The Alienist by Caleb Carr

The AlienistOk– this review is more or less a joke review. That’s because, in the eyes of Kaitlyn and myself, The Alienist by Caleb Carr on audiobook is a joke book.

Full disclosure, our displeasure is our own (read: Kaitlyn, who downloaded it) fault. We downloaded an abridged book, and so what should have been 18 hours was only 4 hours, and those 4 hours were about as interesting as an episode of Criminal Minds. That’s not to be mean to Criminal Minds— we watch that all the time when we don’t want to think or really pay attention to our electricity use. And yes, in moving we canceled cable, but still… Shemar Moore, Paget Bruster, Joe Montegna, and the rest really do a nice job on this formulaic police procedural in the trappings of pseudo-scientific psychobabble.

And, if you listen to the abridged audiobook of Carr’s Alienist, which is set to become a TV show on TNT later this year, that’s exactly what you’ll get. “Alienist,” back in the later 19th century and into the 20th, was what we now call “psychologist.” The story of The Alienist tells a fictionalized story of the clandestine first use of psychological profiling in the tracking and arrest of a serial killer in New York City. So yes, it really is Criminal Minds, if you picture Penelope Garcia looking up information by going to the library. So like The Nick, a Showtime show about doctors and their drama set in New York at the turn of the 20th century, the Alienist is a period piece that we already know the story to. A sadistic, but abused and misunderstood killer evades a wily band of profilers until he doesn’t.

The promise of such a story is that we get to learn about the theories, methods, and mores of psychology in its formative years. That sounded great! But it turns out if you abridge a novel, you monster you, you pull out all the interesting and informative things about the period and make an episode of Criminal Minds that, while admittedly entertaining, is derivative drivel.

Here’s hoping the TNT show eschews that strategy when bringing Carr’s book to the screen.

Kaitlyn has refrained from contributing to this joint review as she is actually going to go read the book. I, on the other hand, am refusing to spend any more time on anything referencing this. Oh, and Teddy Roosevelt was a character and he actually was the police commissioner of NYC. There– we DID learn something!

Recommend—– THE FULL VERSION!!!

Availability: COSMOS (Print & Audio), USMAI, SMCM
Review Submitted by:  Shane D. Hall
Rating:  Recommend the full audio version.

[Your editor burst out laughing at the Criminal Minds comment because that is exactly the way she watches the show. ]

Mangrove Lightning by Randy Wayne White

Mangrove Lightning

Randy Wayne White is always a quick fun read. I didn’t think this one was as good as previous novels. The sci – fi was a bit much. But I always like to see what the characters are up to in the newest novel. I’m going to recommend it, but it is not as good as past novels. If you haven’t been reading this series you would have missed a lot of background on the characters and even if that weren’t true this would not be a great as a first Randy Wayne White novel.

Availability:  COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Shelley Clark
Rating:  Recommended
Challenge Published in 2017

Camino Island by John Grisham

Camino Ilsand
This was far from my favorite Grisham – perhaps I’ve simply come to expect lawyers to play a major role in his books and there’s nary one to be had among the major players here. But, really, it was the plot that failed. I enjoyed reading about the theft of the manuscripts but the book just lost steam after that. I tried to inject some interest imagining Fernandina Beach, FL (where a friend of mine used to run a small bookstore) as Camino Island, and smiling at Bruce’s sartorial preferences as I recalled the guys I went to law school with in Georgia who lived for seeksucker and bow ties. And I enjoyed the antics of some of the secondary characters. But those just weren’t enough to generate my continued interest in the storyline. I enjoyed John Dunning’s Cliff Janeway series, also involving rare book collecting, much more.

Availability:  COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Mary Hall
Rating: Not Recommended
Challenge: Published in 2017

Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell

Traitor's Blade

I enjoyed the fantasy novel Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell. The main character is Falcio Val Mond, the First Cantor (leader) of the Greatcoats. The Greatcoats were a group of wandering magistrates who are named for the coat that they wear (which served as armor and storage) and are now disbanded, distrusted, and ridiculed. The backstory is told with periodic flashbacks.

I enjoyed: the dialog (reminds me of the “buddy cop” style movie), learning about sword fighting (“first rule of the sword is put the pointy end into the other man”), the detailed fight scenes, and the plot twist as Falcio completed his quest.

I didn’t like how a couple things were wrapped up at the end with a surprise “intervention” (I’m being deliberately vague) and, although minor, a couple of times I had to re-read because I didn’t realize the book switched to the backstory.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and highly recommend it for people who enjoy fantasy/sword-fighting action. I will likely read more in this series.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Andy Ashenfelter
Rating: Highly Recommended
Challenge: A book published by a small press.

The Golden Lily by Richelle Mead

The Golden Lily


The second book in the Bloodlines series that continues the amazing plot lines started in the first book. It also is a great start to what appears to be the main romance of the series. The book is able to balance adventure and romance very well. It is also able to deal with prejudices that exist in this fantasy world and make them relate to the real world.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Taylor Horkan
Rating: Highly Recommended
Challenge: A book with a color in the title

Find Her by Lisa Gardner

FInd Her

This is one of Lisa Gardner’s DD Warren books. The story line was back and forth from DD’s story to the main character, Flora Dane. Flora survived a kidnapping and was missing for 472 days. Her return to life has not been an easy transition. As you read the book, more about Flora is revealed. It was hard to think about all the things Flora endured, even though it wasn’t based on anyone’s real life story. But in the end, Flora feels redeemed. I enjoyed the book, it was hard to put down at times.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Lynette Starke
Rating: Highly Recommended

Camino Island by John Grisham

Camino IlsandI think I must have read at least one Grisham novel in the 90s, but I remembered little of it (them?) and thought Camino Island sounded like a good summer read. It’s about the elaborate heist of five rare manuscripts (the novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald) and the efforts of a young writer to infiltrate the inner circle of the popular book dealer who is suspected to have the stolen manuscripts in his possession. The premise was promising, but the prose was so clunkily functional that it felt more to me like a long description of a book I might be interested in than the book itself.

Since the plot involves a loose yet gossipy community of writers in a touristy beach town, Grisham is afforded an opportunity to comment at least indirectly on the compromises between art and commerce that the writing life entails. He launches a few barbs at the self-consciously literary Leigh, whose “tortured prose” saps the life out of even the most promising stories, as if to draw a contrast with his own uncluttered if unsatisfying style. That said, I did keep turning the pages!

Availability:  COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Eric Blomquist
Rating: Recommended with Reservations
Challenge: Published in 2017