All posts by Annette

Review: The Hitler Years: Disaster 1940-1945 (Frank McDonough)

The Hitler Years: Disaster 1940-1945 is the companion to The Hitler Years: Triumph 1933-1939, which I previously reviewed.

As with ‘Triumph’, Disaster is a strict, chronologically presented layout of the events from 1940, when Hitler was at the apex of his power, to 1945, when Germany was defeated and Hitler committed suicide in Berlin.

I’ll caution that this is not a narrative nonfiction work. The two books taken together could form a large collection of references about what was happening on what day in what year in (primarily) Germany’s sphere between 1933 and 1945. If you haven’t read the first volume,it isn’t a huge issue as long as you have some kind of base understanding as to how the world got to where it was in 1940.

It’s a terrific addition to the field, and I’m giving it five stars, just as I did with the first volume.

One note I will make is that the e-ARC was a terrible mess. Letters are missing from words, entire dates are left out, and it was a tremendously difficult and tedious read to get through it. I’m not dinging it for this, as it is an advanced copy, and it comes with the territory. It was, however, disappointing that it was so very, very bad in this regard.

Thanks to St Martin’s Press and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Matters of Doubt – Cal Claxton #1 (Warren Easley)

This is book one of a series that was originally published between 2013 and 2018. The books are being reissued – it’s always nice to come across another series I’ve not read. For those interested, it’s told in first person by the main character.

Former bigshot Los Angeles prosecutor Cal Claxton quits his job, moves to his cabin in Oregon, and hangs out a shingle as a small, solo legal operation after his wife commits suicide.

A young man appears in his office, asking Cal to find out who murdered his mother, an investigative journalist who was working on a big story. The man is homeless and an artist who goes by the name Picasso on the street. Cal brushes him off and Picasso angrily storms out of his office.

It wouldn’t be a jaded prosecutor finding his heart if Cal doesn’t change his mind, and so he does: he tracks down Picasso at a free clinic in Portland and offers to look into the circumstances surrounding the murder. Picasso has a ready-made villain in his mother’s murder – specifically, he believes that his mother’s boyfriend is the culprit. Cal has to rein him in a bit and caution him to not go after the man when there isn’t enough evidence.

Unfortunately for Picasso,but good for the book, that man is found dead. By Picasso. Cal happens to be arriving at the house just as Picasso is leaving. Did he kill the boyfriend? I’m not giving it away.

Cal has people he can ask for help, including Nando, a Cuban emigre with a fashion sense that sounds like it would have been at home in the 70s (at least in my mind). Nando knows other people who have specialized skills, and al uses Nando a lot – but Nando doesn’t work for free, and those ills start adding up.

Someone really wants to know what Cal is finding (or not) and Cal’s laptop, his own clients’ files, and Picasso’s material that he had entrusted to Cal are stolen. The only thing he now has to go on are some of the notes he made and what he remembers from the files.

There’s a romantic subplot involving the (obviously) super attractive doctor who runs the clinic. There’s also some conflict with a woman who runs an escort service, one of her employees who wants to break free, and a giant Russian dude who doesn’t like Cal all that much.

As Cal works his way through the case, we also get to see through his eyes various social issues: homelessness, inadequate healthcare, drug abuse, indifferent police officers, sex trafficking, a lack of mental health services, especially for veterans, and suicide by cop. Conservatives are not going to like these parts at all, so if you’re in that group, you might want to pass on this one.

Cal also finds that there are multiple divergent paths on this case that dovetail into one by the end of the book.

I have a few issues with the book. One is Cal’s name. Cal Claxton just doesn’t roll off my tongue. Two, virtually every side character Cal encounters is quirky or weird. there are people in the world who are just normal people, working through their days. Three, how is it that Cal always seems to be around when a dead boy is discovered? It’s rather odd, but maybe that’s his quirk.

Three out of five stars.

Thanks to Poisoned Pen Press and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Out of Sight – DCI Warren Jones #7 (Paul Gitsham)

This is book number seven in a series. It is not necessary to read the previous six, but I certainly intend to do so, to find out more about DCI Warren Jones and the people with whom he works.

This outing opens with a dead body under a bridge, fingerprints and teeth removed. Of course, this presents challenges both in identifying the body and solving the murder itself. The team does manage to identify the dead man, but the investigation itself is slow-going, as the victim was a loner of sorts, and held his secrets closely.

To complicate things, it turns out DCI Jones has a lot going on in his personal life as well: his father has been moved to an assisted living facility, and he and his wife are recovering from her miscarriage and their discussions at attempting parenthood again are heartbreaking.

Eventually, they find the man was regularly seeing other men via a dating app, and the investigation becomes even more involve than before, as the team chases down the man’s partners and look into their whereabouts when the man was killed.

Ranging from people lying to damaged walls to nonworking or just slightly out of range or intentionally sabotaged CCTVs, this investigation has it all. But the team is dogged, and there are no slow parts for the reader, which is always a potential when the investigation is so large.

This book has an interesting murder investigation and a personal story that is not contrived just to have the main character have some kind of flaw or obstacle to overcome (and that’s easily solved).

Four point out of five stars, rounded up to five.

Thanks to HQ Digital and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: The Hitler Years: Triumph, 1933-1939 (Frank McDonough)

Have you read William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich? Are you interested in early the mid 20th century Germany and the runup to WWII? If so, this is right up your alley (as is volume two, Disaster, which I am reading now).

Triumph is an orderly, year by year examination of Hitler’s rise to power. note that it helps immensely if you are aware f the events between the Treaty of Versailles and 1933, including Hitler’s personal life during that time and the people he collects around him along the way.

Each chapter details the events occurring in that year, ranging from what Hitler and his cronies were doing, to the economy of Germany as a whole and cities like Berlin in particular, to what was happening in the arts, continued German recovery from the disastrous debt assigned to them by the Allies after WWI, government policies, and so on., Rest assured that other governments are not spared a look – the appeaser Neville Chamberlain, for instance, is there on the page. There is also time spent detailing how other countries viewed Germany and Hitler in his role. Some were convinced that everyday Germans would toss him out, while others laughed at the cartoonish thug, and others began sounding the alarms about the megalomaniac who had methodically made his way to Chancellor.

I often hesitate to use the word “comprehensive’, as typically it does not accurately describe the reality of the pages in the book, but McDonough has done an excellent and, yes, a comprehensive job of moving the reader through these formative years of complete Nazi control of Germany’s government.

Incredibly interesting as well as eminently readable, this is a fine addition to the oeuvre of WWII books that focus on Hitler.

Five out of five stars.

Thanks to St Martin’s Press and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Her Consigliere (Carsen Taite)

FBI agent Royal Scott has just come out from another assignment, and has been promised both some time off and end to long undercover assignments in the future. Alas,this is not to be, as her boss wants her to go undercover and infiltrate the Mancuso crime family, which he assures her won’t last too long. She reluctantly accepts.,

When Royal leaves the FBI building, she saves a woman from being run over by an SUV. Intentional? Hard to tell. It turns out the woman, Siobhan Collins, is the consigliere (lawyer/advisor) to the head of the Mancuso family. Lucky break that Royal gets to start on the newest assignment right away.

Royal scores an assignment and introduction to a couple of low level associates working for Mancuso, and winds up at the Don’s house, unloading untaxed liquor, which seems to be their specialty. Royal and Siobhan run into one another again and share a few bantering lines.

Siobhan, speaking to the Don and his natural daughter (Siobhan was basically adopted by Mancuso, and raised in the family, much like Don Vito allowed Tom Hagen into the Corleone family in The Godfather). She’s a lawyer. She’s careful, as she should be, protecting the Mancusos. This is why I found it mind-boggling that she tapped Royal – someone she doesn’t know and hasn’t yet vetted – to come work for them as more than a driver of boosted liquor. Even the Don thinks it’s a good idea, just because She pulled Siobhan out of the way of the SUV. Why? Everything she is supposed to do is supposed to protect the family. This is one of the off notes in the story for me. I get it, The two of them need to be put in a situation where they will spend more time with one another, but this was ahead scratcher. At least Siobhan’s driver/bodyguard is suspicious of Royal.

Siobhan has a suspicion that the Don’s waspish, nasty daughter is up to some kind of no good, but decides she can’t act unless there’s hard evidence of it. Royal has her own family entanglement to deal with when her brother shows up at her door.

The romance part was okay. The mystery/mob part of it, even with the issue I noted above, was better, with Siobhan looking for anyone who might want to hurt the family, and Royal looking out for anyone who wants to kill Siobhan. They get more time together and in fact do wind up sleeping with one another (not: there are a couple of minorly explicit scenes.

The ending feels a little rushed, and not without a bit of a cliffhanger about what happens to someone other than the main characters. The end made me do a bit of a head scratch – it wasn’t completely out of the realm of possibility, but seemed a little too…public, I suppose if the word I’m looking for.

Overall, something that can be read in one sitting without a ton of plot holes, or at least none that couldn’t be ignored for the sake of the two mains. Three out of five stars.

Thanks to Bold Strokes Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Every Hidden Thing (Ted Flanagan)

Worster, Mass EMT Thomas Archer and his partner have a problem. It isn’t the woman who has just delivered a baby who is respiratory distress, it isn’t even he woman’s boyfriend. The real problem is Eamon Conroy, a corrupt and sadistic cop Archer helped send to prison years ago.

Conroy is the fixer for John O’Toole, mayor of Worster from a prominent political family, who has his sites set on the Governor’s mansion. His issue is greasing the right palms, and getting Conroy to take care of other problems in a more violent way. That includes Archer now, given he and his partner’s witness of the baby scene.

Archer’s young son has a brain tumor, and one of the places they stop on their rounds is at a church where a young woman lies in a persistent vegetative state, while her mother stands by her, convinced that the power of god flows through her daughter. Many people come to pray in front of the woman in her be, seeing her through a window on the opposite wall, where a bench sits, ready for them to kneel. Archer and the mom have a number of conversations through the book, and at the end there’s a gigantic gathering where people can come to ask for miracles/to be blessed/and whatever other stuff religion does for people who believe. I’m not a fan off fraudsters and hucksters, so these parts had me rolling my eyes.

Luckily, the majority of the book is taken up by Archer trying to avoid crossing paths with Conroy.

We then switch gears to the POV of a reporter, who is going to be laid off not terribly far down the road. Her editor tells her it’s the best he could get for her, and she decides to go out with a bang, by investigating the new gubernatorial candidate, his shady deals, and his employ on Conroy. She faces some real danger, as an old white woman going to a rather rough part of town to talk to the woman who gave birth. She makes it out of there, but not before her car is set on fire by the crowd.

There’s a separate subplot about a man who is obviously a QAnon kind of nutjob, ascribing all sorts of ills in the world on Democrats, liberals, activists, and of course the LGBTQI+ category. He’s further indoctrinated by his father in law, and his father in law and what seems to be a council of sorts for the local militia have a job for him: go to Worster and assassinate someone. I found this the least compelling o the various storylines, not because it’s unrealistic, but because crazy seems to be his only character trait.

As we return to the main story, things stat getting out of hand and O’Toole is becoming impatient with Conroy. Conroy gets harder into his work, offering Archer’s partner enough money to put toward a new house for his family. Archer continues to be pressed by his life seemingly spinning out of control.

The end is….the end is good, and matches nicely with the events of the book. There is a loose string here and there, but nothing to make the ending less believable, and I kind of welcome that from time to time, since most writers seem to think everything has to be 100% in typing up everything that has happened in a book. In books like this, there’s too much ambiguity to do that, so like a lot of life, people wring what they can from it.

A very solid four out of five stars.

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

Review: Thicker Than Water (Barbara Pronin)

Lacey Madison is supposed to be meeting her sister at the sister’s house, but (as usual) is running late. When she arrives, she finds the house locked, but she can hear her baby niece crying up a storm. Unable to find an open door, she winds up going in through the bathroom window. She finds baby Tina without issue. What she also finds is the dead body of her sister’s husband. When the police arrive, suddenly her sister is the prime suspect in her husband’s murder. Lacey doesn’t know her sister as well as many sisters do, but she knows Carolyn is not a murderer and is determined to track down whoever killed her husband.

There is quite a good bit off character shaping done quite well throughout the book, especially Lacey and Carolyn’s characters, as Lacey learns more and more about her. Then a body is found in the La Brea Tar Pits, and the woman pulled from the goo looks a lot like Carolyn.

Alas, I can’t say much about the investigative work Lacey does without revealing too much, but Lacy could take up a side gig as a PI if she were so inclined. My quibbles are two: the bad guy can be figured out about halfway through, because of their actions as described when the POV switches to him. Two, we get another “I’m gonna confront bad guy!” says the plucky hero(ine), without bothering to notify anyone of what she’s doing. It is, to me, the equivalent of a character her decides to go down into the spooky basement when all the power and phones are out. Can we get past this? Law enforcement could be notified but get held up to give the same worry about whether or not they will arrive in time.

Even with this, and the points of stars I remove, it’s a good read, suitable for a rainy day or a beach or plane or anywhere else you read books.

There point five stars out of five, rounded down to three.

Thanks to Crossroad Press and NetGalley for the reading copy.

As we start popping through the events in the book, making our way to the end

Review: The Darkness Knows – Detective Konrad #1 (Arnaldur Indriðason)

You can’t be in a rush with Indriðason’s Nordic Noir. If you’ve read his Erlandur books, sliding into this book featuring Konrad will feel like a warm bubble bath, comforting and familiar.

A group of German tourists and their guide find a hand sticking out of one of the glaciers that is melting thanks to climate change. The authorities are called, and the dead, frozen man is identified as a man who went missing long ago, with foul play suspected at that time, since his car was not found at the glacier, but in another location. Konrad was the original detective on the case, and the dead man’s business partner Hjaltalín was arrested based on a coerced confession.

Konrad has since retired. He had taken leave from the job to care for his wife who was dying of cancer, and after she died, he simply made retirement official. He doesn’t do a whole lot with his days, and the best times he has are when his son and grandkids come to visit.

Marta is in charge of the new case revolving around the dead man, and she asks Konrad to come in and consult on it. He reluctantly does, but as the investigation picks up, he finds not having a badge means people can just slam a door in his face and not answer questions they would have were he still on the force.

Then, a woman shows up at his door, asking him to look into the case of her brother, who was killed in what looked to be a hit and run. Were they connected? Konrad thinks so, even if few others do. He doggedly continues his public/private investigation, stirring up hornets’ nests and finding witnesses who can remember what was happening around the time the man went missing.

Meanwhile, Hjaltalín is back in prison, protesting his innocence, and wants Konrad to come see him. Konrad does, but is very cold toward him. Hjaltalín begs him to continue the investigation, to absolve him of a crime he didn’t commit. Hjaltalín has cancer and is dying, you see, and even though the two of them don’t care for one another, Hjaltalín believes Konrad to be a honest man and good cop.

People looking for nonstop action as the middle carries on into the final act will be disappointed. Most police work is not gunfights and car chases. It’s following the clues where they lead and evaluating evidence and suspects. That’s what Konrad does.

In the end, not only do we see the resolution of the crime, if there is one, and settling some of Konrad’s personal debts to his own soul.

Take a walk in the glacier field, and pick up this first book in what will hopefully be a long series.

Five out of five stars.

Thanks to St Martin’s Press and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: The Opium Prince (Jasmine Aimaq)

I will no doubt be in the minority on this book.

I wanted to enjoy it: set in Afghanistan in the 1970s, with the opium becoming one of the defining symbols of the country, Russia attempting to take the country, the US creating and arming the Taliban as an answer, and within all this turmoil, David Sajedi, half American and half Afghani, working for an American agency attempting to destroy the opium trade by taking out poppy fields, hits and kills a young girl while driving.

What is not to like? This: the book could not determine what it wanted to be. This will no doubt draw comments about how many books don’t fit into a single category, and it’s x of me to try to apply labels. Yes, some books defy categorization. In order to do this, though, they must be consistent, and they must be well written throughout. Characters are introduced and that appear to be playing a part in this book in some important way are never heard from or about) again. Thee are some pacing issues as well. The shifts in writing range from soaring language that is almost poetic to basic noun-verb-period. There are also some weird references to other books as we slog to the end that make no sense at all.

The premise is good. the story should be good, placed against that background. I just didn’t really like the execution. Sorry, not for me.

Two out of five stars.

Thanks to Soho Press/Soho Crime and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Silent Ridge – Det. Megan Carpenter #1 (Gregg Olsen)

I’d previously read The Hive by the same author, and picked this up as that was okay. Silent Ridge, alas, is not. This is the third book in a series, and if you have not read the first two, it’s going to be a real problem. At least it was for me.

Police are called to the scene of a gruesome murder. Wait, before we begin that, let me say that this is primarily written in first person, present tense. I really do not like that. I persevered, though, and Detective Carpenter shows up at the scene. We immediately know she has some kind of connection to the victim, because we’re flat out told that she does. Does she tell anyone, so she can be restricted from investigating it due to her emotional compromise. As we all know for maverick cops, they do their own thing and basically flaunt everything there is about proper law enforcement and investigations.

I absolutely do not like this character. She is by turns whiny and angry. She lies to the people around her, and is paranoid even at the best of times. Without even an ounce of investigation being done, she’s decided that the murder has to be something related to her childhood. In fact, there are many, many, many, ad nauseum instances of connecting every single thing to her terrible childhood. This woman should be on desk duty at best, with mandatory psych evals once a quarter at least.

All of that psych stuff, after awhile, starts to feel like filler. There was no tension because we get the murderer’s scenes, too, so the mystery slowly drains out like one of those blow up kiddie pools that springs a small leak. Worst of all, Carpenter seems to wallow in the childhood trauma, and after awhile, I just didn’t care because it was boring. I wanted then to catch the murderer before I gave up on the book (which, to be honest, happened multiple times)

If you’re pressed for something to read, or you’re a fan of the series, you might like this. Sorry, but I did not. It took months for me to finish it, something completely abnormal for me.

Two out of five stars, and a vow not to read anything else in this series.

Thanks to Bookouture and NetGalley for the reading copy.