Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Month: November 2016

Escape Clause by John Sandford (Virgil Flowers #9)


The first storm comes from, of all places, the Minnesota zoo. Two large, and very rare, Amur tigers have vanished from their cage, and authorities are worried sick that they’ve been stolen for their body parts. Traditional Chinese medicine prizes those parts for home remedies, and people will do extreme things to get what they need. Some of them are a great deal more extreme than others — as Virgil is about to find out.
Then there’s the homefront. Virgil’s relationship with his girlfriend Frankie has been getting kind of serious, but when Frankie’s sister Sparkle moves in for the summer, the situation gets a lot more complicated. For one thing, her research into migrant workers is about to bring her up against some very violent people who emphatically do not want to be researched. For another…she thinks Virgil’s kind of cute.
“You mess around with Sparkle,” Frankie told Virgil, “you could get yourself stabbed.”
“She carries a knife?”
“No, but I do.”

Forget a storm – this one’s a tornado.

Many thanks to NetGalley for this review copy!

Seeing a new John Sandford book on the shelf is always a thrill, and even more so when it’s a Flowers outing. Sandford’s Davenport character is well written, but Flowers is truly a joy to experience. It seems to me that the author permits himself to really cut loose in writing about Virgil’s exploits; his writing seems to mirror Carl Hiaasen’s more than his own.

That being said, I love Carl Hiaasen. His character development ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous, and so it goes here with ESCAPE CLAUSE.

The main bad guy is a disgraced doctor who pops Xanax like M&M’s. The other bad guys are truly caricatures of villains, even down to how they meet their untimely demise. In fact, I would say that this book by far is the most gory and strange Virgil story yet.

It starts out normal enough: our hero is asked to track down two missing tigers from the Minneapolis zoo. Once he starts shaking the tree, all sorts of things start falling out. We learn about the dark side of traditional Chinese medicine, and also experience a sub plot with wild characters as well – Virgil’s girlfriend has a sister named Sparkle who is dating a priest.

Don’t let the rollicking crazies fool you – this is a serious mystery that will keep you turning the pages. Even though we know whodunit already, seeing them brought to justice (or not) is captivating. Virgil is getting tired of handling animal cases (remember the dognappers from a previous book?) but he throws his all into tracking these rare tigers down with a fervor that will delight the most sensitive animal lover. He truly has fun while on the job, and it shows.

ESCAPE CLAUSE can be read as a standalone novel, but fans of Virgil will delight in all the in-jokes and references to previous adventures. Sandford keeps getting better and better. This was one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”0399168915″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].


Night School by Lee Child (Jack Reacher #21)


It’s 1996, and Reacher is still in the army. In the morning they give him a medal, and in the afternoon they send him back to school. That night he’s off the grid. Out of sight, out of mind.
Two other men are in the classroom—an FBI agent and a CIA analyst. Each is a first-rate operator, each is fresh off a big win, and each is wondering what the hell they are doing there.
Then they find out: A Jihadist sleeper cell in Hamburg, Germany, has received an unexpected visitor—a Saudi courier, seeking safe haven while waiting to rendezvous with persons unknown. A CIA asset, undercover inside the cell, has overheard the courier whisper a chilling message: “The American wants a hundred million dollars.”
For what? And who from? Reacher and his two new friends are told to find the American. Reacher recruits the best soldier he has ever worked with: Sergeant Frances Neagley. Their mission heats up in more ways than one, while always keeping their eyes on the prize: If they don’t get their man, the world will suffer an epic act of terrorism.
From Langley to Hamburg, Jalalabad to Kiev, Night School moves like a bullet through a treacherous landscape of double crosses, faked identities, and new and terrible enemies, as Reacher maneuvers inside the game and outside the law.


Many thanks to NetGalley for this review copy!

This is Jack Reacher’s 21st outing, and it’s a throwback this time. He is teamed up with Sgt Frances Neagley to try to figure out what a cryptic message (“The American wants a hundred million dollars”) means.  Fans of Reacher will know what happens: he is perspicacious enough to figure out clues, he vanquishes bad guys with a sharp elbow to the head, and is quietly sexy to certain women. Nothing new here.

As much as I love a great Reacher story, this one seemed a bit dry.

There wasn’t enough real action and there was too much switching back and forth from one criminal cell to another. Somehow the subplots and double crosses were overly complicated to me, and it was hard to keep track of who was double crossing who.

I also found it inconceivable that Reacher was making such mental leaps to connect certain dots. There was a CIA agent that seemed superfluous, and an FBI agent that was only minimal help. There was no real sense of true struggle or suspense throughout the book; I was merely curious what the hundred million dollars was going towards. Once that came to light, probably about 80% of the way through, then I became interested in the outcome.

Remember the scene from The Matrix when Neo finally realizes he is The One, and is fighting Agent Smith with one hand while Smith ineffectually flails about? Neo is calmly standing there using one hand, countering and blocking everything Smith throws at him. That is what I was thinking of as I read NIGHT SCHOOL. Reacher is Neo, phoning it in while other great minds drool and get in the way.

There is a saying: There is no bad pizza. Perhaps; it would then follow that there would be no bad Reacher books. I have yet to find one that I really hated, but this one was probably the biggest disappointment. The plot itself held promise to be a thriller, but Child took way too long to get to the meat of the story. There were sub plots, and meta-sub-plots and minimally described characters that didn’t hold my interest.

Perhaps if you read this without high expectations, you won’t be disappointed. All in all, it wasn’t a complete waste of my time (see pizza = Reacher above), but not the best use either.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. You can pick up your copy [easyazon_link identifier=”0804178801″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].



The Ripper Awakens by Ellie DeFarr


Six women dead at the hands of a brutal killer, and she’s next on his list!

Hurting from the death of a good friend, PI Hera Hunter has taken up residence in the mountain village of Rosewood. There, within a cabin owned by her foster parents, she finds solitude and peace. But not for long. After a local barmaid is murdered, Sheriff’s Deputy Mitch Haygarth concludes it’s the work of a serial killer who’s been terrorizing a small town thirty miles away. The killer has a taste for victims who share Hera’s physical traits. On a dark night thick with fog, the killer crosses Hera’s path, setting in motion a cat-and-mouse game between two dangerous adversaries. Both are accustomed to violence. Each is determined. But only one will survive.

Many thanks to the author for gifting me this ARC!

Our favorite private investigator is trying to find peace and quiet after the brutal murder of a good friend. All she wants is to be left alone with her thoughts, as she mourns and heals. However, her sense for justice is awakened as she learns of a serial killer targeting women in a nearby town.

Hera’s erstwhile companion Lucky is still sniffing out danger and giving comfort to those who need it. One of my main reasons that DeFarr is one of my favorite authors is her ability to make Lucky come alive in his actions. He is always polite as Hera brings him along to a restaurant or a bar, yet never hesitates to jump in with a growl if Hera is threatened.

RIPPER has a few plotlines happening at the same time; there are a few shady characters that Hera needs to get to know better; she is also back in contact with people from her past, causing an emotional reaction; and the body count is increasing as the murderer continues his spree.

The mayor of Rosewood is especially interested to have Hera solve the murders – but when she starts looking into his background she finds a few unsavory things! Almost all the characters in the book have skeletons in their closet – and it’s only a matter of time until Hera uncovers them.

She is still emotionally unstable due to the loss of her best friend – she is feeling both guilt that it was her fault, plus she is trying to deal with the sense of loss. As a result, Hera is somewhat different in this installment, personality wise. She is off her game, so to speak – but this makes her a kinder, gentler person. This is purely inadvertent on her part, and I’m curious to see if this changes in the next book. She lets people speak without interrupting them, she appears to be listening, and she keeps her temper in check. You can definitely tell that Hera is not herself. This is not to say she is a pushover. She continues to be fearless, sneaking into houses and searching for clues despite the constant threat of danger. Hera is awesome that way; she will take up for the helpless and hopeless and try to find them justice. She may be in need of help herself, but puts others first.

One thing of note that stuck out in my head; one of the murder victims is a girl from Hera’s past. She and Hera were involved in a fist fight years ago, yet everyone remembers the victim as a sweet girl and Hera as the bully. I would have liked to hear more (even as a flashback) of how this disparity came to be. Hera expresses dismay and confusion every time she hears others reminisce about how the victim was such a wonderful person, but the whole backstory really never gets fleshed out.

Otherwise, THE RIPPER AWAKENS is another well written, easily devoured book by Ellie DeFarr. I am curious to see if DeFarr brings Hera back to Centreville or if she will travel off to a new town and new adventure. No matter where she goes, I know she will be seeking justice for someone!

Want your own copy? You can pick it up[easyazon_link identifier=”B01KNFD2Z6″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].


Being A Dog by Alexandra Horowitz


Alexandra Horowitz, the author of the lively, highly informativeNew York Times bestselling blockbuster Inside of a Dog, explains how dogs perceive the world through their most spectacular organ—the nose—and how we humans can put our under-used sense of smell to work in surprising ways.
To a dog, there is no such thing as “fresh air.” Every breath of air is loaded with information. In fact, what every dog—the tracking dog, of course, but also the dog lying next to you, snoring, on the couch—knows about the world comes mostly through his nose.
In Being a Dog, Alexandra Horowitz, a research scientist in the field of dog cognition and the author of the runaway bestseller Inside of a Dog, unpacks the mystery of a dog’s worldview as has never been done before.
With her family dogs, Finnegan and Upton, leading the way, Horowitz sets off on a quest to make sense of scents, combining a personal journey of smelling with a tour through the cutting edge and improbable science behind the olfactory powers of the dog. From revealing the spectacular biology of the dog snout, to speaking to other cognitive researchers and smell experts across the country, to visiting detection-dog training centers and even attempting to smell-train her own nose, Horowitz covers the topic of noses—both canine and human—from surprising, novel, and always fascinating angles.
As we come to understand how complex the world around us appears to the canine nose, Horowitz changes our perspective on dogs forever. Readers will finish this book feeling that they have smelled into a fourth dimension—breaking free of human constraints and understanding smell as never before; that they have, however fleetingly, been a dog.

Many thanks to NetGalley for providing this ARC!

I’ll have to start this review off by noting the dog’s nose is my favorite part.  I love the wetness, the chilly touch, and the sniffing noises that emanate from it. Imagine my glee when I saw this book’s subject!

Once again, Horowitz does not fail to enthrall with her smooth writing style and excellent wordplay.  She starts off the book explaining the anatomy of the nose; then we discover why dogs have a better sense of smell than humans. The idea of being a “supersmeller” intrigues the author so much that she tries to develop this sense more. We then read about “sniff walks” and find out that in order to really get a good whiff of things, you need to bend down and put your nose where it counts. As she describes her sniff walk, we learn that in the beginning, smells may not be obvious, but at the end, after you have trained your nose and psyche to recognize and name scents, they are everywhere.

The background of scent is also discussed at length, with perfumers and dog trainers weighing in. Puppies training to be police sniffers or rescue dogs are slowly molded to track scent and find missing people. Horowitz does research by sniffing jars of unknown smells, and then has to attempt to put a name to them (a lot harder than it sounds). I was amazed to hear how her own sense of smell grew stronger with practice. It does seem to go hand in hand – practice makes perfect – but I was fascinated to read the variety of scents she was able to comprehend. It made me want to go out and practice my own sniffing!

The author’s love and admiration of dogs shines through, especially when she is using her own canines as an example. She is even surprised when one of her dogs excels at sniff work, once he trains himself to truly distance himself from his domesticity and embrace his natural canine being.  This part gave me pause: we take our dogs out for a walk, but how many times do we yank them away from a tree or dubious pile of something in the street? We walk to cover ground; they walk to read scent and learn what – or who – has gone before them.

The art of sniffing is described as well, much to my appreciation. We learn the best way to pull a smell in; and also why dogs may use one nostril vs another. The sense of smell is mostly a bastard child; it’s the one least discussed and is usually the one chosen in the game of “if you had to lose one of your senses, which one would it be”.  Scent is truly underrated. I fully agree. Anyone who has ever tried to eat while suffering a stuffy nose will understand that scent and taste go hand in hand.

Horowitz has done a fantastic job bringing this body function to the forefront of our awareness. I challenge you to read this and not try to sniff out more things around you, even if only for a day.

BEING A DOG is a must read for lovers of both dogs and scientific things – you can pick up your copy [easyazon_link identifier=”1476795991″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

In Sunlight Or In Shadow by Lawrence Block


“Edward Hopper is surely the greatest American narrative painter. His work bears special resonance for writers and readers, and yet his paintings never tell a story so much as they invite viewers to find for themselves the untold stories within.”
So says Lawrence Block, who has invited seventeen outstanding writers to join him in an unprecedented anthology of brand-new stories: In Sunlight or In Shadow. The results are remarkable and range across all genres, wedding literary excellence to storytelling savvy.
Contributors include Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Robert Olen Butler, Michael Connelly, Megan Abbott, Craig Ferguson, Nicholas Christopher, Jill D. Block, Joe R. Lansdale, Justin Scott, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Warren Moore, Jonathan Santlofer, Jeffery Deaver, Lee Child, and Lawrence Block himself. Even Gail Levin, Hopper’s biographer and compiler of his catalogue raisonée, appears with her own first work of fiction, providing a true account of art theft on a grand scale and told in the voice of the country preacher who perpetrated the crime.
In a beautifully produced anthology as befits such a collection of acclaimed authors, each story is illustrated with a quality full-color reproduction of the painting that inspired it.


Many thanks to NetGalley for providing this ARC to me!

Edward Hopper is my favorite artist, so when I saw this opportunity to read and review this book, I was ecstatic. I was so curious to see how the authors would interpret the art and translate it into a story.

At the beginning of each chapter, the painting is shown to give the reader an idea of the muse behind the writing. I enjoyed going back to take a second and even third glance at it while I was devouring each story, even if only to compare my own thoughts behind the artwork to the words being written.

The contributors range from the blockbuster (King, Oates, Deaver, Child) to the well known (Abbott, Lansdale, Moore), and the talent follows accordingly.

My favorites: Night Windows (lush writing plus a twisty plotline), The Music Room (simple yet shimmering with darkness), and Autumn at the Automat (satisfying 1930’s detail and a strong female character).

Disappointments: Rooms by the Sea (a bit too fantastical for my taste), The Incident of 10 November (a real departure for Deaver, who usually writes flawlessly; perhaps he was trying something new), and Still Life 1931 (a drab, sluggish tale that needed a bit more action).

I have always considered Hopper’s paintings to be benign, peaceful works of art. Imagine my consternation when I discovered all the seamy, sordid tales that were spun! Was that the collective thought of these writers, to banish all the vague pleasantness and expose the evil lurking below the surface? I’m happy to say that I will still enjoy Hopper’s paintings, despite the remnants of these stories that will surface occasionally.

Final thought: I was not aware of the backstory about the self-aggrandizing and duplicitous preacher who usurped some of Hopper’s work for himself.  Author Gail Levin illustrates the entire sordid tale thoroughly.

Whether you are a fan of the artist, or just like short stories, you will enjoy IN SUNLIGHT OR IN SHADOW. You can pick up your own copy [easyazon_link identifier=”1681772450″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].


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