Tag Archives: Massachusetts

You’ll Lose A Good Thing

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Flesh and Blood Cornwell (Amazon)

Flesh and Blood: A Scarpetta Novel by Patricia Cornwell, Book #22 of the Series (William Morrow, $15.99, 369 pages)

Kay Scarpetta and her husband, Benton Wesley, are readying for a Florida vacation. She’s a medical examiner in Massachusetts and he’s an FBI profiler. Kay is called to a murder scene less than a mile from their 1800s home in Cambridge near the Harvard campus.

Kay and Benton manage to take their trip but the time they spend in Florida is anything but relaxing. Work interferes, as usual, and Detective Pete Marino of the Cambridge Police Department is drawn into the scary events that follow. There are terse conversations between Kay and Pete, which is par for this series ever since Pete quit his job at Kay’s crime lab. Loyalty seems to be the issue.

Long established grudges and proclivities on the part of all the main characters often get in the way of the crime solving. This book is consistent with the prior installments of the series. The story line has progressed over time; however, the mistrust and anger felt by the characters can be off-putting. When you add Carrie Grethen, the ultimate personification of twisted evil, pain and suffering are the outcome.

Author Cornwell’s stream of consciousness writing is sometimes difficult to follow. Her need to show off for readers with criminal and medical procedural details may be fascinating for first-time readers. After a few books it can be more than a bit boring.

Flesh and Blood back cover

Recommended strictly for highly loyal Patricia Cornwell fans and medical mystery enthusiasts.

Depraved Heart Cornwell

Depraved Heart: A Scarpetta Novel by Patricia Cornwell, Book #23 of the Series (William Morrow, $28.99, 466 pages)

A heavy-duty autobiography introducing Dr. Kay Scarpetta hits the reader in the opening pages of this book. The story line picks up two months after the conclusion of Flesh and Blood. Kay is back on the job in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The housekeeper has found the naked body of a Hollywood celebrity’s daughter on the marble floor of an impressive home not far from where Kay and Benton live. It could be an accidental fall from a ladder, but who changes light bulbs when they’re naked? Perhaps it’s a staged scene to cover up a murder. As usual there are plenty of gory details elaborately described by Kay as she sifts through possible clues in the house.

Thus begins another agonizing trek through Kay’s tortured relationships with Detective Pete Marino, niece Lucy and super villain, Carrie Grethen. Lucy, genius inventor and tech wizard, and her partner Janet have settled into an enormous estate with their adopted son. The place is loaded with enough electronic spy equipment to make a tech-loving reader drool.

Lucy, ever the rebel, is the target of FBI scrutiny and harassment. She is sure that Carrie is behind the full-on invasion of the estate that, surprise, occurs in tandem with the discovery of the naked young woman. A series of flashbacks experienced by Kay via videos sent to her cell phone connects the reader to the time when Lucy and Carrie were at the FBI Academy. It’s complicated and sometimes difficult to follow.

By now, you might have caught on that this reviewer won’t be jumping on the next installment in the series. Sometimes more is too much!

Patricia Cornwell

Recommended strictly for Patricia Cornwell fans and medical mystery enthusiasts.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.

Flesh and Blood was released in a trade paperback version on January 5, 2016.

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Rumor Control

The Rumor Barnes and Noble

The Rumor: A Novel by Elin Hilderbrand (Little, Brown and Company, $28.00, 384 pages)

“How do you know all this?”
“How does anyone know anything?” Rachel said. “I heard it on the street. People are talking.”

Oh, dear, you can feel trouble brewing! Grace, the avid gardener and her husband, Eddie, the relentless Realtor, are the parents of beautiful twins, Hope and Allegra. Madeline, the novelist and best friend of Grace, is desperately seeking an idea for her next novel. This mix becomes a recipe for, dare we say it, gossip.

A rumor surely must be the fastest mode for broadcasting information on Nantucket Island. Five main characters in The Rumor – Grace, Eddie, Hope, Madeline and the island herself, take turns sharing their points of view of the happenings from April through August. These year-round inhabitants have a culture all their own. The information spread among the tightly knit coterie moves like wildfire.

Summers on Nantucket Island are legendary, full of idyllic days spent frolicking on the pristine beaches and enjoying the party atmosphere encouraged by vacationers escaping city life. Author Elin Hilderbrand (The Matchmaker, Summerland, Silver Girl, The Island), herself a resident of the island, presents yet another peek into the lives of the rich and not-so-rich island dwellers. By page 200, The Rumor bursts into full-blown chaos taking on a life of its own. Connoisseurs of the “summer beach novel genre” will devour her latest offering.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

You can read a review of Summerland: A Novel by Elin Hilderbrand here:

https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2012/08/20/a-summer-place/

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The Comfort of Lies

The Comfort of Lies: A Novel by Randy Susan Meyers (Washington Square Press, $16.00, 352 pages)

Comfort of Lies (paper)

Not for the first time, Juliette wished she found solace in alcohol. It was a shame that chocolate and sugar didn’t induce sleep.

Yesterday at 3:40 a.m., I read the last page of The Comfort of Lies. Mind you, this is not a mystery or a thriller; rather, the tale is a thoughtful blend of characters whose lives are forever bound by deceit and truth. Author Meyers allows the reader more breathing space in this, her second novel. The Murderer’s Daughters, also reviewed on this site, offered up overwhelming sadness in the first few chapters. The sadness was so intense that this reviewer was reluctant to keep reading. Fortunately, the rest of the book was gratifyingly rewarding which offset the initial feelings.

In The Comfort of Lies, three women, Tia, Juliette and Caroline, are connected by a little girl – Honor/Savannah. Tia is the youngest and she’s single; Juliette is the oldest and married to Nathan; while Caroline is a doctor and married to Peter. Tia’s year-long affair with Nathan produces baby Honor who is adopted by Caroline and Peter who rename her Savannah.

The relationships revealed above are far more complicated than might appear at first glance. Each of the characters has secret lies known only to themselves and they have lies they tell each other. The underlying theme of neediness and wanting comes just short of distaste. Meyers knows how to temper her message in a way that allows the reader to view all sides of the relationships in the story. There are also class differences among the families whose lives are lived in the areas surrounding Boston, Massachusetts. Each neighborhood plays a part in their lives as does the food they eat and the holidays they celebrate.

comfort-of-lies-back-cover

Everyone makes choices in life but not everyone realizes the consequences of the choices. While the story line is not new, the depth of understanding and appreciation of feelings held by her characters make Randy Susan Meyers an outstanding writer.

The Moving Finger writes; and
having writ,
Moves on: nor all the Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a
Line.
Nor all they Tears wash out a Word
of it.

Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of the poem The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, 1859.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “I devoured this big-hearted story. Meyer’s wit and wisdom shine through…” J. Courtney Sullivan, author of Maine: A Novel.

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Fire Lake

The Lake House: A Novel by Marci Nault (Gallery Books, $16.00, 386 pages)

The Lake House (nook book)

In The Lake House, two women, generations apart, struggle with finding a true home — a structure and a place in their hearts. The older woman, Victoria Rose, is a beautiful and talented actress who chose to leave her home by Lake Nagog near Acton, MA, at the end of World War II. Victoria was escaping the smothering and predetermined life that lay ahead for her. Being a wife and mother within the confines of a wealthy and isolated community held little appeal for her. Now in her seventies, she returns to Lake Nagog to heal the deeply felt pains of loss brought on by the death of her granddaughter.

Heather Bregman, a successful 28-year-old newspaper columnist, is suffocating in her relationship with fiancé and agent Charlie. Heather is a travel writer whose adventures are exciting and challenging. She feels invisible and hardly cared for when Charlie neglects to pick her up at the airport after a long trip.

The backdrop for the intersection of the lives of Victoria and Heather is a small, closed community on Lake Nagog. Until recently, the ownership of the lovely cottages that border the lake has been passed down through generations. Now, one of the cottages is sold to an outsider to the consternation of the elderly residents. To make matters more volatile, the new owner is Heather! She has broken her engagement to Charlie and hopes to find a more stable and meaningful life along the lake.

Both Heather and Rose are outsiders of a sort. Each of them is yearning for a life that feels just right. Their efforts to fit in and settle their lives form the basis for the tale. Author Marci Nault is a master of layered detail and sentiment. She knows just when to pull back from an excess that would break the spell she has cast.

The Lake House is an excellent choice for a summer vacation read.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher. “A richly textured novel about love, friendship, and second chances that spans generations.” Mary Alice Munroe, author of The Summer Girls.

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Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You

Comfort of Lies (nook book)

The Comfort of Lies: A Novel by Randy Susan Meyers (Atria Books, $25.00, 336 pages)

Not for the first time, Juliette wished she found solace in alcohol. It was a shame that chocolate and sugar didn’t induce sleep.

Yesterday at 3:40 a.m., I read the last page of The Comfort of Lies. Mind you, this is not a mystery or a thriller; rather, the tale is a thoughtful blend of characters whose lives are forever bound by deceit and truth. Author Meyers allows the reader more breathing space in this, her second novel. The Murderer’s Daughters, also reviewed on this site, offered up overwhelming sadness in the first few chapters. The sadness was so intense that this reviewer was reluctant to keep reading. Fortunately, the rest of the book was gratifyingly rewarding which offset the initial feelings.

In The Comfort of Lies, three women, Tia, Juliette and Caroline, are connected by a little girl – Honor/Savannah. Tia is the youngest and she’s single; Juliette is the oldest and married to Nathan, while Caroline is a doctor and married to Peter. Tia’s year-long affair with Nathan produces baby Honor who is adopted by Caroline and Peter who rename her Savannah.

The relationships revealed above are far more complicated than might appear at first glance. Each of the characters has secret lies known only to themselves and they have lies they tell each other. The underlying theme of neediness and wanting comes just short of distaste. Meyers knows how to temper her message in a way that allows the reader to view all sides of the relationships in the story. There are also class differences among the families whose lives are lived in the areas surrounding Boston, Massachusetts. Each neighborhood plays a part in their lives as does the food they eat and the holidays they celebrate.

Everyone makes choices in life but not everyone realizes the consequences of the choices. While the story line is not new, the depth of understanding and appreciation of feelings held by her characters make Randy Susan Meyers an outstanding writer.

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all the Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

Edward Fitgerald’s translation of the poem The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, 1859

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “I devoured this big-hearted story. Meyer’s wit and wisdom shine through…” J. Courtney Sullivan, author of Maine.

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Running Shoe Review: The New Balance 880 v2

New Balance 880v2

The New Balance (NB) 880 v2 (v2 stands for version two) is a modern classic cushioned running shoe that will help some avoid the agony of the feet. The shoe presents itself with a nice medium-wide fit, and a better fit in the arch area. Heel strikers will love the exemplary build-up of solid padding in the rear; more than a bit reminiscent of the Nike Air Max running shoes of the ’90s. The raised heel will please traditionalists who aren’t rushing out the door to pick up a pair of minimalist running shoes.

The NB 880 v2 forefoot is extremely flexible which can help to prevent toe cramping in some runners with relatively inflexible (read, flat) feet. The insole allows the toes to lie flat, and there’s no apparent metatarsal pad bump – something that can actually irritate those with existing metatarsal issues. And there’s a midfoot stability under arch wedge plate which fortunately does not interfere with one’s normal running style, neutral or otherwise.

The underfoot cushioning seems to be of the Goldilocks “just right” variety – enough to protect against rough road surfaces but not enough to deaden the enjoyment of the ride. Even better, while the sole returns some energy to the active runner it does not create a distracting bounce.

The lacing of the 880 v2 is off-center which reduces pressure on the sometimes sensitive upper-foot area.

This particular running shoe may be a bit hard to find as New Balance has begun to release some of its v3 (version three) models such as the NB 890 v3. I ordered my pair with the assistance of a local running store offering a discount on special orders. The good news is that once the NB 880 v3 is released, you should be able to order the 880 v2 – as an “endangered” shoe – via several discount online running shoe purveyors. However, you may want to order a pair right now to ensure that you can get it in your size.

The NB 880 v2 is a running shoe that provides a significant amount of protection for the feet while not attempting to modify one’s natural running style. This makes it a bit of a rarity these days. It’s also a running shoe that comes in nice, not garish, colors and it’s made in the U.S.A. (in either Boston or Lawrence, Massachusetts or Norridgewock, Maine).

If the NB 880 v2 was a car, it might well be a cozy, comfortable and smooth riding Nissan Ultima – an automobile that’s made in the U.S.A. (Smyrna, Tennessee). No complaints here.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

These shoes were purchased at The Running Zone in Elk Grove, California.

This article originally appeared on the Blogcritics Sports website:

http://blogcritics.org/sports/article/running-shoe-review-the-new-balance/

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Four To Go!

The Snow White Christmas Cookie (nook book)Kings of Midnight (nook book)

Here are four exciting mysteries from Minotaur that will easily fill your long winter evenings with entertainment. All four books are well recommended.

Kings of Midnight: A Mystery by Wallace Stroby (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 266 pages)

Fans of edgy and fast-paced stories with a female lead character will tune into the intense plot immersion, quick scene cuts and a strong sense of urgency. Crissa Stone is the main character and she’s a hardened career criminal who does not hesitate to put herself first in a tight situation. There is low-key violence associated with Crissa’s teaming up with Benny Roth, a sometime gangster. Together, they race to stay one step ahead of some truly bad fellas and, of course, the cops. The prize is $5 million stashed away from long ago.

Skating on the Edge: A Mystery by Joelle Charbonneau (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 290 pages)

Here’s a true niche story about the world of women’s roller derby. Charbonneau provides a super quirky behind-the-scenes glimpse of a guilty pleasure for many TV viewers over the years. Her easy writing style includes a little gore with a mix of young and elderly characters, and I do mean characters. Rebecca Robbins is the owner of a skating rink that she inherited from her mom. Her grandfather is the link to the senior citizen crowd in their hometown of Indian Falls. The theme of snack foods runs through the story (popcorn, potato chips and sweet potato fries), so be ready to be hungry while you laugh at the antics in this charming book.

Fire Season: A Frank Coffin Mystery by Jon Loomis (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 306 pages)

A cop’s view of serial arson in Provincetown, Massachusetts forms the core of this mystery. This reviewer had no idea that Provincetown is famous for eccentricities like transgender residents. The city has pageants featuring these folks. The opening of the mystery is pretty gruesome, as a group of retired performing seals is found slaughtered outside a restaurant that sits just below an old hotel. The hotel is the home of many pageant participants. Frank Coffin, the acting chief of police, races all over town from one fire to another in a very short time span. Eventually, all the mayhem is bundled together; however, not before Frank and his team traipse over most of the region seeking the source of their problems.

The Snow White Christmas Cookie: A Berger and Mitry Mystery by David Handler (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 264 pages)

The duo of Mitch Berger and Desiree Mitry are featured in this, the ninth book in a series. The unlikely pair of film critic and state trooper slog through several snow blizzards and too many characters to name in an abbreviated review. The tone of the book is definitely light-hearted even though there are crimes galore, like murder, mail theft and black market drug sales. The small town setting is especially quaint. Author Handler has a way with scene setting and goofy details. Even though we’re past Christmas, don’t let the title put you off. A tale like this is always in season.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.

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Time Travel Mysteries

The Secret Keeper: A Novel by Kate Morton (Atria Books, $26.99, 496 pages)

Every family has a secret or two.   It might be an escapade by great-aunt Sally that nobody wants to acknowledge for fear of losing social standing in the community.   On the other hand, it might be a secret so huge and shocking that it lays buried in the subconscious of the only witness to the event.

Author Kate Morton makes good use of poetic illusions and warped time as she slowly peels back the layers of a family history with Laurel Nicolson (a renowned actress), Vivien Jenkins (a lovely and wealthy socialite), and Dorothy Nicholson (the mother of Laurel, her sisters and her brother) at its center.   The tale switches back and forth between time periods, mostly World War II and 2011.   Although the reader is provided with ample notice of the time switches, there exists a vague sense of unease and confusion conveyed by Laurel and her sisters.

Perhaps the fact that this is a story with action locales in the English countryside and sea-shore, London, as well as a flashback to Australia adds to the sense of wondering and aimlessness felt by this reviewer.   The descriptions of the devastation wrought by the London bombings are no doubt accurate and they are terrifying.   Also, there were times when a look back at prior chapters was necessary to clarify character names and roles.   This mild discomfort was well worth enduring for the remarkable payoff Ms. Morton reveals at the conclusion of her saga.

Well recommended.

Far North: A Magnus Jonson Mystery by Michael Ridpath (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 384 pages)

Get ready for a strange adventure when you read Far North.   By strange I mean out of the ordinary in terms of setting and vocabulary.   The setting is Iceland and the time is post-2007 economic crash that basically ruined the economy of the country.   While the rampant cheating and leveraging engaged in by business and banking moguls all over the world caused great harm, it was devastating for this cold and wind-swept country of less than half a million residents.

Basically, the tale is an English style detective story displaced to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.   As such the reader is treated to a nice travelogue with multi-generational murders and Nordic style myths and sagas.   Time switches among several periods beginning with August 1934 and progresses in odd intervals toward the fall of 2009.   Main character/protagonist Magnus Jonson is a detective of Icelandic background whose home is Boston, Massachusetts.   Magnus is hiding from gangsters he has fingered in Boston as he attends the police academy in Iceland.

Conveniently, Magnus is the sort of detective that can’t help detecting, even when the case may not be his own assignment.   Along the way he coordinates with other detectives to make sense of revelations he has made.   Childhood traumas have a way of insidiously seeping into the actions of damaged adults.   That lesson is hammered home throughout the gripping tale.

Note to potential readers:  The complex naming system for people in Iceland may be confusing and the pronunciation of geographic names may be daunting.   Don’t let that get between you and an exhilarating chase to the end.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers.

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The Real Romney

The Real Romney by Michael Kranish and Scott Helman (Harper Paperbacks, $15.99, 448 pages)

“Looks like I’ve turned out like all the rest, but Mama my intentions were the best.”   Randy Travis (“Good Intentions”)

“A lot of it is, he is patrician.   He just is.   He has lived a charmed life…  It is a big challenge that he has connecting to folks who haven’t swum in the same rarefied waters that he has.”   A former aide, quoted in The Real Romney.

I’ve now read two accounts of the personal and political life of Mitt Romney (the other being Mitt Romney: An Inside Look at the Man and His Politics by R. B. Scott) – adding up to some 693 pages – and yet I feel like the singer in Randy Travis’s song, “Good Intentions.”   No matter now good my intentions are, I’ve not had any luck in finding out exactly who Mitt Romney is, in head or in heart.   I’m beginning to wonder if his biographers wind up with the same frustrated feeling.

What were his issues?   What did he believe?   Sure, he was against Kennedy, but what was he for?   In other words, who was Mitt Romney?

The team of Kranish and Helman, seasoned reporters for The Boston Globe, covered Romney as the governor of Massachusetts for four years; therefore, they have some background on the subject.   And the 400-plus page account that they’ve fashioned seems impressive – with annotations and a fine index – until it dawns on the reader that the subject of the book remains more of a specter than a human being.   Specter: something that haunts or perturbs the mind (Merriam-Webster).

“Everything could always be tweaked, reshaped, fixed, addressed,” said one former 2008 aide, describing Romney’s outlook.   “It was foreign to him on policy issues that core principles mattered.”

What Kranish-Helman do well, fanatically well, is to provide a “fair and balanced” approach.   There’s almost a mathematical precision to their balancing of “good” Mitt versus “bad” Mitt stories.   Let them provide a couple of examples in which Romney did admirable work based on his Mormonism, and they’re quickly followed by two stories of when he allegedly acted uncharitably – and perhaps heartlessly – toward two Mormon women facing personal struggles.   And when it comes to his work with Bain Capital, the stories of Romney’s “good” venture capitalism are quickly cancelled out by an equal number of tales of his practice of “bad” vulture capitalism.

“The goal of the investor in Bain Capital is to make absolute returns.   When they do well, Bain does well.   When Bain does well, they do well.   It is essentially capitalism at its finest – and its worst.”   Howard Anderson, MIT professor and former Bain investor.

It all seems to verify the accounts that Romney is only “the real Romney” when he’s practicing his Mormon faith.   However, since that’s not something he’s comfortable either talking about or dealing with in public, it means that the person he is – or may be – remains hidden.   In reading The Real Romney, an image comes to mind of the presidential candidate dressed in a Zorro-style costume – a man who wears a mask that’s never removed, and which never slides down for even an instant.

“After all the weeks and months of that campaign, if you ask, ‘Why did Mitt Romney run for (the) U. S. Senate, and what did he stand for?’ most people had no clue.”   Mitt Romney, speaking about himself, as quoted by a fellow party member.

There are entertaining sections in this nonfiction read, most notably those involving Romney’s seemingly foolish run against Ted Kennedy for the U. S. Senate (a race that Romney thought he had a chance of winning until the pre- and post-debate polls came out) and the details of his single term as governor.   The reporters also do an admirable job of explaining how Mitt’s life is almost an exact re-run of his father George’s life – both were elected as governor of a state at the age of 55, both were successful businessmen, and both ran for president.   In this respect, Mitt Romney sounds very much like Al Gore, who was raised to accomplish the things that his senator father had not been able to.   Yet, it’s never clear in this account if Mitt Romney has the fire in his belly that will make him settle for nothing less than the presidency.

“When he’s with people he doesn’t know, he gets more formal.  And if it’s a political thing where he doesn’t know anybody, he has a mask.”

“He has that invisible wall between ‘me’ and ‘you’.”

Unless you’re the ultimate political junkie, there’s just not enough here to justify reading 450 or so pages to find out that the mask, the invisible wall, never comes down.   The question simply changes from, “Who was Mitt Romney?” (past tense) to “Who is Mitt Romney?”   Based on The Real Romney (and on the book by R. B. Scott, a cousin of Romney’s), it remains a fully unanswered question.

Joseph Arellano

 A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The Real Romney was released in a trade paper version, with a new Afterward, on August 21, 2012.   “…absorbing and fair minded.”   The New York Times

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