Summer Thrillers X 4: Meltzer, Hamilton, Kovacs, Freedland Friday, Aug 7 2015 

Here are four great summer thrillers for readers out right now, whether you’re at the beach or reading before bed. And if you missed Steve Berry’s The Lincoln Myth when it first came out, that one is now in paperback and ebook formats.

Brad Meltzer’s Culper Ring Triology has captivated readers, who are waiting for this third installment. The President’s Shadow shows his love of the National Archives and his relationship with former US President George H. W. Bush and First Ladies Barbara and Laura Bush, who helped to inform the book, adding to the sense of reality that pervades the read.

The book opens with a wallop and never lets up, with First Lady Shona Wallace keeping her secret: she’s stolen a small section of the White House Rose Garden for her own flower garden. As she digs in the dirt early one morning, a persistent root finally gives way–and proves to have fingers attached to it.

That severed arm is only the start of trouble for Beecher White, erstwhile employee of the Nation Archives, who’s been visiting his mentor, Tot Westman, every day. Tot lies in a coma after brain surgery on the bullet wound in his frontal lobe.

The discovery of the arm immediately raises questions about security, the victim and the culprit. Beecher is called to a secret meeting of the Culper Ring, where President Wallace tells him that an item discovered with the arm links back to Beecher’s dead father.

That mystery surrounding what happened to his father has consumed Beecher, and this discovery might finally bring some answers. His membership in the secret organization that dates back to before George Washington became President holds the key, especially since the clue left was meant for Beecher alone.

Meltzer blends history with his fascinating story, mixed with that insider knowledge that lends authenticity to the conspiracy that is unveiled. This is great storytelling in an interesting and absorbing trilogy that blends fact with fiction in a compelling manner.

Past Crimes
Switching to a debut, Glen Erik Hamilton and Past Crimes
introduces Army Ranger Van Shaw, who has returned to his Seattle home after receiving a terse message from his grandfather after a decade apart. With flashbacks showing readers Van’s unusual childhood, the reason he joined the Rangers, Van Shaw promises to be an entertaining protagonist in this accomplished book.

Van finds his grandfather, Dono Shaw, bleeding from a gunshot wound to the head. With their complicated past and Dono Shaw’s shady life, Van knows he will be the prime suspect in the shooting and must clear his name. But the only way to do that is to plunge himself into the life he thought he’d left behind when he joined the Rangers.

There will be an enormous diamond theft to handle as Van hunts for the shooter, using the skills he’s learned in his Ranger training, combined with his sharp wit to find the assailant as he works with the team Dono put together for his big jobs and realizes he can trust no one.

Filled with action sequences, the book’s visuality and sharp dialogue will lend itself well to being filmed and Auntie M has no doubt this will be picked up by Hollywood if it hasn’t been already.

Best known for his Cliff St. James crime novels, author Ed Kovacs is debuting a new series in The Russian Bride.

His protagonist is an elite agent in military intelligence, working undercover in Moscow to find moles in the US Embassy. Major Kit Bennings suddenly finds himself and his family the targets of a former KGB general-turned-Mafia don in a complicated coercion scheme when mobster Viktor Popov has Kit’s mother killed in California.

Popov threatens to do the same to Kit’s sister, Staci, whom he has already kidnapped. To free his sister, Kit must agree to marry a Russian woman, Popov’s niece, Yulana Petkova, and take her to the U.S.

Desperate to save his sister, Kit reluctantly agrees to the marriage but soon learns what Popov really wants: Kit’s help in stealing an electromagnetic-pulse device that could disable the economic and intelligence infrastructure of a large percentage of the U.S. and open the door to massive cyber-theft opportunities.

Now Kit finds himself hunted by killers on both sides of the ocean and saddled with a new wife,\ as he tries to rescue Staci and stop Popov’s plans from coming to fruition. He will call on all of his talented action-oriented friends for help and there’s plenty of specialists who rise to the occasion. There’s so much going on at times readers will feel breathless at the fast pace.

3rd Woman
Jonathan Freedland’s unusual premise makes The 3rd Woman an intriguing read.

Picture an alternate world where US has borrowed more money from China than it can repay–not too hard to imagine–and is forced to allow them a permanent military presence on American soil. It’s the stuff of nightmares.

But to journalist Madison Webb, it’s her reality to live in this America of crisis in every quarter: economic, political and social.

Then the unthinkable happens: her own sister is murdered, and Madison refuses to accept the official line that Abigail’s death was an isolated crime. There are local political elections in process, with Maddy’s ex-boyfriend working for a candidate, and Abi’s murder soon becomes a hot political issue.

After Maddy uncovers evidence that points to Abi as actually being the third victim in a series of killings, she realizes the deaths are being hushed up as part of a major conspiracy. In the new US climate, there are shades of truth and reality.

Maddy will be forced to use all of her connections to get to the truth. The use of social media adds a nice touch as her own life comes into the line of fire.

This is a clever, fast-paced political thriller. Maddy is a strong and capable female lead with a realistic edge who readers will want to see in action again.

Laura Lee Smith: Heart of Palm Sunday, Mar 31 2013 

This week Auntie M will be in Florida, so it’s only fitting that our guest resides there. Please welcome Laura Smith telling readers about her novel Heart of Palm:

Freaky Florida—A Fiction Writer’s DreamHOP Cover Art

I once heard fiction writer and creative writing professor Lynne Barrett say that Florida is a great place for fiction because “Florida is complicated. It’s not a simple place. Problems arise.” And I have to agree. I’ve lived in Florida for more than thirty years, and I chose to set my novel HEART OF PALM here because I knew that Florida could deliver the eccentric characters and environmental tensions that would make for solid storytelling. It’s just a funky place.

Don’t believe me? Let’s not forget last year’s face-eating attack, or the shrimper who found the prosthetic leg of an ex-football player floating in the Gulf of Mexico.

The football player was tracked down. “Ain’t nobody dead,” he said. “Just give me back my leg.”

There’s no end of story ideas. Click the link for inspiration from The South Florida Sun Sentinel. Ah, Florida. Crime, conflict and crisis. You can’t make this stuff up.

But wacky stuff aside, one of the most serious conflicts I’ve witnessed here has been the clash of cultures between old ways of living and new development.

I live in the nation’s Oldest City, but at the same time, my home county is one of the fastest-growing in the state. Total population in St. Johns County grew 54.3% in the last 10 years.

People want to live here, and who can blame them? It’s warm and sunny. It’s comparatively inexpensive. It’s picturesque. But what happens when the newcomers want to change things, and the old guard does not? That’s the conflict I handed my fictional family, the Bravos, in HEART OF PALM.

The novel is told in the voices of six members of the hapless Bravo family—stalwart natives of the neglected and hard-worn town of Utina, a relic of palm harvesters and moonshiners in fast-developing Northeast Florida.

The primary voice belongs to Frank, the middle-aged son who is juggling management of the family restaurant, support of his eccentric mother and sister, and resentment toward his aloof older brother and his absent father. To complicate matters, Frank harbors a decades-old love for his brother’s wife.

We hear, too, from Frank’s mother Arla, a former ingénue who has been physically and emotionally scarred by the life and the marriage she impetuously chose. Also here are the narratives of Sofia, the fragile cynic; Carson, the volatile autocrat; Elizabeth, the voice of reason; and Dean, the heartbreaking but maddeningly affable alcoholic.

Behind each family member’s agenda lurks the memory of shared tragedy and shared blame. When a real estate offer presents a chance for change, Frank faces a hard choice: he can continue his self-imposed penance, or he can pursue his long-postponed desires.

The book is first and foremost about a family. But it’s greatly influenced by the environment in which it takes place. And when it comes to ratcheting up narrative tension, Florida can’t be beat. Take guilt, loneliness, lost love, financial ruin and grief, and then add 98-degree temperatures and suffocating humidity. And see what happens.


Laura Lee Smith’s first novel, HEART OF PALM will be released April 2 by Grove Press.      LauraLeeSmith Head Shot

Her short fiction was selected by guest editor Amy Hempel for inclusion in New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best, 2010. Her work has also appeared in The Florida Review, Natural Bridge, Bayou and other journals. She works as an advertising copywriter and has taught creative writing at Flagler College.



The King of Lies Monday, Mar 21 2011 

North Carolina author John Hart is one of the legal eagles of writing, a lawyer who turned his hand to authoring a novel that proved so popular he is able to now write full time.

Therefore it was no surprise to pick up The King of Lies, Hart’s New York Times bestselling debut, and find its protagonist to be . . .wait for it!. . . a lawyer.  BookPage called Hart “Rookie of the Year” when the novel was published, and he’s gone on to write two others, which no doubt you’ll find in these pages down the road. But I prefer to read a writer as he writes his book, to gauge the growth of his or her craft, and to follow the lives of recurring characters, if there are any.

I read an article where he credited his wife with reading and early draft and telling him he had no story. Hart certainly heard her. “The King of Lies” turns out to be Ezra Pickens, a fabulously wealthy Southern lawyer of the domineering kind who give that coterie a bad name. Ezra disappeared years ago, after his wife’s suspicious death. The protagonist is his lawyer son, Jackson Workman Pickens, known to all as “Work,” a sobriquet that is especially ironic since work is one thing Work is soon to be out of. Inheriting his father’s failing law practice, Work is caught in a loveless marriage to a distant wife who married his name and heritage instead of the man himself.  Work’s estranged sister, Jean, who bore the brunt of their father’s wrath, becomes a pivotal character once Ezra’s body turns up.

Set to inherit is father’s fortune, Work becomes the prime suspect in his father’s murder. That’s the setup, but then things get interesting. Throw in a hungry female detective striving to advance, who’s certain Work is guilty. Add an overpowering partner for the bruised Jean who hates Work. Up the ante with evidence all pointing to Work, the whispers and rumors of a small town, and don’t forget the seemingly homeless park walker who strolls around town, long coat flapping at his heels, oblivious to its inhabitants, but observant just the same. All of this elevates The King of Lies from the usual mystery to a terrific whodunit, with a clear-eyed story of love and hate that will keep you turning pages.

The suspense is there, as is the family saga that unfolds. Hart’s prose is lyrical and lush, at times poetic, but he manages to stop short of becoming overdone. The climax was one that was truly built up to, one I didn’t see written on the wall. This is great first novel, one Pat Conroy says: “Reads like a book on fire.” I quite agree.