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Some of the books we've reviewed are great, some are good and others we don't talk about. 

Break Into Fiction

 by Mary Buckham & Dianna Love

ISBN 1-60550-015-1, Adams Media

Review by Maggie Bishop

Based on their workshop retreats, Mary Buckham and Dianna Love have written a book which helps any author improve character-driven plots.

As a panster with four novels to my credit, I was afraid the techniques presented would spoil the sense of discovery during the process of writing the story. Instead, the templates force hard decisions which result in a rough map pointing the character-driven plot in the right direction. I can still take the Blue Ridge Parkway at 45 mph or Interstate 85 at 70 mph to arrive at the final destination. Room for discovery still abounds.

Break Into Fiction offers templates and examples which speed the writing process by decreasing the amount of rewriting required after the first draft. This process saves precious time for the author which enhances the enjoyment of creating the story. This book is good for those who cannot get to the 2-day retreats and as a refresher for those who have attended.

http://maggiebishop1.tripod.com

THE VANISHED MAN
By Jeffery Deaver
Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
ISBN: 0743222008
Hardback, 399 pages, $25.00 US
Genre: Mystery

Reviewer: Christy Tillery French

 

A music school student is murdered and the killer flees into a locked classroom with no way out. When the police break down the door, the killer has vanished. Criminalist Lincoln Rhyme and his partner Amelia Sachs are called in to investigate. It doesn’t take them long to figure out the police were duped by the killer, whom they name “the conjurer” due to his magical feats in escaping. The conjurer leads the police on a meandering investigation as he continues on his killing spree, leaving behind bits of evidence which they eventually learn are clues to deliberately misdirect them. Rhyme can’t help but be impressed by the conjurer’s skills at illusion and magic. With the aid of Kara, a student illusionist, Rhyme and Sachs attempt to catch their killer through their own planned misdirections.

Deaver writes an exceptional series with outstanding characters. Rhyme is a brilliant man frustrated with his physical disability who relies on Sachs’s skills at gathering evidence and investigating onsite. The two make for one powerful team, aided by detectives within the New York Police Department. Kara is an intriguing character, a young woman talented in magic who despairs over the mental health of her mother and sacrifices much for her welfare. As always, deeper, underlying layers of Rhyme’s and Sachs’s personas are subtly unveiled. Deaver leads the reader through a complicated mystery, filled with twists and turns, the final one which the reader won’t see coming.


THE GOOD GUY
by Dean Koontz
Bantam Dell/Random House
www.bantamdell.com
ISBN: 9780553804812
Hardback, 386 pages, $27.00
Genre: Thriller

Reviewer: Christy Tillery French

 

Timothy Carrier is a man who keeps to himself and tries to live as simple a life as possible. Until one day when a man sits beside Timothy at a bar and passes him an envelope with ten thousand dollars and a picture of a beautiful woman named Linda Paquette. Timothy is intrigued by the woman but horrified to know the man has mistaken him for the contract killer he employed to murder her. When the killer later arrives and mistakes Timothy for the man who hired him, Timothy tells him the hit is off and gives him the money but pockets the picture. However, the killer makes it clear he will not be stopped. Timothy rushes to Linda’s house to warn her, and from that point on, both are engaged in a cat-and-mouse game with the killer who now is determined to kill Timothy as well and will go to any length to do so.

Koontz excels at creating evil characters and allowing the reader a glimpse into the mind of a deranged murderer. The story moves at a fast pace and is filled with gut-wrenching suspense and continuous action. Timothy and Linda are two damaged souls who immediately connect and trust one another. Koontz’s ubiquitous dog is present, and, as always, appreciated. The killer is deliciously malevolent and intense, and the story one that will keep the reader turning pages.

PAST DUE
By William Lashner
William Morrow/HarperCollins
www.harpercollins.com
10 East 53rd Street
New York, NY 10022
ISBN: 0060508175
Hardback, 474 pages, $24.95
Genre: Mystery

Reviewer: Christy Tillery French

 

Philadelphia lawyer Victor Carl is broke, as usual, and his father is lying in a hospital bed near death. Victor’s client Joey “Cheaps” Parma seeks Victor’s advice about a murder he was involved in 20 years before of Thomas Greeley, a law student/drug kingpin. Soon after his confession, Joey’s body is found on the waterfront, with his throat slit. Victor, always defender of the underdog, knows the police won’t put too much effort into finding Joey’s killer, so Victor commits to finding out why Joey was murdered. His investigation leads him back to Joey’s youth, and on to the people surrounding Thomas Greeley, including a present Supreme Court jurist and his eccentric wife and her life journals which hold the secret behind Joey’s death.

Victor Carl is perhaps the best character written today. His self-deprecating comments, inner turmoil, and reflections reveal a man whose demons from the past influence his present-day life. The relationship with his father, previously tumultuous, is now mellowing as his father’s health deteriorates. Lashner delivers intriguing characters with real depth and dimension. Victor Carl’s introspections are insightful and well-delivered and simply eloquent. The plot is a twisty one, and the read lengthier than most mysteries, but well worth the time.

AT FIRST SIGHT
By Stephen J. Cannell
Vanguard Press
387 Park Avenue South
New York, NY 10016
www.vanguardpressbooks.com
Hardback, 328 pages, $25.95
Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Reviewer: Christy Tillery French

 

Chick Best, erstwhile dot.com millionaire, was at one time on top of the world, with a luxurious home in Hollywood, cabin in Big Bear, married to a beautiful woman, with a teenage daughter. But lately things have turned sour. Chick’s business is going under, his wife is having an affair, and his teenage daughter’s only interest is hanging out with a criminal biker and taking drugs. The family goes on vacation to Hawaii, where Chick encounters beautiful Paige Ellis and falls in love “at first sight.” Chick is despaired to learn Paige is married to Chandler, a handsome, altruistic man from a wealthy family who uses his time and money to help learning disabled kids. Chick makes an effort to get to Paige through Chandler, but it’s evident Paige is very much in love with her husband. Back home, Chick can’t keep his mind off Paige. When an opportunity arises to go to New York, he flies there, rents a car, and drives to her home in North Carolina, where his life begins its slow, horrific spiral downward into madness and deception.

Cannell’s depiction of the shallow mindsets of the materialistic rich is revealed with humor, although at times, it seems sad and unfathomable that people actually think this way. Chick is a character readers will not like, but his inner thoughts and insights, while usually obnoxious are, nonetheless, entertaining. The story has its suspenseful moments and the reader will root for Paige, an intelligent woman who grieves the death of a man she was very much in love with while trying to deal with Chick, a middle-aged, portly man with no morals who is slowly going mad.

ANOTHER THING TO FALL
by Laura Lippman
William Morrow/Harper Collins
10 East 53rd Street
New York, NY 10022
www.harpercollins.com
ISBN: 9780061128875
Hardback, 325 pages, $24.95
Genre: Mystery

Reviewer: Christy Tillery French

 

Private Investigator Tess Monaghan unknowingly ruins a shoot for the film crew of TV series Mann of Steel and instead of being chastised for it ends up with a new assignment: bodyguard to the show’s youngest actor, Selene Waites. The producer Flip Tumulty and his company have had a run of vandalism, leading to bad press, and Flip is concerned for Selene’s safety. With the aid of her friend Whitney, Tess reluctantly takes on the job, and quickly learns Selene is not as passive and uneducated as she appears. When Flip’s assistant is found beaten to death, Tess realizes Selene may actually be in danger and begins her own investigation into what happened to the assistant.

As always, Lippman provides the reader with an interesting view of Baltimore and its people and culture. The plot seems to stagger along at first, with no real sense of the characters involved. The killer’s mindset is initially hard to grasp, as is his reason for creating such havoc for the producer and his series. One interesting and refreshing character is Mrs. Blossom, one of Tess’s students in her private investigation class, who this reviewer hopes will return in future books.

BONES OF BETRAYAL
by Jefferson Bass
William Morrow/Harper Collins
10 East 53rd Street
New York, NY 10022
ISBN: 9780061284748
Hardback, 368 pages, $24.99
Genre: Mystery

Reviewer: Christy Tillery French

 

When the body of renowned physicist Leonard Novak is found frozen in a swimming pool in Oak Ridge, Dr. Bill Brockton is called in to help. Dr. Brockton takes the body to Knoxville for autopsy and there it’s discovered Dr. Novak died from radiation poisoning through a small pellet found in his intestines. Brockton, his assistant Miranda, an investigating detective, and the medical examiner are exposed to radiation but the medical examiner received the most dosage and is hospitalized. Dr. Novak was an integral part in the development of the atomic bomb during World War II, and Brockton’s investigation takes him back to the secret city to try to find out who wanted Novak dead. There, he meets Novak’s former wife Beatrice who regales him with stories surrounding the Manhattan Project. In Novak’s home, Brockton discovers a mysterious film strip which leads the investigation in a different direction.

Fourth in the Body Farm series, Bones of Betrayal offers the reader an interesting glimpse into the scientists and laymen surrounding the Manhattan Project, as well as the development of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, called the secret city. Brockton is a likeable anthropologist who is compassionate and caring and who seeks a committed relationship but never quite gets there. The character Beatrice’s anecdotes are enlightening and enhance the story. Some will figure out the mystery, but this book is worth the read simply due to the historical facts relayed.

FUZZY NAVEL

 

By J. A. Konrath

Hyperion

77 West 66th Street

New York, NY 10023

ISBN: 9781401302801

Hardback, 270 pages, $23.95

Genre: Mystery

 

Reviewer: Christy Tillery French

 

Chicago PD Lieutenant Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels is going through a good period in her life. She’s engaged to Latham, a guy she’s crazy about, is living with her mom in a house outside the city, and has just received word her archenemy Alex Kork is dead. Jack and her partner Herb Benedict are called to the scene of a murder, where a sex offender has been killed by a sniper. But the sniper isn’t finished and keeps taking potshots at Jack and the police officers investigating the crime scene. Jack manages to get the officers out of danger, attracting the attention of the sniper, and learns that two other snipers have murdered sex offenders in other parts of Chicago. In the midst of all this, Jack gets a call from her mother telling her she needs to come home. Jack, feeling something isn’t right, rushes home, where she finds her mother and Latham held prisoner by Kork. From that point on, Jack is engaged in a battle to save her own life, as well as her mom’s and Latham’s, and even that of her ex-partner Harry McGlade when he shows up. And not just from Kork, but from the snipers, who have tracked Jack down and want in on the fun.

 

Take a deep breath before beginning this book because there’s nonstop action and nail-biting suspense from the first page. Jack Daniels is a tough cop but Kork proves herself to be  more than a worthy adversary and is as relentless as the Energizer bunny. The book moves along at a fast pace, with plenty of dark humor and witticisms thrown around, and a quirky surprise involving the obnoxious McGlade. Some readers may feel cheated by the ending, which leaves a question unanswered.

 

KILLING BRIDEZILLA

By Laura Levine

Kensington Books

850 Third Avenue

New York, NY 1002

www.kensingtonbooks.com

ISBN: 9780758220431

Hardback, 247 pages, $22.00

Genre: Mystery

 

Reviewer: Christy Tillery French

 

Jaine Austen’s career as a writer hasn’t been so fluid. Best known for a plumbing company ad, Jaine is surprised when her former high school nemesis Patti Marshall asks her to write a balcony scene for her wedding ceremony. When Patti tells Jaine she wants the lines to be a mix between Romeo and Juliet and Friends, Jaine wants to turn down the job but she needs the money. Jaine is hopeful Patti has matured from the bully she was in high school, but that’s not the case. Patti turns out to be the bridezilla from hell, demanding her idea of perfection from everyone around her while belittling them and making enemies of all. During the wedding ceremony, while Patti is saying her lines, she falls from her balcony and is impaled on a Cupid statuette below. The number of people who hated Patti is endless, and when one of Jaine’s former high school friends is arrested for the murder, she decides to conduct her own investigation and find out who really offed the high school diva.

 

This is a humorous series built around a refreshing protagonist, a woman who can’t say no to the wrong kinds of food and is a magnet for trouble. Jaine’s perceptions of her cat’s moods and expressions are amusing, as are the emails she receives from her parents who have retired to Florida. The mystery is a good one, and the characters are simply fun.

 

FEARLESS FOURTEEN
by Janet Evanovich
St. Martin’s Press
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010
ISBN: 9780312349516
Hardback, 310 pages, $27.95

 

Reviewer: Christy Tillery French

Number fourteen in the Stephanie Plum series finds Stephanie still embroiled in her triangular relationship with cop Joe Morelli and security expert/mystery-man Ranger. Morelli’s cousin, Dom Rizzi, has just been released from prison for robbing a bank with three other men, and escaping with nine million dollars. The money has never been found and rumor has it Rizzi hid the money and has returned to Trenton to claim it. Word gets out that Rizzi buried the money on Morelli’s property and people start digging up the yard and breaking in. Stephanie becomes involved when Rizzi’s sister, Loretta, misses her court date and Stephanie needs to take her in to be rebonded. But Loretta mysteriously disappears and Stephanie’s stuck with her son, Mario, who goes by the name Zook and is a serious gamer. One of Rizzi’s partners is holding Loretta hostage for the nine million dollars and it falls to Stephanie to try to find the money and rescue Loretta.

Two things this reader can always count on from Evanovich: humorous scenes and wacky characters. Fearless Fourteen does not disappoint in this regard. All those wonderful zany characters are back, including Lula, who manages to convince Tank he asked her to marry him and is now heavily involved in planning a June wedding. Stephanie continues to be unable to make up her mind between Morelli and Ranger, and Grandma Mazur is now one serious gamer when she isn’t going to viewings at the funeral home. The plot is fun and the humor comes at the reader fast and heavy, which makes the read all that more enjoyable.

f

Where Angels Fear by Sunny Fraizer, reviewer Maggie Bishop

(Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries)

ISBN 978-1-892343-57-4, Oak Tree Press, March 2009

Psychic-astrologist Christy Bristol sometimes gets the details wrong in her "eyelid movies" but she leads the reader through fog and U-turns while following red matchbook clues looking for a missing man. She links his disappearance to three men who died from apparent heart attacks and agrees with one detective, a newcomer from New York, who thinks they’ve been murdered in the small California town. Christy’s job as a clerk in the sheriff’s department helps and hurts her investigation, especially when Christy and her best friend Lennie explore the world of leather and sex clubs. Sunny Frazier’s distinctive voice in Where Angels Fear echoes with humor and rings true with procedural details. This mystery begs to be read through to the end in one sitting. Highly recommended.

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