Saturday, February 17, 2018

Murder in the One Percent by Saralyn Richard

Murder in the One Percent is a winning romp of a mystery. It’s a cozy procedural featuring a clever and determined detective, a cast of the nation’s wealthiest and most powerful suspects, and a surprising narrative. As most Americans ponder the widening disparity between the haves and have-nots, this winsome tale highlights those differences as seen via an over-the-top birthday weekend. Despite its sardonic insight into current issues, Murder in the One Percent manages to illuminate today’s consumerist culture without using words that might offend your Aunt Agatha.

The tale begins when Caro Campbell invites her influential husband John E.’s closest friends to a weekend celebration of his 65th birthday at their rural Pennsylvania estate. Caro’s first cousin, Preston Phillips certainly came by his invitation via his relationship with her as everyone attending the party detests him despite his achievements. The former Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, outstanding athlete, and a man now on wife number four is not someone the other guests look upon seeing with pleasure as they contemplate the coming weekend.

The youngest guests, Libby and Les Bloom and her older sister Margo who was left at the altar by Phillips years previously, can’t stand Phillips. Marshall and Julia Winthrop blame Phillips for heavy losses in their financial portfolio. Vicki and Leon Spiller fault him for the long-ago death of their teenage son. Kitty and Gerald Kelley, he the head of a major Wall Street firm and author of a best-selling book touting the path for “everyone to earn millions,” don’t want to go either. Kitty can’t forgive Phillips for what he did to her dear friend Margo and Gerald opined of Phillips, “It’ll be a miracle if one of us doesn’t wring his neck in those thirty-six hours.”

Andrea and Stan Baker, the Campbell’s next-door neighbors who annually appear on Forbes’ billionaire list aren't looking forward to spending time with Phillips. Andrea, a notable crime writer, doesn’t like his values and was secretly glad that she and Stan weren’t staying overnight at the Campbell estate. Only Phillip’s young wife Nicole seems enamored with him until she has an accident and he ignores her plight.

When Phillips is found dead in his bedroom, Detective Oliver Parrot wonders if it might be easier to determine who doesn’t have a motive to kill him rather than who actually might have committed the crime.  Set among the extremely rich guests who don’t relish his questions, the African-American detective provides welcome relief from the excessive privilege the guests exhibit. When even the former President of the United States begins calling Parrot’s boss to complain that the investigation is taking too long, Parrot painstakingly continues his quest. When the medical examiner finds that a rare poison used in home aquariums may be the cause of death, Parrot shows that he’s far more capable than many of the suspects expect him to be.

Details are what make this mystery fascinating and are also what occasionally slow it down. A litany of fashion labels, vintage wines, and multi-carat diamonds highlights the extreme wealth of the guests. These stand in contrast to the detective’s life of Chinese carry-out meals, late hours, and yearning for his fiancĂ©, a Navy SEAL serving halfway around the world.

Summing It Up: Murder in the One Percent is an engaging procedural with an unexpectedly delicious twist of an ending that will leave readers wanting more of Detective Oliver Parrot. The satirical jabs at the suspects and their “affluenza” deliver a tasty treat of a whodunit.

Note: It's a small world. Many years ago, Saralyn Richard and I lived in the same Chicago suburb and our sons were on a little league baseball team together. She taught at Thornridge High School in Dolton, IL. Find her book launch events (including one in Chicago) here

Richard lives in Galveston, Texas where the town is excited about her book. Last night a local restaurant featured this neon tribute. 

Rating: 4 stars   
Category: Chinese Carryout, Fiction, Mysteries and Thrillers, Book Club
Publication date: February 17, 2018
Author Website:

Saralyn Richard on her research for the book:
What Others are Saying:

Some might call Murder in the One Percent an American cozy with nods to contemporary social issues.  I call it a page-turner packed with humorous lines that made me laugh out loud.  Or maybe it’s best to call this delightful mystery a satire about the upper class.  However you describe it, Saralyn Richard successfully delivers a rollicking whodunit that will make you stay up late at night and leave you guessing until the very end.  Move over, Dame Agatha Christie.  There’s a new kid on the block. – Ann Weisgarber, The Promise and The Personal History of Rachel DuPree

The twists unravel, then turn around and bite you. Saralyn Richard’s take on the classic murder mystery is fresh, fun, and deadly. – Bob Bickford, author of Deadly Kiss, ITW Best First Novel Award Winner

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Kremlin's Candidate by Jason Matthews

The Kremlin’s Candidate is Jason Matthews’ third and final book in the Red Sparrow trilogy and it’s just as exciting as The Red Sparrow and Palace of Treason were. You’ll want to read these books in order and, if you can, read The Red Sparrow before the movie starring Jennifer Lawrence hits the big screen on March 2. Dominka Egorova, a rising star in Russia’s intelligence service, formerly a “sparrow” trained to sexually entrap would be foreign agents, is a now also a spy for the U.S. She’s the primary protagonist of all three political thrillers whose emphasis on Russian spying seems more realistic every day. 

Author Matthews retired after serving 33 years in the CIA’s Operations Directorate and his inside knowledge and disdain for politicians and some inside the CIA are on display in his writing. What makes his novels unique is that he builds page-turning suspense and offers word pictures that put the reader into the story. One example occurs when a CIA agent lands in Khartoum. “Outside the terminal, the brakes of the canary-yellow taxi squealed like a pissed-off baboon. Probably the red Sudanese dust on the pads, thought Gable. The shit gets everywhere.”

In The Kremlin’s Candidate, Dominika and her American handler and lover Nate Nash must stop a U.S. Admiral who’s a mole spying for the Russians and who’s on the short list to become the next CIA director. Not only would her appointment disrupt American intelligence goals, it would also endanger Dominika. In addition to several terrifyingly exciting action scenes, the novel also offers a delightful, yet chillingly realistic caricature of Vladimir Putin. The book stays away from portraying or even hinting at any current or previous U.S. Presidents which means that readers of every political bent can enjoy it. This review won’t supply any more details of the story as readers will want to discover them for themselves.

Summing it Up: Read The Kremlin’s Candidate to fall under the spell of political intrigue, spy tricks, great descriptions, frightening characters, and a cast of regulars you’re sure to love.

Rating: 5 stars   

Category: Fiction, Five Stars, Mysteries and Thrillers

Publication date: February 13, 2018

What Others are Saying:
The Washington Post:

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

Teens love fantasy. Teens love magic with a touch of the creepy. Readers love story. Readers love books about books. Debut author Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood is all of these so I believe it will be one of the biggest Young Adult hits of 2018. The Hazel Wood feels timeless so one almost expects it to begin with the words “Long ago in a faraway land,” but it’s a contemporary novel so it begins with the thoughts of seventeen-year-old Alice, “My mother was raised on fairy tales, but I was raised on highways.” Alice and her mother Ella “lived like vagrants, staying with friends till our welcome wore through at the elbows, perching in precarious places, then moving on. We didn’t have a chance to stand still. Until the year I turned seventeen, and Althea died in the Hazel Wood. . .

Until Althea Prosperine (born Anna Parks) died all alone on the grand estate she’d named the Hazel Wood, my mother and I had spent our lives as bad luck guests. We moved at least twice a year and sometimes more, but the bad luck always found us.”

Alice had spent much of her childhood trying to learn more about her grandmother Althea, the reclusive author of a famous, yet almost impossible to find book of eerie fairy tales. The book, Tales from the Hinterland, and the movie that earned it its fame made Althea wealthy and paid for the Hazel Wood estate that so intrigued Alice. When Ella disappears after leaving a message for Alice to “stay the hell away from the Hazel Wood,” Alice begins a terrifying trek to find the estate and her mother. Helped by Finch, a wealthy, biracial friend from school, whose fanatic devotion to the book means that he may know how to locate the mysterious Hazel Wood, Alice enters the foreboding world of the Hinterland where story is paramount, but it still may not save you.

Unlike most books for teens, this one is short on romance and absent the sex that seems to pepper so many popular novels for older YA readers. Instead, it features disturbingly realistic, yet fantastic scenes of the gritty, fearless Alice’s encounters with bloody and sometimes gruesome scenes. Much of the book is laced with references to children’s literature that geeky young readers will adore as much as I did.

Until Alice set off for the Hazel Wood, I was mesmerized, then I found myself wanting to skim some of the more sinister scenes to get to the climax. I stuck with it, read every word, and was rewarded by a less than happily-ever-after ending that fit the book perfectly.  I don’t think fantasy-loving teens will find the menacing atmosphere as off-putting as I did and I predict that they, like all the major critics, will give this one five stars. The writing is so atmospheric and haunting that even though the carnage was more than I wanted, I admire it immensely.

Summing it Up: Buy The Hazel Wood for fantasy-loving teens and young adults fourteen and older. Read it for a chilling glimpse into a fantasy world where story matters. Savor it for its exquisite evocation of mood and place. Illustrator Jim Tierney’s evocative cover deserves accolades for its beauty and its introduction to the novel.

Take your favorite young adult to Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, IL this Saturday, February 3 at 2 p.m. where the author will be in conversation with YA author Joelle Charbonneau. It’s a free event.

Rating: 4 stars   
Category: Diet Coke and Gummi Bears, Fiction, Book Club
Publication date: January 30. 2018
What Others are Saying:

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Best Young Adult Books of 2017

There’s nothing better than a Young Adult title when you want a quick immersion into a book that makes you think. The novels on this list will appeal to adults as well as teens. Read any one of these books, give it to a teen you love, then talk (and listen). Almost everything that scares you about the state of the world, is covered in young adult literature. If you want to understand topics that frighten you, read young adult books.

The Best YA Novel of 2017 (It’s a three-way tie):

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The Hate U Give is a riveting glimpse at today’s world where young African-Americans lose their lives in senseless police shootings. Sixteen-year-old Starr watches as a policeman shoots her friend. She can’t figure out how to survive in two separate worlds – the impoverished area where she lives and the elite suburban prep school she attends. If you want to understand the Black Lives Matter movement, read this. The novel’s title comes from a Tupac acronym for “thug life” meaning “The Hate U Give Little Infants, F---s Everybody.” This would be the perfect companion to All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brandon Kiely.  DC/SN, BC Ages 13 and up
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
Long Way Down begins when fifteen-year-old Will‘s brother Shawn is killed and Will feels like “the ground opened up and ate him.” Most of the book takes place in the sixty-seven seconds after Will finds Shawn’s gun then rides the elevator downstairs while deciding whether to murder Shawn’s killer as he encounters ghosts from his life on each floor. Told in dazzling, staccato free verse, this book will help you comprehend teen gun violence. Listen to the author read it for even more of an impact. I listened to it and read it and gained from both experiences.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
Turtles All the Way Down explores teen anxiety like nothing I’ve ever read. Thankfully, John Green has written a novel that teens will read just because he wrote it and that many teens, parents, teachers, and mental health professionals will find to be a lifesaver. Aza has thoughts that she can’t control. She knows that thoughts are not actions, but that doesn’t help on bad days. Aza’s friend Daisy loves Aza and her spirit. When a billionaire disappears, Aza and Daisy decide to seek the reward using Aza’s connection to the missing man’s son. Green’s explication of Aza makes us care enough to want to understand mental illness. G/DC/SN, BC

The Best YA Debut Novel of 2017:
A List of Cages by Robin Roe

A List of Cages is a gripping debut that will have you holding your breath as you fly through the pages. Adam is one of the most popular kids in school. Julian isn’t. But Adam, a senior, has a connection to weird freshman Julian. Julian lived with Adam and his mother in a foster care situation after Julian’s parents died, then Julian’s uncle showed up and took him away. What’s happening at Julian’s house? Why does he miss so much school? What’s happening with Adam’s friends? DC, Ages 13 and up

The Best YA Novel for Tweens
The Warden’s Daughter by Jerry Spinelli
The Warden’s Daughter is a spirited ode to grief as suffered by a twelve-year-old “tough” girl who lives in a large jail and who wishes Eloda, the trustee who cares for her, her father, and their apartment, could be her mother. It’s set in 1959 in Two Mills, PA, the setting of Spinelli’s Maniac Magee. Spinelli continues to capture the way kids act and thus he grabs and holds their attention. The twist at the end of this marvel is poignant and powerful. There are so few good books for this age group that don’t involve sex that it’s even more of a wonder. DC/PP Ages 10–14

The Best YA Book for “Girls:”
Girl Up by Laura Bates

Girl Up is brilliant, bold, profane, sarcastic, and just what teenage girls and young women deserve to have in their corner. If you’re a parent, teacher, counselor, or just someone who cares about the future of girls, read this book. The “f” word, slang words for genitalia, and some statements and drawings may bother some adults but it isn’t for them; it’s for teens. My full review is here. DC/SN/S Ages 13 and up

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