Sunday, January 14, 2018

SINthetic

SINthetic by J.T. Nicholas
Kensington Books: 1/23/18
eBook review copy; 176 pages
ISBN-13: 9781635730074

SINthetic by J.T. Nicholas is a highly recommended science fiction novel.

Detective Jason Campbell is called to a murder scene in the city of New Lyons. A female body has been found mutilated, cut open with the internal organs missing, and left in the streets. But once the investigators realize the body is a Synth, the crime is designated as the destruction of property, and no investigation is needed. Campbell has no murder case. In the future Synthetics, known as Synths, are lab-grown people that under the law have no rights. They are mules. They are made to do the menial jobs that no one else wants to do.  Legally, "they were less than people on a level so profound that they were relegated to objects, to things."

While Campbell may disagree with the system, he knows he can't fight it and keep his job. He does talk the medical examiner into having one of his technicians look for any clues, just in case this event signals the beginning of a serial killer. When he returns to his home in Floattown, a bad neighborhood where cheap prefabricated buildings are built on VLFSs (very large floating structures) over what was once the city New Orleans, he is shocked to find a stranger in his apartment, sitting in his recliner. The man is a Synth, and he asks Campbell to secretly investigate the death anyway, because this dead Synth isn't the first. The stranger gives him a list of dead Synth's who were all killed in the same way.

SINthetic has an engaging premise and will capture your attention immediately. The writing is good and the plot carefully planned to slowly release more information about Campbell and his background.  You know that Campbell has some mysterious event in his background that opens him up to being sympathetic to the treatment of Synths. He is also a master of martial arts and fighting, which will come into play several times.

There are pros and cons to this novel. It is the first book in a new series, which is great, but it also felt like the action, story, and pages in this first book were cut down way-too-much, perhaps to facilitate the new series. The investigation felt attenuated. Yes, it is compelling and full of great action sequences. It comes to a satisfying conclusion, but it comes to that conclusion to the investigation rather quickly and abruptly. It might have been more satisfying if there were a few more twists and turns to the investigation - a little more intrigue and subterfuge.

This first book nicely sets up what will be the second book in the series, SINdication, which is to be released just under a month from this one, on March 20th. It is nice to know the second book will be following the first so quickly, but I couldn't help but feel how much more satisfying it might have been for me, as a reader to get these two books together. SINthetic is only 176 pages. SINdication is 304 pages. The third book, SINdrome is scheduled for release on 9/18 with an estimated 304 pages. Series are sometimes nice for long tales, but there is something to be said in getting the whole story, or a larger chunk of it, quickly.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Kensington Books via Netgalley.

Walking the Bones

Walking the Bones by Randall Silvis
Sourcebooks Landmark: 1/23/18
eBook review copy; 464 pages
ISBN-13: 9781492646914
Ryan DeMarco series #2

Walking the Bones by Randall Silvis is a highly recommended mystery, procedural, and character study.

Is the past ever really in the past? Sgt. Ryan DeMarco plans to retire from the Pennsylvania State Police after the recent events (from in the first book in the series, Two Day's Gone) that have tilted his world. Several months previously, his best friend died, as did his baby son, and his marriage ended.  DeMarco is also still trying to overcome trauma from years ago in his own childhood and upbringing.

His girlfriend, Trooper Jayme Matson, with the secret assistance of his supervisor, Cmdr. Kyle Bowen, talks DeMarco into taking temporary leave instead. Jayme takes some of her accumulated leave, and the two head out in an RV, planning on rest, relaxation, and hopefully healing. Instead, Jayme's grandmother dies, so the two head to the small town of Aberdeen, Kentucky, for the funeral. What they also find is an unsolved murder and three elderly people who want him to look into the case, a case that the local police have given up on trying to solve.

The carefully cleaned and preserved bones of seven young women were found four years ago behind a secret wall in the First Baptist Church. The victims were all African-American teenagers who had gone missing between 1998 and 2004. There were four leading suspects, but no charges were ever brought against anyone. DeMarco knows from experience that clues are always left behind; you just need to find them and a new way to look at the case. He and Jayme decide to look at the case.

First, I didn't read Two Day's Gone before Walking the Bones, but I was still able to follow the plot without a problem and highly enjoyed this fine procedural/character study. Plenty of the background information from the first novel is here, certainly enough to follow the case and DeMarco's internal struggles.

Additionally, while the case is solved, this is more of a character study rather than an investigation. Sure, they investigate, but along the way DeMarco's character is revealed with scenes from his recent trauma, to his very difficult childhood. He is a man who is close to the breaking point, dealing with memories and regrets from the past and present. De Marco also had a boatload of things he never really addressed from his childhood, especially the abuse, which is surfacing after the other traumatic events.

The writing is really quite good and descriptive, as the chapters move between timelines. The plot, while drawn out, held my attention, although I did admittedly start skimming through all the sex scenes between DeMarco and Jayme, which became a bit too much when there were some real problems that needed to be solved and some investigating that needed to be done. All of the characters are well-developed and portrayed as unique individuals. This made the investigation interesting and engaging. I was surprised at the ending.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Sourcebooks Landmark.

Friday, January 12, 2018

City of Endless Night

City of Endless Night by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Grand Central Publishing: 1/16/18
eBook review copy; 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9781455536948
Special Agent Pendergast Series #17

City of Endless Night by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child is a highly recommended new release to the long-running series, very for fans. This murder mystery can actually be read as a standalone, but fans of the series will obviously have more insight into the main characters.

NYPD Lieutenant Vincent D'Agosta is on the murder case of a body found in a warehouse sans the head, when his friend FBI special agent Aloysius Pendergast joins the investigation. The corpse is that of Grace Ozmian, a beautiful party-girl and daughter of a wealthy tech billionaire, Anton Ozmian. Then the killer, called the Decapitator, strikes again... and again, his victims including a prosecutor turned mob lawyer and a Russian oligarch. Clearly this killer is clever, skilled, and ruthless, but what is the motive, why is he choosing the victims he does, and how is he getting through their security systems?

Muddling the investigation is reporter Bryce Harriman. His sensational tabloid stories are creating panic in the city. He coins the nickname "The City of Endless Night" and is encouraged by his superiors to keep using the moniker while writing more sensational follow-up stories. The stories are also instigating protest groups who have various motives for their demonstrations.

Make no mistake about it, City of Endless Night is an excellent thriller. This one is outstanding - when have Preston and Child given us anything but a well-written, perfectly plotted novel full of nail-biting suspense? The cold, moody atmosphere is skillfully portrayed. It's all here and If you are new to the series, you can read this one without knowing all the background information, although some of trappings of Pendergast's life might seem confusing. Pendergast himself is clearly off his game in this outing of the series. He is always taciturn, invariably thinking and analyzing clues with precision and acumen, and supremely intelligent. That is still the case, but he also seems a bit distracted which could signal trouble. D’Agosta is the same reliable character.

It is a plus and minus to have a long time fan of the series review a 17th book. Obviously, I know them all and have some I liked more than others. The suspense is palatable in City of Endless Night and I stayed up too late finishing it, but I liked it a wee-bit less than others in the series.

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


Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Woman in the Window

The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn
Harper Collins: 1/2/18
eBook review copy; 448 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062678416

The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn is a very highly recommended Hitchcockian/Rear Window novel of psychological suspense. 


"That's a secret, private world you're looking into out there. People do a lot of things in private that they couldn't possibly explain in public."  Doyle in Rear Window

Unable to leave the house due to agoraphobia induced by trauma, Anna Fox is a former child psychologist who has been living alone in her NYC home for a little under a year. She spends her time drinking too much wine, unreliably medicating herself, and watching old movies. She checks in evenings with her husband, who recently separated from her, and their daughter. Her social life is online. She participates in an online support group for agoraphobics and provides new-comers with encouragement and advice. She plays chess and she takes French lessons online. She has a tenant downstairs to help her. Anna's psychiatrist and physical therapist make house calls.

She also spends a lot of time spying on her neighbors using her camera's zoom lens. When the Russells, father, mother, and teenage son, move into one of the five townhouses that Anna watches across the street, she does online research and knows immediately their names and what they paid for the house. When the son stops by and delivers a gift from his mother, Anna is surprised, but likes the boy. Then she actually meets the mother and is surprised at how much she enjoys her company (drinking). So when she witnesses a horrific, shocking event while watching them, she knows she needs to contact the police. But did she really see it or was it the combination of taking her medication with alcohol causing hallucinations.

The character of Anna is a wonderfully unreliable narrator. Clearly she is drinking w-a-y-t-o-o much and she knows she shouldn't take her medications with alcohol, but she does anyway, lies about it, and she knows she is not taking them as prescribed. The daily drinking until drunk is over the top (and annoying to some), but it does serve to make it clear that Anna may not be reliable or telling the truth. There are hints and glimpses that we don't know the whole story, that we really don't know Anna, and as the novel progresses, that fact becomes more and more clear. She has secrets, she's certainly paranoid, she's in denial, but is she delusional?

After a careful, slow start, The Woman in the Window took off at a gallop. The story, as it unraveled, was gripping and compelling. I stayed up way-too-late finishing the novel, telling myself, "Just one more chapter." There were several twists that took me by surprised and some I suspected. Finn found a way to have Anna housebound so the comparison's to Rear Window are obvious. Personally,  I liked the tie-ins to Rear Window and other Hitchcock movies, as well as other old black and white suspense movies. I thought they help create an atmospheric mood and added an extra depth to the novel. Finn also left some clues throughout the novel to keep the reader questioning and anticipating twists.

All in all, I found The Woman in the Window to be an excellent debut thriller of psychological suspense. The writing is remarkable and the plot is clever, sophisticated, and twisty enough to bring to mind some the best of Hitchcock's movies.  Definitely read The Woman in the Window.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Harper Collins.




Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Chalk Man

The Chalk Man by C. J. Tudor
Crown Publishing Group: 1/9/18
eBook review copy; 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9781524760984

The Chalk Man by C. J. Tudor is a very highly recommended debut novel of psychological suspense. Read this novel.

The year is 1986 and 12-year-old Eddie Adams is close with his group of friends: Fat Gav, Metal Mickey, Hoppo, and Nicky (the lone girl in the group). They spend their time hanging out in the playground and riding their bikes around Anderbury, the English town where they all live. They are growing up and this is the first year they get to attend the fair by themselves. At the same time, they are still children who invent a secret message system to use between themselves with sidewalk chalk. It is also a time of controversy in the town. This is the year that marks great traumatic events for the whole group, the most shocking being the chalk messages that lead them to a dismembered body.

Thirty years later. in 2016,  Ed is a teacher and still lives in the house where he grew up in Anderbury. He drinks too much and has a slight crush on his younger boarder, Chloe. While he vividly recalls the traumatic events of 1986, he is not eager to revisit them. When he gets a letter in the mail with a single chalk stick figure and then Mickey returns to town claiming that he is going to write a book and he knows who the murderer was, Ed knows that he needs to finally figure out what happened thirty years ago.

Excellent debut novel! This is one of those perfect novels with a first person narrative that alternates between the past and present and captures young people on the cusp of adolescence handling some things with which even adults struggle.  There are some stories that succeed in doing this - Stephen King's Stand by Me (The Body) comes immediately to mind, as well as a hint of Robert McCammon's Boy's Life. There is a loss of innocence that occurs in The Chalk Man and is experienced by this group of young people as they come of age. The characters all have things they are ashamed of and secrets they try to keep hidden and private. What happens during 1986 has lifelong consequences for the group.

The writing in The Chalk Man is outstanding. This is a novel I had a hard time putting down once I started reading. The plot in both timelines will vie for your attention and hold it with equal vigor. The chapters are as compelling in the present as in the past. The narrative is clever, and moves smoothly and quickly. The mystery is unsettling, the suspects indecisive, and the mood can be dark and sinister. There are some hard topics covered; lies, abuse, and prejudices are eventually revealed. The twists caught me by surprise.

All the characters are well developed and fleshed out. Tudor takes full advantage here of the dual time line, covering events that happened in the intervening years and, well, just the trials and tribulations of thirty years. They had to handle a lot as adolescents, but adults have to handle some tough situations too - aging parents, accidents, stress. Having the characters developed over both timelines is a plus here. With the gift of the well-written dual timelines, Tudor can out some things that would have been hidden from the children and reveal the bigger picture.

If you enjoy mysteries, read The Chalk Man. Read it, and you will thank me later.

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the Crown Publishing Group for TLC Book Tours.  



TLC BOOK TOUR



Thursday, January 4, 2018

Strangers

Strangers by Ursula Archer, Arno Strobel
St. Martin's Press: 1/9/18
eBook review copy: 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9781250113061

Strangers by Ursula Archer and Arno Strobel is a highly recommended thriller.

Joanna Berrigan is home alone when she finds a stranger in her house. He has let himself in with a key and claims he is her fiancé. The problem is that Joanna has never seen this man before. He claims he lives with her, but there is no trace of anyone else living in her house. Joanna ends up spending the night locked in the pantry while the stranger spends the night outside the pantry door. Joanna also is having these strange flashes of hitting herself and then taking a knife and attacking him.

Erik Thieben comes home after a hard day at work to find that the woman he loves, his fiancée Jo, claims to not recognize him at all. She also appears to have removed all of his things from the house they share. Jo thinks he is crazy and there to harm or hurt her. Erik wants to protect her, find out what happened, what caused this mysterious amnesia. He gets Joanna to agree to see a neurologist, but she still doesn't trust him and tries to escape.

When a mutual friend confirms what he is telling Joanna is true, she is still reticent to trust him. He remains a total stranger to her. When the two seem to be having way more than their fair share of accidents, it might be time for them to try and, if not trust each other, at least work together while trying to figure out what is really happening.

The chapters in this fast-paced thriller alternate between the point-of-view of Joanna and Erik. It is truly a he said/she said situation that presents the reader with a dilemma on who to trust. Are they both telling the truth, and if that is the case, what happened to Joanna's memory? Or is one of them running some kind of con? And what would be the end game? 

I personally liked  having the chapters tell the story from each character's point-of-view, and I thought it worked in this novel. This marks Archer and Strobel's debut novel writing as a team and I thought they did an excellent job presenting the same situation through the individual character. My mind could conjure up so many possible reasons for the amnesia and the situation in which the two find themselves. The pace is quick in this novel and the chapters flew by quite quickly. They had me right in the palm of their hands until the end, at which point Strangers  lost credibility for me with what felt like a rather recycled climax. It was at a strong 5 stars until the ending.

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


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Keeper of Lost Things

The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan
HarperCollins: 11/28/17
P.S. paperback review copy; 284 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062473554

The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan is a highly recommended debut novel that follows the lives of two British assistants and explores connections between people.

Anthony Peardew is an elderly writer and the keeper of lost things. He hired Laura, an unhappy 35-year-old divorcée, as an assistant, several years earlier and they have a compatible, understanding working relationship. Peardew lost the love of his life, Therese forty years ago, on the same day he lost a keepsake she had given him. Since that time he has been quietly collecting and cataloguing any lost things he finds, storing them in his study in Padua, the Victorian villa where he lives and works. He also writes stories about these lost items.

In 1970 Eunice finds a job as a publisher's assistant for the charming Bomber. This also marked the start of their life-long friendship. Bomber owns a small publishing house where he only publishes books that he likes, while also studiously avoiding any of the manuscripts sent to him by his sister, Portia, whose work features blatantly plagiarized plots.

When Anthony Peardew dies, he leaves his estate and Padua to Laura. He also instructs her to try and find the owners of the lost things he has so carefully collected. With help from Freddy the gardener, and Sunshine, the young woman with Down syndrome who lives across the street, Laura sets out to follow Anthony's wishes. When the ghost of Therese begins to act up, she knows that she is missing some vital clue.

With alternating chapters, the novel follows the stories of Laura and Eunice. Interspersed among the chapters are some of the short stories that Anthony wrote about the lost things he found. There are parts of this novel that are charming, delightful, and clever. And there are parts that stretch credulity and belief.

The quality of the writing in this debut novel is really quite good. It is humorous, touching, emotional, and clever. The descriptions are wonderful. The two plots/timelines are both equally interesting. The short stories written about the items are compelling and become a part of the whole story. The Keeper of Lost Things truly is a charming story, slow to start but then it quickly picks up and is an enjoyable novel, with some romance and a pleasant plot. There is a lot of tea made and consumed.

The characters are well developed, including the minor characters and the dogs. Freddie is an obvious romantic interest and Sunshine is a compatible, amicable sidekick. Portia is suitably reprehensible. The dogs are all quite brilliant characters who add a special charm to the novel. Of the two, I was actually more interested in and intrigued by Bomber and Eunice's story. I liked them both and was sad to say goodbye to them. My credulity was stretched with the ghost, Laura's romance with Freddy, and Sunshine's psychic ability.

This is an agreeable, light novel that is easy to follow and as cozy as a cup of hot tea on a winter's day. The caliber of the writing elevates it above an average rating for me, but personally I would have enjoyed more Eunice and Bomber.

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from HarperCollins for TLC Book Tours.