Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Other Sister

The Other Sister by Sarah Zettel
Grand Central Publishing: 8/28/18
eBook review copy; 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9781538760901

The Other Sister by Sarah Zettel is a highly recommended psychological thriller featuring the dynamics of twisted dysfunctional family.

Geraldine and Marie Monroe are sisters with a plan. The two grew up in Michigan in an emotionally abusive household with a manipulative, cruel father, Martin, and an alcoholic mother, Stacy. The younger sister, Geraldine left town twenty-five years ago after her mother died under mysterious circumstances. She was labeled as the bad sister, Now she is a lecturer at a college, specializing in the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, and very rarely returns home.

Marie stayed in their hometown and became her father's dutiful assistant. Martin is now wealthy, in control of his whole extended family, and a respected member of the community. Marie is the good daughter in the eyes of the community as she follows her father's every direction in his successful real estate business. Now Marie has asked Geraldine to come home for her son Robbie's graduation party - and to put their plan into motion.

The novel follows multiple timelines and points-of-view as the enigmas of the past and the present are both revealed. The relationship between the sisters is complicated. Neither of them may be completely reliable narrators. They need to trust and believe each other, but can they? The perception of who really is the good sister and the bad sister will fluctuate as the novel reveals an intricate web of embedded secrets of their earlier years and those from more recent events. The characters are well-developed, but none of them are reliable or likeable. Zettel does an excellent job with the dialogue and there is a distinctive voice for each character.

At the beginning of each chapter is an analysis of various fairy tales by Geraldine which serves to compliment the plot. Contained within the narrative are multiple mysteries and secrets, and the analysis of the fairy tales can be an interesting juxtaposition in comparison to the narrative. The plot does move a bit slowly at times, but Zettel has packed a lot of depth into the novel making this an interesting psychological thriller.

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

Monday, August 27, 2018

Tear Me Apart

Tear Me Apart by J. T. Ellison
Mira Books: 8/28/18
eBook review copy; 496 pages
paperback ISBN-13: 9780778330004

Tear Me Apart by J. T. Ellison is a very highly recommended domestic psychological thriller.

Competitive skier and Olympic hopeful Mindy Wright breaks her leg during a competition and during surgery the doctors discover she has a form of leukemia. Mindy needs a stem cell transplant, but, shockingly, her parents, Jasper and Lauren Wright, and her Aunt Juliet (Lauren's younger sister) are not DNA matches - and it is clear that Mindy is not the daughter of either of them. Apparently Mindy was adopted, but no one ever told her. In fact, her mother told no one about it, not even Jasper. Lauren and Jasper married when Mindy was an infant. Juliet was so much younger than Lauren that she never suspected it.

Juliet is now at the crime lab for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, so she secretly starts an investigation and asks a few favors trying to figure out if Mindy was switched at birth. Finding a match as soon as possible could mean life or death for Mindy. Now that the truth is out, Lauren needs to explain what happened, but can she be trusted? And why has she never told anyone about the adoption? This is the ultimate story of a mother willing to do anything to protect her daughter.

Tear Me Apart is a well-written, spellbinding, engrossing thriller that held my attention throughout. While some astute readers may guess the truth early on (and Ellison leaves plenty of clues for the reader to do so) the suspense is created by the slow reveal of the truth and additional information to the characters in the novel. I found the plot mesmerizing and the pages flew by while reading. I appreciated the pacing of the novel and how Ellison divulged additional information while developing the characters. The characters are all well developed and complex individuals

I don't want to give away any more of the plot, but I really enjoyed this novel. The disclosure of information along the way lends an intensity to the plot and the old letters slowly shared along the way clearly point to important additional information. This is a thriller that is well worth reading. Even if you think you know what is going on, it is well worth reading to the end for a few surprises you won't guess.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Mira Books.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Born Scared

Born Scared by Kevin Brooks
Candlewick Press: 9/11/18
advanced reading copy; 256 pages
ISBN-13: 9780763695651

Born Scared by Kevin Brooks is a recommended YA psychological thriller featuring a protagonist with a type of anxiety disorder.

Elliot is a  thirteen year old who has spent his whole life afraid, terrified of everything. He is confined to his home by what is likely some type of severe panic/social anxiety disorder and on medication to control his overwhelming ever-present fear. When the pharmacy makes an error and refills one of his prescriptions with the wrong pills, his mother has to ask a friend to pick them up. When she doesn't arrive when expected, his mother has to venture out in a snow storm to see if she can find her and get Elliot the pills he needs.  Then, when hours have passed and his mother hasn't returned, Elliot decides he can no longer wait. He must face his fears and leave the house to find his mother. Elliot sets out with his fears, but, as he battles through the storm, his medication wears off and he is at the mercy of his terror-laden hallucinations and paranoia of what he fears may happen.

Elliot is an interesting, compelling character and your heart will be breaking while you are rooting for him to make it through the storm and the incredible number of obstacles he must face. Elliot also has an inner monologue with a character that I'm not going to name, but it adds a new dimension to his character and his disorder.
The actual story is told through multiple viewpoints - Elliot, a pair of robbers, and Gordon, a bank manager. The two robbers dressed as Santas and the drugging of Gordon added a comedic tone to the story that, in my opinion, was not necessary and detracted from Elliot's very real struggle. (I would have kept the robbers, lost the costumes, and found another way to delay Gordon.)

The novel consists of short chapters and, since it is for ages 12 and up, it is a quick, easy read for an adult. It does, however, offer real insight into someone with an anxiety disorder. While the reader may be telling Elliot "Wait, it's okay, it's only a....." Someone who fears everything, fears everything. Nothing is only a.... Elliot, despite his overwhelming fears, overcomes more than many his age could under the same circumstances. I found it a bit implausible to believe Elliot would have been able to do some of the things he did, but Born Scared did hold my attention for the whole novel. However, I'm not completely convinced it is a good choice for ages 12 and up based on some of the events.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018


Heartbreaker by Claudia Dey
Penguin Random House Group: 8/21/18
eBook review copy; 272 pages
ISBN-13: 9780525511731

Heartbreaker by Claudia Dey is a highly recommended, quirky, unique character driven novel that is part dystopian, part alternate reality.

The territory is an isolated cult/settlement that was founded in the north decades ago. In the territory is it 1985, including the music, TV shows, listening to Walkmans, album covers, shoulder pads, track suits, and more. The narrative is told in three parts from the point-of-view of three different characters: the girl, the dog, and the boy.

The girl is fifteen-year-old Pony Darlene Fontaine. Pony is our first introduction to the territory and the one who begins the story of her mother, Billie Jean Fontaine, who has taken the truck and left her family. Billie Jean arrived in the territory seventeen years earlier, married The Heavy, Pony's father, and tried to fit in with the townspeople who never totally accepted her. Now the town is helping to search for her, but never beyond their own borders. Pony is an excellent character who is examining her circumstances, her mother's life, and has a plan. She is also the one who introduces us to a sinister way the territory makes money.

The dog is the Fontaines' and brings a unique perspective and keen observations to the story about Billie Jean, the community, and all the characters, while furthering the narrative thread. The boy, named Supernatural, adds additional information and completes the story, allowing a complete picture to emerge.

Telling the story only through the first person perspective of these three characters and what they know is utterly extraordinary. I was uncertain about Heartbreaker for almost half the novel and then the story began to emerge and take shape. It increasingly became a compelling, fascinating look at a community, setting aside their isolation and the peculiar features of the cult, through the eyes of three very different, unique characters.

The ending was the clincher and increased my assessment of the whole novel. I also keep thinking about the novel based on the ending and want to re-read it someday to catch information and clues I might have missed.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House Group.


Ohio by Stephen Markley
Simon & Schuster: 8/21/18
eBook review copy; 496 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501174476

Ohio by Stephen Markley is a recommended dark, rural Gothic character study of Millennials and social critique of small towns in the rust belt.

One summer night in 2013 four former classmates  return to their small town, New Canaan, in the northeastern Ohio rust belt, and face the ghosts from their past. Bill Ashcraft is an alcoholic, drug-abusing activist who is delivering a mysterious but clearly illegal package to a former classmate. Stacey Moore is a doctoral candidate who has returned to confront the mother of her high school girlfriend. Dan Eaton is a veteran of three tours in Iraq who has returned to New Canaan for a dinner date with his high school sweetheart. Tina Ross has a score to settle with the captain of the football team who sexually abused her in high school.

Ohio is divided into four parts, each told from one of the four different character's perspective in 2013 with events recalled from earlier, during and after high school. New Canaan is an  archetypal small rust belt town in decline, with foreclosures, a dying economy, and a meth problem. These character have all grown up post 9/11, feeling marginalized, with war, racial tensions, political polarization, and environmental warnings ever prevalent. Most of the characters are not likeable and are lost in the past, unable to grow up and move on with their lives.

Make no mistake; Ohio is a dark, pessimistic, violent, melancholy novel. While the development of his characters is adroit and sophisticated, they also seem to fall into caricatures of typical small town roles. The four parts from the character's point-of-view worked best for me when taken and considered as novellas that are linked and culminate with a portrait of a town and the events that shaped the lives of these people.  I'm not convinced that Ohio is the definitive novel for an entire state, but it does capture a small town in the area and a disenfranchised group of people. Did I say this was a dark, foreboding novel? The overwhelming tone and the voice of the characters were almost too bleak and hopeless for me.

On the other hand, the quality of the writing, despite the tone of the novel, can be opulent, descriptive, and insightful. It also needed a bit more editing, tightening up, because the wordiness and circumlocution does get out of hand in some places - as does the swearing.  Bill is an especially tiring character after a while, which is problematic because his (long) part is first in the book. It took sheer will power to finish his section and continue. Did I mention it is a dark, depressing novel?

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

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Pieces of Her

Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter
HarperCollins: 8/21/18
eBook review copy; 480 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062430274

Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter is a compelling and complicated character driven mystery that follows two timelines. This excellent novel is very highly recommended.

It is Andrea (Andy) Cooper's 31st birthday and she is meeting her mother, Laura, for breakfast at the Rise-n-Dine in the mall.  Andy left NYC to move back home to help her when Laura told her she had cancer three years ago. Now Andy is living above her garage and working the night shift as a 911 operator in Belle Isle, Georgia. Truthfully, though, Andy sacrifice nothing moving back home. She acts much younger than her years and her life has been basically aimless and purposeless. She is swimming in college loan debt and she has trouble verbalizing her thoughts in conversations. It may be due to being the only child of high achieving parents. Her mother, Dr. Laura Oliver, is a speech therapist, while her father, Gordon, is a trusts and estates attorney. Now her mother is telling her it is time for her to move out, grow up, and make her own life.

While the idea that she is being kicked out of her mother's house is surprising, it is not as shocking as the whole different side to her mother that Andy experiences when a gunman comes into the diner and begins shooting, killing two women. Laura immediately jumps up and takes action, pushing Andy out of the way, trying to get the killer to shoot her, and then neatly and dispassionately dispatching him. Andy is in shock, her mother is hospitalized, and the police are asking questions. How well did Andy really know her mother, this woman who stepped up to stop a killer? And then her life becomes even more complicated when her mother sends her on the run and apparently has had a secret life in her past, a life that means she had to be prepared for contingencies that might require being on the run. 

There are two timelines, the present day, with Andy on the run and in the 1980's when Laura went by another name and was part of a group of amateur terrorists. Both timelines are equally fraught with tension and new revelations. The suspense is acute and consuming as more secrets are revealed and new dangers loom. Andy begins her journey in shock and lacking many of the skills she needs to survive.

As expected, the writing is excellent and the plot is compelling and engrossing. Slaughter is well known for her sophisticated thrillers and Pieces of Her is a wonderful addition to her body of work. For those who want a thriller, there are enough heart-stopping moments to satisfy you, although I would describe Pieces of Her as more of a character driven mystery as it follows Andy on the run and reveals events in Laura's past.

The characters are extremely detailed and well-developed. They are presented as complete people, with secrets, weaknesses, doubts, flaws, and strengths. There is growth, especially in Andy, as she is tested and expected to act on her own without anyone to fall back on for the first time in her life. She is also, naturally, driven to uncover Laura's secret past and how it relates to them now and the current situation, as anyone would be if they discovered their mother might not be the person you've always thought she was.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Good Luck with That

Good Luck with That by Kristan Higgins
Penguin Random House: 8/7/18
eBook review copy; 480 pages
paperback ISBN-13: 9780451489395

Good Luck with That by Kristan Higgins is a controversial woman's novel dealing with body image and self-acceptance. Recommended, but highly for fans of Chick Lit and romance novels.

Emerson, Georgia, and Marley have been best friends ever since they met at a weight-loss camp as teens. When Emerson dies from complications due to her weight she leaves her best friends an envelope with a note. The note is actually a list they made at their last year of fat camp. The list is title "Thing's We'll Do When We're Skinny" and consists of: go running in tight clothes and a sports bra; get a piggyback-ride from a guy; be in a photo shoot; eat dessert in public; tuck in a shirt; shop at a store for regular people; have a cute guy buy you a drink; meet a guys parents; tell off people who had a problem with you being fat. Georgia and Marley decide to tackle the list and along with dealing with their poor self-image, they also tackle other, deeper issues. Marley has had survivor's guilt ever since her twin sister died when they were four. Georgia has dealt with a hyper-critical mother and a critical angry brother. The two need to tackle these concerns along with other complicated relationship issues.

The narrative alternates between chapters told from the first person point of view of Georgia, Marley, and Emerson (through excerpts from her journals). They are in their very early 30's now and the list was written when I originally thought they were probably around 13, but later the book said 18. Okay, like many reviewers I've never been the skinny perfect girl these women dream about, but I would have never written such a list at 18, fat thighs and big butt or not. Why would these women follow a list they made as teens as if it is important and life changing?

It must also be said that I didn't know about the controversy surround this novel until after I read it. If I had known that the bulk of the novel would consist of so much weight-based insecurity and recalling fat-shaming events, I would have skipped reading it for review. The blurb does not  focus so much on their weight issues, which likely isn't all that bad for Marley and not at all for Georgia. Why even make weight and fat shaming the focus when the root of everything was from much deeper emotional issues? This is also very much Chick Lit and these two women are somehow incomplete without a man. Yeah, it's normal to want a relationship with other people, but get mentally healthy, accept yourself, and make a life for yourself. (The men in this novel are not worth the trouble, by the way. With Marley's brother and Georgia's nephew being the exceptions, none of the rest of them are worth the consideration or any concentrated effort anyway.)

It became very clear early on that this was not the novel for me, which begs the question: Why did I keep reading it? Admittedly, I did have to soldier through during several parts of the novel. At a hefty 480 pages, some editing might have been in order. The quality of the writing is quite good, which helped me get through the parts that annoyed me. For its flaws, Good Luck with That is an interesting book and does handle with compassion and insight the fat/body shaming women go through. (Men too, by-the-way, which was never mentioned.) The characters are portrayed as real people and their emotions and insecurities are presented as heartfelt and authentic.  She does give her characters emotional growth and there is closure to the plot points at the end. It is a solid 3.5, rounded up for the right reader, down for me. (I should have followed my personal rule to avoid  [most] Chick Lit and Romance novels, but I did enjoy another one of Higgins's novels and wanted to give her another try.)

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

Thursday, August 16, 2018

A Curve in the Road

A Curve in the Road by Julianne MacLean
Lake Union Publishing: 8/14/18
eBook review copy; 270 pages
ISBN-13: 9781503904453

A Curve in the Road by Julianne MacLean is a so-so romantic drama.

Abbie MacIntyre thought she had the perfect family.  She is a successful surgeon who is married to a handsome cardiologist. Zach is a model teenage son and the family has a beloved golden retriever named Winston. Then she is in a car accident that changes her whole world. One unthinkable challenge after another is thrown at her and she has to try and find a way to cope and work through her challenges, anger, and grief while still being the parent Zach needs.

The writing is certainly good.  MacLean follows the five stages of grief. She handles Abbie's inner turmoil and questions with compassion and realism. It is an uplifting, maudlin, sentimental novel, and, if you require a happy ending, it is here. Abbie is a well-developed character.

Any novel where the description involves a perfect family is bound to be the precursor to proving it just isn't so. Admittedly, I'm still a bit surprised at all the high ratings for A Curve in the Road. While it is not an awful novel, it is very predictable and formulaic. I knew what was going to happen almost right from the start and the unimaginable secrets were painfully obvious, which, in turn, made me feel impatient to get to a surprise or startling secret or... anything I hadn't already guessed was going to happen at almost the beginning of the novel.

I did find several actions less-than-believable. One such question was when she learned some medical information about her husband that she could have confirmed rather than simply believing. It is most definitely women's fiction, but it heads a bit too much toward a romance novel for me, which I did not expect or I would not have chosen to review this novel.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Lake Union Publishing.


Feared by Lisa Scottoline
St. Martin's Press: 8/14/18
eBook review copy; 400 pages
ISBN-13: 9781250099594
Rosato & DiNunzio Series #6

Feared by Lisa Scottoline is a highly recommended legal thriller and the 6th in the series featuring Bennie Rosato, Mary DiNunzio, and Judy Carrier.

Three men are suing the Rosato & DiNunzio law firm for reverse sex discrimination, claiming that the firm wouldn't hire them because they are men. The men's lawyer is Nick Machiavelli. Machiavelli is out for vengeance after previously losing a case to Mary. The whole purpose of this case is to destroy Rosato & DiNunzio. To complicate matters Rosato & DiNunzio's lone male employee, John Foxman, is quoted in the plaintiff's disclosure that he felt like an outsider. When asked about it, Foxman admits the truth to his statement and that he intends to resign. Then the case turns deadly.

With her firm in danger and now murder is involved, Mary's health could be at risk due to the stress since she is seven month's pregnant. Now Mary must figure out what Machiavelli is up too with filing this false complaint and solve a murder. Machiavelli has made his stance clear with his news conferences and playing up to the media to impinge the Rosato & DiNunzio firm. The firm’s hired defense attorney Roger Vitez, who wants them to go on with their business as usual and play it cool, claims he knows how to handle the case.

Feared is wildly entertaining and the story propels forward with a sunny style, even when things are looking dark. (You know, if you follow the series, that it will turn out okay in the end.) Mary's large, diverse Italian-American family and her South Philly neighborhood is as much a character as all the Tonys. The characters are smart and diverse. There is humor along with the seriousness of the plot. But this is an ongoing series and fans have expectations that are met in Feared. Even if you haven't read any of the previous books in the series, you could jump in with this one as enough backstory is provided. 

It must be said it is not a perfect novel. There was simply too much preoccupation with Mary's pregnancy and it becomes a tad bit annoying - Mary constantly mentions how huge she is and her pregnancy is the first thing on everyone's mind. The large-Italian-American-family-in-your-business stuff seems overdone and almost a stereotype. The plot twist and game changer is very convenient and a little unbelievable. However, setting aside those few concerns, Feared is an easy-to-read, very entertaining diversion and is a great choice for a relaxing, light summer read.

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

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Where the Crawdads Sing

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Penguin Publishing Group: 8/14/18
eBook review copy; 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9780735219090

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is a very highly recommended coming-of-age story and murder mystery. This is an excellent debut novel and one of the best books I've read this year.

In 1969 Chase Andrews is found dead. Almost immediately suspicion is directed toward the Marsh Girl and the sheriff and his deputy gather evidence against her. Kya (Catherine) Clark, 23, is called the Marsh Girl, dirty, and swamp trash by the locals in Barkley Cove, North Carolina. Kya has survived for years alone, since her mother left when she was 6, quickly followed by all her siblings, leaving Kya with her violent, alcoholic father, who also later abandoned her when she is ten. After one day of school where she was teased and never went back, she has been alone. She made friends with the gulls, took delight in the natural world around her, and found a way to make money. A son of a shrimper and a former friend to her brother, Tate Walker befriends Kya and teaches her how to read. Tate and Kya share an appreciation for the natural world around her. When Tate leaves for college, Kya slowly begins a relationship with Chase.

The narrative flashes back and forth between the murder investigation and trial in 1969 to 1952 (and through the 1950s and 60's) to tell Kya’s story.  Kya is an extraordinary, memorable well-developed character. She is portrayed with an exceptional depth of understanding and insight into human nature. Her isolation and the prejudice against her will break your heart. The resilience for a child to survive and thrive in her own way under the circumstances Kya was facing is remarkable and unforgettable. Clearly her childhood will have repercussions for her whole life.

Owens is a natural story-teller and I was enchanted. I admittedly sacrificed sleep to finish this novel as I could not stop reading during the trial. It is not a perfect novel. (Kya has an accomplishment achieved in her early 20's which is a bit far-fetched.) However, it excels in other ways that set it apart and above other novels. The descriptions of the natural world and Kya's relationship with it are simply incredible and perceptive. The depiction of a child surviving and raising herself, with a little help from Jumpin' and his wife Mabel, while making a life and dealing with her loneliness, abandonment, and solitude is outstanding. The novel becomes a courtroom drama later on, once the case against Kya is built. The ending was startling, memorable, and unexpected, but fit the narrative perfectly.

Where the Crawdads Sing is a remarkable, captivating debut and one of the best novels of the year.

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

The Middleman

The Middleman by Olen Steinhauer
St. Martin's Press: 8/7/18
eBook review copy; 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9781250036179

The Middleman by Olen Steinhauer is a highly recommended political thriller.

One day in 2017 four hundred people disappear, leaving behind everything, all ID, cell phones, family, jobs, and friends. The group is a part of the Massive Brigade, led by social justice warrior Martin Bishop and Ben Mittag, and their first coordinated act is this complete disappearance and silence. The FBI assigns Special Agent Rachel Proulx to follow the group since she has been keeping track of Martin Bishop as well as left-wing political groups, since 2016.

FBI agent, Kevin Moore, is undercover with the Brigade, and has an insider's view of their actions. Between Kevin and Rachel the reader can follow what happens. When the actions taken by the Brigade on July 4th set off a string of events, it seemingly results in the success of the FBI's handling of the incidents and the group, but both Kevin and Rachel know more information than the public. The two end up privately working together to uncover the inside information being kept from the public.

This is a timely thriller with an alternate history timeline that should resonate with many readers who should be able to draw some comparisons to current political/social events. The plot and information is complicated and there is much more going on than you will have answers for until much later in the novel. I appreciated the role the media played in the novel - both being manipulated to create public opinion and making the news follow their ideological slant.

While Rachel and Kevin are both likeable characters, some of the rest of the characters seem less finely drawn. The ultimate cause the brigade is publicly denouncing doesn't quite take on the menace and evil that it should, given the acts carried out by the group and the seriousness of the uncovered information. 

The Middleman is entertaining and engrossing thriller. Steinhauer knows how to create a complicated plot, add in a timely political climate, and slowly allow points to be revealed along the way to the conclusion. 

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

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Drama Teacher

The Drama Teacher by Koren Zailckas
Crown/Archetype: 8/7/18
eBook review copy; 400 pages
ISBN-13: 9780553448092

The Drama Teacher by Koren Zailckas is a highly recommended drama about a con artist.

Gracie Mueller is a habitual liar, a con artist and the mother of two. She learned her craft from her father, and later her husband, Oz. Once Oz was put in prison in the UK, she took her fake passport and headed to the USA with her son where she eventually "married" Randy. Now she's the mother of two and Randy has moved to Florida for his job. Their home in upstate New York is in foreclosure, Gracie is out of money, and she needs to set up a new con to make some quick cash. She picks out a new mark, a wealthy woman, and befriends her while putting her plan into place. When an accident happens, Gracie runs away with her kids to NYC and looks for her next big score.

The novel is narrated by Gracie, who is telling her present story, starting in upstate New York and through to the current situation in NYC. As she relates this, there are also flashbacks to her childhood and life before she moved to the USA, first with her father and later with Oz.  It becomes obvious that she has been on the run her whole life, moving from one scam to another. She's used to changing her name and finding a way to side-step the law. At first she is not particularly likeable, but as she tells more and more of her story you will admit that, while she is a liar, often it is related to her trying to find a way to survive.

The Drama Teacher is an entertaining novel, whether you like Gracie or not. The writing is excellent and I was engaged with the novel the entire time I was reading it while the plot unfolded. There are a few stretches when you may think, as I did, she's a bit too skilled in specialized technical ways to be a completely believable character, but it is fascinating. It also has a few sections that seem over-long. The ending, however, will totally make up for it. This is a great choice for a vacation read or an airplane book. It is going to hold your attention and entertain you.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Crown/Archetype via Netgalley.

Three Things About Elsie

Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon
Scribner: 8/7/18
eBook review copy; 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501187384

Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon is a very highly recommended mystery set in a home for the elderly.
"There are three things you should know about Elsie. The first thing is that she’s my best friend. The second is that she always knows what to say to make me feel better. And the third thing...might take a bit more explaining."

Eighty-four-year-old Florence Claybourne and Elsie have been best friends their whole lives. Now they are both at Cherry Tree, an assisted living facility for the elderly. The novel opens after Florence has fallen in her flat and is waiting for someone to find her and help. While lying on the floor, she thinks about a secret from the past and reexamines her life. Part of her thoughts turn to recent events, including the new resident who may not be who he claims to be and may, in fact, be someone from her past who is out to get her now. 

The main narrator is Florence, but the narrative perspective occasionally shifts to Miss Ambrose, an administrator at Cherry Tree, and Simon, the handyman. Florence  is an unreliable narrator, although it may be due to her age, because she just can't remember all the facts. Her friend Elsie encourages her to concentrate and try to remember all the facts. Elsie is a constant, positive and encouraging friend to Florence. Florence can be opinionated and cantankerous as she talks to others, walks the readers through her daily movements at Cherry Tree, and tells the story of her past. The suspense builds as it appears someone is trying to make Florence look senile and make others doubt her observations.

The quality of the writing is excellent. The narrative moves at a steady pace, although the pace seems to pick up once the mystery takes an ominous turn. I appreciate the way facts are revealed as Florence is encouraged by Elsie to slowly prod her memory to recall events from long ago. There are some coincidences that may seem unlikely, but the longer you live, the more often it appears that surprising coincidences seem to happen. I also like the characters Cannon has created in Three Things About Elsie. The third thing about Elsie is remembered/answered, but not until late in the novel (although some readers may guess it earlier).

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Scribner.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Our House

Our House by Louise Candlish
Penguin Publishing Group: 8/7/18
eBook review copy:416 pages
ISBN-13: 9780451489111

Our House by Louise Candlish is a highly recommended novel of domestic suspense.

When Fiona Lawson returns to her home after being away for a few days, she is shocked to see a moving van and strangers moving into her house. As she confronts the new homeowner, it becomes increasingly clear that Bram, her estranged husband, has sold the house, pocketed the money, and is now missing. After ascertaining that her two sons are safe and staying with a grandparent, she tries to unravel what happened. The couple were separated and had a custody arrangement in place known as a "bird's nest." This arrangement is where the children always stay in the family home while the parents alternate between living there and in a shared flat.

The narrative switches between Fiona telling her story to the reader and on a podcast called "The Victim," and Bram telling his side of the story via a long word document that he prefaces as a suicide letter. It is clear that Fiona has been clueless and gullible while Bram has been lying for a long time - and it is his lies that eventually result in the current situation. Both characters are pretty self-involved. Neither character is completely sympathetic, which makes them difficult to feel connected to, but they are both interesting.

Our House is basically well-written, despite long, drawn-out explanations from Fiona and Bram. Their stories could have been explained and summarized on both sides much quicker. This does result in the novel being a bit longer than is completely necessary to tell the story. What transpired is not complicated enough to require quite so detailed an explanation.

The novel is intriguing, however, and you will want to know what happened and why, although you may have an inkling about the reasons behind Bram's disappearance, especially as new details are eventually revealed (in his long-winded explanation). Candlish supplies some surprises and a satisfying conclusion to the drama.

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

Read Me

Read Me by Leo Benedictus
Grand Central Publishing: 8/7/18
eBook review copy; 256 pages
ISBN-13: 978153871147

Read Me by Leo Benedictus is a so-so novel of suspense featuring a creepy stalker.

An unnamed narrator receives an inherited fortune and decides to now use his time refining his hobby: stalking random people. He keeps notes and records of his subjects and, at first, switched to different subjects after a short period of time. His rule was to never become personally involved, until he met Frances. Frances is a beautiful young woman working for a consulting firm. Soon it becomes clear that our stalker is disrupting and manipulating events in her life, causing her harm and psychological distress. He is also dealing out punishment on Frances's behalf to those he believe deserve it.

The opening scene in the novel will clue you in that something is off with the narrator. He is a nobody and there is no real sense of a personality except evidence will hint to the fact that all is not right with him. His account of what he does is presented in a bland, matter-of-fact way, and he seems alternately awkward and insipid. However, normal people don't stalk others, become obsessed and monitor their subjects, keep notes on them, or set up cameras and microphones to spy on them. There is no true clue why the stalker chose Frances either.

Right at the start the long-winded discourses and philosophical digressions are monotonous and slow the novel down. I felt like I was slogging through this novel trying to get through it, especially in the first third, when I expect an author to hook me into the premise of the story. While the premise seems promising from the description, the switch between first, second, and highly subjective third person point-of-views makes the narrative feel muddled. (Adding to this encumbrance is the use of the past, present, and future tense.) For me the novel fell flat.

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