest to solve her husband’s murder, but there is barely any trust between them. Both mother and daughter experience violence and political unrest in their lives, as well as love, and their intertwining stories are brought together by the end. Fans of Elizabeth Peters and Wilbur Smith will find much to enjoy here. This novel won the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, Mystery & Thriller. 11/13 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch Copyright © 2013 Booklist, a division of the American Library Association.
HOW TO BE A SCOTTISH MISTRESS by Adrienne Basso: This is my first romance by this author and I will definitely read another. The plot revolves around Lady Fiona Libourg, whose husband is killed and his lands stolen. She flees with her stepson to Ireland to beg help from Lord Gavin McLendon, an old friend of her late husband. But things are tense between England and Ireland, and McLendon isn't inclined to get involved until Fiona offers herself in the bargain; she will be his mistress in return for his protection. He acquiesces and of course they fall in love, but politics dictate his marital decisions and they don't include an English Lady. The plot is a bit thin but the story moves, the relationship sizzles and there is enough danger to make it all intoxicating. 11/13 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
THE KILLER'S ART by Mari Jungstedt: This is the fourth book in the Anders Knutas series, translated from the Swedish by Tiina Nunnally. Set on Sweden’s largest island, Gotland, a place that has an impalpable creepiness about it that almost becomes another character in this dark, brooding thriller. Egon Wallin is a successful art dealer, about to embark on some serious lifestyle changes. But those plans are thwarted when he is murdered and left to hang on Dalman Gate in downtown Visby, a historic town in Gotland. A woman out for an early morning stroll finds the body, and the press are there almost as quickly as the police, somewhat hampering the investigation. A famous Swedish painting called “The Dying Dandy” has been stolen, and there seems to be a link between the theft and the murder. There is an underlying theme about the media and corruption that pervades the story, adding additional depth, but the virtuous journalist Johan Berg helps balance things a bit. This is excellent Scandinavian noir as first popularized by Steig Larsson, and a beautifully written addition to the genre. 11/13 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch Copyright © 2013 Booklist, a division of the American Library Association.
KING AND MAXWELL by David Baldacci: David Baldacci brings back the team of Sean King and Michelle Maxwell, former secret service agents that lost their government positions, and became private investigators. Taken as a whole the book is typical Baldacci, taut, action oriented and guaranteed to keep the reader glued to the pages. The only slight deviation is the manner that Sean and Michelle are introduced to a conspiracy that reaches to the very highest level of U.S. government. A young boy contacts them indicating that he was advised that his father was killed in Afghanistan, but then receives an e-mail from him the next day. A bit far fetched that a high level team of private investigators would jump into such a case for no real remuneration and no real facts. But accepting this we are treated to one of Baldacci's better books and a plot that is totally engrossing. A scheme to discredit the president and assassinate him provides the basis of the conspiracy and is unfolded in well done writing. A bit more romance unfolds between Sean and Michelle with the use of Sean's ex wife as a source of information and the entrance of some jealousy on the part of Michelle. It is a given that the prolific Baldacci will utilize the two private detectives in a future novel, and it is sure to attract his readers. 11/13 Paul Lane
LIGHT OF THE WORLD by James Lee Burke: This may be Burke’s most complex work since In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead. Dave Robicheaux and his longtime friend and partner Clete Purcell are vacationing in Montana’s spectacular Big Sky country with Dave’s wife Molly, daughter Alafair and Clete’s daughter, Gretchen Horowitz. It should be nothing but fly-fishing, relaxing, and having a good time. But it turns out there are some strange locals, including some corrupt lawmen, an oil billionaire, and a mysterious rodeo cowboy to contend with. To top it off there are indications that a sadistic serial killer, whom Alfair interviewed in prison and who supposedly died in a collision between a tanker truck and a police transport vehicle, may, in fact, be alive and is stalking Alafair. There are also attempts on Gretchen’s life. It’s up to the Boogie-woogie boys from down home in New Orleans to protect their respective daughters and get everyone out alive. As always, outstanding. 11/13 Jack Quick
MAGE’S BLOOD by David Hair: With an impassible body of water between them, the continents of Yuros and Antiopia had little to do with one another for generations. The mages’ gnosis allowed for air travel, but the airships and the people who powered them were limited to very few. All of that changed when Antonin Meiros and the Ordo Costruo conceived of and built the Moontide Bridge. The Bridge allows for travel between the continents every twelve years. But what began as a passage for trade has also become a path to endless war. Antonin Meiros has lived for over a century and believes that his own children may lead both sides to piece, but he is left without an heir and desperate to find a wife who can provide a son. His search leads him to Ramita Ankesharan. Ramita was raised to believe that the magic wielded by mages comes courtesy of the devil. Never did she imagine she’d be married to one, especially when she was promised to another. Across the ocean, Alaron Mercer is gearing up for graduation. His final thesis rests on what he believes is a spectacular discovery, but it is one that will not only cost him his use of gnosis but also make him a potential enemy of the leaders of Yuros. For these characters and more, the year leading up to the Moontide is only the beginning their struggles. A chunkster of a fantasy, Mage’s Blood takes a little time to get into but is ultimately a rewarding epic read filled with wonderful world building. And with three more installments to go, it’s anyone’s guess as to what will come next. 11/13 Becky Lejeune
NOT A DROP TO DRINK by Mindy McGinnis: Imagine a world where you’d kill for water. This is the reality Lynn has grown up in. The Shortage left water in high demand and a pond like the one on her mother’s land means the difference between life and death. Ever since she can remember it’s been just the two of them: Lynn was taught to survive and taught to trust no one but her mother. When her mother dies, though, everything changes. Not a Drop to Drink is definitely one of the most exciting debuts I’ve read in 2013. This teen read is perfect for adult audiences as well and is a blend of post-apocalyptic dystopian and frontier survival. The world building and detail are fairly minimal, all things considered, but work fantastically as an added illustration of just how closed off Lynn’s life has been. Not a Drop to Drink is a phenomenal book. 11/13 Becky Lejeune
THE SECRET DAUGHTER OF THE TSAR by Jennifer Laam: Lena is a maid in the Romanov household, one who befriends the Empress Alexandra in her time of need. After giving birth to three daughters, Alexandra is desperate to provide a son for her husband. An heir would secure their position and the throne; another daughter could bring about dire consequences. Charlotte wants nothing more than to protect her son during the Nazi Occupation. When an officer arrives with an uncanny amount of intel about Charlotte’s past, she knows their only choice is to run. Veronica Herrera’s career rests on the publication of her thesis on Alexandra Romanov. But while Veronica has long been fascinated by the fallen Russian monarchy, her peers are of the belief that she’ll likely not add anything new to the wealth of material already available. Then Veronica meets Michael Karstadt. While all three women’s tales are separated by decades, they share a bond that will finally come to light present day. I am one of many people who is intrigued by the Romanovs and their story. Laam’s debut offers up a bit of a twist, though, with a fifth Romanov daughter. It’s an interesting premise that makes for an entertaining read. 11/13 Becky Lejeune
SENSE & SENSIBILITY by Joanna Trollope: For the Dashwood ladies – Belle and her daughters, Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret – the death of Henry Dashwood means the loss of everything they hold dear. Belle, now a widow, and her three daughters are left at the mercy of Henry’s son, John, who seems to hold no regard for the deathbed wishes of his own father. Though it could also be said that his wife’s demands are simply more pressing. Fortunately, one of Henry’s relatives has come to the rescue, offering the ladies a home in Devon. It’s a story that any Jane Austen fan will recognize but with a modern twist. The advent of social media allows for the spread of gossip even faster than societies’ matrons and their tongues. Elinor becomes a working woman – in the socially acceptable sense – and almost all of the characters have somewhat more contemporary ideals (only somewhat). But the plight of the Dashwoods is the same. This is the first release as part of The Austen Project – new versions of Austen’s classics as told by some of the best contemporary writers. While I greatly enjoyed Trollope’s contribution to the project I will admit that I wonder about the necessity of offering Austen retellings at all. I have no objections, merely an acknowledgement of the staunchest Janeites’ likely argument. 11/13 Becky Lejeune
UNDEAD by Kirsty McKay: A dreaded school ski trip is about to take an unimaginable turn for the worse for poor Bobby. She never wanted to go on the trip to begin with. Born and raised in England, she and her family moved to the States long enough for her to start to lose her accent, only to return in the wake of her father’s death. Needless to say Bobby is feeling less than at home of late and being the new girl doesn’t help one bit. So when the bus stops for lunch Bobby elects to stay on board. Turns out the bus is the best place to be when Bobby’s classmates start to become shambling zombies intent on eating the few remaining living. Only a handful of survivors are left but the bus is almost on empty and they’re stuck in the middle of nowhere. Now Bobby and classmates Smitty, Alice, and Pete, will have to fend for themselves against the zombie horde if they ever want to get home alive. Undead is super fabulous laugh out loud, gory zombie fun. 11/13 Becky Lejeune
THE SCARPETTA COOKBOOK by Scott Conant: I'm a long time fan of Chef Conant, from his appearances on Top Chef and as a judge on Chopped, but I didn't really appreciate his food until I ate at Scarpetta in Miami. The food was perfection, from the breads and spreads to the pasta to the fish to dessert. So when I heard he was releasing this cookbook, I begged an advance copy and went to work. I started with the Caponata, which was one of the simplest recipes for this dish that I've ever made, basically onions, tomatoes and eggplant. It seemed a little light on the eggplant, I would use more next time I make this but it is creamy and sweet and just yummy. Then I decided to tackle his most famous dish, Spaghetti with Tomato Basil. This deceptively simple dish is sublime, and didn't seem all that difficult. The recipe for the sauce is different from any tomato sauce I've ever made, and while I was skeptical of the amount of olive oil, figuring it would be a greasy sauce, I was wrong. The sauce emulsifies beautifully and is the simplest and best tomato sauce I've ever cooked. I ran into a problem with the spaghetti, the ratio of dry to wet ingredients seemed off to me and the recipe as followed, made an unworkable dough. After contacting the publisher, I was informed that I found a mistake. When Chef Conant's recipe was converted for the cookbook, an error was made - instead of 5 cups of flour, use 3 1/2 cups, which makes more sense, and it will be corrected in future printings. This makes a very rich and delicious pasta that pairs perfectly with the sauce. The recipes are straightforward and truly rely on good quality ingredients, and they shine here. There are tips throughout the book, from where to shop to wines to pair to suggestions for leftovers. The beautiful photography is just the icing on the cake, pushing this beyond just a cookbook to fabulous gift book. This is well on its way to becoming a favorite. 11/13 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
Additional lists include my lists of favorite books, along with brief reviews:Best Books of 2012, 2011 Favorites, 2010 Favorites, 2009 Favorites, 2008 Favorites, 2007 Favorites, 2006 Favorites, 2005 Favorites, 2004 Favorites, 2003 Favorites, 2002 Favorites, 2001 Favorites, 2000 Favorites, 1999 Favorites and 1998 Favorites. The visitors to this site have chosen their favorites for 2001 and 2002 as well.
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