NetGalley Top Reviewer

NetGalley Top Reviewer
NetGalley Top Reviewer

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf

3.0 out of 5 stars Two little girls go missing in the night..., April 29, 2011
I was expecting this to be a terrific read based on recommendations from several book lovers I know and admire. Unfortunately, in many ways, the novel fell short of my expectations and I turned the last page feeling let down and disappointed. I do tend to end up judging my books by the ending -- and this was part of the reason that I rated it only as 3 stars which means "it's OK" to me.

The story premise -- two little 7 year-old girls, Calli and Petra, vanish from their separate homes in the middle of a hot Iowa night. They live in an isolated area that is surrounded by woods and it is there that much of the main story action is focused. Calli Clark is a selective mute -- she hasn't spoken a word since a tragedy she witnessed at age 4. Her best friend, Petra Gregory, is her voice and has protected Callie since they met.

One morning, Calli's drunken brute of a father, Griff, drags her into the woods. Around the same time, for reasons not given to the reader, Petra leaves her house as well. When the girls are discovered missing, Deputy Sheriff Loras Louis launches a search for the girls. The deputy also happens to be the ex-boyfriend of Calli's mother, Antonia, and though he's married, he is of course still in love with her. The whole love triangle aspect of this book was completely predictable and left a negative impression on me and decreased my appreciation of the novel.

The drama surrounding the disappearance and the reactions of the parents of the girls and Calli's brother Ben provided the best suspense of the book. The story was told, however, in different points of view and the characters never seemed to find their own individual voice so I didn't end up really connecting with any of them.

The resolution falls flat and the epilogue, though it tied up all the loose ends, did not satisfy. I don't know if I will read this author's next book or not.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Terminal Neglect by Michael Rushnak

3.0 out of 5 stars Big bad pharma...again, April 28, 2011
This was a mediocre medical thriller with a fairly old story line -- big bad pharma makes a new drug and gets greedy in order to recoup their investment and make millions. Of course there is the hero doctor with a big conscience who won't compromise his personal ethics and that resistance comes at a huge cost. So, nothing new here with the plot and cardboard characters who are quite cliche.

Dr. Jonathan Rogers is tapped to be Surgeon General by the current US President. Because of his personal moral stand against giving blanket approval to certain practices by the pharmaceutical industry, however, he is targeted for reprisal. He is shot, he's diagnosed with lung cancer, his daughter is kidnapped, and his entire personal and professional life starts to unravel. Who can he trust? Everyone has an agenda to advance themselves into positions of power.

Dr. Rogers and his estranged wife Kim are told not to contact authorities about their missing daughter or she will be killed. Doctors Choice Pharmaceuticals -- the manufacturer of a new cancer drug, seems to be implicated in both the kidnapping and in all the other things that are happening in Jonathan's life. Will he be able to stop the evil pharmaceutical industry and a secret organization of people in positions of high authority called The Health Club, from pushing their drug and encouraging oncologists to prescribe it to cancer patients even though the drug has not proved efficacious in the treatment of most of those cancers?

The book moved along quickly with shuffles between point of view and different characters. Although a completely predictable read, it did require some suspension of disbelief as the cross and double cross of the characters played out.

Pass on this one! I'm a lover of medical thrillers and this story line is tired. I think most people know that the pharmaceutical industry is a huge business and that sometimes they get greedy as new drugs cost so much to bring to the market. How about something NEW?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Bodies Left Behind by Jeffery Deaver

3.0 out of 5 stars So-so stand alone..., April 21, 2011
I have read all of Jeffery Deaver's previous books but this stand alone cat-and-mouse tale doesn't hold up to the high octane suspense thriller that I'm used to reading when I open one of his novels.

Deputy Brynn McKenzie is dispatched to Lake Mondac to investigate an aborted 911 call from a cell phone that appears to have originated from a secluded lake house there. When she arrives and enters the house, she discovers the bodies of a man and woman who have been murdered. The killers are, however, still on the scene and when Brynn finds another potential victim unharmed at the residence they band together and run out from the house to evade the two killers. Although the plot advances at a rapid pace, and even as the events unfold and the reader is swept up into the tense chase, the narrative requires the reader to suspend disbelief as Brynn McKenzie and a friend of the murdered couple escape into the dark Wisconsin woods on a dark, cold night in April. Pursued by two ruthless hit men, they rush blindly toward any avenue of safety only to be thwarted by the men time and again. Dirtied and injured, they encounter others out in those dark woods that night. Are they friend or foe? The whole "in the woods" portion of the book goes on and on and on. In addition, there is another subplot involving union shenanigans and other red herrings that don't necessarily add to the story but only confuse the reader.

The loose ends are all tied up neatly at the end, as expected. While not Deaver's best, I'm sure his fans will want to read this one but I suggest they borrow rather than buy. I enjoyed the experience of reading the Large Print version of the book as it is much easier on the eyes.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Heartbeat Away by Michael Palmer

3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed again..., April 19, 2011
This review is from: A Heartbeat Away (Audio CD)
I have read all of Michael Palmer's books -- some better than others. This was an "other" and a disappointment to me. This was not so much a medical thriller as it was a chance for the author to get on his soap box about ethical and political issues such as the use of animals for drug and disease testing, the efficacy of homeland security, and the government's approach to terrorism -- to name a few.

As other reviewers have pointed out, the plot premise was sound. Someone (we are led to believe it is a terrorist group known as Genesis) releases a deadly virus into the hall of the Capitol as the President is giving his State of the Union address. All who are present are subsequently quarantined and President James Allaire locates someone he previously imprisoned to try to make a serum that will cure everyone. From that interesting start, the story spirals out and tries to deal with too many subplots and those ethical issues I mentioned.

Although the narrative moves along at a rapid pace, the writing really irritated me and detracted from my enjoyment of the story. The author writes using one string of metaphors or similes after another. Everything is "like" something. The escapes that the main characters make from professional hit men are ludicrous and totally unbelievable. I didn't like a single character in this book -- not even the savior Griffin Rhodes or his girlfriend and sidekick, investigative reporter Angela Fletcher. The characters in the book are typical black and white caricatures and stereotypes of good guys and bad guys (or gals). Nothing was surprising and the entire resolution was completely predictable.

So, I suggest you pass on this one if you are looking to read a good medical thriller. I hope that Palmer returns to his original style and sticks to books that focus on the medical aspects rather than the political.

An aside -- I listened to this book on audio CD and I must give kudos to the reader. He did an excellent job of voicing the characters - both male and female. It was easy to tell them apart and he did a very nice reading. If you really want to get this book, buy this audio version!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah

4.0 out of 5 stars A good friend is a true gift..., April 17, 2011
I liked this book! I know it was sentimental and tugged at the emotions -- a story of a tumultuous friendship between two women that spanned about 30 years and follows them through childhood, college life, and adult years. I enjoyed reconnecting with the sights and sounds of the 70s and 80s and took a trip down my own memory lane with Tully and Kate from Firefly Lane. My preferred genre is the suspense thriller so this was a nice change of pace from blood, guts and psycho killers.

Readers have remarked on this book's similarity to the 1988 movie Beaches (Special Edition) and the book Beaches: A Novel. They are only similar because female friendship stories typically have the same elements -- strong loyalty, support, and love that weather the tests of time and the changes that the women go through as they leave childhood behind and become the women they are going to be. Certainly the situations that crop up in the novel are ones that other lifelong female friends have faced: betrayal, jealousy, envy -- and the root of those feelings is that even best friends compare themselves to each other and often wonder at that "path not taken" as they reach the stage of self actualization. Sure it's almost a cliche that the hard-driven career minded single woman wishes for a husband and family (that's Tully) while the downtrodden, self-sacrificing homemaker (and this is Kate) wants more glamour and a sense of reaching a goal of "being somebody" in her own right. Don't most of us, maybe only secretly or momentarily, wonder sometimes -- "what if?" Friendships and relationships have stages and don't stay the same throughout the course of a life -- some don't last even as others evolve and are the very foundation of another's life. Tully and Kate have many ups and downs through their years, but one fact remains; the girls know each other inside and out. And they count on that.

I think it's nice now and again to touch base with the concept of a being or having a true friend. This story of Tully and Kate helps us to perhaps re-evaluate where we ourselves are on the continuum of our own friendships. It is unusual for anyone to really have a "perfect life" or really "have it all" (despite what we're told -- there are always sacrifices to be made) and I would say that though some women friends come into your life for "a reason or a season" (as the song says), others are there for the duration. As the old saying goes, however, to have a friend, you must BE one. Mistakes are usually made, petty squabbles can turn into major disagreements, and resentment can destroy the relationships we have. This book showed that despite all that, two women could be there for each other when the chips went down. I'd like to believe that all of us will have that kind of friend.

I'm going to go search out Kristin Hannah's other books as this was the first one by her that I've read.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Midwife's Confession by Diane Chamberlain

3.0 out of 5 stars Secrets, lies and well do you know your best friends?

On a beautiful day in September, Noelle commits suicide. Her two closest friends, Tara and Emerson, are completely shocked that the woman they had known -- caring, committed midwife, champion of babies-in-need, strong independent Noelle has done this. Why? Turns out that Noelle had a lot of secrets -- a history of lies, betrayals and a hidden past that neither of them knew.

The story is a mystery and also a study in friendship and family relationships. The ability to write believable characters is a  definite strength of author Diane Chamberlain. The women in her books are mothers, daughters, wives, etc. who are able to form strong bonds that are tested but that don't break even in the face of tragedy or heartache. Ultimately, this is a book about the extent that someone could go to in an attempt to make a wrong a right; or how loving someone too much can cause a person to do things that ordinarily wouldn't be considered. And at what cost?

Told from the viewpoints of the key characters in the novel, the story also shifts back and forth in time as Noelle's friends and their children Jenny and Grace try to make sense of the suicide and to find answers to the questions it brought to light. It seems that none of them really knew Noelle at all!

The book raises questions that made me wonder how well anyone can really know another person. Often we take what they say at face value without probing more deeply, and there can be periods of time when we are enough out of touch with someone that we miss a key turning point or ignore some essential signs.

I read this book cover to cover over an afternoon. It was fast paced and absorbing; the only jarring note was the ending. Although some of it was wholly predictable, I was a bit dismayed at the behavior of one of the characters and I won't give any further spoilers to ruin it for anyone.

Fans of mystery and relationship stories, and all those who love Diane Chamberlain's previous work won't want to miss this one!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Never Knowing by Chevy Stevens

3/5 stars - There are some things that you just might not really want to know....

The premise of this story was a good one: a young woman who was adopted but never felt wanted tries to locate her birth parents and finds that she was born as a product of rape and that her father is a serial killer -- one still active and loose.

The narration is in first person and the technique that worked so well in STILL MISSING is used again as a method to advance the story -- Sara relates what happens as though she is in therapy sessions with her psychiatrist (Nadine).

The first part of the story was absorbing and I was racing through the pages as Sara's life starts to fall apart and she becomes embroiled in a bait tactic to entice her killer father into a trap set up by police. Although she's engaged to be married to the love of her life and they've had a happy life together with her daughter from a previous relationship (Ally), she has a lot of issues and emotional drama that start to cause problems between them. She's obsessive and compulsive -- and in some ways a very weak person. About half way through the book, I started to scoff in disbelief and frustration at what was transpiring. I almost put the book down in disgust. Because I can't NOT finish a book, and because I so enjoyed this author's debut novel, I made myself continue by suspending that disbelief and waiting for what I was positive was going to happen. Most of what I had anticipated was exactly as presumed.

Without spoilers, let me say that the ending, however, was NOT exactly as I had anticipated. There was a wholly out of nowhere twist which really didn't sit right and that left me unsatisfied with the conclusion.

Although I really wanted to love this book, I have to say that it was not as good as STILL MISSING though written in the same style. I like believable, strong heroines who, though damaged, don't behave like invincible superheroes and who don't dissolve into tears or uncertainty at every turn. Who can make decisions without doing stupid, unsafe things and who know their own minds. That said, Sara was not that heroine.

I'm sure that fans of Chevy's previous book will buy this one anticipating the same experience they had with STILL MISSING. I venture to say that most will find it won't provide that thrill but I do feel most will enjoy it anyway if they don't think too deeply and just go along for the ride.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Raising by Laura Kasischke

4.0 out of 5 stars Sinister and gothic, a fun "ghost" story..., April 6, 2011
This was definitely a fast-paced, suspenseful mystery set on the campus of an unnamed Midwestern university. The main characters: beautiful Omega Theta Tau sorority sisters Nicole and Josie and their friends -- Godwin Honors Hall roommates Craig and Perry. Nicole is dating Craig when they are involved in a car accident one night. Shelley Lockes (the director of the college Chamber Music Society) comes upon the accident and calls 911. She's sent away from the site after reassuring herself that both of the victims were OK but finds out later that Nicole was declared dead and burned beyond recognition at the scene. Hmmmmm. She tries to contact police and the local papers to correct the story and straighten out the record, but no one follows through. A year later, Josie, Perry and Craig return to campus. The sorority is draped in black, mourning their lost sister and taunting "killer" Craig. He's a mess, can't remember any details about the wreck or its aftermath, and is barely getting through school. His roommate Perry takes a class from Professor Mira Polson -- an anthropologist and expert on cultural aspects of death, in order to try to make sense of all that happened.

Told in shifting perspectives of time and point of view, the novel takes the reader back to the early days at college when Nicole was still alive and through an amazingly complicated story that packs a powerful punch. College romance, manipulation, Greek rituals and hazings -- possibly even outright murder! The tension mounts as people close to discovering the truth find themselves run out of town, discredited, and embarrassed. What did happen the night of the car accident -- is it possible that Nicole did not die or is it her ghost that is haunting her former friends Craig and Perry. And why is Josie acting so strange?

A fun "ghost" story that I think any mystery fan will enjoy! Recommended.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson

4.0 out of 5 stars Creepy suspense..., April 1, 2011
This was an entertaining thriller with an interesting middle-aged heroine. Christine Lucas wakes every morning without any memories -- she remembers nothing of her childhood, young college days, married life, or even the mundane details of yesterday that preceded her going to bed the night before today. Some sort of calamitous event has caused her to not only have amnesia, but the inability to form any new short term memories as well. Each day dawns and finds her uncertain as to who she is or how she came to be in the house she shares now with a man who claims to be her husband, Ben. As the story starts, Christine is jarred by a ringing phone. The caller is Dr. Ed Nash and he claims he is trying to help her discover her past while also admitting that he's going to do a research study of her case. He encourages her to write in a journal each day, recording the events and thoughts she has. They both hope that this exercise will help Christine recover her history and lead her to understand her situation and experience some kind of life in the present. It's during the course of this activity that Christine begins to have flashes of what she believes are people and events in the years leading to the current time -- the problem is that she can never be quite sure if she is actually rediscovering her own memories or confabulating - making up a history to replace what she doesn't really remember. As she writes in her journal, Christine also discovers that Ben seems to be lying to her -- is he trying to protect her from feeling the pangs of loss and the pain of not being present in her past? Or is it something more sinister? And who really is Dr. Nash and why doesn't he want Ben to know that he's treating her?

The narrative moves along, unfolding with deliberate pacing as the tension builds to a somewhat anticipated climax as Christine is pulled inexorably to the ultimate revelations. The conclusion is somewhat unsatisfying and not completely unpredictable, but I do read a lot of books of this type and made some accurate guesses. That's not to say the book isn't enjoyable, it is -- and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a well written and suspenseful mystery. I look forward to the film adaptation as well.