NetGalley Top Reviewer

NetGalley Top Reviewer
NetGalley Top Reviewer

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Keeper of the Light by Diane Chamberlain

3.0 out of 5 stars -- Soap opera at the Outer Banks!

The one thing that can ruin an otherwise good book for me is the ending of it. I don't know why I am so picky, but that is the big thing for me. I want the characters to be people I can admire and whose actions follow that quality. I was really looking forward to this book as I have come to expect great stories and in-depth relationship development with a Diane Chamberlain book. As this was one of her earlier novels (1992), I can see how she has really grown as an author in the last 10+ years.

This book was fine though it had a little too much romance for me -- a love triangle -- or should I say, quadrangle, but the way it ended left me feeling a bit let down and irritated. It was as if the author had to create extreme character flaws in order to make the story turn out the way it did. As I'm finding, I do not like the way that Diane Chamberlain concludes her books! I did not like the resolution of the love dilemma nor did I find it realistic or believable. In fact, I was hoping that she would surprise me this time. Without writing spoilers I can't say more. Frankly I didn't think any of the characters in this novel were likable or worthy of respect so was happy to turn the last page with a sense of relief that I was done hearing about their antics and behavior.

I will likely continue to read more of this author's books hoping that eventually there will be an ending that I think fits before giving up.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Memory in Death by JD Robb

3 stars

My guilty little escapist pleasure. Love Eve and the rest of the characters in this "in death" set of novels that I've read from the beginning. This one, #22, uses the same formula as the rest in this futuristic cop procedural series and I always enjoy them. As each book comes and goes, the reader learns a bit more about Eve's past and her efforts to become a new woman as she starts to appreciate her life now. I am going to keep reading them until the end!


Monday, July 25, 2011

Think of a Number by John Verdon

3.0 out of 5 stars "Everyone wants to be recognized as justified"

This debut novel featuring former homicide detective Dave Gurney is a nice introduction to what seems to be a new series.

The premise: someone is sending taunting letters to random men. The letters purport to know of secret misdeeds from their pasts -- and the sender seems to be able to read their minds as he asks them to "think of a number" -- which he identifies.

Murder follows. Is this really the work of a true serial killer? What are the motives for the unusual rituals that the killer uses, patterns that repeat in subsequent cases. How are the murders related?

Dave Gurney is known for his logic and puzzle solving skills. Though he had retired, he is called back to help the local police investigate the crimes. His wife, Madeline, is not happy about his return as he has the unfortunate problem with becoming completely absorbed in his work.

The mystery is solved, and though predictable if the reader is paying close attention, the conclusion is satisfying.

So why 3 stars? The story was good enough but I just couldn't get past the superficiality. The characters are not fully developed and though the author hints of situations and issues from the past, nothing is explained and they seem aloof and I didn't connect with them nor empathize with them. I did not care at all for Madeline nor her role in basically giving this 'famed detective' many of the answers to confounding clues in the book. I wondered who was actually solving the case! That was a real irritant to me while reading.

I am interested enough in Dave Gurney to contemplate reading the second book in the series, Shut Your Eyes Tight (Dave Gurney, No. 2): A Novel, but won't rush right out to obtain it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Death Pact by William Manchee

3.0 out of 5 stars Predictable but entertaining
This audio MP3 of Death Pact is described as a romantic mystery. I would definitely agree with that assessment and I enjoyed listening to this predictable but entertaining book while driving in my car. The novel is about a 30-something lawyer, Rich Coleman, who is put into the position of trustee for 17-year-old Erica Fox when her divorced, wealthy father dies in a skiing accident.

Though she is not of legal age, Erica and Rich begin an affair and he breaches his fiduciary duty on both moral grounds and because of the reckless way he handles the estate left to Erica. Though they try to keep their relationship a secret, they are found out by Rich's partners at his law firm who fire him, as well as by Erica's Aunt Martha and her son Arnold and who both try to get control of Erica and her money. During the course of the contest over the trustee situation, Aunt Martha is found murdered and Erica is arrested and goes on trial. Erica plans to plead temporary insanity but is afraid she will be convicted and urges Rich to enter into a 'death pact' with her -- if she is found guilty, they will both swallow cyanide capsules and thus be together for eternity.

The audio-book, read by Jeffrey Kafer in a capable manner, is not particularly suspenseful and I didn't find surprises or unexpected twists though the author definitely tries to set up some red herrings. The character of Rich seemed a bit immature but I did think it implausible that he would become embroiled in this situation with an underage charge, and his constant unnecessary references to God and going to Mass and such seemed a bit forced for a person who was going to commit suicide and who was having this type of affair. Erica was portrayed as being older and wise beyond her years thus seeking and gaining emancipation, but I did find the love affair a bit disconcerting. The fact of this affair (actually statutory rape) and the breach of fiduciary duty, however, were what set up the focus of the plot -- who really killed Aunt Martha?

I really liked that the entire book was recorded on one CD rather than having to constantly be changing out disks while also attempting to drive. I noticed there was a second book in the series, Plastic Gods (Rich Coleman Novels, 2), and read the blurb before I finished this one so I knew they didn't kill themselves! I don't know if I will read that one or not because of it being so far into the future of Rich and Erica and not focused on them. As an aside, I did find the fact that this book was set in the late 1970s to be a bit disconcerting as certain plot points would have been impossible with cell phones and other present day technology. I also noticed that the author has another series featuring a character named Stan Tuner, and I wonder if they are set more in the current time. I may or may not check them out.

All in all, I'd recommend this book for a quick and easy read (or listen) on a plane, train, or in the car.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

3 out of 5 stars - part biography, part science, part moral and ethical treatise, this book provides an examination and historical perspective of the changes that have occurred in the medical and scientific communities with regard to informed consent and use of human tissue after the 1950s.

This non-fiction work that reads somewhat like a novel tells the story of Henrietta Lacks -- a black woman who died of a very aggressive cervical cancer (perhaps triggered by an HPV infection) at Johns Hopkins at the age of 30 in 1951. Doctors removed a piece of her malignant tumor and grew it in a culture medium transforming the cells into the immortal HeLa line still used for research purposes today. The author seeks out Henrietta's family and focuses her attention on the sons and daughters, specifically daughter Deborah, and their reaction to finding out that those cells grew into a billion dollar industry without them receiving the compensation they feel they deserved.

I didn't "love" this book as many others seem to. My perspective is different though I empathize with the sons and daughters of Henrietta who did not understand what happened to their mother nor were explanations given to help them see the fact that these tumor cells were not a "part" of their mother's normal body tissues nor their legacy. No one to this day knows why those particular malignant cells -- medical waste that is normally disposed of after diagnosis -- became so prolific.

Although I think the author depicted what she saw and heard directly from the Lacks family, and how sorry she personally felt for their situation, I do not think that the family deserved any compensation for the money made from those tumor cells for this reason: the cells alone were worthless; it was only because of the scientific community that they became valuable and allowed researchers to make hugely important and life-saving discoveries because they could use them for experiments instead of live humans. If the family had been given the tumor cells instead of them being given to Dr. Gey, what would they have done with them? Should they have been asked, yes indeed, but at that time and place there was no such thing as informed consent and tumor cells were considered trash to be used for making the diagnosis and then thrown out.

I do not think that the Lacks family was exploited more than any other person who had a malignant tumor or other tissue removed and I do not think that Henrietta's cell removal was deliberate or only done because of her race. I would postulate that any person's tissues that were so abnormal would have been of interest to scientists at that place and time. Perhaps the real crime here is that Henrietta never told her family what was wrong with her, the doctors who treated her never met with the husband or children to offer any medical information, and they were left without knowing the full story. No one really knew what exactly had happened to Henrietta; they didn't understand what she died from or why the treatment didn't work. The sad story here is that this family didn't ever know anything about their mother and thus were left in a void of ignorance. Times were different then and many changes have been made so that this type of thing is unlikely to happen again. I guess the real question is whether or not people who read the book feel that the Lacks family was intentionally wronged and that the doctors and scientists should have not used those cells that went on to help make lifesaving treatments that benefited all of humanity. The cell line didn't make money until much time and work was invested in them.

Yes there are many interesting moral and ethical issues that come up every day in biological science. Those who work in this field walk a very thin line between what can be done vs what should be done. I don't envy them.

Because of the inception of informed consent this situation won't likely occur again. I hope that the book at least helps people who aren't familiar with how tissues and cells removed from the body might be used to make their own personal decisions about its use. New procedures and technologies in the rapidly changing world of medicine make it essential that every person undergoing care and treatment take it upon themselves to investigate, ask questions and ensure their own understanding.

After you read the book you can reflect and make your own decision about what happened.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Very Bad Men by Harry Dolan

3.0 out of 5 stars "We all want to be seen for who we really are..."

This is the second novel featuring David Loogan and his live-in partner Elizabeth Waishkey. David is the editor and publisher of mystery stories for a magazine called "Gray Streets". Elizabeth is a detective for the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan. In a very unlikely scenario, David becomes involved in a whodunit when he discovers an envelope propped against the door of his office. Inside that envelope is a message and a confession from someone who claims to have killed a recent murder victim. Who left this confession and why? This is the first of several apparent executions. The victims are all connected to a failed heist - the Great Lakes Bank Robbery, that occurred many years previously. In addition to David bumbling along in the investigation, there is also a young tabloid reporter named Lucy Navarro hot on the case. The chapters skip around and focus on different characters and move back and forth in time. This is a story that has a large cast of good guys and bad guys and a lot of background information is provided that moves the narrative forward.

I didn't find this novel to be particularly suspenseful or very thrilling. Also found it to be very slow moving with way too many completely unrealistic, and frankly sort of uninteresting, plot points. The story was very predictable with its characters all running around playing amateur sleuth a la Nancy Drew. It seemed as if the author was trying to imitate other writers with his dialog; the back cover compares his writing to Elmore Leonard. The way that David and Lucy insert themselves into the hunt for the killer and involve themselves in the case seemed completely unbelievable -- and what detective would allow her boyfriend and daughter to actually skulk around town carrying out this clandestine investigation? I had a hard time suspending disbelief. After all, these are supposed to be VERY BAD MEN.

The resolution was OK but quite drawn out. The real purpose of the tale was explained in the first chapter -- it's "about the motives people have for killing one another."

I did not read the first book in this series, Bad Things Happen, and it will be unlikely that I'd read the third. Despite raves from the publisher ensuring that it will "keep your mind racing and your hand eagerly turning pages," I simply did not find this mystery very compelling or interesting.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Genesis Key by James Barney

3.0 out of 5 stars --  If science can do it -- should we use it?
This novel has elements of science, anthropology, religion, archeology, history, mythology, mystery, conspiracy, covert governmental machinations -- and more...whew! And that's part of the problem with this book about the longevity gene (INDY = I'm not dead yet -- a Monty Python reference) and a scientist's experience finding and sequencing it.

Of COURSE everyone wants this new information that sets someone up to make billions of dollars, and the ensuing action in subsequent chapters is filled with scenes of car chases, spying, shootouts, double crosses, murders and the like. Naturally the US government also has an eye out and an interest in this technology. Dr. Kathleen Sainsbury receives a single tooth that was rescued from a sarcophagus deep in a 5000-year-old tomb from an old friend of her parents and starts the lab process to examine its DNA. When she begins the experiments on that tooth and her lab discovers the gene sequence that allows a human to live well beyond the current life span, chaos ensues.

At this point, when this INDY gene is discovered and sequenced making it potentially useful, is when the narrative turns reflective and ridiculous with its sudden moral and ethical lecturing -- surely any scientist that is delving into the human genome would have thought about the implications of increased life span?? But no, all of a sudden there is conscience and questioning of whether or not science can be stopped or when it goes too far. Indeed, what would happen to the planet if its population suddenly mushroomed and everyone lived for hundreds of years reproducing and consuming resources for much longer periods of time??

Moral and ethical debate aside, the novel was an OK tale perfect for reading without too much analysis of the veracity of the science or the religious references. Enjoy for what it is -- an action-packed read that might give the reader a thing or two to contemplate.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Sixes by Kate White

3.0 out of 5 stars  

Secret society of mean girls causing trouble -- but capable of murder

This is a formulaic mystery involving a possible serial killer, a secret society of mean girls bent on causing damage, and several other sinister activities at Lyle College, located in a small town in Pennsylvania.

Phoebe Hall -- a 42-year-old disgraced reporter who left New York in the wake of a plagiarism accusation, is asked to fill in for a teacher on maternity leave at the behest of the college president, her former roommate and friend from boarding school, Glenda Johns. Phoebe is also healing from a recent romantic breakup and retreats to this small college to recover and wait until her reputation is repaired. Shortly after the fall term starts, a female student whom Phoebe talked with briefly on a walk in the rain across the quad, is found drowned. Was the dead girl a victim of a tragic accident or was she murdered? If so, who might be the killer? Because of rumors around campus of a secret and powerful women's sorority, and because of Phoebe's past experience of having been a target of such a group while in boarding school, Glenda asks her to look into this group -- known as The Sixes -- and to see what her investigative skills can uncover.

The rest of the narrative is fraught with predictable scenes and red herrings as Phoebe puts herself fully into the search for answers about the dead girl, the secret society, and other cases of missing persons that occurred over the previous two years. Are all of these deaths related? As she noses into details surrounding the events, she is targeted and harassed with home invasion and other warnings to back off the investigation. The death count rises the closer she gets to the truth. Although I thought I had figured out the entire 'whodunit' by the fourth chapter, I ended up being wrong. That's not to say that the conclusion is realistic or believable; just not what I had anticipated, and somewhat unsatisfactory. I did like that the main character, Phoebe Hall, was middle-aged.

This is an entertaining and mindless read -- perfect for passing time while on a plane, at the beach, or by a pool. It reminded me, at first, of another Gothic suspense novel that I read recently, The Raising: A Novel (P.S.), which I'd recommend if you like this type of suspenseful, secret girl society type of book.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson

3.0 out of 5 stars  

Lives of quiet desperation...
I wanted to like this novel much more than I actually did. When I closed the book after reading the last chapter (which, in my opinion, was the best in the entire saga, actually), I was left with vague feelings of disquiet. As Blake states when his brother Ryan wonders how the "old-timers" felt about their lives: "They didn't think in terms of happy."

This novel was a series of disjointed vignettes spanning 1973-2003, told in alternating points of view, that give us a snapshot into both the banal and the significant moments in the lives of the large extended Nordic, Lutheran, Erikson family who were born and raised in the rural Midwestern small town of Grenada, Iowa. Each child tries to "leave" in his or her own way, and the picture that emerges as each person tells their story is one of hopeful alienation and the pain of self discovery. It was all somewhat depressing. The tales related in each section reflect the events going on in each of the main characters' lives -- Anita, Ryan, Blake, Torrie -- but also involve their cousins, parents and other relatives and how they all are a part of a family that was "built to last" despite all the trials and tribulations. There are some unfinished stories that left me with questions about what happened "after" or how things ended up the way they did, but though the author sometimes picks up that story line again in a later chapter, some were left dangling. The brothers and sisters seemed to limp painfully toward adulthood, but there are a few triumphs amidst their struggles. The last paragraph -- as one of the children sums up his analysis of his ancestral past and his hope for the future -- is absolutely one of the best parts of this book and one I will remember for a very long time. Any curious reader will simply have to get the book and read it.