Saturday, August 26, 2017

Hollywood Homicide

Updated Cover
Hollywood Homicide
By Kellye Garrett

This book is a mystery that’s cozy, gone glam, gone great. Unemployed actress Dayna Anderson was looking for a job, not a mystery when she was scrounging for her last coins to pay for gas. Her car had abruptly hit empty, leaving her stranded blocks down the street. Above her loomed a billboard offering a reward for information on a recent hit and run. Dayna had been in the vicinity and thought she may be able to find information to collect some much needed money.

As Dayna pulls together the information she knows, what’s revealed pulls her into a full-on amateur sleuth investigation. At the same time the intriguing questions and puzzling clues pull the reader eagerly in to find the solution. You’ll truly be tested to identify the murderer and the motivation behind the murder.

As important as it is to share a good mystery, this author also gives us a great cast of characters who bring a delightful vitality and humor to the story. Dayna, with her closest friends Sienna and Emme, are truly laugh out loud funny, so if you’re reading around other people on the bus or at the coffee shop you may get some stares and then some people around you writing down the title of the book. The humor rises naturally from the characters and the situations. You’ll feel like you’re there, laughing with them. Small town character Omari who has just made it big in one of Hollywood’s newest cop shows is a stunning choice for a romantic interest. We get to see him skyrocketing with the overnight success that actually takes years, plus a lucky break. In this case he edges out the originally cast star of the new tv series by a nose, literally.

Added appeal comes from the book’s setting, with the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. “Hollywood is high school with prettier clothes and better lunch options. You study scripts, not textbooks. Try out for roles, not varsity. Take screen tests, not math exams. And you vote for Oscars, not prom king.” The author knows the place well.  Kellye Garrett spent 8 years successfully working in Hollywood, including writing for the CBS drama Cold Case.  She expertly layers in interesting insights about the town and the celebrity business, along with making some fun of the phenomenon that it is.  If you want to hear more from the author herself, click on the podcast – Kendall & Cooper Talk Mysteries with Kellye Garrett

A great setting, starring a fun sleuth with her bright friends, plunged into the subterfuge of murder.

Thereby Hangs a Tale . . . .

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Disturbed by Kevin O'Brien

Disturbed by Kevin O'Brien

By Kevin O'Brien

This book that I recently inhaled over a lock-all-the-doors weekend was suspense at its best.  And yes, I was Disturbed, in a good way.  Wow!  This author’s characters and situations feel very realistic.  The mystery all takes place involving every day people, adding to the fearful feeling that grows as you read, that this could really happen.  Your imagination will be ignited by suspects and alleged motives.  It’s amazing how involved a reader becomes trying to solve the mystery, as if the reader is actually one of the residents living at Willow Tree Court, part of it all, and needing to stop it.

It’s so much fun to get on and ride this roller coaster of twisted passions and intrigue.  A serial murderer is on the loose.  The target is specific people in their homes where they live on a certain type of street, on cul-de-sacs.  Be on your guard.  No one is safe, while the reader and the characters try to determine if there’s some other pattern for why these people are being attacked in their homes.

There’s a particular family the author is following.  The husband and wife are trying to settle into a very recent second marriage, with his kids who are a teenage boy and his younger sister.  On the outside of this marriage are his ex-wife who moved nearby and her friends who are still living in that same cul-de-sac.  As the plot unfolds, the secrets that are revealed just within this family will raise the hairs on the back of your neck.  A menacing quote from one character that will send shivers down your spine is the ominous, “I knew all your secrets – and all your weaknesses.”

Before becoming a New York Times Best Selling Thriller Author, and recipient of many awards, Kevin O’Brien’s interesting background was as a railroad inspector by day and novel writer by night.  A huge Hitchcock fan, Kevin O’Brien delivers a thrilling suspense of his own in his many hold-your-breath books.  I recommend his books, and now there’s one more – his new book Hide Your Fear is now available.

If you’d like to hear more from the author himself, in his own words, please listen to Kendall & Cooper Talk Mysteries with Kevin O’Brien

Friday, July 28, 2017

Exploring the Soul of an Octopus

Soul of an Octopus
A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness
By Sy Montgomery

Here’s a sweet read written by a mesmerizing storyteller who spins a true novel all about a sea creature that I discovered I knew very little about.  This book entertains with so much interesting information that surprises. The octopus lives an intriguing presence in the oceans, and in our Puget Sound.

The author studies octopus in the wild as well as in captivity primarily at the New England Aquarium in Boston, and also at our Seattle Aquarium, and the Vancouver Aquarium in British Columbia.  Most surprising to me is the personal connection she made with particular octopuses who they named Octavia, Kali, Athena, and young Karma.  How each of these beautiful beings demonstrated real intelligence and unique personalities was described vividly and with strong feeling by the author.

We’re treated to glimpses into the great work the Aquariums are doing, and especially what was featured at our Seattle Aquarium.  It was so fun to read about Seattle’s Octopus Symposium and the Octopus Blind Date events they’d had, as well as exciting descriptions of their work studying the wild octopus in the Puget Sound.

Sy Montgomery is a naturalist, documentary scriptwriter, and author of 20 acclaimed nonfiction books.  She’s been presented with Lifetime achievement awards from the Humane Society and the New England Booksellers association.  She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and the many animals they care for.  She’s said, “I think that animals teach compassion.”

Here’s a taste of the author’s passionate writing.  She’s relating her thoughts of the meeting of the wet and dry worlds while her hands and Octavia’s arms intertwine emotionally at the Aquarium.  Octopuses enjoy time exploring through touch this way.

“In the sea, perhaps, time itself is slowed by the water’s weight and viscosity.  Even with just my hands in (the octopuses) Kali or Octavia’s tank, time proceeds at a different pace.  Perhaps, I muse, this is the pace at which the Creator thinks, in this weighty, graceful, liquid manner – like blood flows, not like synapses fire.  Above the surface, we move and think like wiggly children, or like teens who twitch away at their computer-phones, multitasking but never focusing.  But the ocean forces you to move more slowly, more purposefully, and yet more pliantly.  By entering it, you are bathed in a grace and power you don’t experience in air. . . . To dive beneath the surface feels like entering the Earth’s vast, dreaming subconscious, submitting to its depth, its currents, its pressure, is both humbling and freezing.”

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Beat Until Stiff by Claire Johnson has Murder on the Menu

Beat Until Stiff
By Claire M. Johnson

Are you hungry for a fun, summer read?  Here it is - a taste of intrigue, with spicy characters, a dash of humor, and a steamy setting all blended into a delicious mystery.

In this mystery the protagonist, Mary Ryan, is a pastry chef at a fancy San Francisco restaurant.  Some who work at the restaurant, or dine there, hide interesting, personal secrets.  And somebody hides one that’s clandestine.  It’s murder after hours in the restaurant’s kitchen.  You the reader are in a great place to try to solve this murder along with Mary.

To complicate matters, Mary’s ex-husband is a police officer and becomes involved in the investigation.  However, the officer assigned to the investigation is the ex-husband’s former partner on patrol who also knows Mary very well.  Neither of them is interested in Mary’s theories, but as the reader you’ll find that the clues she turns up are very helpful.

I really enjoyed the humor in the book, especially with the amateur sleuth, Mary Ryan.  And not just the characters are described so well.  The author painted a vivid picture of the setting.  San Francisco scenes are well known, but Claire M. Johnson wrote deeper including background snippets about the society and cultures there that put the story into a meaningful context.

Claire M. Johnson knows a lot about the life in her book.  After graduating from UC Berkeley with a B.A. in History, she decided to work as a pastry chef.  She loved it so much she continued for eight years in San Francisco and Oakland during the height of their food revolution. The passion and frenzied pace characterizing the food scene on the West Coast during the 1980s is well documented in this book, her first novel Beat Until Stiff.  For this book she won the 1999 Malice Domestic Writers Grant.  She stopped cooking professionally when her children were born.  Eating at restaurants is still one of her favorite hobbies, with her most discerning critiques reserved for their dessert menus.

If you have an appetite for following clues, meeting interesting characters, and trying to solve mysteries, you’ll enjoy this book.  Perhaps you’ll want to read it with a side of Butterscotch pie – Claire M. Johnson’s favorite.

And if you’d like to hear more, from the author herself, please click on our podcast Kendall & Cooper Talk Mysteries with Claire Johnson -

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Go Deep Undercover with a KGB Spy

Deep Undercover: My Secret Life and Tangled Allegiances as a KGB Spy in America; Hardcover; Author - Jack BarskyDeep Undercover
By Jack Barsky

The tension and intrigue of a thriller, spy novel is irresistible for so many of us. What about reading a spy memoir?  Can real life spying stand up to artistic license to kill?  In this case, yes.  I enjoyed reading all about the life of a real German, Russian spy in America during the 1970’s and 1980’s.  You’ll find his spying skills were very different from today’s Russian hacking accusations.

The author was born in 1949 in East Germany, into a small family suffering the impacts of the end of World War II.  This very East German Albrecht Dittrich had no idea he would grow up to take on an American name and life.  He describes in painful recollection the destitute life he lived with his brother and parents, the lack of love, and the early and continued indoctrination into Marxism, Leninism, and the glory of a future with international Communism.  The indoctrination included villainizing Germans living on the other side of the Berlin wall.  How the 0ppression affects the different members of this family during the slow rebuilding from the War is a sobering story.

Brilliant in school, Albrecht caught the attention of KGB.  The recruitment process is a fascinating read.  The skills that he learns, and the tests he’s put through are meant to prepare him for assignments that are at first well understood by his KGB mentors.  Later it’s interesting how they try to prepare him for spying in America, which is an environment they really knew very little about.

When Albrecht is sent to America to spy, he has to leave his entire life behind as if it never existed.  He had to find an American identity he could become, and so he became Jack Barsky.  His family and friends were given a made up cover story and could not contact him at all for years at a time.  As a young, idealistic and fully indoctrinated man, he was able to successfully become a totally different person with a new history and a mission he believed in.  This book allows you to see how he did it.  As time goes on you see how this decision wears on him.  It’s amazing to watch first the strength of his commitment to do his duty, and then it’s spellbinding to watch how the pent up emotion, regret, and discovery of love penetrate his plans and change them.

When Jack Barsky turned his back on the KGB, it was suspenseful to see if they would come after him.  I really enjoyed this book, including the part where the FBI catches him. The FBI agent’s Afterword is also very good at the end of the book.  I have to admit, the last few chapters when the author describes settling into a “normal” American life, I quickly lost interest.  Guess I was really into it for the old fashioned intrigue, and I’m glad there was plenty of that.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Ghost Man by Roger Hobbs

Image result for ghostman by roger hobbs

By Roger Hobbs

A casino robbery in Atlantic City goes horribly sideways, despite all appearances of its intricate planning.  The brain behind the operation needs to repair the damage and make it go away.  He calls in an old favor from a Ghostman.  Occasionally called Jack, Ghostman lives completely off the grid and cannot be found when he doesn’t want to be.  He makes himself invisible to society and lives without any ties or associations with people.  You’re introduced to this curious personality, who has a high intellect, and ethics he’s created for himself.  When inclined, he’s an expert fixer who cleans up crimes and makes them disappear.

This time the Ghostman is up against an explosive 48 hour clock, as well as more bad guys.  His analysis of the situation, as well as the stories he hears and sees played out before him, is compelling.  It’s a refreshingly intelligent crime story.  Your page turning will grow faster and faster as you can’t wait to find out what happens next.  No guarantees that anyone is as they seem.  And most fascinating of all is the Ghostman himself.  Incredible the smart ways he keeps himself unknown, fully disguised, in the shadows.  Seeing his personality at work through his own thoughts and actions is a real education.  Woven through the story the Ghostman mentally relives the inciting crime when he created this life for himself, and reasons why he did it.  The psychology is frightening, and at the same time fantastic.

This genius author created shadowy and criminal characters that not only come to life, but demand a true and thought provoking presence.  The smart plot appears to be moving in a specified direction, when the Ghostman improvises, and reimprovises a new ending right before your eyes.

When this novel was written, it received high acclaim from critics as a reinvention of the crime novel.  The excellent, descriptive writing in this debut novel led him to be named one of the best writers in his field.  In 2014 he was nominated for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author.  He went on to author Vanishing Games which I look forward to reading.  Tragically he died far too young, near the end of 2016.  This legacy that he’s left his readers is meant to be grabbed tightly and devoured whole.  You’ll fully enjoy this tense ride.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Amanda Knox In Her Own Words

WaitingToBeHeard Final.REV

Waiting To Be Heard
By Amanda Knox
A story that monopolized international headlines for months at a time over the course of four years couldn’t tell the whole story.  A University of Washington student, who dreamed through her childhood of spending a year studying in Italy, settles into a life in Perugia, Italy.  Tragic, brutal murder of one of her housemates turns Amanda Knox’s dream into the darkest, life-altering nightmare that took years to resolve, enveloping her beloved family and friends and forever impacting their lives.  This memoir shows an isolated twenty year old who must somehow reach deep into her heart and soul to find courage, inspiration and hope.

I was so moved by the talent and skill of her writing.  I mean, this author can really write.  I felt the naïveté, the giddiness, the youthful freedom at the start of her dream adventure.  Then, I felt the accelerating horror as destiny takes hold.  And then, I was swept up in the diametrically opposed emotions as she’s jailed in Italy, put on trial in a media surroundsound, and convicted with a twenty-six year sentence for a crime she did not commit.

At the heart is Meredith Kercher who will not be forgotten.  What the reader learns about her crystallizes what a beautiful young woman’s life was stolen so young.  Amanda writes anecdotes about the short time she and Meredith had together as friends.  What a nice, naïve, giving young woman, also joyful with her own dreams and aspirations and part of a loving family and circle of friends left devastated.

The author is not only able to vividly record her own experiences, but she also gives glimpses into the experience of her family, friends, and others including Rafaelle Sollecito who was also wrongly convicted.  The reader is filled with compassion for them all for what they also endured.  You can vividly imagine the horror to be in Seattle on the other end of Amanda’s evolving phone calls home, to uproot your life, maintain a residence in Italy to be as near as possible for years, watch your finances dwindle, and struggle to maintain hope your daughter would be freed.

It takes an incredible storyteller to write about a well known, true event in a way that the reader is carried along and kept in the moment on each page.  I found myself hoping for triumphs and fearing tragedy and thinking the next page would be different, as if history can be changed.  Amanda Knox takes us on an insightful tour of the long trip from agony to ecstasy.  The author is never self-pitying, never represents herself as a victim.  Her depiction of the Italian police, the trials, her attorneys, her guards, and others she was in jail with is all riveting.

Today the author lives in Seattle and works with the Innocence Project, which is a non-profit dedicated to putting an end to wrongful convictions.  Exonerated by Italy’s highest court in 2015, almost four years after she was acquitted of murder, you can believe that such an effort would be close to Amanda Knox’s heart.  She’s also attended college courses and is an Arts Correspondent at the West Seattle Herald.  She paints a picture of a person who does not fear life, but relishes it.