November 2022 Picks and Pans


Another month of reading came and went, and so did my deadline for writing this post! Oh well, I hope you find something to love here.


Carrie Soto is Back
by Taylor Jenkins Reid

“We live in a world where exceptional women have to sit around waiting for mediocre men.”—Taylor Jenkins Reid, Carrie Soto is Back

I’ve never been much of a tennis fan, although I took the obligatory tennis lessons at Wesley Park several summers through community ed and then married into a tennis crazed family of jocks. Despite my lack of athleticism, Carrie Soto is Back was engrossing from start to finish.

When Carrie Soto retires from tennis, she is the best player the world has ever seen. She has shattered every record and claimed twenty Grand Slam titles. But six years later, she sits in the stands of the 1994 US Open as Nicki Chan ties her record. At thirty-seven years old, Carrie comes out of retirement for one final, epic year to prove she is still the Greatest of All Time. Carrie Soto is back, and I rooted hard for her.

Carrie Soto, aka “the Battle-Axe” isn’t very likeable, but this book sure is! Author Taylor Jenkins Reid has served another ace. 5 stars.

** Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a complimentary copy of this book. The opinions are my own.


Fox Creek
by William Kent Krueger

Another fabulous novel by Edgar winner William Kent Krueger. Fox Creek is the nineteenth installment of the Cork O’Connor series and my twenty-first book by this talented writer. Do I enjoy his work… you bet as we sat here in Minnesota!

In Fox Creek, Cork races against time to save his wife Rainy, Ojibwe healer Henry Meloux, and a mysterious woman from violent mercenaries. Dolores Morriseau has come to Henry for guidance. When men fill the woods trying to capture her, Meloux leads them to safety deep in his beloved Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Well over 100 years old, he must do his best to outwit the mercenaries who follow them. Cork and Dolores’s brother-in-law, Anton, a tribal cop, become embroiled in a dangerous game of cat and mouse as they investigate and shadow the killers.

Written in an alternating narrative, Krueger has crafted another suspenseful mystery. One of Krueger’s greatest tools is his strong sense of place. I’m a lifelong Minnesotan, and I’ve canoed in the BWCA. His descriptions of the wilderness always make me feel like I’m paddling and portaging alongside him. He adds just enough backstory to move the plot along and uses both White and Native American perspective. If you prefer audiobooks, this one has a great narrator. 4.5 stars.

** Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a complimentary copy of this book. The opinions are my own.


Dark Intercept
by Brian Andrews, Jeffrey Wilson

“When confronted by true evil, be it during military service or as a citizen navigating the gauntlet of everyday life, a person’s perception and understanding of everything he or she took for granted is shattered. Such confrontations force one to seek answers that are difficult and often terrifying to ask—challenging, uncomfortable, raw questions about the existence of God, the nature of good and evil, and things we feel deep in our bones, but can’t see with our oh-so-rational eyes. And in the asking, we open ourselves up for a truth we weren’t prepared to believe or even contemplate.”—Brian Andrews, Jeffrey Wilson, Dark Intercept

The day before Navy SEAL Jedidiah Johnson is set to retire, he receives a frantic call from his estranged childhood friend. David’s daughter, Sarah Beth, has been kidnapped off the streets of Nashville in broad daylight. The police have no suspects and no leads. The only clue: the body of a dead priest left behind at the scene. David and his wife, Rachel—Jed’s first love—are desperate for help.

The police don’t appreciate Jed’s interference in their investigation, but he is determined to find Sarah Beth. Soon he experiences dark memories, voices in his head, nightmares, and visions, and someone tries to kill him. He’s saved by an ancient group known as the Shepherds whose mission is to fight darkness with light. A battle is waged, but not the kind Jed is used to. This is a spiritual battle between good and evil.

Dark Intercept is an action-packed thriller unlike anything I’ve ever read, and it gave me chills! Some of the word pictures the authors drew were terrifying, even more so because I know spiritual warfare is real. If you’re a Christ follower, you’ll be affected, too, but also reassured because God is the ultimate authority (Isaiah 54:17). This thriller is perfect for fans of Frank Peretti. 4 stars.

** Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a complimentary copy of this book. The opinions are my own.


Messenger of Truth
by Jacqueline Winspear

Once again, Maisie Dobbs did not disappoint. I love historical mysteries, and author Jacqueline Winspear gets extra points for having the detective be a woman, which in 1931 would have been unprecedented. It was a 2006 Agatha Award Nominee for Best Novel—always a good sign. (Incidentally, Louise Penny has won the award seven times.)

Nicholas Bassington-Hope was commissioned to paint war propaganda after sustaining injuries in combat. On the night before the opening of his exhibition at a celebrated Mayfair art gallery, he falls from a scaffolding to his death. The police rule it an accident, but the dead man’s twin sister suspects foul play. Where is the painting he was hanging?

When the authorities close the case, Georgina—a renowned wartime journalist—hires Maisie Dobbs to investigate. The case takes Maisie to the desolate beaches of Dungeness and the underbelly of the art world. To solve the mystery, she will have to remain steady as the forces behind his death try to silence her.

Winspear adds plenty of vivid period details to Messenger of Truth, and she juxtaposes the extravagances of the aristocracy with the plight of the poor. The twist at the end was stupendous… the identity of the murderer shocked me! The book concludes with a sense of hope as Maisie is ready to begin a new adventure. Jacqueline Winspear delivers another thrilling episode in the life of Maisie Dobbs. This was book number four in the series for me and I’m eager to read the next installment. 4 stars.


The Madness of Crowds
by Louise Penny

Louise Penny just keeps getting better. The Madness of Crowds is number seventeen in her Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, and I am now just one book away from being caught up. So many books to read, too little time!

As always, she’s composed a multilayered novel with the diverse, well-drawn characters I’ve come to love. It’s best to read her books in order, but she does a fine job referencing events from previous books to keep new readers in the loop.

The Madness of Crowds is about man’s inhumanity to man (or woman’s inhumanity to woman, whatever the case may be). Chief Inspector Gamache’s winter holiday is interrupted when he is asked to provide security during a professor’s lecture at a nearby university, a task well above his pay grade as the head of homicide for the Sûreté du Québec.

Curious, Armand investigates Professor Abigail Robinson and discovers a vile agenda. She argues pandemics can be eliminated by a program of mandatory euthanasia of groups such as the elderly and the disabled. During her presentation, an audience member fires a shot at her, narrowly missing. People around Canada become unhinged, some in agreement with her views, some who are horrified. When a related murder takes place in the village of Three Pines at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, Armand Gamache, his second-in-command Jean-Guy Beauvoir, and their team investigate the crime. Plenty of misdirection ensues. There sure are a lot of murders in tiny Three Pines!

This was a terrific plot full of suspense and ethical dilemmas, but I’m sick of reading about Covid. This is her only book that I didn’t tear through—I paused reading for a few months before picking it up again. 4 stars.


The 6:20 Man
by David Baldacci

“The money folks will forgive a lot if the cash keeps rolling in. Same goes for the government.”—David Baldacci, The 6:20 Man

I’ve read 27 books written by David Baldacci, some I gave two stars, some earned five. I’m thinking four stars is just right for The 6:20 Man.

Every day without fail, former Army Ranger Travis Devine boards the 6:20 commuter train to Manhattan, where he works as an entry-level analyst at Cowl and Comely, the city’s most prestigious investment firm. He gazes out the train window at the lavish homes of the uberwealthy, dreaming about joining their ranks.

Then one morning Devine receives an anonymous, untraceable message which reads: “She is dead.” Sara Ewes, Devine’s coworker and former girlfriend, is found hanging in a storage room of his office building—presumably a suicide—prompting the NYPD to put him on the suspect list. If that wasn’t enough, Devine is blackmailed into digging up dirt on his firm.

Baldacci gets serious points for his characterization of protagonist Travis Devine, and the complex, twisty plot has me turning the pages late into the night. I thought the details on computer hacking were also fascinating. He lost a few points, however, because the way Devine interrogated people was ridiculously unrealistic. People spewed info with little encouragement. Actually, the entire plot is implausible, but hey… this is fiction! Baldacci is a reliable thriller writer, so it won’t be long before I pick up another of his books. 4 stars.

** Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a complimentary copy of this book. The opinions are my own.


by Sandra Brown

Former Super Bowl MVP quarterback Zach Bridger is shocked to receive a call from the hospital about his ex-wife, Rebecca Pratt, who is on life-support following a violent assault. He hasn’t seen her since their volatile marriage fell apart five years earlier—why does he still have medical power-of-attorney? Zach must make an impossible choice: keep her on life support or pull the plug. Unable to decide, he walks away, and her vegetative state continues.

Two years later, Rebecca’s attacker gets an early release from prison. State prosecutor Kate Lennon is determined to put him back behind bars. But that would take a murder charge, and the only way to do that is for Zach to take Rebecca off life support. As happens in romantic suspense novels, Kate and Zach form an attraction. Blah blah, blah. The resulting sex scenes are completely unnecessary and passé. A hot former football player falls for a gorgeous, talented attorney. How cliché.

Overkill was my first Sandra Brown novel, and with its unique premise, intense plot, and surprise ending, I’ll likely pick up another one when the mood strikes. Some of the writing is awkward, though, especially the dialogue. This line was asinine: “Kate’s barefooted. Her feet must be cold. I know mine are. But I think you’re the one with cold feet, Cal.” Corny, right? 3.5 stars.

** Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a complimentary copy of this book. The opinions are my own.


Bridge of Gold
by Kimberley Woodhouse

“But as his thoughts turned darker toward Augustus, he felt convicted in his heart. Jesus died for all. And that included Augustus. No, God. No. I do not want to think of him as redeemable. He killed my friend! But the pressing on his heart didn’t stop. He closed his eyes and fought the feeling that he had to repent and show the love of Christ to the man beside him.”—Kimberley Woodhouse, Bridge of Gold

Bridge of Gold is an entertaining history lesson about the building of the Golden Gate Bridge during the Gold Rush era. Imagine constructing a 1.7-mile-long suspension bridge in the 1930s without modern equipment? To set the footings, divers wore clunky suits that weighed hundreds of pounds with heavy copper helmets. It’s mind blowing to me.

As I read, I stopped many times to do online research. San Francisco’s famous fog and rocky coastline make for a deadly combination. There are an estimated three hundred wrecks in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and the adjacent Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. Fascinating.

But I digress. Bridge of Gold is a multilayered story of greed, love, and faith set over the course of a century. Author Kimberley Woodhouse deftly balances multiple narratives and timelines, beginning with the modern day. The mayor of San Francisco hires underwater archaeologist Kayla Richardson to excavate a shipwreck at the Golden Gate Bridge repair site. Kayla and the head of the restoration team, Steven Michaels, discover a skeleton wrapped in chains and something else… gold. Mystery, danger, and romance follow in quick succession.

The other timeline takes place in 1933. Luke Moreau is looking to build a life in San Francisco with his fiancé and takes a job working on the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. When he finds a gold nugget and sees a sunken ship, his life is upended. Can he fend off ruthless gold hunters?

Most historical fiction is fairly long, but this book came in at just 256 pages. Although the conclusion was interesting, it seemed rushed. I found the present-day narrative more gripping, which is the opposite of my normal preference. Even though I wasn’t sold on the writing, the plot and faith elements made it worth the read. 3.5 stars rounded up to 4.

** Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a complimentary copy of this book. The opinions are my own.


The Mystery of Mrs. Christie
by Marie Benedict

In December 1926, novelist Agatha Christie and her husband Archie have a vicious argument about his unfaithfulness. On that frigid night, she vanishes. Investigators find her abandoned car on the edge of a deep pond, her fur coat still inside. Her daughter and unfaithful husband have no idea where she is. English officials unleash an unprecedented manhunt to find her and are joined by people all over the country. She reappears eleven days later, claiming amnesia. Marie Benedict wrote the book in a dual narrative: one story line is from Archie’s point-of-view as he contends with the media circus, the other from Agatha’s as she describes their relationship in her unpublished memoir.

This is the second historical novel I’ve read in the last year about Agatha’s Christie’s mysterious disappearance. I enjoyed the first, The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont, much more. Each book reimagines the course of events much differently, but Gramont’s novel is more dramatic, more creative. In The Mystery of Mrs. Christie, Benedict minimizes Agatha’s early career; the reason her disappearance was such a big deal. Unfortunately, I felt no emotional connection to Agatha and was annoyed by her simpering. Was she so pitiable in real life? There was too much focus on Archie and not enough on Agatha, although it was fun to learn more about him. He certainly wasn’t painted with a very flattering brush.

In the end, I liked Benjamin’s writing style, which is casual and readable without an overabundance of flowery language, but this book was just okay for me. 3 stars.













Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Literature, Newsletter, Reading and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .