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The Last Agent–suspenseful spy novel

The Last Agent

by Robert Dugoni

Oddly, I have watched many more spy movies than I have read spy books. Robert Dugoni’s The Last Agent is a great pathway for me into the world of spy novels. It is part of a series in that Charles Jenkins is the main character in the series that bears his name. Although the characters are important to the story, appreciating the book is not predicated on having read others in the series. This book is a fine example of a story that is so engaging, so complex, that the plot stands on its own merits.

Charlie Jenkins is a retired spy, forced out by his own organization. He tries to enjoy rural life with his much younger wife and two young children. When opportunity knocks at his door, however, Charlie answers with minimal hesitation. This assignment is especially appealing because it gives him the chance to help Paulina who sacrificed herself so that he could return to his family. An extremely strong double agent mentally, she is questioned relentlessly with physical and psychological torture by Russians who want to know the identity of certain assets.

Charlie is supposed to engineer her escape from an impenetrable prison and see her to the U.S. and freedom. She is in an extremely compromised physical condition and is heavily guarded. Getting her out would take a lot of skill and planning along with a dose of good luck. The Russians want her information badly and have the advantage of Putin’s extensive “Big Brother” network of cameras. Fortunately, Charlie has support from his handlers with assets all over Europe and a huge bank account that gives him leverage with a former Russian agent.

There are so many intricate steps in achieving the various goals along the way. Not everything goes smoothly so a lot of improvisation is required. Hideous weather both hinders and helps. Disguises and unusual means of transportation are called into play. I guarantee this book is a page turner that will keep you reading way past “lights out.”

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Thomas & Mercer for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Mystery & Thriller (Spy)

Notes: #2 in The Charles Jenkins Series, but I read it as a standalone with no problems understanding or enjoying it.

Publication: September 22, 2020—Thomas & Mercer

Memorable Lines:

His anger spiked; he couldn’t believe the agency that had allowed him to be tried for espionage now had the audacity to seek his help.

You Americans are too impatient. It is your consumerism. You want everything now. This minute. You must learn Russian patience. We must take the first step before we take the second.”

Viktor Federov knew well that Big Brother had returned to Russia, though the method of spying—once Russians reporting on fellow Russians—now employed computer technology cameras, and cell phones.

Academic Curveball–knocking this cozy out of the park

Academic Curveball

by James J. Cudney

Academic CurveballAcademic Curveball is the first cozy mystery in the newly created Braxton Campus Mystery Series by James J. Cudney. Although not alone in having a male author and a male protagonist, this book is outside the norm for the typical cozy. He effectively flips the scenario from female main character, either supported or opposed by a male law enforcement figure, to a male character standing in opposition to a female sheriff. He also has a mixed relationship with his former best friend who is currently director of security at Braxton college.

Academic Curveball has a very complicated plot. The reader must attend closely to all potential clues as Kellan, assistant director of a TV reality show, evaluates them and follows the leads to discover the murderer in a case that involves secrets of all kinds from romantic to political. He does his amateur sleuthing while trying to reestablish family ties and old friendships, working his primary job, filling in for a murdered professor, and doing some long distance single parenting.

With interesting characters and tangled motives galore, Academic Curveball is set in a college town. His father is the president of the college and his mother is in charge of admissions. A favorite character for most readers will be sassy Nana D whose repartee with Kellan provides humor, but she is lively and sharp and should not be overlooked as fluff. There is a baseball theme along with focuses on politics, both in the town and at the college. Just when you think all the balls have been recovered, there is one last curveball that will surprise you and make you wish January and the publication of the second book in the series, Broken Heart Attack, would come quickly.

I would like to extend my thanks to author James J. Cudney and to Creativia for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #1 in the Braxton Campus Mystery Series

Publication: October 15, 2018—Creativia

Memorable Lines:

Nana D indicated she’d rather spend an afternoon with her mouth crammed full of lemon wedges, her fingers pricked by a thousand tiny needles, and her feet glued inside a bumblebee’s nest than attend another Braxton event for my father.

It would be an interesting discussion with my father when he graciously stepped off his high horse and spoke to me again.

Wisps of gray shot out in all directions underneath a furry blue hat three-sizes too big on her frail and wrinkled head.

Burning Meredith–police procedural

Burning Meredith

by Elizabeth Gunn

Burning MeredithWith the interruptions common in daily life, I never finish a book in one sitting, and I rarely complete a book the same day I start it. Burning Meredith was an exception. I did stay up late to finish reading it because it was such a good mystery. Due to its focus on police investigative techniques, it is considered a police procedural by those who like to subdivide the genre.

Burning Meredith centers around a huge forest fire in the south-central Montana mountains, destroying many acres and threatening little Clark’s Fort. If it is possible for a bad thing to be good, then this forest fire was it. The disaster breathed new life into the little weekly Clark’s Fort Guardian and provided opportunities for young, local photo-journalist Stuart Campbell to shine. Not afraid of hard work and familiar with the mountains, he manages to put the Meredith Mountain area on the map nationally.

I like the journalist character, but I truly associate with retired teacher Alice Adams who works for the paper as an editor, initially only a few days a week. As she says, “After thirty-two years of catching kids passing crib notes, you didn’t just stop on a dime. Shouldn’t there be a twelve-step plan for this transition?” She is a respected fixture in the community, as she has taught English and social studies to several generations of Clark’s Fort middle schoolers. She encourages her nephew Stuart in his journalistic efforts, and she provides invaluable assistance in solving the mystery of an unidentified man whose body is found after the fire has been controlled.

There are two major threads to this plot; the author initially shares these in separate chapters as unrelated storylines. The reader gets caught up in the reporting of the fire, and then suddenly there is this other direction that appears like an itch waiting to be scratched. Author Elizabeth Gunn’s writing is excellent in terms of the general plot and how it plays out and also in her turn of phrase. Some of Gunn’s prose is so good that I found myself rereading parts just to enjoy her choice of words, her descriptive excellence, or her metaphors. Many mysteries do not allow for much in the way of character development or they expend too much energy on the characters at the expense of the plot. Gunn hits the mark with her writing style. Her main characters are developed and interesting; her minor characters provide a nice backdrop.

Elizabeth Gunn has two series of police procedurals. Will Burning Meredith begin a new series? I could find no indication that it would or wouldn’t, but my opinion is that this book is a good basis for one.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Severn House for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery, Police Procedural

Publication:   June 1, 2018—Severn House

Memorable Lines:

Like a bonus for a job well done, Clark’s Fort got a second freaky dose of luck. A surprise deflection in the polar vortex brought cold, moist air and a drastic dip in air pressure down across Canada and pouring into Montana.

“As you well know, Clark’s Fort doesn’t generate much news.”  “For sure. My street gets so quiet on August afternoons, I swear I can hear the bluebirds planning their trip south.”

She gave him the English teacher look that had brought silence to rooms full of eighth-grade miscreants for a generation.

…when the weather warmed up the country roads became mud-holes even  more impassable than the snow-drifts had been. People still had to get around, so they chained up and churned out, making ruts you could lose a spring calf in.

Crime and Punctuation–super senior

Crime and Punctuation

by Kaitlyn Dunnett

Crime and PunctuationCrime and Punctuation features a retired Language Arts (English) teacher who decides to take up editing to fund the remodeling of the 110 year old home she lived in until she was seventeen. At age sixty-eight, newly widowed, Mikki returns from Maine to Lenape Hollow in New York’s Catskills and purchases the three story home of her childhood which has not been maintained properly.

Although Mikki intends for her business to mainly come through online sources, she is approached shortly after opening her enterprise by Tiffany, a young, enthusiastic, and well-funded new author. Mikki accepts her as a client and three days later there is a murder.

Lenape Hollow is a small town where news travels fast. Mikki finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation that involves old friends and enemies and brings up long forgotten memories. Tiffany’s book is fiction, but it is based on Mafia activity in the 1930’s. Her husband and his associates have been involved in some shady deals in the past and may be the models for some of the book’s unsavory characters. Crime and Punctuation is a good mystery with lots of suspects. It is not difficult to figure out who the murderer is, but it is fascinating to watch it play out. The book is well-paced and the main character Mikki is an interesting and likable character. Her honesty in her introspection is refreshing and not belabored. Mikki’s age is certainly older than the typical cozy mystery heroine, but that fact provides a different perspective that is interesting.

I have always enjoyed language, word study, and even grammar. Fresh out of college, I taught middle and high school English for a year while waiting for an elementary teaching position to open up. I was excited to teach, enjoyed the subject matter, and particularly related to the twelfth graders ready to embark on their next adventure in life. So in Mikki I find a kindred spirit with her references to the Oxford comma. Its use in Tiffany’s manuscript actually helped solve the case. On the other hand, I don’t think a reader needs to be obsessive about grammar to appreciate this latest mystery by Kaitlyn Dunnett.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #1 in the Deadly Edits Mystery Series

Publication:   May 29, 2018—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

I can dress in my best, freshly pressed and pristine, and within five minutes, I look as if I’ve slept in my clothes. Don’t even talk to me about scarves! No matter how I tie them, they just hang there, limp and unflattering, feedbag instead of fashionable.

Thunderclouds scudded into Van Heusen’s face so fast that I expected it to start raining at any moment. My uneasiness about being alone with him returned just as quickly.

“Excuse me. Is Mr. Onslow available?” The redhead looked up, mouth opening in a startled, lipstick-circled O and heavily mascaraed eyes widening. I wondered if my question had been too complicated for her.

Ditched 4 Murder–murder mystery with a side of humor

Ditched 4 Murder

by J.C. Eaton

Ditched 4 MurderPhee (Sophie Kimball) is still acclimating to Arizona’s high temperatures: quite a change from Minnesota. She is employed as a bookkeeper at Williams Investigations, on a year’s leave of absence from the Mankato Police Department. She makes it clear that she is not a Private Investigator and has no ambitions to be one. Despite her inclinations, she gets dragged into several murder investigations because of her family ties. Her mother and her looney aunt, a soon-to-be-bride in her seventies, are already part of the aging retirement community in Sun West City, and they call on her frequently for support and particularly in tough times. Phee is in her forties and is quite likable and intelligent. Although she is single, there is no potential love interest in this book.

Ditched 4 Murder is a cozy mystery by J.C. Eaton. I enjoyed the Arizona setting, the characters, many of whom are in the catering business, and the plot with multiple threads and many complications. Especially appealing is the author’s sense of humor, a delight throughout.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #2 in the Sophie Kimball Mystery Series, but works well as a standalone

Publication:  November 28, 2017—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

“Quaint! Don’t you know what that means? It means no air-conditioning, no cable TV, forget about a mini-fridge and a microwave, and we’ll be lucky if they stick a fan in the room. There’s only one thing worse than quaint, and that’s rustic. Thank God she did’t pick rustic. That means no electricity and an outhouse!”

…honey, we spend the first fifty years of our lives collecting things and the next fifty giving them away.

“You ever think about doing that detective stuff, Phee?” I walked to the outside office. “Sure, I think about it. It’s right up there with trekking the Andes and riding an Icelandic horse across glacial rivers.”

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