Sunday, October 18, 2020

Invisible Girl

Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell
10/13/20; 368 pages
Atria Books

Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell is a very highly recommended psychological thriller.

Roan and Cate Fours have had some struggles in their marriage after he had an affair but hopefully that is all behind them now. Cate, a physiotherapist, works from home so she is there for their teenage children, Georgia and Josh, while Roan is a child psychologist. When Georgia phones her, nervous that a strange man is following her, it turns out to be Owen Pick, a thirty-three-year-old man who actually is a neighbor and lives across the street from the Fours. Owen immediately is profiled as a creep by the Fours. They suspect he is responsible for the recent assaults of local women. Owen is a computer science teacher who has recently been suspended following a complaint filed against him by two female students. He strongly denies the accusations. While awaiting the outcome of the investigation, Owen begins to spend time online on incel web forums and begins to follow a very vocal, charismatic moderator.

At the same time seventeen-year-old Saffyre Maddox is following Roan. She used to be a patient of his for her self harming, but he released her from his care saying she was no longer in need of his help. Saffyre knows that he released her without actually getting to the real truth about the trauma that occurred when she was ten, which was the cause behind her self-harming. Saffyre knows Roan is having multiple affairs as she has witnessed his actions as she hides in the shadows watching. She also knows where he lives and has watched his family. Then Saffyre disappears on Valentine’s night and Owen becomes the main suspect.

Invisible Girl is one engrossing, disturbing, atmospheric story that kept me glued to the pages. Jewell kept me hypothesizing while the complex and twisty plot quickly moved along. There are enough twists to keep you guessing. I was guessing and making predictions about what was really happening but all my initial assumptions were proven wrong. The connections between all the characters emerged and the misunderstandings and disturbing twists increased. These characters are all broken people in some way.

The writing is great as the narrative alternates between the point of view of Owen, Saffyre, and Cate. Each of the characters is portrayed as unique individuals and in the chapters they narrate you will know who is talking based on their distinctive character development. Owen is a surprisingly sympathetic, misunderstood character. Saffyre is a unique teenager, a loner with a unique, introspective personality. Cate is still struggling with her suspicions of Roan's faithfulness, but she is also full of self-doubt and doesn't want to look into anything deeper since she is afraid of the outcome. Josh also comes in as a notable character toward the end.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Atria Books .

Still Life

Still Life by Val McDermid
10/6/20; 436 pages
Karen Pirie #6

Still Life by Val McDermid is a highly recommended police procedural and the sixth novel in the Karen Pirie series.

A body with the skull was bashed in is discovered in Scotland’s Firth of Forth and the investigation identifies the body as James Auld, who left the country ten years earlier when he became a suspect in the disappearance of his older brother. The tie to the previous cold case means that  Detective Chief Inspector Karen Pirie of the Historic Cases Unit is called in to investigate. Constable Jason Murray is left to continue the investigation the two were working on, skeletal remains found in a van parked in a Perth garage, and he promises frequent updates to Pirie. Pirie is assigned DS Daisy Mortimer to assist her.

This is a complicated novel following several investigations and narrative threads, which makes it a perfect read for those who enjoy procedurals and like to follow intricate investigations. These two cases are both perplexing and there is much more going on than meets the eye. To make matters even more emotional and troublesome, Pirie is have some relationship issues with her new boyfriend, Hamish Mackenzie, and the man responsible for the death of the love of her life is being released from prison.

McDermid will keep readers entertained throughout this procedural. The pace does seem a bit leisurely at times, but there is so much going on that the extended progress allows you to absorb what has been uncovered in all the areas of inquiry. Some aspects of the plot are more predictable than others, but the denouement cleverly wraps up all the story lines. With skill and competence McDermit keeps all the investigations running smoothly and follows the inquiries with equal interest. 

Karen Pirie is an intelligent, intuitive character with flaws, but it is always a pleasure to follow her along in the investigation. It is great to see Murray on the investigation and I'm hoping Daisy Mortimer is added to the team in the Historic Cases Unit. Readers new to the series will still be able to appreciate it without reading any of the previous Pirie novels, although the previous novels will give you much more background information - and are just as complicated and engrossing.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Grove/Atlantic.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Outlook for Earthlings

The Outlook for Earthlings by Joan Frank
10/2/20; 237 pages
Regal House Publishing

The Outlook for Earthlings by Joan Frank is a highly recommended poetic novel about the lifelong friendship between two women.

"The Outlook for Earthlings traces an unusual, difficult friendship across a lifetime, between women of stunningly opposite natures." Melanie Taper is timid, but she also has an innate insight into the human condition. It seems that she has hidden her inner strength from those around her. Scarlet is the exact opposite of Melanie. She is impetuous, determined, and passionate, so she is also often shocked by Melanie's passivity. The two cling to their friendship even though they don't understand each other and they each have their own separate needs. Their lack of accord results in each of them silently taking exception to the nature of the other oblivious to what they each need. Ultimately, it considers beginnings and endings, contemplates who ultimate measures the worth of their life, and the restraint of friendship.

The novel spans decades, starting in the 1960s to the 2000s with an epilogue in 2013. We meet Melanie and Scarlet as girls and touch base with them through adulthood. Frank perfectly and vividly captures the decades in various chapters. We know the thoughts of both women and their inner dialogues as we follow their lives and the decisions they make. We also see the compromises and concessions that they make, especially Melanie, as they work through their life and loves. The characters are both well-developed and accurately portrayed as individuals with very different personalities.

The writing in The Outlook for Earthlings is phenomenal, poetic, descriptive, and poignant. This novel is almost perfectly written to be read and shared in a women's book club because of the differences between these two women and their long-term, yet misunderstood, friendship with each other. During this time of political chaos and covid, where people are so polarized and not respecting the views and opinions of other people, a novel like this speaks to the heart of the matter. We can't know what someone thinks without talking to them, asking what they need, and then truly listening to them and accept their statements. We are all entitled to our own opinions and views, but we are not entitled to pin our ideas on others. Friends, real friends, will allow each other to be and believe. A book club could find fodder for discussions during more than one meeting here and perhaps even enlighten each other why others believe what they do. No spoilers, but there is a whole lot more going on that simply a difference of opinion in this touching novel.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Joan Frank and Regal House Publishing 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Attack Surface

Attack Surface by Cory Doctorow
10/13/20; 384 pages

Attack Surface by Cory Doctorow is a highly recommended tech thriller set in an alternate universe.

Masha Maximow is a counterterrorism programmer for an international cybersecurity firm. She programmed the hacks that allowed countries to spy on their citizens. She thought she was on the correct side but... She also sometimes for her own reasons uses her skill set to help the dissidents evade detection and tracking. When the targets of government tracking are citizens in a foreign country, Masha could easily compartmentalize how she was assisting the violent actions against citizens, but when the same technology is used against her friends, Masha is suddenly faced with a dilemma and must choose a side when no choice is without consequences.

The narrative follows Masha alternates between her present day relationship to a radical group in San Francisco and her past working for Xoth and Zyz. We can follow what she did in her job and how that translates into the real world and impinges on real life citizens of other countries and in her home. Masha's job helping spy on people and keeping track of their every move and their every contact and interaction with other extracts a steep toll.

Attack Surface is the third book in a series, following Little Brother and Homeland, but it can be read as a standalone novel set in the alternate universe created in these novels because Doctorow introduces new characters in this novel. The characters grapple with the integrity of using technology and surveillance to spy on and detain citizens based on their actions and beliefs. Those who followed the Edward Snowden controversy will appreciate the questions raised in this novel, a science fiction novel that is surely fact based. This is a technology heavy thriller, very technology heavy. I followed along only because I often have discussions involving many of the issues here with a programmer. (But I will admit to occasionally skimming some tech-heavy parts while following the action.) The heavy cybertech terminology and the tech-heavy vocabulary may lose some readers along the way as they lose track of the plot due to the vocabulary.

If you can overcome or understand the tech-vocabulary, the story is very captivating and extremely frightening. What will keep the pages turning in this compelling novel is the fact that this is fiction, but could easily become fact. It is a warning, of a sort, and Doctorow makes clear in his afterward what he thinks we should be concerned about and why. (I'm not overly crazy about authors preaching to me about what they think "I" should think, but I do like to keep informed and research information about everything. If an author points out information, I will take on researching it on my own, thank you.)

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Tor/Forge .

They Never Learn

They Never Learn by Layne Fargo
10/13/20; 352 pages
Gallery/Scout Press

They Never Learn by Layne Fargo is a highly recommended revenge thriller.

Scarlett Clark is an English professor at Gorman University. Her other "job" is eliminating men who assault and rape women. The university system tends to ignore or excuse sexual assaults on campus and the professors who prey on young women. Scarlett doesn't. Every year she selects a man at Gorman who deserves to die for their actions and she meticulously plans out their murder. She has made every kill look like an accident or suicide and no one has been the wiser that she has targeted them for murder. Her last kill, a star football player, has drawn unwanted attention to that murder as well as past deaths on campus. Now  the psychology department chair Dr. Mina Pierce is looking for patterns in all the deaths.

Alternate chapters follow reserved freshman student Carly Schiller and her confident, outgoing roommate Allison Hadley. When Allison is sexually assaulted at a party, Carly becomes obsessed with exposing the guilty man and seeking revenge after the medical clinic and the university don't take the claim seriously.

It is important to note that this isn't a novel about justice; it is a novel about revenge and a serial killer. And Scarlett may be seeking vigilante justice in her mind, but she is actually a sociopath and feels no guilt or compunction over her actions. She has no soul searching doubts about murdering her chosen victims. Now, if you can go with that, it is an entertaining, fast-paced novel with some twists (that you may see coming) and it will hold your attention to the end. It is a feminist novel taking on the campus rape culture by embracing a theme of revenge. The novel is set up as good versus bad, with all the males predatory and the females innocent. (While that can be the case sometimes, personally I believe that justice often can and does occur with the legal system.) Characters aren't all as well developed as I would like, but they are interesting. 

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

The Cutting Place

The Cutting Place by Jane Casey
4/3/20; 400 pages
Maeve Kerrigan, Book 9

The Cutting Place by Jane Casey is a very highly recommended procedural and the ninth book in the Maeve Kerrigan series.

When a severed human hand is found by a mudlarker by the Thames River in London, DS Maeve Kerrigan and her partner DI Josh Derwent are called out and looking at the area where the hand was found as well as the subsequent other various small parts of a body. The team is lucky when a DNA match is found. The dead woman was identified as 28 year old Paige Hargreaves, a freelance journalist. Now the investigative story Paige was working on may provide clues to what happened to her and why. It seems that Paige was secretly looking into something that was happening at the Chiron Club, an exclusive, elite men's club run by Sir Marcus Gley. This club is not only private, but is comprised of only wealthy, privileged, powerful men. Members include heads of companies, politicians, and legal dignitaries. Investigating the club and determining what Paige discovered involves a labyrinth of clues and secrets.

There is a secondary storyline that takes place two years earlier. It follows a wild party out at a country house and a young man wakes up after a wild, uncontrolled night of partying, to find evidence that he is in a world of trouble. A third narrative thread follows a secret Kerrigan is keep from everyone, including Derwent. He already doesn't like or trust her boyfriend Seth, but Kerrigan is defending Seth's actions and his every misstep. She refuses to see the darkness behind his actions as he tries to control her every move. Adding to the complexities is another surprising revelation that comes to light.

Obviously, this is a complicated plot that follows several different, complex narrative threads, but it is also a compelling, tension-filled novel that will hold your attention throughout while you follow the investigation, the clues, and events in the various plot points. Be forewarned that the plot of The Cutting Place takes several dark, intense directions that heightens the tension, suspense, and anxiety while reading. The narrative is evenly paced and the new revelations and clues are evenly paced and gradually escalate until they reach critical mass on all the various plot threads. Casey does an excellent job with this complicated novel and the ending is satisfying.

Since this is the ninth book in the series, fans will know these characters and their development. Readers new to the series needn't worry about not being able to follow the narrative. I felt like The Cutting Place worked as a stand-alone novel. While you know these characters have a past and a history, enough information is given to understand their relationship and history. I had no problem following along and have not read all the books in the series.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Boop and Eve's Road Trip

Boop and Eve's Road Trip by Mary Helen Sheriff
10/6/20; 304 pages
She Writes Press

Boop and Eve's Road Trip by Mary Helen Sheriff is a recommended Southern family saga following a road trip of a grandmother and granddaughter.

Eve Prince hates college, is fed up with her mother Justine's expectations, and is concerned about her best friend who seems to be MIA. She wants to borrow her grandmother's car to search for her friend, but when her grandmother Boop hears this, she suggests a road trip for both of them, with a stop in to see Boop's sister. The two can see Victoria, Boop's exacting sister, and then head to the beach house where Eve is sure her best friend is staying. There are other generational secrets and unfulfilled desires going on behind the scene and a road trip may be just the thing to get Eve talking and to allow Boop to maybe share a secret she has held for almost sixty years.

On the surface this is a story of a road trip after a granddaughter's disastrous first year at college and to help a grandmother reach her sister's house. It is also a novel about how depression can overtake your life and acceptance of children with special needs. It covers controlling parents expecting too much from their children and those who try to control other people's lives. Most of all it is about family and how even the most messed up relationships can be mended if you truly pay attention to what is said.

I liked this novel- I really did, but while this novel drips Southern charm and on a deeper level even the most cynical reader will wish the best for Boop and Eve, as well as the rest of the extended family and friends, there are some hurdles the rest of us need to overcome to reach this epiphany. First is the name "Boop" for a grandmother. Enough said. Next is the sprinkling of "ain't" and other grammatical problems throughout Boop's dialogue. Finally, the tallest hurdle of all is the plethora of Boop's folksy Southern sayings liberally sprinkled throughout the entire text, things like "life's full of rotten eggs. Hope's what keeps the chicken's laying" and plenty of "butter my butt and call it a biscuit" sorts of things. I struggled mightily overlooking and accepting them. This may be a flaw on my part and I will accept that, but if you believe these issues may bother you, keep that in mind.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of She Writes Press .