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Published On: Thu, Mar 14th, 2013

SPRING BOOK REVIEWS: Blood, buzzards and more

book-blood-moneyBlood Money by James Grippando, Harper, legal thriller, 352 pp., $26.99

New York Times bestselling author James Grippando hits it out of the park with this ripped from the headlines legal thriller about a young woman acquitted of killing her two year-old daughter. Sound familiar? You bet. This is a wild ride around hairpin turns, and abrupt stops at dead ends that will leave readers dizzy.

Sydney Bennett, a young former cocktail waitress, is being released from prison after a jury found her not guilty in the death of her daughter Emma. Her attorney Jack Swyteck, a prominent Florida lawyer, just wants to be rid of his demanding, nasty client who is scheduled to depart from a local airstrip on a private jet-destination unknown. Also unknown is the identity of her benefactor. All Swyteck is sure of is that Bennett is determined to cash in on her notoriety.

There’s an angry mob outside the jail protesting Bennett’s release, and a college student, a dead ringer for Bennett, is attacked viciously. Swyteck is immediately blamed for placing a decoy at the scene to distract onlookers from his detested client’s departure. The parents of the victim, who is in a coma, don’t blame Swyteck, but rather, hire him to find out exactly who is responsible for nearly killing their child and why. The search for those answers will take Swyteck to unimaginable places, including the BNN cable news network, its narcissistic owner and his ruthless attorney , to the former prosecutor turned top television crime personality, and even to Bennett’s parents. When the bodies are done piling up, Swyteck is left with more answers than he wanted, and no further questions.

WARNING: Do not start this book unless you can stay up and finish it because it’s that good

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book-blood-gospel The Blood Gospel by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell, Wm. Morrow, fiction, 479 pp., $27.99

Dan Brown meets Bram Stoker in this explosive thriller, the first in a trilogy, about the desperate search for a book believed to have been written by Jesus using His own blood, a book which instructs mankind how to perform the same miracles Jesus did when He walked the earth. And a painting by Rembrandt may hold the key to it all.

New York Times bestselling author James Rollins and award winning writer Rebecca Cantrell have collaborated successfully to create a nerve-twisting tale that combines the natural, the unnatural, and the supernatural.

An earthquake shatters the ancient fortress of Masada in Israel, the site of a mass suicide of Jews who refused to be captured by the Romans. A young , terminally ill tourist, is spontaneously healed even as his parents lay dead as a result of the disaster. Within the ruins, a secret vault is discovered containing the crucified body of a female child and an empty stone coffin. Summoned to the site are an attractive widower who is a member of U.S. special forces, a young female archaeologist of some note, and a monk, strangely silent, though physically powerful. Together they will seek the book which, according to prophecy, can be opened only by them.

From the crumbling ancient ruins the three are whisked to a dark and hidden monastery in Jerusalem, and then on to Germany, Italy, and Russia. All the while they are beset by evil in its many forms. Along the way, however, they’re assisted by a secret sect within the Roman Catholic Church known as The Sanguines.

The book purports to answer the questions of why Catholic priests are celibate and wear pectoral crosses, and why monks wear hoods. Further, and more controversial, the book suggests a previously unheard of reason regarding the sacred rite of Holy Communion during which Catholics believe they are consuming the actual body and blood of Christ, transformed from mere bread and wine.

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book-the-buzzard-table The Buzzard Table by Margaret Maron, Grand Central Publishing, mystery, 305 pp., $25.99

Exceptional plotting and pacing dominate this 18th installment in the Judge Deborah Knott series set in rural North Carolina, where folks don’t mind a little squirrel in their stew, and where hearing their soft southern drawl is like “wading in honey”.

Recently married to sheriff’s deputy Dwight Bryant, a divorced former military intelligence officer with a young son, Deborah is contemplating adopting young Cal, but the question is, does he want to be adopted.

On the professional front, Dwight is dealing with a dead realtor, obviously murdered in the home she last showed. Additionally, a long lost heir returns to a family estate just in time to collect an inheritance from an aunt who is dying while operating under the pretext of studying buzzards He may, however, be more interested in planes landing on Colleton County’s small airstrip where it’s rumored that planes carrying Gitmo prisoners refuel on their way to renditions in less conscience-bound countries. Adding to the mix is the inclusion of Det. Sigrid Harald of New York, the subject of another of Maron’s series, who is also visiting her dying relative. Normally, this type of intrusion by another series character can seem contrived, but Maron is so good that the focus remains squarely on Deborah and Dwight.

Maron is a terrific writer who lets suspense slowly build like bread left to rise. She lovingly presents the charm of rural southern life as yet another character, and every time I finish one of her books, I wish I had five more waiting.

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book-airtightAirtight by David Rosenfelt, minotaur Books, thriller, 293 pp., $24.99

David Rosenfelt’s trademark humor is less on display in this riveting stand alone thriller which examines family bonds, duty, politics, and the meaning of justice, but he succeeds as always in grabbing the reader immediately and never letting go.

Luke Somers is a New Jersey cop who kills a suspect believed to have murdered Judge Daniel Brennan, who, in a few days, was set to move up to the federal bench. The suspect was a young, troubled kid with no real motive for the crime. While Steven Gallagher had a lousy life, he was loved deeply by one person, his protective older brother, Chris, who is about to extract heavy payback from Luke for killing the brother he raised. He will take Luke’s brother hostage until his brother’s name is cleared. Luke has a week to get the job done and save his own brother’s life.

The suspense here is painful, but step by slow step Luke cracks the case open, but will it be in time.

Any book by Rosenfelt is a treat, and this one especially. Airtight is a sure bet for a lazy, rainy afternoon.

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book-divine The Law of Divine Compensation: On Work, Money, and Miraclesby  Marianne Williamson, Harper One, Inspirational, 181 pp., $23.99

For decades, Marianne Williamson has written and spoken about life in the spirit, not the go to church once a week kind of religious performance, but about really living one’s faith daily in thought, word, and deed. In her latest book, Williamson tackles the issue of finances. She challenges readers to examine their attitudes about money. Do we accept less than we’re worth? Do we equate having money with the measure of our value as people? Do we want money in order to feel secure, or do we want money in order to be of help to others?

Williamson’s bottom line is that God and love make all things possible. For example, on the subject of job interviews, Williamson suggests letting go of potentially negative thoughts like ‘What will I say?’ or ‘What will they think of me?’ Instead, she recommends “blasting” everyone involved with prayer. Rather then conjure up every negative aspect that could impact the interview, she says pray for those doing the interviewing. Pray for the company. Pray that the Holy Spirit will give you the words you need during the experience. According to Williamson, the universe(God) is ready to respond when we’re ready to put Him and the practice of love first.

This is a book to be read slowly, and like all of Williamson’s books, it is worth the time it takes to absorb the information and act upon it.

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book-extra-credit Extra Credit, a Murder 101 Mystery, by Maggie Barbieri, Minotaur Books, cozy mystery, 373 pp., $24.99

In this seventh entry in the Prof. Alison Bergeron series , the good doctor of letters has her hands full when she good-naturedly hosts a birthday party for her twin stepdaughers only to have a guest later turn up dead. The deceased, the girls’ Uncle Chick on their mother’s side, gives the kids $10,000 for their birthday, an amount Alison and her husband, homicide detective Bobby Crawford believe is excessive. When Bobby heads to Chick’s rundown apartment to return the gift, he finds Chick very dead , but with $250,000 in cash stuffed in his mattress. Bobby’s ex-wife Christine refuses to believe that Chick’s death is a suicide, and she enlists Alison’s help in getting to the truth. Understandably, Alison is both flummoxed by the request, and is certainly uncomfortable having this much contact with her husband’s ex.

Barbieri has a crazy sense of humor which she puts to good use here.

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Does This Church Make Me Look Fat? A Mennonite Finds Faith, Meets Mr. Right, and Solves Her Lady Problems by Rhoda Janzen, Grand Central Publishing, memoir, 257 pp., 24.99book-does-this-church-make-me-look-fat

In her New York Times #1 bestseller, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, the author reflects on her divorce from a man suffering from bipolar disorder who left her after 15 years for a man he met on a gay website. As if that weren’t enough, she was badly injured in a car accident soon thereafter. Needing care, Janzen moves in with her parents, a pathologically kind mother who thinks nothing of breaking wind loudly in public, and a father who is stunningly frugal and a Mennonite leader of note.

Janzen holds a doctorate in letters, and she’s an unapologetic egghead and intellectual elite who is sarcastic, stylish, and a food snob. Long ago she left behind the Mennonite traditions of extreme thrift and the dedicated practice of having no fun. So when Janzen introduces us to her new boyfriend, Mitch, it’s hard to reconcile his bald head, “scary biceps”, Pentecostal church membership, and his delight in shooting his food sources with a woman who claims she can diagram the sentences of writer Henry James.

Janzen’s sense of humor is both sharp and quirky, and she maintains it throughout despite learning that she has a life-threatening disease. She’ s willing to let Mitch out of the relationship, but he stays, and that one shining fact is reason enough for any woman to find him irresistible. He is indeed a good man to Janzen’s good woman.

Searching for meaning, and perhaps mostly because of Mitch, Janzen attends Pentecostal services. Pentecostals are a lively bunch, and perhaps the antithesis of staid Mennonites, but it is here that Janzen’s search ends as she embraces the free- for -all love of God and all that it implies with gusto.

This is less a book review than a fan letter, so I’ll just say it. Rhoda Janzen, I love you, your crazy, wonderful family, your husband, his son, his father, and your friends. Please keep us posted on what happens next, because with you, only God knows.

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