Friday, January 1, 2021

Reviews of Books Read In 2021

 My index of all interviews of the last ten years up until 2018 is here

My list of all 2018 reads is here

My list of 10ish favorite books read in 2018 is here

My list of 2019 reads is here 

My list of 2020 books is here


 2021 Book #1 - Hi Five by Joe Ide, this is the fourth book in Ide's series about a fascinating character named IQ, a private investigator who solves crimes and other problems. One of the plugs on the book cover flap, by Wilder Davies of Time magazine, accurately sums up the books this way: "Joe Ide's IQ novel are an electrifying combination of Holmesian mystery and SoCal grit."

In this book IQ is being blackmailed into helping a man he despises: Angus Byrne, the biggest arms dealer on the West Coast. If IQ does not help Angus' daughter, Christina - the number one suspect in the murder of her boyfriend, of which she is the sole witness and it doesn't help that she has multiple personalities, none of whom saw the whole thing - than Angus will injure IQ's girlfriend so she will never play her violin again, ruining her career. IQ rises to the challenge but it's not easy interviewing each personality and trying to piece together what exactly happened.

The book has lots of good twists and turns and intriguing characters but, overall, I was underwhelmed. I was a big champion of the early books in the IQ series but this one was missing something and I can't quite identify what is is. It's still a good book - I give it an 8 - but I gave past books in the series 9's. 


Book #2 - Bombshell by Stuart Woods. I have a theory, which seems to generally be true based on past readings, and that is that when best-selling authors start taking
on co-writers, the quality of the books go down. This book is a good example of that. This book is the fourth book in his Teddy Fay novels with Parnell Hall as the co-writer.
I predicted most of the plot twists before they happened and some of the story was just too implausible to accept
I interviewed Stuart back in 2010 - and enjoyed the interview and the book the interview was promoting,
Santa Fe Edge. That said  I give Bombshell a 6 - i found it more of a bomb than a bombshell. 


Book #3  - Black Ice by Andrew Lane. This is the third book in the Sherlock Holmes: The Legend Begins series, an excellent Young Adult series written in conjunction with the estate of
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I find this a fun series, seeing a young Sherlock still learning many of the skills he will become famous for having in later life, such
as being so gifted at deducing information. In this book Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's older brother, has run into some problems, including being accused of murder. The book
has good character development and some excellent plot twists. I give the book an 8.

Book #4 - The Sentinel - This is the latest Jack Reacher thriller by Lee Child but it's cowritten by his younger brother, Andrew Child.  

If memory serves Andrew is going to continue the series for a while without Lee. It will be interesting to see what, if anything changes with Andrew doing Reacher novels by

As the novel gets going Reacher sees a man about to walk into an ambush and Reacher being Reacher he just had to stop that. The man he helps, Rusty Rutherford, the town's former IT manager, claims he's innocent but seemingly everyone in town blames him after a cyberattack locked up the town's data. Rutherford wants to clear his name and in trying to help him Reacher runs into all kinds of trouble as bad guys are trying to hurt or kill them.  

There's plenty of fighting, Lee Child is great at describing choices made in fights, plot twists and all kinds of other hijinks. This is far from the best Jack Reacher novel so i'm only giving it a 7

Book #5 - Invasion of Privacy by Christopher Reich- Good techno thriller about the aftermath after a FBI agent is killed and his wife suspects she's being lied to about what really happened. She's right - she is being lied to and woe to those who stand in her way. I've never heard of the author before but he definitely shows promise plus the book has plugs for the author from James Patterson and Lee Child. The book caught my attention
because it's based in Austin, TX, where I live so that meant I both felt a connection to it plus watched for any geographical errors, of which I spotted none. The book has lots of good plot twists. I give it an 8.



Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Fiction: Clicking Away While My Cats Take Notes

 In a private online community I lead a writing exercise that is my version of Writing Down the Bones derived from a book by Natalie Goldberg.


The way it works is a topic is announced and then you have ten minutes to write - thing is you're not allowed to edit: the goal is to turn off your inner editor and just write.

The topic was clicked and this is what came out of me:


If my cats were to take notes on ten minutes with me, recording sounds and thoughts:  

Human's on the computer again:
click, click, mouse scroll (but not the of mouse we like)
click, click, pause while reading, click  

We approach. What is the human clicking? Or is it clicked? Human English and its tenses - so hard to understand, Catish being so superior a language.  

Click. Click.  

We step on the keyboard. Now a different click click click sound as our paws click on the screen.  

The human has stopped his clicking now, what with our butts up in his faces. Doesn't he understand that for us to put butt in face is a compliment? It's a story he clicked on yesterday.(yeah, we know how to check your browsing history while you're at work)  

He's asking us to leave. Why? so he can resume clicking on that facebook site he's always on?
Fine. But we're still paying attention.
click click  

8:50-9 pm


Thursday, August 13, 2020

Looking: A Fictional Story

 In a private online community I lead a writing exercise that is my version of Writing Down the Bones derived from a book by Natalie Goldberg.


The way it work is a topic is announced and then you have ten minutes to write - thing is you're not allowed to edit: the goal is to turn off your inner editor and just write.

The topic was looking and this is what came out of me:


I saw her standing there, looking around.
I also like to look around, people watching being a great free hobby.
I watched her. She was cute and charming and intriguing. She was wearing what looked like a wedding ring but i've heard some women wear rings to fake out or discourage folks from asking them out. It was working.
She saw me looking and smiled. So now I was looking at her looking at me and wondering if this was getting a bit too meta.
Then I noticed a few more mirrors in this bar and realized there's ways I can look at her and others without them seeing me.  

I was now watching the woman, who i'd decided was a Karen (not one of those racist Karens but one of those Karens upset that all Karens now got a bad wrap) and I was watching her from a ceiling mirror while she was watching me from a mirror on the back wall.
But wait, now her vision was shifting slightly to someone walking up to me.
That's when I felt a hand on me and I whirled around, watching a guy who was just about to tap me on the shoulder while, based on where his hands were, was about to separate me from my wallet.
He was wearing sunglasses so I couldnt see where his eyes were now but I could see myself looking more confident than I felt as I pushed him away from me.
He quickly disappeared. I turned to look  back at her but she too was now gone.  

Damn. I went outside and looked both ways but still could not see her... or him. I sat on a bench and had a think.  

Did she just use my interest in her to try to steal my wallet or was there a more innocent explanation like she wanted a look at my wallet so she could check me out via social media before I said word one to her?
It was as I was concluding that I would probably  never know that I saw a taxi pass by with the woman inside. She looked me up and down and smiled and that was the last I ever saw of her. Sitting next to her was the pickpocket who was inspecting a watch, that looked a lot like my watch. A check of my wrist indicated the man was faster than I'd thought. I had to give them credit: it was a great scam. One more thing to look out for. 


Monday, July 13, 2020

Dog Day Morning

Here he comes again, the young man collecting rocks. What is his deal? We have lots of rocks on our property but you don't see Rocky and me picking them up let alone putting our favorites in pockets... if we had pockets. But every day he walks by us and picks up rocks.

Oh and there's that older guy with him, with the almost shaved head. I wish he'd walk closer so we can lick that head.

Oh they're getting closer now - time to do our job.

What the humans hear: woof woof woof.

What we're really saying: Yo, move along, humans, just move along.

Both humans make eye contact with us so we increase the volume. They hate that!

Unfortunately, both sides know we have an invisible fence so we're not as scary as we like to think. Rocky's tried and tried to explain invisible fencing to me but I just don't get it.

The humans are almost out of sight.

Woof woof woof ("Yeah, you BETTER keep moving)

Rocky likes to add a line at the end:.
Woof WOOF woof ("Next time bring us some dog food and we'll be nicer")

This has never worked and I tried to explain to Rocky that until we get a human who speaks doggish it's not going to work. Dave said it's worth trying. I say if THAT is worth trying than so is taking another  run at the "invisible fence."

He suggests instead we go check on our "owner" to see if his son dropped more food on the floor.
So we do.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

An Interview With Film Critic Roger Ebert, Author of Your Movie Sucks

originally published in 2007

his is the first part of a two-part interview with film critic and author Roger Ebert.
As far as I am concerned, Roger Ebert is a national treasure. The long-time syndicated critic for the Chicago Sun-Times and author of several books writes film reviews and criticism, but in layman’s language. His work has earned him a Pulitzer Prize. Getting the chance to interview him made my summer. 
I could go on and on about what he means to me, but maybe I'll save those thoughts for a later piece. For now let's just say that I'm a huge fan and this is a great thrill.
Ebert has been recovering from cancer, and while he hasn’t returned to the airwaves yet on a regular basis, he is once again writing reviews and agreed to answer some questions via email.
Ebert has used his popularity and influence for good causes, speaking out against the seriously screwed-up rating system of the Motion Picture Association of America, fighting email spam, and championing relatively unknown movie directors. He was also somewhat responsible for encouraging Oprah Winfrey to get her program syndicated (and the rest is history).
The second part of this interview will focus on some of Ebert’s negative movie reviews and his latest book, Your Movie Sucks.  

How did you go from writing science fiction and poetry to writing the infamous Beyond the Valley of the Dolls to reviewing films? 

In 1966 I was a PHD candidate in English at the University of Chicago, working part-time at the Sun-Times, and when the movie critic retired, they offered me the job. I only wrote two SF short stories, one sold to Amazing, the other to Fantastic, after I was already a film critic. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was also written after I became a critic, so it all began from there.   

How do you decide what to review? Or, put another way, how do you choose what NOT to review? As you've noted, you may not be the person to review, for example, a story aimed at girls.  

Before my illness I reviewed more or less as many films as I could, period. There is really no such
 thing as the “right person,” since everybody is the right person to write his or her review.  

Do you feel any responsibility to be impartial in your reviews?  Is objectivity possible or even desirable?  

I am always subjective. Objectivity has nothing to do with critical opinion. Critics are paid to be subjective.  

Do moviemakers have a moral obligation or should entertainment be their only concern?  

Any obligation is to themselves. Would they rather participate in growing more or less complex?  

When a book is adapted for the screen do you try to read the book prior to seeing the movie? What about reading screenplays? 

I don’t make a point of reading books before their movies because my question should be, how good a movie is it, not how good an adaptation? If I have read the book, that inevitably enters somewhere into the review.  

What is your actual reviewing process like? How many times do you watch a movie before writing your first published review of the movie?  What is the most number of times and which movie gets that honor? (How do you write notes in a dark theater? Every time I try that I can’t read my own handwriting.)

Usually I only have the opportunity to see a movie once. If I saw it at a festival some time ago, I’ll see it again. I take notes, and can sometimes read my handwriting.  

Is it okay for a reviewer to get into what should have been done rather than just sticking with 
 what was done? When is it okay to do that?

It’s okay for a reviewer to get into anything.  

Who are some of your favorite critics and why? And how do you feel about the fact that anyone can write and publish their own reviews on the web these days? Do you view that as a positive trend?  

Pauline Kael, David Bordwell, Stanley Kauffmann, Dwight Macdonald, Manny Farber. I think the web is a great place for film criticism. Writing your own reviews is a good way to deepen your knowledge of the movies.  

What are the funniest, most glaring continuity lapses you can recall?  

In Jaws III (or IV?), Michael Caine swam to a yacht and climbed on board completely dry.  

What about the movie industry do you think lowers the bar?  What trend do you find encouraging?  
Mass openings and short runs, to try to use advertising to blunt word-of-mouth. Encouraging? It costs less to make a movie, and indie films are thriving. 

Part two
This is the second part of a two-part interview with Roger Ebert, one of my heroes.
The first part of this interview includes a small tribute that I wrote to Mr. Ebert. Here you'll find another tribute, this one written by Mr. Ebert himself, to the late great Studs Terkel, plus a piece Ebert wrote during his health recovery about Rob Schneider – of all people – acting like a gentleman.
As part of an effort to make this project an example of citizen journalism I solicited questions and received several that asked him to rank movies or list his favorites. I subsequently read, in the introduction to one of his excellent Great Movies books, this comment:
I do not believe in rankings and lists and refuse all invitations to reveal my ‘ten all-time favorite musicals,’ etc., on the grounds that such lists are meaningless and might well change between Tuesday and Thursday. I make only two exceptions to this policy: I compile an annual list of the year’s best films, because it is written in stone that movie critics must do so, and I participate every ten years in the Sight & Sound poll of the world’s directors and critics.
With that in mind, I cut all questions asking him to list or rank anything. Instead, since this interview is ostensibly to promote his latest book, This Movie Sucks, I decided to list my favorite comments from this book. The only movies I thought he was a little too hard on were Team America and Serendipity.
I completely agreed with his criticisms of The Village, which I also trashed.
In no particular order, my favorite passages from Your Movie Sucks:
On The Village: The Village is a colossal miscalculation, a movie based on a premise that cannot support it, a premise so transparent it would be laughable were the movie not so deadly solemn. It's a flimsy excuse for a plot, with characters who move below the one-dimensional and enter Flatland. M. Night Shyamalan, the writer-director, has been successful in evoking horror from minimalist stories, as in Signs, which if you think about it rationally is absurd — but you get too involved to think rationally. He is a director of considerable skill who evokes stories out of moods, but this time, alas, he took the day off…
Critics were enjoined after the screening to avoid revealing the plot secrets. That is not because we would spoil the movie for you. It's because if you knew them, you wouldn't want to go.
Eventually the secret of Those, etc., is revealed. To call it an anticlimax would be an insult not only to climaxes but to prefixes. It's a crummy secret, about one step up the ladder of narrative originality from It Was All a Dream. It's so witless, in fact, that when we do discover the secret, we want to rewind the film so we don't know the secret anymore.
On Pearl Harbor: … a two-hour movie squeezed into three hours, about how on Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese staged a surprise attack on an American love triangle. Its centerpiece is 40 minutes of redundant special effects, surrounded by a love story of stunning banality. The film has been directed without grace, vision, or originality, and although you may walk out quoting lines of dialog, it will not be because you admire them.
On Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic: a movie that filled me with an urgent desire to see Sarah Silverman in a different movie. I liked everything about it except the writing, the direction, the editing and the lack of a parent or adult guardian. There should have been somebody to stand up sadly after the first screening and say, "Sarah, honey, this isn't the movie you want people to see. Your material needs a lot of work, the musical scenes are deadly, except for the first one. And it looks like it was edited by someone fooling around with iMovie on a borrowed Macintosh.
On Jason X: "This sucks on so many levels” – dialogue from Jason X.
Rare for a movie to so frankly describe itself. Jason X sucks on the levels of storytelling, character development, suspense, special effects, originality, punctuation, neatness, and aptness of thought. Only its title works.
On John Q: Anne Heche is deep-sixed by her role, which makes her a penny-pinching shrew and then gives her a cigarette to smoke just in case we missed that she’s the villain. The Grim Reaper would flee from this woman.
On Undead: Undead is the kind of movie that would be so bad it’s good, except it’s not bad enough to be good enough.

On Freddie Got Fingered: This movie doesn’t scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn’t the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn’t below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels.
On Charlie's Angels: … eye candy for the blind. It’s a movie without a brain in its three pretty little heads, which belong to Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu. The movie is a dead zone in their lives, and mine. What is it? A satire? Of what? Of satires, I guess. It makes fun of movies that want to make fun of movies like this. It’s an all-girls series of mindless action scenes.
In the months to come there will be several movies based on popular video games, including one about Tomb Raiders and its digital babe, Lara Croft. Charlie’s Angels is like a trailer for a video game movie, lacking only the video game and the movie.
One last quote before I share the second half of this interview:
I have cited before the British critic Derek Malcolm’s definition of a great movie: any movie he could not bear the thought of never seeing again. During the course of a year I review about 250 films and see perhaps 200 more and could very easily bear the thought of not seeing many of them again, or even for the first time.
Thanks again to Mr. Ebert for doing this interview. Also, thanks to Ana Moreno Amon for editing and writing contributions. Finally, I would like to thank those who suggested questions for this interview.

Did your first collection of negative reviews, I Hated, Hated, Hated this Movie, sell well? Is that one reason why you decided to put out a second collection or were there other factors? Do you think readers take pleasure in reading a blistering yet spot-on negative movie review?

It did sell well, but frankly I thought I had enough good negative reviews that it was time for another book. Because too many people reduce me to a thumb in their minds, I am happy that my written work is available in book and on the web. I especially enjoy writing the negative reviews; my muse is the British satirical columnist Auberon Waugh, whose work for Private Eye and The Daily Telegraph was sublime.

Your book documents instances where two people – one involved with The Brown Bunny and the other with Chaos – publicly criticized your reviews. How often do you get a reaction from someone involved with a movie you have reviewed? Does it tend to happen more when you‘ve written something negative?

Very, very rarely. I was also called a racist after the Diary of a Mad Housewife, but that was a different kind of complaint.

I am intrigued by your variations in form. What made you decide, for example, to write your review of The Cinderella Story as a letter and Wet Hot American Summer as a variation on Allen Sherman’s classic song “Hello Muddah! Hello Fadduh!?

I take dictation from that place inside my mind that tells me what to write. Conscious thought is not helpful in the creative process. The Muse visits during the work, not before. Allen Sherman also worked on The Daily Illini, many years before I did; I heard him perform “Hello Muddah” and I guess the summer camp movie brought it out.

How is your health? When do you expect to return to your television show on a regular basis?
My health is good, considering that I had to go through rehab twice after two surgeries to learn to walk again, after months in bed weakened my muscles. But I still face more surgery, which will hopefully restore my ability to speak. No timeline. I’m happy to be writing again.

Can you explain how your film festival got started and what impact it has had?
The U. of Illinois asked me to do a festival, and the “overlooked” idea came up because I wanted to avoid conflicts of interest on new films. The impact has been considerable in the area, and has resulted in some films being picked up, or reborn. Tron, for example, attracted new interest.

I read your profile on Wikipedia and wondered if you would be kind enough to settle a slight disagreement: which interpretation is correct regarding your “opening words,” read by your wife, Chaz, at Ebertfest 2007, from the film you co-wrote with Russ Meyer, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls: "It's my happening and it freaks me out." Most people thought you were talking about the dramatic rise in popularity of Ebertfest over the past few years. Others thought you were referring to how you had actually become the protagonist, and pass it off as a sardonic remark typical of your writing style and spoken commentary.
That year, we closed with Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, and I was simply making a joke. That phrase seems to have entered the language.

Do you still argue with Siskel? By this I mean is there a voice in your head that belongs to Siskel and does it ever influence what you write?
Not so much about the movies, but more about life itself. He was a philosophy major at Yale, and at times we had long, deep conversations that stimulated me very much.

What is the biggest misconception about you?
In a superficial way, that I am still fat. In a critical way, that I am all t

I know several people who detest trailers because they give so much away. How do you feel about them?
I try to watch them as little as possible. They never show them before the Chicago advance screenings.

What, if anything, could the Academy Awards do to better include comedies in the award system?
Have a category for the year’s best comedy?

How has acting and directing changed during the years you have been writing reviews?
Improved in general, with many exceptions both then and now.

What was the most revolutionary movie you’ve reviewed, by which I mean a movie that had the biggest influence on the industry and craft?
Star Wars.
Any thoughts on the distribution of film and the way people choose to watch movies? With home delivery by Netflix and Blockbuster, for example, and other modern options, is the movie theater dying out? Are we losing something important by not going to the movies together anymore?
Yes, we are. The movies live in theaters. Their ghosts live on DVD.

Is the non-linear storytelling trend being overdone or do you like it as a creative device? What film pulled it off well and which film blew it?
It’s an old tradition. I think Altman brought it back. Interesting, how it didn’t work in the original cut of Donnie Darko and did work in the director’s cut.

I've noticed you sometimes inject yourself into your reviews, which I find refreshing. Would you care to elaborate on your decision to break this longstanding rule by including your own opinions, politics and educational perspective. As an example, I’ll cite the second half of your review of The Boys of Baraka, which begins: "If I were in charge of everything, and I certainly should be, I would divert billions of dollars into an emergency fund for our schools. I would reduce classroom size to 15 or 20. I would double teachers' salaries…"
All reviews are written in the first person, whether the author realizes it or not. I sometimes consider a review like a conversation with the reader. There can be the sense of intimacy

Do you ever second-guess your earlier reviews in light of the weight of popular or critical opinion? Who came up with the whole thumbs-up/thumbs down thing? In hindsight, would you reverse any?
I second-guess myself in my own lights. Other opinion doesn’t enter into it. I am no longer quite certain I should have given Thoroughly Modern Millie four stars, or said the Simon and Garfunkel songs in The Graduate were forgettable.

Just for fun, yuks, and nostalgia here is Ebert’s original review of The Graduate in 1967 and here he is revisiting the movie and review in 1997.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Reviews On My 2020 Reads

My index of all interviews of the last ten years up until 2018 is here

My list of all 2018 reads is here

My list of 10ish favorite books read in 2018 is here

My list of 2019 reads is here 

Book #1 for 2020: A Better Man by Louise Penny. I love Penny's Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series (this is the latest in the series, book #15). I enjoy the deeply drawn characters and the interesting plots. This book seems a step above the other books with plots involving changes in Gamaches's professional life as well as several figures around him. I give it a 9
With The Tenant, Katrine Engberg has written an excellent first novel. One with a clever, intriguing concept in addition to interesting, fleshed out characters and good plot twists.
Esther de Laurenti owns an apartment building which contains two young women and an elderly gentleman. As the book begins the gentleman discovers one of the women is dead. So far, not so wild, right?
But then it is discovered that whoever killed her used details from a murder mystery novel Esther is writing, specifically cuts along the victims face. Esther says she’s not the killer but that the number of people with access to the details of her story is limited.
Copenhagen police detectives Jeppe Korner and Anette Werner are assigned to the case and they are interesting characters. They try to determine if Esther is the culprit or just another victim in the killer’s twisted game.

Book #3 - Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead - This is an excellent novel, a fast read, but a sobering one especially when you consider it's based on a real story. Whitehead is a consistently good writer and this is no exception as he describe events in the llife of the protagonist, Elwood, a hopeful, idealistic young black boy in the 1960s who gets sent to a boys school where discrimination and injustice is rampant. The book has an excellent spoiler which I am not going to spoil here. I give it a 9 out of 10. I just co-led a good book discussion on the book.

Book #4 - Follow Me by Kathleen Barber. I interviewed her here:

excerpt:"For her second novel, Follow Me, Kathleen Barber has written a thriller that is based on a scary but true fact: That with the right technology and software, people can be watched through their computer.

In the book’s introduction Barber explained how she learned of this alarming fact and concludes: “I was so deeply unsettled by the thought of an anonymous ratter lurking around my computer that I did two things: first I covered my laptop’s built-in webcam with a sticker, as Mark Zuckerberg and James Comey both reportedly do, and then I began writing this story."

excerpt:"For her second novel, Follow Me, Kathleen Barber has written a thriller that is based on a scary but true fact: That with the right technology and software, people can be watched through their computer.

Scott Butki: Follow Me is a wild story based on true, scary, sobering facts. Can you tell the story of how you come to discover that some people are able to watch others through cameras on computers and other places including home security cameras?

Kathleen Barber: I was messing around online one afternoon and stumbled across an article entitled “Meet the Men Who Spy on Women through Their Webcams.” It was horrifying, to say the least.

According to the article, it was fairly easy for these guys to remotely install something called a remote administration tool (or “RAT”) on your computer, which would then grant them access to your hard drive and webcam. The men who installed the RATs (nicknamed “ratters”) had different goals. Some had the relatively innocent plan of playing pranks, while some were after credentials and financial information. And then there were the ratters who really terrified me: those who made a game of collecting “slaves” (their name for the women they spied on) and then trading or even selling access to the “slaves” amongst themselves. I was so shocked and disgusted, I had to read it a couple of times just to make sure I hadn’t misunderstood—and then I immediately covered the camera on my computer.

Book #5 - Wrecked by Joe Ide, the third in his IQ series. I love the character of IQ (full name of Isaiah Quintabe), a sharp young black man in Southern California using his wits as well as knowledge gleaned from Sherlock Holmes and other famous investigators to solve crimes, help folks dealing with messes, etc. I give this book a 9.  

Book #6 - One of the advantages of interviewing authors, mostly mystery authors, for more than 12 years now, is I get a lot of unsolicited books, with requests from the author and/or a publicist, that I interview that author. I don't have the time or energy to follow up on a lot of those and there have been some definite misses, like getting a book by a guy named Dan Brown. I skipped his book and interview and a few years later he become a superstar for his Davinci Code book series.

It also means championing authors like Lisa Lutz before they get the fandom they deserve.

Last week I was looking for something to read and noticed again a book on the shelf with an intriguing title: Vinyl Detective. From the note in the book I read that I could interview the author, whose prior work, says the press release, included a "Legendary stint as script editor on Doctor Who." His name is Andrew Cartmel.

That's a long way of saying my latest read is Vinyl Detective and I wish I'd interviewed him when I had the chance as this is a delightful, fun, quirky, clever book.

I'm always fascinated to read mysteries that take the genre in a new direction and that is certainly the case here. Our protagonist is an expert on rare music - lp's only please, as he's a purist.

He is hired to track down a specific rare record and thus he becomes a "vinyl detective," searching for this rare item in regular and underground record stores and the reader gains glimpses into the fascinating world of those folks who not just collect but spend much energy, time and, sometimes, money, to get that very specific item of music that most people would never have heard of. And he has at least one set of folks chasing him and they're leaving dead bodies in their wake.

The characters and plot twists are fascinating. I recommend checking this book out, especially if you were ever a collector of, well, anything. If I had interviewed him one of my questions would have been whether the book would turn into a series and he probably would have honesty not known at that point. But time has passed and it did indeed become a series. I give the first book in the series a 9.

Book #7 - How To Start A Fire by Lisa Lutz. I championed Lisa Lutz's early books, especially her Spellman Series, and some of her stand alone novels since then have been even better. However, this one underwhelmed me. The characters and plot were good but her choice to jump around in time confused and annoyed me. I give it a 7 out of 10.

Book #8 Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly - another of his excellent books

Book #9 - Backgammon to Win: Play Like a Pro Both Online and Off. Chris Bray. This is a good introduction to backgammon but most of it was too basic for me. I give it a 7.

Book #10 Babel-17 by Samuel Delany. This book was outside my usual comfort range but one of the reasons I love book clubs is it will push you to try new things, in this case a fascinating sci-fi novel about how, during a fictional war, one side develops a language that can be used as a weapon.
While I read it since it's the Austin Justice Coalition book discussion book for the month I'm always happy to encounter authors new to me and different ideas. I give it an 8 out of 10. Grade may change following the discussion. 

Book #11 - Righteous: An IQ Novel by Joe Ide. This is the second book in Joe Ide's series about a young black man, IQ, with a mind like Sherlock Holmes solving cases around Southern California. The series is excellent, the characters are fully formed and the plot twists are great. I give it a 9. 
#12 -
Lady in The Lake by Laura Lippman. If you haven't been reading Lippman you're missing out. I first started reading her, and interviewing her occasionally, while she was writing a series about a former journalist turned private investigator named Tess  Monaghan, Lippman herself a former journalist. I'm sure part of why I liked the series was that I too was a journalist at the time I began reading her.

Then Lippman started writing stand alone books and the books became even better, with fully developed characters and fascinating  plots.. There's only a handful of authors whom I have read all of their books and Lippman is one of them and she's written more than 20 novels.

Her novels are, as Lippman puts it, ""inspired by crimes," and such is the case here with a a story about a white woman in 1966 who wants to become a journalist and uses her knowledge, and some scheming and creative thinking, to try to get ahead especially  by investigating details surrounding a black woman found dead in a fountain, aka the Lady In The Lake. I give it a 9 out of 10. 

Book #13 - Murder Off The Page: A 42nd Street Library Mystery - by Con Lehane -
I read an earlier book in the series and loved it and how could I not? I mean two things I love are mysteries and libraries so since this has both im hooked. Raymond Ambler is the curator of the library's crime fiction coordinator and also has a habit of encountering real life mysteries, this time involving both his favorite bartender and a woman who was recently doing research in that crime fiction section. Ambler, working with a friend and a police officer, tries to help his friend which requires him to help solve the woman's murder. I give it an 8. 

 Book #14 - A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny, part of her Chief Inspector Gamache series. This is the fourth book in the series. I just love this series, with well developed characters and fascinating plots. They seem perfect for the times, not too deep or dark which is great because I don't think I can read something  very dark or deep or disturbing during this pandemic.  

Book #15 - 25 Years Later: A Sentence From Crime to Redemption, Resilience, Advocacy and Leadership by Darwin Hamilton. I read this both out of interest and because Darwin will be joining the Austin Justice Coalition Book Discussion, which I co-lead, tomorrow afternoon.
In his book Darwin describes growing up, getting into trouble with the law, what life was like inside and what it's like trying to find work as an ex-convict and why he does activism work to both educate people about the criminal justice system and fight for ways to make things better and more fair for those who have served their time to re-enter society. This moving, educational book was inspiring and made me more excited about working alongside such great people as Darwin.

Book #16 - The Bitterest Pill - Reed Farrel Coleman has continued Robert Parker's series about Chief Jesse Stone and this is the latest in the series. I liked Robert Parker's books and I like what Coleman has done with the Stone series and what Ace Atkins has done with the Spenser series. None of them are deep or complicated and I think we can all use some mind candy sometimes. This particular novel is about drugs impacting/infecting the town of Sunshine. 7 out of 10. 

Book #17 - Coco Butternut - The latest in Joe Lansdale's Hap and Leonard mystery series. As with most of his books it's fun, almost silly, banter and good plot twists. This one starts out with the two hired to pay the ransom to get a mummified corpse of a dog back. Only after paying and getting it back they realize that under the dog is a dead human, which makes things mighty complicated. 8 out of 10. 

Book #18 - How The Light Got In by Louise Penny, part of her fun and fascinating series about Inspector Gamache.
The book has several interesting plot lines one of which is based on a real life thing: The first quintuplets which happened in 1928.
Another entertaining book. I give it an 8. 

Book #19 - Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King - I used to complain of what I dubbed the Stephen King Syndrome, in which the story concept was great but the endings were, imho, too often crap. But after reading his 1963 novel, which was excellent, I have been reading more of King's books and been more impressed, especially by the endings.

I don't often re-read books as I go by the adage, "too many books, not enough time," but I decided to go back and listen to this book on audio as I wanted to read/listen to the other two books in this trilogy and it's been 10 years since I read Mr. Mercedes the first time. This is King writing a detective (well, retired detective) story and the second read reminded me why i liked it so much - good characters, great plot. I'll be starting the second book, Finders Keepers, this weekend.

I give this a 9.
 I explain the Stephen King Syndrome more in this review - 

 Book #20 - The Elephant of Surprise by Joe Lansdale, part of his Hap and Leonard series. These books are light and fun (the fun being amusing dialogue between the two main characters.(I didn't like this one as much as some others in the series and I think that's because while all have some violence this one seems to be violent from the start to the end (and no, that's not spoiling anything.) So it still made me smile and laugh but not as much as usual. I give it a 7.

Book #21 -  All Things Oz: The Wonder, Wit, and Wisdom of the Wizard of Oz by Linda Sunshine. 
 This is a fascinating, exhaustive collection of not just all things Oz but other things written by L. Frank Baum.

Book #22  - A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny. Another great book in her excellent Inspector Gamache series. I've decided that now, when life is so out of whack due to Covid and Trump, is a great time to go through and read the books I haven't read yet in this series. 

 Book #23 - Blood Feud by Mike Lupica - This is a continuation of Robert Parker's Sunny Randall series. It's light but fun reading which is perfect for me right now. I give it an 8.  

Book #24 - Bury Your Dead, book #6 in Louise Penny's Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series. This one's a bit different in that Gamache spends the whole book away from Three Pines, in Quebec City, while Beavpor is in Three Pines trying to see if he and Gamache sent the wrong man to jail for a murder. I give it an 8. 

Book #25 - A Trick Of The Light - Book #7 in Louise Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache Series - A woman is found dead in a garden right outside a party celebrating Clara Morrow's art exhibit. Who did it? Why? This is another great book in Penny's series. I give it an 8.

 Book #26 - The Swallows By Lisa Lutz - I first got hooked on Lisa Lutz's Spellman series which were creative, engaging and hilarious. The main character was described by one wit as " "Dirty Harry meets Nancy Drew."After she completed that series and put up with several interviews with me Lutz began writing stand-alone novels and these are more deep and often more dark than the Spellman series.
This book is about Alex Witt, the new creative writing teacher at Stonebridge Academy, and what she discovers at the school: That some of the male students at the school participate in a secret web site called the Darkroom that they use to score the sexual abilities of the female students at the academy. Most women there have no idea they are being evaluated but over the course of the book more of the women figure  it out and they join forces with Witt to not only stop this but to get revenge. This was interesting but a bit too dark for me. I give it a 7.

Book #27 - Finders Keepers by Stephen King, the second in the Bill Hodges Trilogy. I really liked the first book in this series, Mr. Mercedes, and so read this second book in this series which is quite good. I'm starting book #3 - End of Watch - shortly.
One of the subplots for Finders Keepers involves an antagonist mad at a famous reclusive author for plotting decisions involving a main character in the authors books. As with Misery it is fun to watch King mine the topic of readers reactions to authors and authors decisions.
I give it an 8.5
Book #28 - The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny - This is part of Penny's excellent Inspector Gamache series but this one stands out for its setting. While most of the books in the series take place in Three Pines this one is set in a monastery hidden deep in the wilderness of Quebec. While no outsiders are allowed an exception is made for Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir as one of the monks has been murdered. Thus in addition to the usual fascinating work of these two as they try to identify the murderer and the motive the reader also learns a great deal about gregorian chants, something this monastery is famous for. I give this one an 8.5 out of 10.

Book #29- Mucho Mojo by Joe Lansdale - This is the second book in his Hap and Leonard series. It's a series about two guys, one black and gay and one white and hetero, and all the trouble they encounter as they try to do good in this messed up world of ours, as well as some interesting commentary on race.
In this book Leonard's uncle dies and leaves him his house and some money. Only inside the house they find a dead body and suggestions of child pornography. Did his uncle do this? Or did the uncle find this as he thought himself a detective? As with all of this series the books are at times rude and crude but this one is darker than usual with the child porn/discovery of young dead bodies subplot.
I give it an 8.

Book #30 Jeff Tweedy: Let's Go (So We Can Get Back): A Memoir of Recording and Discording With Wilco, Etc.
Wilco has been my favorite band for the last ten years or so and I was thus excited to read this memoir from the band's leader and lead singer. I even planned out listening to different Wilco albums while reading it and, right now, as I type this up, am listening to their live album. I also did that thing where you're hesitant to read something - delaying reading it for some months - because you're afraid it will make you like the band less.
The book is well done - it's funny in parts, sad in parts. The writer is very perceptive and insightful especially about some issues he had to work with. I like that the author has a short interview with both his wife (asking her what she does and does not want to include in the book about her and their relationship) and he does something similar with his oldest son.
If you're a fan of this band you should definitely pick this up. If not, you might not be as interested and might want to start with one of the concert films first.
I give it a 9 out of 10.

Book #31 - End of Watch by Stephen King. This is the third book in King's Bill Hodges trilogy that began with Mr. Mercedes and continued with Finders Keepers.
I liked the first two books much more than the third and that's partly because, and this is not a spoiler, a major plot line in End of Watch involves teens being talked into committing suicide. That was hard to read. The book is interesting, though, becaues Brady, the bad guy in Mr. Mercedes, is awake and able to control people in ways I won't spoil here.
I give this one a 7.5

Book #32 - The Long Way Home by Louise Penny - In an earlier book in this Chief Inspector Gamache series Clara tells his husband, Peter, that they are going to take a one year break on their relationship... and he leaves.

Both Clara and Peter are artists but while Peter has long been a success Clara has only recently become a star and Peter is awful about it, treating her and her art like crap.

As this book starts there's a problem: The one year mark - when they were supposed to meet together again at her place in Three Pines - has come and gone and there's no sign of Peter nor do they know his current location.

She asked Gamache, who is now retired, to help her find him and he does so, along with some of his colleagues and friends, all fascinating well-developed characters.

Needless to say, the hunt is on and there are many great plot twists as they travel around the world looking for Peter.

I give it an 8 out of 10.

Book #33 - The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny, the 11th book in her Inspector Gamache. I've been using this COVID time to read through this amazing series full of fleshed out characters and great plots. This one has a great premise: Laurent, 9, makes up stories all the time and so when he tells a story of seeing a huge gun in the forest, with a monster on top of it everyone sighs and ignores it... Until Laurent is soon found dead. And what is first assumed to be a bike accident becomes much more when they find a huge gun and realize a murder has ocurred. And then the story gets even more interesting including a major plot line straight out of real Canadian history.
I liked this story even more than some in the series so i'm giving this one an 8.5 out of 10. 
Book #34 - The Glass Houses by Louise Penny, the 13th book in her Inspector Gamache series. I'm finding these books perfect during COVID: Not too dark, not too depressing. Instead, I like the main characters and enjoy spending time with them. Reading these books while living alone during COVID, I feel, well, less loney. In this book Gamache is now the Chief Superintendent of the Surete du Quebec (the top person) and is dealing with all of the crime. Meanwhile, a mysterious figure has shown up at Three Pines. And there is a murder. I can't really connect those dots without spoiling things so I'll just say this book is very well plotted with some interesting twists. I give it an 8 out of 10. 

Book #35 - Heaven, My Home, by Attica Locke. This book is the second book in the Highway 59 Novel series, the follow up to Bluebird, Bluebird, an amazing book that deservedly won the 2016 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction.

The books feature a fascinating, well-developed protagonist named Darren Matthews, a Texas Ranger who is black whose job involves investigating white supremacy, resulting in more depth and layers than most books that address such topics.

As the book begins Darren's life is a mess from fallout from the investigation that is the focus of Bluebird, Bluebird, with trouble with his marriage and his own mother holding power over his reputation, blackmailing him.

Darren is assigned to help find a boy who has gone missing - but it's the boy's family of white supremacists who are his real targets. While doing his work he encounters racism and hate at seemingly every turn.

The book is full of complex characters and good plot twists. I liked it but not as much as I liked Bluebird, Bluebird. I give it an 8 compared to a 9 I gave Bluebird, Bluebird
Book #36 - Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny, the 14th book in her Inspector Gamache series. I've been going through the whole series in recent weeks/months and I love this series. Unfortunately, there's a long hold at the library for the 15th book, A Better Man, and her new addition to the series, book #16, is scheduled to come out on Sept. 1. So I'm lining up some other authors to read soon.
With this book Gamache's future in the Sûreté du Québec remains unclear due to decisions he, as chief superintendent, made and the actions that took place in Glass Houses, the prior book. In the meantime, he is suspended without pay.
One of the reasons I like Penny's books are they are not just a good mystery series with great characters and interesting plots but they contain some humor which I find so essential in my reading during COVID and this book contains plenty of witticism, much of it coming from the residents of Three Pines.
As the book begins Gamache is pulling up to a house, unsure what exactly he is doing there. Inside, he and Myrna from Three Pines and a third man have been asked by a woman, that none of them have met, to be the executors of her will. The more they learn about the woman, who called herself the Baroness, the more questions they have.
Who is she really and why did she ask three strangers to execute her will? And what is going to happen to Gamache? Sorry, I won't spoil the fun. This is a good tale. I gave it an 8.5.
Book #37 - Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? By Mindy Kaling. I knew of Mindy from her work with the Office and so I was pretty sure I'd enjoy this book but I had no idea just how hilarious she is. The book is clever and funny.
I'd decided a few weeks back that just as I'm listening to comedy TV series before going to bed it would also make sense to listen to comedians memoirs while driving to and from work. Thus I picked up this and one by David Sedaris from the library and I'm glad I did. It's helping keep me smiling and keeping it positive. I give this an 8.
Book #38 - A Better Man by Louise Penny, the 15th book in her excellent Inspector Gamache series. Another great book in the series, this one being the most recent in the series until the next book comes out on Sept. 1.
As the book begins it is Gamache's first day back as head of the homicide department, a post he temporarily shares with his previous second-in-command Jean-Guy Beauvoir.
Soon there are two plotlines going, one involving a missing pregnant woman and most suspect her abusive husband is responsibly for her disappearance. Meanwhile, there's catastrophic spring flooding that might wreak havoc on many towns, including Three Pines and Gamache is trying to help stop it.
This is the first novel in the series, I think, that includes supposed tweets from twitter, many of them critical of Gamache and others critical of Three Pines artist Clara Morrow. The tweets, and a subplot involving instagram, are used quite effectively.
Another solid book, with great plots and plot twists and fascinating characters, from Louise Penny. I gave this book an 8.

 Book #39: Running by Natalia Sylvester. This YA novel is about Mariana, a teenager whose father is running for U.S. president. What we watch, as readers, is Mariana realizing she doesn't agree with her father on some issues and doesn't like how her Cuban-American family, and the campaign staff, are forcing her to stay on the sidelines and act like she agrees with her dad on everything.
So while the title can refer to her dad running for office it can also be referring to Mariana running as she gains her own voice and uses it. That, to me, is the more interesting and exciting part of the story: Her standing up and joining others in making their voices heard.
I give it an 8.
The author will be joining Austin Justice Coalition Book Discussion, which I co-lead, for a discussion of her book next Sunday. Details here:

Book #40 - A Time to Scatter Stones: A Matthew Scudder Novella by Lawrence Block. It has been 40 years since Block debuted Matthew Scudder and it's been a decade since he put out a new book with Scudder but in 2019 he did exactly that, brought Scudder back for this novella.

Scudder is a former New York police office, now a private eye, and his longtime partner, Elaine, is a former prostitute. His wife is part of a group of former sex workers and one of them, Ellen, is in desperate need of help as she has an abusive client who is refusing to allow her to quit the profession. So Scudder helps take steps to protect her. I won't say much more about the plot as I'd risk spoiling things.

As with most Scudder novels there's a good plot, some plot twists, and fascinating characters. I give it an 8. I missed Scudder so it was good to see him again.


Book #41 - The Burglar Who Counted The Spoons by Lawrence Block. In addition to some excellent serious crime novels, Block wrote this Bernie Rhodenbarr Mystery comic series that are amusing, with a great cast of characters. Like some of Donald Westlake's books and Lisa Lutz's Spellman books, Block's books in this mystery series are a lot of fun as it's clever and will have you, the reader, smiling quite a bit.

I could not recall if I'd read this one or not but decided it'd be fun to read either way. Bernie runs a bookstore but is also a burglar and few of his crimes seem to go smooth with many resulting in all kinds of mischief as things go sideway. That is also the case here.

I give it an 8 out of 10.


Book #42 - Triptych by Karin Slaughter - I interviewed the author last year for her book, the Last Widow, and I really liked one of the book's protagonists, Will Trent. So with plenty of time for reading right now during COVID I thought it'd be a good time to go back to read Trip Tych, which is the first book in the Will Trent series.

Her books, including this one, can get dark and violent and have some great plot twists and reveals.

This link is kind of fun, with Karin writing an interview with her fictional protagonist Will Trent:


Book #43: Badlands by C.J. Box. I picked this book up thinking it was part of Box's excellent Joe Pickett series but quickly realized it was actually part of a series new to me: It is book 3 of 5 in the Highway Quartet Series. The series has some interesting characters but I was particularly taken by the portrayal of 12-year-old Kyle Westergaard, who has fetal alcohol syndrome, and gets teased and dismissed for being "slow."

Kyle finds, near a fatal car accident, a bag filled with money and drugs and takes it home, not sure what to do with it. His mother's boyfriend, T-Lock, finds the bag and realizes he can make some major money off it and, well, mischief follows.

There is also a major plot involving detective Cassie Dewell who has been assigned to be the new deputy sheriff of Grimstad, North Dakato. She has a murderous enemy but first has to find some dirty cops.

Box does a great job here dealing with multiple plots and interesting characters. I give it an 8. I may continue the series just to see what happens with Kyle.


Book #44 and #45 - Faceoff and MatchUp - These two books are anthologies organized by the International Thriller Writers. For Faceoff the idea was that two writers, along with their iconic characters, would pair up to write one story. This included Dennis Lehane vs Michael Connelly, Ian Rankin vs Peter James and R.L. Stine vs Douglas Prestone and Lincoln Child, among others.
The idea was so popular, the book becoming a New York Times bestseller, that they decided to do a followup.
Thus came MatchUp where they did something similar only this time it's a male writer working with a female writer... a match-up, you see.
There are some fun pairings including Kathy Reichs and Lee Child, Sandra Brown and C.J. Box, Lisa Jackson and John Sandford. Each time the two authors collaborate and the result is good stories which are often fun to see how the two lead characters interact. I particularly enjoyed Child's Jack Reacher and Reich's Temperance Brennan not only existing in the same literary world but working together on a case.
I liked both series though I preferred MatchUp to Faceoff. I give Faceoff an 8 and MatchUp an 8.5


Book #46 - Winterkill by CJ Box. This is the third book in the Joe Pickett series. The first thing I'll say about this book is that it takes place during the winter in Wyoming and reading about snowfall during Austin's heat made the heat a bit more bearable. Let's just say it hasn't felt as hot when I have been reading this.
I really like Joe Pickett and this series about him, as well as the various characters in the series. I appreciate the quality of Box's writing even more after reading Badlands, one of his books in his series about Cassie Dewell, which has a different style and speed.
Winterkill is intense with a fast moving plot. As the book begins Pickett, a game warden, is pursuing a killer when a twist happens, the first of many. Soon both Pickett's personal and professional life enter chaos. Part of that is because the mother of April, his foster daughter, is taken from his family by her mother. The mother is part of a group that includes folks who survived Waco, Ruby Ridge and other events that didn't leave them exactly loving the government. I won't say more to avoid spoilers.
This is a good one. I give it an 8.

Book #47 - Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. This is the first David Sedaris book I have read (well, listened to) and I loved it. I was pretty sure I would like it because  I always enjoyed his pieces on This American Life as well as getting to see him speak live.
Last month I had a revelation: That if I want to stay positive during this crazy time we're in it might help listen to funny memoirs so I've listened to one by Mindy Kaling (Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me) and this and I've both enjoyed each plus it means I'm smiling and laughing more on the way to work. I particularly liked Sedaris' stories about France and his attempst to learn French.
I give it an 8. Next up is Mindy Kaling's Why Not Me?


Book #48 - Rumble Tumble by Joe Lansdale. This is part of Lansdale's Hap and Leonard series, which is not for everyone. Books in this series have lots of violence, which is to say Hap and Leonard are usually trying to do something morally right, like in this case help a friend's daughter get away from some bad people, and to get what they want Hap and Leonard often have to engage in violence. If you're ok with that, as I am in limited doses, the books can be fun with some witty repartee between the main characters. The books in the series often have some plot twists, usually dark ones, and such is the case here.
I give this one a 7.5

Book #49 - The Run-Out Groove by Andrew Cartmel, the second book in his Vinyl Detective series. When I reviewed his first book I wrote: "I'm always fascinated to read mysteries that take the genre in a new direction and that is certainly the case here. Our protagonist is an expert on rare music - lp's only please, as he's a purist." All that remains true in book two.

In that first book the protagonist is hired to track down a specific rare record and thus he becomes a "vinyl detective," searching for this rare item in regular and underground record stores and the reader gains glimpses into the fascinating world of those folks who not just collect but spend much energy, time and, sometimes, money, to get that very specific item of music that most people would never have heard of. And he has at least one set of folks chasing him and they're leaving dead bodies in their wake.

In this second book our beloved Vinyl Detective is hired to find out information about a record as well as information about the artist featured on the record, named Valerian, as well as whatever happened to her son. The artist committed suicide but even that is being questioned.

Once again as the detective and his friends and colleagues try to help solve these mysteries others are trying to stop them in various ways, including dosing them with LSD before trying to burn them alive. The book is full of great plot twists and fascinating characters. I give it an 8. I'm definitely going to proceed to read book #3 at some point.


Book #50 - A Man With One of Those Faces by Caimh McDonnell - This is the first book in the author's Dublin Trilogy, which are fast-paced funny crime thrillers. I forget who suggested I give this book and author a try but I want to thank them because they were right: I loved this. I googled around for blurbs and reviews before beginning the book and many said it was a great comedic mystery, which is just what I've been wanting right now, mysteries with humor. The book is full of fascinating characters, clever dialogue, interesting plots, great plot twists, and, yes, lots of moments that made me smile.

I give it a 9 and I will definitely be reading the rest of the trilogy.

Book #51 - Deja Dead by Kathy Reichs - This is Reich's first book in her series about Dr. Temperance Brennan. I loved the TV series Bones, which were based on this series and on which Reichs was a producer. These books are quite different from the series, much more serious and detailed about the violence, which I knew was going to
be the case but still, was darker than I anticipated. I was disappointed there was hardly any humor in it, but that's my fault for expecting the books to be more like the show.
That said, the characters are well formed and intriguing, as were the plots and the plot lines. There was one plot twist that I expected to happen for a good 100 pages and then when it happened it was different than I expected and I applaud the author for some good misdirection.
I give the book an 8.
Book #52 - Paradise Valley by CJ Box, the fourth book in his Highway Quartet series which I have also seen called the Cassie Dewell novels. I recently read Badlands, the book before this in this series and I loved it, especially for the expertly developed portrayal of 12-year-old Kyle Westergaard, who has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), and gets teased and dismissed for being "slow" and hard to understand. The portrayal reminded me of some charges I've worked with who have FAS.

In this book Dewell continues trying to stop and capture the Lizard King, the long-haul trucker serial killer. Dewell is the chief investigator of the Bakken County Sheriff's Department in North Dakota. As the book starts two things happen the same day. First, law enforcement, led by Dewell, think they have a chance to catch the Lizard King but when his truck arrives it blows up, killing Dewell's fiancee and two other deputies and the backlash leads Dewell to quit her job and the chief, her friend, to get railroaded into resigning. Also that is the day Kyle and his friend disappear, leaving behind a note saying they are going off on a long-planned adventure. The reader - but not the folks in the story - know that they left on a boat and were stopped by the Lizard King, who is still alive.

With everyone focused on the car explosion no law enforcement appears to be trying to find Kyle and his friend so newly unemployed Dewell, who knew both boys, tries to find them. It's a fast-moving story with some scary and violent parts. I dont want to say more for fear of spoiling things.

I give it an 8.

Book #53 - Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear, the second book in the excellent Maisie Dobbs series.I read the first book in the series, simply titled Maisie Dobbs, as part of a mystery book club, back in 2011. I always meant to follow up and read more on the series so that's what I'm doing now. I really like the cast of characters in these books, but especially Maisie, with the one-women private investigation agency she started in London in 1929. She now has her own professional office and an assistant.

The plots and plot twists are also good. In this book Maisie is hired by a rich businessman to help find his missing daughter. The father expects finding her to be easy, as she's run away before but he's wrong on that front. As part of the investigation Maisie finds someone dead, murdered, and things get more intense. I don't want to say more for fear of spoiling things except to say there's an interesting plot involving World War I which I found educational.

The plot is good but it's the way Maisie conducts herself as an investigator that I found most fascinating and entertaining, including her relationship with local police and challenging social norms. I also learned two new words, one of which was obdurate, while reading the book. I give this book an 8.5.


Book #54 - Why Not Me? By Mindy Kaling. I really enjoyed Mindy's first book - Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? - especially as I listened to it in the car on the way to and from work and found listening to her book, and after that David Sedaris' Me Talk Pretty One Day, improved my mood.

Same story with this book: She's witty and funny and made me smile at least daily and there were a few laugh out loud moments. My favorite part was her graduation speech for Harvard Law. I give this an 8.

Next up, funny audiobook-wise, is The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish.


Book #55 - Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen. I was not sure if I had read this one or not - I'm pretty sure I have read all of his adult books (I have not read his YA books) - but his novels are quick, fun and often hilarious, so I decided to read it, even if it was for the second time, as turned out to be the case. I rarely re-read books but I made an exception for this.

As expected the book had me smiling at some outrageous plot twists and fantastically weird characters. This book was a lot of fun to read and has me really looking forward to reading his new book, Squeeze Me, which came out in late August. I give this book an 8.5



Book #56 - The Day That Never Comes by Caimh McDonnell, the second book in McDonnell's Dublin Trilogy. I loved the first book, A Man With One Of Those Faces - as it combined a good, fascinating plot with intriguing and eccentric characters. The books bring to mind the wit and hilarity of authors Carl Hiassen, Donald Westlake and Lisa Lutz.

In this book there was a business scandal and yet - shocker - the key figures got a mistrial. But then one of them turns up dead, murdered, and that has all players in the story a bit rattled. Meanwhile, the three main characters of book 1 - Paul, Bunny and Bridgit - are supposed to be working together in a brand new private eye agency but as the book begins Bridgit is refusing to talk to Paul since he apparently slept with someone even though the two were dating. And Bunny, a just retired cop well known for bending the rules here and there for his own form of justice, has been missing for one week. This leads to all kinds of mischief and trouble and the reader is lucky for it since it's a good, fun read. I give it an 8.5


Book #57 - Trophy Hunt by C.J. Box. This is the fourth book in the Joe Pickett series and, as usual, Joe and a fascinating cast of characters deal with some new problems. The biggest of those problems involves the discovery of animal mutilations. The sheriff, who seems to never get along with Joe, is telling folks that this is all the work of a grizzly bear but Joe, a game warden, disagrees. Joe thinks something more scary is happening, and when two men are also found mutilated his fears are realized: Is there a serial killer afoot?

Others think the only explanation is aliens. Yeah, they went there. This is a fast-paced book but Box still provides great descriptions and there is plenty of character growth. I give this an 8.

Book #58 - Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear - This is the third book in the Maisie Dobbs series. I read the first book almost ten years ago and liked it enough that I decided to read book two last month and am so taken by the series, especially by Maisie, a private eye, that here I am reading book three just a week or two later. If you're wondering what a "pardonable lie" is the book quotes Sophocles: "“Truly, to tell lies is not honorable; but when the truth entails tremendous ruin, to speak dishonorably is pardonable.” There, now you can't say you didn't learn anything today.
In this novel Maisie continues her fascinating investigative work in her own special way and she is working on three cases, two of them involving people killed in World War I. For one of the cases she is hired to prove that a young man was killed in the war, in France, as is commonly believed. This turns out to be a harder case than one would expect. The work brings back memories of Maisie's work in the war as a nurse. Meanwhile, someone is following Maisie, and possibly trying to kill her, and we (the readers) are not sure who or why.
This is another excellent book in the series but seemed better than the first two in the series so I give it an 8.5.
Book #59 - Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley - This is the first book in a series featuring Flavia de Luce, a wonderful intriguing character, who is a chemist fascinated by poison. Oh and she's 11. As the book begins we learn about Flavia and how she loves driving her sisters crazy but then something gets her attention: she comes across a man in their nursery breathing his final breath.
She reports the murder to the police and things get even more interesting. I was reading this book at the same time I was reading a book in the Masie Dobbs series and it ocurred to me that in both cases my favorite part of the book are the eccentric, fascinating actions of the featured protagonist, both of them solving mysteries.
A friend suggested I check out this series and I'm glad she did as I quite enjoyed this. I was also encouraged to see one of the blurbs for the book was from Louise Penny, who is one of my current favorite writers.
I give this an 8.5 and plan to read on in the series.

Book #60 - The Long Fall by Walter Mosley - This is the first book in a new Walter Mosley series featuring Leonid McGill, a 53-year-old black man living in New York in 2008. Leonid used to run all kinds of cons and scams as a private eye for the mob but he keeps telling the reader ,and anyone in the book who will listen, that he's trying hard to be straight and narrow now except it's not that simple as he's still connected to folks who are not clean nor honest and are making his life hell.

For example, early in the book Leonid is asked to identify four people and is paid for the information. He tries to find out what they will do with the information because he does not want anything bad happening due to his actions and yet very little time elapses before one of the four is murdered. And when Leonid tries to contact the man who paid for the information he learns the guy ghosted him, gave him fake contact information. And, of course, others die too.

Meanwhile, the cops keep accusing Leonid of playing a bigger role in the situation then he admits. This is a good, intriguing book with a great cast of characters and a fast plot. Mosley has created another fascinating protagonist with his own series - it will be interesting to see where Mosley goes with this.

I give it an 8.

Book #61 - Victory Disc by Andrew Cartmel, the third book in the wonderful, funny Vinyl Detective series. I really enjoyed the first two books in this series, publicly praising it for being innovative, witty and amusing and that is also true for this third book in the series. In each of the books the protagonist, who is known as the Vinyl Detective for his knowledge of vinyl and his investigative skills, is asked to find some hard to find discs as well as dig up stories related to the music. In this case one of his cats discovers a rare Victory Disc and soon he is trying to find the highly sought-after recordings of the Flare Path Orchestra, a British big band during World War II, and a mystery that began during the war.

In each of the books the investigation encounters enemies who want to hurt if not kill the investigators and his friends who are helping them. This ranges from drive-by shootings to murderous Neo-Nazis to an attempt to bury a main character alive.

This is another fun caper with some excellent plot twists. I give it an 8.5

 Book #62 - Angels in the Moonlight by Caimh McDonnell - This is a standalone prequel to Caimh McDonnell’s critically acclaimed Dublin Trilogy. I read the first two books in the trilogy and loved them - they are clever, hilarious and innovative. I should have probably read the third book in the trilogy next but for whatever reason I decided to first read this prequel which focuses on events happening in 1999 and on one of the protagonists in the trilogy, Detective Bunny McGarry.  

Bunny is a fascinating, amusing man and there is much an author can do with him, and Caimh does indeed do quite a it with him. Bunny is supposed to help bring down the toughest, most skilled and ruthless armed robbery gang in Irish history so that's going on. . Bunny does have a bad habit of getting distracted and one of those distractions in this book is a woman named Simone that he's fallen for, only she's complicated. Not just complicated as far as whether she'll agree to date him - she won't, though he does try to reject her rejection - but she has a shocking past that threatens her future and possibly his too, and he's forced to choose between protecting her or upholding the law and it's a tough decision.  

This is another excellent book with creative, inventive plotlines as well as a fascinating cast of characters.Sometimes prequels can leave a reader wondering if it was necessary or a cash grab - in this case the prequel was a necessary addition as it adds more depth to Bunny's character. I give it an 8.

Book #63 - The Fraud by Brad Parks - I have been lucky enough to interview Brad Parks several times for his series about a journalist named Carter Ross. A former journalist myself I like to help other journalists, including Brad, get some attention and recognition via author interviews. His books are always fascinating and inventive, with lots of great characters and plot lines.

The Fraud is the sixth book in the Carter Ross series. Carter, affable and wisecracking as usual, is assigned to report on a rash of carjackings terrorizing Newark, one of which ends in the murder of a rich banking executive. His reporting puts him and others he loves in harms way. Parks books always have good plot twists and excellent dialogue and such is the case here.

I give it an 8.5. This one seems even better than his past books (which i would give 8's too) and that may be because this one seems to have even more depth than usual, as Carter is dealing with the knowledge he's about to become a father. The book starts with this question: Would you risk your life if it meant saving your unborn baby's life? Let's just say it's not a hypothetical question.

You can read one of my prior interviews with Brad here:


Book #64 - Out of Range by C.J. Box - This is the fifth book in Box's excellent Joe Picket series. I have enjoyed this series for its characters and interesting plots.

Joe is a game warden and his actions and opinions are often in conflict with others around him, which provides some of the books' drama. One of those mad at Joe is the county sheriff who just recently left office in a controversy involving Joe.
In this book Will Jensen, a fellow Wyoming game warden and a good friend, has died, apparently of suicide. Joe's been ordered to temporarily run Will's Teton district. This provides some fish out of water material as Jackson, Wyoming, is quite different from Joe's hometown of
Saddlestring: There are environmental extremists and lots of rich and powerful folks trying to pressure Joe. Meanwhile, Joe is trying to figure out why Will changed in the last six months of his life becoming violent and unpredictable. And Joe living away from the rest of the family, who remain in Saddlestring, isn't helping matters.
This is another good book in the Pickett series. I give it an 8.


Book #65 - Death at Victoria Dock by Kerry Greenwood is the fourth book in the Phryne Fisher series, which is set in Australia in the 1920s. This book reminds me of the Maisie Dobbs books as in both cases the female protagonist is a private eye and it's fun to watch her investigating during that era. But I found the Maisie Dobbs books more interesting and better written, frankly.  

As this book starts Phryne is being shot at and and discovers a man shot dead. She wants those who killed him to be punished. We learn that the victim is from Latvia and has an anarchist tattoo and that there's some local anarchists rumored to be planning some bank robberies. Phryne is also hired by a father to find his daughter.  

The plots and plot twists are interesting but a lot of the characters don't have a lot of depth so I didn't feel a real connection with the book. I give this a 6.


Book #66 - Flip Back by Andrew Cartmel is the fourth of the fascinating and entertaining Vinyl Detective series. In each of the books the Vinyl Detective is paid to seek out some record(s) which is up his alleyway anyway since he's a record collector. The record in question usually has a story behind it and so there's often mysteries to solve along with finding the items in question. In this case he's trying to find the final record of a band called the Black Dog, famous for burning $1 million in cash. The Vinyl detective and his friends soon realize this is going to be their most dangreous adventure yet which is saying something since the last book involved a main character being buried alive by Nazis.

Another good, fun mystery and adventure. I give it an 8. There is one other book in the series, until any more are published anyway, so i'll be reading that one,The Vinyl Detective: Low Action, next


Book #67 - Say Nothing by Brad Parks - Parks is best known for his Carter Ross series, one of which I recently read and positively reviewed. This book is a stand alone and wow, it is full of adrenaline and excitement. I picked it up to read the first chapter and an hour or two later I was on page 100 - I just could not put it down.

The concept is simple but the consequences and related story are not. As the book begins the protagonist, Judge Scott Sampson gets a text from his wife saying she would pick up their twins after school. When he sees her at home without the twins that's the start of their realization that things have gone sideways. Someone had spoofed her phone and someone had picked up and kidnapped their kids. The judge and his wife are told, by the kidnappers, if they want to see their kids alive again they must say nothing (thus the book's title) and do whatever they are told, including the judge having to make decisions in court contrary to what he would normally do.

This books is a kick in the pants, a ride at 200 mph, and terribly engaging. It has blurbs from authors great at also writing exciting thrillers, including Lee Child, Jeffrey Deaver and Joseph Finder. I give it a 8.5
Book #68 -Fer-De Lance and The League of Frightened Men by Rex Stout -
As a teenager one of my first favorite mystery series was Rex Stout's novels about Nero Wolfe. I read a lot of them but I doubt I read them all. So since I have been reading lots of books right now, with plenty of time to read them during COVID, I thought this would be a good time to go back and re-read the Nero Wolfe books, ideally in order.
Which brings us to these two books - sold together with Fer-de-Lance being the first book in the series and involving, in part, a murder and, as the title implies, a dangerous snake, and The League of Frightened Men. The League, the second book in the series, involving some Harvard graduates who did a prank that crippled a friend, Paul Chapin, and now, years later, some in the group are dying. This book is unique in a few ways: Instead of a single client Nero Wolfe has a group of clients, the League. This book also is notable for a complex adversary, Paul Chapin, as well as Nero Wolfe stating he once was married.
A big part of why I loved, and still love, this series, is the character of Archie Goodwin, the narrator, who is quick, clever and witty.
Anyways... I remember these books being great fun and very clever. Re-reading these two they are indeed fun and have some good plot twists.....
The book has an introduction by author Loren D. Estleman who says, in part, "We read Nero Wolfe because we like a good mystery. We reread him not for the plots, which have neither the human complexity of Raymond Chandler's nor the ingenuity of Agatha Christie's" and goes on to say we read them because of the relationship between Nero Wolfe and all those working with him.
He concludes, "This is a world where all things make sense in time, a world better than our own. If you are an old hand making a return swing through its orbit, welcome back; pull up the read leather chair and sit down. If this is your first trip, I envy you the surprises that await you before that unprepossessing front door."
I give both these books 8's. 

Book #69 - Last Orders by Caimh McDonnell, the final book in the Dublin Trilogy. The author suggests, and I agree, that you should read the first two bits in the trilogy plus the prequel, Angels in the Moonlight, before starting this one.

Six months ago I'd never heard of this author and now I can't get enough of him. Each of these books in the trilogy are well-written with fascinating characters, great plots and plot twists and there's fun, from witty comments to amusing situations. I suggest you check it out. Last Orders begins with a bit of a shock: It starts with an unofficial funeral parade for Bunny, the police officer who was a main character in all the prior books. I quite like the Bunny character so I was bummed but, of course, the book teases you with that funeral parade but doesn't get around right away to revealing the details of his death, who killed him, etc. Instead the bodies of two bad people Bunny helped bury in the prequel have been found and the ghost of one of them is talking to Bunny who appears, from those around him, to be having some mental issues. He's telling his friends who, with him, run a detective agency to stay away from him for their own protection and safety.

This book is a great end to the trilogy as it ties up loose ends and has some great plot twists. I give it an 8.


Book #70 - In Plain Sight by C.J. Box. This is the 6th book in the author's popular, engaging Joe Pickett series. As the book begins we learn that there's a new governor and a new director of the Game and Fish, and that new head, Randy Pope, is not a fan of game warden Joe Pickett, as has been illustrated in earlier books in the series.

Opal Scarlett, owner of the Thunderhead Ranch, has disappeared and Joe has to help break up a violent fight between her sons. This fight leads to continued problems thougout the book. Meanwhile, there's also someone who wants to kill Joe but Pope is not letting Joe investigate, leaving Joe quite frustrated.

This book is quite a ride with some good plot twists. I give it an 8.


Book# 71 - Closer Than You Know by Brad Parks

Last month I gave a very positive review to the book Say Nothing by Brad Parks, a standalone that was quite a departure from his usual Carter Ross series. That book was like a blast of adrenaline with a great story you just can't put down and there were memorable characters. This new standalone is much of the same - a story that will blow you away, with great characters, and shocking plots and plot twists.

As the book begins a couple are going to social services to indicate they want to become foster parents. The next chapter brings us into the real action as a woman learns that her son has been taken away from her and she has no idea why. Gradually she learns that cops found a massive amount of drugs at her home, as well as alleging she spoke of maybe selling her baby. She says that is all lies and the reader begins to think she's right and the system is failing her. So the book is both exciting and thought-provoking as the readers wonders if this can be true, can this all be someone messing with her? Why? How many people get in messes like this for real?

Fun detail on Parks: He writes all his novels while sitting at a Hardees restaurant and in response Hardees gave him a plaque declaring him its "writer in residence." Too cool.

I give this book an 8.5


Book #72 - Light It Up by Nick Petrie. This adrenaline-filled novel is the third book in Petrie's Peter Ash series. Ash is recovering from his time as a combat veteran and addressing his issues including claustrophobia. Ash has been asked to help his friend Henry for one or two weeks. Henry's daughter runs a Denver security company protecting cash-rich legal cannabis entrepreneurs from robbers.

As you might guess things quickly go sideways and Peter's friends are killed in a vicious well-planned robbery but Peter takes out most of the robbers. After cops get involved Peter, along with a friend and his girlfriend, want to keep digging on what is really going on. This book reminds me, in a good way, of Lee Child's Jack Reacher series, excerpt with more depth. The book even has a blurb from Lee Child: "Lots of characters get compared to my own Jack Reacher, but Peter Ash is the real deal." I give it an 8. 5

I previously interviewed Nick Petrie here about Tear It Down, the next book in the series.


Book #73 - The Bitterroots by C.J. Box - This is the fourth book in the author's series about Cassie Dewell. I have been enjoying this series which is as satisfying and entertaining as Box's Joe Pickett series but, in my opinion, with more depth in some areas. Cassie used to be in law enforcement but, for reasons explained in the earlier books, that is no longer in this case.

Cassie now has her own private investigation firm. As this book begins Cassie is hired by a defense attorney to look into possibly exonerating a man, the black sheep in a rich and famous family, arrested for allegedly assaulting his 14 year old niece. Cassie's not crazy about the assignment but does the work. The more she uncovers the crazier her life gets. Meanwhile, someone owning a semitruck appears to be making plans to hurt Cassie or one of her family members but neither she nor the reader knows who. Good plot lines with some excellent plot twists. I give it an 8.


Book #74 - Rebel Island by Rick Riordan - While Rick Riordan is best known for his amazing, imaginative young adult books he has also written a great series for adults featuring as protagonist a man named Tres Navarre. Many of the books are set in San Antonio and Austin and other areas local to Riordan (who used to live in San Antonio) and it's fun to see places mentioned that I know well.
This is the last book in the series. Earlier in the series Navarre made a career change from English teacher to private eye.
In this last book Tres and his wife go to a place called Red Island to celebrate their honeymoon and Tres has no intention of doing any private eye work... but then people start dying and questions need to be asked and answered, all white a monster hurricane hits, trapping them on an island that is flooding. A reluctant Tres does what he does so well: solving crimes. The book is full of interesting characters and plenty of good plot twists. I give it an 8.5.

Book #75 - All The Devils Are Here by Louise Penny. This is the 16th book in Penny's wonderful series about Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. I have to admit I was very excited to read this since I had read the whole series in just a few months during COVID and so this week when I got my hands on her new book, which just came out on Sept. 1, I was ready to take another ride on this train. I love the characters in the books, the plots, the plot twists. And she did not disappoint.

In this new book the entire Garmache family is in Paris and they have a bistro dinner with Armand's godfather, the billionaire Stephen Horowitz. Walking home after the meal they see a shocking sight: Stephen is knocked over,
critically injured, in what Armand is sure was a deliberate attempt at his life. But why? And what was Stephen up to in recent months? Armand, along with some of his relatives and colleagues, investigate to try to see what is happening but the case gets increasingly complicated, intense and the safety of the whole family becomes at risk. This was an exciting story to read and it's quite well written. I give it a 9.

Book #76

Squeeze Me by Carl Hiaasen. This is Hiaasen's latest novel. He has now written 15 novels not including the six children's books he wrote.. As usual Hiaasen blends commentary on political issues with hilarious characters and plots. The president, in the books, sonnds an awful like like a certain president we've all been frustrated with who tends to lie a lot.

I'm not going to even try to explain the plot as I could not do it justice but I will just state a few plot points to tease you instead: As the book begins a rich popular lady in Palm Beach has disappeared at a party and soon a huge python is found that appears to heave eaten something - is

there a connection? You will have to read to find out but the book's title should give you a clue. Also one of the main characters, a fascinating one, is Angie Armstrong, wildlife wrangler.

Carl dedicated the book "in memory of my brother Rob." Rob was killed at a mass shooting at a newspaper in Annapolis, Md. in June 2018.

This book gave me some laughs and smiles when they were badly needed during election week. I give this book an 8.5.


Book # 77 - Free Fire -This is the 7th book in C.J. Box's series about Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett. I love this series for the interesting characters and good plots with some surprising plot twists. Pickett was fired from his job in the prior book. In this one the new governor hires Joe to sniff around a case which has already been investigated and has garnered much news coverage.

The case involves Clay McCann, a lawyer who killed in cold blood four campers in a corner of Yellowstone National Park, and then immediately turned himself in at the next park ranger's station. The problem, a big one for law enforcement, is that the crimes took place in a thin sliver of land with overlapping jurisdiction and no residents, a so-called free-fire zone. Due to a loophole in the law McCann can't be tried by the state of Wyoming or the federal governor so he is walking around, post-murders, as a free man.

Pickett investigates and encounters information which I am not going to share to avoid spoilers. This is another good Joe Pickett novel. I give it an 8.


Book #78 - Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls by David Sedaris. A few months back I had the bright idea to listen to audiobooks read by their authors, who are humorists. I listened to David Sedaris' Holidays On Ice and Me Talk Pretty One Day and two of Mindy Kaling's books

The goal was to laugh or smile on the way to work and it's succeeding. Sure, I get weird looks from passers by wondering why that driver is laughing sohard.

This book is good, as good as the other two I mentioned. He's so frank, funny and eloquent.What's not to love?

I give it an 8.

  Book #79 - Florida Roadkill by Tim Dorsey - This is the first book in the Serge A. Storms series. Dorsey is a clever, funny writer. He brings to mind, fellow Florida writers, Dave Barry and Carl Hiaasen (one of the blurbs on his book says Dorsey out-Hiaasen's Hiaasen). Another blurb suggests you "imagine Hunter S. Thompson sharing a byline with Groucho Marks." Personally, I would describe Dorsey, from this book anyway, as the love child of Hiaasen and Hunter Thompson, fun and weird but sometimes going so fast it's hard to keep up.
If you like those writers you'll love this. If you don't, you still may like this. As with Hiaassen it can be hard to summarize the plot since there's a lot going on in the story. But I'll give it a try: The protagonist, Serge, is a Florida state trivia buff. His drug-addled partner, Coleman, loves cartoons. Meanwhile, Sean and David, who love fishing, are about to cross paths with a suitcase filled with $5 million in stolen insurance money. Serge wants the suitcase as does Coleman and others. Mayhem ensues.
Good fun with lots of plot twists. I give it an 8. A friend suggested I give this author a try and I am glad she did 

 Book #80 - The Guardians by John Grisham - A friend suggested I give this book a try partly because I had previously done a Facebook birthdayfundraiser for the Innocence Project, which helps innocent folks wrongly imprisoned get released. This books covers similar ground but fictionalized. This novel by Grisham has as its protagonist Cullen Post, a lawyer who is  also an Episcopalian minster. Post helps run a small non profit called Guardian Ministries. Guardian accepts only a few innocence cases at a time and Grisham does a great job detailing some cases and the impediments put in the way of Post and his clients.

While I enjoyed this book and give it an 8 what I appreciated more, and encourage all to check out, is the book, Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who chronicles his own attempts to free innocent people from prison. It was also made into an excellent film. That book, and the movie, I'd give a 9.

Book #81 - Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear. This is the fourth book in her Maisie Dobbs series, which I quite like, mostly to see female private detective Dobbs do her work in 1931 England.
In this novel, Maisie is investigating the death of artist Nicholas Bassington-Hope, who fell to his death the night before the much anticipated opening of his latest exhibition. The police quickly rule the fall an accident but the artists' twin sister hires Maisie to investigate and see if there's another explanation.. Masie finds herself exploring the good and bad of the art world. As with most of her books Maisie is also noticing the dark legacy of the Great War. I give this an 8.


Book #82 - Deep State by Chris Hauty - With this, his debut thriller, Hauty has generated a lot of buzz with the national bestseller receiving praise from The New York Times book Review, C.J. Box, Jack Carr and many other publications. Author Box, for example, gushes, "Deep State is a propulsive, page-turning, compelling, fragmentation grenade of a debut thriller."
This book lives up to that hype. The hero in the series is Hayley Chill, who served in the military before working as a White House intern. It's while an intern that she figures out that the shocking death of the White House chief of staff was not an accident but rather a murder as part of a conspiracy. I do not want to say too much for fear of revealing spoilers but it's an awesome thriller and the author's next book will be out in January.
I give this book an 8 with well developed characters and lots of great plot twists. I'll end with this praise from Publishers Weekly: "A refreshing change from the typical male action hero, Hayley is a capable, kick-as, and sharp woman from unassuming roots."
Book #83 - Savage Road by Chris Hauty is the second book in his Hayley Chill series. As with the first book this story is full of twists, some more shocking than others, and it's hard to even give a lot of details without providing spoilers. Suffice it to say Hayley switched from the Army to become an intern in nthe White House. That happened in the first book, Deep State. She continues working at the White House, in the West Wing, during this second book and there is twist after twist after twist and it's all action-packed. I think I'll let best-selling author Karin Slaughter sum things up: "Hayley Chill is relentlessly smart and brave int his twisty, electrifying thriller." I give the book an 8.