Saturday, May 29, 2021

The Hive

The Hive by Gregg Olsen
6/8/21; 480 pages
Thomas & Mercer

The Hive by Gregg Olsen is a highly recommended investigative procedural and mystery set in the Pacific Northwest.

Detective Lindsay Jackman is investigating the murder of a college student, Sarah Baker. While Lindsay is investigating the murder, she is also dealing with trying to understand why her partner and father figure Detective Alan Sharpe killed himself. Lindsay soon discovers that Sarah was a journalist who was interviewing people and digging into the past history of Marnie Spellman and the close knit group of women associated with her twenty years ago who were called The Hive. Spellman runs her cosmetic empire and is a charismatic lifestyle and wellness guru on her Lummi Island farm where she has bee hives and grows lavender. Women have flocked to Marnie for years after hearing her message and reading her book, but as Lindsay's investigation continues it becomes clear that there was an ominous side and hidden secrets in the Spellman empire and, as Sarah discovered, it is linked to the murder of Calista Sullivan twenty years ago.

The narrative follows Lindsay's current investigation and, as she questions hive members and others associated with or had family members in the cult, there are numerous flashbacks telling what happened in the past to each person. It is clear that everyone is hiding something and no one is telling the complete truth to Lindsay. The plot plods along as people are interviewed by Lindsay and then we learn they are hiding secrets or withholding information. Rinse, repeat. It is also clear that Marnie is a self obsessed narcissist who is using her followers for her own enrichment and advancement.

All the characters are very detailed and presented as complicated individuals. The impetus to keep reading is based on reaching the denouement to learn more about the characters and to see if your predictions about the ending are going to be true. There aren't any surprises or twists; most readers are going to know where the plot is heading early on, so the enjoyment is found in the characters and the specifics of what happened twenty years ago and how it is connected to the current case. It is also an interesting examination of cults, how followers can be exploited by an unscrupulous and deranged leader.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Thomas & Mercer.

Thursday, May 27, 2021


Rabbits by Terry Miles
6/8/21; 432pages
Random House

Rabbits by Terry Miles is a very highly recommended mystery involving players of a secret alternate reality game.

Rabbits is the unofficial accepted name of the mysterious underground adventure game, but players are never supposed to talk about it. The game can become an obsession to the players and rabbit holes, clues or observations that seem connected, or obscure riddles, or coincidences, or obvious alterations of a known thing, etc., are followed by the players to the next clue. The game is rumored to have started in 1959. Since then ten iterations of the game have occurred.

Now a new game, number eleven, is about to begin. K, a man who has been trying to get into the game for years, is asked to meet with billionaire Alan Scarpio, who is rumored to be the winner of the sixth iteration. Scarpio tells K that the game is broken and he needs K to fix it before the new game starts. Soon after this Scarpio is declared missing and a few days later the new game starts. The plot follows K and his friend Chloe, who works at a retro arcade, as they manage to enter the game. The two follow cryptic clues and patterns, solve puzzles, notice coincidences, and try to stay away from an unknown danger as an increasing number of players are dying or disappearing under mysterious circumstances.

The plot of this novel is going to pull you right in and immediately grab your attention, especially if you are a long time gamer or someone who enjoys playing cerebral games and following obscure clues. And there are so many enigmas and conspiracies to follow. There are references to all manner of literature, culture, and popular and gaming culture. Some of the gaming references went over my head but I've been exposed to enough to gamely follow along. Even the thought that noticing patterns and coincidences in real life, made me briefly wonder "is the game real?" as reading. The whole novel and plot is addictive and I thoroughly enjoyed Rabbits.

K is developed as a character, but throughout the whole novel as parts of his past are woven into the plot while he and Chloe play the game. Other characters are introduced, but in the context of this novel only the information we need or that K can uncover is disclosed. Following along with K's thought processes as he follows clues is really all the character development that is needed. Terry Miles is the creator of a podcast called Rabbits too, which apparently will compliment the book, but isn't necessary to listened to in order to enjoy the book.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the publisher. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

A Dark and Secret Place

A Dark and Secret Place by Jen Williams
6/8/21; 304 pages
Crooked Lane Books

A Dark and Secret Place by Jen Williams is a recommended psychological horror novel.

Heather Evans returns home after a long absence to bury her mother who inexplicably committed suicide. While going through her things, she discovers a decades-long long correspondence her mother had with convicted serial killer Michael Reave, "the Red Wolf." He has been in prison for over 20 years, but currently there is a copycat out there, murdering young women and arranging their corpses in the same manner as Reave did to his victims. Heather shares the letters with the police and ends up visiting Reave in prison. It is also disturbing that her mother's suicide note is address "To you both," yet Heather was an only child - or was she? Heather begins searching for the truth.

The pace of this bleak, ominous tale moves rather slowly after a horrifying opening, delaying the obvious direction the plot will be predictably taking. The pace does pick up closer to the end and the novel becomes a scary, electrifying tale. As characters and information are introduce and presented in the first quarter of the novel, most readers of suspense novel will, like me, immediately make some obvious predictions. I have to admit that I didn't find Heather a very compelling main character. The creepy alternate-chapter characters were more interesting (and disturbing).

It is certainly a creepy, atmospheric novel that has some spine-tingling moments and several truly horrifying scenes. However I did predict the direction the novel would take early on, so, even though there were gruesome scenes I didn't predict, the direction wasn't surprising. The writing is good, and Williams layers on numerous clues to increase the creepiness and dread. There are a couple of scenes I could have done without, just saying. It really leans more toward a horror novel than a suspense novel.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the publisher/author.

River, Sing Out

River, Sing Out by James Wade
6/8/21; 288 pages
Blackstone Publishing

River, Sing Out by James Wade is a highly recommended, grim, violent novel set in the East Texas river bottoms.

In an area plagued by poverty and abuse, River, Sing Out follows young Jonah Hargrove as he helps a teenage girl, River. River shows up at his trailer in bad shape. She had stolen a backpack full of crystal meth from John Curtis, head a local meth distribution empire and dogfighting ring. The two end up running from Curtis and Dakota Cade, his murderous enforcer, who, along with all their henchmen, are looking for her. At the same time Curtis is having problems with the cartel that controls his supplies. Jonah and River what they can to flee so River can sell the drugs for the money but their outlook for survival looks bleak.

This is a very ominous, violent, bleak narrative where right from the start it is clear that there can be no redemption or good ending based on the characters. Everyone in this novel has secrets they are keeping from the other characters. Jonah is the only character, because of his age, that you will hope has a chance to overcome his situation and rise above his circumstances. Mr. Carson, an elderly neighbor who is Jonah's only real friend and support system helps Jonah as much as he can. It is better to enter into reading this novel knowing it depicts extreme poverty, brutality, and ruthlessness.

The prose is almost lyrical at times, with discussions of nature, eternity, and God juxtaposed with the severity of their circumstances. The pace is measured at the beginning and slowly picks up as the threat to Jonah and River increases. The chapters switch points-of-view from different characters, mainly Jonah, Curtis, and a mysterious man. River, Sing Out is a hard book to read due to the haunting subject matter and the cruelty presented, which will need to be taken into consideration when you start it, however, it is definitely worth reading.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the publisher/author.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Safe and Sound

Safe and Sound by Philippa East
2/18/21; 352 pages

Safe and Sound by Philippa East is a highly recommended psychological thriller.

Jennifer (Jenn) Arden is a housing manager who needs to evict a tenant for nonpayment of rent. When Jenn and the bailiffs can't get any response and see a pile of mail piled up inside the door, the police are called. They open the door, discovering the body of 26 year-old Sarah Jones inside. Apparently Sarah died some 10 months earlier and no one reported her missing or requested a wellness check on her. The discovery shocks Jenn and sets her on a quest to find out more about Sarah and track down people who knew her. At the same time Jenn is in a fragile state dealing with issues of her own. She has anxiety issues, constantly worries over her son, Charlie, and is trying to overcome something in her past.

This psychological thriller features an unreliable narrator with a secret who is trying to discover more information about a woman who may also be an unreliable narrator with a secret. An alternating plot thread follows two young girls who are cousins, Prin and Jane, whose connection to Jenn's present day search is explained much later. All the characters are presented as individuals with complicated pasts as more details are slowly disclosed in the plot. Jenn experiences growth as a character as she tackles her problems and the search for information about Sarah.

The plot of Safe and Sound does move at a slow pace which serves to highlight the fragile mental state of Jenn and increases the tension as new discoveries are made or new information about the past is revealed. Jenn keeps to her search with tenacity and determination, even as her own health may be in jeopardy. The alternating chapters between the two girls and Jenn's present search help increase the tension and drama in both storylines. The final denouement provides a satisfying, emotional conclusion.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Friday, May 21, 2021

The Turnout

The Turnout by Megan Abbott
8/3/21; 352 pages
Penguin Publishing Group

The Turnout by Megan Abbott is a highly recommended atmospheric novel of secrets featuring sisters who run a ballet school.

Dara and Marie Durant were raised to be ballet dancers by their mother, the founder of the Durant School of Dance. Now the sisters along with Dara's husband, Charlie, who was a former dancer, run the school after the death of the sister's parents. The problems begin when Marie moves out of the home they grew up in and where the three were all living. She moves into the top floor of the ballet school. This inadvertently causes a fire that brings the contractor, Derek, into their lives which is the catalyst for a series of mishaps, tension, and suspicious accidents. All of this occurs right as the school is preparing for the yearly performance of The Nutcracker.

Set in the world of ballet, Abbott has a plethora of information about what happens behind the scenes, the pain, the injuries, and the endurance required to succeed and excel. Adding to information, the narrative hints at a mysterious, concealed secret that more is going on than is apparent at first. This cryptic feeling becomes more intense when Marie's abusive relationship with Derek becomes known. The whole time there is still this atmosphere of secrets, of information hidden, and a covert agenda being played out. The narrative is akin to a horror story of accidents and ill intentions colliding with tightly wound personalities. The characters are well-described as separate individuals, all with secrets and expectations.

Abbott's writing is part of what makes The Turnout a highly recommended novel. While at times the plot drags, the descriptive writing remains wonderfully vivid. It not only introduces you to the world of triumph and pain in the world of dance, it creates a somber mood and the anticipation of dread in the narrative. Abbott writes that "Ballet was full of dark fairy tales," and this whole novel is a complex tangle of grim tales which culminate in a breath-taking final scene. The plot complications and revelations are slowly and carefully revealed in The Turnout and the suspense becomes palpable.

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

You Will Remember Me

You Will Remember Me by Hannah Mary McKinnon
5/25/21; 352 pages
MIRA Books

You Will Remember Me by Hannah Mary McKinnon is a highly recommended twisty psychological thriller.

Jack Smith wakes up on a beach in Brookmount, Maryland, with a head injury and no memory of who he is or his location. Lily Reid wakes up expecting Jack, her boyfriend, to stop by with pancakes. While Jack stumbles away from the beach, Lily tries to get in contact with him to no avail. Jack is compelled by the idea he needs to get back to Maine, at the same time Lily contacts the police and his landlord/friend, desperate to find Jack. She knew he was taking a late night swim and is worried he had an accident. The police inform her that his license is a forgery, which puts a new twist on his disappearance. Jack manages to get to Maine where he remembers a phone number and finds his stepsister, Maya. As it turns out Jack is actually Asher Bennett, and he left Maine two years ago. He has no memory of Lily, but she is not going to give up searching for him.

The beginning chapters will immediately grab your attention as the narrative switches between the viewpoint of Jack/Asher, Lily, and Maya. The characters are presented as unique, complicated individuals. As the story continues you will soon realize that there is much more going on than is presented at the surface. The irresistible question is what is going on with these characters and what exactly has happened in their past. They all have secrets. They all are not telling each other everything. They may be lying. Who can be trusted? Who has an agenda?

With the suspenseful start it becomes clear rather quickly that more is going on than we know about and the suspense and tension will continue to build incrementally as more information is uncovered and we learn more about all the characters. There are so many questions that need to be answered and this along with the fast pace will compel you to continue reading. I quite enjoyed this novel even though I did correctly predict what would be the final outcome. The story, however, leading up to this denouement is entertaining and worth reading. 

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of MIRA Books.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Cosmic Queries

Cosmic Queries by Neil deGrasse Tyson and James Trefil
3/2/21; 312 pages
National Geographic

Cosmic Queries: StarTalk's Guide to Who We Are, How We Got Here, and Where We're Going by Neil deGrasse Tyson and James Trefil is a very highly recommended informative, educational, and entertaining book explaining the universe.

"Cosmic Queries" is a popular part of the StarTalk series of shows where the questions fans ask on a topic are answered. Some of these questions require too deep or involved an explanation to be answered on the show so the book Cosmic Queries tackles those deeper, more philosophical questions in a conversational style that is informative, educational, approachable, and infused with some humor. The history of all related topics is included and assists readers unfamiliar with astronomy, astrophysics, and quantum mechanics to gain an understanding of the topics. Naturally the illustrations and photographs are beautiful and abundant. 

In a well organized manner the chapters include:
What Is Our Place in the Universe?
How Do We Know What We Know?
How Did the Universe Get to Be This Way?
How Old Is the Universe?
What Is the Universe Made Of?
What Is Life?
Are We Alone in the Universe?
How Did It All Begin?
How Will It All End?
What Does Nothing Have to Do With Everything?

Each chapter then has talking points noted under the title. For example "Chapter 1: What Is Our Place in the Universe?" is followed by: Is the Earth a Planet?; Astronomy with a Stick; The Parallax Solution; How Big is the Solar System; Henrietta Leavitt & The Standard Candle; Galaxies; Billions & Billions; A Final Word. Interspersed throughout the text are copies of tweets Neil deGrasse Tyson sent out which span the gamete from philosophical to informational to humorous.

What really shines is the ability of Tyson to present difficult topics in an understandable manner. As someone who once answered the question "what boggles your mind?" with "the vastness of space," I appreciated the use of analogies and metaphors to explain complicated concepts. There are still many questions to be explored and answered and this book will likely encourage young scientist to consider a life devoted to the scientific endeavor of exploring the complexities of the universe. 

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of National Geographic in exchange for my honest opinion

TLC Book Tours schedule



Sunday, May 16, 2021

How to Mars

How to Mars by David Ebenbach
5/25/21; 240 pages
Tachyon Publications

How to Mars by David Ebenbach is a highly recommended amusing science fiction tale about an unexpected pregnancy among the scientists on a reality TV show set on Mars.

After an arduous screening process, six scientists were selected for a one-way ticket to Mars where they would conduct research for the reality TV show following them. The handbook of the Destination Mars! corporation clearly stated repeatedly that intercourse between contestants is prohibited and pregnancy is not allowed. Nonetheless, Jenny, an astrophysicist, and Josh, a psychologist, have a romantic relationship and Jenny discovers she is pregnant. The other scientists on the team, Stefan, Roger, Nicole and Trixie, have various responses as Jenny's pregnancy progresses and odd things begin to occur on the base. The reality TV show, which was cancelled due to low ratings, has started up again with the pregnancy and ratings are high.

The narrative is told through the point of view of Josh, Stephan (the engineer), the Patterns (ethereal life on Mars), Jenny's notes, and through excerpts from the Destination Mars! handbook. Parts of the novel have an absurd, lightheartedness that will bring to mind The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, especially the abundance of towels sent to the base. Other parts are thought provoking and poignant as six very different scientists are living together with no return trip to Earth planned. As with any group, there are conflicts, disagreements, and stress, but the group is also a family. Sure, they are a dysfunctional family, but they are working together doing the best they can.

The plot is really about the characters and their interaction, because Mars is just rocks, rocks, and more rocks. One of the heated discussions is the question if Mars orange or red. The characters are interesting personalities and we learn more personal facts about Josh, Jenny, and Stephan, as the plot follows Jenny's pregnancy and how it affects life on Mars - all life on Mars. This is an interesting, fun take on the establishment of a base on Mars and the interaction of the inhabitants.

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

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Count the Ways

Count the Ways by Joyce Maynard
7/13/21; 464 pages

Count the Ways by Joyce Maynard is a very highly recommended, excellent, heartrendingly beautiful family drama spanning five decades.

Eleanor was already accustom to living a solitary life when her self-absorbed, usually inebriated parents died in a car accident while she was a teen away at boarding school which left her truly alone in the world. She has always been an artist and a series of children's books she started after this were published and became successful which provided for her the financial independence to buy an old farmhouse in New Hampshire. Eleanor loves her farm house and spends several years living there alone, happy and working on her books.

When she meets Cam at a craft fair the handsome, redheaded woodworker steals her heart. He moves to her farm where the two have three children they adore: Alison, Ursula, and Toby. They are a busy, active family, but when a terrible accident occurs caused by Cam's negligence, Eleanor can't forgive him. Cam, however, turns to the teenage babysitter for solace. The marriage breaks up, but the children never learn about Cam's betrayal and blame Eleanor for everything. Over the decades that follow the family encounters more trials, decisions, and experiences that shape all of their lives.

Eleanor is a wonderfully fully-developed character and will elicit empathy, understanding, and compassion. She loves her children above all else. She is relatable and you will feel her pain and understand the losses she endures. Maynard interweaves into the plot historical events of the times and, because the novel spans decades, many readers will recall and relate to all of the historical events, as well as the music. Eleanor does the right thing for her children, yet she is the one who ultimately pays the price for her integrity. Eleanor's life experiences are both frustrating and tragic, and, ultimately, result in hard-fought wisdom and integrity. I really can't recall another novel where I related so completely to the character that I felt we knew each other, that we comfortably sit down and visit with each other like old friends.

I was totally engrossed in the poignant, heartbreaking story of this woman's life and her her family. Following all the changes Eleanor and her family goes through is touching, but also painful. The narrative opens with Eleanor in her fifties, her children grown, and she has long been divorced from Cam. Then the novel goes back in time and follows Eleanor's life up to the time of the opening scene. And I was totally enmeshed in the entire story of her life and all of her experiences.  Maynard realistically captures the life of a family as they confront fundamental, difficult truths from their past, and ultimately find common ground in their love of each other which allows them to continue. 

This will be a contender for my list of top novels of the year. The Ho'oponopono prayer which Maynard opens Count the Ways with is so fitting: I’m sorry. I love you. Thank you. Please forgive me. There are a few events that are a part of Eleanor's life which perhaps make it a bit too melodramatic and on-topic, on-trend, and obviously political (for example the MeToo story line), but the plot elements are resolved and handled well.

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


Sunday, May 9, 2021

Blue: In Search of Nature's Rarest Color

Blue: In Search of Nature's Rarest Color by Kai Kupferschmidt
6/22/21; 224 pages
The Experiment

Blue: In Search of Nature's Rarest Color by Kai Kupferschmidt is a very highly recommended well-balanced historical, societal, and scientific examination of the color blue.

The color blue is special. It is the favorite color of many people. We see it in the sky and the ocean. Blue is unique in nature and causes pause and awe when we discovered it by happenstance in rocks, birds, and flowers. It is captured in art and crafts but it is also a rare color in the natural world. The color blue and how we see it can be explained through physics, chemistry, and biology, but our reaction to it is personal. Kupferschmidt sets out in Blue to explain the color through science, but also follow the historical and natural appearance of the color. The art world has long searched for a blue pigment to use in painting. 

True blue is rare. Ancient Egyptians perfected the first blue ceramic glaze and it was revered. Civilizations have continually looked for a source of the color blue. Interestingly enough, Kupferschmidt first introduces us to chemist Mas Subramanian, a chemist who in 2009 created the first new blue pigment in 200 years. The color was immediately lauded by industries and artists. It is called "Yin Min" based on its components: yttrium oxide, indium oxide, and manganese oxide. There have been other discoveries of blue, for example indigo from India and Prussian blue which is also a created pigment.

Kupferschmidt covers the world in his quest to find blue, follow the various uses of blue in societies, and explain scientifically the how and why of the color. The chemistry of blue and the various ways people have tried to create it is covered. He also follows how humans versus other animals see blue biologically. And then there is the long quest to develop a blue rose.

If you enjoy excellent scientific writing, you will relish this book. The photographs are gorgeous. (My review edition didn't have color photos and I immediately went online to find photos to see everything blue mentioned. The photos make an excellent case to buy a copy of the book.) There is a table of blues and where they occur in animal, vegetable and mineral. What made my heart beat faster was the fact that: "While we’ve been up here on the planet’s surface, doing everything we can for thousands of years to produce new blue pigments from Earth’s minerals, there is - below our feet, unimaginable and inaccessible - a gigantic reservoir of blue stone." What a wonderful, awe-inspiring fact. Originally published in Germany as Blau, the English edition was translated by Mike Mitchell.

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

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Highway Blue

Highway Blue by Ailsa McFarlane
5/18/21; 192 pages
Penguin Random House

Highway Blue by Ailsa McFarlane is a very highly recommended atmospheric but brief debut novel.

Anne Marie, 21, has been living in the town of San Padua since her husband, Cal left her two years ago after exactly one year of marriage. Since he left she has been struggling to get by, just surviving and trying to forget. When Cal suddenly shows up and asks her out for a drink, she agrees, but soon it becomes clear that he is in trouble and wants help from her. A violent encounter after this sends the two on the run together, escaping San Padua, but with no clear idea of their destination or what awaits them.

This is written as a classic road trip novel and almost feels like it is set years ago as the two flee by hitchhiking down the coast. Described as a story of love and of being lost and found, the novel has more of a dreamlike quality to it. It doesn't feel like it is occurring in the present day world. It feels like it is set much earlier, maybe in the sixties or seventies, with the exception of a few current technological advancements mentioned. The novel is, however, carefully crafted and the quality of the writing shows promise for future works. As Anne Marie recalls and explores her memories of her relationship with her mother, we can see a glimmer of where her problems may have began, but it feels like McFarlane holds back information, leaving the reader wanting more.

The writing itself is descriptive and sets the whole tone of Highway Blue. The characters are both well written and will produce sympathy in readers. They also both seem to be powerless in the face of their situation, as if the only way to take control is to run away. Anne Marie and Cal seem like lost souls who need to find their footing. The narrative is told through Anne Marie's voice and impressions. We know that she has changed since Cal left as he often mentions it and she knows it, she also, to some extent, tries to be the young woman he married. McFarlane is a new writer to watch.

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

Goblin: A Novel in Six Novellas

Goblin: A Novel in Six Novellas by Josh Malerman
5/18/21; 416 pages
Penguin Random House

Goblin: A Novel in Six Novellas by Josh Malerman is a very highly recommended collection of six interconnected chilling novellas set in the town of Goblin. This is a re-release of the original volume published in 2017.

All of these stories revolve around the secrets and mysteries lurking in the small town of Goblin, a place where it always seems to be raining and you must stay out of the woods. Malerman does an excellent job presenting these seven accomplished, creepy tales (including the prologue). The character development is admirable and helps propel the stories forward while creating an interest in the characters and their situations. The place of Goblin is clearly developed as a place, a character in its own right, and presents a frightening alternate reality.  

Contents include:
Prologue: Welcome - Tommy is a truck driver who is delivering a box to a resident of Goblin and must follow strict instructions to complete the task.
A Man in Slices - How much would you help a friend? How far would you go to prove your love?
Kamp - Walter Kamp is afraid of everything and sets traps around his home to catch ghosts.
Happy Birthday, Hunter! - It is the sixtieth birthday of big-game hunter Neal Nash and he is obsessed with the ultimate prey: the mythic Great Owl living in Goblin's dark woods.
Presto - Roman Emperor, the greatest magician in the world, comes to Goblin and Peter wants to be just like him.
A Mix-Up at the Zoo - Dirk Rogers is a well-liked zoo keeper who seems to have a connection to the animals.
The Hedges: A man builds an elaborate hedge maze and the young girl who is the first to solve it, goes to officials to report what she saw at the end. 
Epilogue: Make Yourself at Home - A return to the delivery of the mysterious box from the Prologue.

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