A New Cyberthriller

FirewallFirewall by Eugenia Lovett West
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Synopsis: “Former opera singer Emma Streat has survived the murder of her husband and the destruction of her beautiful old house. Now a full-time single mother, she struggles to move forward and make a home for her two sons. Because of her detection skills, she has become a go-to person for help–so, when her rich, feisty, socialite godmother is blackmailed, she turns immediately to Emma. Soon, Emma founds herself thrust into the dark world of cybercrime. Mounting challenges take her to exclusive European settings where she mixes with top people in the financial and art collecting worlds and has intriguing and emotion-packed experiences with men–including her dynamic ex-lover, Lord Andrew Rodale. When she is targeted by a cybercrime network using cutting-edge technology, it takes all of Emma’s resilience and wits to survive and bring the wily, ruthless criminal she’s hunting to justice. Action-packed and full of twists and turns, this third book of the Emma Streat Mystery series does not disappoint!”

I did not realize this book was part of a series when I started it. Early in the book, I was worried I may have missed too much information to jump in where I was, but quickly found the author gave plenty of hints and information about what had gone on before to be able to read this one on its own.

Firewall started out reading like a mystery, I certainly suspected several characters as being the original blackmailer, but as the story unraveled, I found it built more like a thriller, each part taking the reader a bit deeper into a larger conspiracy. The novel felt a little more like three linked novellas than one novel, but the links were there and there was some tying up of loose ends at the end of the book.

I liked our heroine, Emma. She was smart and humble. I have not read many books about former opera singers and thought that was an interesting background, I wish there could have been a little more about it in this book. It is nice to see a heroine who has a little bit of life experience, knows who she is and is still able to grow as a person.

The settings were the star of the book for me. France, Italy, Ireland, Boston were all beautifully portrayed. The bits of history and local color were utilized well in this story.

This story was full of twists and turns with bad guys turning up at the most inopportune times. I said earlier this was like three novellas, there were certainly distinct parts to this novel, but maybe it’s more like uncovering an iceberg. We discover the blackmailer quickly, but then we have to figure out who is blackmailing the blackmailer and so on through a litany of crimes. Reading this book was similar to a roller coaster; up and down for awhile, then a couple of straightaways lulling you into safety before plunging you down again at a dizzying speed.

I enjoyed this novel and am hoping to get my hands on the two earlier books in this series. This book will be available November 5.

Thank you to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for my free copy in exchange for an honest review of this book.

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Medical Thriller

CODE BLUE: The Other End of the StethoscopeCODE BLUE: The Other End of the Stethoscope by Debra Blaine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Synopsis: “CODE BLUE follows Dr. Tobi Lister, a physician trapped in a wildly dysfunctional system and entangled in deadly intrigue. It is becoming obvious that something strange is happening at her clinic, but she has enough to deal with just trying to practice medicine, now that patients have become “customers” and the medical field is dictated by entrepreneurs whose sole objective is profit. And now suddenly, after nearly two decades, the man who broke her heart has resurfaced, but Tobi is determined to ignore his desperate attempts to communicate. She has no idea he is trying to warn her about a vicious Russian hacking scheme that is making billions of dollars murdering patients. But if he can’t get through to her soon, Tobi will be next.

This medical thriller emphasizes the loss of humanity felt by both physicians and patients now that medicine has become a consumer-driven industry.”

Dr. Blaine has penned a scary medical thriller that captures our current time and attitudes toward the medical profession.

I found Code Blue to be engaging and accessible. The story moved along at a comfortable pace with challenges popping up around every corner. The opportunity for medical jargon was eschewed for more everyday language.

Code Blue follows two distinct story lines: an urgent care doctor and an investigation into a cybercriminal ring. The two pieces merge logically and make a cohesive, engaging thriller.

Dr. Tobi’s scenes can get a little preachy, but it left no doubt that that patients need to be patients and not customers. The scenes in the clinic, between the doctor and her patients, were entertaining and often enlightening. In an era where we believe we are the most important person in any situation and we know everything, doctors have a lot with which to compete.

The cybercrime circle had several POVs which removed much of the mystery from this story, but increased the suspense as we learn more about their motives, operations, and lack of values.

Running between these two stories, is an old flame who draws the two sides together for the explosive climax. While this character was a little too good to be true, he was entertaining and I am ok with a perfect character from time to time in my fiction.

There was a lot going on in this book, besides the medical profession, we touched on some ecological conservation, corruption in Washington, the danger of on-line medical records, and the Jewish religion. Much of this added to characterization for me and I could imagine having a glass of wine and an interesting conversation with Tobi.

I had some minor quibbles with the book: characters named Tobi and Tony can be confusing, the situation with her brother bothered me a bit, and sometimes I was annoyed by the repetitive preaching. But overall, I enjoyed the time I spent with this novel and would read more by this author.

I would recommend this book to people who like thrillers and are interested in America’s current health care situation.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for a free e-copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

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A Literary Mystery

Lady in the LakeLady in the Lake by Laura Lippman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Synopsis: “In 1966, Baltimore is a city of secrets that everyone seems to know–everyone, that is, except Madeline “Maddie” Schwartz. Last year, she was a happy, even pampered housewife. This year, she’s bolted from her marriage of almost twenty years, determined to make good on her youthful ambitions to live a passionate, meaningful life.

Maddie wants to matter, to leave her mark on a swiftly changing world. Drawing on her own secrets, she helps Baltimore police find a murdered girl–assistance that leads to a job at the city’s afternoon newspaper, the Star. Working at the newspaper offers Maddie the opportunity to make her name, and she has found just the story to do it: a missing woman whose body was discovered in the fountain of a city park lake.

Cleo Sherwood was a young African-American woman who liked to have a good time. No one seems to know or care why she was killed except Maddie–and the dead woman herself. Maddie’s going to find the truth about Cleo’s life and death. Cleo’s ghost, privy to Maddie’s poking and prying, wants to be left alone.

Maddie’s investigation brings her into contact with people that used to be on the periphery of her life–a jewelery store clerk, a waitress, a rising star on the Baltimore Orioles, a patrol cop, a hardened female reporter, a lonely man in a movie theater. But for all her ambition and drive, Maddie often fails to see the people right in front of her. Her inability to look beyond her own needs will lead to tragedy and turmoil for all sorts of people–including the man who shares her bed, a black police officer who cares for Maddie more than she knows.

I thoroughly enjoyed Lippman’s latest novel. This was not my first novel by this author, nor will it be my last.

I think this would be considered a literary mystery. It is not a whodunnit really, although that is the crux of what keeps the novel moving forward.

This was a story that illuminates a time and place in history. There were discussions about race tensions, religious differences, laws, expectations and class differences. While I found the people in this book to be mostly superficial characters, the 1960s Baltimore setting was fully alive on every page. There were so many POVs including a ghost, a waitress, a nurse, and reporters. Each of these characters showed up for a very short period of time, offered their piece of the story and vanished. But I felt that was by design, people are temporary, the city and the culture last much longer.

The investigation into a murdered black woman was in the background throughout the book, but life continued and there were other things that needed doing. The life of a reporter at the time, especially an almost 40-year old cub reporter, could be difficult and degrading. The mystery had several twists and turns and intrigued me to the end.

The glimpse of a time I have never seen was more engaging then anything else. This may not be the perfect place for a new Lippman reader, but I enjoyed it enough to recommend it to others.

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher and the author for providing me with an advanced e-copy of the book.

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A Hospital Mystery

Not Quite DeadNot Quite Dead by Dawn Harris Sherling
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Synopsis: “Doctor Autumn Johnson is convinced that someone wants the promising young researcher, Jay Abrams, dead.

And as a newly minted medical intern, Autumn tries to outsmart death on behalf of her patients every day. But she just can’t seem to get it right. Not knowing the answers her residents expect her to, prescribing the wrong meds, and nearly passing out as a patient is wheeled into the ICU—is not how she had pictured herself as a physician.

Determined to do better, Autumn decides to prove someone tried to kill Jay. When the trail leads her to Jay’s mysterious notes, Autumn has little time to discover who wants Jay, and now her, dead. With the help of the only other intern she can call a friend and a self-destructive perfectionist for a supervising resident, Autumn will have to solve a mystery that reaches deep inside the medical establishment, threatening us all.”

In my year of mystery, I was certainly excited about reading a few medical mysteries. The medical field is great for mystery. Doctors must make decisions based on any number of clues and red herrings and that alone can make for interesting reading. A victim could just as easily be felled by a fellow human as he (or she) could be felled by a strange disease/bacteria/infection. While this looked like medical mystery, it was more of a murder mystery set in a hospital.

The focus of this book did not feel like the solving of a potential murder; rather it was the life of an intern and a resident and how hard their work is. There were many references to 30-hour on call shifts, little time for rest, no time to eat, and demands on new doctors’s time. I get that it’s hard to be a doctor (thank goodness), but I felt like these ladies may have been too focused on what they were missing (i.e. sleep, food, social life). Much of this information became repetitve throughout the book.

One of the other things I struggled with in this book was the medical jargon. I don’t have a lot of medical experience (like none?), but I do recognize some medical names and some diagnoses from life experience. Early in the book there was talk of patients who could not survive without pressors, I did not know what those were and it took me out of the story. That was an example that stuck with me, but there were several others littered around in this book.

I did not think the multiple POVs were necessary, not particularly distinct. It was a way to give the reader as much information as was available, but without chapter headings, I would not have easily recognized whose story I was reading.

I may be at a point where I have read and paid close enough attention to a variety of mysteries this year, the guilty party was not a surprise to me. I did not question it for a moment.

This was not my favorite book of the year, and it could use a little more editing, but it was a fine read for a couple hours of entertainment.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for a free digital copy in exchange for an honest review.

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A Halloween Cozy

Burned to a Crisp (Gingerbread Hag Mystery #1)Burned to a Crisp by K.A. Miltimore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From the publisher: “Hedy Leckenmaul runs a strange little bakery in the sleepy town of Enumclaw, Washington. Her bakery may be bizarre but it is the non-human guests who stay at her home, along with her resident ghost, and her menagerie of talking animals that truly is strange. Hedy hosts a waystation for supernatural travelers and while hosting two such travelers, the town is rocked by an arsonist who is kidnapping women, and pitting the residents of Enumclaw against each other. Hedy and her friends must solve the mystery when one of their own vanishes, leaving them racing to find out who is behind it all before it is too late.”

I read this during the spring, but I saved my review until October. While reading this paranormal, cozy mystery, I found myself constantly thinking what a great Halloween read it would be. I may try to fit the second book from this series into my own autumn reading plan.

Paranormal anything is not my usual cup of tea, but in my quest to try on a variety of different mysteries this year, it is only natural that I would want to explore places I would not usually go. I am glad I ventured down this path, and relieved to find it was not as uncomfortable as I would have thought.

Hedy runs a bakery and occasionally has special visitors stay with her in a bed and breakfast. Her special visitors are interesting characters. There are also talking animals and a ghost in Hedy’s home. While hosting two of these visitors, a strange series of crimes occurs in her small town, and one of her guests could very easily be the perpetrator.

I enjoyed the setting of this book. Having lived for several years in the Pacific Northwest, I am familiar with Enumclaw and found the visit back there (through my reading) refreshing. Enumclaw is a smaller community and would certainly be both a good place for hiding some unusual business and a place that would be devastated and quick to respond to these crimes.

The fairy tales Hedy shares with Mel were interesting and kept me engaged. As did the stories from both of the guests and the history of the items Hedy keeps in her bakery. While this was a short-ish book, there were a lot of different story lines and they were well-maintained and kept together nicely.

At the end of the day, this was a cozy mystery with some paranormal aspects and a fun read! Like I said, I may fit the next one in this month, but as it is a Christmas story, maybe I will hold on and read it after Thanksgiving.

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Remember Me by Mary Higgins Clark

Remember MeRemember Me by Mary Higgins Clark
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From the publisher: “Unable to forgive herself for the death of her two-year-old son Bobby in a car accident, Menley Nichols’ marriage to Adam starts to fall apart – until the birth of their daughter Hannah. Determined to rebuild a life together around their precious baby, Menley and Adam decide to rent a house on Cape Cod for a month, confidant that the tranquility of the place will be ideal for Menley and little Hannah. But the peace they crave is disturbed when strange things start to happen – incidents which make Menley relive the horror of the accident in which she lost Bobby… incidents which make her fear for Hannah. And step by step, Menley and Adam are drawn into a dark and sinister web of events which threatens their marriage, their child and ultimately Menley’s sanity.”

An oldie, but a goodie from the Queen of Suspense herself. Mary Higgins Clark was one of my first “adult authors”. I remember devouring her stories in junior high, high school, college and beyond. She was the first author I stood in line for to get her signature. She has an entire shelf (overflowing) in my personal library. She is still putting out books, albeit most of them are co-written, and I still enjoy picking them up once in awhile. But as the days are growing cooler and shorter, I found myself drawn to pick up and older title, by an author who has been so prevalent in my life.

As a more mature reader, I have learned to choose stories with a bit more depth than this, but sometimes, a little brain candy is fun.

One of my favorite things about MHC’s early books are the settings. These are small New England towns with quaint histories. This one is no different. The history of Remember House is tragic and romantic and lends more than a touch of creepiness to the current story.

Another thing that has kept me reading and going back to these books is the female protagonists. Clark does a good job giving us flawed female heroes, with history and somehow a lot of strength to figure out their own stories. I like Menley in this book. She may question herself and doubt herself, but it added to her character. Her drive to find the truth and some satisfaction propelled the story.

I will continue to pick these books off my shelf whenever the mood strikes; and I am sure it will strike many times in the years to come.

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New Detective Series

Little Girls Sleeping (Detective Katie Scott, #1)Little Girls Sleeping by Jennifer Chase
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From the publisher: “He looked down at the little girl, sleeping peacefully, her arms wrapped around a teddy bear. He knew he was the only one who could save her. He could let her sleep forever.

An eight-year-old girl, Chelsea Compton, is missing in Pine Valley, California and for Detective Katie Scott it’s a cruel reminder of the friend who disappeared from summer camp twenty years ago. Unable to shake the memories, Katie vows she won’t rest until she discovers what happened to Chelsea.

But as Katie starts to investigate, the case reveals itself to be much bigger and more shocking than she feared. Hidden deep in the forest she unearths a makeshift cemetery: a row of graves, each with a brightly coloured teddy bear.

Katie links the graves to a stack of missing-persons cases involving young girls—finding a pattern no one else has managed to see. Someone in Pine Valley has been taking the town’s daughters for years, and Katie is the only one who can stop them.

And then another little girl goes missing, snatched from the park near her home.

Katie’s still haunted by the friend she failed to protect, and she’ll do anything to stop the killer striking again—but can she find the little girl before it’s too late?”

A little detective fiction to start off my fall.

This was a solid mystery. There is a bad guy killing young girls, a flawed detective must use all her wiles to figure out who he is.

I thought this was a good beginning to a new series. Katie, a veteran, returns home with her canine friend and is able to jump into a new career with the help of her family. As the story progresses, we get to meet other people from Katie’s past and new people she will be working with throughout her story. And the weird part at the end could make for some interesting future experiences. (Read the story and you will know what I am talking about, no spoilers here).

There were plenty of twists and developments to keep a slow burn feel to this novel. I do not have issues with the pacing, but this was not a fast-pace thriller. Plenty of suspicion flung in a multitude of directions made this one a little harder to figure out; but the guilty party was certainly not too low on my list of possibilities.

I had not read anything by Jennifer Chase before this, but I will be looking at reading both her earlier novels and additional titles in this series.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read this book and share my honest opinion.

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