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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

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A Talent for Murder

by

Peter Swanson, William Morrow

Published

June 11, 2024

272

Pages

Book cover image for A Talent for Murder

Martha Ratliff is an archival librarian who loves books. She thinks it’s likely that she’ll spend her life alone.

Then she meets Alan Peralta, who was married for three years just out of college, but is now divorced. They enjoy their first date. They date for awhile, then he proposes. She says yes. Alan sells novelty clothing at teachers’ conferences and is away much of the time.

After a year of marriage, Martha is content. Then Alan comes back from a conference in Denver and Martha finds a streak of blood on the back of one of his shirts. Martha begins researching cities Alan traveled to and finds five unsolved cases of murdered women.

Is she married to a serial killer? Or could it merely be a coincidence? Unsure what to think, Martha contacts an old friend from graduate school for advice. Lily Kintner once helped Martha out of a jam with an abusive boyfriend, Ethan Saltz. She calls Lily and they meet. Lily is sociopathic and a killer herself. Lily once stabbed police officer Henry Kimball, who survived. He is now a private detective.

Martha’s chapters are written in the third person and Lily’s are written in the first person. The characters are interesting and the plot is complex and somewhat dark. There are some twists and a great ending. This is the third in the Henry Kimball/Lily Kintner series, but it can be read as a stand alone novel. Peter Swanson’s fans will enjoy “A Talent for Murder.”

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.

Enlightenment

by

Sarah Perry, Mariner Books

Published

June 4, 2024

384

Pages

Book cover image for Enlightenment

It is 1997. Thomas Hart, 50, is a newspaper columnist for the Essex Chronicle in the small town of Aldleigh. Nick Carleton, editor of the Chronicle, gives Thomas a planisphere, a map of the stars that belonged to his late father. He suggests that Thomas write about the Hale-Bopp comet.

Then Thomas receives a letter from James Bower, who is doing renovation work at Lowlands House. Bower has discovered some documents relating to the disappearance of a woman in the 19th century. Astronomer Maria Vaduva Bell, the woman who disappeared in 1888, reportedly haunts Lowlands House.

Grace Macaulay is 17. Thomas has known her since her birth. Her father, Roland, brought the newborn Grace to the small Baptist church which Thomas attends. Rachel, Roland’s wife, died during childbirth. Thomas acts like Grace’s godfather. Anne Macaulay, Roland’s sister, moved in to help with Grace.

Though separated in age by three decades, Thomas and Grace are kindred spirits—torn between their commitment to religion and their desire to explore the world beyond their small Baptist community. But Thomas has a secret life in London, cruising bars and clubbing with men. Grace has just met Nathan, another teenager, who isn’t a member of her church. Their lives change.

“Enlightenment” at times seems like a historical novel, but it is disjointed. It jumps from character to character and moves in time. The characters and plot are not compelling. I just could not get into it. Sarah Perry is the author of “The Essex Serpent,” “Melmoth,” and “After Me Comes the Flood.”

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.

Southern Man

by

Greg Isles, William Morrow

Published

May 28, 2024

976

Pages

Book cover image for Southern Man

Fifteen years after the events of the “Natchez Burning” trilogy, Penn Cage is nearly alone. Almost all of his loved ones are dead, his old allies are gone, and he carries a secret that separates him from the world.

Then what might have been only a regional sideshow of the 2024 Presidential election explodes into national prominence, thanks to the stunning ascent of Robert E. Lee White, a 42-year-old conservative radio host, running as a third-party candidate.

White, an Afghan war hero, is dubbed “the Tik-Tok Man,” and is funded by Charles Dufort, an eccentric Mississippi billionaire. White is set to declare his candidacy in all 50 states at once. Then two Memphis police officers fatally shoot a mentally challenged 12-year-old Black boy who was carrying a toy gun.

Penn’s daughter, Annie, a civil rights lawyer, and a friend, Martine Boucher, a French filmmaker, are attending a Mississippi rap festival held in support of people protesting the shooting. White is also at the festival. When a Black gang member starts shooting and white sheriff’s deputies return fire, Annie is injured and Martine is killed. In all, 23 people die. White is instrumental in saving Annie.

Three days later, antebellum plantation homes are set on fire. The deadly attacks are claimed by a Black radical group as acts of justice. Panic sweeps through the tourist communities, driving them toward a race war. “For America this is a new crime under the sun: domestic terror clothed in the garb of historical retribution.”

Penn, Annie and Ray Ransom, a former Black Panther who spent most of his life in Parchman Prison, tear into Bobby White’s pursuit of the Presidency to try to expose its motivation to the world.

“Southern Man” has excellent pacing and a riveting plot. Greg Isles has a commanding knowledge of U.S. history. Several characters show true courage. It is riveting. This is bound to be on many best of the year lists.

Penn Cage is a minor character in some of Greg Isles’ books. That is why this is the seventh Penn Cage book, but a follow-up to the “Natchez Burning” trilogy, which is “Natchez Burning,” “The Bone Tree,” and “Mississippi Blood.” While “Southern Man” can be read as a stand alone, it is an excellent trilogy.

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.

Camino Ghosts

by

John Grisham, Doubleday

Published

May 28, 2024

304

Pages

Book cover image for Camino Ghosts

In the Camino Island series, Bruce Cable owns a popular bookstore in the resort town of Santa Rosa on Camino Island in Florida. He makes his real money, though, as a dealer in rare books.

As “Camino Ghosts” opens, author Mercer Mann, who also teaches creative writing, and Thomas are getting married on the beach. Mercer’s next novel is a year overdue. Bruce Cable is officiating the wedding.

The next day, before Mercer and Thomas leave for their honeymoon, Cable tells Mercer an irresistible tale that might be her next novel. Tidal Breeze, a giant resort developer, is using its political muscle and deep pockets to claim ownership of Dark Isle, a deserted island between Florida and Georgia. The island had been a refuge for escaped slaves. The Larney family started Tidal Breeze. Wilson Larney is now the only shareholder.

Only Lovely Jackson, who claims to own the island, stands in its way. The developers say she has no proof of ownership or even that she was born there. Lovely says her six times great-grandmother, Nalla, a former slave, put a curse on the island.

This is the third in the Camino series. The story is told in separate chapters of present time and slavery time. This is an amazing novel. The characters are well developed and the writing is superb. Dark Isles, Nalla, and Lovely will stay with the reader for some time.

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 Last Murder at the End of the World

by

Stuart Turton, Sourcebooks Landmark

Published

May 21, 2024

368

Pages

Book cover image for The Last Murder at the End of the World

​Niema Mandripilias and Adil are discussing how to create a world without suffering. But someone has to die for that to happen.

They live on a Greek island that was formerly a naval base. Outside the island there is nothing: the world was destroyed by a black fog that swept the planet, killing everyone it touched. Three scientists and 122 villagers live on the island. Half a mile of ocean surrounding the island is also untouched.

Niema is the island’s teacher and Adil is the island’s only criminal. Abi, the narrator, is the voice in everyone’s thoughts. She knows everything that people are thinking. She conditions them to be kind, nice and polite.

Magdalene and Emory are best friends. The islanders are preparing for a funeral for Matis, Magdalene’s grandfather. Everybody dies on their 60th birthday, unless chosen as an elder. Emory’s husband, Jack, died earlier.

Niema wants Emory to learn how to teach because of Niema’s age. Emory has failed at each career she’s tried. Her only talents are noticing things people don’t want noticed and asking questions that people don’t want to answer.

All is going well, until one of them is found stabbed to death. And then they learn that the murder has triggered a lowering of the security system around the island, the only thing that is keeping the fog at bay. If the murder isn't solved within 92 hours, the fog will smother the island―and everyone on it. Emory wants to figure out who the killer is, because that is what she is good at doing.

Stuart Turton writes totally original novels. He is also the author of “The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle” and “The Devil and the Dark Water.” His novels all have intricate plots with twists. The characters are well-drawn. The novels aren’t really crime fiction, mysteries or science fiction, but an unusual blend. This one has an apocalyptic angle. It is one of the year’s best novels.

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.

One Perfect Couple

by

Ruth Ware, Scout Press

Published

May 21, 2024

400

Pages

Book cover image for One Perfect Couple

Lyla Santiago is in a bit of a rut. Her post-doctoral research into the chikungunya virus has fizzled out; she’s pretty sure they won’t extend her contract. Things with her younger boyfriend, Nico Rice, an aspiring actor, aren’t going great.

Then Nico tells her that he has the opportunity to join the cast of a new reality TV show, One Perfect Couple, but she has to to try out with him. It is billed as Survivor meets Love Island. They are selected to compete for 10 weeks with four other couples on Ever After Island in the Indian Ocean.

But not long after they arrive on the deserted island things start to go wrong. After the first challenge leaves everyone rattled, an overnight storm takes matters from bad to worse. Cut off from the mainland by miles of ocean, deprived of their phones and smart devices, and unable to contact the crew that brought them there, the group must band together for survival.

As tensions run high and fresh water and food run low, Lyla finds that this game show is all too real—and the stakes are life or death. Someone is a murderer. And no one is responding to their frantic mayday messages.

“One Perfect Couple” is a modern version of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None.” It is intense and fast-moving. Readers who like contemporary versions of classic mystery novels will especially enjoy it. Everyone will be surprised at who survives. This is another top mystery from Ruth Ware.

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 Demon of Unrest: A Saga of Hubris, Heartbreak, and Heroism at the Dawn of the Civil War

by

Erik Larson, Crown

Published

April 30, 2024

592

Pages

Book cover image for The Demon of Unrest

Election Day November 6, 1860, Abraham Lincoln, the frontrunner, wins the presidency. The country is bitterly at odds; Southern extremists are moving ever closer to destroying the Union, with one state after another seceding. Lincoln didn’t understand the South and he was powerless to stop them.

Major Robert Anderson, Sumter’s commander, is a former slave owner sympathetic to the South but loyal to the Union. James Hammond, a lawyer, marries a young heiress, Catherine Fitzsimmons. After they marry, he closes his law firm and becomes a planter. He supports slavery and is elected to Congress. He argues that the North would not dare to make war because it would lose its access to cotton.

Meanwhile, Edmund Ruffin, works incessantly to promote succession in Virginia. James Hammond contacts Ruffin about a survey of agricultural land. When Lincoln is elected, all of Charleston is caught up in succession drive. Lincoln mistakingly believes most Southerners favor the Union. Mary Chestnut, wife of U.S. Senator James Chestnut, lives in South Carolina. After Lincoln is elected, Chestnut resigns from the Senate and Mary starts an extensive diary.

Erik Larson offers an account of the chaotic months between Lincoln’s election and the Confederacy’s shelling of Sumter—a period marked by tragic errors and betrayals. He draws on diaries, communiques, slave ledgers, and plantation records. It is lengthy, but people who enjoy narrative non-fiction and Civil War buffs will want to read this one.

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.

Death and Glory

by

Will Thomas, Minotaur Books

Published

April 23, 2024

304

Pages

Book cover image for Death and Glory

It is April of 1894. Private Enquiry agent Cyrus Barker and his partner Thomas Llewelyn have just arrived at their office when four men come to the door.

One of the men identifies himself as General James Woodson. They were members of the Confederacy during the American Civil War. They have lived in exile since the end of the war 30 years ago.

Woodson is head of the Knights of the Golden Circle of the Freemasons. They want to meet with the prime minister, but have already been turned away from Downing Street. They want Barker, who is head of the Knights Templar, to intercede. Archibald Philip, 5th Earl of Rosebery, is the new prime minister. Robert Todd Lincoln is the American ambassador to England.

Woodson has a letter supposedly written by Jefferson Davis that appoints Woodson as the new president of the Confederacy. These men want to revive the Confederacy with a warship promised to the Rebels from the British Government in 1865. They intend to take the ship to Brazil and copy the design to create a fleet of warships.

To get the warship now, they're threatening to reveal the long-secret treaty with the Confederacy. The other men with Woodson are Brigadier David St. Ives, Colonel Zebedee Beaufort and Captain Manuel Cortez. Two of the men may be rather infamous people.

There is subterfuge and deceit throughout the book. Neither Llewelyn nor the reader
is sure what's going on until the end. Will Thomas takes us on a whirlwind tour of Victorian London. This is the 15th in the highly entertaining historical mystery 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.

Lost Birds

by

Anne Hillerman, Harper

Published

April 23, 2024

304

Pages

Book cover image for Lost Birds

Joe Leaphorn, who is retired from the Navajo Tribal Police, is now a private detective. He lives with Louisa Bourbonette, a college professor and researcher.

Cecil Bowlegs calls him for help because his wife is missing. While they are on the phone, Leaphorn hears an explosion and the call is dropped. When Detective Sergeant Mona Short arrives at Leaphorn’s house, she tells Joe that Bethany Benally Bowlegs is considered to be a missing person.

Short was sent to talk to Leaphorn because her captain believes there is a connection between Bowlegs, the missing woman, the explosion and another case. The explosion was at the school where Bowlegs is the custodian.

Earlier Leaphorn had accepted a different case: finding the birth parents of Stella Brown, who was raised by a white family but who believes she is Diné based on one clue, an old photograph with a classic Navajo child’s blanket.

Her adoptive parents divorced a few years after she was graduated from high school and they have since died. Then Joe and Royce Will, who works at the Navajo Nation Social Services Office, examine Stella’s birth certificate. They suspect it is a fake.

Investigation of the explosion falls in part to Officer Bernadette Manuelito, who discovers an unexpected link to Cecil’s missing wife. Bernie’s husband is police Lt. Jim Chee. When Joe asks Bernie for help with the adoption case, she tells him that Jim knows more about that type of thing.

Anne Hillerman continues the mystery series her father Tony Hillerman created in 1970. Anne's novels follow the further adventures of the characters Tony made famous, Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, and adds Bernadette Manuelito. This is her ninth novel in the series.

As usual, there are many interesting things about Navajo life and culture woven into the book. Hillerman gives realistic complexity to the characters’ lives. This has multiple subplots and diversions, perhaps a few too many, but it is an enjoyable installment to the long-running 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.

A Calamity of Souls

by

David Baldacci, Grand Central Publishing

Published

April 16, 2024

496

Pages

Book cover image for A Calamity of Souls

It is 1968. Jerome Washington, a Black man, is charged with brutally killing Leslie and Anne Randolph, an elderly and wealthy white couple in Freeman County, Virginia. Jack Lee, a white lawyer, agrees to represent Washington. A neighbor, Miss Jessup, asks for his help because Jerome is her grandson-in-law. Jerome worked for the Randolphs.

Jack becomes concerned that his legal skills aren’t up to the death penalty case. While he does criminal law, he’s never defended someone arrested for homicide. Virginia Attorney General Edmund Battle is leading the prosecution. Howard Pickett, a wealthy coal baron and supporter of George Wallace, is involved.

Several men assault Jack and tell him to withdraw from the case. People make it clear to Jack that while the laws have moved forward, the people have not. Battle’s first motion is to remove Jack from representing Washington because Jack has never represented someone accused of murder.

When Desiree DuBose, a Black lawyer from Chicago, comes to Freeman County and offers her help, Jack accepts. She has handled more than two dozen capital cases. She doesn’t think Jack is up to the challenge.

Baldacci weaves together a legal thriller and historical drama. It is somewhat heavy on the historical explanation and preachy about race relations. There is an twist with an unusual provision in the Randolphs’ will. The ending is shocking.

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.

Close to Death

by

Anthony Horowitz, Harper

Published

April 16, 2024

432

Pages

Book cover image for Close to Death

Adam and Teri Strauss live in Riverside Close, a gated community of only six homes. Adam is a chess grandmaster. As he is playing 24 online games early one morning, he hears a loud blast of music outside that causes his attention to falter. He knows it’s the new neighbor, Giles Kenworthy.

Dr. Tom Beresford also hears Kenworthy arrive. He knows that will be a problem because Kenworthy always parks too close to his car. The driveway is used by all the residents of Riverside Close.

Giles and Lynda Kenworthy have two children: Hugo and Tristram. The Kenworthy family also have four giant vehicles and plans for a swimming pool and jacuzzi in the backyard. Kenworthy is a hedge fund manager.

Andrew Pennington, another neighbor, is a retired lawyer. He is a widower. May Winslow, Phyllis Moore and Roderick and Felicity Browne are the other neighbors. The homeowners share a gardener, Sarah Baines.

Strauss asks the neighbors to meet one evening to discuss the problems with the Kenworthys. While the Kenworthys are invited, they don’t attend. Six weeks go by before anything happens. Then Giles Kenworthy is found dead on his own doorstep, a crossbow bolt sticking out of his neck.

For his last four novels, the real-life author’s doppelgänger Anthony Horowitz followed former police detective Daniel Hawthorne around, narrating events as they happen. But Horowitz is so wrapped up in his own problems that he forgets that a book deadline is looming. He asks Hawthorne to tell him about an old case so that he can write a new novel.

Hawthorne picks this one that happened five years ago. The original investigating officer, Detective Superintendent Tariq Khan, called Hawthorne in to the case. As Horowitz talks to Hawthorne and goes over the case files, he comes up with questions although the murder was already solved.

This is the fifth in the series of uniquely plotted mysteries with well-balanced deduction and humor. The novels are flawless updates of classic golden age whodunits with the Watson-like Horowitz and the Holmes-like Hawthorne. This is very enjoyable.

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 Fellowship of Puzzlemakers

by

Samuel Burr, Anchor

Published

April 9, 2024

336

Pages

Book cover image for The Fellowship of Puzzlemakers

In 1993, a newborn is left on the steps of the Fellowship of Puzzlemakers. Pippa Allsbrook, president of the fellowship, finds the baby boy.

Fast-forward to 2016 and Pippa’s funeral at the age of 89. Clayton Stumper, now 25, was raised by the puzzlemakers. In the last few years, Clayton has wanted to find the truth of his birth. When Clayton wishes to find out about his birth family he finds that Pippa has left him a series of clues to follow, in the form of puzzles, crosswords, a maze and a jigsaw puzzle.

Clayton is the primary character giving us the present day-POV, while his adoptive mother, Pippa, is the past-POV as she establishes the fellowship.

It is a quirky mystery that tries to show the value of community. Based on synopsis, I expected it to be more of Clayton solving the puzzle of his past, but it is more about Pippa. It is slow-moving and I never really connected with the characters. The mystery of Clayton's parentage was too easy to figure out.

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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