Tuesday, January 30, 2018


Perish by Lisa Black
Kensington Publishing: 1/30/18
eBook review copy; 320 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9781496713544
Gardiner and Renner #3

Perish by Lisa Black is a highly recommended police procedural/thriller and the third in the series featuring forensic expert Maggie Gardiner and homicide detective Jack Renner.

Joanna Moorehouse, owner and founder of Sterling Financial, is found brutally murdered in her mansion on the outskirts of Cleveland. Her body is found stabbed and gutted on the marble floors in the living room. The pristine home shows no blood trail, no fingerprints, no trace of the killer's ingress or egress from the murder scene. It also contains few clues to any personal life of  Moorehouse.  Is the brutal murder due to a hatred of Moorehouse, or does it have something to do with her business? And what about her overseas bank account containing an unbelievably high balance?

While Maggie is struggling with the lack of trace evidence, Detectives Jack Renner and Thomas Riley are doing their best to investigate the murder, and it appears that corrupt practices might have something to do with it. Moorehouse’s employees at Sterling Financial are all business. None of the staff were friends or interacted socially with Moorehouse. The one exception might be Jeremy Mearan, who was sleeping with her. There other suspects at Sterling itself, a crooked predatory mortgage lender where everyone is out to make huge bonuses while ignoring the group of protestors outside the building. Sterling is also about to be bought out by another company, so tension is running high at the business.

When another woman is murdered in the identical way, it becomes clear that more is going on than Maggie or the detectives realize.  They need to find out why these women were murdered and who would benefit from their demise. It might be tied into the complicated and suspect practices of subprime lending and the anticipated resulting credit default by consumers, but would that be a reason to kill?

Perish features the excellent writing that I expect from Black. The plot flows smoothly; the descriptions are perfectly captured. The tension mounts incrementally as the investigation proceeds and more information is uncovered and clues are followed. Admittedly, the financial information does become a wee-bit tiring after a while, but it also provides an education on why the mortgage lending crisis of 2008 occurred and a solid basis for the investigation.

Readers of the series will know the history of Maggie
Gardiner and Jack Renner. Although their background isn't completely explained here, new readers are provided with enough information to understand that there is a backstory, and comprehend the significance of their actions, and the quandary both characters face. It does mean that they will not appear to be quite as well-developed as characters if this is your introduction to them. (I felt the same starting with the second book, Unpunished, but this time I knew some of the backstory and felt more comfortable with the characters.) The investigation is solid, however, and that will please new and old fans of the series. I'm looking forward to the next novel featuring Gardiner and Renner, Suffer the Children, as clues in this one point to some major developments.

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

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Day after Oblivion

The Day after Oblivion by Tim Washburn
Kensington: 1/30/18
eBook review copy; 560 pages
paperback ISBN-13: 9780786042500

The Day after Oblivion by Tim Washburn is a recommended, highly for the right reader, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it survival thriller.

The power grid, all communications links, and, well anything run by a computer have all been hacked. This includes the Department of Defense and the National Security Agency. It also includes a nuclear-armed CIA drone. When the remotely controlled drone is sent over Russian airspace and detonated, all hell breaks loose and the world is involved in a global nuclear exchange.

After the exchange, the action shifts and novel follows five different groups of people: the computer experts from Washington D.C.; the teachers and group of young teens from Texas stranded in Minneapolis; the small town Oklahoma family; the father and son in a sailboat; the crew on a submarine. The computer experts are trying to cross the country and get to a family in Oklahoma. The teachers and teens are trying to get back to Texas. The family in Oklahoma is trying to get a wind turbine working and is expecting a baby. The father and son are trying to sail to someplace safe. The submarine crew is looking for a safe area to dock. They needs supplies but are also still at war.

There is no doubt that this is an action packed thriller as the various groups try to make their way home. They all encounter a lot of the worst humanity has to offer along with a very few good souls. Everyone is armed or immediately gets armed. Rule #1 for the end of the world after a nuclear attack is to arm yourself and get enough ammo for your weapon. Shot anyone who looks at you funny or gives you a funny feeling. Rule #2 is get water and food. A codicil might be to look for an old vehicle that will start after an EMP and immediately find a hose or tubing to siphon gas (as 2 groups do here).

Now, please indulge me and allow me to address all young women in the event of this or a similar scenario. For goodness sakes, remember rule #1. Do not allow some jackwagon to capture you and then make you a sex slave. This happened to more than one woman in this version of the end, so be prepared. Apparently, those who believe in a rape culture will survive, will be traveling, and will try to get you. Fight back. Get them first. Training in self-defense beforehand would be wise, along with your gun and ammo.

The Day after Oblivion is entertaining. It provides action, gun play, narrow escapes, insidious bad guys, and ultimately a satisfying ending. The chapters are short and quickly move from one group to another.  Is it a realistic look at the aftermath of a global nuclear war, uh, probably not likely. The focus here is on the journey the various groups are making and the difficulties they encounter along the way. There isn't a lot of room for much character development either, but that really isn't the focus of the novel.

As I said, this is an entertaining novel. It's a thriller that won't require much beyond just following the groups.  Set disbelief aside and go with the story and you will enjoy it. The Day after Oblivion is a perfect airplane book. It is engaging and will hold your attention. 4 stars for the reader who can set aside disbelief; 3.5 for me due to a few issues I had with it.

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

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Into the Black Nowhere

Into the Black Nowhere by Meg Gardiner
Penguin Publishing Group: 1/30/18
eBook review copy; 368 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9781101985557
An UNSUB Novel

Into the Black Nowhere by Meg Gardiner is a very highly recommended psychological thriller/procedural inspired by the Ted Bundy case. This is an outstanding followup to UNSUB (6/27/17)

Caitlin Hendrix is back as a rookie FBI agent in the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit. She is assigned to a case in Solace, Texas, near Austin, where women are disappearing on Saturday nights. There are six confirmed, but there may be more. The women, all blond, are disappearing from a wide variety of places - a movie theater, out of her car at a train crossing, from a mall parking lot, even from her home - and the clues are few. When they find their first body, the scene is disturbing. The victim is laid out on the ground wearing a white nightgown, and a second body is found deeper in the woods, also dressed in a white nightgown. Both bodies are surrounded by Polaroid pictures, stuck in the ground like headstones. All the photos are of blond women wearing a white nightgown and obviously dead.

It is Caitlin's job to profile the unsub (unknown subject), get into his mind, and determine how he selects his victims. The team ends up profiling a confident, charming, meticulous killer who somehow convinces his victims that he is not a threat. After they lower their guard, he takes them. At that point they are just a part of his twisted need to possess, control and destroy them. There is a tip that leads them to one suspect, who they watch closely, waiting for him to make a misstep. But he is also an expert in his own way at profiling people, identifying their weaknesses, and manipulating them.

Into the Black Nowhere is another complex, intense, fast-paced novel full of nail-biting suspense with a riveting plot. Honestly, I was hooked before even opening the novel after reading her brilliant UNSUB and knowing Into the Black Nowhere featured Caitlin and continued her story. Caitlin was already a well-developed character, flawed, but smart, insightful, and strong. The character development continues here along with Caitlin's profiling skills - interpreting clues, and insight into the suspect's actions. I can hardly wait for Caitlin's next case.

I loved the complexity of the plot and the twists it took. Sure it was based on the actions of Ted Bundy, but Gardiner takes this and does an excellent job using it to create a thriller to remember. Caitlin continues to be intelligent and clever. By sheer determination she will get the suspect. She's a great character and this is an exceptional series. It  is no wonder a TV drama based on this series is in the works at CBS.

Yet again, this is definitely a stuck-over-night-at-the-airport book that will keep you awake and hold your complete attention - only you'll want to be in a well lite area, maybe near security.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Publishing Group via Netgalley.

The Grave's a Fine and Private Place

The Grave's a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley
Penguin Random House: 1/30/18
eBook review copy; 384 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9780345539991
Flavia de Luce Novel #9

The Grave's a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley is a very highly recommended mystery and the 9th book in the popular Flavia de Luce series.

Set in England in 1952, twelve-year-old Flavia and her family hare trying to recover from the family tragedy in the last book. Concerned that she will soon have to live under the iron rule of her Aunt Felicity, it is a pleasant relief when Arthur Dogger, the long-time and loyal family servant, suggests an extended boating trip to Volesthorpe for Flavia and her two older sisters. As their punt passes the church where Canon Whitbread poisoned three of his parishioners, Flavia is discussing the poisoning with Dogger while trailing her hands in the water. When her fingers hook on something in the water, she imagines she has just caught a fish with her bare hands. Instead, as she struggles to pull the object closer, she sees that her fingers have snagged the open mouth of a head, attacked to a body. Dogger poles the boat to shore and the murder investigation begins.

The body is identified as that of Orlando Whitbread, the son of the notorious poisoner. Constable J.R. Otter is sure it is a suicide, but Flavia and Dogger are quietly working on their own investigations. Flavia has a chance to use some of the investigative techniques she has learned from Inspector Hewitt. She and Dogger get to rig up a lab for some private testing. The two also uncover other clues. In the meantime, Flavia's older sisters, Feely and Daffy, are actually not quite as truculent and, dare I say, even a bit helpful this time.

I thoroughly enjoyed this latest
Flavia de Luce adventure and appreciate that she is solving a mystery here, using her knowledge of chemistry and sleuthing skills to figure out what exactly is going on. This is a strong addition to the series with memorable supporting characters, strong clues, and some real growth and development in the characters we know.  Dogger shines in his role. I really think that you could jump in and read this one on its own, although in a long running series it is nice to read the books in order to follow the character development and the relationships between people.

Bradley has always been an excellent writer and all the books in the series are interesting, but I liked this one a bit more than some of the previous installments.
The actual ending was very satisfying and gave me something to look forward to in the future.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the Penguin Random House via Netgalley.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Sky Is Yours

The Sky Is Yours by Chandler Klang Smith
Hogarth: 1/23/18
eBook review copy; 464 pages
ISBN-13: 9780451496263

The Sky Is Yours by Chandler Klang Smith is a recommended mix of a dystopian, fairy-tale fantasy, and a coming of age novel.

Local royalty of the wealthy still around, Duncan Humphrey Ripple V has been the star of his own reality show. Now he is eighteen and his engagement is finalized and the wedding contracts have all been written and negotiated. He is to marry Baroness Swan Lenore Dahlberg (Swanny). When Duncan's small airplane is knocked out of the sky, he lands on an island of trash where he meets Abby, a wild child who has grown up on the garbage island. They fall in love and Duncan takes her back to his mansion right when Swanny arrives for the wedding. But, there were a whole lot of things that happened before and during the previously mentioned action. Then other stuff happens and the three are out and about in the decaying city. Then lots more happens and the three find their destinies.

The first part of this novel felt interminable - it is too slow and has no clear direction in sight. I almost set The Sky Is Yours aside several times while reading it. This is never a good sign. I'm not sure what kept me reading beyond the fact that I had no other book reviews due soon. The quality of writing is quite good, but the plot at the beginning meanders and wanders around taking w-a-y too much time to get from A to B. Actually, A visits many other letters before it even thinks of B. You do need to expect plot holes.

The first part of The Sky Is Yours focuses more on developing the bad traits of the characters, before the other stuff happens. When you start out with characters that were written to be unappealing, or laughed at, they have more to overcome as the plot progresses. But still I kept reading, if only to find out how all the characters and parts introduced early on were going to play out in the end. A point is earned for keeping me reading - and keeping me guessing what would happen next. Another point is earned for the ending which manages to resolve most of the loose ends in an interesting way. The third point is for the world building.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Hogarth via Netgalley.

Sunday, January 14, 2018


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.  


Thursday, January 4, 2018


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.  

Tuesday, January 2, 2018


Phone by Will Self
Grove Atlantic: 1/9/18
eBook review copy: 624 pages
ISBN-13: 9780802125378

Phone by Will Self is a stream-of-conscious tome about two men, Alzheimer's, technology, disassociation, war, and affairs.

Zack Busner "is a psychiatrist who has made his name through his unorthodox treatment of psychological damage, such as giving the controversial drug L-DOPA to patients ravaged by encephalitis, or administering LSD to World War II PTSD-sufferers. But now Busner’s own mind is fraying: Alzheimer’s is shredding his memory and his newest possession is a shiny smartphone given to him by his introverted grandson Ben."

Jonathan De’Ath "aka 'the Butcher,' is an MI6 man who remains a mystery even to those closest to him, be it his washed-up old university lecturer father, his jumbling-bumbling mother, his hippy-dippy brothers, his spooky colleagues or multitudinous lovers. All of De’Ath’s acquaintances apply the “Butcher” epithet to him, and perhaps there is only one person who thinks of him with tenderness, a man he keeps top secret, encrypted in the databanks of his steely mind: Colonel Gawain Thomas, husband, father, highly-trained tank commander, and Jonathan De’Ath’s long-time lover."

Written in a stream-of-consciousness style with no paragraph breaks or chapter breaks, Self is requiring a whole lot of concentration from his readers. In some ways he seems to be egging the reader on, deliberately trying to exasperate us and daring us to lose focus and interest. It is over 600 pages and includes an overabundance of ellipsis that can begin to annoy and distract even the most careful reader. Add to this the words and acronyms spelled phonetically (and thus must be sounded out) which, yeah, slows the reading down and began to grate on my nerves. The narration jumps from one character to the other with no break, no transition and mid-sentence. There is also a constantly ringing smart phone.

This is a love it/hate it book. Even with some rather brilliant and insightful passages (to which 2 stars gives a nod), Phone was overwhelming to read and not necessarily in a good way for me. Die-hard fans of Self's modernist trilogy that began with Umbrella and Shark will want to tackle Phone. If you aren't a loyal reader of Self, you may want to consider skipping this one. Finally, quit frankly, this novel is dominated by men and phallic discussions so I was never the target audience for it and in some ways resent the time I spent carefully reading it.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Grove Atlantic.