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Book Reviews by vicki rock

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We are pleased to be able to offer book reviews by Vicki Rock.

We hope that those who followed her reviews during her newspaper

career will visit our website often to see what Vicki has been reading lately!

Please select a year to view book reviews from that year.

The Lantern's Dance

by

Laurie R. King, Bantam

Published

February 13, 2024

320

Pages

Book cover image for The Lantern's Dance

Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, are traveling to visit his son, Damian Adler, and Damian’s fiancée in the French countryside.

Damian is a Surrealist artist. He has a four-year-old daughter, Estelle, with his late wife. His fiancée is Dr. Aileen Henning.

Russell is on crutches after a recent injury. As she makes her way to the door, she hears the unmistakable sound of a breach-action shotgun being snapped into place. After they identify themselves, Gervais LaRue, the man with the shotgun, apologizes.

LaRue tells them that people in the small village noticed strangers who asked about the Adlers. One man also asked about the Vernets. Holmes’ granduncle was the French artist, Horace Vernet. But virtually no one outside of the Holmes family knows that Vernet and Adler are related. Then a short time later, someone broke into Adler’s house during the night. The burglar dropped a machete when he fled.

The family fled to Nimes where Damian has a friend who owns a hotel. Holmes rushes after Damian while Russell stays behind to search the empty house. In Damian’s studio, she discovers four crates packed with memorabilia related to Holmes’ granduncle. It’s an odd mix of treasures and clutter, including a tarnished silver lamp with a rotating shade: an antique yet sophisticated form of zoetrope.

In the same crate is an old journal written in a nearly impenetrable code. Intrigued, Russell sets about deciphering the journal, slowly realizing that each entry is built around an image—the first of which is a child, bundled into a carriage by an abductor, watching her mother recede from view. Who was this child and why was the journal packed in that crate?

The characters are well-developed and the plotting is excellent. The attention to details makes the different locations come to life. The ending had me yelling “no way” out loud and I had to go back to reread it. While “The Lantern’s Dance” is the 18th in the series, it can be read as a stand-alone as the author goes into enough detail of the earlier books for those who are new to the series to follow along. This is one of the best of the year.

In accordance with FTC guidelines, the advance reader's edition of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a review.

The Ghost Orchid

by

Jonathan Kellerman, Ballantine Books

Published

February 6, 2024

304

Pages

Book cover image for The Ghost Orchid

LAPD homicide lieutenant Milo Sturgis hasn’t called in his friend, psychologist Alex Delaware, to help investigate a homicide since Alex was injured four months ago. But Sturgis needs his help with this one.

A pool boy entered a secluded Bel Air property and discovered two bodies: Gio Aggiunta, 29, the playboy heir to an Italian shoe empire, and an even wealthier, married neighbor, Meagin March, 41. Her husband, Douglass, is the CEO of a real estate company.

As Milo and Alex investigate both victims, they discover two troubled pasts. And as they dig deeper, Meagin March’s identity begins to blur. Who was this conflicted woman? Did her past catch up to her? Or did Gio’s family connections create a threat spanning two continents? Which one was the primary target and why?

Jonathan Kellerman throws in a plot twist near the end that will have readers on the edge of their seats, but that makes sense of all the earlier misdirection. The reason behind the murders is tragic.

This is the 39th in the long-running series. Fans will enjoy the mystery and every reader will be moved by the ending.

In accordance with FTC guidelines, the advance reader's edition of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a review.

The Year of the Locust

by

Terry Hayes, Atria/Emily Bestler Books

Published

February 6, 2024

800

Pages

Book cover image for The Year of the Locust

Daniel Greenberg says he is a scientist. He isn’t.

He is a Denied Access Area spy with the CIA. His code name is Kane. He is sent to kill a man who is secretly working for the Russians. That man, Magus, delivered the names of the U.S.’s 10 most valuable Iranian sources to Russia, who in turn gave them to Iran. Those on the list, eight men and two women, were executed.

Later Kane travels to a lethal triangle where the borders of Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan meet. It is a place where violence is the only way to survive. Kane goes there to rendezvous with an informant who knows secrets about the world’s most dangerous terrorist group, the Army of the Pure. The brutal and brilliant leader of the extremists is known as Abu Muslim al-Tundra.

The informant wants $25 million and safe passage to the U.S. for himself and his family in exchange for the details about a major planned attack. CIA Director Falcon Rourke sends Kane to meet with that informant, to find out if he’s truthful, and if so, to bring him and his family out. When things go horribly wrong Kane must fight for his life and for the lives of others.

“The Year of the Locust” is complex with a lot of back story for the primary characters. At one point, there’s a twist with cutting-edge technology and a foray into science fiction. The scale of the novel will amaze readers and will keep them up late reading. Don’t be intimidated by its size because the pages will just fly by. This is bound to be on many best of the year lists. Hayes is also the author of “I Am Pilgrim,” another amazing novel.

In accordance with FTC guidelines, the advance reader's edition of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a review.

Family, Family

by

Laurie Frankel, Henry Holt and Co.

Published

January 23, 2024

400

Pages

Book cover image for Family, Family

When India Allwood is 10, her mother buys tickets to “Guys and Dolls.” India thinks it is amazing. She decides then that she wants to be a Broadway actress. Her mother warns her that it is a difficult career.

India becomes a Broadway actress and a television star. She is cast as a superhero in the TV show “Val Halla.” India adopts 4-year-old twins, Fig and Jack. Her latest film, “Flower Child,” is about a now adult woman who became pregnant as a teenager and gave the baby up for adoption. People are angry about the movie.

India gives an interview to Evelyn Esponson and tells her that “Flower Child” is a bad movie because it tells only one story, a tragic one. But India is an adoptive mom herself and knows there’s much more to her family than tragedy. The twins are now 10.

That is the present story line. There is also the story line of the past when India was 16 and a senior in high school. She has a baby that she places for adoption. She selects Camille Eaney, who is divorced, to adopt the baby girl. India and her boyfriend, Robbie Brighton, don’t stay together. Then as a college senior, she has a second baby, a son, with another senior, Davis Shaw.

Although neither is an open adoption, by the time “Flower Child” is out, Fig has already found her sister, Rebecca. After the furor over the movie, Rebecca, 16, makes a video announcing that she is India Allwood’s biological daughter without first talking to India or Camille. Despite how various people may feel about her actions, India is steadfast in her beliefs. Now she may be written out of “Val Halla.”

While this is really a well-written, and at times funny, book, it is far-fetched. The kids, especially Fig, are too precocious and too many people are willing to drop everything and run to help the Allwoods. With those caveats, it is enjoyable.

In accordance with FTC guidelines, the advance reader's edition of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a review.

The Fury

by

Alex Michaelides, Celadon Books

Published

January 16, 2024

320

Pages

Book cover image for The Fury

The wind was fierce the night of the murder. Lana Farrar, a reclusive ex–movie star and one of the most famous women in the world, had invited her closest friends to spend Easter on her private Greek island.

There were seven of them, trapped on what the tabloids later called Murder Island.

“We found ourselves trapped there overnight,” Elliot Chase said. “Our old friendships concealed hatred and a desire for revenge. What followed was a game of cat and mouse ― a battle of wits, full of twists and turns, building to an unforgettable climax. The night ended in violence and death, as one of us was found murdered.”

Chase is a playwright and kept notes of conversations before and after the murder. Lana was 19 when she was discovered. She went on to make many movies. She excelled at playing doomed romantic heroines. She retired at 40.

Lana’s first husband, Otto, now deceased, bought the island for her. The island is called Aura. Others on the island are Lana’s husband, Jason; their son, Leo, 17; and Lana’s friends Kate Crosby and Elliot Chase; Agathi, the housekeeper and cook; and the island caretaker, Nikos.

Elliot tries to be a reliable narrator of events or does he? Just when you think you have the plot figured out, there’s another twist. This is a psychological suspense story and a story of unrequited love. It will keep you guessing until the end.

In accordance with FTC guidelines, the advance reader's edition of this book was provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for a review.

The Mayors of New York

by

S.J. Rozan, Pegasus Crime

Published

December 5, 2023

288

Pages

Book cover image for The Mayors of New York

In January, New York City inaugurates its first female mayor, Carole McCann. In April, her son, Mark McCann, 15, disappears.

Private investigators Bill Smith and Lydia Chin are called by Aubrey Hamilton, the mayor's chief aide, to find Mark. They are told he’s run away. Mark has a twin sister, Madison Guilder. She uses their father’s last name; he doesn’t. Jeffrey Guilder is the twin’s father. The parents are divorced.

Aubrey says McCann didn’t go to the police to report Mark’s disappearance because of the contract talks with the Detectives Endowment Association. Mark withdrew almost all the money from his bank account. He also took some clothes and his cellphone.

They accept that case on the same day as Lydia turns down an investigation into teenager Amber Shun’s suicide. Bing Lee, head of Chinatown Improvement Association, called police detective Chris Chiang, who called Lydia to ask her to investigate the suicide.

Then Jacob Dolo, another teenager, is shot. Are these deaths related to each other, and to the mayor's missing son?

In a desperate attempt to find the answer to Mark’s disappearance before it's too late, Bill and Lydia turn to the only contacts they think will be able to help: the neighborhood leaders who are the real “mayors” of New York. Of course, each wants McCann to do something for their neighborhoods.

This is a fast-paced, intricately plotted novel. The characters are excellent and they evolve over the 15-book series, which sometimes have Bill Smith as narrator and sometimes have Lydia Chin. S.J. Rozan expertly weaves the story threads together. This is another hit for the talented author.

In accordance with FTC guidelines, the advance reader's edition of this book was provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for a review.

Unnatural Death

by

Patricia Cornwell, Grand Central Publishing

Published

November 28, 2023

432

Pages

Book cover image for Unnatural Death

It is the deadliest Halloween on record in Northern Virginia. Chief medical examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta has been called to a horrific scene. Two campers have been killed in the wilderness called Buckingham Run. Pete Marino, Scarpetta’s forensic operations specialist, sends her videos before she arrives.

The victims were brutally killed. They were Huck and Brittany Manson, who were under investigation for cybercrimes with ties to Russia. Scarpetta’s niece, Lucy Farinelli, found the bodies after monitors she set up went off.

One of the bodies is in an old mine shaft. After one of the most frightening body retrievals of her career, Scarpetta must discover how these murders are related to earlier investigations. Meanwhile, she’s dealing with personnel problems in her office. And Pete thinks he’s found a footprint made by Bigfoot.

Scarpetta’s husband, Benton Wesley, is now advising the Secret Service. A group of government officials insist on remotely observing the autopsy. Why would they be interested?

This plot has non-stop action. The characters are well-developed and have changed through the series. The science is well-explained and fascinating. This is a good installment in the series.

In accordance with FTC guidelines, the advance reader's edition of this book was provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for a review.

The Watchmaker's Hand

by

Jeffery Deaver, G.P. Putnam's Sons

Published

November 28, 2023

Pages

Book cover image for The Watchmaker's Hand

Nothing is more regulated on a New York City construction site than the stability of a tower crane.

Garry Helprin is operating the multi-million dollar piece of equipment to move an 18-ton load when warning signals sound. The Moynahan Construction crane is off-balance and collapses. Helprin tries to put the crane down between two buildings. One man is killed and six others are injured.

Lincoln Rhyme and his wife and professional forensics partner Amelia Sachs are on the case. Rhyme, the former head of NYPD forensics, was injured on the job and is now a quadriplegic. Thom Reston is his caregiver. Lon Sellitto, a senior detective in major cases, comes to tell Rhyme about the crane collapse. A political group claims responsibility for the sabotage and threatens another attack in twenty-four hours, unless its demands are met.

The group, calling itself the Kommunalka Project, is demanding more affordable housing. Then a clue reveals to Rhyme that his nemesis, Charles Vespasian Hale, known as the Watchmaker, has come to town to fulfill his promise of murdering the criminalist. Now Rhyme and Sachs have to dodge his scheme to destroy them both, while racing to stop the construction site terrorists.

With New York City in a panic, Rhyme and his team must unravel a handful of plots as tightly wound as a timepiece—before more cranes fall, raining down death and destruction from above.

The plot is complicated, with several misdirections as to the real reason behind the sabotage. Rhyme is clearly modeled after Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Hale is his Morarity. This can be read as a stand-alone, but it is a very good series.

In accordance with FTC guidelines, the advance reader's edition of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a review.

Past Lying

by

Val McDermid, Atlantic Monthly Press

Published

November 14, 2023

452

Pages

Book cover image for Past Lying

It’s April 2020 and Edinburgh has been in lockdown for three weeks. Detective Chief Inspector Karen Pirie is staying in Hamish Mackenzie’s flat while he is on his working farm in the Highlands.

Meera Reddy from the National Archives calls Jason Murray, who is a member of Pirie’s historic cases team, more commonly called the cold case squad.

Meera was working on items belonging to crime novelist Jake Stein before the lockdown. Something has bothered her ever since she found documents in his belongings. Stein was writing a book “The Vanishing of Laurel Oliver” before his death. But what he wrote reminds Meera of the disappearance of Lara Hardie, an Edinburgh University student who vanished a year earlier. Now police aren’t sure if they are investigating a missing person or a murder.

This is a book within a book as the Stein work-in-progress is included. In Stein’s novel, new author Rob Thomas and successful author Jamie Cobain meet at a literary festival and bond over multiple games of chess. In real life, Stein played chess with fellow author Ross McEwen.

There’s a big twist near the end. The reason behind the crime is surprising. McDermid also recreates the fears of the Covid pandemic and the heartbreak of the loss of loved ones. This excellent novel is the seventh in the DCI Karen Pirie series.

In accordance with FTC guidelines, the advance reader's edition of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a review.

The Madstone

by

Elizabeth Crook, Little, Brown and Company

Published

November 7, 2023

288

Pages

Book cover image for The Madstone

In Comfort, Texas in 1868, Benjamin Shreve, 19, is in his carpentry workshop when he sees a stagecoach strand a passenger who had a confrontation with the sheriff.

When the passenger is released from custody, he complains that only one of his two bags was removed from the stagecoach. He hires Benjamin to take him to the next stagecoach stop. He tells Benjamin his name is Richard Dean Bell and the only other stagecoach passengers were a woman and her young son. They were all traveling to Indianola.

Along the way, they encounter a man walking, who says he was robbed of his horse and belongings. He joins them in the wagon. They catch up to the stagecoach as it is being robbed.

The woman on the stagecoach is Nell Banes, who is pregnant, and her four-year-old son, Henry, who is nicknamed Tot. They are on the run from Nell’s brutal husband, Micah, and his brothers. After learning of their plight, Benjamin offers Nell and Tot passage to the distant Gulf of Mexico, where they can escape to safety.

There are no chapter breaks, so it feels like a slow read. The characters didn’t feel real to me. This wasn’t a good book for me.

In accordance with FTC guidelines, the advance reader's edition of this book was provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for a review.

Let Us Descend

by

Jesmyn Ward, Scribner

Published

October 24, 2023

288

Pages

Book cover image for Let Us Descend

This is the story of enslaved teenage girl Annis, set before the Civil War. Annis is the product of her mother’s rape by the white man who owned her.

When Annis is a child, her mother tells her that she is the granddaughter of an African woman warrior.

As Annis gets older, the enslaver begins to touch her. He then sells her mother to a New Orleans slave market. Within a few months, he also sells Annis. The group has to walk from the Carolinas to New Orleans. As Annis grieves, she remembers the stories her mother told her.

When they reach New Orleans, Annis sees AZA, who was sold along with her mother. Aza tells Annis that her mother was sold again and sent north.

This is a brutal story of people’s inhumanity. As Annis struggles, she is guided by the spirit of her grandmother.

This was very difficult for me to get through, mainly because of the heavy reliance on spirits.

Jesmyn Ward is the historic winner—first woman and first Black American—of two National Book Awards for Fiction for “Sing, Unburied, Sing,” in 2017 and “Salvage the Bones” in 2011.

In accordance with FTC guidelines, the advance reader's edition of this book was provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for a review.

West Heart Kill

by

Dann McDorman, Knopf

Published

October 24, 2023

288

Pages

Book cover image for West Heart Kill

Private detective Adam McAnnis is in the passenger seat of a car. He and James Blake, a college friend, are traveling to an isolated hunting club, the West Heart club, in upstate New York.

Soon the body of one of the club’s members is found at the lake’s edge; hours later, a major storm hits. By the time power is restored on Sunday, two more people will be dead.

What is different about this novel is the format. The writer occasionally speaks directly to the reader and there are questions posed to the reader. At the end it becomes a play.

This is one of those novels that people will either love or hate; there’s no middle ground. To me, the structure overpowered the novel itself.

In accordance with FTC guidelines, the advance reader's edition of this book was provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for a review.

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