Friday, July 30, 2021

Dark Roads

Dark Roads by Chevy Stevens
8/3/21; 384 pages
St. Martin's Press

Dark Roads by Chevy Stevens is a very highly recommended psychological thriller.

The Cold Creek Highway is an isolated stretch of road through British Columbia that is known as a place where young women go missing. It is said the women were all victims of a serial killer, although no one has ever been charged in any of the cases. Cold Creek is a small town along the highway. Hailey McBride, 17, has grown up there with her father who taught her how to survive and live off the land. Her father was recently killed in a car accident and now Hailey is living with her Aunt Lana and her husband, Police Sargent Vaughn. Vaughn is known as "The Iceman" and roundly disliked by the local teens. Vaughn is more than just dislikeable, he is an authoritarian, controlling man who is watching Hailey constantly. Once she finds out what he is keeping hidden in the back shed, his office, she knows that she needs to leave, hide in a secluded location, and use her survival skills until she turns eighteen and can escape him. She hopes she will be assumed to be another victim of the highway killer

The novel is divided up into three parts. The first is focused on Hailey, while the second is the experiences of Beth Chevalier a year later. Beth arrives in Cold Creek to attend the annual memorial service for the highway victims after her sister Amber was recently found dead by the highway. She is grieving, unable to continue on with her previous life, estranged from her parents, and living in Cold Creek trying to understand what happened to her sister. She takes a job at the diner where Amber worked and meets the locals.

Stevens brings her incredible talent and ability to write an unputdownable thriller to Dark Roads. The tension and sense of menace is palpable. First you have a highway where women have been disappearing for years. Next you have Vaughn who is a creepy, dictatorial despot who will make your skin crawl. Throughout the novel there is an undercurrent of impending doom that keeps intensifying, spreading, and growing. Once you start reading it is hard to set it down. The pacing is perfect. When the tension becomes too much, Stevens provides a respite before ratcheting up the suspense again.

The characters are all finely drawn and feel and react like real people- except Vaughn who just seems evil all the time. The narrative is both character driven and a psychological thriller. Part way through the story the plot slightly strays off into more of a character driven coming-of-age story, but quickly returns to the tense survival story. The ending is twisty, adrenaline-filled, and perfect. I have loved every novel Chevy Stevens has written and this is no exception. Oh, and there is a dog named Wolf.

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

Where the Truth Lies

Where the Truth Lies by Anna Bailey
8/3/21; 384 pages
Atria Books

Where the Truth Lies by Anna Bailey is a recommended murder mystery set in an insular small Colorado town.

Emma's best friend Abigail is missing after a party held in the woods outside the small Colorado town of Whistling Ridge. The last time she saw her friend, Abi was going to meet a boy in the woods... and then she disappeared. She does not believe Abi ran away without telling her first, but when evidence is discovered that something happened to her friend, Emma sets out to uncover the truth. The trouble is that this is a town full of secrets and prejudices that everyone is hiding and violence always seems just behind every turn.

The plot moves along at a swift pace and the tension keeps you reading. The story is told through present day activities and flashback to the past. While this is a dynamic, intense narrative with many characters and pieces composing the overall structure of the mystery, it is also a novel of stereotypical characters composed of shopworn descriptions and dialogue. No spoilers, but these small town stereotypes are just that, typecasts of a kind of person, but the thing is that all these people with their secrets and prejudices in this town is just too much and highly unlikely to occur. The key to appreciate this novel is to focus on the quality of the writing, which is good and descriptive for a debut novelist, and set aside all your disbelief that this is a little too soap opera-ish and melodramatic. 

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Atria Books.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Did I Say You Could Go

Did I Say You Could Go by Melanie Gideon
8/3/21; 368 pages
Simon & Schuster

Did I Say You Could Go by Melanie Gideon is a highly recommended psychological drama.

Ruth Thorne, and her daughter Marley, and Gemma Howard, and her daughter Bee, first met when Ruth held the meet and greet for the Hillside Academy kindergarten class. Both Ruth and Gemma are single mothers and Ruth is determined to make Gemma and Bee their friends. While the rest of the mothers are turned off by Ruth and her conspicuous wealth, Gemma seems open to accept her. The two families quickly become friends, with Ruth generously paying for all sorts of luxuries that Gemma could never afford. When Ruth is involved in a scandal, Gemma takes it as an opportunity to begin to slowly pull away from her overbearing friendship. Then, seven years later Gemma's company is named in a scandal and Ruth uses this to insert herself into Gemma's life again.

Right from the start it is clear that this is a novel of frenemies and as such there will be lies, deceptions, obsession, and treachery hidden behind the facade of helpful support and caring. It is delicious combination that will hold your attention while you predict what is going to happen next. Gideon gives her characters believable attributes and provides the complete backstory about their lives and friendships. Even more heartbreaking is reading about Bee and Marley as they try to negotiate their teenage years. Truly, they are all quite flawed characters in vastly different ways. Gemma is the most sane and reasonable, but she is also too trusting of Ruth's intentions.

The chapters follow past and present in the lives of the characters. There are also excerpts of discussions and gossip between users on an anonymous mom app used by school parents. I kept questioning if this was really a thing and if it is, why would any sensible person participate in it? Setting that aside, Did I Say You Could Go is an immanently readable novel that is a compelling and entertaining summer read. The ending is very satisfying.  May all your friends be true friends.

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

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

When All Light Fails

When All Light Fails by Randall Silvis
8/3/21; 464 pages
Ryan DeMarco Series #5

When All Light Fails by Randall Silvis is a highly recommended mystery/procedural and the fifth book in the Ryan DeMarco series.

Starting off with a shocking, heart-stopping resolution of the narrative left hanging in the previous novel, No Woods So Dark as These (2020), in When All Light Fails Ryan and Jayme take on a new case, but to an even greater extent, Ryan contemplates the meaning of life after a near death experience and the two continue healing. The case starts out as a look into the truth behind the letters Emma, a nine-year-old girl in Michigan, sent to three prominent men. Emma says her mother is very ill and one of the men is supposed to be her father. District Court Judge Emeritus J.D. Morrison is one of the recipients and he asks Ryan and Jayme to investigate the paternity claim. They set off to Michigan and, once they look into Emma and the situation, they take themselves off the judge's payroll and take on the case pro bono to find an answer and justice for Emma. But powerful people like to keep their secrets.

Ryan and Jayme are both still healing, contemplative, and stunned from events that occur right at the start of the novel, as is state police officer Daniella ( Dani) Flores. Adding to the introspective mood of this whole plot is DeMarco's philosophical and pensive ruminations about the meaning of life and our role in it. Due to his experiences, he has a personality change in this novel. This plot allows Silvis the freedom to explore the age old question about the meaning of life and death through the character of DeMarco. While these musings do tend to go on a bit long, they do set the right tone for what may be the final DeMarco novel. As expected, the writing is very descriptive and can be almost poetic at times.

Naturally Ryan and Jayme are well developed characters across the five novels. Those who are reading this as a stand-alone novel may want to start earlier in the series, or at least read the previous novel, No Woods So Dark as These before starting When All Light Fails.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Sourcebooks.

Monday, July 26, 2021

The Viking Heart

The Viking Heart by Arthur Herman
8/3/21; 512 pages
HMH Books

The Viking Heart: How Scandinavians Conquered the World by Arthur Herman is a highly recommended history of the Vikings, their influence in Europe and beyond, and eventually how the mind set of the Scandinavians influenced American history. This is a history written with ties to Herman's own family heritage.

As most people know the Vikings, Norwegians, Danes, Finns, and Swedes, were raiders who sparked terror across Europe and east Eurasia for more than two centuries after 780 C.E. and shaped the history of these areas before they settled down to becoming settlers and traders. These Norsemen were never part of one national identity and represented a very small population, which makes their impact even more interesting. What set them apart was that where ever they went they brought with them a certain attitude, way of life, and mythology. Herman also shares archaeological and DNA research to trace the movements and reach of the Vikings.

As this is a history focused on Scandinavians, the peoples comprising these countries are the focus of the book. Their bold actions, raids, travels, movements, mythology, communities, families, inventiveness, and adventurous spirit are the focus of the history from the early time of the Viking to the contributions of settlers in America. Once in America, Herman covers the role the role these settlers played in American history along with several famous descendants of Scandinavian ancestry. The part that many Scandinavians will stand up and applaud is the clear presentation of how Snorri Sturluson's Eddas and guide to Old Norse Mythology influenced so many parts of popular culture today, especially Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.

The narrative is very accessible to readers wanting a basic account of Vikings and their descendants in America rather than an encyclopedic history of all things Viking and Scandinavian. Those who are looking for a complete in-depth examination of the history can look for further information, but a causal reader will appreciate this presentation. Herman states that he wrote this book to examine and pay homage to his ancestors, so he does make the book personal, naming his Scandinavian relatives and sharing personal family stories. The volume includes chapter notes and an index, as well as photographs.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HMH Books.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

The Best of David Brin

The Best of David Brin by David Brin
7/31/21; 624 pages
Subterranean Press

The Best of David Brin by David Brin is a very highly recommended collection of 21 science fiction short stories and novellas spanning 1982 - 2020. Those who love and enjoy Brin's work will appreciate this retrospective collection. Those who are new to Brin's writing will become fans after reading this introduction to his work and discovering the breadth and scope of his writing. As with any compilation of stories, some are stronger than others when comparing them side by side, but each of them represents an outstanding example of hard science fiction stories. Brin is known for his skillful world building and the inclusion of science in his stories without sacrificing great, imaginative plots and character development. His skill is exemplified in many of these stories. (Rather than reading all these stories in one sitting I spread the enjoyment out to better appreciate what each narrative had to offer. This was a smart move as it precluded a lot of comparison between wildly different stories.)

After a personal introduction by Catherine Asaro, the stories are sorted into seven sections. Contents include:
Lift your gaze!: Insistence of Vision; The Crystal Spheres; The Loom of Thessaly; Transition Generation
It’s alive! So be wary: The Giving Plague; Chrysalis; Dr. Pak’s Preschool; Piecework
Persevere! (Tales of the Coss): The Logs; Tumbledowns of Cleopatra Abyss
Things may just get weird: Detritus Affected; Mars Opposition; Toujours Voir; The River of Time
Light. Let it shine!: The Tell; The Escape
Prevailing... despite everything: The Postman; A Need for Heroes; Thor Meets Captain America
And good news may get... complicated: Stones of Significance; Reality Check

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Subterranean Press.

The Orphans of Davenport

The Orphans of Davenport by Marilyn Brookwood
7/27/21; 352 pages
Liveright Publishing

The Orphans of Davenport: Eugenics, the Great Depression, and the War over Children's Intelligence by Marilyn Brookwood is a very highly recommended meticulously researched and thoughtfully presented examination of the early psychologists in Iowa during the Great Depression who studied and challenged the prevailing thoughts concerning early childhood development and the question whether intelligence is inherited or influenced by environment.

Brookwood does an excellent job setting the historical period of time, the context, and explaining how the research and actions of these young psychologists directly countered the predominate view and stance of the established academics of the time. Their research in the 1930s at the Iowa Child Welfare Research Station resulted in a direct challenge to the universally accepted notion that children inherited low intelligence from their parents and the environment children were raised in was immaterial. It was the nature-versus-nurture debate that resulted in eventually eradicating the accepted racist and classic views of childhood development. The action that began this major breakthrough is amazing.

Psychologist Harold Skeels and his colleague Marie Skodak had two toddler girls at the Iowa Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home in Davenport, Iowa, in 1934 who both had their IQ's tested. Their IQ scores were so low they were found to be unfit for adoption. The radical choice they made to send the two girls to in institution for the "feeble minded" where the women there cared for the little girls. Much to their astonishment, the girls' IQ scores rose to normal levels, making them open for adoption. This breakthrough was repeated with thirteen other children. The individual attention and stimulating environment provided by their caregivers at the institution made the difference.

When Skeels and Skodak published their findings they were viciously attacked by America’s leading psychologists, who were also all eugenicists. Lewis M. Terman of Stanford University was the most vocal critic and he not only denounced their findings but also suppressed them. It wasn't until the 1960s that a new generation of psychologists accepted the original findings that environment influences intelligence. This helped start the field of developmental neuroscience and confirmed the benefits of early childhood education.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Liveright Publishing.

Friday, July 23, 2021

The Authoritarian Moment

The Authoritarian Moment by Ben Shapiro
7/27/21; 288 pages

The Authoritarian Moment: How the Left Weaponized America's Institutions Against Dissent by Ben Shapiro is a very highly recommended examination of authoritarianism, where it is most prevalent, and how it is influencing society today. Shapiro clearly sets forth all of his points with examples and explanations, which are backed up by facts and an abundance of chapter notes. He also proposes how the majority must speak up to oppose the authoritarian actions of the few.

There has been a great deal of authoritarian behavior lately and the real question at this point is who is looking at the conduct of various groups or people and, from their point-of-view, determining who is right or wrong and why, as well as how they have been endowed with the job of pronouncing judgments over the rest of the country. The problem is that right now, "More than six in ten Americans say they fear saying what they think, including a majority of liberals, 64 percent of moderates, and fully 77 percent of conservatives." Obviously, the media and academia have placed themselves in the forefront as judges of what behavior and opinions they will espouse. The "mostly peaceful" protests burning down city blocks and causing up to $2 billion dollars in damage is a good example of people being told to overlook and accept. And, according to another recently released book by a researcher in journalism, the media bias is toward the liberal left in cities.

Shapiro makes a compelling case that the authoritarian left has spent decades suppressing the ideas of those who disagree with them by using people's inherent politeness against them. What this small percentage of the population doesn't seem to realize is that just because people are silent doesn't mean they are bending their will to what they are being told to believe nor are they abiding by the arbitrary rules set by them. Turning against a majority of people and demanding that they conform to your beliefs is itself intolerant and rigid. It doesn't accept the wide variety of beliefs and backgrounds, the free exchange of ideas, and most importantly our first amendment rights of freedom of speech for all of us, not just a liberal radical left leaning minority. "[B]uried in authoritarianism is always one deep flaw: its insecurity. If authoritarians had broad and deep support, they wouldn’t require compulsion. The dirty secret of our woke authoritarians is that they are the minority." "The Authoritarian Moment lays bare the intolerance and rigidity creeping into all American ideology – and prescribes the solution to ending the authoritarianism that threatens our future."

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

False Witness

False Witness by Karin Slaughter
7/20/21; 448 pages

False Witness by Karin Slaughter is a very highly recommended intense, gritty, complex, and excellent standalone crime thriller. Slaughter has done it again; this one of the best thrillers of the year. Right at the start False Witness was unputdownable. It grabbed my attention immediately and only continued to get better as the complications multiplied.

Leigh and Callie Collier are sisters who have been running away from their abusive childhood for years. In the summer of 1998 when the two were teens, Callie was viciously attacked by the father of the boy she was babysitting. Fighting for her life, Callie fought back. When called, Leigh immediately came to help her sister deal with the clean up of the situation. Now Callie is an addict, trying to numb her pain while Leigh is an attorney who has recently join a large Atlanta law firm, although she tries to sabotage her happiness. Although she is separated from her husband, Walter, the two still care for each other and amicably parent their daughter Maddy. When Leigh receives a phone call from one of the firm's partners while at her daughter's play, she is perplexed why she as a lower level attorney, was called. When she arrives at the firm, however, Leigh realizes why the client, Andrew Tenant, fired his attorney and asked for her. He recognizes her as the sister of his babysitter twenty-three years ago. It becomes clear immediately that Andrew is a violent psychopath, guilty of the current brutal murder as well as others, and wants her on the case for reasons beyond her legal prowess.

The characters of Leigh and Callie are skillfully portrayed as realistic and complex characters. Opposites in many ways, they both experienced a difficult childhood with their mother and their own actions. They both feel like real people and their relationship is as complicated as their history, but they are always there for each other and share a bond. Their devotion to each other and their willingness to risk everything to protect the other sister is clearly depicted through out the novel, both in their past and present. Andrew is a particularly creepy, evil, and frightening character who will make your skin crawl. As you learn what seems to be his plan, what he is demanding, some other fact will come to light and predicting what will happen next, what he is planning, is impossible.

This is a masterfully written novel. As the plot unfolds, the complications add up and the already convoluted twisty plot becomes even more intricate. The nail-biting suspense grows with each chapter. The narrative alternates between point-of-view of Leigh and Callie. Both narrative threads are equally compelling. While reading the thoughts and perspective of one sister, you will be wondering what is happening to the other sister. And you will not be able to predict the twists and the direction this novel is taking. For readers who need to know, you should be forewarned that this is a violent novel, and it should also have a language warning.

Slaughter has incorporated the pandemic into the plot and some current events were mentioned in False Witness. I say this because I normally I like novelists to leave current events and opinions out of the plot and have been known to lower a rating due to that. Strangely enough, even though I took note of this, it didn't bother me this time. The novel is just that good. Once I finished the novel and got to the note at the end, Slaughter address this issue and why she did it.  

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins

Saturday, July 17, 2021

The Other Passenger

The Other Passenger by Louise Candlish
7/20/21; 400 pages
Atria Books

The Other Passenger by Louise Candlish is a highly recommended psychological thriller.

Jamie Buckby first meets the younger couple Melia and Kit through his partner, Clare. Clare invited the couple over one evening after she met Melia through work. The evening was enjoyable and that was when Jamie talked Kit into joining him in taking the ferry from St. Mary's into London rather than the London Tube. Jamie was once a marketing executive, but after he had a terrifying panic attack on the London Tube, he became a barista. Clare, however, is a real estate agent who is doing very well and they live in a high end home owned by her parents, so she has been understanding, to a point, about his sudden low-paying job. He and Kit start taking the ferry together and quickly form a small group with two other commuters, Steve and Gretchen. Soon it becomes clear to Clare and Jamie as the lives of the two couples become more entwined that Melia and Kit are drowning in debt, living way beyond their means, and Kit may have a drug problem. Soon things become even more complicated.

Jamie is the narrator. He starts out as an average likeable man, who is approaching 50, but soon it becomes clear that he may not be a reliable narrator or even the man you think he is. His actions, as well as the actions of other characters, might surprise and shock you as the novel continues and the deceptions mount. The description of Jamie's panic attack in the tube is remarkably captured and you will feel empathy for him that will later be sharply contrasted with his other actions.

This is a very well-written, absolutely irresistible and closely planned and plotted psychological thriller. Everyone is scheming in some way and they all have secrets to hide. The narrative is wonderfully complex, full of details that you need to pay attention to in order to fully appreciate events that will occur later in the novel, because nothing is exactly as it seems and there are clues everywhere. The middle of the narrative slows down as far as action, but there are still details you need to take note of while reading. The final denouement is wonderfully twisty.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Atria Books.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Steel Fear

Steel Fear by Brandon Webb, John David Mann
7/13/21; 464 pages
Random House Publishing Group

Steel Fear by Brandon Webb and John David Mann is a highly recommended military thriller set on an aircraft carrier.

With six thousand people onboard, the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln is like a small town. When Navy SEAL sniper Chief Finn hitches a ride home from the Persian Gulf, he immediately notes that there are problems in the leadership and the morale is low on the carrier. And this is before shipmates start dying. It soon becomes clear that a serial killer is onboard. Suspicion naturally falls on Finn as he arrived just before the first death and is being sent home in disgrace. Finn, a strange, self contained man, knows that he needs to find the guilty party to redeem himself and perhaps save himself.

The descriptions are amazing in the narrative, probably because Webb is a former Navy SEAL and able to add realistic details into the plot, making everything ring true. Adding to the accurate descriptions is a complex murder mystery involving a serial killer. The combination of a military thriller with a search for a killer in the narrative all works extremely well and Finn's investigation is compelling.

The description of Finn at the beginning is not that of a typical protagonist (he is described as like a marsupial) but it becomes clear that he is a man you do not want to underestimate. He may seem odd, but he is driven, determined and very intelligent. Adding to the novel are several other interesting characters. The narrative is told through the point-of-view of multiple characters. The quick, short chapters keep the pace quick and your interest high as you find yourself reading "just one more chapter" to see what happens next. The whole novel is well-written, the plot is intelligent, and it feels ripe for a sequel.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Random House.

We Were Never Here

We Were Never Here by Andrea Bartz
8/3/21; 320 pages
Random House Publishing

We Were Never Here by Andrea Bartz is a highly recommended psychological thriller.

Emily and her best friend Kristen are taking their annual trip, this year in Chile, when Kristen kills the backpacker she brought back to their room. Kristen says he was attacking her and she had no choice. The whole nightmare scene is similar to what happened during a previous trip to Cambodia, only that time Emily was being brutally beaten and Kristen killed the man, saving Emily. The two struggle to dispose of the body and head home, Emily to Milwaukee and Kristen to Australia. Emily, who was still trying to deal with the trauma from her attack previously, struggles greatly with this new murder and the similarities in the attacks. How could that happen twice? Once home, Emily decides to distance herself from Kristen, concentrating on her job and her new relationship with Aaron, hoping to put the traumatic experience behind her. But then Kristen shows up at her door, and Emily begins to question their relationship and Kristen's motives.

Emily, as the narrator of this novel, is clearly a troubled woman, but she is devoted to her best friend - until she isn't so sure she should be. At first, Kristen is portrayed as an overly cheerful but perhaps untrustworthy woman, and you will wonder why Emily is so devoted to her. But you may also want Emily to get a backbone and stand up for herself and her choices. The interaction between the two and Emily's emotional reactions are the basis of the novel.  

The beginning of this novel is gripping and unputdownable, however, the middle of the novel is a slow moving spiral of new information and disclosures. While trying to create an atmosphere of distrust and dread, it goes on a bit too long and could have been tightened up. Kristen is increasingly portrayed as a dangerous character, although it was obvious in the beginning that something was off with her. Emily also becomes more unreliable. The creepiness increases and the drama escalates when you get to the ending, which is unexpected and riveting.

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

Such a Quiet Place

Such a Quiet Place by Megan Miranda
7/13/21; 352 pages
Simon & Schuster

Such a Quiet Place by Megan Miranda is a very highly recommended mystery set in one quiet neighborhood.

Hollow’s Edge was a quiet neighborhood until the murder of Brandon and Fiona Truett. Now a year and a half later the neighbors are trapped on the street, unable to sell their homes while seeing the empty Truett house daily. Ruby Fletcher was convicted of the double murder, largely based on the testimony of all the neighbors, but now her conviction has been overturned. Ruby, 25, was the roommate of Harper Nash, 30, and when released she returns to Harper's home and the neighborhood knowing full well the effect her return will have on the neighbors. Harper doesn't tell her to leave, knowing Ruby has no place to go, but she doesn't know exactly what Ruby is planning, especially after Ruby says that someone will pay for her incarceration. Ruby clearly is taking advantage of Harper, and the tension and suspicions in the neighborhood rise.

This is a wonderfully written mystery with enough twists to keep you guessing about who did what. I love the description that it is an updated village murder mystery, because that is exactly what it feels like, only with house cameras, cell phones, and a community website. All the same people are still living on the street when Ruby returns, so all the players are in place to figure out what really happened. All the neighbors seem to be normal middle class people, only Ruby stands out as not one of them. But, how much do you share with your neighbors? Can you really trust all of them? What secrets are left unspoken? What misunderstandings are perpetuated?

Miranda's writing is outstanding. She sets up the information you need to know at the beginning of the plot, telling you about the neighbors, who they are and where they live (map included). This does make for a slower start, but since Ruby shows up unannounced at Harper's at the start, it also serves to increase the ominous overall feeling that something is going to happen. Harper is a great character and narrator. You quickly learn her background and what she is thinking. It becomes clear that Ruby has plans and, with the annual 4th of July party approaching, it appears that something will be happening. The final denouement was perfect. I didn't have a clue how this novel was going to turn out until the end.

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

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

The Lost Girls

The Lost Girls by Jessica Chiarella
7/6/21; 336 pages
Penguin Publishing Group

The Lost Girls by Jessica Chiarella is a recommended psychological thriller.

Twenty years ago when Marti Reese was eight-years-old, her teenage sister Maggie got into a car and disappeared. Since that time Marti has been searching for her sister. When the true crime podcast about the case and her search wins her an award, it also propels her Maggie's case back into the news, which results in people contacting her. A woman, Dr. Ava Vreeland , contacts her with information that might have a tie to Maggie's case. It involves a young woman, Sarah Ketchum, who disappeared in the same area as the Reese family home and the similarities between the two cases. The only problem is that Ava's brother, Colin McCarty, was convicted for Sarah's murder, but Ava knows he is innocent. Marti sets off to tell Ava's story on her podcast in a search for the truth about Sarah's murder, which seems to have ties to Maggie's case.

Marti, as a character, is highly driven in her search for her sister but she also has self-destructive tendencies which are clearly displayed in the plot. You will have sympathy for her and her obsession with finding her sister while drinking too much, sabotaging her marriage, and making poor choices. She really is a tortured soul who needs some counseling. This makes her ripe for jumping on the information Ava provides her and using the case for the next season of their podcast. Personally, I actually didn't trust any of these characters because they all seemed self-serving.

This twisty case is compelling, however, you need to get through the opening pages which set up the story. After that the novel is fast-paced and will keep you reading to reach the shocking conclusion. I did successfully predict  a major part of the plot, but there were still several surprises. This is a novel almost written for true crime podcast enthusiasts. Alas, I'm not one, but it is a very good psychological thriller. I was unsure about the slam near the beginning over other online talks shows. It's always best to keep the focus about your book.

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


Falling by T. J. Newman
7/6/21; 304 pages
Simon & Schuster

Falling by T. J. Newman is a very highly recommended intense and shocking thriller that will leave you frantic to reach the end. It also resulted in a personal oath to avoid flying again.

Coastal Airways captain Bill Hoffman is called in by his superior at the last minute to take over Flight 416 from LAX to JFK Airport. Soon after the plane is airborne, he gets an email from his wife, Carrie consisting of a photo showing her and their 10-year-old son, Scott, taken hostage in their living room, with their faces hooded and Carrie strapped with bombs. After this he receives a FaceTime call from Saman Khani, the kidnapper. Khani demands that Bill must make a choice between crashing the plane with 149 souls aboard or the terrorist will kill Carrie, Scott, and Elise, the Hoffmans’ 10-month-old baby. He is also instructed not to tell anyone, or his family will die. Bill's response is that he will not crash the plane and Khani will not kill his family. How Bill can manage to save his family without crashing the plane will take all his experience and intelligence, as well as that of his trusted crew to make it happen.

The diverse cast of characters are all portrayed as complicated, real, and credible people. You will care about them and be invested in their survival. The actions everyone takes to ensure no one dies and the reactions of the characters are believable. I'm sure this is due to Newman's career as a flight attendant, so she knows procedures and reactions of passengers. I can't wait for her next novel!

This is an unputdownable, shocking, frightening thriller that keeps up a lightning-fast pace throughout the whole novel. The writing was exceptional in this debut novel, providing the details while keeping the anticipation and suspense high. I was invested in the outcome and breathless as the drama kept increasing the tension. This excellent novel reads like an action movie and is a perfect summer read - although not if flights are involved. You will stay up late to finish Falling, no caffeine required.

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

Sunday, July 11, 2021

The Bone Code

The Bone Code by Kathy Reichs
7/6/21; 368 pages
Temperance Brennan Series #20

The Bone Code by Kathy Reichs is a highly recommended procedural featuring forensic anthropologist Temperance (Tempe) Brennan. This is the 20th book in the series but it can be read as a stand-alone novel.

A storm has washed ashore a medical waste container on the South Carolina coast and the Charleston coroner calls Tempe Brennan to examine the two bodies found inside. The decomposed bodies are wrapped in plastic, bound with electrical wire, and each has a shot to the head, something she has seen before. Tempe is taken back fifteen years earlier when she had an identical case in Quebec. Could the two cases be connected? After the examination, she travels to Montreal to gather evidence from the previous case and to see Andrew Ryan, a former Quebec homicide detective turned PI, who’s her current significant other. During the same time South Carolina is experiencing an outbreak of a flesh-eating contagion, Capnocytophaga. There is a side story about a woman searching for the story behind a death mask.

It helps to have some familiarity with the series, or even Bones, the television spin-off of the books, in order to really appreciate the novel. The series features great step by step investigations of the cases and closely follows scientific procedures and advances in forensic medicine. The stories always follow two primary settings and then Tempe will visit other places while conducting her investigations. Tempe is a well- established character, as is Ryan, and her cat. Reichs' writing is always strong and the novel is well-paced, ensuring to keep you reading just one more chapter to reach the end.

It becomes clear that someone has a secret and will go to drastic measures to protect it. Who would have been involved over such a relatively long period of time to keep a secret and why? The final denouement is pitch perfect and ties up all the cases and questions raised in the book. The series is a bit formulaic, but admittedly it works and always results in a novel that is based on real medicine, entertaining and believable.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Scribner.

The Stranger Behind You

The Stranger Behind You by Carol Goodman
7/6/21; 336 pages

The Stranger Behind You by Carol Goodman is a recommended atmospheric thriller.

Joan Lurie is the young journalist who wrote the exposé that uncovers the actions of sexual predator Caspar Osgood, the powerful owner of the Newspaper Global. Joan is attacked outside her apartment the night the story breaks and for her safety she moves into the Refuge, a new high-security apartment after accepting a large advance to expand her research into a book. Joan is still suffering from after effect of the attack. She meets her elderly neighbor, Lillian Day, who is hiding out in the Refuge too. Lillian begins to visit Joan daily, telling her life's story. From her Joan learns that the Refuge was once a Magdalen Laundry, and Lillian has hidden there before. Unknown to Joan, Melissa Osgood, moves into the apartment below Joan. Osgood took his own life a few days after the story broke, leaving Melissa humiliated, in debt with a besmirched social standing. She wants revenge and plans to try to discredit and sabotage Joan's story.

This begins as a Me Too novel and then morphs into something else that is close but not quite on point. When Joan is attacked, blacks out from a head injury, and then has her vision impaired but still does not report the attack or go to the doctor, it was so unbelievable that I couldn't set disbelief aside. In some ways this was good due to the rest of the novel being sort of a mishmash of implausible plot points and actions by the characters. Once I accepted that this was not going to be a realistic story, it was easier to go with the flow of the plot and the improbable narrative elements and actions of the characters. Both Joan and Melissa needed professional help. The three story lines eventually coalesce into the final denouement. Lillian's story was not quite as mesmerizing to me as the narratives of Joan and Melissa and felt too overdone and drawn out. Certainly men abusing and exploiting women by men is a theme but the lead up to the conclusion requires you to set aside all logic and disbelief in order to appreciate the novel.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Friday, July 9, 2021

The Stranger in the Mirror

The Stranger in the Mirror by Liv Constantine
7/6/21; 336 pages

The Stranger in the Mirror by Liv Constantine is a recommended psychological thriller.

Addison Hope, not her real name, doesn't know who she really is. Two years ago she was found at the side of a highway in New Jersey by trucker Ed. She was obviously hurt, had no ID and no memory. Ed took her home to Philadelphia and his wife Gigi. The two get her into a doctor and then help her try to start her life again. Now she is engaged to Gabriel and about to have an exhibit of her photos at his family gallery. She loves Gabriel and should be happy, but she is still having occasional flashbacks to horrible memories, but she has no context to place them in, so she is staying quiet, afraid she did something awful in her past. At the same time Julian, a doctor in Boston, has been searching for his wife, Cassandra, for two years. Their daughter, Valentina, now 7, misses and needs her mother.

The chapters flip back and forth between several different character's points-of-view in short chapters that will propel you to keep reading. The sisters who are Liv Constantine know how to keep you reading and build suspense. There is no question that the plot will keep you reading, however you will also have to very firmly set your logic and disbelief aside to stay with the plot. I had several eye-rolling moments and scenes that had me muttering early on - and it just got worse as the plot continued. I had my suspicions the direction the plot was going to take, but hoped I was wrong. When we got to the last section I knew exactly where the plot was going and wasn't pleased to be correct. The opening was what kept me reading but the increasingly absurd plot elements left me wondering why I stuck it out when I reached the ending. I'm recommending because I did finish it, and some of the characters were well-written and interesting.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

The Third Grave

The Third Grave by Lisa Jackson
6/29/21; 352 pages
Pierce Reed/Nikki Gillette Series #4

The Third Grave by Lisa Jackson is a highly recommended Southern Gothic crime novel.

Instead of finding the reputed fortune when searching the cellar of the deteriorating Beaumont mansion after a hurricane hits the Savannah area, a petty criminal discovers the skeletal remains of two girls. Detective Pierce Reed is called out to the scene and his wife crime writer Nikki Gillette soon clandestinely follows. The two girls are the older two Duval sisters, Holly, 12, and Poppy, 10, who have been missing for twenty years. The search is now on for the perpetrator and the third and youngest sister, Rose, 5, who is still missing. The girls went to the movies with their older brother, Owen. Rather than staying with them, Owen left to spend time with his girl friend and became the main suspect but nothing was ever proven. Now it is time to take another look at the previous investigation and Owen. As Reed is officially investigating the cold case, Nikki ignores his order for her to stay away, sure that this case will result in a successful true crime book for her, and her poor decisions result in putting herself and others at great risks.

As the fourth book set in Savannah featuring Pierce Reed and Nikki Gillette, you can read The Third Grave as a standalone novel. There is enough backstory to easily keep up with the main characters as your compelling interest will be in the mystery and solving the case. The plot does have a slow pace at the beginning but it quickly picks up as more information is uncovered. Chapters alternate from the point-of-view of different characters, including the killer, who is determined to not be identified. The key to enjoying this novel is to focus on the plot, take note of the discoveries and new information uncovered, and catch the clues pointing to the identity of the killer. There will be a few surprises along the way.

I enjoyed the novel. The cold case and the investigation are interesting, however Nikki, as the novel unfolds, increasingly becomes an unlikable character. She takes unnecessary risks. She is self-centered. Her actions are impetuous and head strong. There are consequences to her actions, but she seemingly shrugs them off. She is not disagreeable all the time, but her determination isn't tempered by a thoughtful consideration of the consequences, which feels rather immature. I had to set my opinion about her aside and simply focused on the plot, which is interesting and will hold your attention.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Kensington.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

The Keepers

The Keepers by Jeffrey B. Burton
6/29/21; 288 pages
St. Martin's Publishing
Mace Reid K-9 mystery #2

The Keepers by Jeffrey B. Burton is a highly recommended mystery and procedural. This is the second book in the series featuring Vira, a cadaver dog, and Mason (Mace) Reid, her handler.

Mace Reid lives on the outskirts of Chicago and loves dogs. He specializes in human remains detection (HRD) and he trains dogs to hunt for the dead, cadaver dogs, as well as for other searches. Vira has a special ability though, she can sniff out the guilty killer. Vira and Mace have a connection to Chicago Police Officer Kippy Gimm, and they often work together. Mace and Vira are called out to three different murder scenes, the third is in Washington Park at three o'clock in the morning and what Vira indicates leads to a shocking investigation into corruption and murder that eventually ties the three cases eventually

This is a series for those who love mysteries and dogs. This second novel can be a stand alone, but you will want to read the first book, The Finders. The writing continues to shine in this compelling, well-paced novel. As in the first novel, the chapters are short and to the point, which keeps the pace quickly moving along. Burton does an excellent job creating a sense of tension and urgency in the plot. The real question is who can be trusted with the information being uncovered since the corruption seems to go right to the top.

Mace is a well-developed, likeable character who is presented with a nice balance of analytical abilities, serious action, and even a good dose of self-deprecating humor. You will root for him, his dogs, and for Kippy Gimm. They are all believable characters. The dogs - Vira, Sue, the German Shepard, and collies Maggie May and Delta Dawn and new blood hound puppy, Bill (Billie Boy) - are all characters too and you'll see their individual personalities. You will need to suspend some disbelief about Vira's special abilities, but those who have dogs know that sometimes they seem to know more than you realize.

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

Morningside Heights

Morningside Heights by Joshua Henkin
6/15/21; 304 pages

Morningside Heights by Joshua Henkin is a very highly recommended profound, tragic, and compassionate family drama.

In 1976 graduate student Pru Steiner falls in love with Spence Robin, her young Shakespeare professor at Columbia University, and they marry. Spence is a rising star, a lauded professor who receives acclaim and awards for his scholarship. Pru sets her career goals aside, has a child, Sarah, works an uninspiring job fund raising for Columbia, and loves Spence and Sarah. She learns to love Arlo, Spence's son from an earlier marriage. Pru has an Orthodox Jewish background but turns to a more secular observance, like Spence.

They have a good life - and then something changes. It slowly becomes clear that something is wrong with Spence. This man of words misreads an invitation, he is cold all the time, can't concentrate, and is unable to finish new, annotated Shakespeare. At 57 Spence is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s and it is up to Pru, 51, to figure out his care on her own. Sarah, who is at medical school on the west coast, flies out briefly, and Arlo keeps his distance.

The writing is excellent. This is a brilliant, complicated novel that captures an extended, heart-breaking time in a family. It is a portrait of a marriage facing hardship, when a spouse suddenly is turned into a caregiver. It depicts a normal family, where their love and devotion to each other is evident alongside their flaws and struggles.

These are not perfect people, but they are realistic. Certainly Spence and Pru are portrayed as real, complicated, and flawed individuals, but Sarah and Arlo also have chapters where their stories are told through their distinctive, imperfect, and individual points-of-view. All the viewpoints, turmoil, questions, and complications that can be an integral part of an ordinary family are depicted with a nuanced sensitivity and realism as the family, but especially Pru, handle his care while Spence essentially slowly dies.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Pantheon.