Saturday, September 23, 2023

The Quiet Room

The Quiet Room by Terry Miles
10/3/23; 432 pages
Rabbits #2
Random House/Del Rey

The Quiet Room by Terry Miles is a very highly recommended mystery following players in a secret world-wide alternate reality game. This is the second novel set in the world of the Rabbits podcast. The underground alternate game called Rabbits crosses inter-dimensional streams in the multiverse. 

Why would the mysterious Rabbit Police be questioning Emily Connors when she appears to be trapped in a dimensional stream where the game Rabbits does not exist. Whether it is the universe she is in or the game itself, something feels off. Or is there some underlying conspiracy underway? If the game is still on, this would be the twelfth iteration. Emily came close to winning the eleventh, but has the next game started in her current dimensional stream?

Rowan Chess, a theme park designer, has never felt like he was in the right place, or totally part of the reality he lives in. This feeling continues when he begins to have some incredibly odd experiences. He has a blind date that is going very well when his date goes to the bathroom and disappears. This marks the start of Rowan being forced into a game he knows nothing about. And Emily was "coincidentally" there to witness Rowan's date disappear, but there is no happenstance in Rabbits. What will happen when Rowan meets Emily and other Rabbits players?

The writing is excellent. There are many of the same elements that I loved from the first novel. We have puzzles and clues, mysterious Rabbit Police, theories, enigmas, patterns, and oddities. There are also a plethora of references to all manner of literature, movies, music, pop culture, and gaming. Following clues and noticing any deviations is vital to the game and the novel.

Rabbits is a great sci-fi mystery series that will have readers questioning every little coincident, anomaly, and oddity in their lives while wondering if they are obscure clues they need to uncover something else. The Quiet Room could be read as a stand alone, but then you would want to go back and read Rabbits anyway, so I'd suggest starting with Rabbits and then jump into The Quiet Room. I'm all in for any and all future novels in this incredible series!

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Del Rey via NetGalley.


Wednesday, September 20, 2023

One Last Kill

One Last Kill by Robert Dugoni
10/3/23; 351 pages
Thomas & Mercer
Tracy Crosswhite #10

One Last Kill by Robert Dugoni is a very highly recommended procedural investigating cold cases from a serial killer and the tenth novel in the Detective Tracy Crosswhite series.

When the Seattle Times plans to run a series of articles about the Route 99 serial killer from 25 years ago, Detective Tracy Crosswhite is ordered to reopening the investigation by Police chief Marcella Weber. After thirteen victims, the serial killer seemed to stop and the task force at the time, lead by Captain Johnny Nolasco, reached no conclusion. Weber assigns Nolasco to work with Tracy in solving the cold cases. The two try to set their rocky relationship aside to solve the decades old cases and bring closure to the families of the victims. They also know that Weber is targeting them for dismissal should they fail.

Even the concept that Tracy and Nolasco are working together on a case will certainly be a huge draw for fans of the series who will also be rewarded with many of the characters from previous books making an appearance. Tracy continues to be a fully realized complex character and this time even Nolasco shows more depth and nuance.

As expected, the writing is outstanding. For much of the investigation this is a more cerebral procedural rather than an action-packed thriller, which is to be expected with a cold case investigation from 25 years ago. It will appeal to anyone who enjoys reading about the clues and puzzles that a cold case investigation presents as the evidence is re-examined through a new set of eyes. It also helps that there have been great advances in technology and DNA testing since the original case.

Another great addition to a winning series! The great news is that  One Last Kill can be read as a stand alone.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Thomas & Mercer via NetGalley.


Monday, September 18, 2023

My Darling Girl

My Darling Girl by Jennifer McMahon
10/3/23; 320 pages
Gallery/Scout Press

My Darling Girl by Jennifer McMahon is a very highly recommended psychological horror.  I was afraid to keep reading but more scared not to find out what happened. This one had me start biting my nails. 

Alison's mother, Mavis, could be loving but was also an abusive alcoholic and she still has the physical and mental scars to prove it. It is early December and the family is decorating the house when Mavis's assistant Paul calls to let Alison know her mother is dying from cancer and only has weeks to live. Despite her childhood trauma, Ali is cautiously optimistic that Mavis really wants to try to have a relationship with her family and say good-bye, so she agrees to open up her home to her mother. It quickly becomes clear that her mother is not always who she seems to be and Ali may need to protect her own family.

That Alison would open up her home to her mother after the horrific childhood experiences she endured, is amazing and commendable. Then, when she didn't immediately ship her mother off to a facility when odd things begin to happen is shocking, more so after she begins to suspect what is happening. Clearly Alison is a complex, fully realized character. Once she begins to suspect demonic possession is stalking her family, all bets are off.

The writing is obviously excellent, compelling, and engaging. (Picture someone reading peeking between their fingers, scared, but still actively reading because they need to know what happened next.) The story is chilling and heartbreaking. Alison must unpack her mother's secrets in order to understand what is happening and then she will also know what her response to it will be. But her mothers behavior and words are bone-chilling frightening and her true self, or the evil side, only seems to come out when Alison is around.

The pages fly by in this totally engrossing, eerie foreboding narrative that will hold readers complete attention throughout. Well done, Jennifer McMahon you've proven yet again that you are an exceptional writer!

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Gallery/Scout Press via NetGalley.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Duplicity: My Mothers' Secrets

Duplicity: My Mothers' Secrets by Donna Freed
9/19/23; 252 pages
Muswell Press

Duplicity: My Mothers' Secrets by Donna Freed is recommended for readers who appreciate a wide variety of autobiographies and memoirs.

Donna learned she and her older siblings were adopted when she was six, a fact that her parents left unsaid unless specifically asked about it. Her adoptive mother was unconventional and as recorded, not always a very good and caring parent, but they came to terms with their relationship before she passed away. It is after her mother passed away that, as an adult in her 30's, Donna began looking for her birth mother and when she found her she also found a link to a true crime story. In 1967, her birth mother and father were involved with a scheme to collect a double indemnity insurance claim.

This is a novel of two parts. the first is Donna's childhood and her relationship with her dysfunctional adoptive parents, especially her mother. The second happens much later, after the half way point, and covers her search for her birth mother. Generally, I enjoy memoirs, but this one is not quite as compelling or interesting as the description implies. Honestly, the writing is average and nothing in her story reads like a thriller. There are many memoirs that are more engaging even without a tie to a true crime tale. Readers who enjoy memoirs will likely enjoy this more than I did.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Muswell Press via NetGalley.

Friday, September 15, 2023

The Wren, the Wren

The Wren, the Wren by Anne Enright
9/19/23; 288 pages
W.W. Norton & Company

The Wren, the Wren by Anne Enright is very highly recommended literary fiction following the legacy of trauma in an Irish family.

Celebrated Irish poet Phil McDaragh is the grandfather of Nell, father of Carmel, and was the husband of Terry. Each of them experiences the legacy of his poems differently. Nell was raised by her single mother, Carmel. She is a recent university graduate who never knew her grandfather, but his love poems speak to her. She's involved in a toxic relationship that she struggles to leave. Carmel is a hard, practical realist who knows the spells her father's poetry can spin, but also knows he abandoned his wife who had breast cancer and left his two daughters to care for her as he went off to charm women and had affairs. She is fiercely the mother to Nell while viewing her father realistically. She has heard how he charmed Terry and witnessed his later actions.

The novel is filled with lyrical poems featuring birds, but also very real episodes of cruelty and violence. There is a strong juxtaposition of the expressive beauty of the poetry with the realistic violence and betrayal. The narrative switches between the point-of-view of Nell, Carmel, and Phil. The complicated feeling Carmel feels for her father while also knowing the worse of his behavior illustrates the sharp contrasts between his poetry and  behavior. Nell's entanglements also seem to mimic this same disparity.

Both Nell and Carmel are portrayed as realistic, fully realized characters, with flaws, struggles, and strengths. You will hope for the best for both of them and their relationship as daughter and mother while they deal with their issues and the complications from their family name.

What sets this literary family drama apart from other novels is the impeccable writing that soulfully captures the yearning, betrayal, and longing of the characters as they must each journey to their own conclusions. They have inherited the ties to Phil's poetic accomplishes, but must determine what inheritance this will mean for their lives. That Enright successfully tackles this quandary in the narrative and accomplishes this, seemingly with ease, is part of what made this an exceptional novel.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of W.W. Norton & Company via NetGalley.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Murder in the Family

Murder in the Family by Cara Hunter
9/19/23; 480 pages

Murder in the Family by Cara Hunter is a highly recommended murder mystery presented in a unique format.

The murder of Luke Ryder in December 2003 was never solved. Ryder was the stepfather of filmmaker Guy Howard, who was 10 at the time of the murder. Guy and his two sisters were home when the body was found in the garden of their suburban family home. This was a high profile crime and true crime fans have sought clues to solve it for years. Guy Howard is now using his television series Infamous to solve this case involving his family. There is a panel of six experts, biographies with photos included, that are introduced and start looking at the evidence.

This thriller is written like a teleplay of a true crime documentary.  The text includes photos, maps, coroner's reports, newspaper articles, emails, text messages, and voicemail. Readers can follow along, review the evidence and testimony, and try to piece together what happened along with the experts on the show.

This is a rather fun, unique format for a novel and is entertaining at the start. Now, keep in mind that I know someone who will love and adore everything about this format, however, two important points need to be made for those considering the novel. First, you really have to enjoy the format of reading a teleplay script, along with all the other evidence. There is no "standard" novel/story with the other things mixed in. The novel consists of the teleplay transcript. Second, it becomes tedious reading everything digitally after awhile and I'd get a hardcover copy. (I am getting a hardcover copy for the person I know who will love the novel, especially  the format.)

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins via Edelweiss.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

North Woods

North Woods by Daniel Mason
9/19/23; 384 pages
Random House

North Woods by Daniel Mason is a highly recommended imaginative historical fiction, but with a different point of reference.

This is a novel about all the lives that lived in a single house in the woods of New England. The novel consists of twelve stories that tie into the seasons and months of the year, all set around the land and house, beginning with two young Puritan lovers who escaped from their colony. Residents also include in part, an English soldier who wants an apple orchard, twin sisters, a landscape painter, the wealthy Farnsworths, and subsequently their daughter and her schizophrenic son, Robert, and a true crime writer.

This is also the story of the land, animals, insects, spores, etc., and the changes experienced over the years. Finally, it is a ghost story, where the former inhabitants may still be haunting the area.  Included within the narrative at different points are also folk ballads, letters, diary entries, real estate listing, and accounts of nature's changes, seeds, blights and insects coming to the land. Taken in totality, it all culminates in a tale of how all things in a specific environments are interconnected over time.

The quality of the writing is simply gorgeous and undeniably compelling. The writing will pull you in and keep you reading, however, as with any collection of interconnected stories, not all stories will be as compelling as others throughout the whole novel. The structure and decision to tell a story in this manner, over decades and through different characters on one piece of land, is interesting yet also challenging. I was not especially interested in all the characters and ghosts, however I kept reading for the little gems within the writing.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Random House via NetGalley.