Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Her Three Lives

Her Three Lives by Cate Holahan
4/20/21; 352 pages
Grand Central Publishing

Her Three Lives by Cate Holahan is a highly recommended domestic thriller.

Greg Hamlin, 52 years-old is waiting for his pregnant fiancée, Jade Thompson, 32 years-old, to get ready for a party they have to attend when a home invasion leaves him with a traumatic brain injury. After he emerges from a coma, he learns Jade was beaten, loss their baby, and had her engagement ring stolen. At the hospital, Greg's soon-to-be ex-wife, Leah, and his children, Violet, 23 years-old, and college-aged son Paul clearly are united against Jade, although they met after Greg left and filed for divorce. Jade loves Greg and is determined to stay with him as he recovers in their new home.

To ensure their safety, Greg buys a home security system with a plethora of cameras. Both Jade and Greg are nervous about why they were targeted for the brutal attack. As the police investigate, Greg begins to watch Jade's every move on the security cameras and track her whereabouts. Jade is wondering what Greg may have known about their attackers or if something from her past is the cause of the invasion. Both Greg and Jade are tense, with Greg's PTSD making him increasingly paranoid.

Chapters alternate between the point-of-view of Greg and Jade. You will know that Jade really does love Greg, and, although she has kept secrets from him, she is trying to protect him during his recovery. It is also clear that Greg is becoming increasingly paranoid and mistrustful. Progressively, he becomes a malignant character. The trust between the two is totally broken. Actually, I increasingly began to ask myself why did Jade stay with Greg. I understand she loves him, but most people would have reached a breaking point. The actions of both characters increasingly became far-fetched and implausible.

The writing is good and keeps the drama moving along as more and more information is provided and the alternating thoughts and actions of the two characters are juxtaposed. Although the lead up to the denouement is predictable, reaching the conclusion is where the enjoyment is found in this domestic thriller.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Grand Central Publishing in exchange for my honest opinion.


Waterborne by J. Luke Bennecke
4/22/21; 340 pages
Black Rose Writing

Waterborne by J. Luke Bennecke is a recommended action/thriller set in the near future and the second novel in the series featuring Jake Bendel.

Jake Bendel with a team of experts has invented a desalination system that will radically innovate the availability of clean, safe water for Californians. The system is powered by environmentally friendly molten salt reactors and once complete the project will consist of five plants running, making ocean water safe to drink. Water will never be a problem for California again. Jake and his team are behind schedule, but are working hard to get the whole system up and running.

In the back of Jake's mind is always the fact that Viktor, a vicious criminal featured in the first book, is still out there, wishing him harm. He is right to be concerned because Viktor does have nefarious plans and eliminating Jake is part of it. Simultaneously, someone has released an unknown virus into the water system, weaponizing the water, and Viktor is the prime suspect. Jake works with the FBI to uncover who is responsible and stop them before all of California is infected, while at the same time Jake needs to watch out for his own safety.

The premise of Waterborne is thought-provoking and the idea of someone weaponizing the water supply is always frightening, which makes it exciting escapism. The premise of the novel and the details require you to suspend disbelief, go with the flow of the action-movie plot, and avoid asking any questions about details. An attack by drone is one of the exciting chase scenes, although it was handled a bit too easily. There is information provided about the plot in the first novel, but I still felt as if I was missing some important details and information by starting with the second book. Also the writing felt off to me. It was as if in all the descriptions of people and places Bennecke tried a bit too hard to be trendy and cool. The character development is also light, but often this doesn't matter in a thriller where the action is the main event. This was previously published as Civil Terror: Waterborne; the first book is Civil Terror: Gridlock.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Black Rose Writing in exchange for my honest opinion.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Blood and Treasure

Blood and Treasure: Daniel Boone and the Fight for America's First Frontier by Bob Drury, Tom Clavin
4/20/21; 400 pages
St. Martin's Publishing Group

Blood and Treasure: Daniel Boone and the Fight for America's First Frontier by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin is a highly recommended account of the life of the legendary Daniel Boone.

Drury and Clavin present a detailed and well written narrative that is both a history of the times and a biography of Daniel Boone. This was a different time and place from the world we know today. It is the mid-eighteenth century in Colonial America. There are wars between the French, English, and Native tribes. All of this affected the lives of settlers, including the Boone family. This history focuses on the settlement of North America's first frontier and the Boone families migration from New England to settle the Carolinas and across the Appalachians to Kentucky.

It is clearly presented why Daniel Boone is such a legendary, larger-than-life, amazing historical figure. This is a well-written, accurate, well-researched, and unbiased account that is placed firmly in the context of the times, so it can be violent. It is told through the people who were there, experiencing the events depicted. Once the narrative starts, it is full of fast-paced, non-stop action. Drury and Clavin include footnotes to document the chronicle of events in Boone's life and times. The narrative covers a lot of territory, covering areas ranging from Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Florida, and Illinois.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of St. Martin's Publishing Group in exchange for my honest opinion.

The Glitter in the Green

The Glitter in the Green: In Search of Hummingbirds by Jon Dunn
4/20/21; 352 pages
Basic Books

The Glitter in the Green: In Search of Hummingbirds by Jon Dunn is a highly recommended nature guide and travelogue about hummingbirds.

Dunn, a natural history writer, fell in love with hummingbirds as a child. In The Glitter in the Green, he begins his journey in Alaska and ends it in Argentina in his quest to follow the full length of the range of the over three hundred wildly variable hummingbirds. As we follow his journey he expounds on all things hummingbirds and how these delicate birds are adapting as well as threatened by climate change, habitat loss, and hunting. As he describes his travels, he shares many remarkable facts about the migrations, coloring, physiology, adaptability, habitats, mechanics, about the various species of each hummingbird in each location. In each location he visits he is cognizant of considering the culture, history, folklore, and literature of the region and the place hummingbirds hold in these cultural touchstone areas. He also discusses the threats they face in each region.

Dunn presents his captivating narrative in wildly descriptive, poetic prose, and detailed facts. He is passionate about everything he presents, whether it is details about a specific species of hummingbird, a story, or the effects of climate change. This is an admirable study of hummingbirds that will enchant both dedicated birders and those with a casual interest in hummingbirds and natural history. While I reviewed a digital edition, I am sure the hard cover book is a wonder to behold.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Basic Books in exchange for my honest opinion.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Under the Wave at Waimea

Under the Wave at Waimea by Paul Theroux
4/13/21; 416 pages
HMH Books

Under the Wave at Waimea by Paul Theroux is a highly recommended novel, especially for the right reader, of aging, mortality, but, most importantly, big-wave surfing.

Joe Sharkey is a legendary big-wave surfer who is now in his sixties and past his prime. Although there are some new, young surfers who realize who he is and recall his many incredible feats on the surfing circuit around the world, increasingly more of them don't recognize Sharkey. Sharkey still checks out the wave forecast and tries to surf everyday. He seemingly has an ideal life now. He is comfortable. He is living with a much younger woman, Olive, a nurse from England. But when Sharkey accidentally hits and kills a homeless man on a bicycle when driving home from a bar, he suddenly begins to question his mortality and begins repeating the many stories of his life to Olive. She begins the process and encourages him to uncover the identity of the victim which will hopefully give him closure.

The narrative also jumps back in time, to Sharkey's childhood, his family, and his start in surfing, as well as the bullying he experienced. Then it covers his surfing life. Basically, this is an in depth character study of a man who becomes a competitive surfer and follows his life, as he remembers it, in his search for the ultimate wave. This is about Joe Sharkey, and it is a ponderous novel. There is a whole lot of surfing in Under the Wave at Waimea, which is to be expected, and also a plethora of Hawaiian vocabulary, which can be frustrating without the context to always understand what is being said. There are also passages of brilliant character insight along with vivid descriptions.

The search for the identity and information about the man he killed, Max, does expand the focus of the novel and gives Sharkey a focus beyond his surfing stories. It is this search that sets his own mortality before him and provides a new dimension to his character. In the end, however, this is a well written character study of one man that suffers a bit from it's length and could use a bit of editing. In the parts that are successful, it is amazing, but there are whole sections that could use some editing. It also requires a higher degree of interest and appreciation of surfing than I expected. Finally, Olive could have used more character development as she was an intriguing woman. 

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HMH Books in exchange for my honest opinion.

Just Get Home

Just Get Home by Bridget Foley
4/13/21; 352 pages
MIRA Books 

Just Get Home by Bridget Foley is a highly recommended heart-pounding thriller of a disaster novel.

“All that stuff about making sure you have enough bottled water and a bugout bag? It’s horse pucky. Propaganda to make it seem like the people in charge can do anything about it. Just wait patiently, Good Citizen. Help will arrive.” She saluted, the cherry tip of her cigarette making an arc through the air. “When it happens... It will be chaos for days. Weeks. There will be looting. Riots. The earthquake isn’t the real disaster, Dessa. The disaster is what happens after.”

Dessa is a single mom living in Van Nuys, California, who is having a rare girl's night out. She has her three-year-old daughter, Olivia, all ready for bedtime when the new babysitter arrives and she heads to downtown Los Angeles to meet her friends. She is leaving the restaurant/bar where she met her friends when the ground first begins to shake. Beegie is a young teenage girl who is escaping her current foster mother by riding the bus. She returns to her previous foster home to collect her things that the sexually abusive older son took from her and then gets back on the bus, planning to ride it all night. Beegie is on the bus when the earthquake hits.

These two women end up helping each other survive after the Big One hits Los Angeles. Dessa has one goal - to get home to her daughter and make sure she is okay. While trying to get home, Dessa witnessed Beegie being raped. She hid, uncertain how to help the girl and then didn't see her afterward. Beegie, however, finds a way to stop the man she saw attacking Dessa. Dessa recognizes her purse and knows she is the girl she saw, although she does not say anything to Beegie. The two travel together, trying to get home, as the streets become increasingly dangerous.

Both Dessa and Beegie compartmentalization their lives. Sure, they are compartmentalizing very different things, and live very different lives but they share this approach to life and the challenges they face. This probably helps them as they work together to get home, although if home is an answer or safe or there is a question always present. Foley does a great job developing these two characters, making them individuals but also showing their inner thoughts and a basis for their friendship through the trauma and ordeals they both experience.

The pace of the plot moves quickly through all the different challenges and encounters the women face in this natural disaster novel of the predicted Big One finally hitting California. This is a survival novel featuring two females overcoming the disaster and fighting their way through insurmountable odds to find their way to safety, or, for Dessa, back home to her daughter. Obviously, Dessa displays a strong example of the maternal bond and how mothers will try to overcome all odds to make sure their children are safe.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of MIRA Books in exchange for my honest opinion.

North by Shakespeare

North by Shakespeare: A Rogue Scholar's Quest for the Truth Behind the Bard's Work by Michael Blanding
3/30/21; 480 pages
Hachette Books

North by Shakespeare: A Rogue Scholar's Quest for the Truth Behind the Bard's Work by Michael Blanding is a very highly recommended, and apparently controversial, examination of who may have inspired Shakespeare in the writing of his plays.

This is a very interesting investigation that summarizes Dennis McCarthy's close scrutiny of the works of William Shakespeare compared to the life and works of Sir Thomas North. "McCarthy’s contention, that Shakespeare borrowed his material from Thomas North - a gentleman and scholar who moved in the uppermost levels of Queen Elizabeth’s court - provides an intriguing and wholly original solution, in which the playwright could have legitimately put his own name on his rewritten plays, at the same time borrowing their essence from someone who fit all of the requirements for writing them. In addition to being a translator, North was a lawyer, soldier, diplomat, and courtier - a sixteenth-century Zelig who participated in some of the most crucial events of the age, and brushed shoulders with the brightest minds of the Renaissance"

Dennis McCarthy is a self-taught Shakespeare researcher who has relentlessly worked on his theory and looked into the true origins of Shakespeare’s works for fifteen years. He uses plagiarism software and has found links between the plays and North's published and unpublished writings. At the end of the narrative in Appendix B, Blanding includes a section showing examples of McCarthy’s "techniques for using plagiarism software to explore parallel passages between Thomas North’s prose translations and William Shakespeare’s plays."

North by Shakespeare is a summary, but it is also a dense book and not a leisurely read. To cover the theory McCarthy sets forth, Blanding tackles topics that could fill several volumes, but manages to succinctly organize and integrate Shakespearean literary criticism, Elizabethan history, a modern-day travelogue, and McCarthy's research into a fascinating and compelling presentation of the theory that Shakespeare based his plays on the work and life of Sir Thomas North. Included is Appendix A, which " includes Dennis McCarthy’s estimated chronology of Thomas North’s plays versus the conventional chronology proposed by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust," Appendix B, the example of using plagiarism software, a bibliography, and notes.

I found this whole theory and the presentation of it engrossing and was irresistibly pulled into the intriguing investigation McCarthy sets forth. I am not a Shakespearean scholar and, although I know about several of them, I haven't closely followed any of the various conspiracy theories over the years about who wrote Shakespeare's plays. They will always be by Shakespeare, even if he was inspired by or freely rewrote the work of someone else. At this point it is an interesting historical exploration of how he came to write so knowledgeably about places and experiences he would not have had access to or experience with in his life. 

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Hachette Books in exchange for my honest opinion.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

What You Never Knew

What You Never Knew by Jessica Hamilton
4/13/21; 304 pages
Crooked Lane Books

What You Never Knew by Jessica Hamilton is a recommended atmospheric mystery.

June Bennet's mother passed away, followed tragically by her older sister, May. Settling May's will, June now learns, at age forty, that she owns Avril island. She had been told the island with her family's hundred-year-old cottage on it was sold years ago, after the summer she was twelve and her father disappeared. June travels to the island in search of answers. She had spent her summers on the island with her beautiful and mercurial mother and beloved, protective older sister May. Now she is alone to face what happened in the island and look for answers. Soon it becomes clear that what June was told was not the truth about what happened years ago and that her family, i.e. her mother, had rumors swirling around her during that time.

As June grieves for May, May is there, haunting her in a sense, as a ghost. June is discovering the mystery behind her family's time on the island while spectral May is present in alternate short chapters, trying to help/contact June. It is an interesting idea but doesn't quite work well here. June's actual discovery of the secrets behind her family's departure from the island and her mother's duplicitous behavior are much more compelling. Hamilton provides plenty of mysterious happenings that can't be explained and clues that someone may be more than just curious about a Bennet's return to the island.

As the plot unfolds and June uncovers more information, we also learn more about June, which makes her a realistic character, but not entirely a sympathetic character. She has several flaws. The immediate attraction and connection to her childhood friend, Ezra, seemed a bit off and unrealistic to me. Certainly, most adults would take things more cautiously. I'll admit that I felt no connection for either May or June.

All in all this is a decent debut novel and I stayed with What You Never Knew for the mystery. Alas, while it was a satisfying ending, I saw it coming early on. This is a quick read; you can fly through the pages and reach the denouement swiftly. (A little note about an error: There was a description that said June put sweet-n-low in her coffee for the sugar rush, which had me laugh aloud. Certainly it will be corrected to a caffeine rush in the final edition, but this was indicative of some of the errors in the writing of the ARC.)

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Crooked Lane Books in exchange for my honest opinion.

When the Stars Go Dark

When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain
4/13/21; 384 pages
Random House Publishing Group

When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain is a highly recommended multifaceted, perceptive emotional mystery set in 1993.

Both in her past and the present, Anna Hart is well acquainted with the dark side of human nature. In the present she is a missing persons detective in San Francisco who has a special insight into cases of missing or murdered children that she honed in her past. A present day personal tragic accident leaves her on leave and sends her blindly escaping, traveling north to Mendocino to the only stable home she had as a child with foster parents. Orphaned at eight she was in a series of foster homes until she went to live with Hap and Eden, who gave her the acceptance and, most importantly, the skills to survive in the world. Once she is back in Mendocino, she learns that there is a missing girl.

Fifteen-year-old Cameron Curtis, daughter of a retired actor, has disappeared. It is unknown if she was abducted or a runaway. For Anna, this brings back memories of a teenage friend who disappeared when they were both teens. Another friend from her teen years there, Will Flood, is now the sheriff. Anna offers to help him search for Cameron. Then two more girls are abducted/missing, including real life twelve-year-old Polly Klaas. Anna understands the basics of how victims come into contact with predators and knows that she needs to find the missing girls - if they are still alive.

McLain vividly describes the landscape as skillfully as she delves into the interior life of Anna. Anna is a wounded character from her childhood but uses her experiences and training in her present day search for the missing and murdered children. She understands the vulnerability of the missing girls because of her childhood and the recent tragedy she experienced. Readers won't know what happened to Anna until the very end, although there are mentions and hints throughout the novel. Anna is a well-developed character and is skillfully portrayed as a real person with an authenticity that comes from McLain's own experiences.

The writing is exquisite, beautifully descriptive and emotionally fraught, especially due to the subject matter and Anna's background. It is an adroitly written literary mystery novel. The plot moves at a slower, more introspective pace at the beginning before picking up the momentum as more clues and information is uncovered. The narrative does go back and forth in time, which assists in the development of Anna's character.  Mystery readers will find the ending a bit predictable as the suspect is easily identifiable, but the focus is on Anna dealing with her issues while seeking to find the girls.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the Random House Publishing Group in exchange for my honest opinion.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Wild Rescues

Wild Rescues: A Paramedic's Extreme Adventures in Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton by Kevin Grange
4/6/21; 304 pages
Chicago Review Press

Wild Rescues by Kevin Grange is a very highly recommended fascinating firsthand account of the life of a paramedic working with the National Park Service.

In 2014, Kevin Grange left his job as a paramedic in Los Angeles to work at Yellowstone National Park. The district ranger at Old Faithful told Grange, "We figured you could handle the call volume and craziness since you’re from Los Angeles. You probably won’t see gang shootings, but we do have bison gorings and bear maulings." Clearly this is a challenging job that requires paramedics to have the ability and skills to respond to both medical and traumatic emergencies. As Grange points out, "the myriad of Yellowstone’s wonders is matched only by the many ways the park can kill you."

A paramedic with the National Park Service is not a desk job. They encounter stroke, seizures, heart attacks, broken bones, allergic reactions, and diabetic emergencies in a field setting. They may treat patients who are potentially suffering from heat exhaustion, heat stroke, burns, frostbite, hypothermia, lightning strikes, or insect bites, along with the numerous injuries caused by wildlife. These paramedics may be expected to stay over night with a patient in the back country, do search and rescue missions, fight fires, assist visitors, keep visitors safe, and handle resource management.

As Grange tells the many stories of just some of his experiences and the wide variety of calls he answered and emergencies he handled it became quite clear that these paramedics are a special breed all of their own. Grange covers working in Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Grand Teton National Parks. Each of theses park have differences and similarities. Yosemite, for example, has a lot of climbing accidents which requires Grange to learn and sharpen his skills in that area. Clearly I, as many people, am not cut out to be a paramedic at a National Park, but what I can do is appreciate the job these brave people do through the eyes of Grange.

Wild Rescues is not just a heart-stopping series of tales of emergencies, Grange also makes it personal. He shares bits of his personal life and his thoughts. Sometimes there is humor in the pages while at other times there are touching tear-jerking stories or frightening encounters. These paramedics have honed the ability and skill required to quickly assess situations and act accordingly and Grange shares events that clearly showcase this. The narrative is organized into sections set in the three National Parks and the accounts are very accessible to those who don't have a medical background. Clearly, after reading Wild Rescues, travelers will be thinking about safety as well as the natural beauty and wildlife when they visit a National Park.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the Chicago Review Press in exchange for my honest opinion.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021


Breakout by Paul Herron
4/6/21; 304 pages
Grand Central Publishing

Breakout by Paul Herron is a highly recommended volatile and violent debut thriller.

Former police officer Jack Constantine is serving time at Ravenhill Correctional Facility located outside Miami, Florida, for killing one of the men who murdered his wife. A hurricane is approaching and work groups are sent from the prison to the Glasshouse, the former prison which is currently closed. The groups are ordered to clean up the building in preparation of sending prisoners over there due to flooding in the prison. While there Jack sees someone he doesn't want to see, Malcolm Kincaid, a man he sent to prison in an unethical manner. Later he sees the other two men who killed his wife. Before he can process all of this, everything changes. The single large hurricane is suddenly turning into the unthinkable. Two Category 5 hurricanes are coming together to form one monster superstorm. If that isn't enough, all the corrections officers flee for their own safety, leaving all the inmates to fend for themselves... and one of them opens up all the prison doors.

Jack teams up with Kiera Sawyer, a Correctional Officer who was there for her first day and was left behind. The plan is for the two to make their way to the Glasshouse where they might have a chance to survive, but to get there they have to fight their way through eight hundred inmates out to settle scores and the hurricane which is flooding and beginning to destroy the building.

This is a heart-stopping thriller that you will read at a gallop because the action is non-stop. The opening pages cover the murder of Jack's wife and things just get more intense after that. Between the inmates loose and running amok, and the violent weather there is no escaping from the violence, foreboding atmosphere, and numerous perils that threaten Jack and Sawyer. The tension is there right from the start and only increases to an almost impossible level of nail-biting suspense. This is one of those novels where the character development doesn't matter, although Herron does a good job providing some, because the actual plot is so intense. Breakout begs to be made into an action movie.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Grand Central Publishing in exchange for my honest opinion.

The Dictionary of Lost Words

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams
4/6/21; 400 pages
Random House Publishing Group

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams is highly recommended historical fiction.

In Oxford Esme Nicoll's father, Harry, is on the team of dedicated lexicographers working with Dr. James Murray to collect words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary. The team works in a garden shed they have named "the Scriptorium," or the Scrippy, behind Dr. Murray's house. The Scriptorium has been lined with pigeon holes, used to sort the words collected, and the lexicographers work at a sorting table. Esme is being raised by her father after her mother died, and she has grown up at the Scriptorium, spending time under the table when all the lexicographers are working. This is where her father introduced her to words, where she learned to read, and where she learned to love words for their own sake.

Under the table, Esme collected slips with word that had been dropped and she collected duplicate slips that were being discarded. She stored her treasures in a chest under Lizzie's bed. Lizzie is a servant to the Murrays and Esme's friend. When the slip with the word "bondmaid" accidentally falls to the floor, Esme collects it. Once she learned the meaning of the word, she begins to collect words that are omitted from the dictionary. They are objectionable words, neglected words, women's words, and words used by common people not found in print. As she collects these words she also collects a quotation from people using the words correctly. This private collection becomes her own Dictionary of Lost Words.

Set in the years 1887 to 1989, the narration covers not only the work to publish the first Oxford English Dictionary, it also follows events surrounding the women’s suffrage movement and The Great War, WWI. Esme grows up, finds a role in working at the Scriptorium, learns about the suffrage movement, collects her words, falls in love, and sees her dictionary published, with Lizzie a constant in her life through it all. Williams did extensive research into the history of the time and the first Oxford English Dictionary. She includes women in her novel who historically helped with the dictionary alongside the men. Esme, her father, and Lizzie were entirely fictional characters placed into the context of the novel Williams wanted to write.

I would highly recommend this to readers who love historical fiction. The plot moves slowly at first, although it is still interesting as it delves into the process of how the dictionary was put together and the work that was done to accomplish the goal. The writing is quite good as Williams wanted to both write a fictional novel but she also wanted to place it firmly during a time in history. She also wanted to establish from the start Esme's love of words, so this is a main focus for much of the early part of The Dictionary of Lost Words. Once Esme begins working at the Scriptorium and begins to set off on tasks and searches for lost/neglected words, the novel begins to take off.

Esme and Lizzie are both wonderful characters as they portray two different groups of women during this period of time who would have been overlooked by history. Lizzie represents the servant working class. She couldn't read or write down many of the words she used which would have been overlooked by the lexicographers. She is proud of her quotes Esme uses to define words and is a strong woman, physically and mentally even though she definitely would be looked down at as just a servant. Lizzie's first word for Esme's collection is "knackered," a word which she provided the sentence to show it's usage. It is a word that would be in common usage for the working class, but not one that would be part of the dictionary because it would never be put in print.

Esme is the character who we know more about, though. Her inner thoughts, apprehensions, and worries are part of her story, which makes her a fully realized character with depth and insight. She has heartbreaking experiences from which she must gather her own strength in order to recover. The words she seeks out and collects also add an additional aspect and circumspection to her character.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the Random House Publishing Group in exchange for my honest opinion.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Her Dark Lies

Her Dark Lies by J. T. Ellison
3/9/21; 416 pages
MIRA Books 

Her Dark Lies by J. T. Ellison is a highly recommended atmospheric novel of suspense with Gothic overtones.

The marriage of Nashville artist Claire Hunter to Jack Compton, the son of a wealthy computer company magnate is imminent. Before they leave for their destination wedding being held at the family cliff-top villa on the Isle Isola off the Italian coast, they are having a reception in Nashville. After the reception, Claire and Jack confront what seems to be a burglary, leaving questions and a police investigation when they continue on to the villa. When they arrive there, skeletal remains have just been found, adding to the dark atmosphere that seems to be targeting their wedding. Ominous, events continue to happen as the family and the selected few guests are at the villa and a series of storms are approaching the island.

Both Claire and Jack are complicated and enigmatic individuals, as is all of Jack's family, so there are many more secrets surrounding the characters than there are immediate answers.  The novel is told through Claire's first person point-of-view, as well as short sections by a person not named until the end, although the identity is evident. Most of the characters are not clearly good or bad, which propels you to keep reading to see what exactly is happening and who can be trusted. Admittedly you have to set skepticism and disbelief aside over the wealth and success of both Claire and Jack.

After a slow start spent describing the settings and characters while introducing a few threatening events, the novel begins to take off after the characters are all on the island, basically trapped with each other and a killer. The threats and suspicious events and deaths keep adding up ratcheting up the suspense to the dramatic denouement. Ellison spends time creating the menacing atmosphere, which helps keep the suspense high. There are no huge surprises or twists in the plot, but this is a compelling  novel of suspense that will grab your attention to the end.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of MIRA Books/HarperCollins in exchange for my honest opinion.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Mother May I

Mother May I by Joshilyn Jackson
4/6/21; 336 pages

Mother May I by Joshilyn Jackson is a very highly recommended, heart-stopping domestic thriller. This is sure to be on my list of top novels of 2021.

Bree Cabbat wakes up very early one when she sees a witch looking into her bedroom window. Of course it couldn't really have been a witch she assures her husband of sixteen years, Trey, and then their day starts early when baby Robert wakes up. Bree, who grew up poor in rural Georgia, but went to college for her degree in theater, is living a luxurious life now. Trey is a from a powerful, wealthy family and is a partner at his law firm. His wealth allows her to care for their three children, Anna-Claire, 13, Peyton, 12, and Robert, the baby. The girls attend a private school in Atlanta.

Later that day, after helping Trey pack for an out of town trip, Bree is at her girl's school bringing snacks for the rehearsal of a school musical Anna-Claire has a lead role in when she sees the old woman, the witch again, in the parking lot by her car. Bree has an ominous feeling, but shakes it off. Marshall Chase was there with snacks also. He was the husband of Bree's best friend, Betsy, who died five years earlier and Bree grew up with both of them. Marshall joined her and Peyton up in the balcony to watch the rehearsal. Robert was sleeping in his carrier by Peyton, who was engrossed in a book. Then, when Bree turned to check on Robert, he was gone. A note was left warning her that she was being watched. If she wants her baby back she needs to follow the instructions she will find at her house and not call the police. She makes sure her girls are safe and protected while she follows the instructions left at her house. The kidnapper isn't asking for money. Bree has to do one task, which results in the inconceivable, but she needs to save her baby.

What follows is a spine-tingling, heart-stopping, devastating race to follow instructions coming from the old woman in hopes of safely recovering baby Robert. Marshall, who was a police detective, is now an investigator at Trey’s firm and Bree confesses to him what is happening. The two along with help from a lawyer and Marshall's contacts must scramble to try and discover what the kidnapper wants before she kills Robert. It is clearly a personal grudge, but the event that provoked the kidnapping is unknown. Marshall and Bree must scramble to try and discover some information that will help them find Robert.

The marathon to discover the identity of the kidnapper and try and uncover something that can help them is full of twists and disturbing discoveries. At the heart of the action are questions that any mother could ask: How far would you go to protect your child? Your life? Your family? And the action and discoveries keep ramping up the tension, the questions, the lies, while expanding the search for the truth to places far from the expected and showcasing how bad decisions in the past can come back to haunt you.

The characters are all wonderfully developed and felt like real people. You will have great empathy for Bree and feel the anguish and pain as she struggles to try and get Robert back. Marshall is also a very sympathetic character, as is his deceased wife and Bree's best friend, Betsy. Trey is developed through Bree's eyes, and as the novel unfolds. Even the teens rang true to character and were realistically portrayed.

The writing is excellent, exactly what I have come to expect from a Jackson novel. The pacing is perfect and incrementally ramps up toward a heart-stopping ending. The premise of the plot rings true, as does the secrets that are exposed. (If I had one regret it was that I started this novel when I had to work the next day and could not finish it in one sitting. I spent a whole day wanting to get back to reading.) Every new novel by Jackson becomes my new favorite and Mother May I joins all her other novels that I have received my highest rating. 

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins in exchange for my honest opinion.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The Drowning Kind

The Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon
4/6/21; 336 pages
Gallery/Scout Press

The Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon is a very highly recommended supernatural thriller.

For the last year Jackie (Jax) Metcalf has distanced herself from her sister Lexie. Lexie, who always overshadowed Jax when they were growing up, began to exhibit symptoms of schizoaffective disorder bipolar type as a teen. Now, as an adult, when Jackie received nine missed calls from Lexie, she assumes Lexie is off her medication again. Jackie purposefully left for the opposite coast to attend college and lives there working as a social worker/counselor. Lexie stayed at the family's house, Sparrow Crest, in Brandenburg, Vermont, which she inherited it from her grandmother.

The next day Jackie learns that Lexie is dead. She drowned in the pool at Sparrow Crest. The pool, which collects water from a mineral spring, is purported to have healing powers and grants wishes, but it is also said to extract a price and takes as well as gives. Jackie knows that there are rumors about the deep, dark pool and there is a history of people drowning in it. When Jackie/Jax arrives at Sparrow Crest, she learns that Lexie was researching the history of their family, the property, and especially the pool. It seems the pool is darker in more than one way.

An alternate story line is set decades earlier and follows Ethel Monroe, 37. She and her husband, Will, first visited the springs in 1929 when a resort hotel was built on the site and Ethel made a wish at the pool. She wished for a baby and made good friends with the wife of the owner. When Ethel learns she is pregnant, she and Will are overjoyed, but she later suspects the dark side of the springs, which gives her nightmares. Soon she and her family are more tied to the springs than she would like.

This is a deliciously atmospheric, creepy novel. McMahon does an excellent job creating the ominous atmosphere and sense of foreboding, much of it is with suggestions and rumors, with strange occurrences and things glimpsed out of the corner of your eye or late at night. Certainly everyone has thought they saw something, a brief flash, out of the corner of their eye and then doubted if they really saw something or not. McMahon takes these eerie sensations and suggestions and adds the rumors and legends surrounding the mineral springs and the pool to create an increasingly oppressive and menacing atmosphere in The Drowning Kind.

Ethel Monroe tells part of the earlier story of the springs, while the present day narrative is told through Jackie's point-of-view. The narrative in both timelines is equally interesting and compelling. The horror isn't overt, but builds gradually, as more and more information is slowly shared by both Jackie and Ethel. Both of these characters are well developed. They are also sensitive and vulnerable. The sense of danger increases as the frightening warnings and mysterious events add up in both timelines. The slow build and incredible descriptions of unexplained occurrences add up to an intense portentous mood and atmosphere. This gradual escalation of tension makes the ending even more shocking and dark.  Don't read this one by any pool of water

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Simon & Schuster

Monday, March 8, 2021

National Geographic Guide to National Parks of the United States, 9th Edition

National Geographic Guide to National Parks of the United States, 9th Edition

2/2/21; 528 pages

"There’s simply no better getaway in the United States than a visit to one of the country’s 62 national parks from Alaska to the Virgin Islands, from Maine to America Samoa. Profiled in this all-new ninth edition of National Geographic’s enduring and informative guide, you’ll find expert travel advice, candid tips for hiking and wildlife spotting, and detailed maps to help navigate your way through America’s great outdoors. Updated throughout with the latest information from park rangers and National Geographic’s own acclaimed travel writers, this fully revised and comprehensive guidebook includes the newest additions to the United States park system—Indiana Dunes, White Sands, and Gateway Arch national parks. Whether you’re looking to explore the underground world of Mammoth Caves or make your way through the mangroves of Everglades National Park, you’ll find a destination that suits your needs, and inspiration to plan your next wild adventure. In addition to park details and descriptions, this sparkling new edition features week-long regional road trip itineraries s so you can visit multiple parks in one vacation. Filled with more than 300 dazzling photographs and 80 full-color maps, this inspiring book reveals the best the United States has to offer—right in its own backyard."


National Geographic Secrets of the National Parks
, 2nd Edition
12/15/21; 288 pages

"The iconic landmarks in America's national parks draw hundreds of millions of visitors every year, from Yosemite's famous Half Dome to Yellowstone's Old Faithful. But beyond these well-known wonders lies a world of hidden treasures—if you know where to look. This exceptional guide reveals these lesser-known gems, along with insider knowledge about the parks' main attractions. With vital tips from rangers, experts, and travelers, readers can have Acadia's massively popular Sand Beach and Jordan pond to themselves, or be one of the 10 percent of Grand Canyon visitors who go beyond the rim. Fully updated and redesigned to include the newest national parks and featuring expert advice from rangers, park managers, frequent visitors, and locals, this authoritative book will help you get out of the parking lot and off the beaten path to find interesting outlooks, challenging hikes, wildlife watching, and more. With brand-new entries for Pinnacles National Park, Gateway Arch, Indiana Dunes National Park, and Denali National Park and Preserve, this book will be your go-to guide on road trips, camping getaways, and day hikes, allowing you to enjoy the rich opportunity in the country's vaunted national parks."


Both of these guides are very highly recommended -  very, very get-these-now recommended. When the review copies arrived I literally set aside my normal, logical, methodical approach to reviewing any book and immediately started tearing through them, planning trips and alternate forays and day outings and extended journeys. After 2020 which is known as "the year where all my vacation time was spent at home doing nothing" a vacation consisting of actually leaving home and going to a National Park sounds like a restorative miracle. Since I'm basically centrally located, my travel plans could be pretty wide open in all directions. My approach is likely close to how most people will use both guides, and the great thing is that it works.

Naturally the photographs are spectacular because these are National Geographic guide. Furthermore, there is so much great information provided in the guide that is essential to planning any trip to a national park.

The 9th edition of National Geographic Guide to National Parks of the United States presents the parks in the Table of Contents by region: East, Midwest, South Central, Southwest, Rocky Mountains, Pacific Northwest, and Alaska. This is followed by a section on using the guide, and after that is a map of the USA with the regions and parks marked. The guide has an index for quick referencing too and there is a map key located in the back of the book after the index. Each regional introduction includes a map of the whole region followed by the individual parks, which are presented in alphabetical order within the regions. Then there are individual maps of each park. Each of the park entries contains a description of the park. There is an information section for each park that offers details on finding the park, best times to visit, entrance fees, the location of the visitors center (a great source for brochures or information is also online), park headquarters, and information on where to stay, campgrounds or lodging. There are phone numbers, addresses, and website addresses provided. Each entry is followed by six suggestions for nearby excursions. After each region section is a wonderful Hit the Road section which helps with planning on visiting more than one park on your trip because many are in close proximity to each other. Also there are notes on special advisories that you need to keep in mind when visiting parks, such as stay away from wild animals, expect RV detours, and, especially important, know that cell phone service may be limited or not available, so don't expect to rely on your cell phone.

Once you have your trip planned, pull out the 2nd edition of National Geographic Secrets of the National Parks: The Experts' Guide to the Best Experiences Beyond the Tourist Trail and look for the secrets and less traveled areas along you planned trip. The guide is organized into the same regions as National Geographic Guide to National Parks of the United States: East, Midwest, South Central, Southwest, Rocky Mountains, Pacific Northwest, and Alaska. After the Table of Contents, there is a map of the USA with the parks marked in the How to Use this Guide opening section. For each of the parks in the guide, there are lesser known experiences, places to visit that are less crowded, hard-to-find sights, and other secrets known by the local park rangers, outfitters, and guides who know the parks the best. Every national park is not included, but there are enough to make this a valuable companion to the National Geographic Guide to National Parks of the United States.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of these guides from National Geographic for TLC Book Tours

TLC Tour schedule


Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Sunday, March 7, 2021

The Night Always Comes

The Night Always Comes by Willy Vlautin
4/6/21; 224 pages

The Night Always Comes by Willy Vlautin is a very highly recommended, heartbreaking, working class drama of greed impacting the life of a young woman.

Lynette, 30, has been working three jobs for three years and is exhausted. She is trying to gather the money for a down payment on the dilapidated rental house she lives in with her mother, and her developmentally disabled brother Kenny in Portland, Oregon. The owner wants to sell the house and is going to give them a good deal if they want to buy it. Lynette has a bad credit rating, but if her mother can provide some of the down payment and cosign the loan, the three of them will have the security they have never had before and a chance to fix up the house. That was the plan, but at the last minute her mother backs out, putting money down on a new car instead, setting Lynette out to collect on the money she has loaned others in order to get the whole down payment on her own.

This brief novel is set over just two days and nights and follows Lynette's quest for the money they need. The night is a long, tortuous, violent, and desperate hunt that puts her in contact with greedy men, prostitution, hustlers, cons, abusers, users, and others who prey upon the vulnerable. As she is trying to gather the money she needs, she is also keeping track of how easily her car starts. As the night goes on flashbacks will tell Lynette's backstory which provides even more depth and understanding of what this young woman has endured.

Lynette is a character you will fiercely care about and worry over her safety. I can't remember a character whose story totally consumed me like Lynette's did. Obviously, to care so much about a fictional character clearly shows that this character is very well-developed. This is a novel of the working class and how the American Dream seems unattainable; for many people working two jobs and wearing yourself down is a daily fact of life.

The writing was absolutely flawless. As we follow Lynette in her search, The Night Always Comes seized my attention and evoke all the emotions. The ending was perfect and provided a measure of hope. Even though the plot seems simple, this is one of the best books I have read. It will certainly be on my list of top novels of the year and I will be seeking out and reading other novels by Vlautin.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Dead Air

Dead Air by Michael Bradley
6/9/20; 288 pages
CamCat Publishing

Dead Air by Michael Bradley is a recommended thriller featuring a secret past, a stalker and revenge.

Kaitlyn Ashe is a radio personality in Philadelphia with a popular show and a devoted boyfriend. She is finally settling down and feels comfortable enough to buy a house. Unknown to those who know her, she has been running from a secret since her teens, but now it seems someone who knows her past is stalking her and taunting her with notes referencing her secret past. The anonymous letters, consisting of words cut out from printed material, are arriving at an increased pace and all reference "the shallows". Kaitlyn is hesitant to share them with her boyfriend, let alone the police, but the letters have her hands shaking when they appear. Who could know about Kaitlyn's past, the shallows, and an REO Speedwagon song she will never play.

The narrative is told through three different points of view, the stalker, Kaitlyn, and Rodney, a police detective. The novel also includes a subplot about a serial killer operating in Philadelphia. As a DJ, Bradley has an insider's view and information about Kaitlyn's job, which adds realism to the details in the novel. While I was interested in the plot throughout the story, I did figure out who was the stalker and who was likely the serial killer. This didn't detract from following the story, but it did lessen the tension. I kept reading hoping to get some of the various details presented in the plot that were never fully explained. Some of the details are revealed, some are underwhelming, and some were never really broached again. Character development was adequate - nothing special.

I was put off by the stalker dropping cigarette butts everywhere, even to the point of leaving piles of them. Really? You are trying to be secret and you do that? For all the other care taken that seemed incongruous. While there were a couple other incidences that seemed inconsistent with facts and known procedures, there were also several heart-stopping moments and shocking surprises. In the end Dead Air was an engaging novel with some uneven writing and plot development.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of CamCat Publishing via Edelweiss.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Tell No Lies

Tell No Lies by Allison Brennan
3/30/21; 432 pages
MIRA Books
Quinn & Costa #2 

Tell No Lies by Allison Brennan is a very highly recommended procedural and the second novel featuring detective Kara Quinn and FBI agent Matt Costa.

A young college intern is killed when out looking for a copper refinery's toxic waste dump site that she believes is responsible for a number of dead birds she has found in the area. Her death brings in FBI agent Matt Costa and a team to quietly, undercover, investigate the copper mine and their waste removal company. Included in Costa's team is Detective Kara, who finds an undercover job as a bartender, and Michael Harris, a former Navy SEAL who takes a job at the refinery. The refinery owner's son becomes an informant and Kara becomes friends with him at the bar in order to keep an eye on him.

The undercover case becomes more complicated when another death occurs and suddenly the case may be about more than toxic waste dumping. It becomes evident that there are even more nefarious activities going on in the area that are dark and disturbing. The team must figure out if all the disturbing evidence and clues are tied together with the refinery dumping or if they have even more illegal activity going on in the area.

Tell No Lies is a sequel to The Third to Die, which was on my list of the best procedurals of 2020. Although this is a very different case and the novel has a comparatively slightly slower pace at times, it is still features a wonderfully entangled, intricate plot with timely events happening. Tell No Lies can be read as a stand-alone novel as Brennan provides enough background information while providing more character development. Personally, I could have done without the relationship between Matt and Kara heating up, but on the other hand it worked well as a part of the over all plot. They both continue to be great characters.

The writing is excellent and will hold your complete attention from start to finish. The overall narrative presents a solid, meticulous mystery and the investigation follows the clues in an orderly, logical manner. Because this is a sophisticated novel that demands you closely follow the clues and action in the plot, you have to pay attention while reading. You'll also need to keep track of all the characters and their stories. While you might be able to predict parts of the ending, you won't know all of it and will experience several heart-stopping moments when the action is overwhelming.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of MIRA Books.