Sunday, February 28, 2010

Hunting Fear

Hunting Fear by Kay Hooper
He's no ordinary kidnapper. Not only does he strike again and again, but he collects the ransom, gets away safely, and leaves his helpless hostages dead. Now, after months of eluding the best that law enforcement can put against him, this monster has left nothing in his wake but a cold trail of unconnected victims.

He's no ordinary cop. Lucas Jordan, a key agent and profiler in Noah Bishop's Special Crimes Unit, has an extraordinary skill: he locates missing people. But his uncanny ability comes with a price, and his methods rouse mistrust in the hard-nosed cops forced to call him into their investigations.

Now Jordan has come to Clayton County, North Carolina, where the latest in a string of kidnapping victims has turned up dead. Complicating the situation is the presence - and predictions - of someone who's even more of an outsider than Jordan himself: carnival psychic Samantha Burke, a woman out of his own haunted past. Her warnings meet with skepticism from the local police but spur Jordan on to do what he does best: hunt fear.

But the killer he is hunting is hunting Jordan - and he's already several moves ahead in a twisted game whose rules Jordan must learn in order to have a fighting chance. For his psychopathic opponent has extended a very personal challenge, and he's about to threaten the one life the profiler values even more than his own.
--Hunting Fear by Kay Hooper, Copyright © 2004 by Kay Hooper, audio copyrighted 2004 by Brilliance Audio

My Review:

Book 7 in the Bishop/Special Crime Unit series, this story starts like several others in the series, with a look at the past at how Bishop recruited another of his prized psychic agents. We then fast-forward to “present day” and dig into the story. This story’s look at the past, however, contains an important clue to the present.

Lucas Jordan and his partner arrive in Golden, North Carolina to investigate a kidnapping-turned-murder. There, he finds out the circus, or rather, the Carnival After Dark is in town, along with his former lover, Samantha Burke. A strong psychic in her own right, Sam is in Golden because of a vivid dream. In that dream, if the kidnapper/killer wasn’t stopped in Golden, he would go on for years. And Luke had to be the one to stop him.

When an author creates a series that involves the same “unusual” element—in this case, psychic abilities—that author needs to find new ways to make the story interesting. I like that Sam works in a carnival, and the repeated mentions of her lacking the “credibility” to join the SCU thanks to her work in the carnival. The gruesome methods of the killer in this story back up his audacious statement that he doesn’t kill anyone. Obviously, he does. He is responsible for the deaths of these people, but you can actually see the logic behind his illogic statement and that makes him even scarier. And, of course, what’s a good mystery without a little twist at the end?

I give this story THREE STARS.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Body Count

Body Count by P.D. Martin

To catch a killer, you need to think like one.

FBI Agent Sophie Anderson has been trained to crawl into the sick minds of serial killers, to understand their depraved impulses and vile cravings—to catch them before the body count rises.

Newly relocated from Australia, Sophie is starting to feel comfortable at Quantico. She is quickly becoming the FBI’s star profiler and she has a good friend in Agent Samantha Wright—and there is something more than friendship simmering with Agent Josh Marco.

The only problem is the nightmares.

But these gruesome images are more than dreams. They are intense psychic visions, like those she experienced as a child when her brother was abducted.

When grisly details match recent crime scene photos, she confides in Sam and her visions lead to several breakthroughs in the case. But when Sam is abducted, Sophie must finally trust her visions and learn to use them. She might not have been able to save her brother, but perhaps she can save Sam—and herself.
--Body Count by P.D. Martin, Copyright ©2005 by P.D. Martin, published by MIRA Books

My Review:

If you’re at all like me, even a little, teeny tiny bit, you like to occasionally step outside your comfort zone and try out a new author. If you haven’t, then trust me, it’s worth the risk. You’ll find a few sinkers—novels that make you marvel at the waste of paper—but if you persist and keep looking, you’ll find a few gems.

Alan Baxter is one of them (word of warning—if you don’t like dark horror fantasy, go ahead and give him a pass, but trust me, he’s awesome!), and through his web site, I found out about P.D. Martin.

Alan posted a PDF copy of Genre Flash 4, a magazine highlighting “the Best Australian Genre Fiction and True Crime” novels. P.D. Martin’s books were listed, including a bit about the fifth novel in her Sophie Anderson series, Kiss of Death. I was intrigued by the idea of an FBI profiler from Australia who’s trying to get control over her psychic abilities so she can use it to solve cases, and with a few mouse clicks and the tapping of a few keys, found out that Ms. Martin’s first book, Body Count was available at my local library. I won’t lie and say I rushed to check it out, but it did go to #1 on my list.

While Body Count follows a familiar path of serial-killer-leaving-hidden-clues-that-only-the-hero/heroine-manages-to-find and seeking-revenge-by-setting-up-the-good-guy-to-take-the-fall path, Ms. Martin takes the interesting route by making the heroine a transplanted Australian with psychic abilities that she’s only just beginning to realize and try to use to solve the case. She also does a good job of explaining some of the ins and outs of what it takes to be an FBI profiler, and even explains some acronyms that we, as mystery readers and TV watchers, may know, but may not fully understand.

As a first novel, it’s pretty good, but not great. My only real complaint is that Ms. Martin goes a little heavy on the dialogue between characters, conversations that I felt could have been shortened or the information delivered to the reader in a different way. There's a classic bit of instruction all writers are familiar with: "show don't tell." One way to show without telling is to put the information in a conversation. I feel like Ms. Martin jumped on that idea and used it to the point it was almost overused. I say "almost" because after a while, though it bothered me, I got used to it and accepted it as the writer's voice.

That being said, she’s followed Body Count up with four more novels, so I can only assume her writing’s gotten better. That’s not meant as a slam…I’ve noticed this with other novelists. Dean Koontz’s first half dozen or so novels are pretty bland (in my opinion) compared to the novels he put out in the 80’s and 90’s. Same with Nora Roberts—anyone who compares her 80's Silhouette novels to her 90’s and 00’s trilogies can see how much she’s grown as a writer. Since P.D. Martin continues to be published, it is my fervent hope and belief that her subsequent novels are better than her first.

Unfortunately, Body Count is the only P.D. Martin title available at my library, so I’m going to have to scour my sources to see if I can track down copies of her other novels and find out if my assumption is correct. Wish me luck!

(Yeah, yeah, I know, I can get them at Amazon. Sometimes I just like to hunt for them, you know? I don’t care for hunting animals, so I hunt for books.)

I give this story THREE STARS and hope to give her additional books more.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Out of the Shadows

Out of the Shadows by Kay Hooper

A picture-perfect Tennessee town has just become a monster's hunting ground. Two bodies are found tortured to death. A third person goes missing. What little evidence is left behind defies all explanation. Is the terror just beginning? Or have the good citizens of Gladstone harbored a dark secret for a long time? Sheriff Miranda Knight is determined to make her small town safe once more. And she does what she swore she would never do: involve FBI profiler Noah Bishop. He's the one man who knows about her unique abilities, and that knowledge almost destroyed her and her sister years ago. Now, as Bishop arrives with his team of agents, Miranda must learn to trust him and use her abilities once more. For they're about to go on the hunt for a killer whose madness has no bounds, a killer who knows exactly how to destroy Miranda: by preying on her sister.
--Out of the Shadows by Kay Hooper, Published 2000 by Bantam Books. Audio book produced by Recorded Books.


Ahhh, finally, Bishop has found his man…or rather, his woman.

This wonderful series by Kay Hooper started with Stealing Shadows where we first meet the enigmatic Bishop and learn, through a few teasing hints, that he is searching for someone. In Hiding in the Shadows we learn this mysterious someone is a woman and that Bishop would be finding that person very soon. In Out of the Shadows, he finds her, and she is not happy to see him.

Miranda Knight, sheriff of the small town of Gladstone, TN, is dealing with a series of murders with mysterious circumstances. Teenagers are being killed in strange and gruesome ways and no one knows why. Miranda has no choice but to call in the FBI. She doesn’t want to do it, because she knows doing so will bring the one man she doesn’t want to see. Noah Bishop, FBI Agent and former lover. But the people of her community are more important than her pride and she makes the call.

Bishop arrives with two other agents and Miranda does her best to keep an emotional distance from Bishop due to what she felt was a betrayal by him more than eight years ago. That betrayal caused her to take her younger sister, Bonnie, and disappear. Now they are reunited, and together, Miranda and Bishop must hunt down the mysterious and wily murderer and at the same time, reconcile their past. But they have to be careful, because there’s more than one murderer lurking in the shadows.

I guess it’s no secret by now that Kay Hooper is one of my favorite authors. Her Bishop series is one of the reasons. Some authors rely too heavily on a character’s psychic power to drive the story. Others barely mention it at all. Kay uses psychic powers like salt—just enough to enhance the flavor of the story without overpowering it. If you take out the psychic elements, Miranda and Bishop are still able to solve the mystery through pure detective work…they just enhance it with a little bit of salt.

I give this story FOUR STARS.

Monday, February 22, 2010

I Never Fancied Him Anyway

I Never Fancied Him Anyway by Claudia Carroll

Cassandra can see the future with 100% accuracy . . . for everybody except herself.

Ever since Cassandra was a little girl, she’s had a remarkable psychic gift. Now a successful columnist for a weekly magazine, she predicts the future with uncanny precision. And thanks to her stunning co-worker Charlene—and the latest love of Charlene’s life, hot television producer Jack—Cassandra’s moving up . . . to Daytime TV! The trouble is, whenever Jack’s around, the hapless seer’s second sight goes dim—something that always seems to happen when a desirable single male is around. But despite a truly abysmal dating record, she believes Jack is the one for her . . . though Charlene might strongly disagree. Is true love or outrageous catastrophe right around the corner? Cassandra doesn’t have a clue. But it seems even being able to foretell the future can’t protect her from what destiny has in store . . . and sometimes fate won’t allow you to look before you love.

--I Never Fancied Him Anyway by Claudia Carroll, Copyright © 2007 by Claudia Carroll and HarperCollins Publishers

My Review:

If you’re not into Chick Lit, even a little bit, then don’t read this story. At all. Put the book down and walk away and find something else to read.

I am not a huge fan of Chick Lit, but the stories I’ve read, I liked. Plus I liked the psychic angle, so I picked it up and read it. This was a good story and I did enjoy it, but some aspects were a bit off-putting.

Cassandra has been having visions all her life, being able to predict the future for people with very little difficulty. Sometimes the news is good, sometimes it’s bad. Knowing that people don’t want to hear bad news, she has a hard time conveying bad news, but she’s usually able to sugar-coat the bad stuff. She works for Tattle magazine as their psychic columnist and when an opportunity comes along to do a guest spot on a morning television show, she nervous about it but makes the appearance thanks to the prodding of her friends.

These friends—spoiled, self-entitled Charlene, activist and down-to-earth roommate Jo and the obligatory gay friend, Marc—add their own dramas to Cassie’s life making her already crazy life even crazier. Add to that her attraction to Charlene’s latest “boyfriend” Jack and her life goes from crazier to insane. There’s got to be a happy ending for everyone…if only she could see it.

One of the things that bothered me about the story was its length. At over 400 pages, it’s a quick and easy read, just long. Cassie’s mind has a tendency to ramble, something I liked at the beginning of the story, but it began to and continued to bother me as the story went on. Another is Cassie’s scattered-brainyness. She and everyone else in their office tend to think of their boss only as the “Dragon Lady” and when Cassie is face-to-face with her, she fumbles a bit to remember her real name. Every. Single. Time. I had some snarky nicknames for some of my previous bosses but I never had any trouble remembering their real names when talking to them face-to-face. I also hated the way she “ummed” and “erred” half the time when talking to people she was nervous around. Granted, it’s realistic, but gets tiresome to read after a while.

I also think the writer could have done a little bit more (just a little bit, not too much) to impress the setting on the reader. The story takes place in Dublin, Ireland, and if it weren’t for the fact that she occasionally says they’re in Dublin, they literally could have been in any major city.

I Never Fancied Him Anyway is a good story, a light-hearted fun read and Chick Lit enthusiasts will enjoy this story. It’s apparently going to be made into a movie and I may go see it when released. I liked this story, and will keep Claudia Carroll on my reading list.

I give this story THREE STARS.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Hiding in the Shadows

Hiding in the Shadows by Kay Hooper

Accident victim Faith Parker has done what her doctors feared she never would: awakened from the coma that held her prisoner for weeks. But she has no memory of the crash that nearly killed her--or the life that led up to it. Nor does she remember journalist Dinah Leighton, the steadfast friend who visited her in the hospital...until she disappeared without a trace. Now as Faith begins to regain her strength, she's shocked by intimate dreams of a man she doesn't recognize and tortured by visions of violence that feel painfully real. Something inexplicable ties her lost memories to Dinah's chilling fate. But even as Faith tries to understand the connection and reach out to save Dinah, death is stalking both women. And one of them will not escape its lethal grasp.
--Hiding in the Shadows by Kay Hooper, Published 2000 by Bantam Books. Audio book produced by Recorded Books.

My Summary
A take-off on the “accident victim has amnesia” theme, Hiding in the Shadows takes the tried-and-true, twists it, stands it on its end and produces and ending unlike any I’ve read.

The victim of a single-car accident, where drugs and alcohol were presumed to be the cause, Faith Parker awakens from a six-week coma with no memory of the accident, or who she was before the accident. She is eventually released from the hospital to resume her life. Problem is, with no memory, she has no idea what that life was…except…since awakening, she’s been having deep, intimate dreams of a man and recollections of pain and torture that are frighteningly real.

When she sees the man of her dreams on television, pleading for information about his missing fiancĂ©e, reporter Dinah Leighton, she goes to see him and learns of her own connection to Dinah. Now Faith, Kane and Kane’s friend Noah Bishop (you knew he had to show up somewhere!) have to dig into the story Dinah was working on to find out who would want her killed, and why. Faith must also figure out why she appears to be taking on more and more of Dinah’s mannerisms, why she has memories of Dinah and Kane that she simply shouldn’t, and whether or not she can hold on to her sanity long enough to resolve the mystery.

My Review

To me, this story stands out in the Bishop/Special Crimes Unit series because it’s not your straightforward murder mystery. The police and FBI are involved, of course, but they’re not the ones working to solve the mystery. It’s mostly Kane and Faith, with help from the police and Bishop. In the other stories, the police and FBI Agents take a more direct role in solving the case. It’s also different because…well, without giving away the ending, it’s different because of how it ends. ‘Nuff said!

I give this story FOUR STARS.

On a side note, it will be some time before I publish my review of I Never Fancied Him Anyway. I am reading it, but as of March 1, I will be involved in an intense one-month training session for a new job. I'm doing as much pre-studying as I can before March 1, so I have precious little free time for leisure reading. Audio book reviews will continue because I will listen to them as I commute to and from training. I'll publish my review of I Never Fancied Him Anyway as soon as I can.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Vampire Kitty-Cat Chronicles

The Vampire Kitty-Cat Chronicles by Ray Rhamey

The Vampire Kitty-cat Chronicles turns vampire mythology on its head when Patch, a calico tomcat, is turned into breakfast--and a vampire kitty-cat--by a starving vampire. Narrated by Patch in a deliciously snarky cat take on the world, Patch struggles to find a new life, as it were. In the process, he's almost skewered with a stake by a mob with blazing torches, tried for murder, nearly crunched by a seven-foot undead guy, just about shotgunned into undead pieces, comes inches from having his tail cut off and seconds from being fried by the sun, and kidnapped twice. Oh, yeah, and turned into a (shudder) politician. On the other paw, he does hook up with that sweet Siamese, and it looks like he's on the way to winning that election . . .
--The Vampire Kitty-Cat Chronicles by Ray Rhamey, Copyright © December 7, 2009 by Flogging the Quill LLC

My Review:

It is rare that I will start a book and not finish it.

This, unfortunately, was one of those books.

The Vampire Kitty-Cat Chronicles is an excellently written satire of the standard vampire novel, told from the unique perspective of a male calico named Patch. Patch and his human, another recently-turned vampire named Meg decide to run for city council in an effort to bring about equal representation for vampires under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Coming out as vampires in a city that’s not prepared to accept bloodsuckers in their midst leads Patch and Meg down a wild roller-coaster ride straight to the poll booth.

However, I feel some of the farcical elements of the story negatively impact the narration. For example, the ad agency named “Dewey, Fakem and Howe,” the Reverend “Pat Bobson” and “Daddy Greenbanks” are funny names, but they don’t fit the satirical structure of the story. Running across those names was like hitting a speed bump on the highway. If I was an agent or editor looking to take this story on, I would insist those items be changed before publishing.

There is some slapstick-style humor, which usually doesn’t amuse me, and several characters go from heroic to villainous or vice versa, giving a chaotic feel to the story. The pacing was very fast, with very few pauses to give the reader time to catch their breath before we’re off and running again through another crisis situation that Patch or Meg has gotten into. By page 100 I was exhausted and fed up. I skipped through the rest of the story to see how things turned out, then gratefully closed the book.

Based on the accolades listed at the beginning of the book, The Vampire Kitty-Cat Chronicles has its share of loyal fans, so if you’re interested in giving this story a try, go for it. Personally, I’m glad I received an electronic Advance Reader Copy from the author because I would hate to have wasted my money.

I give this story TWO STARS.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Mind the Gap

Mind the Gap by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon

Always assume there’s someone after you. That was the paranoid wisdom her mother had hardwired into Jasmine Towne ever since she was a little girl. Now, suddenly on her own, Jazz is going to need every skill she has ever been taught to survive enemies both seen and unseen. For her mother had given UJazz one last invaluable piece of advice, written in her own blood.

Jazz Hide Forever

All her life Jazz has known them only as the “Uncles,” and her mother seemed to fear them as much as depend on them. Now these enigmatic, black-clad strangers are after Jazz for reasons she can’t fathom, and her only escape is to slip into the forgotten tunnels of London’s vast underground. Here she will meet a tribe of survivors calling themselves the United Kingdom and begin an adventure that links her to the ghosts of a city long past, a father she never knew, and a destiny she fears only slightly less than the relentless killers who’d commit any crime under heaven or earth to prevent her from fulfilling it.
--Mind the Gap by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon, Copyright © 2008 by Bantam Books

My Review: This is the first book written by critically acclaimed dark fantasy authors Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon. Being the out-of-order person I am, I read their first book second and their second book first (or is it the other way around in reverse?). They’re independent novels in Golden and Lebbon’s Hidden City series, so the order in which they’re read doesn’t matter.

As writers, Golden and Lebbon craft an extremely well-written, well-crafted story with plenty of tension and action. The action begins on the very first page and the pacing, though a bit slow in one or two places, keeps moving until the final page.

The story itself requires a bit of suspension in your belief system. In running for her life, Jazz happens to stumble upon this group of urchins and Harry, their Fagin-esque leader. When Harry is attacked, he says it has to be the work of the Mayor’s men, trying to clean up the city before he runs for re-election. Harry obviously believes this, but Jazz doesn’t and neither did I. And to find out one of the attackers happens to be one of Jazz’s “uncles” further stretched the bounds of credulity for me. BUT, having said that, without this coincidence, there is no story.

The coincidental meeting between Jazz and Terrence, however, is completely credible to me and forms what I feel is the true backbone of the story. In a somewhat roundabout way, Jazz and Terrence eventually get to the truth, the heart of old London, and uncover its deepest, darkest secrets, including that which links Terrence to the “uncles” to Jazz. The ending is swift, sweet, and with just a few loose ends that no one will really mind much.

One thing I can say for certain, no matter where you are in the story, if you think you know what’s going to happen next, you’re wrong.

Mind the Gap is a very good story, made more for the late-teen/early adult audience, though older adults who enjoy dark, urban fantasy should also enjoy it.

I give this story THREE STARS.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Stealing Shadows

Stealing Shadows by Kay Hooper

The first in a planned "thrill-ogy" of suspense novels, this is a serial killer tale charged with deeply felt dread and romance that will steal readers' hearts. Cassie Neill has inherited a psychic gift from her mother that is a mixed blessing at best because it enables her to enter the minds of serial rapists and killers. From her aunt, she inherits a house tucked away in a corner of quiet little Ryan's Bluff, North Carolina, where she takes refuge, hoping to distance herself from the grueling work she's done for the Los Angeles Police Department. But, just as there's no rest for the weary, there's no rest for the wicked either, and visions of a deranged man's plans to kill prompt Cassie to visit Ben Ryan, the small town's prosecuting attorney. Skeptical but interested, Ben finds himself drawn toward the oddly bewitching Cassie, just as she is pulled ever further into the psychotic soul of evil. Whitney Scott, Booklist Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved.
--Stealing Shadows by Kay Hooper, Published 2000 by Bantam Books. Audio book produced by Recorded Books.

My Summary

The start of Kay Hooper’s celebrated “Bishop/Special Crimes Unit” series, Stealing Shadows follows Cassie Neill as she pays a visit to Judge Ben Ryan to report that a murder will take place in his small town. She doesn’t know who the intended victim is or when the murder will occur, just that it will. Though Ben seems a little more open to her psychic vision than the Sheriff, whom she also visited, there’s nothing anyone can do. Until, of course, a body is found. And another. And another.

It doesn’t take long for tensions in town to rise and Ben and Matt turn to Cassie for help. Cassie is reluctant, having retreated to the small North Carolina town to escape the pressures of hunting vicious killers in California, but feels it is her duty to use her gift to help solve the crimes that cross her path. But at what cost to Cassie’s life?


I enjoy Kay Hooper’s writing and certain aspects of the paranormal and this series is tailor-made for me. Stealing Shadows is a very believable story of a serial killer and the cop/lawyer/psychic team determined to bring him to justice. It’s a wonderful story with a great unexpected twist that I didn’t see coming, even though I’d read this story before!

I give this story FOUR STARS.

Monday, February 1, 2010


Lost by Michael Robotham
Det. Insp. Vincent Ruiz (a supporting character in Robotham's debut, Suspect) is hauled out of the Thames with a bullet wound in his leg and no memory of a shooting, let alone how he wound up in the water in Robotham's fine, moody second thriller. Keebal, a nasty cop from internal affairs, hounds Ruiz from the start, and everyone seems to know something Ruiz doesn't. When psychologist Joe O'Loughlin (the protagonist of Suspect) shows Ruiz a picture of young Mickey Carlyle—a seven-year-old girl kidnapped three years earlier whom everyone but Ruiz thinks is dead—he figures there must be some connection between her case and his shooting. Despite his injuries, Ruiz retraces this investigation with the help of his partner, a young Sikh woman named Ali. The past returns in dribs and drabs and none too gently. Mickey is the daughter of a Russian-born crime lord, Aleksei Kuznet; a cache of diamonds and a man known as a "grooming paedophile" also figure prominently in the splintered plot. The warm relationship between Ruiz and Joe, who suffers from Parkinson's, counterpoints the main story line's grit. Robotham works some good wrinkles into Ruiz's relationship with Ali and an empathetic nurse, too. The result is a thoughtful and subtle thriller, with convincing, three-dimensional characters..
--Lost by Michael Robotham, Published Vintage (May 8, 2007). Audio book produced by Recorded Books.

My Review:

I listened to Michael Robotham’s first book, Suspect before I started this blog so there is no review of it here, but I enjoyed the book so much I had to get hold of his second and third books, Lost and Shattered. I hoped Lost would be as good as Suspect and I was not disappointed.

The story starts strong, if a bit slow, as Detective Inspector Vincent Ruiz is pulled from the Thames with a bullet hole in his leg. He awakens eight days later with no memory as to how he ended up in the river or what happened to the diamonds he was supposed to be delivering as part of a ransom for a girl who had been kidnapped three years earlier. The story drags as Vincent keeps slipping onto the past--the case’s past and his own memories of his younger brother--but once Vincent does recover his memory, the pace picks up speed and we’re off on a frenetic roller coaster ride. Vincent begins to put together the bits and pieces of the case, developing theories that involve an exploration of the London sewers and culminates in a flight to the countryside outside Moscow.

This is Michael Robotham’s second novel and it is as good as his first. His third novel, The Night Ferry as well as his fourth, Shattered are on my list and I’ll be giving them a listen very soon.

I give this story FOUR STARS.