book reviews

Three Great Books I Read Over the Holiday

Three great reads from my current favorite free book purveyor, NetGalley:

  • Adrift–an over-qualified dive master knows something’s wrong with the underwater death of a client. The problem is getting anyone to listen.
  • The Pick, the Spade, and the Crow–Senior Investigating Officer Jo Stuart begins a new job with Britain’s National Crime Agency and immediately becomes embroiled in a cold case.
  • Blood on the Tracks–Senior Special Agent Sydney Parnell can’t get comfortable accepting that the homeless veteran being accused of murder actually did it. So, she does her own investigation.


by Micki Browning

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Micki Browning’s Adrift (Random House 2016) is excellent. While marine biologist Meredith Cavallo is between research jobs (her last was working with octopuses in Alaska–yeah, I’d always thought the plural was ‘octopi’, but Mer swears it isn’t so I’ll bow to her superior experience), she works as a dive master at a Florida Keys dive shop. She loves the work, showing people a world they have little exposure to, until unexpectedly she loses a client in a seemingly haunted shipwreck. Though most involved parties believe the missing man drowned, Mer doesn’t, and her sense of justice demands she keep digging until she can unravel the mystery. Along the way, she rekindles an affair with an old boyfriend, makes unlikely friends, and almost gets killed–several times. Still, she can’t stop and that’s at the heart of this amateur sleuth’s story.

Mer is an interesting character. She lacks many of the social skills we take for granted and is entertained by what most of us would call ‘studious’:

“Few things in life curled Mer’s toes: a masterly non sequitur, a well-written research paper, and a California tri-tip. Medium rare.”

Although she’s not a detective, she’s curious and tenacious, and in this case, that’s enough.

At the root of the story is the struggle over whether ghosts exist or not. Mer is a scientist all the way, but ends up rethinking her decisions when she comes across several items she simply cannot explain with facts and logic.

Overall, as the first in the Mer Cavallo series, this was a fun read that kept me flipping pages until I’d finished. I look forward to the next in the series.

More science books:

Science as Storyteller

The Lightning Stones


The Pick, The Spade and The Crow (The National Crime Agency #1)The Pick, The Spade and The Crow

by Bill Rogers

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Despite the book’s eclectic name, Bill Rogers’ ‘The Pick, the Spade and the Crow’ is a traditional detective story–and I mean that as a compliment. Senior Investigating Officer Josephine “Jo” Stuart begins a new job with Britain’s National Crime Agency. She is a devoted agent, hard-working, and obsessed with the cases she’s assigned. Readers quickly see that those traits are a problem in her personal life where Abbie–her live-in girlfriend–wants the commitment of a child and Jo doesn’t feel like she’s ready. When a ten-year old murder surfaces, many of her colleagues declare it impossible to solve, but Jo can’t stop herself from pulling the threads that eventually lead her to a string of murders with a central theme.

Rogers does an excellent job of developing the characters and the critical relationships that make this team of crime solvers believable and interesting. I liked that Jo paid attention not only to the dialogue amongst them, but their body language that spoke as loudly as people’s words:

“Caton leaning back with his hands behind his head, or Gordon Holmes rubbing his chin…”

“…folded his arms. It was not a defensive gesture she realized…”

I enjoyed listening to how Jo and her team’s minds worked and following along as they untangled the puzzle that would eventually lead to the killer. It wasn’t until the end of the novel that I worked out the meaning of the title–very clever. Overall, this is a good read and I hope the start of a series.

More British detective mysteries:

Death Deserved

A Chat with Rebecca Bradley About Her Exciting New Book

Deadly Deceit

Blood on the Tracks (Sydney Rose Parnell #1)Blood on the Tracks

by Barbara Nickless

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Barbara Nickless’ Blood on the Tracks is the story of Burned Man, a homeless ex-marine whose face is destroyed by an IED, who now rides the rails and eats from garbage cans.  On his way home to get married, he’s arrested for murdering his fiancée. The evidence is overwhelming, but not to Senior Special Agent Sydney Parnell, another ex-marine, and her partner Clyde, a former military working dog, both now serving as police on the railroads. She watched too many die in Iraq including her boyfriend. She struggles daily with the psychological impact it’s left on her, as does her dog who watched his partner blown up and there was nothing the dog could do to save him.

“I had taken on debts in the war and had very little  coin with which to pay it back.”

Parnell can’t move on and neither can her dog, and they struggle to get through one day after another, no semblance of the confident carefree animals they were before death destroyed their belief that life has a happy ending.

“The ravens of war always come home to roost.”

Together, these two damaged officers set out to find the real murderer of Burned Man’s fiancee. Woven throughout are flashbacks to her time in Iraq, ghosts of the dead who visit her regularly, and her struggle to tell the difference between reality and dreams. As the plot reveals itself, the reader realizes the flashbacks are building to a crescendo that is playing out through the murdered girl.

This is a rich story, not always comfortable, but addictive and emotional, with that quality of thrillers that forces you onward even as you’re scared senseless of where you’re headed.  It is highly recommended for those who enjoy stories about Vets, the morality of war, and the loyalty of dogs.

More books about dogs:

Reckless Creed

Live and Let Growl

Killing Trail

–I received these books for free from NetGalley in return for my honest review.

View all my reviews

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thriller, To Hunt a Sub. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

47 thoughts on “Three Great Books I Read Over the Holiday

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  4. All three books feature women as the main character, and all three women appear independent, smart, and capable – I like this attitude. Quite weary of helpless women waiting on the tracks for some man to untie them. And all three books sound very exciting.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes, excellent reviews. You describe the book so we, the reader, can tell if its the kind of book we will enjoy and feel comfortable in (because after all, once we start a book, we are IN there with the characters). Excellent job. I’m thinking I’d like to start with Blood on the Tracks, but…will I have nightmares?

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Jacqui…you keep doing this!! 😀😃 Recommending such good books I just want to start reading them straight away! ‘Adrift’ has really grabbed my imagination and I’m making a note of that. I also had to check up on the plural of octopus…that’s the Virgo in me and it’s root is Greek not Latin hence not the octopi ending! I like the way you suggest who might particularly enjoy the book you’re reviewing, that’s extremely helpful! Wishing you a lovely weekend! 😀

    Liked by 3 people

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