NetGalley Top Reviewer

NetGalley Top Reviewer
NetGalley Top Reviewer

Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Bad Nurse by Sheila Johnson

4.0 out of 5 stars -- "The cause of the death had been lethal injection, and the manner of death was homicide."

Interesting and very short true crime novel (192 pages) about the suit against Karri Willoughby, nurse and mother of 2, who is accused of murdering her stepfather in 2008 because of her greed for his money. Despite having thousands of supporters who initially rallied to Karri's defense because of her active Facebook blogging, she stuns everyone by pleading guilty when the case is finally brought to trial in 2012. This is the story of a very manipulative and cunning woman who had lied to everyone in the small community of Ider, Alabama, for years with her purported belief in God and family. Meanwhile she was stealing money from her parents until they put that to a stop by locking her out of their personal and business accounts. Her staggering personal debt and bankruptcy filing showed a history of fiscal irresponsibility and was the motive for the murder.

I read a lot of crime and suspense thrillers, and every once in awhile like to again discover that sometimes the true stories read just like crime fiction. The book includes some photographs, but none of the people involved are pictured. Usually the murders are for love or money and this one proves no exception. I enjoyed it and recommend to any fans of the genre. Criminals are fascinating because often they hide behind a mask of normalcy -- and Karri Willoughby did that very well. Until the monster was ultimately revealed.

Thank you to NetGalley an Kensington Publishing for an e-book ARC of this to review. 

Friday, May 29, 2015

Fatal Reaction (#1) by Belinda Frisch

2.0 out of 5 stars -- Attempt at medical thriller reads more like a soap opera. This novel, which apparently is supposed to be the first of a new series featuring Paramedic Ana Ashmore, is very predictable, has no suspense, and suffers from way too much romantic ridiculousness to be taken seriously as a mystery. Though it has, at its heart, an ethically questionable situation involving uterine organ transplantation, the medical science aspect took a back burner to melodrama. The perils and predicaments that Ana puts herself in have nothing to do with her job as a paramedic and, in fact, in the whole of the book, she handles only one actual ambulance call.

The story begins when Ana, who is on duty, sees a commotion at a dive hotel. When she is not called to the scene, she wanders on over anyway, and finds that the victim is already dead of a possible suicide, and that the woman is her sister! Ana rushes into the room and interrupts the crime scene investigation, finds out the details from her friend the cop, and from that point on, she starts her own investigation because she is sure that it was homicide. Her sleuthing leads her to revelations about her sister's recent cancer diagnosis and to the whole plot line involving the medical team performing cutting edge surgery. There are too many different characters to keep track of, all of them one-dimensional stereotypes, who are more concerned with who they are sleeping with than the care of their patients. There are no surprises as the whole spectacle finally winds down with a blah conclusion.

I don't plan to read the next book in this series and just felt relief that I actually stuck with this to the end. I try to read every medical mystery or thriller I can find, and I'm always open to trying new authors so I'm glad that NetGalley offered me this e-book ARC to review. I'll keep looking.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

4.0 out of 5 stars -- "Closure is a myth...but there is value in knowing."

When Tessa Cartwright was 16-years old she was found, barely alive, nearly completely buried -- along with a smattering of bones and the body of a dead teenager in an abandoned field in Texas. In response to the trauma, she has undergone tons of therapy, suffered a conversion reaction (hysterical blindness), and has lost all of her memories of the event. The case went to trial and the man found guilty, Terrell Darcy Goodman, was given the death penalty. Throughout the long ordeal leading up to the court sessions, Tessa's best friend, Lydia, was there by her side for support and encouragement when all of Tessa's other friends deserted her when the sensational story of the "Black -Eyed Susans" hit the papers. The victims were named this because those flowers were covering the hastily dug burial site.

Now, it's 18 years later and Terrell is about to be executed when a lawyer shows up on Tessa's doorstep with an idea that perhaps they have the wrong man. It seems that various forensics experts have taken an intense interest in the case when the bones are examined more closely with the new technology of DNA identification. It seems there were 3 different incomplete sets of bones in the grave with Tessa and the dead girl, Merry. The scientists set about the process of trying to identify the "Susans" as Tessa is forced to try to recall her missing memories. She was never able to identify Terrell as the perpetrator and is hesitant to get involved even as new evidence comes to light.

The narrative shifts back and forth in time from 1995 to present day as Tessa relives the ordeal, her therapy, the interactions with Lydia, and as she tries to work with the attorneys and forensics experts to save Terrell from execution. She is a single mother with a teenaged daughter, Charlie, and is longing to put the whole thing behind her but becomes alarmed when she starts to find little patches of Black-eyed Susans planted in some of her old hangouts. She is convinced that the wrong man is in prison and that the kidnapper is taunting her with these flowers.

Rather than say anymore to spoil the twists or to make it easier to identify the red herrings, I'll say that the story was a fast-paced read that kept me glued to the pages -- so much so that I had to finish it in one sitting. At points the time jumps were jarring and it's important to note the dates at the beginning of the chapters in order not to be confused. When I finished, I actually went back through some of the sections of the book and reread certain parts to see if there were clues I had missed but the author is very careful to give only vague hints and so shall I. The climax (the ID of the killer) is a bit unexpected, and there were a few loose ends that never were answered to my satisfaction, but overall, I enjoyed the book.

The best part of this was the forensic science -- dealing with DNA, bones, and geology (chemical markers), that allowed the "Susans" to be identified and their families notified. It's obvious that the author did a lot of consulting with the experts and I really love that fact accuracy in my fiction. With the popularity of shows on TV such as "Bones" and the books of Kathy Reichs and Patricia Cornwell, I believe there will be a very enthusiastic audience for this novel.

Thank you to Amazon Vine and to NetGalley for the e-book ARC to review.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Ice Twins by S.K. Tremayne

3.o out of 5 stars -- Creepy

Sarah and Angus Moorcraft are devastated when an accident leaves one of their darling 6-year-old identical (monozygotic) twin girls dead. As they attempt to recover from the horrible loss of their child, they are also faced with financial problems that lead them to move to a remote lighthouse home on a Scottish island that belonged to Angus's grandmother. As they frantically try to repair the rundown place to make it habitable, winter is coming on and their marriage begins to crumble under the accumulated stresses. And then, their surviving daughter, Kirstie, tells them that she is really Lydia -- the other twin. Is it possible that they have been mourning the wrong child, and how could they possibly have mixed up the identities of their beloved twin daughters? There is definitely something wrong in this family.

Without spoiling the read for anyone, I'll say no more about the plot and action in this novel. It was creepy because, not only were the characters unlikeable, the desolation of the island -- the cold, the wet, the disrepair, THE RATS -- all led me to a type of story that is not my usual reading fare. Psychological thrillers with unreliable narrators have been a dime a dozen lately, and I'm tired of hearing that every new book is the latest GONE GIRL, or now, THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN. This book is really not comparable unless you consider that both of those books feature someone who has some real mental issues. I found most of the events to be implausible and had a hard time buying into the various scenarios that are supposed to make the book suspenseful (or "terrifying") and the reader invested in finding out what REALLY happened to the twin that died, as well as to confirm which ONE it was. I would guess that people who like twisted tales set in dark atmosphere might savor this one. It was not for me after all. The conclusion was a disappointment. Every book is not a good fit even for someone who reads just about every type of fiction.

Thank you to NetGalley and Grand Central Publishing for the e-book ARC to review.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan (YA)

3.0 out of 5 stars -- Outlandish and melodramatic teenage revenge scheme that was entirely unbelievable, predictable, and ultimately frustrating.

Frances Mace, aged 14, and her parents were enjoying a cruise on the PERSEPHONE when the ship was attacked by gunmen and everyone was shot -- except for Frances, her new shipboard friend, Elizabeth (Libby) O'Martin and Senator Wells and his son, Grayer. Frances and Libby went overboard and spent 7 days floating in the ocean before they were found. Unfortunately, Libby died just before rescue when her father's yacht fortuitously discovers the life raft in the vast sea. The Senator and his son were "rescued" quickly and told the world that the ship had sunk because of a rogue wave. Frances knows he is lying and that her life might be in danger as a witness to the 323 murders. Instead of letting Frances return to her life as an orphan with no other relatives to take her in, the wealthy Mr. Cecil O'Martin decides that it would be better for everyone if Frances assumed the identity of his dead daughter. Thus, Frances became Libby.

Flash forward 4 years later, Frances (now Libby) returns from where she'd hidden out abroad to confront the Senator with her suspicions that he was responsible for the attacks that left her family dead and her life ruined. She has planned for every contingency in order to exact her revenge -- except for one. Frances and Grayer (Grey) fell "in love" (oh yes, life long soul mate kind of love) during their week on the ship. Even though he meets her as Libby, can he sense that she is the girl (Frances) he loved? Can Frances (Libby) keep up the pretense and take revenge on him and his father as they destroyed her life? To further complicate matters, Frances (Libby) finds that the boy who was in love with the real Libby, Shepherd, lives in the home since he was also taken in by Libby's father. Will he know that the returned Libby (Frances) is a fake?

There is a lot here to try to buy into -- and my ability to suspend disbelief was more than tested. I found that the most ridiculous was the notion of this "love" between these 14 year olds. Honestly, I work in a high school and I am quite familiar with real teen "romance" and the author's descriptions of the "feelings" and physical reactions I thought were too mature for that age group and sounded false. Aside from that, the story seemed an awful lot like the TV drama, REVENGE, and the conclusion seemed flat and unsatisfying. I actually bought this for the library at the high school where I work and will be quite interested to hear teen reactions to the story as I am sure they will think differently. I like to read YA every now again to remind myself of why I don't read YA.

Thank you to NetGalley and PENGUIN GROUP Penguin Young Readers Group
for the e-book ARC to review.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Virus by Stanley Johnson

3.0 out of 5 stars -- When a 19-year-old student, Diane Verusio, returns to New York from Brussels and expires in isolation at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital, she speaks only the words, "green monkeys" before she dies. Dr. Lowell Kaplan from the CDC is dispatched from Atlanta to track down the identity, the origin and the transmission of her mysterious illness. After Dr. Kaplan speaks to Diane's family physician, Dr. Isaac Rueben, who himself becomes ill, Kaplan is on a time sensitive mission to stop the spread of this lethal virus and his efforts take him to Germany and to Africa.

This would have been a more enjoyable medical thriller IF the storyline and the science wasn't so dated. Since the recent outbreak of Ebola made headlines, and with all the information the public now understands about the Filoviridae, this plot line about a related virus, the Marburg virus, bordered on gross inaccuracy and strained credulity. For all that, it was a fast paced and entertaining read once I stopped fact checking on the internet and just pretended that Dr. Kaplan, head epidemiologist at the CDC (should be corrected in this book as United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), was investigating a potential outbreak of some new strain.

I love medical thrillers and will almost always take a chance whenever I have the opportunity. Thank you to Edelweiss for the ARC e-book to review.

Killing Secrets by Dianne Emley (#5 Nan Vining)

2.0 out of 5 stars -- Although the 5th in the Nan Vining series, this is the first -- and last -- one that I will read. I like my suspense thrillers believable with realistic scenarios and characters with depth. The plot was thin and the mystery was weak.

Nan Vining, Pasadena PD, is one of those cops who likes to work alone -- there's no trusty sidekick with witty repartee -- and she takes a lot of chances and gets into a lot of perilous situations. I didn't care for her character and even less her relationship with her teenaged daughter, Emily. When Emily and her loser boyfriend find the bloody bodies of their teacher and a fellow student in the arroyo, even though Nan is supposed to be having time off, Nan throws herself into the investigation. Is it homicide or suicide? What a complicated but predictable tale with multiple suspects and an unsurprising conclusion. I never really felt any suspense or that Nan or Emily were in any true danger and it seems to me that Nan makes some poor decisions as cop.

So, I'd not really recommend this although I would guess that others who have followed this series might find it more appealing.

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing - Alibi for the e-book ARC to review.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Dying to Remember by Glen Apseloff

2.0 out of 5 stars -- Predictable and banal mystery...

Dr. Christopher Barnes is in Toronto at a medical convention when he eats some contaminated mussels. After he wakes up from the coma induced by the neurotoxin domoic acid (based on true events), he discovers that his wife has been murdered and he has brain damage. Despite his handicap, he is determined to beat the cops to find the killer and the motive.

Everyone knows I'm a fanatic about medical thrillers. I have read almost every single one I can dig up and I rarely find those that are both a great storyline AND relate accurate and up-to-date medical plausibility. Although I understand why this is set in 1987, it was really jarring and so many things that happened just made the whole plot hard to buy into because of the lack of today's technology. The characters are all complete stereotypes and it seemed to me that the author had either a lack of knowledge, or a lack of respect for nurses, cops and women in general. The protagonist was unlikeable and it really got old with the repetition -- we got it -- he has memory deficits and the inability to create and store new memories. It was almost nauseating how many times we had to read about how much Dr. Christopher Barnes, majorly egotistical jerk and cardiothoracic surgeon, loved his wife -- St. Elizabeth, the beautiful orthopedic surgeon.

After a couple of chapters it was quite easy to figure out the outcome and the story lacked suspense and thrills as the reader waited for Christopher to catch up. I was quite disappointed in this second novel I've read by this author and doubt I'd be willing to try another.

Thank you to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for the e-book ARC to review.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

After the Storm by Linda Castillo (#7 Kate Burkholder)

4.0 out of 5 stars -- "There is a universal truth when it comes to violent crime; the deceased is never the only victim."

It's been awhile since I've read Castillo's series featuring the formerly Amish Kate Burkholder who is now the Police Chief of Painter's Mill in upstate rural Ohio. I somehow missed #4, 5, and 6 -- and a lot has changed for Kate though she is still a great, well-developed character and I was happy to connect with her again in this 7th book in that series. I've made a note to myself to go back and read those 3 books as I enjoy the details about Kate, her background, and her personal and professional life.

In this story, Kate is confronted with a discovery of bones that leads to a gruesome crime -- or was it an accident -- from over 30 years ago. The Amish folk are not talking but someone is taking rifle shots at Kate as she investigates the case. She gets out of many scrapes without serious injury, but she's always putting herself in harm's way. Her boyfriend, CBI agent Tomasetti, is understanding and helpful. I enjoy reading about their relationship ups and downs. As always, the integration of the Amish culture into the story adds a layer that provides much more enjoyment than with a typical police procedural and the small town rural atmosphere also provides a nice change of setting.
Will Kate figure out what happened to the victim and who was responsible?

I enjoyed this fast-paced novel and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good crime mystery with a strong heroine. I'm sure it would have been even better had I read all of this series, in order, instead of skipping three of them.

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press Minotaur Books for the e-book ARC to review.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Constant Fear by Daniel Palmer

4.0 out of 5 stars -- Be prepared...

Jack Dent and his son, Andy, live in a double wide trailer in Massachusetts --  close by Andy's prep school where Jack works as the head of maintenance. Because of some issues in his past, Jack has become a doomsday prepper and has trained and drilled his son for the day when the world falls apart. Jack stresses that they must control what they can, even more difficult sometimes because Andy has diabetes, and Jack is a single parent. All of this preparation, that has irritated Andy (who's a bit of a geek), comes in handy when some really bad enforcers from a Mexican drug cartel come looking for Andy and his 5 other friends who, it seems, have stolen some 200 million dollars worth of bitcoins from a very angry man bent on getting his money back.

This is a grisly book with descriptions of torture, murder and sadistic behavior and is very fast-paced once the action starts. Jack represents "father as hero" to the end, and the conclusion is predictable and expected but an absorbing read that was hard to put down.

This is the first book I have read by this author, but I will look for others he's written. Readers who like Harlan Coben and Linwood Barclay will also enjoy this.

Thank you to NetGalley and Kensington Books for the e-book ARC to review.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Alchemist's Daughter by Mary Lawrence

2.0 out of 5 stars -- A medieval mystery set in Tudor London, this first in the series featuring Bianca Goddard is full of period details that may appeal to certain readers. Bianca lives and works in Southwark in her rent of Medicinals and Physicks, creating balms and potions to aid the suffering folk nearby. When her best friend, Jolyn Carmichael, is poisoned and Bianca is threatened with arrest for murder, Bianca is determined to find out who really killed Jolyn and why.

There's really not much mystery or character development here, but what you get as a reader are details that are enough to make any sensitive person almost retch. The descriptions of the smells alone, the filth, the lack of facilities for hygiene and the general atmosphere of the local town, the living spaces, and pubs made me so happy to live right now, out of that time and place. The sections related to just the rats were enough to almost put me over the edge (this is so far from the castle, the court life, and King Henry VIII) that it definitely told me that I was in the 1500s and worried about Black Death.

Frankly, Bianca was a drag - overwrought prose and melodrama isn't my style and I'm sick of plucky, independent heroines who end up needing rescue by a man who adores them despite being put off a million times for "important work." The vocabulary and dialog didn't ring true for me. I was quite disappointed with this book after all, and will be interested to hear if other fans of this particular niche genre react differently. I won't be following the series but I am glad I finished this one (it was a struggle).

Thank you to NetGalley and Kensington Books for the e-book ARC to review.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The President's Shadow by Brad Meltzer

2.0 out of 5 stars -- Though this is the 3rd in the Beecher White series, it is the first and last book by this author that I will read. Defying my ability to suspend disbelief, the novel features, as the main character, an archivist at the National Archives in Washington, DC. In addition to this exciting job, he's also a member of a super secret 200-year-old organization called the Culper Ring -- designed to protect the presidency at all costs. To add more glamor, Beecher is on a first name basis with the current (fictional) President and other important government and Secret Service personnel. Plus, Beecher has wondered all his life what happened to his father, who may or may not have died while in the military many years ago. And just one more thing, he's got ties to a man who knew his father and who had murdered a former First Lady while attempting to assassinate her husband. Whew! Plus he's got some friends from childhood and they are all connected to the action in this incredibly crazy and complicated plot.

The first annoyance was that the narrative flips back and forth in time and setting which is confusing. There are a lot of characters and it's likely intentional that the reader is clueless about each person's motives and objectives. Hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys, but we know Beecher is ALL THAT. He's such a good guy that he only knows how to do the "right thing." I didn't like him. Of course there's a romance or two and lots of action when our hero escapes nearly impossible odds. Halfway through the book, I was just wanting it all to be over. I kept plodding away for what is the best and only reason to read this and that is that the author includes a vast amount of what I hope are accurate historical facts and details about everything from Secret Service pins to Devil's Island. I was bound to learn something I didn't know and I found that information quite interesting.

The author's writing style is one that doesn't appeal to me, he repeats himself a lot, and offers cliches as a substitute for any dimension in Beecher's character. Perhaps it's just that I read this third book instead of starting with the first in the series, but I don't want to get to know Beecher better or hang out with him any more. Read it if you like nonstop action with a high body count and lots of intrigue.

Thank you to NetGalley and Grand Central Publishing for an e-book ARC to review.

Monday, May 4, 2015

In Wilderness by Diane Thomas

3.0 out of 5 stars - Haunting, extremely disturbing, somewhat depressing -- I had to take a little time to get my thoughts ordered after finishing this one. The prose paints a very poignant picture of loneliness mashed up with near psychosis. The details of the wilderness and Katherine's isolation, along with her physical illness, made me anxious and fearful. I perceived Danny as a dangerous menace immediately, and willed him to stay away from her even as I knew she was emotionally needy given her history, and compelled to play her part in their mutually assured destructive relationship. This could never result in any "happily ever after" fairy tale ending.

After thinking about this book for two days, I find that there was much that just makes me uncomfortable. So many things happened to Katherine from opening to conclusion. The shifting point of view didn't help to clarify -- and unless you read the author's note at the back of the book, you might be perplexed. It was obvious what Danny's problem was, but I really had no clue about Katherine's illness. And to be honest, I didn't "like" either of the main characters in this book.

If you like to read long descriptive phrases about the woods, names of trees, flora, fauna, weather -- then you might like this more than I did. I'm not a wilderness type, so it didn't affect me in the way the author probably intended.

One main point to make in my review, this would make a great book for a book club discussion.

Thank you to Random House Publishing Group - Bantam Dell for the e-book ARC to review.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Speaking in Bones by Kathy Reichs

3.0 out of 5 stars -- This #18 in the long-running series featuring forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan focuses on the evil that can happen when religious zealots hold sway in a small town.

Tempe hears a very disturbing audio recording that sets her on the hunt for a missing woman, 18 year-old Cora Teague, and uncovers a much larger horror when pieces of an unidentified body turn up in various remote locations. With no DNA or fingerprints, Tempe and her colleagues are frustrated by an uncooperative family and another murder. Why does no one seem to be looking for this girl who is either victim or killer.

This wasn't my favorite of this author's books as the subject and complexity of the case requires a lot of "tell". Ordinarily I love all these details, but this was more psychiatric than forensic. I'm sure fans will still want to read it. I look forward to #19.

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group for the e-book ARC to review.