Sunday, July 21, 2019

Gravity Is the Thing

Gravity Is the Thing by Jaclyn Moriarty
HarperCollins: 7/23/19
eBook review copy; 416 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062883735

Gravity Is the Thing by Jaclyn Moriarty is a highly recommended novel about a woman's search for universal truths and happiness.

Abigail (Abi) Sorenson’s brother Robert went missing twenty years ago. It was the day before her sixteenth birthday, a day the two had a special on-going birthday ritual. The two were very close but she has heard nothing from him since that day and he never shared his plans with her. She has been looking for him ever since and his absence from her life has had an lasting impact. That same year, she began receiving chapters in the mail of a self-help manual called The Guidebook and has received the chapters ever since. The Guidebook has been a constant through her life as she went through various changes and trials.

Now, twenty years later, Abi has been invited along with twenty-five other recipients of The Guidebook to an all-expenses paid weekend to Taylor Island, off the southeast coast of Australia by Wilbur, the son of the authors. She hopes to learn the truth behind The Guidebook. Sure, she's intrigued, but it is also a vacation. Her mother is watching her four-year-old son, Oscar and her Happiness Café can run itself in her absence. What The Guidebook was purposing to teach the recipients is surprising and surrealistic, but perhaps Abi does have something to discover through the lessons.

This is a rather quirky, amusing, diverting novel that tells Abi's story, past and present, through first and second person points-of-view in chapters that vary widely in length. Chapters from The Guidebook are interspersed throughout. Abi is a well-developed character and her journey through life is filled with wit, humor, stress, heart-break, and problems. She does learn some unexpected lessons as she further explores what the authors of The Guidebook intended and looks into the sometimes absurd advice from other self-help books in her search for happiness.

Moriarty is a YA author and this is a successful first foray into adult fiction. She does an excellent job telling Abi's story. The dramatic difference in the length of chapters along with switching between past and present and the inclusion of chapters from The Guidebook to tell Abi's story is used quite effectively by Moriarty. Above all, the characters are searching for a connection, something to complete them and provide the happiness and fulfillment that seems to be missing in their lives. Readers won't learn why Abi and the other recipients of The Guidebook were chosen until almost the end, but it makes sense. The answer of what happened to Robert is also provided for closure. Basically, this is a novel about a woman's life and her quest for answers, happiness, and fulfillment.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Lady in the Lake

Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman
HarperCollins: 7/23/19
eBook review copy; 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062390011 

Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman is a very highly recommended standalone mystery

Set in Baltimore, Lady in the Lake follows Madeline “Maddie” Schwartz for a little over a year from 1965 to 1966. Maddie is a 37-year-old Jewish housewife who has separated from her husband of almost twenty year after a dinner party forces her to remember that as a young woman she aspired to live a meaningful life. When an 11-year-old girl is missing, presumed dead, Maddie joins the search for her and ends up finding the body and helping the police. Maddie parlays this and some correspondence she had with the suspected killer into a job at the Star, one of the cities local newspapers.

Cleo Sherwood was a young black woman whose body is discovered in the Druid Hill Park fountain. While discovering what happened to her murder seems less pressing to the police, Maddie is determined to discover what happened to Cleo. Cleo's ghost, whose voice is an ongoing part of the narrative, wants Maddie to leave it alone. Maddie is sure this is the story that can start her career as a reporter, but Maddie's determination will cause problems for many other people.

Everyone expects exceptional writing from Lippman and Lady in the Lake makes good on that expectation and gives even more. The narrative is mainly told through Maddie's voice, but there is also consistent commentary from Cleo (in italics) as well as first person vignettes from a whole host of other characters that Maddie encounters along the way. For me, these accounts provide a richness and depth to the plot that would have otherwise been an excellent story presented in a more typical style. I applaud Lippman for this choice and appreciated the "Our Town" presentation style. I felt it helped set Lady in the Lake apart and created a more complete picture of the time, place, and people in the novel.

Maddie is a complicated character living in a time when her choices were limited by societal expectations and the men around her. This atmosphere is captured perfectly in Lippman's newspaper noir novel. Maddie is a very well developed character. She may not always know what reactions her actions will result in, but she is determined to uncover the truth behind the two mysteries in the novel. It is to her credit that she seemingly cares more than the police about getting answers. The answers are both there, but getting them comes via a surprising, unexpected twist.

Lady in the Lake is a rich nuanced novel with well-drawn characters, depth, and style. While it is not the adrenaline packed thriller than some fans might have been expecting, I was engrossed in this complex, interesting story from start to finish and give it my highest recommendation.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Other Mrs. Miller

The Other Mrs. Miller by Allison Dickson
Penguin Random House; 7/16/19
eBook review copy; 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9780525539247 

The Other Mrs. Miller by Allison Dickson is a recommended domestic thriller.

Phoebe Miller, 32, inherited a fortune from her father, David Noble. Her father also left her with the fallout from his years of sexual misconduct. Already an unhappy woman, Phoebe has now isolated herself in her suburban Lake Forest, Illinois, home where she drinks too much and tries to avoid going out in public. She has also started a log recording the time the car with a delivery company's sign on it parks in the cul-de-sac. She feels like the woman inside is watching her and may be a reporter. To make matters worse, her therapist husband Wyatt wants to have children; she's no longer interested and becoming increasingly fed up with Wyatt.
Then a family moves in across the street and it changes Phoebe's world. Vicki Napier is an outgoing, excitable woman who is quickly becoming Phoebe's best friend. The problem is that her eighteen-year-old son, Jake, is becoming Phoebe's lover while Vicki's husband seems to be an alcoholic with a temper.  The woman in the car is still watching the drama unfold, but Phoebe is too busy to keep track of her any more.

The novel is divided up into two parts, with part two decidedly different from part one, but most of the same players involved, and it starts with a major twist. Someone has been murdered, but the real question is who is responsible. Everyone is a suspect and trust is fleeting. Part two requires you to suspend disbelief and keep with the story for the resolution, even though the twist is unbelievable. The writing helps pull it all together.

While none of the characters are particularly likeable or trustworthy, and the plot becomes increasingly improbable, Dickson does manage to keep your attention on the narrative in spite of it all. It was relatively easy to ignore many of the coincidental occurrences that were required to keep the plot moving forward. You also have to accept Phoebe's affair with an 18 year-old. This is one of those novels that is engaging and will hold your attention, but you do have to accept the premise put into place and go with the action as it unfolds.

This would be a good choice for and airplane book or vacation read. It's an entertaining way to pass the time.

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

Monday, July 15, 2019


Buried by Ellison Cooper
St. Martin's: 7/16/19
eBook review copy; 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9781250173867

Buried by Ellison Cooper is a highly recommended investigative thriller and a sequel to 2018’s Caged.

Max Cho, an off-duty FBI agent and his K9 Kona find a sinkhole filled with human bones in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. FBI Senior Special Agent Sayer Altair is called back into the field to investigate. Sayer has been off-duty recovering from a gunshot wound when she exposed a killer within the FBI, resulting in personal attacks and a huge investigation. As a neuroscientist Sayer has been studying psychopaths. She never expected to find one in the FBI and now she is on the trail of another one.

The bones in the sinkhole vary widely in their age, but there are two bodies in there are recent, so Sayer knows she has an active dump sight of a serial killer. The recent victims were women who were kidnapped, and there are clues that point to more victims to follow. The killer, though, must be watching them because their team has been attacked. While trying to solve the current case, the congressional investigation of the FBI is ongoing and the media is swarming.

This is obviously a sequel and I do wish I had read Caged first before jumping into Buried. While I stilled enjoyed this second book, I felt I was missing some key elements. Even so, the story is compelling and I was engrossed in reading it as fast as possible. There is plenty of action and investigative threads to follow. The descriptive writing kept me glued to the pages as the crime is investigated and solved. The plot is complex and Cooper excels at keeping the anticipation high.

Sayer is a great character and I liked her quite a bit (even though I feel like I would have reacted even more if I had read the first book). All the characters are well developed and interesting. This seems like a great series to continue following. Yes, some of the plot elements are predictable, but the presentation is still engaging and made for some great escapism while following an intense plot.

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

This Is How You Lose the Time War

This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
Gallery/Saga Press; 7/16/19
eBook review copy; 208 pages
ISBN-13: 9781534431003

This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone is a highly recommended epistolary science fiction story.

Red and Blue are rival time traveling special agents from two vastly different cultures/races that are at war. Red is part of the Agency, working for the Commandant, and represents a technological-based manufactured race of AI, while Blue is part of the Garden and represents a biological/organic race of intertwined mass consciousness. They both travel up, down, and along different of time strands to make sure their culture succeeds and flourishes in the future, winning the war.
When Blue leaves a letter for Red on a bloody battlefield of a dying world, what began as a taunt evolves into a friendship and later a romance through letters. The letter read: Burn before reading. Red reads the letter and writes one of her own, leaving it where Blue will find it on one of her assignments. The two proceed to exchange letters in hidden, inventive, creative, unique and unexpected ways across timelines in the future and past. Any discovery of their exchange would mean death for both women.
The narrative alternates between following Red and Blue on their missions and with the letters sent to each other in-between descriptions of their current objective. The two travel across history and the future, both with multiple realities of each time period. This abbreviated novel is composed of expertly crafted exchanges using poetic language. Their romance is one of ideas, thoughts, and emotions, not physical, because they are from such different species.
The strength and the challenge of this novel is in the language because the prose is so poetic, full of metaphors and similes. The world building is there, but vague enough that it might be irksome to many science fiction fans. The focus is not the worlds they are from or how the war between the different future races evolved. Instead the prose covers basically the missions they are on, with the heart of the novel focusing on the burgeoning relationship between these two very different special agents.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Gallery/Saga Press.

Native Tongue

Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin
The Feminist Press at CUNY: rerelease 7/16/19
eBook review copy; 327 pages
ISBN-13: 9781936932634 

Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin is a highly recommended classic dystopian novel which was originally published in 1984 and is currently being re-released. This is the first book in a three book series.

In 2205 the Nineteenth Amendment has long been repealed. Men hold absolute power. Women are treated as children who must always be supervised by men and any of their actions require male approval. The only value women hold is to provide children. The current world-wide economy depends upon trade with other cultures, including alien. The Chornyak family is a powerful family of translators who raise their children, daughters included, to be linguists. All their members speak multiple languages and are used as translators in sensitive negotiations.
Nazareth Adiness is a brilliant linguist and the most talented of the Chornyak family. As with all translators she has been working since she was young and is a valuable asset to the family, yet she still has to endure an arranged marriage as a teen and the expectation that she will have a large number of children (while still working). Once women are past child bearing years or deemed infertile, they are moved to Barren House, to keep the older women from causing any drama in the main house.

Unknown to any man is that the useless older women of Barren house have been working together to make up a secret language of their own, a language that will only be taught to women and one they can use to communicate with each other without the men's interference. The women are preparing for a coming revolution where they will remove themselves from the control of men.
It's rather surprising to me that I never came across Native Tongue before this reissued edition. The world building depicts a misogynistic society in a realistic manner. We currently have cultures/societies where women have no rights and men are in control. It is an interesting concept, but certainly Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is over all a better novel with more depth and clarity of characters. The society is too divided here, too bad versus good, with men versus women, and all men bad. It is interesting, certainly the discussion of languages was interesting, but it also was a bit too simplistic.
First, I was engrossed in the narrative and found the whole concept fascinating, but I can't say it was especially well written as a novel. The character development is superficial. Perhaps the main issue I had was the implausibility that the Nineteenth Amendment would ever be repealed and all women would just submit. Even today there are women who fight back against certain societies that have patriarchal cultural expectations to control women. Not all women will submit; there will always be some women who will fight for their freedom and rights. I'm highly recommending it for some of the science fiction concepts presented. 3.5 rounded up.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of The Feminist Press at CUNY.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

The Lightest Object in the Universe

The Lightest Object in the Universe by Kimi Eisele
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill; 7/9/19
eBook review copy; 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9781616207939 

The Lightest Object in the Universe by Kimi Eisele is a recommended post-apocalyptic novel.

A flu pandemic sweeps the world, twice. Protests are already tearing the country apart when society completely breaks down after a cyber attack takes out the electrical grid, along with the global economy and everything else. What is left is a world of individuals on their own who must know how to survive by their own wits and means. Carson is living on the East Coast when the collapse happens, while the woman he has been having a long-distance relationship with, Beatrix, lives on the West Coast. While Beatrix finds herself trying to work with her neighbors to create a cooperative community, set up a radio station, and watch out for the gangs of unruly teenagers on bikes who call themselves T-Rizers, Carson sets out to cross the country on foot to find Beatrix.

The narrative alternates between Carson and Beatrix's point-of-view, with a few sections told through teenage Rosie's eyes. Along Carson's journey he encounters a wide variety of people, most of which are adapting to the new world, mostly helpful. Many are heading toward the compound of a man called Jonathan Blue and the Center he leads in Wyoming. He has taken over the radio frequencies and offers food and community for all who come and join his self-styled religious cult. People across the country are headed toward his group, while others stay in place and try to survive by their own strength and wits.
I would probably scoff at this kinder, gentler post-apocalyptic novel, except for the absolutely exceptional writing - and the quality of the writing is exquisite. She also delves deep into her characters, who are good people. You will want the best to happen to them, even if you, like me, doubt the vision created here. There is also a little too much implied finger-pointing about the "various evil whatever entities that brought us to this horrid path, but look at how we can overcome" going on.
Eisele has envisioned a collapse of society that is actually somewhat optimistic. One would imagine that the actual violence is taking place somewhere off the page, because this novel is more about hope, community efforts, and a new beginning, which is kind of nice, but not highly likely in reality. If people can't get along when they are living (generally, in comparison) comfortable lives, how would the end of society suddenly make them try? Beatrix scoffs at armed guards protecting her neighborhood. Really? Digging composting toilets with your neighbors doesn't necessarily bring people together and make them want to share all they have with others. I also found the idea that thousands of people would head off to a cult located in Wyoming a fantastical fabrication.

In the final analysis, suspend your disbelief and read this novel for the determination of Carson to get to Beatrix.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

The Liar's House

The Liar's House by Carla Kovach
Bookouture: 7/2/19
eBook review copy; 328 pages
ISBN-13: 9781786818812
Detective Gina Harte #4 

The Liar's House by Carla Kovach is a highly recommended police procedural and the fourth book in the British Detective Gina Harte series.

In a small Midlands town there is a killer on the loose. Samantha is making her way home from a party at a private club, when she is murdered. A body is never found, so her disappearance is labeled as a missing person. Jumping ahead seven years, another woman, Jade Ashmore, is murdered on her way home from a party. As the detectives investigate the new crime, an older woman who was a friend of Samantha's receives a birthday card for Sam with a fingernail inside. When police analyze the nail, they discover that it belongs to Jade, not Samantha, and they realize that the cases are linked.

At the same time Detective Gina Harte is at loose ends. She still misses having a close relationship to Briggs, her boss, so she is trying Tinder dating. She is basically just using it to hook up with men rather than actually seeking a relationship. Her latest date, Rex, seems way too intent on continuing the relationship.

Based on my experience, you can read this as a standalone and get the background information without reading the previous books in the series, although those who have read the whole series are suggesting starting with the first book. From the back ground information it appears that Gina has a rather detrimental acquaintance with unstable, perverse men and unhealthy relationships. Abuse and violence against women is a theme in this novel, as is women making bad choices. This all creates a bit of a quandary for me.  I didn't care for Gina as a character based on her personal choices, which made the narrative feel a little more tedious. Once a victim does not mean always a victim.

The plot is a well-written procedural and Kovach provides plenty of suspects to consider as the investigation deepens. The pace is even. I didn't experience any twists or surprises here, but is it a solid procedural. I guessed the identity of the killer right away. The connection to a partner-swapping group just made a gray novel feel even darker. It's not that it is a bad novel, it's just a rather bleak, depressing one. 3.5 rounded up.

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

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Girls Like Us

Girls Like Us by Cristina Alger
Penguin Random House: 7/2/19
eBook review copy; 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9780525535805

Girls Like Us by Cristina Alger is a highly recommended procedural and psychological thriller.

FBI Agent Nell Flynn returns home to Long Island to bury her father, Homicide Detective Martin Flynn, and settle his estate. After a second body is discovered, Nell, who is still recovery from a gunshot wound, ends up helping her father's new partner, Lee Davis, with the investigation into the murder of two young women. As she looks into the investigation it appears that her father may have been involved in corruption and a prostitution ring and his long-time friends on the force may also be involved.
As the investigation continues, Nell uncovers secrets and lies, exposure of which could threaten her life. The more she unearths, the more the tension and suspense build. As the narrative builds momentum, the plot intensifies to a break-neck velocity, with some surprising twists along the way. Nell is a great character, smart and tenacious, as she takes on the investigation and her own personal quest for the truth, despite the consequences of what she exposes. Nell is questioning both her past and the present as she looks for the answers to her questions.

The quality of the writing is outstanding, both in the plot and character development. The plot is intricate, gritty, fast-paced and action-packed. The pacing of the narrative is pitch-perfect, which helps keep the tension and suspense steadily rising with each chapter. (It is also appealing to have a reliable female narrator.) There are a number of well-placed twists and discoveries as the investigation proceeds. Book clubs may enjoy the discussion based on social classes that will ensue from the privileged home owners versus the undocumented women and sex trafficking. This is a winning summer read with a surprising ending.

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

Never Look Back

Never Look Back by Alison Gaylin
HarperCollins; 7/2/19
eBook review copy; 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062844545 

Never Look Back by Alison Gaylin is a highly recommended mystery/thriller that begs the question, "How well do you know your parents?"

In 1976 teenage murderers April Cooper and Gabriel LeRoy terrorized Southern California. Now forty years later true-crime podcaster Quentin Garrison is looking into the pair for a show he has named "Closure" because that is what he is hoping to find. The pair killed his mother's little sister and he blames them for his mother's drug abuse and tearing his family apart. Now he has a tip that April didn't die in 1976, but is still alive under the name Renee Bloom. He contacts her daughter, New York City film columnist Robin Diamond, and asks her how well does she know her mother's background and if her mother could be April Cooper.

The narrative is told through events in the past and present by alternating between current day events and fifteen-year-old April Cooper's diary of letters to her future daughter. The twists and new information abound between the present day investigation and action in juxtaposition to the story of what really happened in 1976. The suspense builds in both time periods as the question of trust and honesty comes into play. As events unfold, Gaylin keeps the action moving quickly forward.

The quality of writing is excellent. The duel points-of-view work well in this novel and Gaylin does an excellent job keeping the voices of the different characters distinct and unique. The plot moves quickly and directly without any sidetracks or superfluous facts thrown in for distraction. She keeps her characters distinct and unique while allowing them to provide the clues and information needed to tell the story and solve the mystery. Some parts will be easy for readers to predict the outcome, but all in all this was a very good mystery.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins

The Girl in the Woods

The Girl in the Woods by Patricia MacDonald
Severn House Publishers: 2/1/19 (reprint)
eBook review copy; 240 pages
ISBN-13: 9781847518941

The Girl in the Woods by Patricia MacDonald is a so-so/recommended mystery surrounding a murder that occurred fifteen years previously.

Blair Butler has returned to the small town where she and her sister, Celeste, grew up with their Uncle Ellis after their mother died. Blair left as soon as she was able and never looked back, especially after her best friend, Molly, was murdered there fifteen years ago when the girls were thirteen. Now Celeste is dying and Blair returns to her bedside, only to have her sister tell her a shocking secret that means the man convicted of killing Molly is not guilty and the real killer is still out there. Molly begins to investigate and let people know about her sister's secret, but this only seems to stir up more secrets and resentment.

This is all in all, an okay mystery/thriller, with nothing to really set it apart or make it stand out. Blair is an annoying character/caricature, but she is set in a novel full of annoying characters/caricatures who all are representative of a certain type of person. Descriptions of characters are simply a repeated rehashing of their negative personality traits and actions. The narrative itself is very derivative and takes huge plot elements from several other novels (two novels in particular) so there is no real original story telling here. You will likely know where the story is going. It is, however, a fast and quick read. (I've rounded up to three stars.)

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Severn House Publishers.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

American Predator

American Predator by Maureen Callahan
Penguin Random House: 7/2/19
eBook review copy; 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9780525428640

American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century by Maureen Callahan is the very highly recommended account of the serial killer Israel Keyes.

This is one truly frightening examination of a serial killer. "... Israel Keyes, one of the most ambitious and terrifying serial killers in modern history. The FBI considered his behavior unprecedented. Described by a prosecutor as "a force of pure evil," Keyes was a predator who struck all over the United States. He buried "kill kits" - cash, weapons, and body-disposal tools - in remote locations across the country. Over the course of fourteen years, Keyes would fly to a city, rent a car, and drive thousands of miles in order to use his kits. He would break into a stranger's house, abduct his victims in broad daylight, and kill and dispose of them in mere hours. And then he would return home to Alaska, resuming life as a quiet, reliable construction worker devoted to his only daughter." That description alone should give everyone pause, but reading about what he did and what he is suspected of doing is even more frightening.

In 2012 eighteen-year-old Samantha Koenig was abducted from the Anchorage, Alaska, coffee kiosk where she worked. The multi-jurisdictional investigation resulted in Keyes being arrested in Texas. If he hadn't made a few mistakes, Keyes would still likely be randomly finding new victims today.  Journalist Maureen Callahan follows closely the investigation by law enforcement officials, and includes information from classified FBI files, the questioning of him, interviews with officials, his psychological profile, and research into Keyes' life. Although he never confessed to all his victims, he is believed to have killed at least eleven people. This is a scary but compelling comprehensive account of a modern day serial killer.
American Predator is a fascinating but horrific exploration of the life of a modern day serial killer which should be on the reading list of everyone who reads true crime books. 

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

The Gifted School

The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger
Penguin Random House: 7/2/19
eBook review copy; 464 pages
ISBN-13: 9780525534969

The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger is a highly recommended domestic drama about parental ambition for their children.

The prestigious community of Crystal, Colorado, is about to be one of the communities whose children will be able to attend the areas new magnet school for gifted children in grades six through 12. Of course admission hinges on receiving a high enough score on the IQ test, along with other requirements. The Gifted School follows a group of families where the four women, who have been friends for over a decade, are all about getting their precious gifted children into the school. The drama ensues as the meddling and competitiveness commences and friendships begin to fall apart.

This is a great choice for a summer read. It is full of gossipy scandal and parents behaving pretentiously and badly. The children aren't perfect either, just FYI. There is plenty of friction between parents/friends and the children themselves. The one huge thing The Gifted School has going for it is the timeliness of the plot with the whole college admissions scandal. The involvement of these parents in their children's lives, looking at their abilities as a reflection of their own prestige, is eye-opening and, in some ways, horrific. Being caught up believing that your child is the best and most gifted of all the gifted children in all the land is nothing new. We've had these parents among us for years. Holsinger captures that essence of bad parenting as it merges with privilege, questionable ethics, and the parent's own competitiveness.
The novel is well crafted and the plot moves along at a good pace, building up the tension and anticipation until the final climax, which is explosive. The narrative is told through several alternating points-of-view, so you can follow everyone's poor choices and become acquainted with all the characters, including the children. The different points-of-view result in the characters being all well-developed, and almost universally unlikable - with one lone, long-suffering exception. The biggest hurdle to overcome while reading The Gifted School is the occasional sheer repulsiveness of the parents, and their questionable ethics and choices.

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

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Disappeared

The Disappeared by Amy Lord
Unbound Publishing: 5/2/19
eBook review copy; 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9781789650273


The Disappeared by Amy Lord is a recommended dystopian novel set in a totalitarian state that controls books.

Clara saw her father when he disappeared. He was arrested based on the books he loved and taught about. Now Clara is a teacher in this changed Britain and she works as a literature professor.  She convinces her partner, Simon, a history professor, that they should teach a class about history and about  banned books. This happens. There are consequences. Arrests. There is an underground rebellion. By the way, Clara's mother married the Major who arrested her father, so a highly placed enforcer of the Authorization Bureau is her step-father.
If you enjoy reading dystopians, The Disappeared will fit the bill for one based on banned books. The point-of-views of Clara and the Major are shared in alternating narratives. That said, although this is written in the vein of Fahrenheit 451 or 1984, it is not even remotely as good as either novel. Go to the originals for that experience. None of the characters are especially well-developed. The dialogue is stilted. The rise and hold over the public of the actual regime is not well explained. Several events were mentioned, but nothing firmly established the background. Sorry, but Clara makes so many senseless mistakes and slips that it makes it difficult to sympathize with her. Why would she not expect to be watched considering who her stepfather is? Why take notes?
This is an okay dystopian that will serve to pass the time. It is not destined to be enshrined the halls of great fore-thinking literature. This is a good choice for an airplane book or vacation read. It'll pass the time but you won't cry if you lose it, misplace it, or never finish it.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Unbound Publishing.

Big Sky

Big Sky by Kate Atkinson
Little Brown and Company: 6/25/19
eBook review copy; 400 pages
ISBN-13: 9780316523097
Jackson Brodie Series #5

Big Sky by Kate Atkinson is the very highly recommended fifth book in the Jackson Brodie series. It is good to see him back, working as a private investigator in a seaside village.

Coincidences are the key to a great return of Jackson Brodie. As with the last Brodie novel (Started Early, Took My Dog, 2011) there is a large cast of characters and a whole lot going on that has little to do with Brodie - until it does. Brodie is part time father to his son, Nathan, and caring for his aging lab while on a case documenting the actions of a cheating spouse when he gets tangled up in a cold case involving human trafficking and the sexual abuse of children that isn't so cold after all. DC Reggie Chase returns, working with DC Ronnie Dibicki

There are complete stories and background information involving all of the characters that eventually all intertwine into a complicated plot. There are some great characters here, some villains, but others that are simply unknowingly entangled in the mystery. Harry is a great character, and it will surprise you how much you will like Crystal. Atkinson slowly introduces her characters, develops them, and then allows them to interact and connects all the pieces of the mystery together.

This is an exceptional, well-written mystery with multiple storylines, complicated well-developed characters and an intricate plot. In some ways I think it is better to read Big Sky with little background information and just experience it for yourself. At first you may not know how all these random people and stories are all connected, but as more information is disclosed and characters begin to interact, it will begin to become more apparent and the action and pace of the novel will escalate. 

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Little Brown and Company.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Not Good Enough Mother

The Not Good Enough Mother by Sharon Lamb
Beacon Press: 6/25/19
eBook review copy; 200 pages
ISBN-13: 9780807082461

The Not Good Enough Mother by Sharon Lamb is a personal, highly recommended account pf a psychologist who evaluates the fitness of parents.

Psychologist and expert witness Dr. Sharon Lamb observes children and evaluates parents after the children have been removed from their custody. She observes and takes notes, assessing the fitness of parents in order to determine what is in the best interest of the child. Her evaluations will either recommend that the child be returned to their parent or that parental rights should be terminated, opening the children up for adoption. It is a decision that is not always clear.

As many of these parents struggle with addiction, Dr. Lamb's own son struggles with an opioid addiction, which makes evaluating other parents even more challenging on a personal level. Since mother's are often the ones being evaluated to determine if they are "good enough mothers," Dr. Lamb turns the question on herself, is she a "good enough mother?" She knows the daily struggle of an addict to remain clean. She knows the relapses, the lies, and the statistics as she tries to remain compassionate to those she is evaluating, while at the same time keeping above all else the best interest of the child. And, as a mother, she knows that mothers always look for blame in themselves when their children make bad life choices.

Individual situations and cases are discussed with an informative eye for detail and information about what she looks for and observes during various home visits and meetings. The result is a narrative that is both informative and heart-breakingly personal. As a professional, she needs to have boundaries and keep a sense of detachment while she also has a plethora of first hand personal experience with an addict. In concise language and succinct case/visit summaries, she provides details and information in a controlled, neutral manner, keeping her emotions in check, while informing readers what she does and of what she takes note. Her professional neutrality is almost at odds with her personal experiences, providing the reader with the sense of a dichotomy she experiences between her professional life and personal experiences. 

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House

Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Last House Guest

The Last House Guest by Megan Miranda
Simon & Schuster: 6/18/19
eBook review copy; 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501165375

The Last House Guest by Megan Miranda is a very highly recommended mystery set along the coast in Maine.

Littleport, Maine is a summer playground for the wealthy and a simple harbor community dependent on tourism for the year-round residents. One surname that stands above all the others is Loman. The Loman's not only own a remarkable mansion on the shore, they also own a large number of rental properties currently managed by Avery Greer. Avery is a local, but she is best friends with Sadie Loman for almost a decade and has been welcomed into the Loman fold. They have stepped in to help after her parents and grandmother died and Avery had no one.

At the end of the summer in 2017 the young twenty-something adults are throwing their traditional last party of the year. Avery is setting it up at one of the Loman rentals while Sadie plans to meet her there later. Avery texts Sadie, but never gets an answer. The party gets underway and while Avery is keeping an eye open for Sadie, she never shows. When the police come to talk to Sadie's older brother, Parker, Avery learns that Sadie was found dead. It was ruled a suicide but now, as the anniversary of her death approaches in 2018, Avery can't help but look into Sadie's death on her own - especially after her phone is found in a chest of blankets in the cottage where the party was.

The narrative alternates between events in 2017 and 2018. Avery is a wonderful character, well developed and complex. She has a past, but has overcome much to get where she is now. And she's smart. She knows there is something going on, that someone is lying because Sadie wouldn't kill herself, but there are several suspects and chief among them is Avery, so she has to covertly begin to investigate what happened and piece clues together on her own if she wants answers.

This is an excellent mystery - and the key to my enjoyment is viewing The Last House Guest as a mystery rather than a thriller. With the flood of thrillers on the market, it is refreshing to read a mystery. A murder has happened under suspicious circumstances and we have out intrepid heroine trying to piece together clues in order to figure out what really happened. Avery is clever and it was enjoyable to follow her investigation as well as get her insights into all the people involved. This is a wonderful choice for summer reading. The pacing is great as the narrative alternates between what happened in 2017 and Avery's clandestine investigation in 2018. I especially enjoyed the conclusion of the novel. It was a well-played climax and a fitting ending.

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

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Cutting Room

The Cutting Room by Ashley Dyer
HarperCollins Publishers: 6/18/19
eBook review copy; 448 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062797704

The Cutting Room by Ashley Dyer is a very highly recommended police procedural/thriller with Detectives Lake and Carver on the search for a serial killer.

Detectives Ruth Lake and Greg Carver are searching for a serial killer in Liverpool, England, where men are disappearing. When they arrived at the first crime scene, they are shocked to see sections of human brains encased in plexiglass and set up as an art installation on display for everyone to see. The gruesome crime scene becomes even more surreal when a crowd of people show up at the scene, to see, photograph, and film the "art" and the investigators. The serial killer is dubbed the Ferryman and is gaining a wide following across social media. The brain sections belonged to three of the missing men. It becomes clear that the Ferryman is a narcissistic exhibitionist psychopath who craves an audience and accolades for his ghastly exhibitions. He alerts both the detectives and his groupies via social media whenever he sets up a new installation.

Both Ruth and Carver are still recovering from their last run-in with a killer, but focus on finding this latest fiend. Ruth never forgets a face and she closely examines photos of all the people who show up at the crime scenes. After his head injury, Carver sees auras and experiences synesthesia which allows him to read people's emotions. The two work to overcome or hide any personal issues while searching for the killer, and this looks like it might be too personal to Ruth.

Chapters follow the point-of-view of Ruth and Carver, with brief passages from the killer presented between. Both Ruth and Carver are interesting, complicated, intelligent, well-developed characters. Following their investigation and the actions of the killer is absorbing and engaging. The tension is palatable as the duo work together looking for the killer, while still keeping some personal information to themselves.

This is an excellent police procedural/ thriller that is completely engrossing. The quality of the writing is outstanding. Dyer (a pen name of former CWA chair Margaret Murphy and forensic expert Helen Pepper writing together) creates a complex plot, an intricate investigation, and well developed characters. There are twists and false leads. The forensics details are fascinating. The killer's focus on social media followers is a timely, subtle social commentary. This is the second book in the Carver and Lake series; the first is Splinter in the Blood.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Starter Wife

The Starter Wife by Nina Laurin
Grand Central Publishing: 6/11/19
eBook review copy; 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9781538715710

The Starter Wife by Nina Laurin is a highly recommended psychological thriller.

Claire is the younger second wife of Byron Westcott, a professor of literature at Ohio’s Mansfield College. They have been married for two years and Claire is happy, but it seems like Byron is becoming more distant. Byron's first wife, painter Colleen May, also a Mansfield professor, committed suicide five years before, but her body was never found. Now Claire is beginning to wonder what really happened to Colleen, especially when she receives a phone call from a woman she is sure is Colleen.

Claire is the narrator of this riveting, dark, tension-filled psychological thriller, but there is a second narrative voice that belongs to an unnamed woman who may be stalking Claire and out to destroy her. The unnamed stalker is obsessed with Byron and wants Claire out of the way. Could it be Colleen? Claire begins to investigate her death and Byron's past, while at the same time suffering from unexplained illnesses. Did Byron kill Colleen and is he now out to eliminate Claire?

While you won't necessarily like Claire, the suspense escalates with the second narrator who seems to be out to get Claire. Byron may also be a part of the scheme. It is a trend now to have unlikeable female narrators and, while this follows along that well-traveled path, the ending was a totally surprising twist. The Starter Wife is a novel that you have to wait until the final third of the book for some shocking and surprising incidents.

It is not until the end that I found myself admiring the skillful writing, the intricate plot, and the excellent character development. I thought I knew what was going on and where the story was headed, which is exactly the way I imagine Laurin planned out her novel. Well played Nina Laurin; I was totally surprised and caught unaware.

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

Those People

Those People by Louise Candlish
Penguin Random House: 6/11/19
eBook review copy; 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9780451489142

Those People by Louise Candlish is a recommended domestic thriller.

In Lowland Way the houses are all perfectly maintained and the neighbors all get along - until Darren and Jodie move into the house he inherited. They arrive at the house on the corner lot and immediately begin an unsightly renovation project leaving piles of debris everywhere. Darren is undertaken all the work himself, in between working on the overabundance of vehicles he brought with him to start an illegal used car business from his home. If matters could be even worse, along with all the construction noise they blast heavy metal music late into the night. The stress becomes overwhelming to the couple with an infant who live next door to the noise, and to the older woman who begins to lose her excellent rating, customers, and her source of income at the bed and breakfast she runs out of her home. Adding to the fracas is the truculent, hostile attitude Darren seemingly exhibits to anyone who questions his choices.

The beginning of the story is told through flashbacks, and from different character's point-of view, beginning eight weeks previously and leading up to the day an unexpected death occurs. There are police interviews with various neighbors about the death which are included between chapters. This is a slow burner of a novel as the various characters are introduced and the conflict between the neighbors is developed slowly and hidden resentments come to light.  Since we know right from the start that an unexpected death has happened, the beginning of the novel consists of looking for clues as we meet all the neighbors and all of the neighbors are discussing various actions to get rid of Darren.

None of the characters are particularity likeable and not all of them are as well developed as others. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that many of the good neighbors aren't quite as perfect as they think and that there were underlying problems in many of the relationships before Darren moved in and stirred things up. Many readers who has experienced having challenging neighbors, will feel some sympathy for the neighbors who want to keep Lowland Way looking like an ideal neighborhood, have everyone voluntarily follow their rules, and keep their property values high.
The writing is good, although I found the plot a little too slow moving and certain plot elements required setting disbelief aside. The narrative does draw on a common theme that many people can relate to - the "bad" neighbors, "those people," who are disrupting the normal flow of life on the street. Alternating the points-of-view leading up to death worked well, but after the death some of the incentive to keep reading is lost. The final denouement was a surprise, but the lead up to it could have been tightened up a bit to keep the plot moving along at a little brisker pace. This is a solid summer read.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Man of the Year

Man of the Year by Caroline Louise Walker
Gallery Books: 304 pages
eBook review copy; 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9781982100452 

Man of the Year by Caroline Louise Walker is a recommended character driven psychological thriller.

Dr. Robert Hart has just been named Man of the Year in Sag Harbor, but that award may have been premature. His beautiful second wife, Elizabeth, is there to witness his acceptance speech, along with his son, Jonah, and Jonah's friend, Nick. But when Robert notices that Nick may be paying a bit too much attention to Elizabeth, and that she is responding, he is not thrilled when Elizabeth invites Nick to stay in their guest house for the summer. Robert needs to take matters into his own hands and get Nick out. One lie seems to lead to another and before long Robert is trying to cover his tracks.

The first part of Man of the Year is told exclusively through Robert's voice, which makes it challenging because the man is not a likeable or compelling character. His paranoia can be over-the-top.  After a shocking event, the second part of the novel takes over. At this point other voices add to the narrative and make the totality a more fascinating and intricate web of details and lies. In the end, none of the characters are particularity likeable, but the complicated lies and subtle threats they all undertake certainly will hold your attention. I liked the different voices relating what happened and their own deceits through their point-of-view. This added a nice layer to the story that was desperately needed after so many chapters of Robert's narrative.
This would be a good choice for a summer vacation read or an airplane book. It will hold your attention, but you aren't going to cry if you should lose or misplace the book and never finish it. The writing is good enough to take note of Walker as an author to watch.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Gallery Books


Tiny by Kim Hooper
Turner Publishing Company: 6/11/19
eBook review copy; 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9781684422425

Tiny by Kim Hooper is a highly recommended about three people grieving and dealing with a tragedy.
Nate and Annie Forester's three year old daughter, Penny, was hit by a truck in a tragic accident. Nate is in denial, trying to go on with life and hold it all in. He has returned to work, because someone has to bring in some money. Annie is inconsolable and unable to move beyond her overwhelming grief. Annie doesn't comprehend how Nate can go on as normal. The couple is becoming increasingly distant with each other as they grow apart.
Josh is a young man who was driving the truck that hit Penny. It was an accident. She ran out in front of his truck. He wasn't speeding, but couldn't stop in time. The accident has also changed his life. He wants to find a way to talk to Nate and Annie, to apologize. He begins watching their house, when he sees Annie leave, suitcase in hand, one morning and later sees Nate return home and subsequently distressed, holding a note, presumably from Annie. From watching the couple, Josh knows where Annie went - to a small community of people living in tiny houses. He wants to tell Nate what he knows, but doesn't understand how to approach him.
This is a heartbreaking novel as every person is grieving and unable to meaningfully communicate and share their feelings and inner thoughts with each other. The writing is very good. Hooper captures the overwhelming grief all the characters are going through and how they are acting after the tragedy. The death of a child is always difficult. When it is due to an accident, when there is no clear fault, the questions of what if can take over for everyone involved. Hooper handles this in a compassionate and understanding way while propelling her characters forward in her plot. The characters are all well developed and you will care about what happens to all three of them. The ending is a wonderful denouement and offers hope.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Turner Publishing Company.