Monthly Archives: February 2014

Novelist Lisa Unger explores the deadly charm of madness

“In the Blood,” by Lisa Unger. Touchstone. 352 pages. $25.99.

Lisa Unger is the high priestess of the psychological thriller, and with this new book she has both focused and deepened her penetration into the abyss of aberration. This is a remarkable study about people whose feelings are not normal and whose behavior is dangerous. It is also about the threshold between despair and hope, healing and numbing, deceit and brutal honesty. InTheBloodCover

Ms. Unger presents us with states of mind and emotion that we wish to turn away from, but her art is so hypnotic that we cannot. We face this abyss, and we learn by facing it.

When we meet Lana Granger, she is struggling through her senior year at Sacred Heart College in The Hollows, an upstate New York community that has been the setting for several Lisa Unger’s novels. Lana is a very private person. She dresses simply and modestly. She avoids touching. She doesn’t share much about her background (her father has been convicted of killing her mother) and essentially she lives a life of lies.

Over the years, therapy and medication have helped Lana survive her demons, but memories and voices still haunt her. No one really knows her, but those who sense what’s beneath the mask are a threat. For these few, can she risk being honest, truly being “herself”?

Lisa Unger

Lisa Unger

Her college counselor, an expert on abnormal psychology, arranges for Lana to take a babysitting job with a terribly troubled boy who is enrolled in nearby Fieldstone School, a last-chance institution for kids with severe behavior problems.

Luke is a brainy, controlling fellow with a cruel, violent streak that breaks out of control too often. Like many children, he learned early on that his antics make him the center of attention. He knows how to manipulate others to get what he wants. Lana, who understands a great deal about Luke’s inner world from her own past, is a skilled adversary, but is she skilled and courageous enough? More and more is at stake as their relationship unfolds. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the Fort Myers Florida Weekly for February 26, 2014 and the February 27 Naples and Bonita Springs editions, click here Florida Weekly – Unger 1 and  here Florida Weekly – Unger 2

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Like a gourmet meal, Burdette’s latest mystery will leave you wanting more

Murder with Ganache, by Lucy Burdette. Obsidian. 320 pages. Mass market paperback $7.99.

This fourth entry in the Key West Food Critic Mystery Series is a bit darker than the first three. It is just as enjoyable, but not so much in a laugh out loud way. Restaurant critic Hayley Snow, an enchanting young woman striving to prove herself as an independent adult in her adopted home town, has a lot of bowling pins in the air at once. Can she juggle them all successfully?  Murder_With_Ganache Cover

Just when she needs some relief from the deadline pressures of her assignments with “Key Zest Magazine,” she gets additional assignments, including one on the Hemingway cats, with almost immediate due dates. What has complicated her life is her agreement to manage her friend Connie’s wedding. It’s just around the corner, and that means relatives and friends are piling into town and need Hayley’s attention.

Among the newly arrived are Hayley’s mother Janet and Janet’s beau, Sam; Hayley’s father and his second wife Allison; and Allison’s teenage son from her first marriage, fifteen year old Rory. Rory’s brooding teenage angst is on display. Is it just that he doesn’t want to be there? Or is something else bothering him?

Before we know what has Rory in a distressed state, he disappears into Key West’s spring break scene. After frantic searching by Hayley, their relatives and the police, Rory is discovered beaten up and unconscious. Worse, he is found to be the last person to have been seen with a teenage girl who has turned up dead. Comatose Rory is soon the prime suspect in a murder case. When he regains consciousness, he cannot seem to remember much about what happened. Or is he just hiding the truth?

 Stepsister Hayley cannot keep from leading her own investigation, often risking the wrath of the law enforcement professionals.



Rory’s predicament soon brings his irascible bully of a father onto the scene. One can readily understand how the tug of war between this man and his ex-wife Allison shaped Rory’s upbringing. It’s amazing that Rory can function at all.

Suddenly, the wedding is called off. A confrontation between Connie’s father, who unexpectedly shows up though they had been estranged, and her fiancé Ray leads to a meltdown of the lovers’ relationship. Ray’s parents, as well as all the other family members, are perplexed by the situation, but Ray won’t talk and Connie feels betrayed and lost.

Now Hayley has even more to worry about. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the February 19, 2014 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the February 20 Naples, Bonita Springs,and Charlotte County editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Burdette’s Ganache

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Crossing the borders of difference and indifference, fear and fulfillment

“Adventure Philanthropist: Great Adventures Volunteering Abroad,” by Erin Michelson. emComm LLC. 258 pages. Trade paper $16.95.

Not long ago, a mid-fortyish woman with a highly successful professional career in finance, decided to change her life. The change did not come without preparation: she had already traveled widely and worked with philanthropic enterprises. She had already put together a start-up network of can-do contacts for her new path. In 2010, Erin Michelson went into action, creating for herself “the opportunity to wander the globe and open up my mind and heart to worlds I never knew existed.” AP_postcard2sm

Her memoir of the two years nonstop activity through 2011 and 2012 is the substance of her highly original and exciting book. However, its arrangement is thematic rather than chronological. In organizing her activities as a vagabond explorer and philanthropic agent, Ms. Michelson explores the meanings of ten key emotions that we all share. Essentially, she lays out a process of remaking her identity through goal-setting, action, and constant learning.

The emotion-chapters are headed “Hope,” “Humility,” “Awe,” “Fear,” “Joy,” “Anger,” “Surprise,” “Pain,” “Love,” and “Gratitude.”

Her adventures focused on visiting places where essential needs are unmet, include Ethiopia, Mozambique, Laos, Nepal, Honduras, Zambia, Lebanon, Uganda, Egypt, Borneo, Zambia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Bolivia, and Finnish Lapland. Believe it or not, there are another dozen do locations in Erin Michelson’s grand tour of lands were people are limited by shortages of every kinds, including shortages of respect, self-worth, and security.

In almost every case, the Adventure Philanthropist attaches herself to an enterprise that is already trying to meet needs – establishing housing and schooling for abused women and children, correcting abuses of the environment that diminish the quality of life, providing medical care in regions without sufficient health systems (or even safe drinking water), creating new local industries to improve economic opportunity, and so forth.



She seeks out and meets true heroes in these places, people making the often lonely and against-the-odds efforts to repair the world through selfless, determined, and courageous action.  Ms. Michelson learns, participates, and counsels. She shares useful skills in asset building, management, and marketing to provide necessary tools for these philanthropic initiatives.

Now, most importantly, she tells us about these places, problems, and people. She offers her own experience as one template for getting others involved. It’s not just the reward of giving – the do-gooder satisfaction – that is made appealing. It is also the growth in self-knowledge, the detailed learning of a range of disciplines, the resilience and endurance in the face of seemingly intractable situations. It is the truly spiritual exhilaration of risk-taking. It is the elation of positive outcomes. It is making a difference, and making it almost every day. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the February 12, 2014 issue of Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the February 13 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach Gardens editions, click here:Florida Weekly – Erin Michelson

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Chemistry is king in an explosive forensic thriller


“The Price of Innocence,” by Lisa Black. Severn House.  240 pages.  $28.95.

This sixth entry in Ms. Black’s Teresa MacLean Mystery series, is one of the best. The author sets the excitement bar high with a risky beginning. Just as Teresa, Cleveland forensic specialist, finishes her note-taking at the site of an apparent suicide, the building explodes! That’s starting a novel off with a bang. Can the thrill thermometer be kept in the high (danger) range? Somehow, Lisa Black manages to do just that.

The Bingham is an older building recently repurposed for lavish downtown apartments. However, the economic downturn has left it with many vacancies. There are also some unusual tenants on the ground and basement levels. One of these is the Medical Examiner’s Office, for which Teresa works. Now, “the relevant items from every homicide . . . had been buried, at best, or disintegrated at worst.” Was this explosion a purposeful act aimed at destroying evidence and records?

A peculiar chemical odor, also experienced during Teresa’s investigation of other crimes, suggests the nature of the explosive, eventually linking it to chemicals also used in meth labs.

The next day, Teresa is sent to investigate a likely suicide in a mansion on the edge of Lake Erie. A uniformed policeman is also assigned to the case. They discuss the Bingham building investigation and the proximity of the explosion to the office/laboratory of a wealthy entrepreneur-inventor named Lambert. Then Teresa pursues her inspection and evidence collection and Officer Davis goes outside. Suddenly she hears loud noises and finds a lifeless Davis on the ground – shot twice.

Events, violent and otherwise, continue to pile up, and unexpected connections among those involved lead back twenty-five years to a fire – possibly a crime – at a Cleveland State University student housing facility.

Lisa Black

Lisa Black

At the police officer’s funeral, Teresa meets the handsome accountant David Madison, a man recently disgraced by his wife’s sexual liaison with a teenaged student. David is at first a sympathetic character. His romantic overtures toward Teresa are successful, even though she remains on guard, wondering about his connection with the murdered policeman.

More and more threats and murders seem connected to a Cleveland State group of friends a generation back.  But where is the hard evidence? Teresa doggedly pursues it, though there are many distractions and false trails. Some of these are the inevitable stuff of crime solving; some result from the intentional misdirection of Teresa’s efforts by others. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the February 5, 2014 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the February 6 Bonita Springs and Naples editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Black’s Innocence 1 and here: Florida Weekly – Black’s Innocence 2

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