Sunday, April 26, 2015

Accused, by Lisa Scottoline

Lawyer and amateur detective Mary DiNunzio's new client is a 13-year-old girl who believes the wrong man was convicted for her sister's murder. Allegra has known for six years that Lonnie is innocent, and she's finally able to hire a lawyer to help him, thanks to an inheritance from her grandfather that allows her to spend part of her income as she sees fit. As Mary digs into the case, she finds that there is a lot more to the story than appeared obvious at the time, and it seems clear that the police seized the first likely suspect and did no further investigations.

As with others in the Rosato and Associates novels, Mary's family becomes involved in the investigation, and she finds help from the three Tony's, octogenarian friends of her father's, as well as from others. She's struggling with her new roles as a partner in the firm (to be renamed Rosato and DiNunzio), as well as fiancé to Anthony Rotunno. Balancing her mother's and her soon-to-be mother-in-law's demands about the wedding are also a challenge.

This is a fast-paced, funny mystery with a lot of action. Like her other novels, Accused is set in Philadelphia and the surrounding area. I'm particularly fond of Ms. Scottoline because of her strong support for libraries; she's been a regular speaker at Pennsylvania Library Association events. Anyone who enjoys mysteries with a strong female protagonist would enjoy Accused.

Lisa Scottoline. Accused. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2013. 354 pages. ISBN 9781250027658.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Reputation Economy, by Michael Fertik

According to Michael Fertik, the founder and CEO of, our digital lives will be used to create reputation scores, similar to our credit ratings, that will be used in all manner of ways, both in our favor and against us. Citing studies that indicate that a person is more likely to declare bankruptcy if one of his or her friends declares bankruptcy, Fertik predicts that even our friends' online reputation will be used to create these future scores.

Fertik begins by describing how big data and data analysis make all of this possible. The development of inexpensive storage has created a situation in which it's cheaper to simply store all information rather than take the time to delete what's no longer needed, an effort that often requires human intervention. Everything that you do online: searching, downloading, viewing, buying, clicking likes, commenting, reviewing, sharing, friending, connecting, etc. is being collected and stored somewhere.

Fertik goes on to talk about the power of the internet to draw attention to you and your strengths, using the example of Arnel Pineda, who was the lead in a cover band in the Philippines and was hired as the new lead singer for Journey based on a video he posted to YouTube. Of course, most of Fertik's readers won't be hired by huge rock bands, but his tips are useful, if predictable: 1) post positive content widely, 2) post your resume online, 3) establish digital profiles, by buying your own domain name and updating it with, for example, professional information about yourself, 4) make sure all public information about you is consistent, 5) use social media wisely, 6) show growth over time. All of this is helpful, if unoriginal, advice for anyone who's concerned about their online profile.

The Reputation Economy is full of interesting anecdotes and predictions about how your online information will affect not only your hiring potential, but also how you might be treated as a customer at hotels or restaurants. Fertik's vision of a future in which the food you order at a restaurant is later used by an employer to determine whether you might be worth hiring is a little scary. We can only hope that some privacy will remain in our future (or we'll all have to go back to paying for everything in cash). The Reputation Economy provides a lot of food for thought.

Michael Fertik and David C. Thompson. The Reputation Economy: How to Optimize your Digital Footprint in a World Where your Reputation is your Most Valuable Asset. New York: Crown Business, 2015. 244 pages. ISBN 9780385347594.

I received this book for review from Blogging for Books.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Help for the Haunted, by John Searles

Sylvie is a young girl who's lost both her parents to violence. She's living in their house, under the care of her older sister, and trying to make sense of her life. Sylvie's parents were famous for helping people who were haunted by their dead loved ones. Sylvie lied about what happened the night they died because she's trying to protect her sister; while she doesn't believe her sister is guilty, she's afraid to ask her for the truth. She continues to pursue clues and leads in an attempt to understand what happened and who's responsible for their deaths. Did it have to do with one of their clients who was unhappy with their inability to help him? Or is the truth more mundane than that?

I absolutely loved this combination ghost story and mystery. The writing is truly excellent and it was impossible to put the book down. I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes mysteries and suspense stories.

I heard Mr. Searles speak about this book at the 2013 BEA. He also wrote Strange but True, another excellent book. 

John Searles. Help for the Haunted. New York: William Morrow, 2013.362 pages. ISBN 9780060779634.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Wonder Singer, by George Rabasa

Mark Lockwood is a writer who has spent recent months getting the story of famous opera singer Merce Casals so that he can ghost write her autobiography. When she dies unexpectedly, the publisher decides to drop this project and instead hire a more famous author to write her biography. Mark knows that this is the story of his career and he goes into hiding along with all of his cassettes and notes so he can write her story and publish it first. In the meantime, his obsession with Merce is creating stress in his marriage, and he becomes infatuated with Merce's young, attractive nurse.

I loved this story of obsession, love, and friendship. The writing is wonderful and goes back and forth between Mark's own story and Merce's life and loves. The characters are interesting and well-developed, and I wanted to know what happened to them after the story ended. I highly recommend this book.

George Rabasa. The Wonder Singer. Denver, CO: Unbridled Books, 2008. 322 pages. ISBN 9781932961560.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Black Hour, by Lori Rader-Day

Amelia Emmet is a tenured college professor who was shot a year ago by an undergraduate student. No one has ever been able to determine his motive; he was never in any of her classes and she doesn't remember ever having met him before. The book begins with Amelia coming back to work in the fall after her medical leave. She's in pain and having a difficult time adjusting to the return. Her graduate assistant turns out to be obsessed with her case, and the book follows both of their efforts to figure out what happened.

While I liked the premise, I found Ms. Rader-Day's writing and characterization of Amelia and her graduate student to be a little annoying. Some of the passages, such as Amelia's struggles to climb the stairs, are drawn out entirely too long. Nevertheless, the plot kept me going, as I was curious to see where she was taking us with this story. This is Ms. Rader-Day's first book, and I expect she'll get better at pacing and characterization, but I can't be extremely enthusiastic about this book.

Lori Rader-Day. The Black Hour. Amherst, NY: Seventh Street Books, 2014. 331 pages. ISBN 9781616148850.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Holy Thief, by William Ryan

This is a historical mystery set in Moscow in 1936. A young woman's body has been found in a former church, and her death appears to be related to a market in Orthodox icons. Captain Korolev of the Moscow police has been asked to investigate the murder and to report back daily to an officer in the NKVD. He's faced with the challenge of investigating while important information is being withheld from him, and any misstep could mean his arrest or even death. I really enjoyed the portrayal of Soviet culture, when those in and out of favor change constantly and no one ever really feels safe. This book was really well-written and it kept my interest throughout. I recommend this to anyone who enjoys mystery, suspense, and historical settings. 

William Ryan's website is here; it looks like he has a number of other books in this series. My copy is an advance readers' edition, and it came with an audio excerpt on CD.

William Ryan. The Holy Thief. New York: Minotaur Books, 2010. 345 pages. ISBN 9780312586454.

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Assassin's Gallery, by David L. Robbins

Mikhal Lammeck is an expert on assassination, writing what he believes will be the definitive book on the topic, titled The Assassination's Gallery. Although he's a teacher at a university in Scotland near the end of World War II, he is convinced to come to the United States to investigate what appears to be an assassin on U.S. shores going after President Roosevelt. Working with his former student, now Special Agent Nabbit of the Secret Service, he tries to think like an assassin in order to figure out where she'll strike before it happens. This is a well-written and enjoyable suspense novel. Recommended to all who like the genre.

I picked this up at the 2006 BEA in Washington, D.C.; it's inscribed "For Rebecca, David L. Robbins."

David L. Robbins. The Assassin's Gallery. New York: Bantam Dell, 2006. 413 pages. ISBN 0553804413.