Review: I’ll be You (Janelle Brown)

Twins Elli and Sam are discovered one day on a beach by a talent scout/agent. While Elli isn’t exactly over the moon about being an actor, Sam takes to it immediately. They hit the jackpot, since twins are able to allow Hollywood to work around the max hours underage children can work. As the grind off filming goes on, Elli becomes more and more reserved, and it’s clear she doesn’t want to do it any longer. Sam come sup with an idea: “I’ll be you,” she says, and so she does, taking on both her and Elli’s parts. This is draining, though, and no one notices. Except the makeup artist, who tells Sam she’s going to burn out if she keeps it up. Sam continues, though, and the makeup artist starts her on a dark road by giving her Adderall.

Eventually, the girls age, and as happens far too often for the very young in Hollywood, there are soon some unpleasant items popping up: Elli gets drunk and vomits at a party, Sam, now on to more drugs than Adderall, passes out one day after excusing herself from another party.

The book deals with the grownup Elli and Sam. The backstory we get in a series of “Then” chapters. Sam’s downward trajectory into drugs and alcohol continued, eventually consuming her and leaving her broke. After multiple rehab stints, she’s finally sober for over a year, and attending AA. She now works as a barista at a coffee shop. Part one is from Sam’s POV.

One day, Sam gets a call from her father, asking her to come home and help them. With what? The niece she didn’t know she had, because she hasn’t spoken to Elli in over a year. The toddler is running the grandparents ragged. Sam agrees, and heads home.

There she finds her parents caring for Elli’s adopted child, while Elli attends some kind of spa. But Elli’s been gone for a couple of weeks, and her parents have no idea where exactly she is, or when she’s coming back.

From there, the book takes off, and it’s Sam who drives it forward. Part two is from Elli’s POV, and we get her story on what’s she’s doing – basically, joining a cult that’s obviously based on Scientology. She’s pushed into a rather despicable act

But it’s Sam who is the more interesting POV character, who tracks down Elli, who discovers the truth about everything and who, despite her history, and against all odds, winds up being the rational one in the entire mess. I love a good redemption story.

There are a couple of UK Englishisms on the front end of the story but they’re not interruptive ad it’s clear what is meant, so no ding for that. the story is well told, and the dive into the formative years for the twins in Hollywood is fun, despite what Sam gets into. There are no slow spots here. It’s a one sit read, really, and in this case, that’s a good thing.

A solid four out of five stars.

Thanks to Random House and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Buried Lies – DI Gaby Darin #5 (Jenny O’Brien)

I had read Fallen Angel, number three in this series, last year. This one feels rougher than that one, and not as good a read. But first, a summary:

Hannah Thomas returns from a spa outing with a friend to find her fiance dead and her son missing. DI Gaby Darin and her team are called in to investigate. Could Hannah herself be the killer? Or is something from her past catching up with her?

There are bound to be some spoilery bits here, so consider yourself warned.

In book three, Darin is only an acting DI. Between then and now – in book four, I imagine, which I did not read – Darin has had “acting” dropped, and she’s now the boss for real, as it were, of her group. I find this a bit difficult, as Darin is not exactly the polished of stones: she is impuldive, curt, or even rude. She doesn’t seem to have any people skills or he ability to bridge the space between her crew and her superiors. I’ll give her a break on her relationship with Rusty, the medical examiner, because romantic relationships can be choppy waters, but she’s been mooning over him since book three, and I can’t help but think she would be better at this. Instead, she’s often snippy with him in a way that really puts a damper on things.

When Darin gets to the scene, she notes the dead guy (apparent suicide) says, “OK, missing kid.”, but there is zero urgency conveyed through this beginning, and crucial part of the investigation, either about the dead man or the missing child – a child who has a serious medical issue (type 1 diabetes, for which he wears an insulin pump. No frantic energy about searching nearby, in the event the kid was frightened by either the actions of the dead man, who is also a former cop, or by any other persons who might have been present. She doesn’t stay even a little while CSI starts going through the scene. She doesn’t pick up, it seems, that Hannah is not devastated by these events. All in all: she doesn’t seem to notice the things she should be, or doing/ordering the things that need to be done with quickness.

Since nothing is happening with urgency, it drags the rest of the book with it. There are far too many scenes where people are deciding what to have for dinner, or worrying about a colleague’s wedding. Far too much “X seemed like (something), but that wasn’t the case, here’s why: blah.” I don’t need a writer to tell me these things. I need them to show me these things, so as the characters go about their business, we can understand that Mal, for instance, generally doesn’t look like he’s paying attention, but actually is intensely focused.

Although, to be honest, nobody in this book but the villain seems to be laser focused on anything. I will give the book points for this: the villain doesn’t stand around opining on all the ways they set things up. They just say “it’s because of this thing” and then disappears, something I welcome.

This would keep you occupied on a plane or train or beach, but to me it’s a bi like cotton candy. Sure, you can eat it. But ultimately, it’s unsatisfying, and easily forgotten.

Two and a half stars, rounded down to two. I was disappointed in this, as I had expected things to get better, not worse, from the three stars I gave Fallen Angel.

Thanks to HQ Digital and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: The Missing Piece – Dismas Hardy #19 (John Lescroart)

The Missing Piece is the nineteenth in a series, the lea character of which (as billed/titled, anyway) is Dismas Hardy. This book, however, features more of Abe Glitsky, a PI, and Wes Farrell, a former prosecutor, now defense attorney, who is having a midlife crisis about defending people he believes are guilty. According to some things I read, Lescroart cycles through characters, putting some (like Abe and Wes here) in the forefront, and then in the next book, putting others at the front. No problem with that!

I’ve not read any of the books in this series, and I don’t think it’s necessary to start at one and land here, as it’s fine as a standalone. There are enough details about the relationships between the characters that it easily works as a standalone.

Eleven years ago, Farrell prosecuted Paul Riley for the rape and murder of Dana Rush. The Exoneration Initiative, akin to the Innocence Project, finds new DNA evidence pointing to another man who was already in prison for the same crime. That man confessed to Dana’s murder, and Paul Riley is released. Paul heads home to live with his father. After Paul cleans up and remodels the room above the garage, his father decides Paul should start paying rent, at $2500/month. Thanks, dad. Since Paul doesn’t make much at the restaurant where he works – and certainly not enough to pay dear old dad’s price, he decides to go back to breaking and entering.

After one job, he’s back in his place, when his dad calls up to him. Paul thinks pops sounds a little off, so he shoves the loot under his pillow, opens the door, but it isn’t dad. Paul has an “Oh, shit” moment, but the person at the door shoots Paul in the head before he can do anything.

A couple of detectives show up, and Paul’s father tells them he saw the shooter: Doug Rush, the father of the girl Paul murdered. So, despite everything that screams bullshit about this – including dad’s attempt to say the money Paul has stuffed under his pillow belonging to him, the dad the scumbag – thee two just bop right over to Doug’s place. After asking him a couple of questions about where he’s been, and his refusal to tell them anything, they decide to go ahead and arrest him on the basis of Paul’s dad’s eyewitness. This is the dumbest thing in the book, given how notoriously unreliable eyewitnesses are. In any case, while getting the cuffs on Doug, one of the detectives, who clearly has some issues, beats him. Of course someone captures it on video. Doug makes a call to a detective that worked his daughter’s case,who in turn calls Farrell: Doug wants Farrell as his lawyer.

Farrell agrees to represent Doug, even though he thinks Doug is guilty. He manages to get Doug out on bail, though, then goes back to his life, talking to multiple people about his existential crisis. When Doug doesn’t appear in court when he’s supposed to, Farrell immediately goes to” guilty, he’s a runner.

But Doug turns up dead, and not by suicide. Farrell now feels guilty, talks to Hardy, and in comes Abe, to poke around at what happened, as they feel they owe it to Doug.

From there, we get a real investigation, instead of whatever the hell the detectives who arrested Doug were doing (they were suspended shortly after arresting him). Abe finds Doug did indeed have an alibi for the time Paul was shot, but it wasn’t something Doug wanted to reveal, in order to protect someone. Then yet another body shows up, and Abe dogs the case until he discovers that missing piece.

Although there is some time devoted to Farrell and his issues with working defense instead of offense, those moments don’t drag the book down. Since I’m a weather nerd, I didn’t mind the descriptions of that throughout the book. The main characters are well developed by now, of course, and they all act like real, actual people. The story itself raises questions about how possible criminals are treated, how new testing that wasn’t available years ago shows innocent people have been locked up, and what justice means or should be. The missing piece, to me, had a bit of luck involved, but sometimes, you do get lucky.

Four and a half stars, rounded up to five.

Thanks to Atria Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Meet Me in Madrid (Verity Lowell)

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene…

Except it isn’t two households, ccit’s two women, and it isn’t fair Verona, it’s Madrid. And no one dies at the end, which is refreshing (looking at you, Boys on the Side and Fried Green Tomatoes).

There’s bound to be spoilery stuff here.

Charlotte, once a Yale undergrad and now (some kind of lowly curator title) and courier shepherding pieces of art to the places they’ve been loaned, is stranded in Madrid during a sudden storm. Adrianna, once a Yale lecturer, and now a lecturer on the entirely opposite coast, is in Madrid on a sabbatical, running down and transcribing the diaries of a nun. They knew one another briefly,back at Yale, but now they’ve both been focused on their life in academia, pursuing their careers. They meet up at a cafe Adrianna knows, and the writing at that point tells you what going to happen: instalove.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, ass it’s a trope of the genre. I did like the wrinkle that there is at least the fact they knew one another in some way prior to Madrid. This means they’re also a bit older than the characters who usually inhabit the gene, and they’re also both black, another departure from the genre. No young white women with blond hair, blue eyes, zero body fat and perfect abs here: the author paints both women as “buxom”, which I took to mean that both have at least something approximating a bit of middle age spread in addition to both having big chests.

After a three day marathon of sex, Charlotte heads back to New Haven, and both women have the newly-met-but-too-far-away stars in their eyes, looking forward to their next meeting, in NYC, for the new year.

There’s a brief appearance by Hadley, a slim, white, young woman with perfect everything (oops, I guess not all tropes are dead) at the beginning of the new year version of Madrid, someone Charlotte can’t stand for reasons not well explained, who invites them to a NYE party at her parents’ house, and they go, for some reason. After finishing the book, I understand why, but it was a little heavy handed.

More sex, over the next couple of days. Adrianna flies back to Madrid, and we get an encore of Emotions.

Charlotte is tasked with taking some art out to California, and Adrianna insists that she meet Esther, a dear friend of hers. Esther’s having a time with her husband, who has been having an affair with one of his students. To put the betrayal on blast, he sends the student to tell Esther about it. After getting stuck in LA by yet another freak storm, Charlotte winds up at Esther’s teaching her son Fisher to make beignets. There’s a weird, uncomfortably written conversation between Esther and Charlotte, and the “is this older woman, having been married to a shitty dude with whom she had a son, really a lesbian, or at least bi?” thing was off-putting. There’s also a connection made, thanks to networking, when Esther takes Charlotte to Piedmont, who may or may not be in the market for a half courier/half lecturer type of person.

Next up: Chicago (Adrianna’s hometown) at Valentines Day! Also, interviews, where she once again faces the dean from Piedmont, but they have to pretend they don’t know one another. Charlotte also gives a talk on race and art, and her asshole boss from the museum – “I don’t see you as a person of color, Charlotte” – is there, once again saying stupid things, this time about how Brer Rabbit and Songs of the South are not racist, I guess, and how art shouldn’t be politicized. It’s the sort of blather some overly educated jerk says when they’re trying to put down one of their own employees with a nonsensical what if. What I thought immediately, and what Adrianna actually says in the book against his crap, is that his statement itself is political.

More sexytimes. They depart from one another, again.

In between all this – and sometimes when they’re recovering from a round of sex, there’s discussion of how difficult it is in general to have a career in the arts, and in particular, how hard it is for black, gay women to have a career in the arts. This is true (not just of the arts, of course, BIPOC LGBTQAI+ folk have a hard time of it anywhere) but the way it’s written feels like it’s been copied out of a policy paper.

Later in the book, we get the Sophie’s Choice: both women get job offers, but it would mean they would swap coasts, and still have the same problem: long distance relationships, even with these two who can get horny on command via facetime, are problematic in a lot of ways. They finally have their first blowup, after Adrianna tells Charlotte abut her offer from Yale. They get snippy from one another, and then give each other the silent treatment: no texts, no calls, no facetime.

Esther tells Adrianna she’s being a jerk and to knock it off. We get the usual makeup bit, but of course, they are still apart.

Charlotte,her pal James, and three other people get the axe fro the museum thanks to Jerkface McRacistBoss. James, crafty queen that he is, has receipts: Jerkface gets fired, the five are rehired, and Charlotte is given a vague promise or promotion to Deputy Curator when the woman in charge retires.

But where we land is in Cali. Esther has hooked up with Hadley, so we have a May-September romance with the two mains, and a May-December with the secondaries. It also occurred to me that out of the four white adult guys we meet for any real time, one is gay, one is a dean of the arts college, one is a two-timing douchebag, and the last is a racist homophobe.

If you’re reading for the sex, you’ll be delighted: there’s a lot of it, and it’s very graphic, sometimes to the point of being clinical. If you’re reading for the story: it’s ok. The writing style seems to be most comfortable when the topic is academia, and the descriptions of interviews and campus visits was the best writing and the best look at getting hired in academia that I’ve read outside of nonfiction.

Three out of five stars (possibly a fiver if erotica is your thing).

Thanks to Harlequin/Carina Press/Carina Adores and NetGalley for the reading copy.

At the end of the day, it’s a HEA – how could it not be?

Review: Or Else (Joe Hart)

Novelist Andy Drake returns to his old neighborhood to care for his dad, who is in the beginning stages of dementia. Also living in the neighborhood is his not so secret crush, Rachel, who is now married to an emotionally abusive man and has two kids.

A quick kiss at a cookout at Rachel’s spirals into something more. Until someone leaves a note in Andy’s door, telling him to knock it off, or else. Our first mystery: who left the note? The guy with the tiny dog, who no one seems to know anything about? An older lady, on her own, who likes to sit outside with her binoculars? Rachel’s husband David?

Several weeks later, Rachel’s husband is shot dead, and Rachel and the kids have disappeared. Andy, not currently working on the book that’s due to his editor, instead starts chasing up clues, and nearly gets himself shot in the process after breaking in to Rachel’s house, looking for anything that might indicate what her husband was up to or where she and the kids might be.

From details Andy’s able to glean, it seems David’s business isn’t doing as well as it appears – and David’s partner in the business has committed suicide, it seems.

After finding a business card in the house, he dithers a bit until he calls the number and says what appears to be a code word. After the other side hangs up, Andy thinks he’s on to something: did David owe these people money? Were they capable of killing David? When Andy gets a late night visit from a stranger he deems the Visitor, he knows the answer is yes. But the visitor insists they didn’t do it, and it’s believable, both to Andy and the reader.

Andy continues to go down the rabbit hole, eventually coming out the other side. There’s quite a nice twist at the end that was not telegraphed from chapters away, and it was a nice touch that made sense of things.

My only issue was with the beginning and some of the chapters that were more stream of consciousness than narrative. I get why they’re there, as it was the easiest way to get certain information into the book without having them be full-fledged narrative parts, but I wasn’t a fan.

Other than that, however, I enjoyed it quite a lot, and I believe readers who are used to tight neighborhoods or small towns especially will as well.

A solid four out of five star read.

Thanks to Thomas & mercer and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: Agent in Berlin – Wolf Pack Spies #1 (Alex Gerlis)

Another fantastic book from Alex Gerlis, whose Richard Prince novels are as fine fiction as I’ve ever read.

We’re back to Berlin and more spying, except this time, it’s a bona fide ring of spies, cast from diverse characters living in Berlin.

Barnaby Allen is recruited to the spy game and tasked with setting up a network of spies in Berlin after the Nazis have taken hold but before the invasion of Poland in 1939. He also encourages those recruits to be on the lookout for others who may be willing to engage in a very dangerous game as well.

His very first recruit is a gay German citizen and businessman, Werner Lustenberger, who is affable, charming, and about as Bondian a spy as it gets in Gerlis’ world. He befriends, and then beds a member of the SS, among other things.

American Jack Miller joins the ring of spies, having come to Berlin to cover the Olympics, and who stays to write travel and sports pieces, which allows him to go practically anywhere with a ready-made reason to be there. He gets friendly with the Reich’s sports minister, who gives him additional protection when he wanders out of bounds a couple of times.

There’s Sophie, sick of her high ranking SS husband, and who finds the husband’s personal diaries and realizes the horrific things he’s doing. Though afraid, she’s able and willing to do the things the spywork requires: taking pictures of various places, getting people out of the country, and so on.

And there’s the saddest spy ever: Tadashi Kimura, a diplomat at the Japanese embassy in Berlin, who, in his words, commits treason for the sake of love.

Spycraft abounds: secret meeting places, coded phone calls, and, as the years roll by, an ever-tightening, claustrophobic feeling that the next encounter could be game over for the spies. For some of them, alas, it is.

It’s a fascinating read that at points may feel slow but isn’t: the slower areas are just a pause, so the various pieces can be put into place before setting the board in motion once more.

Highly recommended, and five stars out of five.

Thanks to Canelo and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Lonely Hearts – Jessica Shaw #4 (Lisa Gray)

Some time ago, I tried to read Thin Air, by this same author. I gave up on it because it had one of my most hated things – a road atlas-worthy description of someone driving, for no good reason (i.e., it added nothing to the story) – and because there were a multitude of UK Englishisms that threw one out of the story (hand brake, “that lot”, etc.).

I am very happy I took another chance on Lisa Gray, because Lonely Hearts has none of that: it’s a taut, well-told story about a serial killer, a missing woman, a dead wife, and relatives rightly pissed off at several books that seem to only be written to line the pockets of the author at their expense.

We start off in 1989, with underaged Devin Palmer waiting for her sister Erika. The plan: to have a couple of drinks, and then for Devin to stay the night at Erika’s. Alas, Erika ghosts her sister and spends the night with her boyfriend. Also, alas, Devin – a slightly built redhead with fair skin – is offered a ride home with Travis Dean Ford, AKA the Valley Strangler, so named because he strangles slight, redheaded women who have fair skin with their own pantyhose.

We then go to Christine and Veronica, looking at a pamphlet for the Lonely Hearts Club, a way for people outside to write to people locked up in prison. Veronica writes to Travis Dean Ford, and eventually winds up in a “relationship”, or as much as one can have with someone on death row.

Flash forward, and we’re with Jessica, trawling through trash bags, hoping to find evidence of a man’s infidelity. While she’s doing this, Christen Ryan walks up to her, asking her to find an old friend, Veronica Lowe, and her daughter Mia – Travis Dean Ford’s daughter, that he had with Veronica somehow.

Jessica takes the case, working it alone without much contact with Connor. It seems somewhere between book one, which I did not finish, and the end of book three, they apparently hooked up. But he’s now seeing an exotic dancer, and Jessica is avoiding him.

It isn’t easy to track down someone who willfully vanishes. But Christine gives Jessica quite a lot of information, including a couple of photos. Christine says it’s very important to track Veronica down, because Ford’s wife has been murdered in her own home. Struck on the head, then strangled with pantyhose. Interestingly, Detectives Pryce and Medina find they are not Jordana’s: they were brought to the scene by the killer, deliberately. Copycat?

As we go along, bouncing between timelines and POVs, the mystery becomes ever deeper. Jessica continues to track Veronica, talks to the owner of TLHC business, her husband (who tells Jessica to stop looking for Veronica), several witnesses, trawls through newspaper archives and signs up for TLHC so she can get into the forum and research there, as well.

By now it’s fairly clear that Veronica doesn’t want to be found. We then get several chapters from Jordana interspersed, plugging her book at a bookstore, and feeling as if someone has been following her.

Meanwhile, Jessica helps out Pryce by providing what she’s found, and she’s now on the scent, which leads to another location entirely. It’s just before the end that we get Jordana’s last POV chapter, and then the end is rushing at us.

Although I figured out the killer fairly early, it was still a very good read, capturing not just the characters of Jessica and the people immediately around her, but also the families who suffered at the hand of Travis Dean Ford. One character – the father of one of the victims – complains bitterly to Pryce and Medina that they don’t know the names of the 15 girls and women Ford killed. They only know Ford’s name. I thought that an astute observation.

There are no laggy parts, and there isn’t anything that rips the reader out of the world Gray has built. The plot is sensible, and no one does anything that is out of character. I’m glad I took the chance on the series again.

A five star read.

Thanks to Amazon UK and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: A Judge in Auschwitz: Konrad Morgen’s Crusade Against SS Corruption & ‘Illegal’ Murder (Kevin Prenger)

I’m not certain I’ve ever read about such a self-serving, morally corrupt, pretend good deed doer, and fantasist that eclipsed even The Former Guy as I did in this book.

Konrad Morgen – yet another Nazi who fails to meet the Aryan ideal the Nazis themselves decided was the untermensch – was a lawyer in Germany during WWII. While he claims not to have joined the Nazi party voluntarily, it’s clear he did, as otherwise he would not have been consistently promoted as he was, and he certainly would never have been in the SS.

Eventually. Morgen is tasked with rooting out corruption in the SS, which only makes sense if you’re a completely twisted jackass. Most of what was deemed corruption dealt with stealing from the luggage left behind by Jews and other “undesirables” and the absurdly termed “illegal killing” – that is, killing inmates outside the defined policies under which the camp operated. While I can see how the Nazis would be able to separate the two, it makes my brain hurt to do so.

Morgen bounces around from camp to camp: Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and other camps, investigating any thievery or murders. He is, as one might surmise, astonishingly ineffective at bring many people up on charges: those people are transferred, or deemed necessary to do the heinous work they do, or have powerful friends like Himmler to step in for them. Like some of the camps (Thereisenstatd, for instance) this investigatory thing into the SS was, in my opinion, a show: an act put on so that people would see the SS was bound to certain policing, just like anyone else. Except it isn’t policing if you’re investigating yourself, and there are few charges and fewer punishments involved.

There is one documented death sentence handed out from his investigation, involving the commandant of Buchenwald, Karl Koch. Koch’s sadist and equally evil wife was also found guilty, but face no serious punishment for her part.

Morgen lays claim to attempting to charge a slew of other people, from Eichmann to Dirlewanger to Mengele, but there seems to be no “there” there, as he claims his investigations suffered interference at all turns. Shocker.

The most outlandish of Morgen’s claims, however, come after he war. As he is questioned by the military tribunal and testifies at various trials, Morgen paints himself not only as a paragon of justice – he tried to stop the thefts of items that now belonged to the Reich and tried to stop the so-called illegal killings and use of the punishment bunkers in the camps! – but also someone working inside the system to stop the Holocaust itself.

What he was in reality: someone with delusions of grandeur and a serious worker of the tribunal system, on one hand throwing other defendants under the bus, while on the other insisting that he was within the law to ignore the mass murders that were policy at that time.

It’s a sometimes infuriating read, and shares a lot in common with books about con wo/men in any sort of setting. It may also make you want to punch Nazis. If you’re already in great favor of punching Nazis, as I am, this will simply bolster that feeling.

Five out of five stars.

Thanks to Pen & Sword Military and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: It Dies With You (Scott Blackburn)

Hudson Miller, part-time bouncer and currently suspended boxer (for hitting an opponent’s corner man after a bout, causing the man to fall through the ropes and onto the apron around the ring), fails to answer not one, but two calls from his estranged father one night. The next morning, he receives a call he does answer: from a detective, telling Hudson that his father has been murdered – one shot to the back of his head.

Miller returns to his small town, determines what the cops know (nothing), visits his stepmother (useless), calls his mother (sad), then goes back to the big city. Things change, though, when his father’s will is read: he left Hudson three rental properties and his salvage yard operation, none of which are anything Hudson knows anything about. He also inherits his father’s helper at the yard, Charlie, an old Vietnam vet, and the proverbial junkyard dog, Buster.

Frustrated with police, and lacking a steady job, Hudson decides to move back to the town, living in the empty rental and figuring out how to run the yard, and starts digging around in the mystery surrounding his father’s death. The police do come up with something, though: guns. Stored in a vault under a fake floor, it appears Hudson’s father was involved in gunrunning. Hudson, for his part, thinks it possible his father would be involved in that, because his father wasn’t exactly a pillar of good deeds.

One night, Buster starts barking and digging at something under one of the cars. Charlie and Hudson manage to drag him away, move the junked car, and discover another car: buried. When they unearth the crushed car, there’ a dead body in the trunk. While Hudson thinks his old man could have been involved in guns, he doesn’t think his father was a murderer.

With the yard shut down while the police do their thing, Hudson returns to the city to do a few shifts at the bar. One evening, he gets a call to turn on the TV. The news has broken not just about the body in the car, but the young man’s name. The story goes on to mention the salvage yard. Hudson, now tremendously mad, goes to the police station and asks the detective what is going on?

The detective points out the mother and sister of the young man, Mo Reyes, are right there in the front of the office. Hudson calms himself and leaves, but not before Reyes’ sister Lucy puts a dent in the hood of his Jeep.

Lucy shows up at the yard, and instantly becomes the leader of the very small group: following her lead, both men assist in gathering information about what happened to Reyes, which in turn would help them with Hudson’s father’s murder.

15-year old Lucy has a couple of instances of not quite believable behavior: she takes an Uber to confront a man who was arrested smuggling guns, only to be bailed out by Hudson and Charlie, for one.

At the end, though, they’ve followed the trails, collected the clues, and formed a scenario of how these events transpired, and who the killer must be.

It’s a good read, without any real slow pieces, and the only infodump is from someone they’ve confronted about Reyes’ death – no ding for that. Beyond Lucy being a tad too impetuous, the characters are excellently drawn.

Four and a half out of five stars, rounded up to five.

Thanks to Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Push Back (James Marx)

When I was younger and reading everything I could get my hands on, one summer I ran across the Mack Bolan Executioner series. Never read them in order, and never again after that summer,but boy, those were fun books.

Push Back reminds me of those books,but in a good way. It’s more cerebral than “guy goes out to inflict maximum damage on thugs who wronged his family” but at its heart, it is exactly that.

The book opens with a bang – literally. Dean Riley, former Ranger, ex-cop, is on his knees in his own home when someone uses his gun to murder two cops. He may not be as young as he used to be, but Riley manages to get the upper hand on the murderer and make his escape.

We then go back in time just a wee bit, with Riley’s nephew asking to meet him at a park. They’ll hang out, fish, have a couple of beers, talk. But when Riley arrives, his nephew’s car is there, but he is not – snatched by parties unknown, and Riley decides he’ll get his nephew back no matter what it takes.

What it takes is a ton of driving around, beating up three punks who want to rob him, taking peoples’ cars, sneaking back into his own house – a murder scene – to get a few things, and trying not only to outwit a large crew of corrupt cops, but to figure out what is going on with those corrupt cops.

He figures out part of it right away: they need a fall guy for the disappearance of the nephew, who is being held for a very specific purpose. How to unravel that plays out as Riley makes his way through various bent cops, beating up the people who need it (but not outright killing people unless it’s in defense), and slowly pulling out the thread to get the entire story.

There are a few UK Englishisms in the book, but they’re barely noticeable thanks to the fast pacing of the story.

One of the good things is that he is not some superhero cop who takes a bunch of beatings and bullets but shows no sign of it at all: he does get shot, he gets into fights, and by the end is about as worn down as someone can be without being dead. I suppose that’s a minor spoiler, but come on: there was no doubt Mack Bolan or James Bond would live to fight another day, and there’s no doubt here. There are just degrees of injuries to get past before the next fight. By the ending of this one, there seems to be a sequel planned, and I’ll be happy to read that whenever it arrives.

Four and a half stars rounded up to five because Dean Riley seems like a righteous dude and isn’t portrayed as Superman.

Thanks to Burning Chair LTD and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Reflections on gardening, cooking, and life