Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The Dead Girls Club

The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters
Crooked Lane Books: 12/10/19
eBook review copy; 280 pages
ISBN-13: 9781643851631

The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters is a so-so debut psychological thriller about secrets from the past.
In 1991 twelve-year-old Heather Cole and her best friend Becca Thomas formed a Dead Girls Club with two other girls. In the club Becca told the other's stories about serial killers and ghosts, but she especially focused on telling an elaborate ongoing ghost story about the Red Lady. Becca began to believe the Red Lady was real. The club ended when Becca died - by Heather's hands. A body was never found, but Becca's drunk, abusive mother went to prison for the murder.
Heather is now a child psychologist and has kept her secret for years, so she is shocked when someone sends her Becca's half of their "best friends" necklaces. No one knows what happened back in 1991, but now it seems that someone knows something, and they know Heather killed Becca. The anonymous "I know what you did" threats continue, and Heather panics and becomes obsessed with identifying who is trying to frighten her.
The narrative follows two different time lines: Heather's torment in the present day and the girls and ghost story in 1991. The 1991 flashbacks and the Red Lady story drags on and on far too long. We get it. We understand kids with secrets. I ended up skimming through much of the Red Lady stories because - whatever. The present day chapters, although more interesting to follow, basically just serve to highlight Heather's instability and obsession. While it is understandable for her to be shocked over receiving the necklace, that in and of itself proves nothing. Her immediate jump to assuming someone knows something rather than just throwing it away or, when another event occurs, contacting the police, makes absolutely no sense. Document and report the torment. Those friendship necklaces are nothing unique.
The character development is lacking. Heather's whole terror-filled inner torment over the fact that someone might know something almost thirty years later feels fabricated and falls short. We get no sense of her as an adult before we are subjected to her manic falling apart and making poor choices. I'm afraid I didn't feel any tension or terror building, rather I kept mumbling "call the police" while watching her mental breakdown. The ending... well, that clinched it for me and took the rating down. There are numerous better stories out there of childhood secrets coming out years after the fact.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Crooked Lane Books.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Lost Tomorrows

Lost Tomorrows by Matt Coyle
Oceanview Publishing: 12/3/19
eBook review copy; 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9781608093632
Rick Cahill #6

Lost Tomorrows by Matt Coyle is a highly recommended noir whodunit featuring a troubled private investigator and the sixth book in the series.

San Diego P. I. Rick Cahill receives a phone call learning that his former partner on the Santa Barbara Police Department, Krista Landingham, is dead. When Rick goes to the funeral, his past is ever present and thrust into his face by the officers attending the funeral. His wife, Colleen, was murdered in the city and Rick was considered guilty by the police, but certain key people, like his former partner, knew he could not have been the guilty party. Now Leah, Krista's sister, wants Rick to assist another P.I. and look into her sister's death. She thinks Krista's death was murder, not an accident. Rick soon begins to wonder if Krista's death is somehow linked to Colleen's death because she had just reopened and started investigating the cold case.

This is my first Rick Cahill mystery and I could easily follow the backstory of the first person narrative without reading the other books in the series. What happened in his past is either explained if it is important to the plot and/or hinted at if it involves his character and background. The premise is set up immediately and the action escalates. The case is carefully presented and you can follow the twists and leads clearly as the investigation unfolds. The chapters are short and concise, helping move the plot along quickly.

Rick is a well-developed character and Coyle presents all his strengths and flaws. He is likely clinically depressed, but he is also an intelligent, attentive investigator who will follow any leads. Rick shows vulnerability and a hesitation to open himself up to any relationship as he doesn't think he deserves any happiness. This book could easily entice readers to read the previous books in the series to try an unlock more of what caused Rick's damaged psyche.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Oceanview Publishing.


Anyone by Charles Soule
HarperCollins: 12/3/19
eBook review copy; 432 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062890634

Anyone by Charles Soule is a highly recommended, fast-paced, technological/speculative fiction thriller.

In Michigan research scientist Gabrielle (Gabby) White inadvertently discovers a way for people to transfer their consciousness into another person's body. She wants to control how the technology is used, but that very likely will be taken out of her control. Twenty-five-years into the future this technology called "flash" has transformed society. The company advertises the flash as a way to "Be Anyone with Anyone" in the ultimate out-of-body experience. However, there is also an underground black market to the technology called "darkshare," where people rent out their bodies for paying customers to use for a variety of deviant purposes. In the future, Annami is renting out her body through a darkshare establishment in order to save enough money for a plan of her own.

Chapters in the action-packed, fast-paced plot alternate between Gabby's discovery and Annami's driven quest to earn money for her own purpose. Both story lines are compelling and both of the characters are well developed. You know something is going to go terribly wrong for Gabby, and Annami is keeping her ultimate scheme to herself. Naturally, you have to set disbelief aside as far as transferring one person's consciousness into another person's body, but once you do that both time periods keep ratcheting up the tension. Ultimately both narratives will connect in an unexpected but satisfying conclusion.

Soule does an excellent job presenting this frightening and fascinating cautionary vision of the future. It could be his work in comic books has translated well into keeping the action of the dual narratives intense and quickly moving, while wrapping both narratives in an irresistible plot. Ultimately, he takes the idea of new technology and forces us to look at the unintended consequences: the abuse of that technology, the morality of using it, and the question of identity and culpability when another body is used.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

How The Dead Speak

How The Dead Speak by Val McDermid
Grove/Atlantic: 12/3/19
eBook review copy; 416 pages
ISBN-13: 9780802147615
Tony Hill and Carol Jordan #11

How The Dead Speak by Val McDermid is a highly recommended eleventh procedural thriller featuring psychological profiler Tony Hill and ex-DCI Carol Jordan. This follows events from Insidious Intent (2017).

Now that Tony is behind bars for manslaughter and Carol's no longer with the Bradfield Metropolitan Police, the regional major incident team is under the leadership of Detective Chief Inspector Rutherford, who is hostile to members who worked under Carol. Rutherford sends team members out to investigate when construction crews uncover children’s skeletons on the former grounds of the Order of the Blessed Pearl convent.  For DI Paula McIntyre the question of what happened becomes even more tangled when the bodies of young men are found buried in a different area of the convent grounds. At the same time, Tony is working on his book and trying to find a way to use his talents to help the prison population. Carol is finally dealing with her PTSD, when she is pulled into two different investigations.
The various plots and sub-plots are told through the points-of-view of several different characters and presented in short chapters. Basically, there are four different major plot-strands, with several sub-plot-threads in them. It is a complicated novel, but the sub-plots do begin to merge and coalesce into a conclusion. In spite of the twists and complexity of the story lines, the investigations are as compelling as the characters and will hold your attention. A nice touch is the headings on the chapters which feature a quote from the book Tony is currently writing in prison.
Once you reach the eleventh book in a series, the characters are developed and well-known to fans. The question is more how new comers to the series will relate to a novel so deep into character development over many years. There are moments where, if this was your first novel in the series, you will be confused and a bit lost among the characters, their abilities and flaws. Carefully reading will likely help you get the jest of it all, but not as if you were there from the beginning. I jumped into the series with just the previous book, Insidious Intent, so I had a few moments.

McDermid is an excellent writer and does write an adroitly plotted novel that will hold your attention throughout as each chapter switches to a new sub-plot and is told through a different point-of-view. It is a well-paced novel. There are enough twists and surprising revelations to keep you glued to the pages and the various lines of inquiry of each investigation. While everything isn't neatly wrapped up in the end, I felt that it concluded on a satisfactory note and left room for the next book in the series.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Grove/Atlantic.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Testaments

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
Penguin Random House: 9/10/19
hardcover; 432 pages
ISBN-13: 9780385543781

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood is very highly recommended story of intrigue and suspense.

Over fifteen years have passed since the events of The Handmaid's Tale occurred. The misogynistic theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead still reigns, but the end may be in sight. This novel is presented as the alternating testimonies of three women: Aunt Lydia and Agnes Jemima in Gilead and Daisy/Nicole in Toronto. Aunt Lydia knows that knowledge is power and she has been secretly collecting and documenting Gilead's secrets and the crimes by the leadership. While acting as head Aunt of Ardua Hall and an ally of Commander Judd, she has simultaneously been planning the downfall of Gilead for years. Lydia's plan of revenge involves two teenage girls, Agnes Jemima and Daisy, known as "Witness Testimony 369A" and "Witness Testimony 369B" in the narrative. Agnes is a thirteen-year-old who is being raised in Gilead to be a commander's wife. Daisy is a sixteen-year-old being raised in Toronto, when her parents die and she learns some of her real background.

Confession time. While I would very highly recommend The Handmaid's Tale it is not among my favorite novels written by Atwood and not my favorite dystopian tale. I have never seen the Hulu series and don't plan to do so. The Testaments is described as the sequel to The Handmaid's Tale, but I found it best to approach the narrative as more historical documents and testimony pertaining to the Republic of Gilead and this approach served me well in my regard of the narrative. I could appreciate the cunning plan to take down Gilead - the long-con that Aunt Lydia shrewdly played out. It is an exemplification that women can certainly strategize, analyze, reason, and execute a plan as well as any man.

Atwood had to know that any novel portrayed as a sequel to The Handmaid's Tale would suffer in comparison. Unlike the MaddAddam series where the three novels followed one another quickly, the gap between these novels combined with a popular TV series would make any continuation of the original story or a revisit to the envisioned theocratic country of Gilead suffer in comparison. But, bear in mind that ultimately women are taking the power back here.

Upon reflection, Atwood might represent the older generation (Aunt Lydia) and is hopeful that the younger generation can continue to speak up for themselves and take back any ceded power. Or a case could also be made that this is a reminder that those who choose to forget history are doomed to repeat it. Or it could just be a well-written novel that visits the end of the regime of the original story after a clamor from fans to do so.

Old Bones

Old Bones by Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child
Grand Central Publishing: 8/20/19
hardcover; 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9781538747223
Nora Kelly Series #1

Old Bones by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child is a very highly recommended tale of suspense and the first book in a new series.

Nora Kelly, a curator at the Santa Fe Institute of Archaeology, is approached by historian Clive Benton with an offer to lead a team in search of the third 'Lost Camp' of the Donner Party. Benton has found out where the camp may be located from a long-lost diary of one of the victims. The Donner Party became snow bound and trapped in the Sierra Nevada mountains over the winter of 1846-47 when some members of the party resorted to cannibalism in an attempt to survive. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Nora. When Benton also informs Nora that there may be $20 million in gold coins hidden in the camp, the search acquires a sense of secrecy to keep treasure hunters away.
During this same time, new FBI special agent Corrie Swanson is assigned her first case. She is investigating the murder of a man found on top of the exposed grave of Florence Regis. After the body is removed, the coffin is opened and it is discovered that the upper part of Regis' body is missing. As Swanson continues the investigation, she uncovers a link between Regis and the Donner Party - and there are other cases that may also be linked. This link sends Swanson to Nora's dig site where the two strong, intelligent women meet - and clash - for the first time.

Long time readers of Preston and Child will recognize both Nora Kelly and Corrie Swanson as characters who have appeared in some novels from the Pendergast series I am absolutely thrilled to see that a new series is beginning with Nora Kelly as the main character (and I assume Carrie Swanson will be joining her). The two together could make for a dynamic relationship, since they are intelligent, analytical, observant, strong women. They may clash, but they could also play off each other nicely. For those who need to know, Pendergast makes a brief appearance at the end.

The writing is excellent, as expected, and the plot is intriguing and fascinating. Perhaps it helps being familiar with New Mexico and the Sierra Nevada's, as well as the history of the Donner Party. Although this novel is fiction - there is no third lost camp - it does relay what happened during that winter. Old Bones can be enjoyed without reading any of the previous novels that include Kelly and Swanson as characters. Preston and Child include pertinent facts and background information about the characters and expound upon the information here, furthering their character envelopment. As always, I will continue to read any book Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child write.

Monday, November 18, 2019


Single by K.L. Slater
Bookouture: 11/25/19
eBook review copy; 342 pages
ISBN-13: 9781786819284

Single by K.L. Slater is a recommended psychological thriller.
Darcy Hilton is a single mother with two sons, who has had some struggles with mental health issues. After the death of Joel, the boy's father, four years ago she had to give up custody of Harrison and Kane to their grandparents briefly, but since then she has been working hard to care for her boys. When Kane has an asthma attack at the park and Darcy can't find the inhaler she put in Kane's bag, a handsome doctor, George Mortimer, comes to the rescue. George happens to also be a single parent who was at the park with his daughter, Romy. Darcy drops a thank you note (with her name and contact information included) off at the hospital for George. He contacts her and the two begin to see each other.

Darcy's sister-in-law, Steph, and her in-laws basically run Darcy's life. They are on a constant vigilant watch for any sign of her not caring for the boys as they see fit. They have made it clear that they don't think she is ready to date anyone. Darcy keeps her burgeoning relationship with George a secret, but soon she lets everyone know she's seeing him and their relationship is serious. In turn, they all begin to plot against her to take the boys away from her.

Well, this is a whole collection of dislikeable people behaving badly. I'm not saying you won't be glued to the pages, but there really isn't one character to like or trust, including Darcy. (Okay, the children are exempt from this.) Darcy continually makes bad choices - as does every other person in the novel. But, since you can't trust anything anyone says here, so you have to keep reading to see what happens and the truth behind everything.

The writing is good and keeps your attention. It's a fast paced plot with many new twists added along the way. The ending is a bit over the top, but in an enjoyable way since you will know at that point that the whole situation all the characters are in is unbelievable. It is sort of a morality tale about what could happen if you let other people determine the course of your life and if you jump into relationships too quickly.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Bookouture.