THE LATE SHOW by Michael Connelly

July 19, 2017

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Detective Renée Ballard works the “late show”, the overnight shift, in Hollywood, California. It is considered a punishment shift, and it’s where she was moved after filing a complaint about Olivas, her boss in Homicide. He tried to kiss her at a party in front of her partner, but her partner wouldn’t back up her claim so Olivas got away with it and her partner got a promotion. Yes, workplace politics are alive and well on the Los Angeles police force.

Her partner on the late show is Jenkins, who has a sick wife at home and volunteered to work the shift so he could be home with his wife during the day. He has no interest in overtime, just wants to put in his time and go home. The night shift doesn’t usually handle cases, they just gather information and turn it over to the day shift detectives, but Ballard finagles her time management to keep the cases she wants – like the transgender prostitute that was beaten and tortured and left for dead, and an old lady’s stolen credit card. She gets a real thrill out of solving cases and is willing work her butt off to get the job done.

The big case at the center of the story is a shootout at a strip club. Four men are killed, as well as a waitress. When Ballard’s ex-partner is killed, she decides to do a little investigating on the side, as Olivas won’t allow her anywhere near his investigation. She soon figures out that the killer was probably a cop, which doesn’t play well with her brethren. All the storylines are tied up at the end, with one surprise after another.

This is the start of a new series for Connelly, and his first with a woman as the lead. Ballard is a terrific character, with enough backstory and trauma to make her really interesting, and enough guts and ingenuity to make her a terrific cop. The supporting cast is also well developed, and the multiple story lines are handled with Connelly’s usual finesse. And I loved the reference to the Amazon Prime series, Bosch – a nice Easter egg.

I was shocked to realize this book was over 400 pages, it was a very fast read for me. Connelly has a way of drawing me into his stories that make it almost impossible to put down the book. If you’re a Harry Bosch and/or Lincoln Lawyer fan, you will love this new one, too. This is an excellent series debut from the finest crime fiction writer out there. Don’t miss it.

7/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE LATE SHOW by Michael Connelly. Little, Brown and Company (July 18, 2017).  ISBN 978-0316225984. 448p.

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CAMINO ISLAND by John Grisham

July 7, 2017

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A library, a bookstore, and a Florida setting – count me in! I couldn’t resist and I’m happy to say this was a really good read. I tend to run hot and cold with Grisham’s books, sometimes I love his books, other times, not so much. I put this one in the love column for sure. And interestingly enough, it’s not a legal thriller.

The premise starts with a heist. Princeton University is home to the only original manuscripts of all of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novels as well as his notes, letters and papers. The manuscripts are priceless, to say the least, so when they are stolen, all sorts of agencies get involved in trying to find them.

The insurance company investigator needs help. They think that the owner of a small but very successful bookstore owner may have the manuscripts. The bookstore is on Camino Island outside of Jacksonville, Florida, (which bears a strong resemblance to Amelia Island, where Grisham has a home.)

The investigator zeroes in a Mercer, a novelist who grew up on the island. Mercer has just been let go from her teaching job, has mountains of student debt to pay off, and is three years late on her contracted next book.  The investigator offers to pay off her student loans and pay her a ton of money besides. All she has to do is stay in her former summer home for a six month period, befriend the bookseller, and see what she can learn. She learns a lot about rare books, so I did as well, and it was completely fascinating.

I loved the premise of the book and Grisham really brought it home for me. Luckily, the library at Princeton is apparently nothing like the one described in the novel, lest someone get the bright idea to make fiction a reality. Grisham is quite a diverse writer, and he once again goes off in a different direction from his legal thrillers. This is a thriller, just no lawyering involved here. There are some reviews who cast this with a chick lit light, but I really didn’t see it. I will say that some of my favorite Grisham books, besides his first few legal thrillers, are his non-thrillers like Playing for Pizza and Skipping Christmas. Camino Island is just another really good read.

7/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

CAMINO ISLAND by John Grisham. Doubleday; First Edition edition (June 6, 2017).  ISBN 978-0385543026. 304p.

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BEFORE THIS IS OVER by Amanda Hickie

July 6, 2017

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Rumors of a deadly virus have already begun to spread, but Australia has so far remained safe. For Hannah, though, it is a concern. A cancer survivor always anxiously aware of any minute change in her own health, Hannah also has two sons and a husband to care for. And so when talk circulates of the virus’s potential spread, Hannah starts to prepare. Stockpiling food and other necessities is at the forefront of her mind in the beginning and she feels she’s done well enough at that, ensuring the men in her household don’t dip into the emergency stash along the way. But even she realizes that keeping her eldest son from participating in a school trip, when no infection has yet to reach their shores, might be a bit of a stretch.

And yet, her concerns are founded. The virus hits Australia while her oldest son is separated from the rest of the family. She berates her husband for heading into the office and keeps her youngest son home from school while the teachers and principal believe she’s being ridiculously paranoid. And again her concerns turn out to be founded when one of the men in the office and children at the school become infected. And when her son’s school trip is trapped by blockades and quarantine measures, Hannah’s husband finally agrees it’s time to take matters into their own hands.

I loved Amanda Hickie’s debut. In a time of ebola and zika, amongst others, the fear of viral apocalypse definitely seems like a reality we could very well face. Amanda Hickie herself was inspired to write the book based on her own fears after threats of a SARS outbreak.

And those fears ring true in Hannah. The story is tinged by that fear, imbued with a sense of paranoia and dread that infects the reader from the very first page. Which of course makes it a perfectly intense read.

Before This is Over is the kind of book that will appeal to a wide audience. The outbreak aspect makes it dark and satisfying for dystopian and post apocalyptic fans, but there’s a definite literary lean to the novel that will appeal to more than just genre fans. And considering the book raises a lot of questions, most importantly how far would you go to protect the people you love most, I think it would make a great pick for book clubs looking for a very discussion worthy and timely read.

7/17 Becky LeJeune

BEFORE THIS IS OVER by Amanda Hickie. Little, Brown and Company (March 28, 2017).  ISBN 978-0316355452. 400p.

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THE SWITCH by Joseph Finder

June 26, 2017

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Finder takes a step outside his usual corporate thriller zone into political & suburban territory when there is a computer mixup at the TSA line at LAX. I have to say I loved the premise of this book; it seemed so believable.

Michael Tanner owns a small, wholesale elite coffee business that is not doing terribly well. In fact, he’s close to closing the doors. On a return trip home to Boston from L.A., he barely gets through security in time to catch his flight. Eventually he realizes that he must have grabbed the wrong laptop. This one has a little sticky note on the bottom with the password, and he quickly finds out it belongs to a powerful U.S. Senator. Curious, he pokes around and discovers some highly classified information, which he promptly shares with a Boston Globe reporter friend. When his friend commits suicide a couple of days later, Tanner is alarmed.

Meanwhile, back in Washington D.C., the senator’s chief of staff , Will Abbott, is in a panic. He’s the one who illegally downloaded the top secret documents onto the senator’s laptop so she could peruse them on her flight home from L.A. She knows the password is available, and they both are extremely worried – this could end her career, and Will could end up in prison.

It’s a fairly simple matter for the D.C. powers that be to determine whose computer they have and where the Senator’s computer should be, but when Tanner is confronted, he denies he has the Senator’s computer – and things go rapidly downhill from there.

There are a lot of bad – and often unbelievable – decisions made along this journey, and it often seemed repetitive. The characters weren’t really fleshed out enough to make me care what happened to them and I constantly had to think about who was who – who had the crying baby? Whose wife took off? So while I loved the beginning of the book,  in the end, the premise was better than the actual story. This was a disappointment from one of my favorite authors.

6/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE SWITCH by Joseph Finder. Dutton (June 13, 2017).  ISBN 978-1101985786. 384p.

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A TWIST OF THE KNIFE by Becky Masterman

May 14, 2017

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Brigid Quinn Series, Book 3

 

Brigid Quinn is a retired FBI agent that has turned into a bit of a rogue, to say the least. In this story she heads to Florida when her father ends up hospitalized. Brigid and her parents are not exactly close, none of the family is. Her father was a cop who shared completely inappropriate information and pictures from his cases with his very young children and all of them went into law enforcement. Brigid’s brother Todd is a Florida cop and their sister Ariel is in the CIA – and completely out of contact.

Brigid has another reason for heading to Florida. Her former protege/partner, Laura, asks for her help. She’s left the FBI and is working as an investigator with an appeals attorney on a death row case. The case has renewed urgency thanks to the governor signing a hurry up and die type law into effect and the clock is ticking.

Getting several law enforcement agencies to work together towards freeing a man on death row has as many hurdles as it sounds like, but makes for a really compelling read. I missed Brigid’s late in life relationship with her ex-priest husband  – he barely puts in an appearance here, but other than that I really enjoyed this latest entry in the series.

5/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

A TWIST OF THE KNIFE by Becky Masterman. Minotaur Books (March 21, 2017). ISBN 978-1250074515. 320p.

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THE GARDEN OF SMALL BEGINNINGS by Abbi Waxman

May 5, 2017

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How long does it take to get over the death of your husband? For Lili, it’s been four years and counting and it seems the answer to that question is never.

After a little breakdown – she did, after all, witness her husband’s death, so it’s understandable – she’s mostly better these days. She fills her time with her two daughters and work as an illustrator. Oh, and her sister, Rachel, is around all the time to keep her company too. Life is pretty good, all things considered. But in spite of her sister’s urgings, Lili isn’t ready to move on and meet someone new.

The small publisher Lili works for is branching out and has taken on a new project involving a set of vegetable guides Lili is to illustrate. The account could be huge for the struggling company, and they want Lili to do everything she can to impress their new client. Including taking a new gardening class led by them. The class sounds like a fun way to spend a few Saturday mornings, and kids are welcome, so it seems like a win. But Lili isn’t prepared for the feelings she begins to develop for their new teacher. How can she allow love to bloom while she’s still grieving her husband?

Abbi Waxman’s debut is the perfect mix of heart and humor; laugh out loud hilarity balances out the truly heart wrenching moments as Lili learns to move on in life and love.

The Garden of Small Beginnings is a seriously fun feel good read. A sure-footed debut, too, filled with characters you’re guaranteed to adore. From Lili and her kids and sister, to the crew Lili meets in her gardening class, each and every one adds something new and meaningful to Lili’s life and to the overall story.

I adored this book, tears and all (and it’s really not THAT sad). It was the perfect almost one sitting read for spring and a great introduction to a fantastic new writing talent.

5/17 Becky LeJeune

THE GARDEN OF SMALL BEGINNINGS by Abbi Waxman. Berkley (May 2, 2017).  ISBN 978-0399583582. 368p.

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THE RED HUNTER by Lisa Unger

May 2, 2017

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Two women and their interwoven story lines come together in the latest from thriller writer extraordinaire, Lisa Unger.

Claudia and Ayers are happily married and trying to get pregnant when an intruder rips their lives apart. Claudia is raped, and a month later is pregnant but determined to get on with her life. But the marriage falls apart and eventually Claudia and her daughter move out to an old farmhouse she inherits. The place is literally falling apart, and Claudia decides to renovate the property and blog about it, mistakes and all.

Zoey Drake was a teenager when her family suffered a home invasion. Her father was a cop and the men who attacked them were after some money. He denied any knowledge of it, and the family was tortured and left for dead. The men were never caught.

Somehow Zoey survived, and her uncle raised her, bringing her to adulthood a strong – very strong – woman. Zoey studied martial arts and eventually decides to seek her own justice.

This is a story about women who refuse to be beaten down and instead, rise up to the challenges of life. The characters are so relateable that the reader can’t help but be drawn in, making the book unputdownable until the stunning ending. If you haven’t read Lisa Unger, this standalone thriller is a terrific place to start.

5/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE RED HUNTER by Lisa Unger. Touchstone (April 25, 2017)). ISBN 978-1501101670. 368p.

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GONE WITHOUT A TRACE by Mary Torjussen

April 25, 2017

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After a day trip for work, Hannah returns home to find that her boyfriend, Matt, has left her. Not only has he left her, he’s stripped their shared home of any and every item he brought to it: his dvds and cds are gone and Hannah’s previously packed away books have replaced them on the shelves. His art is missing from the walls. Even the comforter and sheets, his before they were together, have been replaced on the bed. But the worst part? Every trace of Matt has been removed from Hannah’s phone, tablet, and social media – no contact information remains, no texts between the two of them, and every photo of Matt has been deleted.

Hurt and confused, Hannah becomes determined to try and find out what happened – why Matt left her and where he’s gone. But as the days and weeks become months, Hannah becomes convinced Matt is following her, sneaking back into their home and leaving messages on her phone. But why? Why would he leave? And why would he torment her so?

Mary Torjussen’s debut is a twisty psychological thriller that begs the question – just how far would you go to get answers if the person you loved most left you? It begs other questions, too, but those would give too much away.

Hannah is understandably devastated to find that Matt has left her. To her mind, everything had been going great between the two of them. Work was looking up too, but that begins to fall apart as well as she tries to find answers.

As a reader, given the information that Torjussen conveys through Hannah, all kinds of possibilities crossed my mind. Was Matt behind the messages in the first place? Did he leave willingly? And most importantly, what’s missing from this story?

I did not see the end coming. The clues are there, but I didn’t guess at all. Torjussen builds a story that is packed with tension, so much so that getting through it is both frustrating and thrilling. And worth it.

4/17 Becky LeJeune

GONE WITHOUT A TRACE by Mary Torjussen. Berkley (April 18, 2017).  ISBN 978-0399585012. 352p.

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ONE PERFECT LIE by Lisa Scottoline

April 14, 2017

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It’s always a happy day in my house when a new Lisa Scottoline book appears on my doorstep. While my heart truly belongs to her series (Rosato & Associates which turns into Rosato & DiNunzio) I also enjoy the nonfiction books she writes with her daughter, Francesca Serritella, which are collections of the columns they write for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Then a few years ago (probably more than a few at this point) Lisa started writing standalones, sort of ripped from the headlines thrillers and family dramas that are most reminiscent of Jodi Picoult books. This one is a real suburban thriller, so if you like Harlan Coben or Jodi Picoult, add Scottoline to your reading list.

One Perfect Lie starts out one way and then takes a sudden, shocking turn. Set in a small, Pennsylvania town, Chris Brennan applies for a teaching position, taking over for a teacher out on leave. He also applies to be the assistant coach of the baseball team, and through the application process and then his starting days at the high school, he comes across as creepy and evil.

The story really focuses on some of the kids on the baseball team. One of them is suspected of stealing fertilizer that is used for explosions. And this is just days before the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. There’s Raz, who lost his father earlier that year and whose mother is having trouble adjusting. Jordan’s mom is a struggling single mother, but he never knew his father. And Evan is the golden child, son of a surgeon and a mom who lives for Facebook, posting one perfect family picture after another.

The teachers, students and their families all accept Chris and for the first time in his life – a life that seems to have been very difficult – he feels a sense of being at home. But it may all blow up – literally and figuratively.

Scottoline excels at character development and they propel the story along. And the ending was exceptionally gripping. This was a one night read for me and I really enjoyed it. Another winner from one of my favorites.

4/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

ONE PERFECT LIE by Lisa Scottoline. St. Martin’s Press (April 11, 2017). ISBN 978-1250099563. 368p.

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THE DIME by Kathleen Kent

March 25, 2017

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It’s been just over two years since Betty and her girlfriend, Jackie, relocated from Brooklyn to Dallas. Betty, a narcotics officer with Dallas PD, has finally been given lead on a huge case: a local has been in contact with one of the big Mexican cartels and a drop has been scheduled. Betty and her team have spent hours staking out the location where it’s to take place, but an incident with a bystander throws everything off kilter. As bodies stack up, the case becomes more complicated – worse so when it becomes clear that Betty herself has become a target. But a target of exactly what is unclear.

While this is by no means Kathleen Kent’s first rodeo, it is her first crime novel. And I have to say it’s a resounding success.

Betty Rhyzyk is a tall redhead, born and bred in Brooklyn. And she’s just the latest of a string of cops in the family. Her Polish roots run deep and the narrative is peppered with pieces of translated family wisdom. By the time the meat of the story begins, however, Betty is the only surviving member of the Rhyzyk clan.

Not that she’s alone in the world by any means. Her girlfriend, Jackie, a nurse who spends much of her time worrying over Betty’s diet, is steadfast and supportive even when the story begins to take a nasty turn. And Betty is supported by her fellow police officers as well, more or less. Kent does a fantastic job portraying the difficulties of being a female cop in what is still a very male centric career.

She also does a wonderful job bringing Dallas and Texas to life in this tale, so much so that the city becomes more than just a setting. The sense of place is true to its inspiration, as I’m sure anyone in the DFW area can attest (which makes sense because it’s the place Kent calls home.), imbuing the story with a distinct flavor and characteristic.

The Dime is the kind of book that begins with a bang and still manages to become increasingly intense. And the pacing and plot never falter. It is a dark one, so do be warned, but definitely one that’s joining the ranks of my own personal favorites. No word yet on whether Betty will be a new series lead, but I for one certainly hope that will be the case.

3/17 Becky LeJeune

THE DIME by Kathleen Kent. Mulholland Books; First Edition/First Printing edition (February 14, 2017).  ISBN 978-0316311038. 352p.

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