Thursday, September 22, 2022

The Foster Family

The Foster Family by Nicole Trope
9/21/22; 264 pages

The Foster Family by Nicole Trope is a very highly recommended domestic psychological thriller.

 Elizabeth and Howard are foster parents for five-year-old Joe when he disappears from their front yard. The police are called in and the search begins. It becomes clear almost immediately to readers that Howard is not who he is trying to portray and Elizabeth as well as Joe are totally scared of him and under his control. Joe is a sweet little boy who just wants to watch the birds across the street from their summer rental at Gordon's house. Howard, however, governs them with and iron fist. He controls both Elizabeth and Joe. He doesn't accept anyone questioning his authority.

Gordon is a good hearted elderly man living across the street. He knows there is something wrong and Joe could be in trouble, but his memory isn't as good as it used to be. In an alternate story line we follow a man who found a brutally beaten young woman sitting on a bench when a man finds her and wants to call for help. She begs him not to, but agrees to allow him to take her home to recover.

The characters are all well-developed. They have and have depth and are portrayed as realistic individuals.  This is what will pull you in and completely engulf you in the plot and the characters.

The writing is excellent and, admittedly, Trope will control your emotions like a virtuoso throughout. This is one of those novels that completely dominates you. You'll switch between being upset, emotional, angry, and crying quite quickly between chapters. I was also thoroughly aware that Trope was playing with my emotions and controlling them. Yeah, I accepted it and went with the flow. Chapters switch between different points-of-view. Most of the story is from Elizabeth's and Gordon's point-of-view.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Bookouture via NetGalley.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022


Suspect by Scott Turow
9/27/22; 448 pages
Grand Central Publishing

Suspect by Scott Turow is a highly recommended legal/investigative mystery.

Lucia "Lucy" Gomez, the police chief in the city of Highland Isle, near Kindle County, has three male police officers accuse her of soliciting sex in exchange for promotions to higher ranks. The sexual harassment accusations against her are false and part of a plan to destroy her career. While she is sure she knows who is behind this, Lucy turns to an old friend, Rik Dudek, to act as her attorney in the federal grand jury investigation into the accusations. Along with Rik, comes Clarice “Pinky” Granum, a licensed P.I. and a thirty-three-year-bisexual with plenty of ink and a memorable piercing. Pinky is Ric's secret weapon, she's smart, strange, and has keen observation skills.

Pinky is the narrator and she is definitely a colorful one. While she is clearly working on the case for Rik, she is also has other diversions. Pinky is extremely curious about her neighbor, so naturally she is investigating him too. You do have to suspend disbelief at time as far as Pinky's intuition in picking up clues or putting pieces together, but she does entertain. I'm not sure I'd want to read a whole series featuring her, but she did provide engaging escapism

This is part of Turow's series of novels set in Kindle County, but can easily be read as a stand alone. The writing is excellent. There is enough going on in the complicated investigation and the plot is sufficiently intricate to keep you guessing to the end. 

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Grand Central Publishing via NetGalley.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Lucy by the Sea

Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout
9/20/22; 304 pages
Random House

Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout is a so-so pandemic novel. Basically, William whisks Lucy out of NYC to live out the pandemic lockdown in a remote home located in a coastal community in Maine.

I've been a huge fan of Lucy Barton and have enjoyed Strout's novels for years. I was looking forward to reading Lucy by the Sea, but once I started it, the novel fell so flat I also most didn't finish it. Strout gets points for her ability to write and that's it. It's a pandemic lock down novel and a lazy, scattered story lacking a keen focus. I didn't care about this fictional story which felt perfunctory and whiny. There was no great story here.

All of us experienced the lockdown (or not) in different ways and all of us have our own stories. Setting aside this novel and allowing time to temper the facts and events would have been wiser than publishing this. My fluid rule that authors need to keep their personal editorializing on social/political views on contemporary topics to themselves and out of new books as it diminishes and dates the novel, yet again, applies. This is a disappointment. I'm apparently a complete outlier among reviewers, but I can't believe all the people writing glowing reviews read the same novel I did.

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

Sunday, September 18, 2022

A Cigarette Lit Backwards

A Cigarette Lit Backwards by Tea Hacic-Vlahovic
9/20/22; 240 pages
The Overlook Press

A Cigarette Lit Backwards by Tea Hacic-Vlahovic is a recommended coming-of-age novel set in the punk-rock scene of the early 2000s.

Kat lives in North Carolina and is desperately trying to fit in with the group that comprise the local punk scene. She's certainly a part of the group, but remains on the fringes. Her insecurities and longing to fit in and be accepted as part of a group, and not be seen as a poseur, has led to a series of poor choices and bad decisions. When she surprisingly gets back stage and has her picture taken by a journalist, her reputation as a groupie soars. This however, leads to even more bad choices and poor decisions.

This is a novel that will no doubt have an impact and elicit a visceral reaction for some readers. The characters are unlikable and they are definitely written to be that way. However, the writing felt very matter-of-fact and bare bones to me, which left me wanting more. My heart broke for Kat even though she clearly wouldn't care about that. All I could think about while reading this novel was that someone needed to care enough to talk to Kat and set her straight. This also makes me certain that I am not the target audience. 

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of The Overlook Press.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Nothing but the Night

Nothing but the Night by Greg King and Penny Wilson
9/20/22; 352 pages
St. Martin's Press

Nothing but the Night: Leopold & Loeb and the Truth Behind the Murder That Rocked 1920s America by Greg King and Penny Wilson is a very highly recommended examination of the infamous 1924 murder.

The names Leopold and Loeb will immediately be familiar to true crime aficionados and bring to mind two teens who killed for the thrill of it. Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were two intelligent and wealthy teenagers who were charged and convicted for the 1924 murder of fourteen-year-old Bobby Franks in Chicago. Franks was actually Loeb’s second cousin and the families had homes close to each other. The murder was shocking for its senselessness, the revelation of a love affair between the defendants, and defense attorney Clarence Darrow's defense summation which saved the boys from the death penalty. King and Wilson reexamine the case and who was the true mastermind behind the crime.

This is an exceptionally well researched inspection of the case and included are a bibliography and chapter notes. It remains a troubling and disturbing case that deserves a new look at the known facts and King and Wilson take on this task admirably. Those who appreciate the quest for the truth in psychological historical true crime cases will welcome this even approach to looking at the facts with new eyes. It also serves to look closer at Clarence Darrow's argument against the death penalty. His suggestion that  experts declared Leopold and Loeb were "mentally diseased" rather than evil unleashed a media frenzy.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of St. Martin's Press via NetGalley.

Friday, September 16, 2022


Abominations by Lionel Shriver
9/20/22; 304 pages

Abominations: Selected Essays from a Career of Courting Self-Destruction by Lionel Shriver is a very highly recommended collection of thirty-five opinion pieces.

Shriver is known for her sharp intellect, well-supported opinions, and perfectly chosen vocabulary. This is a superb collection covering more than two decades of some of her nonfiction selected from the Spectator, Guardian, New York Times, Harper’s Magazine, Wall Street Journal, as well as speeches, reviews, and unpublished pieces. Whether you agree with her on everything or nothing, Shriver clearly and succinctly makes her case and doesn't particularly care what others think about her opinion.

She is citizen of the U.S.A. who has lived in the U.K. for 30 years (12 years in Belfast), and shares opinions and thoughts on culture and politics concerning both countries. She does not shy away from opinions and thoughts that will be controversial. I appreciate this enormously. She clearly indicates which essays resulted in people trying to cancel her, not that she cares. Some of the pieces are lighter in tone than others, providing a nice mix.

As a proponent of free speech, she writes about what she thinks and would extend the same right to you. Topics covered include, in part: Brexit, religion, friends, fitness, taxes, cancel culture, wokeness, gender politics, semantics, trends in literature, the lockdown, tennis, cycling, nationalism, diversity, feelings, and more. Abominations is going to thrill fans of her fiction when she provides some insight into some of her novels, Big Brother being one example. I'm an ardent fan of her fiction and as I read these pieces I couldn't help but think, "Good for her." It is always refreshing to read someone expressing their firmly held personal beliefs in a logical, well-written manner and not care if any mob comes after them for it.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022


Lessons by Ian McEwan
9/13/22; 448 pages
Knopf Doubleday

Lessons by Ian McEwan is a highly recommended literary fiction following one man's life through many historical and personal events.

In 1986 Roland Baines, 37, has his wife Alissa leave him and their 7 month-old son Lawrence right before the Chernobyl sent a cloud of radiation. As Roland deals with his current circumstances, he ponders past events in his life. His father was an army captain in Tripoli which meant at age 11 he had to travel 2000 miles away to a boarding school in England. At the school a piano teacher takes advantage of him and this left scars that endured into adulthood.  He rejects formal education, spends time traveling as he pursues introspective distractions through music, literature, friends, sex, politics, love, and, unexpectedly, fatherhood. Roland's life experiences are followed across generations of his dysfunctional family and many historical events.

The writing is lyrical, dense, and exquisite, with breath-taking descriptions and insight, as one would expect and anticipate from McEwan. On the other hand, giving a brief introduction to what Lessons is about is challenging. It is a compelling novel and I was engaged with the narrative, however, it also felt like just too much and became overwhelming at times.

There is a lot going on in this character driven novel. Roland himself isn't a particularly interesting character all on his own. The interest is found in the various experiences he lived through simple as an extension of his life experiences and these are all events I remembered. There are also numerous family secrets exposed and lessons shared from Roland's life. I did read Lessons over a period of time, which made it slow going and it felt like it could have been shortened or focused in tighter on a specific period of time.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Knopf Doubleday via NetGalley.