OLD BONES by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

August 21, 2019

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Nora Kelly, Book 1

The very prolific writing team of Preston and Child introduce a new pair of lead protagonists. They each have appeared shortly in one of the authors’ books featuring their Sherlock Holmes lookalike Agent Pendergast. Starting with this novel, they appear to be headed for their own series of stories. Nora Kelly is a young curator for the Santa Fe Institute of Archaeology and Carrie Swanson a fledgling agent for the FBI.

The story begins when Clive Benton, a recognized historian, approaches Nora with information he has received pointing towards the finding of the lost camp of the Donner party. The Donner party refers to a group of pioneers heading towards California during the years 1845-46. In crossing the Sierras they were trapped by massive snow storms. With no food to be had due to the weather they ate the animals with them – cats, dogs, and the oxen pulling their wagons. The culmination of their plight resulted in a documented case of cannibalism.

Benton requests that Nora’s employer finance an archaeological expedition to reach the lost third Donner site, and to sweeten the pie indicates that one of the people with them was carrying a fortune in gold coins. The institution agrees that the find itself would be a major discovery with the possible discovery and recovery of the gold coins a great addition. The expedition is arranged and due to Benton’s information the third site is found and digging begins.

There is no problem enjoying another well written book by the two authors but it would not be like them if a bit of the macabre was not introduced. Could there be something supernatural mixed in with the bones and relics found? Probably yes and how, if there, does it affect the story? Very few of the novels that I have read by the authors is less than a five star book and “Old Bones” is no exception.

8/19 Paul Lane

OLD BONES by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child. Grand Central Publishing (August 20, 2019). ISBN 978-1538747223. 384p.

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NOTTINGHAM by Nathan Makaryk

August 19, 2019

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Not surprisingly, Nottingham is a novel about Robin Hood and his merry men. But not your ordinary tale of Robin, Little John,Will Scarlet, Friar Tuck and the chaste and beautiful Maid Marion and their struggle against the evil that permeated the county they live in. The author has written quite an interesting version of the legend of Robin.

Instead of complete evil being faced by overwhelming good, Makaryk postulates a story involving people with real motives and why their actions could have led to the tale of Robin being what it is.

In the first place, there is no evidence that Robin Hood and his band ever really existed although the author has done research into the mid 1100’s in England, the period ascribed to Robin Hood and used some of the facts he unearthed in the story.

The story begins at a point where Robin of Locksley and his friend William are serving in the army of king Richard during his crusade in the holy land. They are taking part at the siege of the city of Acre, and planning a near future attack on Jerusalem against the forces of Saladin. During the fight at Acre, it is discovered that a shipment of new weapons needed by Richard if he is to continue to fight has been lost in transit. Robin and William are sent back by Richard to find these weapons and deliver them to the army.

The men detached, on the temporary assignment, find themselves in the midst of problems in and around Nottingham with the current Sheriff unwilling to do anything about it. He is too nice and does not want to offend anyone. Robin and William decide that they have to take care of the problem and dive right in. Robin meets up with his long time lady love Marion and as before they talk about marriage when there is time. William also meets a young lady whose family has become destitute and she must take a servant’s position at Locksley castle. Robin attracts a group of citizens that want to help solving the problems facing Nottingham and follow him into Sherwood forest where they begin robbing rich people riding through. Since Marion is there the author comes up with the basis for the term merry men in relation to Robin’s band. Since Marion had a hand in organizing them they became known as Marion’s men. This is one of the examples of possible fact turning into the source of glorified fiction and creating the legend. There are many other instances where what did happen turns into what is thought to have happened.

Nottingham is a novel that will keep the reader interested and is appropriate for anyone that has read the books and seen the movies dealing with the Robin Hood legend. The length of the book keeps it from being an all nighter and there is a bit too much description of the events that could have turned real life into legend.

Recommendation – read the book, it is different enough in its presentation to the legend making it an interesting read.

8/19 Paul Lane

NOTTINGHAM by Nathan Makaryk. Forge Books (August 6, 2019). ISBN 978-1250195609. 496p.

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THE PERFECT SON by Lauren North

August 18, 2019

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This novel is North’s first book and it definitely heralds the appearance of a very talented author on the literary scene. It is an emotional roller coaster taking hold of the reader and holding him or her until the quite satisfying ending.

Tess Clarke is a happily married young woman with a young son the cement further bonding the couple. They have also purchased a new home away from the hustle and bustle of London assuring a better lifestyle for all three. Her husband, Mark, has just been promoted to the sales department with the firm he works for when suddenly tragedy strikes. On a sales trip to Germany, Mark, leaving ahead of other staff members coming there, is killed when the plane he is on crashes, killing all aboard.

Tess is devastated but somehow manages to put her son, Jamie’s well being ahead of her own. Not knowing how to act she imagines conversations with Mark and his probable replies in examining the world she now lives in. Mark’s brother Ian visits her and instead of being a comfort tells Tess that her husband borrowed 100,000 pounds from him and he needs the money returned immediately. Ian tells her that she should immediately check out her husband’s will, his insurance policies and benefits that could have accrued to the estate.

Not exactly a comforting presence is he? At the same time a grief counselor visits her in order to help Tessa come to grips with her loss. Trouble is that the counselor had lost a young son to leukemia shortly before these events and Tessa gets to feeling that the woman is interested in taking Jamie from her and not in helping her.

The story is told via the descriptions of the days before Jamie’s birthday and what happens during this period. Ms North handles the slow but sure decay of Tessa quite well, keeping the reader glued to the pages and also changing his or her mind about the ending several times. Very well done and an excellent start for this new author.

8/19 Paul Lane

THE PERFECT SON by Lauren North. Berkley (August 13, 2019). ISBN 978-1984803849. 368p.

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THE DOLL FACTORY by Elizabeth Macneal

August 16, 2019

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The author sets her story in the London of the 1850’s and sets it very well, describing the city at that time with both its problems and also its attractions. She does an excellent job of presenting the persona involved with their distinct personalities and their reactions to their own time.

The Great Exhibition, a huge hall, is being erected in 1850 in London to showcase as many of the symbols of life at the time, as well as objects that might illustrate the future. Among the exhibitions are portraits done by the artists of the day. The building has an important part to play in the events depicted in the novel.

Iris is a young lady that, due to her background and lack of money, works in a shop making items for the woman in charge. Her sister Rose works with her. As the novel begins, Iris goes to the grounds of the Great Exhibition to have a look at this marvel. In passing she bumps into Silas, whose forte is obtaining either by purchase or killing birds and other animals, mounting them and selling them to artists to use as models in their paintings. Iris forgets the encounter, but Silas imagines that she fell in love with him at that moment. Silas is a psychopath with these tendencies beginning during his early life when he fantasized that a girl he knew was secretly in love with him. When she didn’t respond to him he lured her away from their area and in a secluded woods killed her.

Iris delivers an order from her shop to an artist named Louis Frost. He is struck by her beauty and asks her to model for him. Iris consents but indicates as part of her terms that Louis teach her to paint as well as paying her for the time. The artist later notes that Iris has the talent to become a first class artist, and also falls in love with her, and she with him.

The novel is dedicated to describing the interactions between the three people. It is extremely well done and while the ending is a direct output of the actions of the characters and not a surprise, it provides a good read with the desire instilled to buy more books by Elizabeth Macneal.

8/19 Paul Lane

THE DOLL FACTORY by Elizabeth Macneal.  Atria/Emily Bestler Books (August 13, 2019). ISBN 978-1982106768. 368p.

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THIRTEEN by Steve Cavanagh

August 13, 2019

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Eddie Flynn, Book 3

Wow – that’s the one word I must use in describing Cavanaugh’s novel featuring former con man and huckster turned defense attorney Eddy Flynn. The novel is a wonderful romp through a murder trial and of course it had to be finished in one sitting (only one cup of coffee though – have to watch the caffeine so I can sleep until Cavanaugh’s next book is published.

Bobby Solomon, a first tier screen actor is accused of killing both his wife, who is his normal co=star, and his agent who were supposedly caught by him in bed together. The star is indicted and is put on trial for murder. Eddy is called upon by the firm handling Bobby’s defense to help them as needed via discrediting testimony by the police officers involved in the arrest. Needing a job Eddy signs on, but due to a change in circumstances finds himself handing the total defense. He hires a former FBI agent to help him with investigations necessary to work the case properly. The lady proves quite capable in working all angles necessary to aid in the defense. She is also introduced as a possible romantic interest in the future since Eddy’s current wife is in the process of divorcing him.

Cavanagh skillfully takes us through the events involved in the trial, starting with picking a jury and moving forward from there. Eddy is shown as human – he does not come up with brilliant one time off the cuff ideas. He has his doubts but continues to work the case as well as he is able. His logical approach turns up one startling factor that becomes the most important aspect of the case. The real killer is not only in court to watch the proceedings; he is actually one of the twelve jurors and in the most advantageous position to influence the verdict.

The rating system we are accustomed to in reviewing a book involves stars – five for best. I really think that that total is not enough. The reader will judge the book, undoubtedly have one or two cups of coffee and relish a superb reading experience and like myself will eagerly await Steve Cavanagh’s future novels.

8/19 Paul Lane

THIRTEEN by Steve Cavanagh. Flatiron Books (August 13, 2019). ISBN 978-1250297600. 336p.

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THE TURN OF THE KEY by Ruth Ware

August 11, 2019

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This is Ware’s fifth published book. All are centered around different themes; all quite engrossing and generally impossible to put down without finishing them. “The Turn of the Key” is no different in the sense of being a well written, well thought out book that quickly captures and holds the reader’s interest. It is a ghost story complete with strange sounds, eerie settings and things that go bump in the night.

Rowan Caine works at a large child care center in England and has just been passed over for a promotion that she feels she deserves. While glancing at help wanted ads, she comes across one that lists an opening in a remote area of Scotland. The job is to become nanny to four children. It lists a very high salary, residence at the home with food and board paid. She applies for the job and is asked to travel, expenses paid, to the home.

She is pleasantly surprised when she is offered the job, accepting it and relocating to the house. This is the first surprise for her. The house, owned by two architects who run their own business from home, has been rebuilt with every modern and computerized piece of equipment that can be imagined. Everything is automatic and managed via cell phone making Rowan ecstatic by her good luck.

Bill and Sandra, the architects, indicate that a necessary business trip has come up and they are forced to leave Rowan alone with the children at once. Rowan takes it in stride, but soon regrets the quick departure of her employers. On her first night alone with the children she hears strange sounds which appears like someone or something walking on the roof of the house. Next night a sudden and loud blast of music coming over the loudspeakers wakes everyone up and supplies the great fright when the cause of the music being turned on can not be found. Rowan than finds out that the previous owners of the home many years ago had a child of theirs, a young girl, die from eating something poisoned.

All the factors do make the case for a haunting and Rowan, with the aid of the resident handyman living on the property, attempts to get through her own trepidation and protect the children in her care from whatever is out there. There is a well done ending after which the reader can gasp for breath, realizing that Ware has done it again and looking forward to book six from this versatile author.

8/19 Paul Lane

THE TURN OF THE KEY by Ruth Ware. Gallery/Scout Press (August 6, 2019). ISBN 978-1501188770. 352p.

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THE PERFECT WIFE by J. P. Delaney

August 10, 2019

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The novel opens encountering Abbie awakening from a deep sleep and finding her husband Tim by her side. He is there to take her home and care for her there.

When they arrive at their home, he relates an incredible story to Abbie. What she must grasp is that five years ago Abbie disappeared suddenly. Tim became completely distraught and finally began looking to fix the problem as only he is able to. It seems that Tim owns a company that has made millions via the building of robots for various uses by people. He looked to fix his problem by creating a robotic Abbie to live with him. A fascinating concept and of course the basis for a great read.

But there is more making the story even better. The story narrated by the artificial Abbie begins to build by slowly creating an image of Tim as not quite the man he pretends to be. In examination the reader will realize that there is much more to be told and will continue to read and change opinions about what is really going on several times.

Delaney, in an afterward, indicates that he and his wife have an autistic son that they are raising as best they can and continually looking for advances in treatment. Abbie, before her disappearance, and Tim have an autistic son and are doing in the fictionalized account everything possible to work with him. The robot Abbie has many of the original’s memories implanted and does encounter a maternal feeling for the child continuing to care for him.

Without delving further into the plot of the book (in order to not spoil it for the reader) I can only indicate that is a fascinating novel and one that will keep the reader glued to the pages until finished. Certainly the idea is a different approach to writing a book and one that will keep any reader on the lookout for further novels by Delaney.

8/19 Paul Lane

THE PERFECT WIFE by J. P. Delaney. Ballantine Books (August 6, 2019). ISBN  978-1524796747. 432p.

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CAGING SKIES by Christine Leunens

August 8, 2019

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There is no doubt about the fact that Leunens novel is a fabulous book. It makes any reader feel that. How can anything else be possible?

The story opens in Vienna, Austria at the time when Austria entered into a union with Nazi, Germany allowing Hitler to take control of the Austrian government. Johannes Betzler, a young man enters into the spirit of what the Nazis espouse by immediately joining the Hitler Youth movement and attempting to get his parents to do what the Nazis think everyone should do.

At an initial point of the story Johannes stumbles on the fact that his parents are actually hiding and protecting a Jewish girl. The author does an excellent job in describing Johannes’ mixed feelings and why he ends up doing what he does. As the reader is drawn into the story he or she learns about Johannes and Elsa’s reactions to both the radically changed political climate and the fact that Jewish people and other selected minorities are used as scapegoats by Hitler to move Germany into war.

Leunens utilizes hard hitting prose, sarcasm, and black comedy to bring out a book that will be impossible to forget. That it is an all-nighter is a natural for writing that drags in any reader that picks it up. The novel is in the process of currently being developed as a motion picture and is at this writing available in 16 countries. A major literary talent has emerged and I for one, am anxiously awaiting her future novels.

8/19 Paul Lane

CAGING SKIES by Christine Leunens. The Overlook Press (August 6, 2019). ISBN 978-1419739088. 304p.

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ASYLUM by Jack Adams

August 4, 2019

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Nathan and Adam are two 10 year old boys that are best friends. They stay together, play together and explore the area they live in completely together. Near their homes there is a huge facility that is known as the Lunatic Asylum. And that in spite of its non politically correct designation it was. It was a hospital dedicated to the care and treatment of mentally disabled individuals.

One day, when coming near to the fence surrounding the institution, the boys spotted a man sitting on the other side and ventured over to talk to him. He sounded quite lucid, told them his name was Joe and the three struck up a relationship that continued for quite a while. They visited the spot where Joe was at and among other things found that he was an artist before he was sent to the asylum. Even while there he drew many things including the happenings occurring in and the people residing in the institution.

One day Joe did not meet them and they didn’t see him again. The meetings were forgotten and the boys grew up, forgetting Joe and eventually opening an office together. One had become a private investigator due to several years of employment as a police officer and the other a psychologist after university training. They hired a secretary and began doing business when out of the blue a letter from a solicitor was received asking to meet with both boys, now men.

Meeting with him they had the most pleasant surprise of learning that Joe, the man they had talked with at the asylum had remembered them. Not only remembered them but left them each a large sum of money. It seemed that Joe had been a successful artist and made money selling his paintings. His memories of the boys were very pleasant

One favor was asked in return – to investigate happenings at the asylum and about Joe. This favor throws them into discovery of the most heinous breach of ethics and normal behavior possible. How they go about this and where it leads, how is Joe involved form the real meat and bones of the novel. This book is Adams’ first published one and showcases the entrance of a gifted author allowing his readers to pick up and enjoy his forthcoming novels. Very well done.

8/19 Paul Lane

ASYLUM by Jack Adams. Atlas Productions Pty Ltd (August 2, 2019). ISBN 978-0994182203. 310p.

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LADY IN THE LAKE by Laura Lippman

August 3, 2019

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From the publisher:

The revered New York Times bestselling author returns with a novel set in 1960s Baltimore that combines modern psychological insights with elements of classic noir, about a middle-aged housewife turned aspiring reporter who pursues the murder of a forgotten young woman.

In 1966, Baltimore is a city of secrets that everyone seems to know—everyone, that is, except Madeline “Maddie” Schwartz. Last year, she was a happy, even pampered housewife. This year, she’s bolted from her marriage of almost twenty years, determined to make good on her youthful ambitions to live a passionate, meaningful life.

Maddie wants to matter, to leave her mark on a swiftly changing world. Drawing on her own secrets, she helps Baltimore police find a murdered girl—assistance that leads to a job at the city’s afternoon newspaper, the Star. Working at the newspaper offers Maddie the opportunity to make her name, and she has found just the story to do it: a missing woman whose body was discovered in the fountain of a city park lake.

Cleo Sherwood was a young black woman who liked to have a good time. No one seems to know or care why she was killed except Maddie—and the dead woman herself. Maddie’s going to find the truth about Cleo’s life and death. Cleo’s ghost, privy to Maddie’s poking and prying, wants to be left alone.

Maddie’s investigation brings her into contact with people that used to be on the periphery of her life—a jewelry store clerk, a waitress, a rising star on the Baltimore Orioles, a patrol cop, a hardened female reporter, a lonely man in a movie theater. But for all her ambition and drive, Maddie often fails to see the people right in front of her. Her inability to look beyond her own needs will lead to tragedy and turmoil for all sorts of people—including the man who shares her bed, a black police officer who cares for Maddie more than she knows.


One of my favorite books back when I was in junior high & high school, was Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk. Wouk is much better know for The Caine Mutiny, The Winds of War, and War and Remembrance, despite the fact that Morningstar was made into a so-so movie starring Natalie Wood and Gene Kelly. I’m telling you this because apparently, it is also one of Lippman’s favorite books and it is the inspiration for The Lady in the Lake. Morningstar was a stage name, the protagonist was a nice Jewish girl named Marjorie Morgenstern who eventually marries Milton Schwartz, as does Lippman’s Maddie Morgenstern Schwartz. Hope this isn’t too confusing!

So a couple of the characters have the same/similar names to the Wouk book, and the timeline is similar but the real similarity is that both women, Marjorie & Maddie, want more out of life than to just be a suburban mom. In the mid-twentieth century, women didn’t have many opportunities do do more than that, but these women did.

Maddie leaves her husband and teenage son (who refuses to move in with his mom) and tries to figure out what she wants to do with her life. She fakes a robbery to collect the insurance money, has an affair with a black cop, finds a dead body and pushes her way into a job at the local Baltimore newspaper. One of the themes of this book was the struggle female journalists had in reaching any level of success in the profession back in the 1960’s; racism is a bigger theme.

I really like the way Lippman gets into every character’s head, most have at least a chapter told in their voice so you really know what they are thinking, it adds a lot to the story. Cleo’s voice is especially compelling, especially as the story moves on. They mystery is tight but almost secondary to the characters.

Sometimes, when an author writes a series, I’ve noticed I sort of take the writing for granted. That becomes especially apparent in this standalone; it is a brilliant piece of writing from one of the best writers out there. Don’t miss it. (And check out Terry Gross’s interview with Lippman on Fresh Air, and Lippman’s essay in the CrimeReads blog. See links below.)

7/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

LADY IN THE LAKE by Laura Lippman. William Morrow (July 23, 2019).  ISBN 978-0062390011.  352p.

Listen to Terry Gross interview Laura Lippman on Fresh Air

Laura Lippman: My 35-Year Love Affair with Marjorie Morningstar

 

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