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The Consultant by Tj O’Connor

Tj O’Connor is a former government anti-terrorism agent. He has investigated terrorist activity around the world and draws on that wealth of knowledge and experience in his latest novel, The Consultant. It is billed as the first in the Jonathan Hunter series and is the Military Writers Society of America 2018 Gold Medal Winner.

Hunter is an international security consultant in the Middle East and other places where his special talents are needed. He describes himself as “sort of a handyman for special clients”. But he works for only one special client, Oscar LaRue. LaRue is CIA and Hunter’s friend, mentor and master.

Bullets are flying from the first sentence in this thriller.  Having tracked his estranged brother’s cellphone to a riverbank, Hunter drives into a hail of bullets. He survives but Kevin, the elder of the two brothers, is wounded. There is no time for Kevin to tell why he sent for Hunter.  With his dying breath Kevin leaves few clues – Khalifah, find G, not them, Maya in Baltimore, and a partial address.

Hunter’s full name is Jonathan Hunter Mallory. His parents died when he was a teen and Kevin sacrificed to provide for his younger brother. They became estranged when Kevin objected to Hunter’s career choice, the CIA. Now years later the letter from Kevin asking for help has drawn Hunter back to Virginia only to arrive too late.

His mission to aid Kevin now turns into the search for his killer. He also learns he has a sister-in-law, Noor, and nephew, Sameh, that need his help. To further complicate things he left Qatar without notifying LaRue. He knows LaRue is aware because his bank account has been emptied of the $879,928.66 it once contained.

Kevin was part of a joint terrorist task force involving the FBI, the Virginia BCI, and others. The crime scene has plenty to keep the task force busy and the leader, Agent Bacarro, isn’t keen on his help. On his own, Hunter takes his first step to find his brother’s killer, the partial address. There are 4 possibilities and Hunter arrives at the first just as a large man is escorting a young man of Middle Eastern heritage into a van.

Deciding to follow, Hunter and the van eventually reach a mall. Only the young man enters carrying a backpack. Hunter follows him in only to lose him. Heading back to the entrance Hunter is almost blown up by a bomb. Scanning the devastation and seeing no one he can help, Hunter runs out to find the van. It’s gone and he races back to the house at the partial address.

The van is not there and Hunter finds three dead inside the house, an older couple and a young girl. A picture suggests they are the family of the young man that entered the mall with the backpack. Hunter has seen this tactic used by ISIS, the Taliban and others. But that was in the Middle East not in America.  What was Kevin involved in and where does Hunter go from here?

Another attack sends the country spiraling toward war. Hunter must pull together Kevin’s cryptic clues to find not only his brother’s killer but who is behind the terrorist attacks. LaRue is doing his own investigating and is using Hunter to flush out the conspirators.

As he searches for Khalifah, the assassin Caine, and the elusive G, Hunter finds not everyone is as they seem.  Also how are the Russians involved? Can Hunter figure out who are the bad guys and foil a plot that threatens to pull the country apart and draw it into another Middle Eastern war? Will he get his $879,928.66 back?

The Consultant is action-packed and Hunter is a likeable character. Our hero is the narrator of the story and pokes a little fun at himself, i.e. ’I ambled in – tough guys amble’. I was puzzled that some of the other characters were not better developed until I remembered Hunter is telling the story. He’s really good at finding bad guys but not so great with relationships and feelings.

I look forward to the next installment of this series. Recommended read-a-likes include Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp series and (my recommendation) the Gray Man series by Mark Greaney.

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Breaker’s Reef by Terri Blackstock

In our reviews the library staff often mention the variety of formats we have for some titles. For example Breaker’s Reef by Terri Blackstock can be borrowed as a regular print book, a large print book, an ebook, and an eaudiobook. If you choose ebook or eaudio you can get it using the Hoopla app or from our MissouriLibraires2Go (Overdrive) collection.

There are 2 apps for Overdrive: Overdrive and Libby. The Libby app was recently updated to improve how you manage your downloads and to be compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Even though I don’t often use ebooks and eaudio (I like print) I decided to try it.
I updated my Libby app and when it opened I choose Library then Explore, What’s Available then Audiobooks. Breaker’s Reef was on the list and the download took less than a minute. To listen in the car after the phone connected to the car I just opened the app, started the book and it worked seamlessly (Disclaimer: I did recently upgrade my phone and vehicle).

I choose Breaker’s Reef just to try the updated app but my attention was caught in the first couple of paragraphs and by the time I got home I was hooked. This is an older Blackstock title and as I found out number 4 in the 4 book Cape Refuge series.
Matthew Cade, Cape Refuge’s police chief, is awakened in the early hours by a phone call. A dead teenage girl has been found floating in a rowboat on the river. The case is being handled by the police in Tybee, the neighboring town where the body is pulled ashore, but the victim, Emily Lawrence, is from Cape Refuge.

The police officer who discovered the body is also from Cape Refuge. Scott Crown is a young rookie and made a huge mistake by going outside his jurisdiction and pulling the body from the boat, washing away evidence. Both departments and the state police team up to investigate.
As law enforcement works to find the killer, the local newspaper is also trying to piece together the story. The owner of the paper, Blair, and her young assistant, Sadie, are talking and listening to Emily’s classmates. The first break in the case, however, comes from Sadie’s mother, Sheila.

Sheila spent a year in prison and has finally landed her first job since being released, typing for author Marcus Gibson. She finds Gibson strange. He writes novels about killers and he puts himself in the lives of his characters. He will sleep in the woods, swim fully clothed in the river, and hang out with criminals and addicts.

Part of her job is putting Gibson’s early novels in a digital format. In doing so Sheila realizes that the murder in the first novel is eerily similar to the way Emily died. She takes her discovery to the police.
As law enforcement works to build a case against Gibson, Cade and Blair discover another victim. Jamie Maddox came to Cape Refuge with her best friend Amelia. Amelia came looking for her birth mother, Sheila. Now Jamie is dead, shot with the same caliber weapon as Emily, and Amelia is missing.

The evidence points to Gibson but he has been under surveillance. Then Jamie’s missing sandal and blood are discovered in Cade’s truck. Is there more than one killer and how is Sheila involved? The case has gone from one suspect to many. To complicate things further, once Sadie finds out she has a sister she is determined to find Amelia putting herself in harm’s way.

Even though I had not read the first 3 books I quickly got into the rhythm of the series. The characters are likeable and the story builds to a suspenseful climax. This novel is in the genre of inspirational suspense so the faith and struggles of the characters is a central theme. However it is the search for the killer that keeps you guessing and propels this story forward.

If you’re interested and want to know how to get started or need help using Overdrive and/or Hoopla just call or come to the Reference Service desk at the library. We are happy to help.

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Bluff by Jane Stanton Hitchcock

If you’ve ever taken a writing course you’ve heard ‘write what you know’. Jane Stanton Hitchcock must have been following that advice when she penned her latest book. The author is a poker player whose mother was swindled by her financial advisor much like Maud Warner in Bluff.

Maud is known as Mad Maud Warner by the denizens of New York high society. Maud used to be a member but her family fortune vanished with her mother Lois’ death. Burt Sklar was managing that fortune and Maud’s nickname came from her frequent and vociferous accusations of theft against Sklar.

Maud grew older moved to Washington D.C. and developed a passion for poker; but she did not move on. As we meet her she is dressing very carefully in designer clothing from her more affluent days. Dress is very important so that she looks like she belongs where she is going. Millionaire Sun Sunderland frequently lunches at the Four Seasons and on this day his dinner companion is Burt Sklar.

Maud calmly walks into the famous restaurant and tells the maître de that she is meeting Sunderland. As she approaches the booth she pulls out a gun, aims and fires, then drops the gun and just as calmly walks out.

Even though the shooting is all over the news Maud knows that a middle-aged woman in the right clothes with a calm manner is invisible. She catches the train to D.C. and once there goes into hiding.

The assumption is Maud was aiming at Burt but missed and shot Sunderland (helped by Sklar who tried to use his good friend as a human shield). Sunderland’s condition is grave as his wife Jean rushes to the hospital.

Jean keeps a vigil at the hospital while her gossipy friends await news. When she is finally allowed into the ICU she has company. She discovers Sun has another wife, a former stripper named Dany. After Sun makes it clear he wants Dany, a stunned and furious Jean seeks refuge with her friend Greta.

When Sun dies things get really interesting. Maud is now wanted for murder and Jean finds she is almost penniless as Burt has a power of attorney signed by Sun leaving Burt and Dany in control of his fortune.

This novel starts more than halfway through the story so Maud begins to fill us in on the beginning of her association with Sklar. We move between Maud’s story and what is happening with Jean, Dany and the police who are getting desperate to find Maud.

Maud’s grievances against Sklar are numerous and large; they involve not only her mother and money but also her brother Alan. Maud is a very good poker player but to get revenge she’ll need to pull off the biggest bluff of her life. Will Maud succeed, what happens with Jean and Dany, and what did Sun mean when he exclaimed just before being shot “Lois! No! We killed you!”? Plus there is a plot twist I didn’t see coming.

Stanton Hitchcock is not an author I had read before but I made a note to check it out after reading a couple of reviews. Words like smartly plotted, frothy fun, quick-moving and intricate drew me. It lived up to the hype. Bluff is a fun read and the reviewers described it perfectly.

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Thyme of Death by Susan Wittig Albert; Blood Oath by Linda Fairstein; Justice in Plain Sight by Dan Bernstein

Although not by conscious choice, most of my reading lately has involved lawyers.

Susan Wittig Albert’s character, China Bayles, was an attorney for a big firm in Houston. She now owns the herb shop in the small town of Pecan Springs, Texas where she sells all things herbal and sparingly dispenses legal advice. As in all good cozy mysteries she is surrounded by a cast of interesting characters including best friend Ruby.

Ruby is usually China’s partner in her sometimes enthusiastic and other times reluctant crime solving. This is a long running series and I’ve read the first 10 so far. If you like good characters and entertaining mysteries, this series is for you and starts with Thyme of Death.

Linda Fairstein’s latest Alex Cooper book, Blood Oath, came out in March. Alex is an Assistant DA in the Manhattan Sex Crimes Unit. Back from an extended leave Alex’s first task is dealing with a judge’s bullying of a female prosecutor. She returns to her office to find Detective Mike Chapman and a young woman named Lucy waiting.

Lucy was picked up the night before on an old warrant. After seeing a picture on the wall at the precinct she freaks out and refuses to talk. At the behest of the captain, Mike brings her to Alex. What Lucy reveals could land Alex in trouble.

When she was 14 Lucy was a star witness against a serial killer responsible for deaths in several different states. While under the protection of the FBI and the federal prosecutors, Lucy says she was sexually assaulted. Is Lucy telling the truth or just trying to have her old warrant to go away?

Alex works quickly to verify Lucy’s story and gather evidence but things really speed up when an attempt is made on Lucy’s life. Fairstein is at her best in “Blood Oath” weaving together different storylines to a thrilling finish.

My third lawyer title is a work of nonfiction by Dan Bernstein. Justice in Plain Sight is the story of how the Riverside Press-Enterprise fought the state of California for open access to the judicial system. It was a fight that went all the way to the Supreme Court, twice.

The Press-Enterprise was a family-owned newspaper and while Riverside California was not a small town in the 1980’s it certainly wasn’t a major city. Newspapers were still the source of news for most people and the editor of the paper was committed to keeping readers informed. He also believed that for the public to trust and have confidence in the government (including the judicial system) they needed open access.

In 1978 California reinstated the death penalty and 2 years after that the California Supreme Court issued the Hovey ruling. The ruling gave judges permission to question potential jurors “individually and in sequestration” when asking about views on the death penalty. Trial judges however interpreted the ruling very broadly and were closing courtrooms across the state.

The Press-Enterprise lawyer routinely and unsuccessfully appealed each closing in Riverside County. Then came the Norco case, a foiled bank robbery that resulted in the death of a county deputy. This case drew national attention and was a big story for the newspaper. The judge not only moved the case to San Diego County but also closed jury selection.

The Press-Enterprise and Copley Press appealed the decision. The Court of Appeals ruled against them. When the California Supreme Court refused the case only one option remained. In December 1981 they petitioned the United States Supreme Court to rule on their appeal.

This case was the beginning, 2 more times over the next 3 years the Press-Enterprise would petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear appeals. The first was the Albert Brown case. Brown was accused of the rape and murder of a teen. In this case the judge not only closed voir dire (jury selection) but also ordered the transcripts permanently sealed.

The third appeal would be for the Robert Diaz case. Diaz, a nurse, was accused of killing 12 patients with lidocaine overdoses. The judge in this trial closed the preliminary hearing.

Bernstein is a retired reporter and his writing is concise. Each of the three crimes are covered briefly but you get a good feel for the case. Background on the major people and rulings involved give you an understanding of motivations and the judicial issues.

He also covers extensively the workings of the Supreme Court and includes how each case was decided. His use of briefs, the notes (when available) from the justices themselves, and transcripts from the hearings give immediacy to the process. The lawyers and editors of the Press-Enterprise are unsung heroes and Bernstein does a good job bringing their story to life.

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Book Reviews by Patty Crane

The Burglar by Thomas Perry

Thomas Perry’s latest novel, The Burglar, has many of the elements I enjoy in a novel. A smart interesting character, action, and mystery in a story that pulls me in and keeps me turning pages.

Mystery and suspense novels are some of my favorites. I like having something that keeps me thinking and I like that the ‘good guys’ usually win. However, in this novel the ‘good guy”, Elle Stowell, is a thief. She’s smart, daring, meticulous and robs homes for a living.

Elle is pretty, small in size and keeps herself in excellent shape. From her appearance to the cars she drives, Elle fits in to the neighborhoods she burglars. Part of her fitness routine is running and she uses daily runs in affluent areas to find her targets.

Elle needs cash and her last job netted her only some nice jewelry before the police showed up. Despite her close call she heads out the next day to find another target. Once she picks a house, a second look convinces her no one is home and she enters through the attic.

The halls are full of fine art but Elle knows she can’t sell art. The master bedroom is the place she will most likely find what she wants. What she discovers is three dead bodies and a running camera that may have filmed the murder and now Elle. Knowing she can’t be caught on camera, she takes the camera and exits the way she came in.

After watching the video and being pretty sure she cannot be identified, Elle makes copies of the full recording from the memory card. After hiding the 3 copies she puts the memory card back in the camera and erases the end starting just before she entered the bedroom.  

Elle’s a thief and the police are not her friends but this is a triple homicide. She returns to the house and puts the camera back where she found it. She was quick but as she is leaving the police arrive but she manages to get out undetected.

Her civic duty done, Elle is back home but she still needs cash. She doesn’t like to work at night but heads out to a house she had previously worked up. On her way she cruises by the murder house out of curiosity. The job is successful but when leaving she senses someone close. As a precaution she loops a long way around to get back to her car. She makes it safely but soon realizes she’s being followed.

With good driving and some luck, she manages to lose the black SUV tailing her. Did the police spot her when she cruised by the murder house or is it someone else? At her friend Sharon’s urging, Elle agrees they should leave town until things die down. To do that Elle needs to sell some of her acquired merchandise.

The trip to Vegas gets her the money she needs but she now has two vehicles tailing her. Also, two men and a woman have been visiting her favorite hangout place asking about her. In her effort to evade the people looking for her, Elle inadvertently exposes Sharon to a cold-blooded killer.

This can’t be the police so who is hunting Elle? Leaving town is no longer an option. Elle has to find out who murdered the three dead people she discovered and why. She’ll have to use all the skills she’s honed as a thief to find the killers before she becomes the next victim.

The novel builds momentum quickly and for the first two thirds is hard to put down. The action slows as Elle searches for and finds the who but it picks up again as Elle takes a huge risk to pull together the why. The library has this title in both regular and large print editions.

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Thanks a Thousand: a Gratitude Journey by A. J. Jacobs

 

The latest book by A. J. Jacobs, Thanks a Thousand: A Gratitude Journey, begins with an impressive introduction. “It’s Tuesday morning, and I’m in the presence of one of the most mind-boggling accomplishments in human history. … This marvel I see before me is the result of thousands of human beings collaborating across dozens of countries. It took the combined labor of artists, chemists, politicians, mechanics, biologists, miners, packagers, smugglers, and goatherds. … It has caused great joy but also great poverty and oppression.”

The marvel before him? His morning cup of coffee. Jacobs didn’t always view his morning beverage as anything more than the caffeine necessary to kick start his day. He admits his personality runs more towards mildly grumpy than grateful. In an effort to tweak his mental attitude he decided to undertake a gratitude project.

After considering several possibilities he chose to focus on something he can’t live without, his coffee. Others must feel as he does as more than 2 billion cups of coffee are consumed each day. Jacobs decided to do something most coffee drinkers can’t do – embark on a quest to thank everyone responsible for his morning cup of coffee.

Jacobs begins his journey at the end, the finished project, or the place where he buys his morning cup, Joe Coffee. His barista, Chung, is his first thank you and she agrees to talk to him about being a barista. Chung provides him his first insight on being grateful – recognize that you are being served by a person not a means to an end.

Jacobs next step in the gratitude journey is the person who chooses the coffee Chung serves, Ed Kaufmann. Ed is passionate about coffee and gives Jacobs a lesson in coffee tasting. Ed becomes an important part of the gratitude journey when he issues an invitation to take the author with him to visit the small family farm in Colombia that provides the beans for Joe Coffee.

But the beans are the beginning and there are a lot more thank yous to be given before Jacobs travels to Colombia. He starts with the lid on his to go cup, then the logo, the tree farmer association and the coffee cup sleeve. Some are receptive to a thank you, others not so much.

Jacobs begins to realize the enormity of what he has undertaken. All the industries and people involved just making the cup his coffee comes in is astounding. Then there is the water and everyone involved in getting safe, clean water to the Joe Coffee location. The transportation, warehousing and storing of the coffee and supplies, the roasters, the extractors, and many more before he gets to the farmers. To keep his project manageable Jacobs decides to cap his journey at a thousand heartfelt thank yous (a list of all he thanked is at the end).

Jacobs packs a lot into this quick entertaining read. Besides gratitude and coffee, you’ll learn about the history of New York City water, find out how cup sleeves came to be, meet lots of interesting characters, and more.

This is a small tome with other books towering over it on the shelf but don’t overlook it. Thanks a Thousand will amuse, inform, and perhaps make you think about what you are grateful for and who you thanked today. As for me, I’m grateful for Jacobs’ perspective and I thank you for reading.

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Gone to Dust by Matt Goldman, Sweet Tea and Sympathy by Molly Harper, Deadly Proof by Rachel Dylan

Lately I’ve been reading random things that catch my eye.  Some I’ve enjoyed, others not so much.  Here are some of the former.

TV writer (Seinfeld, Ellen, Wizards of Waverly Place) Matt Goldman penned his first novel last year, Gone to Dust. It features Minneapolis PI Nils Shapiro and is the first of what I hope will be a long series. Nils was a police officer for only a few weeks before being laid off. Instead of waiting for the promised recall he apprenticed with and became a private investigator.

Nils is a likeable character, a little snarky, tenacious, and hopelessly in love with his ex-wife. He is observant with a keen eye for details. He’s a little Monk-like in his ability to process what he sees and hears to make connections other don’t make.

In Gone to Dust he is called in to assist local police at the behest of academy alum and Edina officer, Ellegaard. The scene inside Maggie Somerville’s upscale Edina home is bizarre. Maggie is dead in her bed with no signs of forced entry. There won’t be much forensic evidence to offer clues so Nils and Ellegaard must search for clues in Maggie’s life and relationships. There are enough red herrings and clutter in this story to keep you intrigued.

The second in the series, Broken Ice, published in June and like the first novel has lots of twists and turns. If you’re a Robert Parker or Lawrence Block reader, try Goldman.

Novelist classifies my next book by Molly Harper as contemporary romance but I think it is family not romantic relationships that drive Sweet Tea and Sympathy. Margot Cary, an event planner in Chicago, is on the fast track to promotion when disaster strikes. Everything is set and going beautifully until Margot discovers the chef has ignored the carefully chosen menu and served shrimp. The client for the event is highly allergic and the flamingos who are there as unobtrusive backdrop love shrimp.

The ensuing calamity costs Margot her job and makes finding another position in her chosen field impossible. One step away from becoming homeless Margot gets a call from a relative she didn’t know existed. Margot’s mother left her father when Margot was only a few years old and she hasn’t had contact with the McCready family since. What Aunt Tootie offers, a job and a place to live, Margot can’t refuse.

Margot is planning her escape before she even begins her job on the funeral side of the McCready Bait Shop & Funeral Home. But life in the small Georgia town of Lake Sackett begins to grow on her as does her fondness for the McCready family, well except for her estranged father. Margot also finds Kyle Archer, a widower with two girls, hard to ignore.

The appeal of this book is the quirky characters and small town life Margot comes to know. This is a light-hearted look at a city girl changing and adapting to life with a big family in a small southern town. The library has this in both regular and large print editions.

Deadly Proof by Rachel Dylan also has some romance but it’s a legal thriller. Kate Sullivan is part of a class-action lawsuit against Mason Pharmaceutical.  She has just been appointed lead counsel for the group and how she does with the first trial will determine how the other litigants fare

Kate’s team is searching for the smoking gun that will show the company knew about the deadly side effects but released Celix anyway when a whistle-blower comes forward. Kate hires PI Landon James to check out the veracity of the witness. Before he can begin his investigation the witness is murdered. The death appears to be a mugging gone wrong but Landon suspects otherwise. Kate is warned off the case then attacked. Landon steps in to become both investigator and bodyguard. To complicate things Kate’s opposing counsel is a friend. She slowly realizes he is desperate to win and may be withholding crucial evidence.

This novel is fast-paced and intense but it has its quieter moments. Kate’s faith is strong but Landon feels abandoned by God. There are discussions on faith and belief flowing through the story but they don’t diminish the intensity. If you like Irene Hannon and/or Terri Blackstock books, you should try this first book in the Devoted Defender trilogy.

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The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda

I recently finished the Stella Crown mysteries by Judy Clemens. Stella is an interesting character, a tattooed, Harley-riding dairy farmer. Set in Pennsylvania, the series highlights the hardships of small dairy operations and provides some insight into the Mennonite community.

After finishing the last book I used NoveList in our catalog (a reader’s advisory tool the library subscribes to) to find similar books. It’s easy to use. Search for your title or author, choose Full Display (below Where Is It in the catalog) then scroll down.

Depending on the title you may see all the books in the series, read-alikes for the title, author, and series, story elements, reviews and more. Story elements are the parts of a story such as character, plot, and setting. I chose the story elements of atmospheric and intricately plotted then wandered through the results.

One click led to another and I found The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda. Miranda writes psychological suspense which is not the genre for the Stella Crown books. But like Clemens, Miranda has crafted an intricately woven plot that keeps you turning the pages.

Leah Stevens had it all, an apartment in Boston, a budding romance with Noah and the journalism career she’d work so hard to get. Then it was all gone.  She had a routine assignment to write a piece about the lack of mental health care on a college campus with 4 suicides in the last year. But the circumstances of the last suicide were too familiar to Leah and the story became something else entirely. Consumed with finding and printing the truth Leah steps over the line. Once published the fallout from the story costs Leah her job and Noah.

At her lowest Leah runs into Emmy Grey. Leah had roomed with Emmy 8 years earlier while she worked an unpaid internship that was a requisite for her job. Even though they had lost contact Leah was thrilled to see an old friend. After too much vodka and desperate for change Leah agrees to leave Boston and move with Emmy to western Pennsylvania.

Leah’s new beginning is teaching writing to disinterested high school students and living in a rustic rental with a front entrance of sliding glass doors. Emmy’s job working evenings at a motel means the two friends usually pass each other coming and going. To complicate matters Leah has attracted the attention of one of the married high school coaches and receives unwanted emails and late night phone calls.

On her way out one morning Leah leaves a note to let Emmy know the rent is due. When it blows it under a shelf she finds other notes she’d left for Emmy and realizes she hasn’t seen Emmy for days. Emmy doesn’t have a cell phone and has never given Leah the name of the motel so there is no way to check on her.

On her way to the school Leah passes a roadblock at an area near the lake. Worried about Emmy she stops to investigate. It is not the car accident Leah feared but an injured woman, a stranger to Leah. Heading on to school Leah’s thankful she avoided the police and that the victim it is not Emmy.

Called to the office during her first period she finds her contact with the police was delayed not avoided. The prime suspect in the attack on the victim, Bethany Jarvis, is Leah’s unwanted admirer Coach Davis. Bethany Jarvis also bears a striking resemblance to Leah and the attack occurred less than a mile from Leah’s home putting her right in the middle of the investigation.

Although interviewed by more than one police officer Detective Kyle Donovan becomes Leah’s primary contact on the case and it is to him that she reports Emmy’s disappearance. As Kyle continues to investigate, Leah gets pulled deeper into the case primarily because Emmy doesn’t seem to exist.

Loyal to Emmy, Leah uses her journalism skills to try to find and prove to everyone that Emmy is Emmy. But as clues are uncovered and facts revealed, Leah has to reevaluate her friendship with Emmy. Then Emmy’s boyfriend is found with his throat cut in the car she drove. Since Emmy doesn’t seem to be real and parts of Leah’s past that she hoped to hide becomes known she goes from potential victim to suspect.

The deeper she goes Leah finds that most of what she thought she knew isn’t real. She must find the real Emmy and determine if she is a victim or the orchestrator of a clever and deadly plan. With its many twists and turns this novel is hard to put down. It pulls you from page to page to finally uncover the truth. The library has this title in both regular and large print editions.

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Only Child by Rhiannon Navin

First graders huddled in a closet listening to the pop, pop, pop of gunfire in the hall is the stuff of nightmares. It is also the beginning of Rhiannon Navin’s novel Only Child. Navin’s first book is a heart-wrenching tale of trauma and loss told through the mind and heart of a child.

Six-year-old Zach Taylor, his classmates and teacher, Miss Russell, have been in the closet before during a lockdown drill. They weren’t in there long before Charlie, the security guard, came to unlock the hall door and tell them to come out. This time though Charlie doesn’t come and the pops keep going and getting louder.

When the door finally opens it’s the police. The class is led through the bloody scene in the hall out into the rain to a nearby church. When Zach’s mom, Melissa, is finally let in to find him, the first thing she asks is “Zach, where’s your brother?”

Andy is not in the church nor at the hospital when they go there. Finding Andy is Melissa’s singular focus and when she learns that Andy is one of the 19 fatalities she collapses and is hospitalized.

His mom has always been Zach’s main caregiver. They did projects together, she made his meals and put him to bed. They read together each night then sang a special song together before he slept. All of that goes away with Andy’s death. As Zach sees it his mommy got changed into another person at the hospital.

His family was strained before this tragedy. Andy had oppositional defiant disorder and his behavioral problems caused dissension between his parents who also had other issues. Instead of coming together as a family Zach’s parents isolate themselves with their grief and he is mostly left to deal with his fear, confusion and grief alone.

He doesn’t understand why people bring food and have a party when Andy has just died. He worries about what happened to Andy, where is his body and is his soul safe in heaven? Zach’s nightmares start the very first night but the adults seem almost dismissive of his fears and questions.

Zach is drawn into Andy’s room and each day he checks the top bunk to see if Andy is there and maybe he just had a bad dream. He first goes into Andy’s closet to hide but finds he can quiet himself in there and make bad thoughts go into his “brain safe” so he won’t be afraid.

Andy’s closet becomes his safe haven and secret hideaway. It is there that he realizes that the red he just painted on a page is like the red his face gets when people look at him and he is embarrassed. He decides to give each of his feelings a color so they won’t be all mixed up inside him.

He brings a picture of himself with Andy to the hideaway and he starts to talk to Andy. He doesn’t let Andy off the hook because he died and lets him know he was a jerk to Zach. But as life outside the closet worsens and Zach has to deal with his own uncontrollable feelings he begins to see Andy in a new light and remembers the good.

He reads aloud to Andy from the Magic Tree House books. The books were Andy’s but became Zach’s when Andy outgrew them. The main characters are brother and sister Jack and Annie which sounds like Zach and Andy. When he reads it’s like all 4 of them go on the adventure together.

But the comfort Andy feels in his hideaway is lost outside the closet. He doesn’t understand why he has started wetting the bed or why he suddenly gets so angry and can’t make it stop. His mom has become determined to make the parents of the gunman pay and has little time or patience for Zach. His dad, Zach’s only real support, has gone back to work and his parents fighting grows worse. Zach has gone from a family of 4 to feeling like he is alone. Can Zach find a way to help his family heal or is the loss of Andy too much to overcome?

Navin has written a gripping novel and stayed true to Zach’s voice. But the raw emotion and subject matter makes this a very tough read. I almost quit after the first few chapters. But Zach drew me back and I’m glad. The library has this title in regular, large print, and ebook editions.

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It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree by A. J. Jacobs

A. J. Jacobs has amused and informed us by living for a year following the tenets of the Bible, reading the Encyclopedia Britannica to become the smartest person in the world, becoming a human guinea pig, and attempting to become the healthiest person in the world. He now tackles genealogy and what is means to be family in It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree.

What started his quest to help build the World Family Tree was an email from Jules Feldman. Feldman is a dairy farmer in Israel who in his spare time is building a family tree. A huge family tree consisting of 80,000 relatives including Jacobs who is the eighth cousin of Mrs. Feldman.

Skeptical but intrigued Jacobs follows the suggestion of his brother-in-law and contacts Randy Schoenberg. Randy is a lawyer of some repute (see the film Woman in Gold) and a genealogist.  According to Randy genealogy in undergoing two revolutions, DNA and Internet family trees.

He introduces Jacobs to the collaborative genealogy site (Internet family tree) Geni.com. There are others like WikiTree and FamilySearch where you find an ancestor on your tree who is on another family’s tree and soon you are connected to thousands (or more) new relatives. A check of Geni at the time showed over 70 million people in 160+ countries listed on the site.

Geni also has an interesting feature you can use to find your connection to famous people. He describes it as Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon where everyone is Kevin Bacon. Jacobs finds he has connections to Dr. Ruth, Jackson Pollock, Rachel Weisz and Barack Obama who is his fifth-great aunt’s husband’s father’s wife’s seventh-great nephew.

Geni has his interest; next for Jacobs is DNA testing. His DNA test matches him with 1009 presumed cousins including his wife Julie, his seventh cousin. Julie is less than thrilled but as Jacobs finds marriage between distant cousins is not that unusual.

With all these cousins and the potential to uncover more Jacobs comes up with the idea to hold a family reunion– a worldwide family reunion. Bringing all these people together he can make even more connections plus he might get in the Guinness Book of World Records. Now all he needs is a place, money and plenty of help.

The reunion is the conclusion of the book and its progress is remarked upon at the end of most chapters but most of the book is about family. What family is, all its different forms, and how would your worldview and prejudice’s change if you thought of people of different nationalities and ethnic background or even the guy who cut in front of you in line as your cousins.

The author talks about Y-Chromosomal Adam and Mitochondrial Eve, evolution, and the DNA humans share with animals. Jacobs explores many aspects of genealogical research including privacy, the emphasis on celebrity connections, how some cultures and ethnicities are not represented, and the significance of names. He even includes an appendix with a guide to getting started on your family tree.

He made connections with a lot of people gathering information, promoting his family reunion and lining up speakers for his event. Most had a story to tell and Jacobs does a wonderful job using them to highlight his chapters.

Jacobs also uses a lot of his own family history which is by turns amusing, touching, and surprising. The story of his great grandmother Gertrude Sunstein emphasizes the point that women are not well represented in the historical documents. Gertrude was a suffragist and very active. When she died in her obituary her suffrage work was noted but she was identified only as Mrs. Elias Sunstein, no first name.

As word of the reunion spreads he hears about other reunions.  One is the Hatfield-McCoy event. Yes, the famous feuding Hatfields and McCoys.  He also explores black sheep in your family tree and that for every connection you get to Isaac Newton or Malala Yousafzai you get one for John Wayne Gacy or Joseph Stalin.

The global family reunion does happen, in fact 44 simultaneous reunions were held around the world. As Jacobs points out success or failure depended on point of view and I’ll let you be the judge.

Jacobs is an amusing writer and his style is engaging but he also makes you think. How differently would you react and how would your views change if you think of everyone as family?

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