Tag Archives: thrillers

A Tangled Web of Crazy


The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas is one of the best books that I’ve read in a long time. It’s a young adult book, but it reads like an adult thriller. One of the aspects of the novel that drew me to it was the setting. It’s set in Fayette County, PA, which is where my mother and her sisters grew up. Pittsburgh is even mentioned in the novel a few times.

The story centers around Tessa Lowell, who left Fayette County 10 years ago to live with her grandmother in Florida. She comes back to visit her father who is dying in prison. She left Fayette after she helped put Wyatt Stokes in prison for the murder of Lori Cawley, her friend Callie Greenwood’s cousin. Cawley was visiting for the summer from college. Tessa and Callie hadn’t spoken to each other since the trial, and Callie wasn’t happy to see Tessa, especially since she would be staying with the Greenwoods for the duration of her visit.

As the book goes on, readers learn that Tessa and Callie lied about seeing Stokes the night that Lori Cawley was murdered. Tessa and Callie go on a wild goose chase throughout the novel to discover the real killer. One of their childhood friends, Ariel Kouchinsky, is murdered and they try to find her killer as well for most of the book. As the novel goes on, Tessa discovers secrets about her family, former friends and even her own origin.

In addition to trying to find Ariel & Lori’s killer, Tessa is trying to find her mother, Annette, and her sister, Joslin, who ran away when she was a teenager after a fight with their mother. It’s a novel full of twists and turns. Every time, I thought that I had figured out who the killer was another plot twist was thrown my way. It’s an excellent book and is definitely worth reading. The Darkest Corners is available to request in our catalog in print format only. It will be released on April 19th. Happy reading!


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History Matters with Author Steve Berry


Steve Berry is the New York Times and #1 internationally bestselling author of ten Cotton Malone adventures, four stand-alone thrillers and four short-story originals. Photo credit: Kelly Campbell

History matters for so many reasons.

For New York Times and #1 internationally bestselling author Steve Berry and his wife Elizabeth Berry, Executive Director of International Thriller Writers, history is important because it establishes roots and creates community pride.  It teaches, inspires, makes our communities more attractive and encourages travel and tourism. Saving our historical assets and preserving our past teaches us about ourselves.

Carnegie Library is Pittsburgh is delighted to welcome Steve Berry and Elizabeth Berry to the Library on April 2 for a series of special fundraising events.  All proceeds benefit the Heritage Fund at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, established to preserve and enhance the Library’s cultural treasures, including historic collections, artifacts and facilities, while helping make them accessible to the public.

Below are details on the Writer’s Workshop, Cocktail Reception and Writers LIVE!

Join us and be inspired by Steve’s message that history truly does matter.

History Matters Schedule of Events – Thursday, April 2

Writer’s Workshop | 11 am – 3 pm
led by Steve and Elizabeth Berry
CLP- East Liberty
Cost: $100 (includes lunch)

Steve’s writing workshop is a master class on the craft of writing. In it he shares what has made him a New York Times and internationally bestselling author with 15 million books in print worldwide. His techniques work for fiction, non-fiction and memoir and are equally useful for absolute beginners, aspiring writers and published authors, all of whom have taken his workshop.

Workshops are broken down to four 50-minute sessions with a 10-minute break between each. The fourth session is by Elizabeth Berry, Steve’s wife, a literary marketing executive and the Executive Director of the International Thriller Writers. The day concludes with a Q&A and book signing.

Cocktail Reception | 5:30 – 7:00 pm
with special guests Steve and Elizabeth Berry
CLP – Main (Oakland), Large Print Room
Tickets: $125

Please join us at a special reception to raise awareness about the need to protect, restore and conserve the Library’s cultural treasures. Presentation and remarks at 6:15.

Guests must be 21 or older to attend. Please bring a valid photo ID.

Writers LIVE! | 7 – 8 pm
Featuring Steve Berry, author of The Patriot Threat
CLP – Main, Lecture Hall
Presented in partnership with Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures
Tickets: Free with registration

Steve Berry is the New York Times and #1 internationally bestselling author of ten Cotton Malone adventures, four stand-alone thrillers and four short-story originals. His latest novel, The Patriot Threat, which features an appearance by Pittsburgh’s Andrew Mellon, dares to ask the startling question: is our federal income tax legal?

A book signing follows the program with copies of the author’s books available from Mystery Lovers Bookshop.

Reservations are required for all three events. Call 412.622.6276 for more information.

~ Melissa F.


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A View to A Kick

Everyone has their limits. But limits exist to be tested, yes?

Normally I draw the line at fiction that contains child abuse as a plot point. There’s quite enough of that in real life, thank you. And while it means I miss out on some mysteries and thrillers, it also means I don’t have horrible nightmares, either.

So when I picked up Chelsea Cain’s new novel, One Kick, I almost put it right back down. Missing children, child pornographers? No thank you.

And yet.

The first chapter of One Kick is, hands down, the best story-starter I’ve read in a long time. When the FBI swoops in to capture a long-hunted suspect, they don’t expect to find one of his victims there for rescue. But there she is, Kick Lannigan, whose videos are among the most popular with internet predators. Confused beyond belief, and firmly in the grip of Stockholm Syndrome, Kick makes a decision that she’ll eventually regret, one that will lead her to a life of vigilante crime-fighting, in the hopes of atoning for her own guilt. My jaw practically fell to the floor as the scene unspooled, and I realized what was going to happen (Ever yell at a character? This is definitely one of those thrillers).

Flash forward to Kick’s wobbly adult life, with only her dog, Monster, and a fellow abuse survivor, James, for company (her family ties are…complicated). She’s a lean, mean, pervert-busting machine, armed to the teeth and maxed out with physical combat skills to boot. Still, when a mysterious man named Bishop shows up on her doorstep and asks for her help finding yet another missing child, Kick is understandably wary. A man of few words, with his own painful past to protect, Bishop gains Kick’s begrudging respect (trust is a bit much to ask), and the unlikely team springs into action. Given, however, that it’s also the tenth anniversary of her own rescue, it’s questionable whether Kick can hold it together, especially when the past and the present smash together in an ugly tangle of revelations.

Author photo and book cover

Photo courtesy of OregonLive. Click through to read a news article on Cain.


Characterization is definitely the novel’s chief selling point. I’ve never run across a protagonist quite like Kick. She’s flawed, obviously, but what’s really compelling is that she’s flawed despite her best efforts to become whole. She’s tried therapy, meditation, kava-kava, positive mantras, emancipation from her over-controlling mother (who exploits her “victim mom” status in a way that made me want to slap her silly), and a whole host of other healing and coping techniques. She’s also taken lessons in just about every confidence-boosting, self-protective art under the sun (Kick is awfully fond of her Glock)..and yet, she’s still just barely hanging on by a thread. As you barrel through her adventures, you want her to win so badly, to get some measure of peace, respite, justice.

Instead, she gets Bishop…which might be almost the next best thing, given that they have an awful lot in common (with the exception of Bishop’s dislike of firearms). Not in that “here comes the big strong man to make it all better” kind of way. More like the “here’s somebody who knows what it’s like to hurt” kind of way. They say there’s somebody out there for everybody; is it possible Bishop is the one for Kick? Or is he just using her the way so many other people in her life already have?

I suppose we’ll have to wait until the next book in the series to find out. Yes, this is the first of a projected series, which puts me in the tooth-gnashing position of looking for something else as exciting to read while I wait. Luckily, Cain’s Archie Sheridan and Gretchen Lowell series is hanging around the library system just begging for some comparison/contrast. And Confessions of a Teen Sleuth looks pretty amusing, to boot.

Where do your limits lie, constant readers? Is there any kind of book or subject material you just cannot even? Or are you fearless in your pursuit of fiction?

–Leigh Anne

with apologies to James Bond and Duran Duran


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Thriller Time with Chevy Stevens

I was introduced to Chevy Stevens a few years ago with her debut novel, Still Missing. I devoured that first book in one sitting, staying up way past my bedtime on a school, er, um… I mean work night. I liked the way the story unfolded; each chapter was a session in the therapist’s office for Annie. She was abducted and held for over a year by her captor, suffering unspeakable horrors on a daily basis.  You meet Annie after her return. But even though she is now free, many parts of Annie are “still missing”, making it difficult for her to reintegrate into her family and society. You might think that knowing the end of the story before it even begins would make the book boring, but you would be so wrong. Having the story doled out in sections made it more compelling and I often got chills while Annie was recounting her past and talking about its impact on her present. The ending included a curve ball I never saw coming.

Ms. Stevens’ next two thrillers, Never Knowing and Always Watching, were also full of suspense, masterful use of flashbacks and clever plotting. I liked the connecting thread between the two novels. Sara Gallagher is visiting a psychologist, Nadine, to talk about her experiences when trying to reconnect with her birth mother in Never Knowing. Nadine then becomes the main character in Always Watching and you get to understand, through her history, why she became a psychologist. I found myself lost in the world Ms. Stevens created and time flew by as I was absorbed in her stories. I was often surprised by how many pages I had read when I thought that hardly any time had passed.

I recently had the pleasure of getting my hands on an Advanced Readers’ Copy (ARC) of Chevy Stevens’ latest book, That Night, which is due to be released on June 17th.  ARCs are uncorrected proofs put out by the book publishers, prior to the book’s official release date. They are often sent out to reviewers so that reviews of the book can be created in advance to convince people (and librarians!) to purchase the book. There are many ways librarians receive ARCs from publishers. We typically get them in person when visiting publisher booths at conventions, or online from sites such as Edelweiss and NetGalley (Disclaimer: I received my advance copy of That Night due to an application with Chatterbox by HouseParty.com).

My ARC of That Night arrived in the mail about two weeks ago. Hopping up and down as I tore open the package, I hugged my new book and showed it off to my family members: “Look what I got!” Unfortunately, due to other reading commitments (darn Book Club!), That Night had to wait. But once I was able to curl up with my new acquaintance, I was not disappointed. Again, you meet the protagonist at what you think is the end of the story. Toni Murphy and her boyfriend, Ryan, were convicted 16 years ago of killing Toni’s younger sister, but they didn’t do it. Now that they have served their time and been released, will they be able to move on? Will they finally be able to prove their innocence? Back were Ms. Stevens’ signature flashbacks, compelling characters, suspense-building storyline and unforeseen twist at the denouement. You may think you know how the story will end, but rest assured there will be a surprise. I finished this book in record time and am now regretting that I’ll need to wait for a long time before meeting up again with Chevy Stevens. But I am looking forward to that day.

Thanks once again, Chevy!
-Melissa M.

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Next, Please

I have blogged in the past about why I like to read series books. If you like to read popular fiction and you have favorite authors, series books are often their profit-makers. Sure, most authors like the challenge and do occasional stand-alone titles. Take Harlan Coben, whose Myron Bolitar sports agent/lawyer series started his writing career.  Myron still gets to headline a new story every few years or so, between Coben’s complex standalone novels.  But even these stories share settings and subsidiary characters with each other and with the Bolitar books. 

There is a comfort in dropping in on the lives of characters you have come to know and love (or hate) over a sustained period of time.  Characters evolve.  They and their relationships grow and change.  Series cover all genres of popular fiction – action, suspense, cozy mysteries, science fiction, and romance, etc. With series books you look forward to their annual publication, carefully track reviews, place your reserve so you can get the book early, and then chat with friends to see if the book met your series expectations.  When you read series, you realize that some books are better written than others as the “plot” may not be as gripping, or funny or sad or compelling as others, but does it really matter when you are entertained just by the experience of reading?

Here are three recent titles from some of my favorite series:

Red MistPatricia Cornwell’s Red Mist, #19 in the Kay Scarpetta Series

Long before CSI became the rage of TV, Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta, forensic pathologist; her investigator, Pete Marino; tech- genius niece Lucy;  and Kay’s FBI profiler husband Benton began working murder cases together.

Stung by the murder of long-time assistant pathologist Jack Fielding in Port Mortuary, Kay jumps into an investigation in Savannah leaving Benton, Marino, and Lucy behind in Boston.  She’s off to find out about the killer by visiting the murderer’s mother at the Georgia Women’s Prison where she is doing time for murder, too. Kay soon discovers that Marino, who is supposedly on vacation, is also in town, helping former colleague, NYC prosecutor Jamie Berger, with her first independent case for the defense– trying to clear another woman at the prison who is on death row and scheduled for execution.  In just three short days Kay and Marino are surrounded by bodies and are called upon by the local coroner to assist with the investigation which ties these disparate cases – the only common denominator being the prison.

Critics complain about Cornwell – too much psychology and not enough forensics; she doesn’t pay attention to continuity and details; should she write in first person or third person; Kay’s lost her humanity – she’s so unkind and bitter to everyone; she should put the spotlight on the cases and not the characters . . . but to my mind that’s what makes it worth reading the series.  Kay has been through a lot since 1990 – change happens.

Down by the River by Robyn Carr  – #3 in the Grace Valley Trilogy (prequel to the Virgin River Series)

Sometimes when you read a series you have to go back to the very beginning.  Several years ago I started to read the Virgin River Series by Robyn Carr.  # 17, Hidden Summit, has just been published and it’s sitting on a shelf at home calling to me.  But the last book I read is from the connected Grace Valley series, which she first published in 2003.

 Strong storytelling carries Carr’s series.  Small towns are populated by unique, independent men and women – the lawmen and lawyers, the medical personnel, the homemakers and the babies, the randy teens, and the preachers, the cooks and florist, the ranchers and farmers, the campers and the pot growers.  Many of the stories focus on returning war veterans re-assimilating into society, all choosing the picturesque communities of northern California where around every mountain curve is a beautiful view and lives touched by joy, tragedy, danger, intrigue and a true sense of community – where everyone knows everyone else and they care about and take care of each other. 

Medical emergencies in Virgin River often result in trips to the nearby hospital in Grace Valley.  And that’s where the whole series started.  The Grace Valley Trilogy centers on town Doctor June Hudson – she has dedicated her life to her practice and her town.  She is pushing 40 and has given up hope of ever having a family of her own, until undercover DEA agent Jim Post begins a secret liaison with June that will forever change her life and fill it with new possibilities.  In the last of this series, Down by the River, June’s high school sweetheart returns to town with his delinquent sons. Add a flooding river and the whole town has to pull together, with June leading the way to save the day.

J. D. Robb’s New York to Dallas – # 33 of the In Death Series

Now we come to my favorite book of last year, New York to Dallas.  Back in 1995, romance / romantic suspense writer Nora Roberts wanted to try her hand at a different genre – police procedurals with a twist.  Her publisher suggested she write these under a pen name since they were such a departure from her previous stories.  When they first came out I admit that although I am a big Nora fan, I could not countenance myself reading stories set in the late 2050s New York after the urban wars, but after reading #1 Naked in Death, I was hooked!  This is a series where character detail, continuity of character, setting, intriguing plots with despicable villains, and the development of a loving relationship over time between the two main characters have sustained the stories.

The series focuses on New York Police and Security Department detective Eve Dallas, and her Irish husband Roarke, a powerful, tech-savvy, mega-billionaire entrepreneur who often assists with her complex homicide cases as a professional civilian consultant.  Both Roarke and Eve come from tormented childhoods.  Eve was an abused child who grew up in Dallas Texas foster homes and Roarke was a petty thief, making his way by cunning and wits on the streets of Dublin, Ireland.  How these two people from vastly different backgrounds find each other, love, trust, marry, and struggle with their personal demons plays out through the series. At the NYPSD, Eve’s loyal squad includes detective Delia Peabody, IT Captain Feeney, and criminal profiler Dr. Mira.

In New York to Dallas, Eve finds that she must track a serial pedophile who brutalizes young girls to her home town of Dallas.  Eve is a fish-out-of-water without her normal department support system. With only Roarke by her side, she confronts a case with a twist of fate that makes her horrid past and her present life collide.  The story is so simple, yet so complex and compelling, that the stunning ending is a new beginning for Eve and Roarke. Wow.



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Shelf Examination: Inspirational Fiction

I thought this series had just about run its course, but guess what? There’s a new fiction collection at Main Library! Today’s episode of Shelf Examination takes a quick peek at the New and Featured Department‘s latest contribution to readerly interests: inspirational fiction.

Like some of the other collections featured in this series, inspirational fiction spans genres from mystery to chick lit, with multiple stops at all points between. What unites this diverse collection of stories is the focus on Christian faith and positive endings, regardless of how many issues and challenges the protagonists tackle. If that sounds like your cup of tea, try one of the titles mentioned below.

"If only there were a Pittsburgh library blog that inspired me to read more..."

The book: Zora and Nicky: A Novel in Black and White, Claudia Mair Burney.

The plot: Zora and Nicky, two teens from different backgrounds, meet at a Bible study. They start out butting heads, and end up falling in love…but will their differences (and their parents) ultimately keep them apart?

Pick this up if you like: Frank discussions of racism, class differences, and sexual ethics; strong female protagonists; losing and finding faith; realistic parent-child conflicts.

The book: Perfecting Kate, Tamara Leigh.

The plot: Confused, insecure Kate feels like she needs an all-over makeover, especially after the love triangle she stumbles into inspires some serious soul-searching.

Pick this up if you like: Chick lit; the ongoing struggle between inner and outer beauty; protagonists of realistic size; stories where the girl gets the guy without losing herself; books with discussion questions included.

book jacket book jacket book jacket book jacket

The book: Thr3e, Ted Dekker.

The plot: The mysterious “Slater” wants Kevin to confess his wrongdoings, and subjects him to a series of puzzles and threats involving the number 3. The problem is, Kevin has no idea what Slater’s talking about…or has he simply buried secrets too painful to bear?

Pick this up if you like: Thrillers with plenty of plot twists, stories that grapple with both pride and the nature of evil, briskly-paced action, or long-buried secrets, revealed slowly and gradually.

The book: The Apostle Paul, James Cannon.

The plot: A fictionalized account of the life and times of Paul of Tarsus, later known as Saint Paul.

Pick this up if you like: Sweeping historical fiction, formal tone and sentence structure, large casts of characters, the writings of Taylor Caldwell.

Want more suggestions? Ask a librarian!

Intrigued? Ask a librarian about other available books and programs!

Unless there’s a new collection unveiled between now and my next turn in the blog rotation (and believe me, it could happen – we’re creative that way), we really will be saying goodbye to Shelf Examination. Tune in next time for a case of “last, but certainly not least” in the genre department, as well as a sneak preview of “Nonfiction Fix,” a series designed for people hooked on real-life reads.

–Leigh Anne

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Get it Right

I’m a product of serendipitous timing; this week’s Time Magazine gives me the introduction I was looking for. In reviewing two new true-crime books, Lev Grossman introduces his reviews with the observation that Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, based on a 1959 Kansas farmhouse murder, was the first real “nonfiction novel.” Most of us are familiar with the genre, and for me at least, it’s my preferred choice in fiction reading.

My first real experience with the genre as a young adult was probably from reading Leon Uris and James Michener. Uris’s Battle Cry is fiction, but it’s unmistakably autobiographical and the places and events mentioned are real. Besides, how can you not keep coming back to a book that begins: “They call me Mac…”? Uris’s other early works follow the same pattern, a good yarn based on extensive historical research, but labeled fiction. The better ones that come to mind, and that I’ll re-read every few years are Armageddon (my personal favorite,) Topaz and Exodus.

Battle Cry Mila 18 In Cold Blood Exodus

James Michener did the same thing, creating a fictional narrative based on extensive historic research. Whereas Uris’s works covered the here and now, Michener’s made up the expanse of human time. Where I later had problems with Michener is that his books became SSDP (same story, different place.) While The Source, Poland, Hawaii and The Covenant are obviously different places and people, the formula became too repetitive and apparent after reading the third book. All of them are excellent, but they need to be spaced out. Ten and twenty years later, I had the same complaint about Tom Clancy and anything with Jack Ryan.

Clancy is interesting to me for another reason and leads into my real reason for writing here. Red Storm Rising and The Hunt for Red October opened up the market for the techno-thriller. Following Clancy’s lead, writers like Larry Bond and Stephen Coonts could spend half a page describing in the most descriptively arcane terms some piece of machinery, weaponry or vehicle. Their characters (crosses between Indiana Jones and James Bond without the tux) don’t just don or put on their coats, instead they pick up their Jacket, Field M-1943, or they board a 3,800 ton, Westinghouse gas turbine powered Knox class frigate preparing to get under way. That the frigate may or may not be rocking gently at the pier is incidental.

book jacket book jacket book jacket hunt for red october

What happens though, when the story isn’t historical fiction? David Hagberg, a well received author of techno-thrillers, has written a non-fiction work titled Mutiny: The True Events That Inspired The Hunt for Red October. Hagberg’s co-author is a man named Boris Gindin. The book is an account of a not very well-planned and short-lived mutiny aboard a Soviet naval vessel in 1975 (a 3500 ton Krivak class anti-submarine warfare vessel – see, I can do that techno stuff too.) Gindin was the chief engineering officer aboard the ship at the time, and spent most of the actual mutiny time locked up in a storage space with the other officers who didn’t join the Zampolit (Political Officer) who led the mutiny. So what we have is an historical narrative, told from the memory of a single individual, who wasn’t in a position to actually see or hear what was happening during the real course of events. According to Hagberg’s own acknowledgements, Gindin was the only participant he had access to for the story, and there are no primary source materials available.

I’m OK with that if the author is responsible and doesn’t project too much. Where I really began having problems with this book, and maybe it’s less about this book and more about the non-fiction I’m reading today in general, is the paucity of research or evidence of research. I’m going to the backs of these works and not finding indexes; there are few if any footnotes or endnotes, and in this case a fairly diminutive bibliography.

What made me seriously question this book is a short comment Hagberg made in a chapter devoted to Stalin’s purges, deportations and mass murder of the Kulaks and Ukrainians. At the end of a succession of atrocities perpetrated against them, Hagberg writes:

“The kulaks ate their pets, then bark from the trees, even their boots and belts and harnesses. Finally they began eating one another. Sometimes parents ate their infant children” (266).

Obviously it’s disturbing and I was curious as to his source. That’s when I discovered and burned that there was no index. I then went to look for a bibliography and came across one of 35 citations; books and articles. Oh yeah, 11 of them are from Wikipedia. Truth be told, most of them are innocuous and don’t effect historical accuracy; the performance of a particular aircraft or class of naval vessel. However 3 or 4 of them were about the histories of the Soviet era security services – the Cheka, NKVD, NKGB and the KGB. To me it’s fact-checking lite; it’s taking “good enough” and diminishing the veracity of research. I like Wikipedia, but use it as a test-bed against things I know about, or as a starting point for additional information gathering. Its problem is that user-generated content harbors the danger of reducing historical fact to truth by “democracy”. If 100 people say this didn’t happen, and only 60 say it did, then it didn’t happen.

Why did my red lights go off here? Take a look at the The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia, by Orlando Figes. I was given this book late last year and finally finished it in April or May. It’s over 700 pages of meticulously noted personal accounts of life in the Soviet Union from before the revolution until the end of the Khrushchev years. In and of itself The Whisperers merits its own write-up, but I’ll save that for another day. The book is an ode to ensuring the veracity of personal accounts and their places within historical context. In reading it I may have come across inaccurate detail of events, but those are errors and suppositions of the individual account, not the pronunciations of the author as authority. In reading accounts of 40-50 years of systemic oppression and terror in the old USSR, I never came across accounts of cannibalism in the manner Hagberg suggests. My problem with what Hagberg flippantly tosses out is, his account is so brief that it seems common or expected; it loses its ability to shock and make us question to what levels humans must sometimes reach whether as victim or perpetrator.

To me it reinforces our roles as custodians of the veracity of the information we provide. “Good enough” is usually a quantitative qualifier, it also needs to be a qualitative quantifier, meaning it’s good enough that I’d use it too.


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