Summer Shorts, 2015 – Three for the Beach


There are two kinds of Beach Reads:

  • Action-packed adventure/thrillers that rev up your blood pressure and provide stay-awake reading
  • Completely relaxing, low-key, fun mystery books that tweak your brain cells, but allow you to nod off on time

Action-packed Beach Reads are books that you can take with you on vacation, or allow you to immerse yourself between the pages if you can’t get away. They transport you to a place and time you will most likely never see and the heroes and heroines are super at what they do. A great action Beach Read delivers pure escapism.


Book Cover - Expedition Indigo


Stacy Allen’s debut novel, “Expedition Indigo,” introduces us to Dr. Riley Cooper, a Professor of Archeology at a renowned university, an expert in Mediterranean history, a certified diver, but not so expert in picking the right guy, or staying out of danger.


The Under Water Sea Adventures salvage company has discovered a sunken ship off the coast of Italy that may hold Charlemagne’s coronation cross, thought to have been lost forever. When Cooper’s boss is injured in a mysterious accident, she gets the chance of a lifetime to work in the field to verify the cross’ authenticity, but suspense and intrigue surrounding the find may be her undoing. The Vatican wants her help, a rival salvage company wants people dead, her love interest may have too many strings attached, and Riley just wants to do her job.


Cooper’s refreshing naiveté in the cutthroat world of treasure hunting, and the fascinating look at the world of archeology, combine to make this an entertaining (as well as educational) Beach Read, with plenty of action to boot. Nominated for the Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel.





Book Cover - Weakest Lynx



Fiona Quinn, “Weakest Lynx” – In Quinn’s first solo novel, she delivers an absorbing spin on the thriller genre with an under-the-radar, 20 year old psychic, Lexi Sobado, at the center. When a creepy stalker threatens her life, she receives round the clock protection from the Special Ops teams she has helped in the past. 


Quinn’s writing style is taut, as Lexi deals with the stalker that never stops coming, a honeymoon cut short, and constant psychic and physical challenges. Not to give anything away, but Lexi’s recovery from an accident is particularly hair-raising. Her psychic sensations will give you chills and the disturbing stalker will make you think about getting a security system installed before you finish reading the book. With a forbidden love interest, and loads of action from start to finish, this is a wild Beach Read and a Kindle Scout winner. Book 2 of the series, “Missing Lynx,” is out now.





For something more mellow, look to…

Book Cover - braun1


Lilian Jackson Braun, “The Cat Who…” series

The prolific Lilian Jackson Braun wrote the extremely popular ‘Cat Who’ series of twenty-nine books between 1966 and 2008. They starred James Qwilleran, former newspaper reporter who inherits a large fortune in the fictional small town of Pickax. In order to accept the inheritance and manage a worthy Foundation, he must move to the town. A man of simple means and a huge mustache, this grates against his nature, but the greater good changes his mind.


Coming from the big city, Qwilleran isn’t used to the scrutiny of small town living, but settles in with two Siamese cats, KoKo and Yum-Yum. They help him solve cases, mostly murders, by doing what cats do best, knocking over books which miraculously open to pages indicating clues, chasing each other through the Apple Barn (in which he lives for most of the books) when something happens they don’t like. They have diets of salmon and other expensive tidbits – they eat better than most people – and won’t settle for ordinary food. Delightful series, quick gentle reads for those that want to enjoy quirky characters, solve the mystery, and de-stress while on vacation.


As always, Happy Reading, whether at the beach or staying home with a tall glass of sweet tea and a great book.  What's your favorite Beach Read? Let us know in the comments below.  🙂



Reader Favorites – New Reviews 2014


Book Cover - Upstairs at the White House

It’s always fun to discover which new reviews get the most attention during the year. The most popular reviews were ReTweeted dozens of times, shared on Facebook, and Google+, and got some attention on Pinterest. There were old titles, new titles, fiction and non-fiction, seasoned authors and debut authors in the mix. Several were best sellers.


In case you missed the reviews, here are the 2014 favorites on NightstandBookReviews in alphabetical order by author. Click on the titles and take a look:


Lucy Burdette, “Appetite for Murder


Robert Dugoni, “My Sister’s Grave


Robert Dugoni, “The Conviction


Sarah Graves, “Triple Witch


Edith Maxwell, “A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die


Leigh Perry, “A Skeleton in the Family


MJ Rose, “The Book of Lost Fragrances


Barbara Ross, “Clammed Up


Daniel Silva, “The English Girl


JB West & ML Katz, “Upstairs at the White House


Lynn Chandler Willis, “The Rising

Happy reading!


“My Sister’s Grave” by Robert Dugoni


Book Cover - My Sisters Grave


In “My Sister’s Grave,” Tracy Crosswhite, a Seattle homicide detective, is still investigating her sister’s murder twenty years after the fact. A paroled rapist was convicted at the time and is sitting in jail for the crime, but Tracy believes the wrong guy was put away.


Her 18 year old sister, Sarah, disappeared the evening following their championship shooting competition, and though a thorough search was conducted, her body was never found.  Deep down, Tracy wanted to believe there was a chance that Sarah might still have been alive. But, if not, who killed Sarah? And why? Tracy’s obsession with solving the case has even driven away her sympathetic, once supportive husband.


When Sarah’s body is discovered in a now dry lakebed, Tracy returns to Cedar Grove and wants the case reopened. She faces resistance from unexpected directions as people urge her to let it go, saying that the town has suffered along with the Crosswhite family and wants to move on. What had been a place of unlocked doors has become a place of anger and sadness, without trust. The more Tracy pushes for answers, the more she suspects a cover-up has been buried along with her sister for all that time, the more her own life is in danger.


“My Sister’s Grave” is an absorbing look at the actions of a loved one left behind, consumed with guilt that she was responsible for her sister’s death. Who could move on from that in real life? We know that Tracy should not be shouldering that guilt, but we are drawn into the story and want to find the truth as well.


As always, Robert Dugoni writes fully fleshed out characters, people we can root for as well as people we can despise. Dan, a childhood friend, now a lawyer living in Cedar Grove, works nicely as Tracy’s sounding board and support system when she needs it. Their personal relationship develops naturally and provides balance to the intensity of the fast-paced, mature-themed storylines and jaw-dropping plot twists.


How does Robert Dugoni write the women in his books so beautifully? Get inside their heads in such a believable way? I learned this summer that the man has four sisters. ‘Nuf said. 


He also has a knack for creating memorable settings for the climactic scenes in his books. Not to give anything away, but I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough during the snowstorm section.


Dugoni revealed that the idea for "My Sister's Grave" came from an actual water diversion that caused water to recede and then expose previously covered land. His mystery-focused mind went in the direction of murder and an unsolved crime.


This is not an addition to Dugoni’s bestselling David Sloane series, but not to worry. Crosswhite is a character from “Murder One” and Dugoni has done a terrific job of building on that persona and giving her the strong voice she deserves in order to be the lead in “My Sister’s Grave.” If you’d like to read a bit of background on the Tracy Crosswhite character and what makes her tick, Dugoni published a novella a few months ago, titled “The Academy,” that works nicely as an intro to this book.


With so many missing persons on record in the database, what is fiction for “My Sister’s Grave” may be tragic truth for some grieving family out there. What drives Tracy to keep digging would be natural for most families. It’s about closure. We want a wandering family member to be okay. If we suspect that a crime has been committed, we want justice for the victim. We want to help victims of amnesia, restore them to a loving home. Our humanity wants help for the lost, and if we felt that we had anything to do with the disappearance, we would feel guilt and maybe even an obsessive need to discover the facts. I’d like to think that if I had been trapped or lost, that a ‘Tracy’ in my life would not have stopped looking.


Dugoni mentioned on Facebook that he is working on the sequel. Can’t wait! (It is now 15 months later, and happily for us, he has written more books in the series)  🙂


Read my review of “Wrongful Death” here.

Read my review of “The Conviction” here.


Please visit for more information about his work, his book signings, and the writing classes he conducts.







“Ransom River” by Meg Gardiner


Book Cover - Ransom River

In Meg Gardiner’s “Ransom River,” lawyer Rory Mackenzie reluctantly returns home to Ransom River, California, after funding for the charity for which she worked, dries up. There was no place else to go, but her memories of the people in the place she grew up still haunt her. And she immediately gets called to jury duty on a high profile case. Not a great start to her homecoming.


She is chosen as juror #7 and settles in for the duration, notebook in hand. From Rory’s point of view, the capital murder case looks like an easy win for the prosecution, given the obvious false testimony of the two police officers on trial for killing a teenaged burglar. (The officers were having an affair, the teenager broke into the house on a dare, and everything went south.) The jury is watching a crucial piece of evidence, a video of the shooting itself, when two men storm the courtroom and take everyone hostage. Shotguns are very convincing persuaders as the jurors and spectators are threatened into following orders, and the casualties mount.


The action rapidly unfolds and the hostages are rescued, but the question remains, what did the kidnappers want? Rory had tried to signal for help from the courtroom windows and becomes a suspect for her troubles. The cops have her in their sights, needing someone to pin the courtroom debacle on. Her skanky relatives show up, and add to her misery, feigning interest in her well being, but looking as if they want to cash in on her sudden fame. The dead teenager’s father, a local crime boss, thinks she knows more than she’s telling.


But, Rory doesn’t know what she knows, except that the past is encroaching on the present in ways that terrify her. Seth, her old boyfriend (childhood friend and a former cop) gets involved and he’s about the only hope she has for getting at the truth. Gardiner has created another strong, yet vulnerable, young woman in Rory Mackenzie – worthy of her own series of books, although “Ransom River” is a stand-alone – and Seth is a convincing complement to her.



There are a number of twists and jaw-dropping surprises in “Ransom River,” and several well-written, deliciously slithery characters. Old friends may not actually be friends and help comes from unexpected places.


If I mention which people truly gave me the creeps and made me wonder if I really wanted to read into the night – that would be telling. I quashed the creepy feeling and kept going. Gardiner has a knack for writing ‘stay-awake-reading’ and I did need to find out how Rory got out of each of her dangerous situations. The reason behind the courtroom drama is much more complex than it first appears, and the ensuing action is non-stop in this intense thriller, as greed rules the day.


I must say that Meg Gardiner’s “Ransom River” has an ending that will blow your mind. Hopeful and a little scary at the same time.


Read my review of Ms. Gardiner's "The Memory Collector," here.

Please visit for more information about her recent book releases, awards and appearances.





“Even Money” by Dick Francis and Felix Francis


Book Cover - Even Money

“Even Money,” by former champion steeple chase jockey Dick Francis and his son, Felix, takes us behind the scenes of a smalltime legal bookie’s business in England. Ned Talbot is working his spot at Royal Ascot when an older man approaches and wants to chat about Ned’s grandfather, the man who started the family operation many years before. Hardly the time for a conversation, Ned puts him off until later in the day, annoyed by the intrusion.


Three hours later, after revealing that he is the father Ned thought died long ago in a car crash, the man is mortally stabbed in front of Ned in the track parking lot, by an attacker who keeps asking where his money is. With the “Be very careful of everyone” warning on the father’s dying breath, “Easy Money” is off and running.


Why was he stabbed? What money? Was the man really his father? If so, where had he been for the last thirty-six years? Anger and frustration and grief hit full force as Ned tries to sort it all out. When a stranger breaks into Ned’s house looking for his father’s property, Ned knows that whatever else, his father was up to no good before he died.


The police discover that his father had traveled from Australia under a different name, and of course, don’t quite believe Ned’s version of the mugging. Ned must deal with the death, the police and the questions he has, all while working to have his wife released from a mental institution. Pressured at every turn, Ned must even fend off thugs from a betting syndicate that is trying to force out smalltime bookies.


What unfolds is a multi-layered mystery set against the background of horseracing, with an emphasis on the betting. The Francis team has the task of explaining how betting works for both the punter (the person who places the bet) and the bookie. They describe the process simply enough so that the average reader can follow that particular storyline. A bookmaker’s odds chart is provided at the beginning of the book, but while interesting, it is not essential to understanding the action. A note: the British system of betting is a bit less controlled than the U.S. system, with more leeway for placing and paying out bets.


The racing world in “Even Money” has arrived at modern day, with internet betting, computerized betting stubs, RFID chips for horse identification, horse passports, wi-fi and cell phones.


We learn of the latest schemes to switch good and bad horses just before a race – long gone are the days when a horse could be painted and passed off as a different mount. International racing comes into play as some of his father’s secrets are revealed.


Ned Talbot seems tough enough and clever enough to cope with all the complications that pop up as he solves the several puzzles and deals with horrible truths about his father. Ned is not a super hero James Bond type, though; his handling of the many twists and turns seem possible even for the common guy. And that’s why we root for him. We can see ourselves in the same tight spots and know with a little luck and quick thinking that we could be masters of our own fates, too.


He has able assistants at the track and I especially liked Luca and Duggie. They seem perfectly suited for the technical know-how and showmanship needed in the book. The bad guys are interesting and vary according to their level of motivation in the story and what they want from Ned. The payback scheme at the end is terrific and worthy of a heist movie.


Among other awards, Dick Francis was a three-time winner of the Edgar Award, bestowed by the Mystery Writers of America. He wrote forty-three bestselling novels and was widely considered to be one of the best thriller writers in the world.


“Even Money” was published in 2009 and was the third of four novels co-written by Dick and Felix Francis. Dick Francis passed away in early 2010 and the fourth book was published later that year. For more information about Dick Francis and his career, as well as Felix and how he is carrying on the family business, please visit





“Ghost Country” by Patrick Lee


Book Cover - Ghost Country

Patrick Lee’s “Ghost Country” is the second in a three-book series. I read solid comments about the first book, “The Breach,” and wanted to see if “Ghost Country” lived up to the reported high standards set by the debut sci-fi/adventure/thriller. Wow! That would be a resounding, “YES!”


ENTITY: Technologically advanced gadgets (entities) come through the super secret BREACH.

BREACH: A type of wormhole in Wyoming, created when an ion collider exploded.


As “Ghost Country” opens, Paige Campbell, a high-level employee of a government agency called TANGENT, has just left a briefing with the President about an entity so powerful that it can change our view of both the present and the future. This entity (in the shape of a rolling pin sized cylinder) has the ability to transport the holder through time – but only 73 years into the future and back again.


Paige’s convoy is attacked while the White House is still in view. In a minute by pulse-pounding minute description of the perfectly executed attack, including details of a PDA-holding guy checking for photos of the ‘keepers’ as a shooter follows behind to dispatch the rest, Lee sets the pace and feel of the book.


Paige is able to send a message to her tech-savvy contact, Bethany Stewart, right before she is abducted. Bethany enlists the help of Travis Chase, a man who has been in hiding for two years, working at a low level job, avoiding contact with anyone and everyone associated with TANGENT.


Bethany and Travis obtain an entity, but have a limited amount of time to figure out what it does, while trying to save both the world and Paige. Along the way, they discover evil schemes, get a look at a hideous bone-filled, ruined future, and take advantage of Bethany's considerable hacking skills. Oh, and nearly get killed several times.


Lee treats us to imaginative uses of the time travel device to help Travis and Bethany stay ahead of the bad guys, gives a nod to the inevitable time travel paradox and delivers one of the most chilling methods to change civilization that I’ve ever read – worthy of the intelligent-but-twisted villains that want to counter the world’s present path.


The clever storyline in “Ghost Country” is diabolical, and even shocking, but there are no loose ends. The tech part of “Ghost Country” is blended with great dialogue, interesting characters and relationships, and action that works in any time period. Make sure your ereader is fully charged before starting this novel, because you'll want to read it uninterrupted.


“Ghost Country” raises an intriguing question: if you had the opportunity to move to another time (whether past or future) would you? Would you at least be curious enough to take a peek without stepping all the way across the threshold of the time/space continuum? Lee’s novel made me want to.


There are references to events in “Breach,” but “Ghost Country” can be read as a stand alone using the brief definitions supplied at the book’s beginning. “Deep Sky” is the third in this series and I’m looking forward to reading about what’s next for these engaging characters in the midst of complex circumstances.


“The Runner,” the first in a new series, has just been released.

Please visit for more information about this talented author and his other books.


Full disclosure: Patrick Lee’s thrilling “Ghost Country” came through my techport as a result of an online endorsement by his agent, Janet Reid. I’m a subscriber to Ms. Reid’s marvelously informative and occasionally sharky snarky column.






“The Conviction” by Robert Dugoni




Top Seattle attorney, David Sloane, may be at home in the courtroom and able to outsmart his opponents, but he is out of his element when dealing with his troubled stepson.


Sloane’s wife has died and he has relinquished custody of his stepson to Jake’s biological father who lives in California, a move that has confused and angered Jake. “The Conviction” opens with Jake’s future at stake after he has been arrested for public intoxication (for the second time) and property damage. The judge decides to give him one last chance to straighten himself out in rehab or else go to jail. She assigns responsibility for Jake’s attendance to Sloane and they head back to Seattle.


Rather than re-bonding with his stepfather, Jake remains sullen and resentful. He’s back in the house where he witnessed his mother being murdered and can’t get past his grief and rage. When Jake and David are invited to go on a camping trip with an old friend and detective, Tom Molia, and his son, T.J., it looks as if a week in the woods might be a great way to reconnect with this young stranger that David no longer understands.


But instead, Jake tries to buy beer and cigarettes with fake ID on the first day of the trip, and drags T.J. along with him. The storeowner confiscates the ID, but the boys return later and break in, taking liquor and a rifle along with the recovered ID. Of course, they get caught by the police soon after, but not before they get drunk and shoot up the woods close to town. Sounds like a mess, with T.J. a reluctant participant, driven by his need to be accepted.


The boys are tried, convicted and sentenced to time in a local juvenile detention center (Fresh Start) before their fathers even know they’re missing from their room. That’s only the beginning of the nightmare that ensues.


The fathers attempt to get Jake and T.J. retried and released, or at least moved to a facility closer to home, but are stymied by the cops and judge in this small California town that seem to skirt constitutional rights. Sloane and Molia suspect corruption, but with what motive, what payoff?


Dugoni delivers an alarming story of a juvenile legal system gone horribly wrong, with teenaged inmates working as virtual slaves in boot camps, rather than receiving the rehab and guidance advertised in the fancy brochures. He takes a look at teens who make poor choices despite the help available, and the serious consequences awaiting them. Dugoni never implies that Jake and T.J. should not be punished for their actions, merely that they be counseled on their rights and then sentenced appropriately.


At Fresh Start, Jake grows up quickly when he discovers that something more is going on at the camp beyond their re-education, and that knowledge could get him and T.J. killed before David can get them out. The parallel plotline of the fathers trying to free the boys, while working against the clock and being threatened themselves, is gripping.


“The Conviction” moves from legal suspense to thriller mode in this pulse-pounding, page-turning, sleep-robbing tale. I had several ‘gasp’ moments as Dugoni built tension and advanced the dramatic story.


There are no false notes. Jake’s ability to deal with whatever is thrown at him physically, is set up early on and the action involving the supporting characters is completely believable, given their backgrounds. Those supporting characters, whether adults who oppose (or side with) Sloane and Molia, or teens who battle (or help) Jake and T.J., are so clearly drawn that I kept casting them in a movie in my mind’s eye.


This is the fifth book in the David Sloane series and in my opinion, the best so far.


Read the review of "Wrongful Death" here. Go to for information about all of his projects and where you can catch his next terrific writing class.



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