Trail of Echoes

Detective Elouise Norton is back. This time she and her partner, Colin Taggert, are investigating the death of a young, African-American teen. She is found in a park, holding her last baby tooth, and injected with bug repellent to keep the decomp bugs away. The case disturbs Lou, who is still recovering from finding her sister’s bones, her impending divorce, and the reappearance of her father, who walked out before Lou’s sister disappeared.

Without giving spoilers, I figured out who the murderer was pretty early on in the book, which is rather unusual for me. That didn’t stop me from enjoying the ride. I thought I was wrong a couple of times, and there were some good plot twists.

Once again, I can’t say enough good things about this series and about Rachel Howzell Hall. Her writing about Los Angeles reminds me so much of Michael Connelly and Raymond Chandler. She makes the city a character. Her description of the Jungle and Bonner Park and all of the people Lou comes across makes these books wildly entertaining and a joy to read.

I have ordered the fourth book in this series and cannot wait for it to arrive. This is a detective series I look forward to. I highly recommend this book.

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The Magpie Murders

Anthony Horowitz is a genius. The Magpie Murders is the second book of his I have read and it is the second time I have been utterly clueless as to what was going to happen. The plotting is ingenious. The writing is crisp and perfect.

A book editor receives a manuscript, The Magpie Murders, from her author. She reads the book, only to find that the final chapter(s) are missing. Then, the author supposedly commits suicide. Alan Conway is the author and Susan Ryeland is the editor. Susan comes to believe that Alan was murdered, despite his being diagnosed with a terminal cancer. She goes about finding the murderer and the motive.

I say this book is genius because you get two mysteries for the price of one. The manuscript is included, but it leads to clues to Alan’s murderer. The route Susan takes to find the murderer leads us to a large cast of characters, all of whom have motive to want Alan dead.

This book is why I love mysteries. There’s little blood and gore, but it was still suspenseful and kept me guessing until the end. I loved it and so will you.

I won a copy of this book and received no other compensation in exchange for this review. The opinions expressed herein are mine and mine alone.

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Hello, 2019

Book wise, 2018 was a good year. I read 146 books. Most were really good. Some were not so good. Otherwise, 2018 was pretty craptacular. I haven’t had a year that bad in a long time. Even so, I’m excited about what 2019 will bring. I set my reading challenge on Goodreads at 120. I never know, when I set my reading challenge each year, whether I will make my goal. So I tend to set it low. But I thought I would at least challenge myself this year.

I was reading the Real Book Spy’s post about the thrillers coming out in 2019, and I’m going to have my work cut out for me. Pretty much every author I read has a book coming out. That makes me happy. I also have to figure out my¬† book budget so it’s good to know what comes out when.

Even more than reading authors I have read in the past, I look forward to discovering someone new. Last year, I discovered Nick Petrie, Andrews and Wilson, Allen Eskins, David Riccairdi, Jack Carr, Anthony Horowitz, Karen Cleveland, Hank Phillipi Ryan, and Rachel Howzell Hall. I hope that I find a new crop of authors to add to my regular reads. Though, I suppose at some point, I will have so many authors to read, I will have to cut back. But I will cross that bridge when I come to it.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the book world has to offer me this year. If you have an author you read that you’re excited about, please leave a comment and let me know. Happy 2019!!

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Land of Shadows

Eloise Norton (Lou) is an LAPD detective. She is married to a video game designer who cheats on her. She has a new partner who is a white boy from Colorado. They are called to the scene of a murder. A teenage girl has been found dad in a condominium complex under construction. The owner, Nappy Crase, was a suspect in the disappearance of Lou’s sister in 1988. Lou and her partner, Colin, are trying to wade through a gaggle of suspects to find out who killed the girl and why. Lou also wants to know if this girl’s murder is somehow connected to her sister’s disappearance.

Rachel Howzell Hall manages a complicated plot so well. This book kept me guessing until the end. I did not figure out the “who done it” part until the very end. And then, when I thought I had it figured out, something totally different happened. I don’t usually get fooled, but I did here – in a good way.

I really like Lou. She’s tough, but vulnerable. She is confident, but insecure. She is a real, three dimensional person. I not only liked, Lou, I liked the supporting characters as well. Her fellow cops, her mother, her husband, and her two best friends are well-written. Hall has a gift at writing people. She also has a gift at writing location. She, like Michael Connelly, Raymond Chandler, and James Ellroy, writes Los Angeles really well. You feel as though you can see the Jungle, the housing project where Lou grew up. You can see the condos where the victim is found. You can taste the salty ocean breeze near Lou’s house. That was a joy to read.

I was so taken with this book, that I immediately started Skies of Ash, the second in this series. I hope there is more to come from Rachel Howzell Hall because I really think I have found a new friend in Lou Norton.

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The Unwinding Of The Miracle

Julie Yip-Williams should not have been alive at age 37, when she was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer. She was born to Chinese parents in Viet Nam, right after the end of the war. She had cataracts that could not be surgically corrected in Viet Nam. Her paternal grandmother sent her parents to Da Nag, to a medicine man, to have Julie killed. The medicine man refused to do it. She ended up immigrating to the United States, where her vision was partially fixed at age 4.

Despite her visual limitations, she attended two prestigious colleges (Williams and Harvard). She became a lawyer, world traveler, and eventually met the man of her dreams and settled down with him in New York City, where they were raising their two young daughters.

Julie started writing her book after she was diagnosed. It details her four year battle with cancer. However, this is not just another “I’m-dying-young” memoir. This book goes so much deeper than that. This book is a brutally honest exploration of all the feelings that comes along with such a horrible diagnosis. Julie is unsparing in her writings. She doesn’t deny the anger, depression, and denial she had to fight, along with the disease. She openly discusses everything she feels. She talks openly about how hard it was for her and her family to deal with her diagnosis.

What I appreciated most about this book was her willingness to include the things that made her look bad – the mean thoughts, the crying, the anger. She is raw and honest. I appreciated that. The only thing I took a bit of an issue with is that she and her husband are wealthy. They are both attorneys, working at one of the biggest law firms in the country. They can afford to buy their neighbor’s apartment and turn it into one big one. They travel to exotic places. She contemplates spending $7,000 a month on an experimental drug, saying she can comfortably do that for a couple of months. While I don’t begrudge her the wealth she has worked so hard for, it skews the nature of her treatment. If she didn’t have the access to good health insurance, and enough money to afford a very expensive chemo drug, things would have been quite different for her. But I have to keep in mind that this book is about her journey through cancer, not anyone else’s. And she is writing about her circumstances.

I was so sad to learn that she died in March of this year. She was an amazingly talented writer and this book was a gut punch, but also a joy to read. She used her life as an example of what you can do when you are real. She talks about a lot of cancer support groups and blogs and websites where people put up false hope and false faces of happiness and denial because that is what this society expects from people suffering from terminal illness. I loved that she called them out for doing that and she refused to so the same. Making her cancer, and all the emotions that go with it – very real. And not always flattering.

I think that not only will this book stay with me, it will continue to resonate in me and it is one that I will revisit. It is filled with such wisdom and reality. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I won this book and received no other compensation in exchange for this review. The opinions expressed herein are mine and mine alone.

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Raw Is Raw

My husband loves Wu-Tang Clan. I did not know much, if anything, about them when I met my husband. But, being with him, I have come to like them. So, when I saw that U-God wrote a memoir, I was totally down to read it. Full disclosure, U-God is not my favorite Wu-Tang dude. And no, my favorite is not Method Man, or Ghostface, or Rza, who are arguably, the most popular members of the group. My favorite is Inspectah Deck, who rap on Triumph is one of the best ever laid down.

Lamont Hawkins (U-God) grew up in NYC. He moved to Staten Island and lived in the projects. He was friends with Method Man and the rest of the crew growing up. They lived a hard life – drugs, guns, jail, poverty. But they never gave up on rapping. Eventually, with some hard work, they hit the big time.

I listened to this on audio book. And U-God reads it, which is interesting because he has a fairly thick accent. I found it interesting to hear stories of those guys coming up and getting his perspective on the other guys. I found some parts of the book grating. I don’t know if that’s a product of the writing style or the audio style, but I was annoyed at points by the rhythm.

Overall, however, I found this book interesting. I like reading memoirs and this one was good for putting me into a place totally out of my known world. U-God paints a vivid picture of the life he lead prior to the Wu-Tang Clan hitting the big time. You feel like you are on the streets and in the tenements with him. He is a story teller. And the stories are, for the most part, pretty fascinating. My favorite parts of this book are the ones where he talks about his life before fame and fortune. It gives you an understanding of what that life was like. The soul-crushing poverty, the crime (because there’s nothing else), the weird people, jail, the police. It’s all really vivid.

I would recommend this book, not necessarily if you are interested in the history of rap or Wu-Tang Clan, but if you are interested in reading about rising above adversity, it’s a good book.

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The Lost Girls

Robert Kolker dives into the case of the Long Island serial killer in Lost Girls. He looks at each victim and delves into their families – why they became escorts and prostitutes, how they ended up where they did, and why they were targets of this killer, who has never been caught.

I will admit, despite their being a list of characters in the back, I got lost in who was who and who was connected to who sometimes. The girls all worked under multiple names and they had kids and families, so sometimes the names got jumbled and confused. However, there are a couple of things about this book that make it a really important read.

The first thing is that these women/girls all came from hard-scrabble existences. They lived in poverty and saw being a prostitute as a way to quick cash and out of their socio-economic bracket. Despite what their friends and families have said, that is the one thing that binds them together. Whether they grew up in Maine, Maryland, North Carolina, or New York, they all had poverty, lack of education, lack of job opportunities, early motherhood, and bad parents as their common bonds.

The second point that Kolker makes – though almost always very subtly, is that if these women were ANYTHING but prostitutes/call girls, this case might have been solved. Or the outcome for Shannan Gilbert may have been different. Because Shannan was a prostitute and was on a call when she called 9-1-1, the police didn’t take her seriously. When the families of all the girls who were killed reported them missing, the police didn’t take them seriously. As soon as the police found out they were prostitutes, they didn’t seem to care about finding them – until their bodies were located. Then it became a big deal.

I liked this book. Kolker wrote it with care. He wants to readers to understand these girls’ lives – their complicated family situations, their poverty, their dreams, their ambitions. He writes them in a way that makes you care and makes you understand. I don’t condone prostitution, but I certainly understand how women can be driven to it. It’s an expression of power, though ultimately, it’s really not. That is how/why these women ended up dead.

As much as Kolker wrote the girls with an eye towards sympathy and understanding, he wrote the cops as attention-starved cynics, who just didn’t care about solving this case. The police did, in my opinion, a very slipshod investigation. I think that is why this case isn’t solved. I think it could be. But I don’t know if it ever will be.

I liked this book. It was well-written and tells a fascinating story. If you like true crime, you’ll like this book. I won this book and received no compensation in exchange for this review. The opinions expressed herein are mine and mine alone.

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Dark Sacred Night

Harry Bosch and Renee Ballard team up to solve a cold case in Dark Sacred Night, the latest from Michael Connelly. Harry is trying to solve the murder of a young woman who was killed in 2009. Her mother, Elizabeth, is staying with Harry (much to his daughter’s chagrin), after he helped her get sober. Ballard runs into Bosch in the station and gets sucked into the case Bosch is trying to solve. Bosch is also working a murder for the San Fernando Police Department that has far-reaching consequences.

The book is told from alternating points of view – Bosch and Ballard. The story comes to a surprising conclusion and the killer is not who I thought it would be. I have to say that, unlike so many other mystery/thriller authors I read, Michael Connelly has not put out a bad book. This book is not bad. In fact, I thought it was fantastic. It was tense and tightly wound. The plot moved quickly and even though the book is over 400 pages, it moves quickly and isn’t weighted down with any superfluous information.

I think one of the things I like most about Michael Connelly’s book is not only his attention to police procedural or legal details, but that, like Raymond Chandler, he makes Los Angeles a character. The city comes alive under Connelly’s hand. It provides as much important information and development as any other character would.

Dark Sacred Night does not disappoint. When I first heard that Ballard and Bosch were going to work together, I thought it was a marketing ploy. But this relationship worked. I liked their interactions and interplay.

Whether this is your 31st Michael Connelly book or your first, Dark Sacred Night will not disappoint. I highly recommend it.

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The Fox

Day of the Jackal is one of my all-time favorite books. I literally could not put it down. Unfortunately for Frederick Forsyth, every book of his gets compared to Day of the Jackal. In recent years, some have lived up to it and some have not. Unfortunately, The Fox does not.

The Fox is about a boy (young man) with Asperger’s Syndrome, who happens to be a computer genius. A boy who can hack into literally any computer he wants. He comes to the attention of the British government because he hacked into the NSA and the CIA. The Americans want to extradite him, but the Brits come up with a plan. Let the boy stay in the UK and let him be put to use as a hacker for the good guys against the bad guys – Russia, Iran, and North Korea. It’s a good premise.

There are a lot of people who want the boy dead. And the Brits go to great lengths to protect him. The question is whether they will be successful.

I really wanted to like this book more than I did. It just missed the mark. My major complaint is that it jumped around a lot. You move from Russia, to England, to the U.S., to North Korea. There is also too much telling and not enough showing. Forsyth assumes that readers will be okay with being told things in a cryptic manner and being left to assume facts never given. It just didn’t work for me.

The book is not bad. It’s a solid thriller. It just didn’t hit the right notes with me.

I won this book from Goodreads and received no other compensation in exchange for this review. The opinions expressed herein are mine and mine alone.

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Boxes and Boxes of Books

My husband says I hoard books. He tried (emphasis on tried) to implement a “for everyone that comes in, one goes out” rule, but that was met with derision and contempt. I came home from work a couple of weeks ago to find that my husband had bought boxes at U-Haul. With the leftovers, he wanted me to box up some books. Most of the bookshelves in the house were double-stacked and I think it was driving him nuts. So I boxed up the ones I have read to make room for the ones I have not. There are three boxes in the living room and two in the bedroom.

I do not, as a general rule, like to get rid of books. Unless I own more than one copy of legitimately hated it. I do reread, but not as often as I’d like. My tbr pile has grown exponentially and I fear I won’t get to all of them. But I will try. My husband doesn’t understand this. He’s not a reader.

I live in a home with people who aren’t readers. I tried to make my son one, but it never took. My daughter does sometimes, but she has processing disorders and learning delays that make it difficult for her. So living in a house without fellow readers puts me at a disadvantage because they don’t understand my attachment to the books. I have always loved to read. Books were friends when I had none, escape when I needed one, and a source of knowledge and adventure. I can’t imagine not being a reader, though I’m sure my husband would love if I did.

My husband is a neat-nick. He doesn’t like clutter. For the most part, I don’t mind certain types of clutter – books being the best example. I don’t mind piles. I don’t mind double-stacked shelves. I don’t mind having to dust them – okay that’s a lie. I HATE dusting, but I do it. I like having books. I’m not the most creative shelver. I don’t have them sorted by color. They are basically divided between fiction and nonfiction and by subject, then alphabetical by author. I almost always know where a particular book is. Except for the boxes in the garage. I started to tape a list on each box when I had to open it to look for a book, but there are still some boxes without lists.

It actually pains me that I have boxes of books and no place to put them. One day, I will live in a house with enough shelves to hold all my books. I won’t have to go out to the garage and read fading lists on each box containing books. One day, it will happen. Until then, I will keep my books in boxes and tape an inventory list to each box.

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