Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Watch It Burn

Watch It Burn by Kristen Bird
3/12/24; 336 pages
MIRA Books

Watch It Burn by Kristen Bird is a mystery where three women work together to find the secrets behind a woman's death and a self-help movement. It is a highly recommended small town domestic mystery.

When out on her morning run in the small Texas town of Edenberg, Nichole Miller, an elementary school teacher, finds the body of 65 year-old Beverly Hoffman. She calls 911 and then her best friend, journalist Jenny Martin. Jenny has recently moved back to her hometown in hopes of saving her marriage and reestablishing her writing career. Jenny rushes to the scene and immediately realizes that Beverly's death was no accident. 

Jenny and Nichole are sure Beverly's death is tied to her husband George Hoffman and his cult-ish personal-development company Genetive. Hoffman has bought up most of the town and controls everything in Edenberg. The two women are friends with Robin, Beverly’s daughter-in-law, and enlist her help to expose the truth behind Genetive. Robin knows the lies, secrets, and manipulation behind the Genetive empire.

Watch It Burn is a well-written examination of a death, small town politics, family trauma, a self-development cult, and a megalomaniacal man trying to control everything. The narrative is told through three points-of-view, Jenny, Nichole, and the deceased Beverly. Beverly is the most interesting narrator because she knows the truth. You know from the opening that you are not only trying to solve a murder, but waiting to discover who set the entire town on fire.

The beginning of the novel does move at a slow pace and it takes some time to really hold your attention. Once the three women decide to register and attend a weekend retreat to the private Genetive compound, the plot picks up the pace. The inside look into the cult of Genetive is interesting, but also serves to increase the tension and a sense of danger. The cult itself seems to be composed of some stereotypes combined with some real cults. 3.5 rounded up. Thanks to MIRA for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

The Split

The Split by S.E. Lynes
3/8/24; 358 pages

The Split by S.E. Lynes follows a fractious break-up and the aftermath. It is a recommended, average domestic psychological thriller.

Jessica and Will are married and have two children. Jessica works long hours in London and is the main support for the family. Will is a life coach and the main care taker for the children. The morning after they celebrated their anniversary Jessica received pictures of Will, by all appearances, having an affair with another woman. When she confronts him, he says it's not what she thinks but he can't talk about it. She kicks him out of the house. This is the start of bigger problems than their inability to talk to or trust each other.

Admittedly, I was not a fan of The Split. The pluses are I read it to the end. The plot is interesting, but average. There are plenty of secrets and twists. The narrative moves at a fast pace. It gets all the points for escapism and a sense of dread and danger. The anger and frustration with each other seems realistic. The characters are unlikable and gullible. As I was reading, I predicted to myself early on what would happen and who would be responsible. I was correct, repeatedly. Many readers will likely enjoy this for the diversion. Thanks to Bookouture for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Storm Cell

Storm Cell by Brendan DuBois
3/12/24 (originally 11/22/16); 268 pages
Severn River Publishing
Lewis Cole # 10

Storm Cell by Brendan DuBois finds Lewis Cole under pressure to prove Felix Tinos is innocent of murder charges. It is the very highly recommended 10th thriller in the Lewis Cole series.

Felix is on trial for the murder of Fletcher Moore and inexplicably is using a sub-par lawyer called Hollis Spinelli instead of his long time go-to Boston based attorney Raymond Drake. Since Lewis is not on Felix's visitor's list he can't talk to him about it. The evidence seems conclusive on the surface, but Lewis refuses to believe Felix is guilty. Things become more odd when two FBI agents approach Cole and tell him if he has to prove Felix is innocent or Felix will be murdered in prison. Then, when Lewis tries to talk to Spinelli about his defense of Felix, Spinelli sends a tough young man to convince Lewis to back off. If Lewis had questions before, this really raises his curiosity, and an inquisitive Lewis is a force to reckon with.

As expected, the quality of the writing is exceptional and the plot is compelling and intriguing. The investigation Lewis undertakes is engaging and the information he uncovers is intriguing. Part of the enjoyment is following the investigation and the clues and pieces of information Lewis uncovers. It's also good to see reoccurring characters from the series make an appearance in the narrative.

The Lewis Cole series is an excellent crime fiction thriller set in New Hampshire that just gets better with every book. The series is being re-released by Severn River Publishing. Most of them can be read as stand-alone novels, but your reading experience will be deeper and more engaging if you follow the series and have more information about all the characters. Thanks to Severn River Publishing for providing me with an advance reader's copy via Edelweiss. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Finding Sophie

Finding Sophie by Imran Mahmood
3/5/24; 352 pages
Random House

Finding Sophie by Imran Mahmood combines a domestic drama as parents desperately search for their missing daughter with a courtroom drama because someone is charged with murder. It is highly recommended.

Harry and Zara King’s seventeen-year-old daughter, Sophie, has been missing for six weeks and they feel the police have stopped investigating. The deeply grieving parents especially want them to question the man living in number 210 on their street. They went door to door, talking to everyone in the area to see if they saw or know something about Sophie. Every one talked to them or answered a questionnaire they left except the man in 210. Now Harry is obsessed with the man in 210 and why he refuses to talk to them or answer the questionnaire. The standoff is about to escalate. From the opening we know one of the parents will be charged with murder.

The narrative unfolds between the alternating perspectives of Harry and Zara. It also covering events in a dual timeline, the weeks after Sophie's disappearance and a year in the future during a murder trial. The slow start kept my interest low, but once Harry's obsession took hold the pace becomes steady, with some small jumps in action along the way. There are pieces of information and clues provided during this section that don't pay off until much later. The slow start is redeemed by the ending when the pace and action pick up.

Where Mahmood excels is in his depiction of desperate, grieving parents, Harry and Zara. Both are handling their frustration and grief very differently, but their actions reflect their personalities. Their grief also begins to put a strain on their relationship.

The action in the court case also increases the tension. Keep in mind this novel is set in the U.K., so the court action is different from that in U.S. courtrooms. The dual timelines also begin to merge here to explain more of what happened. The ending is worth the journey. Thanks to Random House for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

In Sunshine or in Shadow

In Sunshine or in Shadow by Rhys Bowen, Clare Broyles
3/12/24; 304 pages
Minotaur Books
Molly Murphy Mystery #20

In Sunshine or in Shadow by Rhys Bowen and Clare Broyles sends Molly out of Manhattan and up north to visit her mother-in-law in Westchester County. It is highly recommended for fans of the series.

In 1908 typhoid is back in the city and retired detective Molly Murphy Sullivan is expecting so Daniel wants her, along with their toddler son and teenage ward, to go stay with his mother for the summer. Much to her relief, her mother-in-law is a surprisingly welcoming host. When Molly's friends, Sid and Gus, invite her to come stay with them for a visit, she jumps at the chance. She joins them in a visit to Sid's family in a Jewish bungalow in the Catskills where tensions are running high and soon there is a murder to solve. 

Mother and daughter Rhys Bowen and Clare Broyles team up on this 20th installment of the mystery series. This is a typical Molly Murphy mystery. At this point, the characters are fully realized and developed across the whole series. The story arc is expected, a murder will be solved, although this time it is slow to happen, which marks the start of the investigation portion of the novel. It is a predictable, but comfortable, plot.

The quality of the writing is excellent, as expected. Where it really shines is in the descriptions of life during that time period, 1908, and all the historical information on the early Catskill resorts.  Fans will welcome this latest addition and those new to the series can enjoy it as a standalone novel. This novel was reviewed in partnership with my mother who is an avid reader and big fan of the author. Thanks to Minotaur Books for providing an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

The New Couple in 5B

The New Couple in 5B by Lisa Unger
3/5/24; 384 pages
Park Row Books 

The New Couple in 5B by Lisa Unger is a mystery merged with a supernatural horror novel set in NYC in a historic Manhattan apartment building in Murray Hill on Park Avenue. It is highly recommended.

Rosie and Chad Lowan are living in NYC and struggling. Rosie is a true crime writer and Chad is an actor. Right now she needs a new book proposal accepted and he needs a good role. During this same time the two have spent the last year caring for his dying uncle Ivan. Much to their surprise, Ivan has left his multi-million-dollar apartment in the historic Windermere to them rather than his estranged daughter, Dana. She is furious that she was not only cut out of Ivan's will but that he gave the apartment to Rosie and Chad.

Rosie focuses the subject of her next book the Windermere. The building had been the scene of many gruesome accidents, murders, and incidents over the years. Even living there, Rosie can feel the dark history and is sure she saw a ghost. It is certainly a weird atmosphere present. Cameras are watching everywhere, the old elevator requires an operator, and Abi, the longtime doorman seemingly always there. When two different murders occur, Rosie begins to wonder if a building can be cursed as she also questions the integrity of those around her.

Interspersed between the chapters following Rosie during the present day happenings are chapters set in the 60' told from the point-of-view of Willa, a married woman who lived in the same apartment before Ivan. Both the story from the past and the present day intrigue are suspenseful and increase the tension surrounding the story and the Windermere. While reading you will become increasingly concerned and anxious about Rosie's safety - and Willa's in the past. Rosie is a great character, however I wanted her to get a clue earlier.

Unger is a go-to writer for me who always excels at well-written, un-put-downable thrillers. The New Couple in 5B by Lisa Unger met all those features, adding a supernatural element to the mystery. I can't say I was a huge fan of the paranormal plot elements, but I was glued to the pages regardless of my hesitancy. There is enough going on that is sinister and creepy that the tension would build anyway. There are some great twists along the way too. 

Not my top-rated Lisa Unger novel, but she set the bar pretty high with all her previous five star books. If you like a mix of the supernatural with a mystery, this would be an excellent choice for you. Thanks to Park Row Books for providing me with an advance reader's copy via Edelweiss. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

The Dredge

The Dredge by Brendan Flaherty
3/5/24; 256 pages

The Dredge by Brendan Flaherty is a recommended debut character-driven mystery featuring secrets from the past that may emerge.

Cale and Ambrose Casey are estranged brothers who grew up in rural Connecticut. Ambrose still lives in the area and has a construction company while Cale moved to Hawaii  and sells high-end real estate. The two brothers are forced to talk to each other when they learned of a real estate developer’s plan for Gibbs Pond and the land it is on. Lily Rowe ended up living near Gibbs pond when that was the last place her abusive father moved her and her brother Roy too. Now Lily is the only one left and she is working for the development company that plans to dredge the pond. Lily also has secrets to protect.

The narrative is mainly told through flashbacks and through multiple points-of-view and differing timelines with abrupt shifts between them. It all leads up to the secrets both families have that are tied to Gibbs Pond. The tone is somber and depressing throughout. While the secrets are revealed later in the novel, the title sort of gives away the direction the plot will take. It really is a bit too predictable and my attention flagged early on while reading.

The family secrets plot is a well-tread avenue so any venture down this road needs to be especially outstanding. Although The Dredge didn't meet my high expectations for the plot, there is a lot of promise in the portrayal of the characters. They were all complicated, troubled, realistic individuals although, as a reader who appreciates character-driven novels, I would have liked to see a bit more in-depth character development of these three. Thanks to Grove/Atlantic for providing me with an advance reader's copy via Edelweiss. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.