BETTER OFF DEAD by Lee Child & Andrew Child

November 21, 2021

Jack Reacher, Book 26

From the publisher:

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Jack Reacher is back in a brand-new page-turning thriller from acclaimed #1 bestselling authors Lee Child and Andrew Child.

Digging graves had not been part of my plans when I woke up that morning. 

Reacher goes where he wants, when he wants. That morning he was heading west, walking under the merciless desert sun—until he comes upon a curious scene. A Jeep has crashed into the only tree for miles around. A woman is slumped over the wheel.

Dead? No, nothing is what it seems. 

The woman is Michaela Fenton, an army veteran turned FBI agent trying to find her twin brother, who might be mixed up with some dangerous people. Most of them would rather die than betray their terrifying leader, who has burrowed his influence deep into the nearby border town, a backwater that has seen better days. The mysterious Dendoncker rules from the shadows, out of sight and under the radar, keeping his dealings in the dark.

He would know the fate of Fenton’s brother. 

Reacher is good at finding people who don’t want to be found, so he offers to help, despite feeling that Fenton is keeping secrets of her own. But a life hangs in the balance. Maybe more than one. But to bring Dendoncker down will be the riskiest job of Reacher’s life. Failure is not an option, because in this kind of game, the loser is always better off dead.


Twenty six books in a series is remarkable, but as Lee Child has handed off the writing of these books to his brother, Andrew Child, the series has taken a sharp turn for the worse. This was one of my favorite series. When I would get the review copy, I would literally put down whatever else I was reading and give the latest Reacher my undivided attention. I always read these books in one night, no matter how late I had to stay up to do it. Lee had threatened to kill off Reacher on numerous occasions over the past few years. I guess he grew tired of writing them. But the hysteria around the possibility of killing Reacher made him reconsider, I guess. Next thing I know his brother Andrew is writing the books.

Andrew started with the previous book, The Sentinel, and it was pretty good. Not as good as Lee’s books, but they weren’t all perfect either. I figured he was getting his sea legs and the next book would be great. I was wrong.

It took me about two weeks to finish this book. I was often tempted to just put it down and forget about it. I read on a Kindle, and every time I looked to see how far along I was, it was never nearly as far as I thought I should be. I thought I was halfway through at the 20% mark, so not good, and it continued like that. I thought surely it must be ending soon, and I was at 55%, and so on. I kept putting it down to read something else, something better, anything else – also not good. But I persevered and eventually finished.

This book has a sort of shocking beginning, except you know there would be no book at all if it were true. It was downhill from there. Reacher is here in all his fighting glory, chasing bad guys and beating the hell out of them in much the same way he has in every previous book. Even the guy that is way bigger than he is.

The woman this time is a former FBI agent looking for her twin brother. Reacher offers to help, of course, and there are the usual underground tunnels and deserted buildings for all the bad guys to hide out in. Reacher doesn’t have any sex in this book, and very few laughs can be found. And apparently, he has finally learned how cell phones work.

The writing again seems like a Lee Child imitation, with every sentence in the book short and choppy. It is written in the first person so that was new (I think? I don’t remember if all of them skipped that.) Weirdly, Reacher’s connections are eager to help and he, of course, saves the day. The book just seemed very repetitive and redundant. Knowing me, I will read the next Reacher book in hopes of it being better, but I’ll tell you this: if I dislike it as much as this one, I will not finish it (if I remember – it is a year off!)

So if you are a Reacher fan, go for it. Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review, but I’m more in line with the Library Journal review, other than the last line:

The writing is more seamless than in the Child brothers’ previous collaboration, but the action is often perfunctorily described, and the supporting cast is thinly written. There’s less humor than in previous entries, though Reacher’s notorious Luddism is played for a few laughs. Fans of the series will enjoy.

Reviewed by Liz French, Library Journal , Oct 02, 2021

11/2021 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

BETTER OFF DEAD by Lee Child & Andrew Child. Delacorte Press (October 26, 2021). ISBN: 978-1984818508. 336 pages.

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THE DARK HOURS by Michael Connelly

November 9, 2021

Renée Ballard and Harry Bosch, Book 4

From the publisher:

“A masterpiece”—LAPD detective Renée Ballard must join forces with Harry Bosch to find justice in a city scarred by fear and social unrest after a methodical killer strikes on New Year’s Eve (Publishers Weekly).

There’s chaos in Hollywood at the end of the New Year’s Eve countdown. Working her graveyard shift, LAPD detective Renée Ballard waits out the traditional rain of lead as hundreds of revelers shoot their guns into the air. Only minutes after midnight, Ballard is called to a scene where a hardworking auto shop owner has been fatally hit by a bullet in the middle of a crowded street party.

Ballard quickly concludes that the deadly bullet could not have fallen from the sky and that it is linked to another unsolved murder—a case at one time worked by Detective Harry Bosch. At the same time, Ballard hunts a fiendish pair of serial rapists, the Midnight Men, who have been terrorizing women and leaving no trace.

Determined to solve both cases, Ballard feels like she is constantly running uphill in a police department indelibly changed by the pandemic and recent social unrest. It is a department so hampered by inertia and low morale that Ballard must go outside to the one detective she can count on: Harry Bosch. But as the two inexorable detectives work together to find out where old and new cases intersect, they must constantly look over their shoulders. The brutal predators they are tracking are ready to kill to keep their secrets hidden.

Unfolding with unstoppable drive and nail-biting intrigue, The Dark Hours shows that “relentless on their own, Ballard’s and Bosch’s combined skills…could be combustible” (Los Angeles Times).


This latest from America’s best crime fiction writer is truly extraordinary. Connelly has attempted several series, but all the characters end up overlapping; he just can’t leave anyone behind. This series started out as Renee Ballard, but Bosch shows up as he does here. It is her book, with a strong assist, if you will.

I like Ballard. She’s honest, smart, and hard working. If all cops were like her, we would live in a much better, safer place. But they’re not, and that comes to the forefront during the pandemic when this book is set. Ballard works the late shift, the overnight shift AKA the dark hours, and she loves it. She has no partner and no one to bother her. She turns over any cases that come up to whatever department handles them, be it homicide, sex crimes, robbery, etc.

On New Year’s Eve, all the cops are scheduled to work in uniform. There is a tradition in Los Angeles of firing guns in the air at midnight, and Ballard is ready and waiting under an overpass. She is quickly called to a crime scene when a man goes down during a street party. She quickly realizes this wasn’t an accident, so she starts investigating. She learns there is a relationship between this victim and another old, cold case but the murder book is missing, checked out to one Harry Bosch, the lead detective at the time.

Bosch has become a mentor to Ballard, so she feels no hesitation in contacting him. He is happy to help, even more so if he can also solve his old case. There is a definite connection, but the homicide division is busy with a high profile case, so Ballard runs with it, at least until they force her to turn it over.

Ballard is also working a sex crimes case. Two men have been targeting women and raping them during holidays, and the cops are calling them the Midnight Men. Most rapists work alone, so this is unusual. They are also very careful, leaving no DNA or evidence of any kind. They are breaking in without any issues, lying in wait for the target, and one of their tells is that they cut off a hunk of hair from their victims. Ballard lands the third case, and is incensed when she realizes the cops in the sex crimes division are not being thorough, to say the least. In fact, the woman she is partnered with on this case couldn’t be less empathetic if she tried. She is more interested in going away for the weekend with her boyfriend and leaving Ballard to handle things on her own.

Both of these cases are keeping Ballard busy, too busy in fact, she is barely sleeping. Ballard had to stop surfing and sleeping on the beach when the beaches were shut down due to Covid. She was ill with Covid for a few weeks, but survived better than many others and is hoping she has enough antibodies to protect her until she is eligible for the vaccine. And she lost Lola, her beloved dog, to cancer so she spends a lot of her off time cruising animal shelter websites looking for another dog.

Bosch is helpful as always, and is her backup most of the time. But to solve these crimes will take more than the apathetic LAPD has to offer. The pandemic is playing havoc with everyone, especially those sworn to protect and defend and Ballard is getting sick of it. She wears her mask, takes Bosch to get vaccinated, adopts a new dog, even meets a man. Her life is busy and she likes it that way, but she isn’t sure she wants to be a cop anymore.

There is a lot going on in this book, yet it moves fast. I love seeing these characters grow and evolve. The writing is perfect; descriptive enough without ever going too far and it never slows up. Publisher’s Weekly called this book a masterpiece, and I agree. You don’t have to read the series in order or anything, this book definitely stands alone, but there is so much more richness, more depth to it, when you are familiar with the past. Either way, don’t miss it. You’re welcome!

NOTE: Get a printable list of all the novels in published order, as well as a breakdown by series character: https://www.michaelconnelly.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Printable-Book-List_Nov2021.pdf

NOTE 2: Bosch is a terrific TV series on Amazon Prime that just ended a seven season run. It is excellent, which almost never happens when a book shows up on a screen. Titus Welliver is Harry Bosch. https://www.amazon.com/Bosch-Season-1/dp/B089XWNZ4W A spinoff is filming now.

11/2021 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE DARK HOURS by Michael Connelly. Little, Brown and Company (November 9, 2021). ISBN: 978-0316485647. 400 pages.

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HER PERFECT LIFE by Hank Phillippi Ryan

September 27, 2021

From the publisher:

Everyone knows Lily Atwood―and that may be her biggest problem. The beloved television reporter has it all―fame, fortune, Emmys, an adorable seven-year-old daughter, and the hashtag her loving fans created: #PerfectLily. To keep it, all she has to do is protect one life-changing secret.

Her own.

Lily has an anonymous source who feeds her story tips―but suddenly, the source begins telling Lily inside information about her own life. How does he―or she―know the truth?

Lily understands that no one reveals a secret unless they have a reason. Now she’s terrified someone is determined to destroy her world―and with it, everyone and everything she holds dear.

How much will she risk to keep her perfect life? And what if the spotlight is the most dangerous place of all?

Publishers Weekly PICK OF THE WEEK!
Goodreads  BIGGEST MYSTERIES/THRILLERS OF THE YEAR!
Crime Reads MOST ANTICIPATED BOOK!

“Superlative…this is a fast-paced, surprise-packed treat.” ―Publishers Weekly (starred review)

..a well-crafted plot and strong female characters drive a satisfying psychological thriller.” ―Kirkus Reviews (starred review)


Lily loves her life. She’s an Emmy-winning TV journalist and a single mom to a precocious daughter, Rowan. Her producer, Greer, and her nanny, Petra, help manage her life. But when her mysterious source brings up her sister, Lily is thrown.

When Lily was 7 years old, her much older sister, Cassie, disappeared. She was a freshman in college when she went missing and she was never found. But Lily is torn; her perfect life would crumble if all her secrets got out.

She’s a single mom because her daughter’s father was a married man. Her sister, Cassie, was involved in drugs and a possible murder when she disappeared. Lily doesn’t want all that coming out, fearing she would lose her credibility and her career. Her source is dragging Greer into his web, and Lily along with her.

I love that these strong women were at the heart of this story, and have to solve the mystery of Cassie’s disappearance, who the source really is, and why he’s doing what he’s doing. And they kick ass!

The suspense kept spiraling up throughout this novel, making it impossible to put down. Ryan is at the top of her game, and that’s really saying something as she’s written so many great books. Don’t miss it!

9/2021 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

HER PERFECT LIFE by Hank Phillippi Ryan. Forge Books; 1st edition (September 14, 2021). ISBN: 978-1250258885. 336 pages.

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HEARTBREAKER by B. J. Daniels

August 20, 2021

Montana Justice, Book 2

From the publisher:

He’ll risk everything to rescue her…

Ex-military man Thorn Grayson has debts to pay. So when a plane crashes in the mountains near his cabin, he’s hired to find the wreckage—and the kidnapped woman believed to be the sole survivor. But when he locates Geneva, or “JJ” as she insists on being called, she’s not at all what he expected.

JJ isn’t sure she can trust the mysterious man who’s come to her rescue. But she has secrets of her own—secrets she’ll do anything to keep. So she’ll follow his instructions and keep her distance to get off this mountain alive without blowing her cover. As dangerous conditions force them together—and the undeniable chemistry between them ignites—he’ll protect her at any cost. But when the morning light comes, will the truth tear them apart?


This was my first read by this author. If I had seen this cover, I might not have read the book but I’m glad I did. For what it’s worth, the cover cowboy looks nothing like the description in the book and why they keep calling him a cowboy is also suspect. This is not a cowboy romance; it is romantic suspense with a loner, ex-Military protagonist who owns a couple of horses and lives in solitude in the mountains of Montana. Maybe that makes him a cowboy, but there are no ranches or rodeos or any kind of cowboy activities usually found in these kinds of books. I liked this book but it was not at all what I expected, and I hadn’t even seen the cover when I read it, which would have made my expectations even more wrong.

Thorn’s wife was killed and he hasn’t recovered. He’s had a hard life, and thanks to a judge who sent him to a sort of boot camp, he turned his life around. He joined the armed services, and is now retired and living alone on his mountain. When the judge calls to ask a favor, Thorn can’t say no. The judge’s friend Franklin is a very wealthy man. He lost his daughter to drugs, and now his granddaughter Geneva is out of control. He cuts her off except for a modest allowance, but then he is contacted by a man claiming to have kidnapped her. The kidnapper asks for $10 million dollars in ransom.

But grandpa was pretty smart. He put a high tech tracking device on his granddaughter’s phone, so he is able to see her whereabouts. Turns out she was flown out to the mountains, where the plane has apparently crashed about half an hour away from Thorn’s home. The judge asks Thorn to go check out the plane and rescue the granddaughter.

She is still alive, but is not at all what Thorn is expecting from a spoiled party girl. This girl has swiped a gun from one of her kidnappers who died in the plane crash, and she is not sure if she can trust Thorn so she shoots at him and tries to get away. He manages to get hold of her and get her back, but it turns out she may not be who Thorn thinks she is.

This was a fairly complicated kidnapping plot, with the wrong girl being taken and lots of bad guys popping up and making things worse. The girl Thorn rescued is JJ, a homeless travel agent who was squatting because she had made travel arrangements for Geneva so she knew the girl wouldn’t be home. But Geneva was smart enough to leave her phone behind so Grandpa couldn’t find her.

Thorn and JJ try to find Geneva, thinking her in serious trouble. There are lots of twists and turns and the suspense is high in this page-turner. A happy ending is reached pretty much all the way around, and I ended up enjoying this book a lot. In fact I couldn’t put it down.

8/2021 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

HEARTBREAKER by B. J. Daniels. HQN; Original edition (March 24, 2020). ISBN: 978-1335045195. 304 pages.

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THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME by Laura Dave

July 26, 2021

From the publisher:

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
SELECTION OF THE REESE WITHERSPOON BOOK CLUB
A HIGHLY ANTICIPATED, BEST BOOK OF SUMMER SELECTED BY * VOGUE * USA TODAY * ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY * CNN * TOWN & COUNTRY * PARADE * BUSTLE * AND MORE!

A “gripping” (Entertainment Weekly) mystery about a woman who thinks she’s found the love of her life—until he disappears.

Before Owen Michaels disappears, he smuggles a note to his beloved wife of one year: Protect her. Despite her confusion and fear, Hannah Hall knows exactly to whom the note refers—Owen’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Bailey. Bailey, who lost her mother tragically as a child. Bailey, who wants absolutely nothing to do with her new stepmother.

As Hannah’s increasingly desperate calls to Owen go unanswered, as the FBI arrests Owen’s boss, as a US marshal and federal agents arrive at her Sausalito home unannounced, Hannah quickly realizes her husband isn’t who he said he was. And that Bailey just may hold the key to figuring out Owen’s true identity—and why he really disappeared.

Hannah and Bailey set out to discover the truth. But as they start putting together the pieces of Owen’s past, they soon realize they’re also building a new future—one neither of them could have anticipated.

With its breakneck pacing, dizzying plot twists, and evocative family drama, The Last Thing He Told Me is a riveting mystery, certain to shock you with its final, heartbreaking turn.


I haven’t read a thriller in a while and this one kept popping up as the one to read this summer, so I did. It is a fast paced story with interesting characters, but not a lot of depth. If you are looking for a quick, entertaining read, look no further. I read it in one night.

Hannah’s mother took off when she was a young child, leaving her in the care of her grandfather as there was no father in the picture. Her grandfather was a woodturner, and he taught Hannah his craft. Once a table she made landed in Architectural Digest, her career was made. She creates mostly custom pieces on commission for the uber wealthy. That’s how she meets Owen.

Owen works for one of Hannah’s regular customers. They are in NY and Owen’s boss stops by the wood shop to check on their current piece in progress. Owen is entranced with Hannah, and she is equally attracted to him. Owen is a young widower, having lost his wife in a tragic car accident when his daughter was a toddler. He hasn’t dated much over the years since he lost his wife, but he quickly realizes that Hannah is someone special. Bailey, his 16-year-old daughter, is not thrilled; she hasn’t had to share her doting father and isn’t sure she wants to. This is not unexpected behavior. What is unexpected is how Hannah relates to Bailey. Having no real relationship with her own mother, and at 40 Hannah is pretty sure she is not having her own children, Hannah leans in to the relationship as best as she can. Bailey eventually accepts her but grudgingly.

The family dynamic is upended when Owen disappears. He leaves a note for Hannah, but all it says is “protect her.” She knows he means Bailey. He leaves Bailey a longer note and a bag full of cash. hundreds of thousands of dollars, stuffed into her school locker before he takes off. Then the shit hits the fan; turns out the company he works for is in serious trouble with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The Shop, as it is known, has been raided and the Owen’s boss arrested. Hannah’s best friend, Jules, is a photojournalist and she gives Hannah a heads up on the upcoming raid which is how Owen has time to disappear.

The FBI and the US Marshal’s office send agents to their home, a houseboat in Sausalito, but neither Hannah nor Bailey know anything. Hannah starts to suspect there is more to Owen’s disappearance than what happened at The Shop. This suspicion takes her to Austin, Texas, where she pretty quickly figures out why Owen has gone missing. By quickly I mean just a few days but it takes most of the book to get there.

The ending was so family-centric that it was almost jarring and hard to believe. Maybe if I had been more emotionally wrangled into the Owen-Hannah relationship it would have made more sense, but I didn’t quite get that the two years they were together were enough to make it all plausible. That said, it was a very good read and I enjoyed it. This was a Reese Witherspoon pick which I generally like, and this book was no exception.

7/2021 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME by Laura Dave. Simon & Schuster; Book Club edition (May 4, 2021). ISBN: 978-1501171345. 320 pages.

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BLOOD KIN by Matt Hilton

July 24, 2021

A Grey and Villere Thriller, Book 8

From the publisher:

A fast-paced and action-packed ride through upstate New York for fans of CHRIS RYAN and STEPHEN LEATHER.

When Nicolas ‘Po’ Villere runs into Elspeth Fuchs, an old flame, he’s surprised to find who’s by her side. It’s her son, Jacob, and he’s a dead ringer for when Po was a child. His age lines up with when Po last saw Elspeth, before she left him for Caleb Moorcock and a life in a secluded community.

Elspeth and Jacob are now running for their lives from the abusive Caleb. Po and his partner, Private Investigator Tess Grey, offer shelter. But before Po can dive into the boy’s parentage, Caleb snatches the absconded pair and drags them back to their fortified commune.

Has Po dodged a bullet? Maybe it’s best for them all if he never learns whether he’s Jacob’s father. Who’s he kidding? Po resolves to rescue Elspeth and discover the truth about Jacob no matter what . . .


Matt Hilton is a top tier author of exciting crime novels and “Blood Kin” certainly ranks with the best of them. It features Tess Grey a private detective and Nicolas “Po” Villere an ex-con who had been imprisoned for murdering his father. Po’s contention was that there were extenuating circumstances but he did serve his sentence picking up a wide variety of “skills” while incarcerated, some of these quite lethal.

The story begins while Po is waiting for Tess to finish up a day in court and he runs into Elspeth Fuchs whom he hasn’t seen in years and once was almost married to. She is traveling with her 10-year-old son Jacob. Po is fascinated by Jacob who looks very much like him and based on the number of years since they were together could actually be his child conceived while being with Elspeth. He invites them to his home to meet Tess, but Elspeth doesn’t trust their motives and disappears with her son.

A sixth sense pushes Po and Tess to follow them and they do so accompanied by Pinky a friend of theirs who has the build of a strong men, is definitely one and believes it is his function to help his friends. Their chase gets them to an enclave run by Caleb Moorcock who is Elspeth’s husband and is a tyrant and a bully with the added problem of being a murderer and dealing in drugs.

The plot certainly includes necessary conflict and the attempt to rescue Elspeth and her son from the tyranny of Elspeth’s psychotic husband. The book is easily finished in one fell swoop and the reader kept involved by the constant action and shifting in the presentation of characters. I’ve had the pleasure of reading other novels by Matt Hilton and do feel comfortable in recommending this book and all future novels by him to readers that go for police and crime books.

7/2021 Paul Lane

BLOOD KIN by Matt Hilton. Severn House Publishers; Main edition (August 3, 2021). ISBN: 978-0727890962. 240 pages.

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AN AMBUSH OF WIDOWS by Jeff Abbott

July 14, 2021

From the publisher:

In New York Times bestselling author Jeff Abbott’s latest novel of riveting psychological suspense, an uneasy alliance forms as two widows delve into their husbands’ deadly and dangerous secrets—as they try to protect their own.

Henry North is a down-on-his-luck cybersecurity expert from New Orleans. Adam Zhang is the cofounder of one of Austin’s most successful venture capitalist firms. These two men didn’t know each other. They had never met. Yet they died together, violently, in a place neither had any business being.

When Henry doesn’t return from a business trip, his wife, Kirsten, panics—and then gets an anonymous phone call: “Your husband is dead in Austin.”

Flora Zhang knew her husband was keeping secrets. She suspected an affair, but she had decided she could forgive him for his weakness—until her husband ended up dead. And with no explanation for her husband’s murder, the police begin to suspect her.

Together, these two widows will face a powerful foe determined to write a false narrative about the murders. In doing so, neither Flora nor Kirsten will remain the women the world thought they were.


It’s a Jeff Abbott novel. It’s good, it’s engrossing it’s definitely an all-nighter. How to review it becomes the problem. The plot involves two women; the first is Kirsten North. She is happily married to Henry North who is a cyber security expert currently down on his luck. They live in New Orleans. Kirrsten in her own right is a consultant to the Tech Sector with a good reputation for digging out hard to obtain facts about companies her clients need information on for things like possible purchase or doing business with.

The other woman is Flora Zang married to Adam Zang who has an impeccable record of launching start up Tech companies. They live in Austin, Texas a city currently enjoying a major expansion with the arrival of many successful Tech companies. Flora’s problem is that Adam is married to the business and she seems to be number two wife in the relationship. Her current major interest lies in living a life dedicated to spending her husband’s fortune doing good deeds which would prove important in enhancing the business’s reputation.  She does love her husband and married him before he made his fortune.     

Action begins at a moment that Kirsten is readying herself to begin her day’s work. Henry is on a business trip and has indicated that he is going to New York. Her personal phone rings and since very few have the number she picks it up thinking that It is Henry forgetting something.    A strange voice, using a disguising app, tells her that her husband has been shot to death in Austin. After going through the thinking that the call is a bad joke, she decides to go to Austin and upon arrival finds that it is true. Henry is dead and has been killed along with Adam Zang in a warehouse owned by Zang Industries. In attempting to find out what happened to her husband she meets with Flora Zang and the two women find common cause in attempting to find out who killed their husbands and why.     

In typical Jeff Abbott fashion, the reader will head straight forward into the book and face a fascinating and changing set of facts before the ending is reached. A very bright note is that the author sets up future books featuring the two women and all that remains is to keep one’s eyes open for when they come out.  Five star – of course.     

7/2021 Paul Lane

AN AMBUSH OF WIDOWS by Jeff Abbott. Grand Central Publishing (July 6, 2021). ISBN: 978-1538719145. 352 pages.

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CHINA by Edward Rutherfurd

May 31, 2021

From the publisher:

The internationally bestselling author of Paris and New York takes on an exhilarating new world with his trademark epic style in China: The Novel

Edward Rutherfurd has enthralled millions of readers with his grand, sweeping historical sagas that tell the history of a famous place over multiple generations. Now, in China: The Novel, Rutherfurd takes readers into the rich and fascinating milieu of the Middle Kingdom.

The story begins in 1839, at the dawn of the First Opium War, and follows Chinese history through Mao’s Cultural Revolution and up to the present day. Rutherfurd chronicles the rising and falling fortunes of members of Chinese, British, and American families, as they negotiate the tides of history. Along the way, in his signature style, Rutherfurd provides a deeply researched portrait of Chinese history and society, its ancient traditions and great upheavals, and China’s emergence as a rising global power. As always, we are treated to romance and adventure, heroines and scoundrels, grinding struggle and incredible fortunes.    

China: The Novel brings to life the rich terrain of this vast and constantly evolving country. From Shanghai to Nanking to the Great Wall, Rutherfurd chronicles the turbulent rise and fall of empires as the colonial West meets the opulent and complex East in a dramatic struggle between cultures and people.

Extraordinarily researched and majestically told, Edward Rutherfurd paints a thrilling portrait of one of the most singular and remarkable countries in the world.


This novel is a well researched venture into the period of about 1830 until the Boxer Revolution of 1900 in China. The author chooses several different families and individuals to frame his story on. These are characters that experience what was the Chinese culture during the time of their lives. Overall Rutherfurd utilizes the character of Cixi, the dowager empress, as the individual influencing events in the country both during her own lifetime and attempting to continue to do so after her death.       

The story opens with what were the Opium wars of the early 1800s in which England carried on a lucrative trade of selling opium to China and buying tea from them. The Chinese realizing that they were getting generations of dope addicts as the price being paid to allow England to actually pay for tea attempted to keep the British from bringing the narcotic into their home ports. With fortunes riding on continuing the opium sales battles were fought between the modern weapons of the English and easily defeated Chinese troops.   

Rutherfurd aptly shows a country with a rich history going back almost 5000 years with a population of a rich and also a destitute poor class. The path to wealth is mainly through entrance into some level of the ruling class and only minor possibilities through opening a successful business. One of the leading individuals is a man that faced with feeding his family decides to embark upon a path that would be impossible to conceive of by most men. He elects to become a eunuch in order to obtain work at the emperor’s palace where that condition is mandatory to hold a position. He consults his wife and his father getting their approval and goes ahead with the change. By a lucky occurrence he obtains the job of doing the nails of Cixi than the emperor’s concubine pleases her and continues on. He is dubbed “Lacquer Nail” the name that sticks with him permanently and is in a position to follow Cixi as she marries the emperor and in time assumes the role of dowager empress.   

In 1900 a rebellion breaks out looking to stop the many groups of foreigners from continuing to bleed the country. The initiators of the insurrection are known as Boxers due to their interest in the martial arts. The foreigners centered in the city of Peking group together for mutual defense in the British legation using small groups of soldiers from the countries residing in China to defend them. Word is sent to a combined army of troops sent to restore the safety of the people working in China as part of their legations to come to their rescue. The section of the novel dealing with the rebellion and the subsequent arrival of the rescue force is a very well done portrait of people facing a situation that they are not attuned to contending with.       

The book is a long one, but Rutherfurd’s ability to create a story and the people involved in it makes for one excellent read and a commanding portrait of a civilization not like that of most of the western world.

5/2021 Paul Lane

CHINA by Edward Rutherfurd. Doubleday (May 11, 2021). ISBN: 978-0385538930. 784 pages.

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BASIL’S WAR by Stephen Hunter

May 22, 2021

A WWII Spy Thriller

From the publisher:

A British spy goes behind enemy lines to crack a secret code in this “highly entertaining World War II espionage thriller” (Seattle Times).

Basil St. Florian is an accomplished agent in the British Army, tasked with dozens of dangerous missions for crown and country across the globe. But his current mission, going undercover in Nazi-occupied France during World War II, might be his toughest assignment yet. He will be searching for an ecclesiastic manuscript that doesn’t officially exist, one that genius professor Alan Turing believes may hold the key to a code that could prevent the death of millions and possibly even end the war.

St. Florian isn’t the classic British special agent with a stiff upper lip―he is a swashbuckling, whisky-drinking cynic and thrill-seeker who resents having to leave Vivien Leigh’s bed to set out on his crucial mission. Despite these proclivities, though, Basil’s Army superiors know he’s the best man for the job, carrying out his espionage with enough charm and quick wit to make any of his subjects lower their guards.

Action-packed and bursting with WWII-era intrigue (much of which has basis in fact), Basil’s War is a classic espionage thriller from Pulitzer Prize-winning critic, essayist, and bestselling novelist Stephen Hunter.


Stephen Hunter is a successful author with a longtime background in the literary world. His main thrust are books involving the military art of sniping. He is gifted with an almost encyclopedic knowledge of weaponry which he has used to bring his novels several steps above other books about sniping and snipers. 

This current book is a change in focus and involves the exploits of Basil St Florian in action as a spy during World War II. Basil is in the language of another day a “rake” for his many encounters with women. He is bold, daring and has a great sense of humor. He has traveled several times from his home in England into France, a country conquered by the Nazi war machine and an area that might be used as a springboard for action against Britian. He has successfully completed several missions and we meet him as he begins another.     

In certain situations books are used as keys for secret codes. That is the message to be sent is tied to a mutually known book and the words are represented by location designations used by both parties. The difficulty level is very high since the same book must be used by both senders and receivers in order to decode the message. In his latest mission Basil must travel into enemy territory find a scroll written several hundred years ago, photograph certain portions and bring these photos back in order to be used to convince Russian dictator Joseph Stalin to shift a military position in order to avoid a massacre of his soldiers.     

In the course of the mission Basil meets Alan Turing, a man that led a group of mathematicians in discovering the key to the Nazi codes used in their transmission of orders. Turing and his group actually lived and worked on breaking codes during WWII. While the codes sought by Basil are not fact, the touch of adding Turing to the plot is a good one and helps validate the action.     

The almost blasé approach Hunter takes brings down the quality of the action described and I felt leaves the reader with a “hey what happened” feeling. If it is a book by Stephen Hunter I would pick up his next novel, but possibly return to awaiting others featuring the sniping format if Basil does not pick up the pace.

5/2021 Paul Lane

BASIL’S WAR by Stephen Hunter. Mysterious Press (May 4, 2021). ISBN: 978-1613162248. 288 pages.

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THE GIRL WHO DIED by Ragnar Jonasson

May 20, 2021

From the publisher:

From Ragnar Jónasson, the award-winning author of the international bestselling Ari Thór series, The Girl Who Died is a standalone thriller about a young woman seeking a new start in a secluded village where a small community is desperate to protect its secrets.

Teacher Wanted At the Edge of the World

Una wants nothing more than to teach, but she has been unable to secure steady employment in Reykjavík. Her savings are depleted, her love life is nonexistent, and she cannot face another winter staring at the four walls of her shabby apartment. Celebrating Christmas and ringing in 1986 in the remote fishing hamlet of Skálar seems like a small price to pay for a chance to earn some teaching credentials and get her life back on track.

But Skálar isn’t just one of Iceland’s most isolated villages, it is home to just ten people. Una’s only students are two girls aged seven and nine. Teaching them only occupies so many hours in a day and the few adults she interacts with are civil but distant. She only seems to connect with Thór, a man she shares an attraction with but who is determined to keep her at arm’s length.

As darkness descends throughout the bleak winter, Una finds herself more often than not in her rented attic space―the site of a local legendary haunting―drinking her loneliness away. She is plagued by nightmares of a little girl in a white dress singing a lullaby. And when a sudden tragedy echoes an event long buried in Skálar’s past, the villagers become even more guarded, leaving a suspicious Una seeking to uncover a shocking truth that’s been kept secret for generations.


The author is an Icelandic citizen residing in Iceland with an excellent world-wide reputation.  The current novel is set in Iceland involving people that live there but showing that human emotions are similar all over the world. I can only describe it as a tight book starting slowly and building to a climax that is exactly right for the action found. Without dragging a verdict out this is a definite five star book and my recommendation to readers is just get ready to buy all forthcoming novels by the author.      

Una is a young woman living in the Icelandic capital city of Reykjavík. She barely makes a living there, has few friends and not many interests for her spare time. An ad appears in the newspaper asking for a teacher for a position teaching a small class in the remote village of Skalar located on the seacoast. The isolated village has only 10 people living in it.  Uma comes to the conclusion that she has nothing to lose, has a chance to make a guaranteed salary for easy work and accepts the job.     

The village is as thought; remote, isolated and the very essence of the phrase provincial. Her class consists of only two girls of different ages and she gets what amounts to free room. Looks good but she meets a lot of resistance from the people in town and is terrifyingly confronted by a ghost in the house she gets the room in. 

Jonasson continues to pull the reader into the action and finishes his novel with one of the most perfect endings I’ve read. An excellent read and for me an introduction to a talented author that I am pleased to have learned about.

5/2021 Paul Lane

THE GIRL WHO DIED by Ragnar Jonasson. Minotaur Books (May 4, 2021). ISBN: 978-1250793737. 320 pages.

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