Thursday, December 30, 2021

2021 Books

Another great year of reading! Here are my choices for top books of 2021 organized into fiction, mystery/thriller, nonfiction, and short stories. After the book I've included the date it was reviewed. As usual, there were many excellent books to chose from that received my highest rating. (They are marked by an asterisk on the main list.)

Fiction top 10
Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr, 9/24/21 ****
We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker, 2/15/21 ****
The Night Always Comes by Willy Vlautin, 3/7/21 ****
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir, 4/21/21 ****
The Guide by Peter Heller, 8/17/21 *** mystery
Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy, 8/3/21 *** literary fiction 
Tin Camp Road by Ellen Airgood, 8/19/21 *** literary fiction
Deer Season by Erin Flanagan, 8/30/21 ***
A Little Hope by Ethan Joella, 10/25/21 *** literary fiction
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah, 1/24/21 **

Mystery/thriller top 10
Mother May I by Joshilyn Jackson, 3/14/21 ***
A Good Kill by John McMahon, 6/3/21 *** procedural
Count the Ways by Joyce Maynard, 5/12/21 ***
False Witness by Karin Slaughter, 7/20/21 *** thriller
In My Dreams I Hold a Knife by Ashley Winstead, 8/6/21, *** mystery
56 Days by Catherine Ryan Howard, 8/11/21 *** mystery
Last Girl Ghosted by Lisa Unger, 10/1/21 *** thriller
Before She Disappeared by Lisa Gardner, 1/10/21**
1414º by Paul Bradley Carr, 10/12/21 ** mystery
Malorie by Josh Malerman, 12/9/21 thriller ***

Nonfiction top 10
Made in China by Amelia Pang, 1/13/21 ***
Pandemia: How Coronavirus Hysteria Took Over Our Government, Rights, and Lives by Alex Berenson, 12/2/21, ****
Breaking the News by Alex Marlow, 12/4/21 ***
The Chief Witness by Sayragul Sauytbay, 6/5/21
The Antisocial Network by Ben Mezrich, 9/11/21
The Authoritarian Moment by Ben Shapiro, 7/23/21
Speechless: Controlling Words, Controlling Minds by Michael Knowles, 11/30/21 ***
The Orphans of Davenport by Marilyn Brookwood, 7/25/21
Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker, 12/8/21
Blue: In Search of Nature's Rarest Color by Kai Kupferschmidt, 5/9/21
(This list excludes the many National Geographic Books reviewed, which are always excellent.)

Top Short Stories
Voyagers: Twelve Journeys through Space and Time by Robert Silverberg, 4/4/21 
In the Event of Contact by Ethel Rohan, 4/28/21
The Best of David Brin by David Brin, 7/25/21

Books 2021: 203 books read and reviewed

January – 14 books
1. The Effort by Claire Holroyde, 368 pages, 1/2/21, highly recommended
2. A Stranger at the Door by Jason Pinter, 362 pages, 1/2/21, highly recommended
3. Better Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne Johnson, 288 pages, 1/3/21, highly recommended
4. The Plague Cycle by Charles Kenny, 320 pages, 1/6/21, highly recommended, nonfiction
5. Before She Disappeared by Lisa Gardner, 400 pages, 1/10/21, very highly recommended **
6. Forgive Me by Susan Lewis, 416 pages, 1/13/21, highly recommended
7. Made in China by Amelia Pang, 288 pages, 1/13/21, very highly recommended, nonfiction ***
8. The Survivors by Jane Harper, 384 pages, 1/16/21 very highly recommended *
9. Four Lost Cities by Annalee Newitz, 320 pages, 1/17/21, highly recommended, nonfiction
10. The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah, 464 pages, 1/24/21, very highly recommended **
11. The Future Is Yours by Dan Frey, 352 pages, 1/27/21, highly recommended
12. The Burning Girls by C. J. Tudor, 352 pages, 1/31/21, highly recommended
13. Missing and Endangered by J. A. Jance, 384 pages, 1/31/21, highly recommended
14. The Silent Speak by Val Collins, 276 pages, 1/31/21, recommended
February - 14 books
15. Foregone by Russell Banks, 320 pages, 2/3/21, highly recommended
16. The Truth About Melody Browne by Lisa Jewell, 352 pages, 2/7/21, highly recommended
17. Forget Me Not by Alexandra Oliva, 352 pages, 2/10/21, highly recommended
18. Oslo, Maine by Marcia Butler, 288 pages, 2/10/21, recommended
19. We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker, 384 pages, 2/15/21, very highly recommended ****
20. Maniac by Harold Schechter, 254 pages, 2/15/21, highly recommended, nonfiction
21. Good Eggs by Rebecca Hardiman, 336 pages, 2/17/21, highly recommended
22. Falling from Trees by Mike Fiorito, 136 pages, 2/18/21 recommended, short stories
23. Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer, 368 pages, 2/21/21, highly recommended
24. Search for Her by Rick Mofina, 512 pages, 2/24/21, highly recommended
25. Saving Grace by Debbie Babitt, 328 pages, 2/24/21, highly recommended
26. Taking the Fight South by Howard Ball, 280 pages, 2/28/21, highly recommended, nonfiction
27. Danger in Numbers by Heather Graham, 336 pages, 2/28/21, highly recommended
28. The Bounty by Janet Evanovich, Steve Hamilton, 320 pages, 2/28/21, highly recommended
March - 20 books
29. Tell No Lies by Allison Brennan, 432 pages, 3/3/21, very highly recommended *
30. Dead Air by Michael Bradley 288 pages, 3/7/21, recommended
31. The Night Always Comes by Willy Vlautin, 224 pages, 3/7/21, very highly recommended ****
32. National Geographic Guide to National Parks of the United States, 9th Edition, 528 pages, 3/8/21, very highly recommended, nonfiction *
33. National Geographic Secrets of the National Parks, 2nd Edition, 288 pages, 3/8/21, very highly recommended, nonfiction *
34. The Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon, 336 pages, 3/10/21, very highly recommended *
35. Mother May I by Joshilyn Jackson, 336 pages, 3/14/21, very highly recommended ***
36. Her Dark Lies by J. T. Ellison, 416 pages, 3/15/21, highly recommended
37. The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams, 400 pages, 3/17/21, highly recommended
38. Breakout by Paul Herron, 304 pages, 3/17/21, highly recommended
39. Wild Rescues by Kevin Grange, 304 pages, 3/21/21, very highly recommended, nonfiction *
40. When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain, 384 pages, 3/24/21, highly recommended
41. What You Never Knew by Jessica Hamilton, 304 pages, 3/24/21, recommended
42. North by Shakespeare by Michael Blanding, 480 pages, 3/27/21, very highly recommended, nonfiction *
43. Just Get Home by Bridget Foley, 352 pages, 3/27/21, highly recommended
44. Under the Wave at Waimea by Paul Theroux, 413 pages, 3/27/21, highly recommended
45. The Glitter in the Green by Jon Dunn, 352 pages, 3/28/21, highly recommended, nonfiction
46. Blood and Treasure by Bob Drury, Tom Clavin, 400 pages, 3/28/21, highly recommended, nonfiction
47. Waterborne by J. Luke Bennecke, 340 pages, 3/31/21, recommended
48. Her Three Lives by Cate Holahan, 352 pages, 3/31/21, highly recommended
April – 14 books
49. Voyagers: Twelve Journeys through Space and Time by Robert Silverberg, 448 pages, 4/4/21, very highly recommended, short stories**
50. The Other Side of the Door by Nicci French, 400 pages, 4/4/21, highly recommended
51. Local Woman Missing by Mary Kubica, 352 pages, 4/7/21, highly recommended
52. No Going Back by T.R. Ragan, 288 pages, 4/11/21, highly recommended
53. The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave, 320 pages, 4/11/21, highly recommended
54. Lost Immunity by Daniel Kalla, 352 pages, 4/14/21, recommended
55. Thirty-One Bones by Morgan Cry, 312 pages, 4/18/21, highly recommended
56. Oracle by Julie Anderson, 286 pages, 4/21/21, recommended
57. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir, 496 pages, 4/21/21, very highly recommended ****
58. National Geographic Backyard Guide to the Night Sky, 288 pages, 4/23/21, very highly recommended, nonfiction
59. Aftermath by Terri Blackstock, 336 pages, 4/25/21, highly recommended
60. The Final Twist by Jeffery Deaver, 416 pages, 4/25/21, highly recommended
61. The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz, 336 pages, 4/28/21, highly recommended
62. In the Event of Contact by Ethel Rohan,192 pages, 4/28/21, very highly recommended, short stories *
May – 13 books
63. Goblin: A Novel in Six Novellas by Josh Malerman 416 pages, 5/5/21, very highly recommended, short stories, *
64. Highway Blue by Ailsa McFarlane,192 pages, 5/5/21, highly recommended
65. Blue: In Search of Nature's Rarest Color by Kai Kupferschmidt, 224 pages, 5/9/21, very highly recommended, nonfiction **
66. Count the Ways by Joyce Maynard, 464 pages, 5/12/21, very highly recommended ***
67. How to Mars by David Ebenbach, 240 pages, 5/16/21, highly recommended
68. Cosmic Queries by Neil deGrasse Tyson and James Trefil, 312 pages, 5/19/21, very highly recommended, nonfiction
69. You Will Remember Me by Hannah Mary McKinnon, 352 pages, 5/21/21, highly recommended
70. The Turnout by Megan Abbott, 352 pages, 5/21/21, highly recommended
71. Safe and Sound by Philippa East, 352 pages, 5/22/21, highly recommended
72. River, Sing Out by James Wade, 288 pages, 5/25/21, highly recommended
73. A Dark and Secret Place by Jen Williams, 304 pages, 5/25/21, recommended
74. Rabbits by Terry Miles 432 pages, 5/27/21, very highly recommended *
75. The Hive by Gregg Olsen, 480 pages, 5/29/21, highly recommended
June - 11 books
76. Should We Stay or Should We Go by Lionel Shriver, 288 pages, 6/1/21, very highly recommended **
77. A Good Kill by John McMahon, 384 pages, 6/3/21, very highly recommended ***
78. The Chief Witness by Sayragul Sauytbay, 320 pages, 6/5/21, very highly recommended, nonfiction **
79. The Twin Paradox by Charles Wachter, 372 pages, 6/7/21, highly recommended
80. Dream Girl by Laura Lippman, 320 pages, 6/19/21, highly recommended
81. Tell Me the Truth by Matthew Farrell, 336 pages, 6/24/21, highly recommended
82. God Spare the Girls by Kelsey McKinney, 320 pages, 6/25/21, very highly recommended *
83. This Shining Life by Harriet Kline, 336 pages, 6/26/21, highly recommended
84. What to Do When Someone Dies by Nicci French, 368 pages, 6/28/21, recommended
85. Lie Beside Me by Gytha Lodge, 368 pages, 6/29/21, highly recommended
86. News for the Rich, White, and Blue by Nikki Usher, 376 pages, 6/30/21, recommended, nonfiction
July -21 books
87. Morningside Heights by Joshua Henkin, 304 pages, 7/3/21, very highly recommended *
88. The Keepers by Jeffrey B. Burton, 288 pages, 7/3/21, highly recommended
89. The Third Grave by Lisa Jackson, 352 pages, 7/7/21, highly recommended
90. The Stranger in the Mirror by Liv Constantine, 336 pages, 7/9/21, recommended
91. The Stranger Behind You by Carol Goodman, 336 pages, 7/11/21, recommended
92. The Bone Code by Kathy Reichs, 368 pages, 7/11/21, highly recommended
93. Falling by T. J. Newman, 304 pages, 7/13/21, very highly recommended *
94. The Lost Girls by Jessica Chiarella, 336 pages, 7/13/21, recommended
95. Such a Quiet Place by Megan Miranda, 352 pages, 7/15/21, very highly recommended *
96. We Were Never Here by Andrea Bartz, 320 pages, 7/15/21, highly recommended
97. Steel Fear by Brandon Webb, John David Mann, 464 pages, 7/15/21, highly recommended
98. The Other Passenger by Louise Candlish 400 pages, 7/17/21, highly recommended
99. False Witness by Karin Slaughter, 448 pages, 7/20/21, very highly recommended ***
100. The Authoritarian Moment by Ben Shapiro, 288 pages, 7/23/21, very highly recommended, nonfiction **
101. The Orphans of Davenport by Marilyn Brookwood, 352 pages, 7/25/21, very highly recommended, nonfiction **
102. The Best of David Brin by David Brin, 624 pages, 7/25/21, very highly recommended, short stories **
103. The Viking Heart by Arthur Herman, 512 pages, 7/26/21, highly recommended, nonfiction
104. When All Light Fails by Randall Silvis, 464 pages, 7/28/21, highly recommended
105. Did I Say You Could Go by Melanie Gideon, 368 pages, 7/29/21, highly recommended
106. Where the Truth Lies by Anna Bailey, 384 pages, 7/30/21, recommended
107. Dark Roads by Chevy Stevens, 384 pages, 7/30/21, very highly recommended *
August - 25 books
108. The Speed of Mercy by Christy Ann Conlin, 384 pages, 8/2/21, so-so
109. You Can Never Tell by Sarah Warburton, 288 pages, 8/2/21, highly recommended
110. Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy, 272 pages, 8/3/21, very highly recommended ***
111. The Ophelia Girls by Jane Healey, 368 pages, 8/4/21, recommended
112. The Perfect Family by Robyn Harding, 352 pages, 8/5/21, highly recommended
113. Vortex by Catherine Coulter, 400 pages, 8/5/21, highly recommended
114. In My Dreams I Hold a Knife by Ashley Winstead, 352 pages, 8/6/21, very highly recommended ***
115. Cul-De-Sac by Joy Fielding, 384 pages, 8/7/21, recommended
116. The Family Plot by Megan Collins, 320 pages, 8/8/21, highly recommended
117. 56 Days by Catherine Ryan Howard, 305 pages, 8/11/21, very highly recommended ***
118. Bloodless by Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child, 400 pages, 8/12/21, very highly recommended **
119. Pretty Broken Dolls by Jennifer Chase, 302 pages, 8/14/21, highly recommended
120. The Family Across the Street by Nicole Trope, 250 pages, 8/15/21, highly recommended
121. Where I Left Her by Amber Garza, 304 pages, 8/16/21, recommended
122. The Guide by Peter Heller, 272 pages, 8/17/21, very highly recommended ***
123. Tin Camp Road by Ellen Airgood, 304 pages, 8/19/21, very highly recommended ***
124. Lost Angels by Stacy Green, 270 pages, 8/21/21, highly recommended
125. Not Like Us by Ava Strong, 182 pages, 8/21/21, recommended
126. Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village by Maureen Johnson, 128 pages, 8/23/21, very highly recommended *** humor
127. More Bad Days in History by Michael Farquhar, 464 pages, 8/24/21, highly recommended, nonfiction
128. Greenwich Park by Katherine Faulkner, 384 pages, 8/27/21, highly recommended
129. Snowflake by Louise Nealon, 336 pages, 8/28/21, highly recommended
130. Nice Girls by Catherine Dang, 352 pages, 8/29/21, so-so
131. Deer Season by Erin Flanagan, 320 pages, 8/30/21, very highly recommended ***
132. A Fire in the Night by Christopher Swann, 288 pages, 8/31/21, highly recommended
September – 16 books
133. The House of Ashes by Stuart Neville, 304 pages, 9/1/21, highly recommended
134. Funny Farm by Laurie Zaleski, 256 pages, 9/1/21, highly recommended
135. The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell, 416 pages, 9/4/21, very highly recommended *
136. Mastermind by Andrew Mayne, 332 pages, 9/6/21, highly recommended
137. Talk to Me by T. C. Boyle, 352 pages, 9/9/21, very highly recommended **
138. The Antisocial Network by Ben Mezrich, 304 pages, 9/11/21, very highly recommended, nonfiction *
139. Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead, 336 pages, 9/11/21, very highly recommended *
140. Echogenesis by Gary Gibson, 360 pages, 9/13/21, recommended
141. The Necklace by Matt Witten, 304 pages, 9/14/21, recommended
142. Lean Fall Stand by Jon Mcgregor, 288 pages, 9/16/21, highly recommended
143. When Ghosts Come Home by Wiley Cash, 304 pages, 9/18/21, highly recommended
144. The Spires by Kate Moretti, 316 pages, 9/20/21, highly recommended
145. The 'Peyton Place' Murder by Renee Mallett, 188 pages, 9/21/21, highly recommended, nonfiction
146. Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr, 640 pages, 9/24/21, very highly recommended ****
147. Point of Contact by Richard Ayre, 266 pages, 9/27/21, highly recommended
148. Crickets by Lee Chappel, 388 pages, 9/29/21, highly recommended
October – 21 books
149. Last Girl Ghosted by Lisa Unger, 400 pages, 10/1/21, very highly recommended ***
150. Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers, 352 pages, 10/2/21, highly recommended
151. The Silent Mother by Liz Lawler, 407 pages, 10/4/21, recommended
152. The OC by D. P. Lyle, 304 pages, 10/4/21, recommended
153. Death at Greenway by Lori Rader-Day, 448 pages, 10/7/21, highly recommended
154. The Mother Next Door by Tara Laskowski, 352 pages, 10/8/21, highly recommended
155. The Mother's Fault by Nicole Trope, 262 pages, 10/10/21, highly recommended
156. On Animals by Susan Orlean, 256 pages, 10/11/21, very highly recommended, nonfiction, essays **
157. 1414º by Paul Bradley Carr, 275 pages, 10/12/21, very highly recommended **
158. Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout, 256 pages, 10/13/21, very highly recommended *
159. The Guilty Sister by Arianne Richmonde, 321 pages,10/14/21, highly recommended
160. Shadows of Eternity by Gregory Benford, 496 pages, 10/16/21, highly recommended
161. The Unheard by Nicci French, 464 pages, 10/18/21 highly recommended
162. National Geographic Photo Ark Wonders by Joel Sartore, 400 pages, 10/19/21, very highly recommended, nonfiction ***
163. I Have Something to Tell You by Susan Lewis, 512 pages, 10/21/21, recommended
164. The Collective by Alison Gaylin, 352 pages, 10/22/21, very highly recommended *
165. A Little Hope by Ethan Joella, 288 pages, 10/25/21, very highly recommended ***
166. Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart, 336 pages, 10/26/21, recommended
167. Burntcoat by Sarah Hall, 244 pages, 10/28/21, recommended
168. Game On by Janet Evanovich, 320 pages, 10/29/21, very highly recommended
169. The Dangers of an Ordinary Night by Lynne Reeves, 288 pages, very highly recommended
November - 21 books
170. National Geographic The 21st Century: Photographs From the Image Collection, 400 pages, 11/2/21, very highly recommended nonfiction*
171. Everything We Didn't Say by Nicole Baart, 368 pages, 11/4/21, highly recommended
172. The Secret Next Door by Rebecca Taylor, 352 pages, 11/5/21, highly recommended
173. We Live Next Door by Laura Wolfe, 288 pages, 11/6/21, recommended
174. The Insecure Mind of Sergei Kraev by Eric Silberstein, 392 pages, 11/6/21, highly recommended
175. Termination Shock by Neal Stephenson, 720 pages, 11/9/21, recommended
176. The New Family by Victoria Jenkins, 352 pages, 11/11/21, very highly recommended *
177. She Never Left by CM Harris, 400 pages, 11/12/21, so-so
178. The Mark by Matt Brolly, 332 pages, 11/13/21, highly recommended
179. National Geographic Complete Birds of North America, 3rd Edition, 752 pages, 11/15/21, very highly recommended nonfiction ***
180. Glimmer by Marjorie B Kellogg, 496 pages, 11/16/21, recommended
181. Parabellum by Greg Hickey, 356 pages, 11/17/21, highly recommended
182. Last Redemption by Matt Coyle, 320 pages, 11/18/21, very highly recommended *
183. Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult, 336 pages, 11/19/21, highly recommended
184. Autopsy by Patricia Cornwell, 416 pages, 11/20/21, highly recommended
185. Nanny Dearest by Flora Collins, 336 pages, 11/23/21, highly recommended
186. I'll Never Tell by Casey Kelleher, 250 pages, 11/23/21, highly recommended
187. Bright Burning Things by Lisa Harding, 336 pages, 11/23/21, highly recommended
188. The Seventh Disease by David Shobin, 260 pages, 11/27/21, recommended
189. Word Wars: How Attack on Meaning Robs You of Free Speech by Morgan Moore, 85 pages, 11/27/21, very highly recommended, nonfiction ***
190. Speechless: Controlling Words, Controlling Minds by Michael Knowles, 256 pages, 11/30/21, very highly recommended, nonfiction ***
December - 13 books
191. Pandemia by Alex Berenson, 464 pages, 12/2/21, very highly recommended, nonfiction ****
192. When Christmas Comes by Andrew Klavan, 244 pages, 12/2/21, very highly recommended
193. Breaking the News by Alex Marlow, 368 pages, 12/4/21, very highly recommended ****
194. Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker, 400 pages, 12/8/21, very highly recommended **
195. Malorie by Josh Malerman, 320 pages, 12/9/21, very highly recommended ***
196. The Best of Me by David Sedaris, 400 pages, 12/13/21, very highly recommended, nonfiction
197. Invasive by Chuck Wendig, 384 pages, 12/14/21, highly recommended
198. Twenty Years Later by Charlie Donlea, 368 pages, 12/18/21, highly recommended
199. The Sorority Murder by Allison Brennan, 448 pages, 12/20/21, highly recommended
200. The Unfamiliar Garden by Benjamin Percy, 224 pages, 12/21/21, highly recommended
201.When You Are Mine by Michael Robotham, 368 pages, 12/25/21, highly recommended
202. A Narrow Door by Joanne Harris, 448 pages, 12/27/21, highly recommended
203. The Swells by Will Aitken, 211 pages, 12/28/21, so-so

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

The Swells

The Swells by Will Aitken
1/4/22; 211 pages
House of Anansi Press

The Swells by Will Aitken is a so-so satirical story of class warfare aboard a luxury cruise ship.

In reality Briony is homeless and makes just enough to survive, but as a travel writer who cruises for free on luxury liners she must mirror the passengers behavior in order to fit in. The Emerald Tranquility is the most luxurious cruise liner and Briony is traveling on it with some of the world's wealthiest people. At the same time the ship's crew lives in small spaces below deck and are over worked and under paid. When a mutiny happens among the crew, it results in the elderly passengers now being required to learn how to mop floors and clean toilets.

This is hardly the "darkly hilarious satire" as described. Although there were a few funny parts, this is not a hilarious novel of class reversal or the privileged versus the underprivileged. All the characters aren't written to resemble real people, they are all caricatures of stereotypes of different people. Let me make this clear, all classes of people are stereotypes. The mutiny happens just before the halfway point (44%). Before that it is a sometimes incomprehensible and decidedly not particularly funny novel of hookups and mocking the elderly rich passengers. After it's all over, the final summary is that this is a satirical novel ridiculing capitalism and promoting socialism. Perhaps those who have taken a cruise will relate to this story much more. Alas, I haven't and have no desire to do so.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the publisher

Monday, December 27, 2021

A Narrow Door

A Narrow Door by Joanne Harris
1/4/22; 448 pages
Pegasus Books
Malbry #3 

A Narrow Door by Joanne Harris is a highly recommended psychological thriller.

After 500 years times are changing for the Yorkshire's St. Oswald's school. Rebecca (Price) Buckfast is the new and first headmistress and the school is now admitting girls. Even though Rebecca is barely 40, she has worked hard to obtain the position and she is going to prove her worthiness to everyone via her own rules, especially long-time classics teacher Roy Straitley. However, when several of Straitley's former Latin students tell him that they have discovered what might be a body in a muddy sinkhole where new construction is about to begin, he takes the matter to Rebecca.

What follows after this initial discovery is an unfolding tale of Rebecca/Becky's past and the present. The narrative moves back and forth in time following alternating time lines from 1989 and 2006. In 1989 the plot follows Becky's time as a new teacher, her family life, and her memories of her older brother Conrad, who disappeared at age fourteen when Becky was just five. She recounts her story over the length of the novel to Straitley. Her story is alternated with excerpts from Straitley's 2006 diary.

The narrative starts out very slowly which may be off-putting for some readers. Rest assured that if you stick with it you will adjust to the deliberate pacing of the story and the suspense and sense of dread will begin to intensify. Rebecca intimates dark secrets and disturbing events several times, even while causally mentioning her own intractable reactions to some events. Although this is book three of a series, I found no real difficulties in reading it as a stand-alone novel. Rebecca is an interesting character. It will be quite clear that she will tell the truth, as she recalls it, but this won't necessarily always reflect virtuous behavior.

The writing is excellent. The time period of each chapter is clearly marked, so you can follow events between the two timelines and the different characters. The novel is complex, well plotted and, after the slow start, the pacing evens out until it picks up at the end and reveals several new facts. The tension and unease build throughout the novel, making it more compelling as the plot unfolds. The final denouement was very satisfying.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Pegasus Books.


Saturday, December 25, 2021

When You Are Mine

When You Are Mine by Michael Robotham
1/4/22; 368 pages

When You Are Mine by Michael Robotham is a highly recommended crime/psychological thriller.

Philomena (Phil) McCarthy, a police office in London, and her partner respond to a domestic violence call. The victim, Tempe Brown, has clearly been assaulted. The abuser is Darren Goodall, a married man named and a decorated Scotland Yard detective, and he makes it clear that he is above the law and can't be touched. When Goodall tries to assault Phil, she stops him, cuffs him, and puts him under arrest, however his allies at the station make the case disappear and turn it against Phil. Phil, however, has had to overcome other challenges in her personal life and decides to continue to look into Goodall. She finds evidence he has been abusing his wife too and begins to investigate this.

At the same time, Tempe begins to insert herself into Phil's personal life, much to the chagrin of Henry, her fiancée. After finding her safe places to stay, it seems that Tempe is there at every turn, always running into Phil and wanting to help her, while Goodall is beginning to threaten her. Complicating matters further is Phil's background. She is the daughter of Edward McCarthy, a mobster and leader of a criminal empire he built with his brothers. Although she has distanced herself from him, his 60th birthday is approaching and she may attend the party and ask him for some help.

Phil is a fully realized, complex character and an engaging protagonist. You will want the best for her, although you may question her instincts and judgment several times in the novel. She should have noticed and could have curtailed Tempe's needy and clinging insertion into her life sooner. Tempe's behavior would have raised alarms for most people right away, but it does serve to further complicate the intricate plot and keep the tension high.

This is an extremely well written, perfectly paced, and wonderfully intricate puzzle of a thriller. There are so many pieces presented and questions that will arise concerning Phil's investigations, Tempe's actions, Phil's family, Goodall and his cronies, and corrupt behavior that seems to have infiltrated the police. The suspense and tension keep building on all levels. Once the novel starts the quick pace doesn't let up until the end and will keep you entrenched in the narrative. When You Are Mine is emotionally engaging, suspenseful, and compelling throughout.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Scribner.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

The Unfamiliar Garden

The Unfamiliar Garden by Benjamin Percy
1/4/22; 224 pages
The Comet Cycle #2

The Unfamiliar Garden by Benjamin Percy is a highly recommended science fiction horror novel featuring fungus and is the second book in the Comet Cycle series.

The night of the meteor storm Jack and Nora Abernathy’s daughter Mia vanished in the woods. The couple's marriage broke up and they tried to live in the changed world, Nora as a police detective and Jack as a mycologist. Five years pass and the rains finally return to the Seattle area, which means plant life begins to return and flourish. While Nora investigates several horrific murders, Jack finds evidence of a new parasitic fungus. In an unimaginable series of events, a connection between the murders and the parasitic fungus appears, which results in Jack and Nora working together.

The character development of Nora and Jack is basic while the rest of the characters are depicted more as caricatures of a type of person rather than as realistic individuals, but in-depth development is not necessary here since the focus is going to be directed in other nightmarish areas. The Unfamiliar Garden is short enough that you can read it in one sitting. The actions starts right away, the suspense and fear build quickly, and everything works seamlessly together while moving at a fast pace right to the end.

This is an enjoyable, scary novel that will stretch the imagination while providing thrills and chills. It is not necessary to read the first book in the series, The Ninth Metal. I haven't read it and followed the plot easily. As I was reading I kept thinking the novel felt too familiar, as if I had read it before, but then I suddenly came to the realization that in The Unfamiliar Garden Percy adds to the world of fungus fiction. A few examples in the fungus fiction genre include: Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham; City of Saints and Madmen, Shriek, Finch, and Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer; Semiosis and Interference by Sue Burke; The Genius Plague by David Walton; Amatka by Karin Tidbeck.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins

Monday, December 20, 2021

The Sorority Murder

The Sorority Murder by Allison Brennan
12/28/21; 448 pages
MIRA Books

The Sorority Murder by Allison Brennan is a highly recommended murder mystery.

Three years ago Candace Swain was a popular sorority member and senior nursing student at Northern Arizona University when she left the sorority Spring Fling party and disappeared. A week later her body was found in a lake at a golf course. Her case remained open with the only suspect, a homeless alcoholic, missing. Now Lucas Vega, who was a freshman when Candace was murdered, has decided to do a podcast focused on Candace's murder for his senior capstone project as a forensics major. He is hoping to review the case, present some new information he has found, and have listeners call in with any additional information they might have.

When Regan Merritt, a former US marshal, is a guest lecturer at the university, Lucas invites her to share her expertise on his podcast. When reviewing the case and the information Lucas has discovered, Regan decides to join him on the podcast. She stays on to help as new information is brought to light and she believes Lucas may actually be able to solve the murder. It is also clear to her that Lucas is holding a secret of his own that may have been the impetus behind the podcast idea.

Regan is a great, fully realized character and hopefully she'll be back in her own series. She provides the maturity, intelligence, knowledge, and experience that the novel needs to make the investigation into the murder mystery seem believable. She has a lot of her own resources and contacts in the area that are of great help. Lucas is also a believable character, but he seemed younger than a senior in college. It is clear from the start that he is hiding something, but he is clearly dedicated to solving Candace's murder. He and Reagan make a good team.

The Sorority Murder is a compelling, complex, solid murder mystery and held my attention throughout despite the fact that the pacing of the plot is a bit uneven at the beginning and it does have a slow start while setting up the story. Once things get moving and new information is slowly coming in, the pacing picks up. Along with following Lucas and Regan, there are also excerpts from a journal Candace kept. The narrative approaches solving the mystery like a procedural. I enjoyed this approach where new information is discovered or uncovered in the quest of solving the mystery.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of MIRA Books.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Twenty Years Later

Twenty Years Later by Charlie Donlea
12/28/21; 368 pages

Twenty Years Later by Charlie Donlea is a highly recommended mystery.

In 2001 author Cameron Young was murdered. His body was found naked displaying obvious whip marks hanging from a window at his house in the Catskills. New investigator Walt Jenkins handled the sordid case where the circumstantial evidence pointed toward Young's lover, Victoria Ford. Ford never faced prosecution, though, because she died when the twin towers went down so the case was closed. Now in 2021, the New York medical examiner’s office has successfully identified the DNA of a bone fragment as that of Victoria Young.

Avery Mason is the host of the TV show American Events and she knows a good story idea when she hears it. When she learns about the identification of Ford's DNA and the murder she was accused of, Avery is determined to investigate the current identification and the case from 2001. Avery talks to Ford's sister, who wants to prove the innocence of her sister based on a final phone call she received on 9/11 from her and she is sure Avery can help her do this. Avery embraces this challenge, but she has secrets from her own past and another goal she wants to achieve.

Complicating matters is Walt Jenkins. After the Victoria Ford case, he was recruited by the FBI. Now retired due to an injury, he has been living a solitary life in Jamaica. Now the FBI wants him back to help Avery in her investigation, but to also keep track of her based on family secrets she is hiding. There are so many secrets everyone is keeping and everyone is moving the puzzle pieces around based on their needs and thoughts.

There are a plethora of characters appearing throughout the novel, but they are introduced seamlessly and logically in the story and are easily kept track of as memorable individuals. Both Avery and Walt are flawed, sympathetic, and likable characters even while they are holding secrets from each other. All the characters are unique individuals and ultimately fit seamlessly into the story. Certainly they aren't all well-developed characters, but the pacing and twists make up for this.

Twenty Years Later is a very compelling, complicated, and well written mystery that is very entertaining. As you are reading you know there is so much more to know that hasn't been revealed yet and this quest to learn the whole story makes the novel irresistible. New revelations appear frequently as more information is uncovered, back stories are disclosed, and secrets are shared with other characters. There are a few of the plot points that I found implausible but they serve the job to propel the narrative forward. The final big twists were surprising, entertaining, very satisfying, and made up for any questions I had about the earlier plot.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Kensington.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021


Invasive by Chuck Wendig
8/16/2016;384 pages

Invasive by Chuck Wendig is a highly recommended thriller featuring killer ants.

Hannah Stander is a futurist and consultant for the FBI who assists with cases that feature advanced technological and scientific advances. She identifies unseen threats, whatever they are, and determines the cause. When FBI Agent Hollis Copper has to investigate a dead body with no skin surrounded by the bodies of over a thousand ants found in a cabin in rural New York he calls Hannah in to assist with the case. The investigations leads Hannah to visit entomologist Ez Choi, who determines that the ants were engineered, and have genetic markers from the biotech lab run by biotech billionaire Einar Geirsson. Hannah is invited by Einar to visit the island lab off the coast of Hawaii.

The plot is fast paced, science -based, and suspenseful. It will grab your attention from the start, especially if you like Michael Crichton's novels, and not let go until you have finished. The threat looms large in the plot and Wendig makes sure you will feel all of it. He thoughtfully provides the word for one of these sensations, formication, which is the feeling of insects crawling across or under your skin. This sensation will haunt you, as it does Hannah, throughout the novel. Still, Hannah is a tough, intelligent, determined, and complex protagonist. Raised by parents who were survivalists, she uses the skills (and the distrust she was taught) to her advantage as she interprets the information and the people she meets during the investigation.

Because Invasive is a science fiction thriller, I can set aside disbelief easily, however there were two things that bothered me. I did greatly doubt Hannah would be stupid enough to sleep with Einar, part of the group she is investigating. Also, since I was reading this several years after it was published, I noticed several political statements that dated the novel. This was a perfect example of why you leave the opinions out so the novel has more longevity and because we can't all be futurists. These are trivial though in comparison to the enjoyment found in reading Invasive.

Monday, December 13, 2021

The Best of Me

The Best of Me by David Sedaris
11/30/2020; 400 pages
Little, Brown and Company

The Best of Me by David Sedaris is a very highly recommended collection of 46 essays spanning his career. All of these previously published essays were personally chosen by Sedaris as representing the best of his writing. This is a collection for fans who will appreciate seeing what he has selected as the best and this would be an excellent introduction for those new to Sedaris.

David Sedaris is one of the few humorists who can keep me laughing even if I have read the essay before. As with any collection, not every single piece would have been chosen by me (I believe there were 2 I didn't care for as much) but that is simply quibbling over what is a masterful presentation of many of his memorable pieces. His writing can leave me laughing so hard I'm crying and then continuing to chuckle long afterwards. There are other essays that are serious and heartbreaking as events from his life and family are the subject. Now, I believe it is that time of year to reread Holidays on Ice.

Thursday, December 9, 2021


Malorie by Josh Malerman
7/21/2020; 320 pages
Random House
Bird Box series #2

Malorie by Josh Malerman is a very highly recommended sequel to Bird Box (2014).

Malorie and her children had to flee the school of the blind after living there for 2 years. It is now 10 years later and Tom and Olympia are 16 years-old. The three still live blind folded to avoid even a glimpse of the creatures that will result in madness and violence. The three have made an isolated camp in the woods their home and follow procedures set by Malorie for their safety. When a stranger shows up claiming to be a census working trying to document survivors, Malorie insists he leave, which he does but he also leaves behind a stack of papers that may change their lives. The information they read sends them on a trip away from safety and out into the world again.

Bird Box is a classic novel of suspense and horror. Any sequel is following it would have a tough act to follow. Malorie manages to do this and in an exceptional way. Malorie seems a bit more brittle and strident now, but It has been 10 years. Think about that. It has been 10 years of living blindfolded and in a constant state of fear and vigilance while always trying to protect her children. She has seen and heard the results of seeing the creatures. With good reason she does not trust people. What she does in this novel is leave behind a place where she has kept her children safe for years and sets out on another journey. She is allowing herself a sliver of hope and that in itself is amazing.

In Malorie we meet Tom and Olympia as teenagers and are given indications of the adults they will become. They are more developed as characters. Tom is clashing more and more with Malorie, as any teenager would, even in the harshest of survival circumstances. They both have secrets they are keeping.

The writing is excellent and Malerman does not waste a word while telling it. The pacing is fast, which is good because the tension will be high throughout the book until the very end. These are people fighting for their survival and their lives while blindfolded. It is also a story of teens coming into their own as they approach adulthood. There are a few heart stopping moments and surprises.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Hidden Valley Road

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family  by Robert Kolker
4/7/2020; 400 pages
Knopf Doubleday

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker is a very highly recommended true family drama and medical detective story following the Galvin family.

Between 1945 and 1965 Don and Mimi Galvin had 12 children, 10 sons first and then 2 daughters. Later 6 of the boys were diagnosed with schizophrenia. This is the inside true story of their family, including the violent wrestling matches between the older brothers, the seemingly perfect father, the control Mimi exercised over them, the hidden sexual abuse, and the feelings of abandonment by younger siblings. Once their first born, Donald, began exhibiting mental issues and was later diagnosed as schizophrenic, they tried to keep the truth hidden as long as possible. By the 1970's six of their sons who were diagnosed as schizophrenic and the families secret could no longer be hidden. Soon Mimi was spending all her time and energy trying to help the "sick" boys while basically leaving the "healthy" children to their own devices.

It is also the story of the history of schizophrenia and the medical advancements made during this time. Kolker follows the background information about the history of schizophrenia and the psychiatric, chemical, and biological advancements in treatment were interesting. The various treatments the brothers endured are shared and the struggles they had taking their medication as the professionals searched to find a treatment that worked for the brothers. Because so many siblings in one family were diagnosed with schizophrenia, the Galvins became one of the first families to be studied by the National Institute of Mental Health is the search for a genetic marker for the disease. Samples of their DNA are still being used in genetic research today. This research continues to influence treatment, prediction of the disease occurring and hopefully a way to prevent the disease in the future.

This is in turn a heart breaking and fascinating well-written and researched account. It is truly an honest portrait of a family in crisis. Kolker follows each family member, their place in the family, and their story with empathy and honesty. It is easy to judge Mimi's actions, but at the same time impossible to do so unless you were in her situation. She really seemed to handle the mental breakdowns of her sons as most people from her generation would and her own background also influenced this. The recounting of the family's history and suffering is handled with compassion. This is not always an easy read, but it is an eye opening and engrossing narrative.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Breaking the News

Breaking the News by Alex Marlow
5/18/21; 368 pages
Threshold Editions/Simon & Schuster

Breaking the News: Exposing the Establishment Media's Hidden Deals and Secret Corruption by Alex Marlow is a very highly recommended examination of the weaponized fake news.

As the Editor-in-Chief of Breitbart News, Marlow is well acquainted with the tactics used by establishment media publications and their content creators who may insist they are neutral, but their reporting reveals obvious agendas and biases that favor the political left. The sheer volume of fake news generated coupled with new censorship tactics by the social media giants, or Masters of the Universe, during 2016-2020 is horrendous and continues on today. Numerous documented examples are given in Breaking the News to highlight the facts as Marlow presents them in a well organized fashion.

Marlo focuses on Bloomberg, CNN, The Washington Post, and The New York Times as well as the tech elite in Silicon Valley. He covers some of the numerous connections that exist between individuals in the journalism and media establishment and the government. They all form an elite group that will say what it wants to and spin stories to serve their agenda or that of their owners. You can clearly see the collusion between them when every content creator (they are not journalists) is repeating the exact same phase across all the mainstream media outlets. Their censorship tactics and strategies clearly emerged as they are telling people what to think rather than reporting the news.

The handling and coverage of the pandemic is also covered. The power these people have taken is overwhelming. It is still absurd that during all the riots, looting, and burning of cities that they wanted to spin it as peaceful. It is a well known and documented fact that social media has suppressed and controlled content and stories that do not follow the agenda the left wants to push. Their censorship and manipulation of the news, especially before the election, is frightening but keep in mind it is still ongoing today.

As Marlow points out, the time to be silent is over. Now is the time to start calling for holding Big Tech accountable for their anti-conservative bias, favoritism toward major corporations, and monopolistic tendencies. It’s time to speak out for your values and your country. The Left do not want compromise, they want compliance. Become one of them or they will come for you. It’s only a matter of time.


Thursday, December 2, 2021

When Christmas Comes

When Christmas Comes by Andrew Klavan
11/2/21; 244 pages
Penzler Publishers

When Christmas Comes by Andrew Klavan is a very highly recommended mystery.

In the town of Sweet Haven ex-Army Ranger Travis Blake has murdered his girlfriend, elementary school librarian Jennifer Dean. He has confessed. Public defender Victoria Grossburger recruits English professor Cameron Winter to look into the case. Winter has a gift of sorts. His self-described "strange habit of mind" allows him to acquaint himself with a situation, observe it, think about the facts, and come to a sudden realization about what really happened. Grossburger wants him to put his gift to use on Blake's situation. As the story unfolds, sessions between Winter and his therapist Margaret Whitaker are slowly revealed and provide insight into Winter.

The writing is excellent in this short mystery that takes place before Christmas and has a tie in to the holiday. Keep in mind that this is not a cozy mystery. It can be a rather dark, bleak story with a horrific crime at its center. Winter is a fully realized character and displays an inner strength of character and intelligence. As he looks into the murder, he also examines his troubled childhood. The plot seems simple and straightforward, after all Blake confess so what additional information could Winter possibly uncover, but the ending surprised me. I wasn't able to predict it at all. In spite of his inner turmoil and the bleakness of the days, the novel ends on a surprising, but hopeful note.


Pandemia: How Coronavirus Hysteria Took Over Our Government, Rights, and Lives by Alex Berenson
11/30/21; 464 pages
Regnery Publishing

Pandemia: How Coronavirus Hysteria Took Over Our Government, Rights, and Lives by Alex Berenson is a very highly recommended, excellent, documented, detailed, and substantiated report exposing the hysteria and manipulation behind the coronavirus pandemic and the overreaction to it in the name of safety and science. This is the true story of the pandemia: one part pandemic, five parts hysteria.

Berenson follows along the timeline of developments and social/political reactions related to the pandemic and details information and facts from each new development. He acknowledges that at the very beginning the lockdowns seemed to make sense, before we had more information. Once information started being compiled and collected, however, it was clear that this reaction was causing more harm than good, but at this point those welding the power and control didn't want to let go. It is made clear that our response to the coronavirus is the worst public policy mistake worldwide in at least a century.

Finally someone has written a book full of facts documenting and exposing the truth behind the lockdowns and everything that has followed rather than simply repeating political ideology. Reading the facts and presenting them without an agenda stands in sharp contrast to the current content creators who used to be journalists but currently are beholden to writing what the corporations who own and finance them. Berenson points out the facts, based on collected data, and concludes that we need to put the dangers of the coronavirus in to a reasonable perspective by treating it as a medical problem, not a societal crisis. We need to demand the truth, the facts, and the data rather than forcing new biotechnology on everyone based on vague scare tactics and incomplete data.

This is a well researched and detailed overview and perfect for those of us who have been collecting facts and documents for two years now. Berenson has compiled these facts plus more into one volume. This is a book I very highly recommend that everyone read.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021


Speechless: Controlling Words, Controlling Minds by Michael Knowles
6/22/21; 256 pages
Regnery Publishing

Speechless: Controlling Words, Controlling Minds by Michael Knowles is a very highly recommended, intelligent, thoughtful, and engrossing examination of how political correctness has distorted our use of language resulting in a change in our culture and how we view the world. This change in language and meaning did not come about through natural linguistic development. It has been a cultural assault planned and carried out by liberal academic and bureaucratic extremists who created the new words, there meaning, and how we should react. Then the new acceptable term and our expected reactions have been repeated verbatim by almost all journalists. Watching this and noticing the repetition of the same exact wording by so called journalists has been eye-opening and frightening. Decades of incompetence on both sides has permitted political correctness to invert our culture. The Culture War is over, and we have all lost.

The right are criticized because they allowed this to happen. All cultures cancel some ideas and things over time. The current problem is with what is canceled and why, along with who establishes the standards. The problem is a very small percentage of the population is radically trying to changing the culture without any sort of cultural agreement on these changes or set agreed upon standards. Conservatives need to summon the courage to speak up for the enforcement of their own standards of speech minus the politically correct standards set by the liberals. 

There is so much more to Knowles discussion which will be appreciated by anyone who is an intellectual, appreciates a dense discussion with a plethora of quotes, footnotes, and sources, and can think for themselves about current cultural changes. Knowles provides in the appendix a glossary of jargon, a list of works cited, a copious section of notes, and a helpful index. This would make a great gift.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Word Wars

Word Wars: How Attack on Meaning Robs You of Free Speech by Morgan Moore
11/3/21: 85 pages
Part of the Life and Liberty Series

Word Wars: How Attack on Meaning Robs You of Free Speech by Morgan Moore is a very highly recommended short booklet on the freedom of speech.

Moore makes the clear and compelling case that freedom of speech and thought is essential for democracy and ensures a life of liberty. It is up to all of us to protect speak up and protect our rights. A very small segment of our society is currently challenging the freedom of speech for everyone. It is obvious at work and in everyday life. We need to lose the idea that a small elite group can be the thought police for everyone believing their moral stance is superior, while the majority of people are simply working, caring for their families and getting through the day.

I appreciated the fact that Moore pointed out negotiating meaning is our human thing and it is what we have always done together as a society until now. The current postmodern fear-infatuated culture, prone to safetyism and emotional reasoning, has taken control. This culture doesn't like debate or discussion, displays bureaucratic controlism, and equates emotional discomfort with actual danger. Also covered is the loss of integrity and honesty in the mainstream media, and he brings up the question I continually ask, which is why my intrinsic biological identity now has to be erased.

The Seventh Disease

The Seventh Disease by David Shobin
12/7/21; 260 pages
Crossroad Press

The Seventh Disease by David Shobin is a recommended thriller.

Opening with two men coming to an agreement on how to proceed in a plan covering a generation to start a new pandemic, but be the ones who have the cure available, The Seventh Disease then slows down to a slow crawl for the first half of the novel where the focus is on Dr. Sean Arrington, a Long Island physician and family man. From the beginning Arrington has been unknowingly used by a biochemist in the development of the virus. As his genetic material is needed again before the virus is unleashed on the world, Arrington is suddenly able to piece together that something isn't right. In this case, though, his knowledge could lead to his death.

It must be said again that after an imagination-catching start, the novel then s-l-o-w-s down. This might have been acceptable if Arrington was a complex, personable, likable character, but he just isn't that appealing even though he thinks he is, which was part of the problem. Almost all the women are caricatures and not real people. Let me just say you can tell a man wrote the book and all the descriptions of women were annoying and based on their appearance. The bad guys are also archetypal characters, which I'll accept in their case.

The novel does jump between the present day and back in time, but it is easy to follow what timeline the chapter is in. Once the plague is unleashed, the action picks up, which redeems some of the first half of the book. At this point in the novel you can easily set all disbelief aside as all you're looking for is the race to stop the outbreak. Recommended just for the thrills.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Crossroad Press.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Bright Burning Things

Bright Burning Things by Lisa Harding
12/7/21; 336 pages

Bright Burning Things by Lisa Harding is a highly recommended and emotional literary fiction about addiction and rehabilitation.

Sonya lives for her son Tommy, rescue dog Herbie, and drinking. Her previous career as a London stage actress is over, as is her relationship with Tommy's father, but she knows her love is all Tommy needs. What she doesn't recognize is her love of alcohol is resulting in blackouts, and she is grossly neglecting her son. After a neighbor informs him about her neglect and a terrifying incident, her father, whom she hasn't seen in years, comes to her home with the choice of going to rehab or risk losing Tommy forever. Sonya enters a 12 week program and Tommy is put into care. Now she faces finishing rehab and staying sober, so she get her son back. 

This is a difficult novel to read, especially at the beginning because Sonya is a mess and completely unlikable, unpredictable, and obviously neglecting Tommy. Even though you know she loves him and is trying to make life fun and magical for Tommy, it is also clear that with her drinking and blackouts, he would be better off with someone who could take care of him. Her thoughts are manic, scattered, and disorganized; she doesn't remember when or if she fed Tommy and Herbie. She relies on Herbie to watch Tommy. It is horrifying. Once Sonya enters rehab and starts detox you hope she sticks with the program for Tommy's sake.

The characters are all complex and flawed, many of them deeply flawed. The narrative is heartbreaking throughout. This is one of those novels that it might be best to prepare yourself for reading because it is so emotionally disturbing and tragic. Even when it seems that there may be hope, it is clear that Sonya will always be struggling and, perhaps, is not a good judge of character. You will hope there is redemption in the end but it is clear that nothing is guaranteed and her current choices might be due to deeper issues from her past. The ending is sudden and resolves nothing. 3.5 rounded up

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

I'll Never Tell

I'll Never Tell by Casey Kelleher
12/3/21; 250 pages

I'll Never Tell by Casey Kelleher is a highly recommended psychological thriller.

Alessia has a wonderful life with her husband, Carl, and their young son, Jacob. After her past, which she keeps secret, she never thought she would have this current life of satisfaction and happiness. When a brick with a note tied around it is thrown through a front window, she immediately realizes that her current life is under attack. The note said "Found You" and it is followed quickly by other frightening occurrences that point to Alessia's past coming back to haunt her. She is sure her childhood friend, Sarah, is responsible.

The narrative unfolds through two different timelines in chapters headed as "Now" and "Then" with 20 years separating the action. Emma-Jayne, 12, had a friend named Sarah, 10, and the two played in an abandoned house they called the doll house. Something terrible happened there. Emily-Jayne keeps telling the police that Sarah did it, but they don't believe her. She is the one who was sent to an institution until she was 18. After this, she changed her name and lived a quiet, unassuming life. Meeting Carl was something she never thought would happen in her life.

This is a short, fast-paced novel and Alessia is, in general, a believable character although you will question some of her actions which seem illogical. There is a lot of sympathy for both Alessia and young Emma-Jayne. It becomes clear in both timelines that they are unreliable narrators.  The plot is interesting, but after a few chapter you will be able to figure out what is going on. Soon you will be able to predict who is responsible for the harassment and just need to get to the end to see if you were right. Likely you will be correct. Setting the predictability of the plot aside, there will be a few twists and surprises. You will also have to set aside some disbelief in order to enjoy the novel. 3.5 rounded up.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Bookouture.

Nanny Dearest

Nanny Dearest by Flora Collins
11/30/21; 336 pages
MIRA Books

Nanny Dearest by Flora Collins is a highly recommended novel of domestic suspense.

Sue Keller's father has recently died and her mother died years ago when she was just three-years-old. This has left her struggling with depression and nightmares. When Anneliese (Annie) Whittaker meets her on the street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Sue doesn't recognize Annie at first, but later does. Annie was Sue's beloved nanny when she was a young child and they lived in upstate NY. Sue cared for her before her mother died and for awhile afterward. When Annie wants to reconnect with Sue, Sue is eager to have Annie back in her life. At first it is wonderful. Sue's depression has lifted and she is able to sleep, but she is also cutting off old friends and exclusively just seeing Annie. And then a few cracks begin to appear concerning Annie and her life.

After a slow start, Nanny Dearest is going to hold your attention throughout the rest of the novel as the tension increases. The narrative switches between the point of view of Sue in the present and Annie back in 1996, so the reader actually knows more about Annie than Sue does. This narrative choice also helps increase the tension in the plot because you will recognize early on that something is wrong with Annie long before certain facts and history are presented. To some extent, Sue is also not exhibiting completely sound behavior. Although you know she is grieving the loss of her father, there is still some irrational behavior. 

Both Sue and Annie are fully realized characters. It is clear early on that Annie has some problems and had a dysfunctional family, but Sue, as a young child, would never have recognized this. It is Sue's own present day issues that allow Annie to insert herself into Sue's life while encouraging the exclusion of others. You will definitely have to set aside some disbelief while reading, but the suspense and tension does propel the plot forward to a stunning conclusion.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of MIRA Books.

Saturday, November 20, 2021


Autopsy by Patricia Cornwell
11/30/21; 416 pages
Kay Scarpetta Series #25

Autopsy by Patricia Cornwell is a highly recommended procedural featuring Dr. Kay Scarpetta.

Forensic pathologist Kay Scarpetta has accepted the position of chief medical examiner in Virginia. She is back where she began her career and once again needs to clean up the corruption that has infected the department. Pete Marino is back and hired by Scarpetta to assist her. In the current case a body of a woman, soon identified as that of Gwen Hainey, is found dumped by the railroad tracks with her throat cut and her hands missing. As she investigates, Scarpetta learns of a woman who was murdered a few months earlier in the same area, Cammie Ramada, and is suspicious that the two cases may be connected. Adding to the drama is a case of poisoning, an emergency call to the White House to look at some secret information, and ongoing drama with a secretary who believes she is in charge of the office, not Scarpetta.

Autopsy is described as a relaunch of the Dr. Kay Scarpetta thriller series. As the 25th book in a series that I am very familiar with, it is hard to judge whether a new reader could jump right into Autopsy or not. Cornwell provides brief explanations of the connections between people and their history so I would imagine it is possible. I will say that for long time readers the plot is much better than the last Scarpetta book I read before giving up on the series for awhile.

There is no question that Cornwell is an excellent writer technically. She provides the information and expects the reader to follow the clues along with the investigation without a lot of repetition. The narrative will unconditionally hold your complete attention to the end. The pace of the plot is deliberate and balanced. While there are some surprises along the way, nothing ever feels precarious because Scarpetta is always compose, observant, capable, and in charge. There is perhaps too much time spent on descriptions of the trip to Washington DC when what readers want to know is why were Scarpetta and Wesley called to the White House, but the one real shortcoming in the narrative is that the final denouement felt incomplete and abrupt.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.