Wednesday, September 29, 2021


Crickets by Lee Chappel
9/13/21; 338 pages
Bleau Press

Crickets by Lee Chappel is a highly recommended novel of psychological suspense.

After reporting her rape ten years ago, Kara Peterson left Paige, Ohio, with no plans to ever return. She knew the man who raped her, Dalton Rolenfeld, but, as the son of a prominent family, he was never charged. Kara changed her whole life based on this crime. Now Kara's father, a well liked sheriff, has passed away and she has to return to Paige where everything reminds her of the crime against her. Her neighbor and childhood friend, Brent, is there to assist and support her as he has always been. Once she returns, things start to get odd. Her memories seem off, she loses track of time, and a threatening note is left on her doorstep. It doesn't help that everyone is getting ready to celebrate Dalton's election win.

However, there is now someone who is ready to reopen her case and the investigation. Sam (Samantha) Ellis is a new police officer and the only woman on the force has befriended Kara and is looking into the rape. Sam is there to look at the case and the new evidence and memories. She is concerned that basic police procedures weren't followed in the original case and she is not sure she can trust the locals to take the case seriously. Now that Kara is apparently being threatened again, it is clear that she needs Sam's help.

The narrative is told through the point of view of several characters, mainly Kara, Sam, and a few others in short chapters. Sam is smart and resourceful, going through Kara's case as well as that of her father. It seems that there are plenty of secrets and suspects in this small town and Sam is determined to get to the truth. She is helped by Cody, a local man she can trust, and a friend who is a forensic scientist. The plot moves along at a brisk pace and will hold your complete attention. At first, it is unclear if Kara is losing touch with reality or really being threatened, but as events unfold, it becomes more and more a concern that Kara is being targeted.

Kara, Sam, and Cody are all likable characters. Kara's friend Brent always seems a bit off. The small town of Paige is a character too, as the town spreads gossip and long-held alliances between citizens are still upheld. Everyone shares some clues and context around Kara's attack and who could be currently threatening her. Kara has a difficult time being back in Paige and is overwhelmed and emotional as she meets various people from town. Sam is understanding of Kara's emotional state and sees the clues to something nefarious happening rather than blaming Kara for being overly emotional.

The resolution and the person responsible is not a complete surprise, but reaching the final denouement follows an engaging investigation.

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

Monday, September 27, 2021

Point of Contact

Point of Contact by Richard Ayre
4/29/21; 266 pages
Burning Chair Limited

Point of Contact by Richard Ayre is a highly recommended procedural/horror novel.

Ian Fenwick is an ex-fire fighter and fire investigator who is called by Laura Goddard, a detective at the police department in Newcastle, England, to help them with an unusual investigation. There has been a death that defies explanation and appears to be spontaneous human combustion (SHC). Fenwick is asked for his assistance because he has some personal experience with SHC. As other cases occur, what Goddard and Fenwick don't know is that there is a nefarious group behind the SHC cases. A group gathered by a mysterious man known as William is behind the deaths. He listens to otherworldly beings he calls the Visitors and has gathered people who have special abilities to help him eliminate the human race so the Visitors can retake the world.

The narrative follows the current investigation, a teenage girl who escaped from William and is trying to get to Fenwick to warn him about William's plans, and mysterious chapters from William's point-of-view. This helps increase suspense as the novel picks up speed. Point of Contact starts out resembling a police procedural but as the investigation unfolds the novel increasingly becomes a horror novel, as would be expected in most novels where SHC is a major plot point.

Fenwick is a fully realized, sympathetic character and you will be like him and support his efforts. Goddard is his romantic interest, although she is a great character in her own right. The mysterious William and the group of various minions and thugs who follow him are all odious characters. The plot moves quickly and the chapters will speed by as you race to see what will happen next.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Burning Chair Limited via Netgalley.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Cloud Cuckoo Land

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
9/28/21; 640 pages

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr is a very highly recommended epic tale of the power of literature across centuries and the interconnectedness of all humans. It is absolutely one of the best books of 2021.

Cloud Cuckoo Land is named after an imaginary world mentioned in Aristophanes's play The Birds and the mythical novel is attributed to Antonius Diogenes, a real writer, in Doerr's novel. In the saga written for Diogenes' niece during an illness, Aethon, a shepherd, dreams of escaping to the cloud cuckoo land in the sky and his desire sets him on an adventure that will have him residing in the bodies of an animal, fish, and bird.

There are five characters, all children, whose lives are centuries apart but are also connected: Anna, Omeir, Zeno, Seymour, and Konstance. Anna and Omeir, are young teens living on opposites sides of the city walls during the 1453 siege of Constantinople. Anna is a failure as a seamstress, but she does manage to find a way to read ancient Greek. Omeir is born with a cleft lip. He and his oxen are drafted to help with the siege. In the 1950s Zeno Ninis is a teen Lakeport, Idaho, who doesn't fit in and enlists for the Korean war. As an adult in 2020 he works on translating the ancient Greek text of Diogenes and works with a group of fifth graders on making it into a play. In the 2000s Seymour is a loner with a sensory disorder which sets him apart, but he bonds with nature which leads him to a radical choice in 2020. Konstance is living on the Argos, an interstellar spacecraft/ark headed for exoplanet Beta Oph2 in the mid-22nd century.

As Doerr alternates between the stories of his characters in short chapters, each of the imaginative, descriptive narratives is equally intriguing and compelling. The connection between characters is not as apparent in the beginning as it will become later in the novel, but have patience because it will all come together in the end. Clearly they are all touched by the tale of Aethon's travels and adventures in Cloud Cuckoo Land. All the characters are outsiders who are resilient and survivors. They manage to endure and even thrive during difficult times and circumstances. I cared deeply about each of these characters and their stories.

The writing is descriptive, dazzling, and impressive. Each character is firmly placed in their own timeline and setting and the settings are vividly detailed. These characters care for the book, the story it tells and the physical copy, and each other. There is a complicated, beautiful, mortal truth about acceptance, preservation, and survival that runs through the novel, connecting the past, present, and future. There is also a strong connection to literature and libraries; the novel is dedicated to "the librarians then, now, and in the years to come."

Literature can transform people, provide hope, and heal us, even in a world full of afflictions and concerns. In a hopeful, realistic, redemptive revelation the truth is exposed that humanity with all of its problems, is what it is and that is enough. This is an exceptional novel with a lasting impact. As mentioned, Cloud Cuckoo Land is one of the best books of 2021. 

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

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The 'Peyton Place' Murder

The 'Peyton Place' Murder by Renee Mallett
6/15/21; 188 pages
WildBlue Press

The 'Peyton Place' Murder by Renee Mallett is a highly recommended examination of author Grace Metalious and the murder that influenced her scandalous book Peyton Place.

Renee Mallett delves into the life of Grace Metalious, from her very modest beginnings in Manchester, New Hampshire, to the aftermath of the 1956 publication of her novel Peyton Place. The novel Metalious wrote follows the lives of residents, their secrets, and a shocking murder that occurs in a fictional small New England town she named Peyton Place. When the novel was published it was a huge best-seller, generated a sequel, two movies, and a long-running TV series. The title in and of itself became synonymous with forbidden secrets, sexually charged scandals, and murder. Metalious "became a pariah in the town where she lived, and tabloid fodder for years, ultimately leading to the her untimely death at the age of 39." The murder in her novel was based on a true crime that happened in Gilmanton, New Hampshire, in the late 1940s called "The Sheep Pen Murder." The young woman who was the killer was Barbara Roberts. Although the novel made a few changes in the facts behind the case, Mallett makes a clear connection between the facts of the earlier true crime and Metalious's novel.

This is a well written and presented account of the life of Metalious and the aftermath of her best selling novel. For those of us who read the novel, or saw the movies, or the TV series, the scandal the novel inspired makes sense when examined from the time the novel was written. Today it would not be the shocking novel that it was in 1956. Mallett does an excellent job providing the facts and the harsh judgments that female writers faced during that time period. Metalious is portrayed realistically, as a woman who had flaws but also faced the biases of the times on her own terms. This is a fast, complete, and compelling nonfiction book.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of WildBlue Press via BookSirens.

Monday, September 20, 2021

The Spires

The Spires by Kate Moretti
9/21/21; 316 pages
Thomas & Mercer

The Spires by Kate Moretti is a highly recommended slow burning thriller featuring dual timelines.

Penelope Cox is shocked when Willa Blaine, an old roommate she hasn't seen for 20 years shows up at her door saying she needs help escaping from an abusive relationship. She says she just needs two weeks to decide what to do next. Penelope has enough stress with an unemployed husband, two teenagers, and a precarious work situation, but she agrees if only because of their past history. Twenty years ago, after graduating from college, Willa and Penelope lived with three other friends, Jack, Bree, and Flynn, in an old church which was converted into a house. We know a fire destroyed the church house and the group of friends. Now Willa is back, seemingly being helpful and grateful for a place to stay but there is an unsettling undercurrent of something nefarious being planned.

The chapters switch between the present day occurrences and that of 20 years ago. Flipping between timelines doesn't always work well in this novel simply because the past isn't quite as compelling as the current situation. A better choice might have been less chapters set in the past with a more condensed and succinct story line. We need to know what happened but perhaps don't need all of the immature angst of the characters. In the present day it takes enough suspension of disbelief that Penelope would put up with some of Willa's actions as long as she does. Most adults under these circumstances would have said, "I'm sorry but this isn't working. You need to leave and find someplace else to stay."

Moretti does keep you reading though, so she gets credit for that feat and for writing reliable thrillers that keep the suspense high. Penelope is a fully realized character in both timelines as this is her story from the past and the present. You will understand why she acquiesced to Willa staying with her after no contact for so long, however you won't understand why she didn't tell Willa to leave. There are a few short chapters set in the present from Willa's point-of-view that are consequential. This is an entertaining novel, but readers may also need to know that most people are going to be able to predict exactly what is going to happen (with the exception of an unrealistic twist) as the premise is not original. 3.5 rounded up

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

Saturday, September 18, 2021

When Ghosts Come Home

When Ghosts Come Home by Wiley Cash
9/21/21; 304 pages

When Ghosts Come Home by Wiley Cash is a highly recommended character driven murder mystery set in 1984.

In the middle of the night Sheriff Winston Barnes and his wife Marie are awaken by the sound of a low-flying plane and immediately know something is amiss. Nothing should be landing at the small airport on Oak Island, N.C., so Winston heads over to investigate. What he finds is a large plane has crash landed, the cargo hold is empty, and there is the dead body of a local man on the grass near the landing strip. The dead man, Rodney Bellamy, is the son of a local civil rights activist and math teacher and attended school with Winston's daughter, Colleen. Winston starts the investigation before the FBI steps in and Bradley Frye, the rich-boy developer who is Winston's opponent in the upcoming reelection race in a week, shows up to make his presence known.

To further complicate life, Colleen secretly leaves her husband and comes home to visit her parents. She recently lost their first child at birth and is still grieving. His wife Marie is battling cancer. Frye and his buddies show up flying a confederate flag from their truck to threaten and intimidate Bellamy's widow and Jay, her 14 year-old brother who is staying with her. And rumors are flying around that the plane may have been flown by drug smugglers.

The characters are finely drawn, complex, and realistic in their actions and feelings. The narrative is told through the viewpoints of Winston, Colleen, and Jay. All three are very sympathetic characters who are ordinary people struggling with their own challenging circumstances and have very specific individual thoughts and experiences that closely affect their actions. While the murder investigation involves the plane and who shot Rodney, the real focus is the inner lives and thoughts of these characters. Frye is an anomaly as he is depicted as more of a caricature than a realistic antagonist.

The investigation is almost a side-story to the development of the characters, their inner thoughts, and their interactions with each other and the community. While the plot is compelling, the real pull of this novel is the realistic characters and their personal thoughts and struggles during this particular time period and in their specific circumstances. There is a solution to the mystery, and, although there are holes in the plot, many of the internal struggles of the characters do reach some sort of conclusion. The final denouement is unexpected and shocking.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Lean Fall Stand

Lean Fall Stand by Jon Mcgregor
9/21/21; 288 pages

Lean Fall Stand by Jon Mcgregor is a highly recommended novel of an unforeseen accident and the struggle of recovery.

Robert 'Doc' Wright is a 33-year veteran technician at Station K in the Antarctic who arrives there with two postdocs geographic researchers, Thomas and Luke. When Thomas wants to take some pictures they make the disastrous choice to bend the rules, heading out without sat-phones and separate. When a blinding storm quickly rolls in, they are struggling to contact each other. It is at this point that Robert/Doc has a stroke and is unable to walk or communicate. Anna, Robert's wife flies from England down to Chile where he has been hospitalized. Robert, who cannot communicate, is unable to tell anyone what happened. Anna, who is an academic researcher studying climate change, has to set her work aside to become a caregiver.

The narrative is told in three parts: Lean, Fall, and Stand. Lean is the beginning of the novel, at the research station and the accident. Fall and Stand switch to Anna's new overwhelming and thankless role as caregiver to her husband who cannot convey his thoughts or needs. His basic care and therapy takes over Anna's life. Rather than the struggle for survival in the harsh Antarctic, the fight is for survival after a stroke and for caring for a stroke survivor. It is a sad tale that moves incrementally and slowly toward hope.

The choice on presenting some of the story through a stream-of consciousness style captures both Roberts broken language struggles due to the aphasia and Anna's endless tasks required to care for him. There is a lack of strong character development that held back some of the connection that might have otherwise been present for the characters. If you have ever known anyone recovering after a stroke, it might help you engage more completely with the characters.

This is a subdued, delicate novel that portrays the struggles of care and recovery with the same focus as surviving any battle. While I appreciated much of the novel, The lack of real connection with the characters and the repetition of Robert's struggles with his speech held me back a little. 

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Catapult.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

The Necklace

The Necklace by Matt Witten
9/7/21; 304 pages
Oceanview Publishing

The Necklace by Matt Witten is a recommended thriller.

The narrative follows Susan Lentigo currently and twenty years ago. The novel opens during a fund raising event for Susan. Twenty years ago, soon after they bought the beads to make a necklace together, Susan’s seven-year-old daughter Amy was murdered. Now the man who was convicted of her death is going to be executed and Susan is planning to travel in her dilapidated car from Upstate New York to North Dakota to witness the execution. Her neighbors and friends in her close knit community have donated money to help her get to North Dakota. Susan has never recovered from the death of her daughter. When she discovers a clue involving the necklace Amy made twenty years earlier, the search is on to find more information and the real killer before another young girl is killed.

While your sympathy is with Susan, she is also her worst enemy. She seems emotionally unstable, foolhardy, rude, and quick to anger. She makes several poor, inexplicable choices that are inconceivable and detract from the plot. The clues she is following and her interactions with others aren't entirely believable. The plot will capture your interest, however, in spite of Susan's character. The search for clues and several fortuitous incidents help Susan find the information about who could be the real killer and get her to North Dakota where she finds the FBI agent she worked with twenty years ago and seeks his help.

The plot is easy to follow and read quickly in both timelines, and the switching back and forth in time works in the novel. Susan's search for the truth will grab your attention and even though many of her trials during the trip are a result of her own poor choices, you will still want her to find closure and hope she finds some sense of peace. Once she actually arrives in North Dakota the sense of danger increases. While the ultimate denouement is satisfying, it is not a shocking surprise. 3.5

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Oceanview Publishing.

Monday, September 13, 2021


Echogenesis by Gary Gibson
8/10/21; 360 pages
brain in a jar books

Echogenesis by Gary Gibson is a recommended science fiction novel.

Sam Newman and fourteen others wake up inside pods near a damaged landing craft on an unknown planet. Apparently no one knows why or how they ended up on this planet, in this situation. They are also in new, young bodies, unlike the aging bodies many of them remember. The survivors have also already separated into groups, with those who were military in one and the others, composed of engineers, scientists, etc. in another. Now their overwhelming need is to figure out how to survive.

This is an action-based sci-fi story where you have to set disbelief aside completely and go with what happens, in spite of the improbabilities. There is a decent idea here but the execution wasn't quite as good as the concept. The world building is so-so. There is an interesting variety of characters, but no real character development to increase your engagement in the plot. What this leaves is an entertaining novel with several flaws that you can read quite quickly while trying to find out what happened and why. There are several twists in the action and the final denouement was actually worth slogging through some of the problematic parts of the plot.

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

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Harlem Shuffle

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead
9/14/21; 336 pages
Knopf Doubleday

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead is a very highly recommended historical fiction novel set in Harlem during the early 1960's.

Ray Carney makes a living for his family selling furniture, some gently used. It is 1959 and he and his wife Elizabeth are expecting their second child. They hope to be able to move into a bigger apartment someday. Despite his background he strives to generally live an upstanding life - with a few exceptions when his cousin Freddy gives him some random stolen item to sell. Then his life begins to change when Freddy tells a group planning to rob the  Hotel Theresa, the "Waldorf of Harlem," that Ray can act as a fence for the stolen items. Once Ray's name is out there, the struggle begins as a group of several different underworld figures enter his life, including the mobster Chink Montague, WWII veteran Pepper, the purple-suited Miami Joe, among others and he begins leading a double life. Suddenly Ray needs to decide how much loyalty he owes to Freddy versus his care for his family and business.

Whitehead shows amazing skill and care in creating his characters and setting them into a specific time and place in history, from 1959 to the Harlem riots of 1964. The atmosphere and setting makes you feel as if you were there, in 1960's Harlem and experiencing everything along with Ray. The compelling plot follows Ray's dilemmas in this family and crime novel that can be funny, serious, and somber, but is engaging from start to finish. It is an entertaining novel that captures the time period and lovingly tells the story of one man and his family. The writing is sumptuous and memorable.

Ray is an appealing protagonist and you will like him, always hoping he finds a way through the dilemmas placed in his path. The tests of his character are numerous and what Ray learns along the way is just as important as what he learned in the past. In a real sense Harlem is another character in the story as Whitehead lovingly captures it during this period in time.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Knopf Doubleday.

The Antisocial Network

The Antisocial Network: The GameStop Short Squeeze and the Ragtag Group of Amateur Traders That Brought Wall Street to Its Knees by Ben Mezrich
9/7/21; 304 pages
Grand Central Publishing

The Antisocial Network by Ben Mezrich is a very highly recommended account of the GameStop short squeeze when a group of amateur investors, gamers, and Internet trolls took on one of the biggest hedge funds on Wall Street. This comprehensive nonfiction book reads like a thriller and is the compelling true story of what happened.

Most people heard about the members of a Reddit group called WallStreetBets, who dubbed themselves "apes," when they started investing in Game Stop stocks in early 2021 and sent the price per share rising sky high which resulted in a short squeeze costing Wall Street hedge funds billions of dollars. Perhaps you also heard "The Tendieman" sea chanty. The Antisocial Network is truly a real life accounting of a David-vs.-Goliath movement. Mezrich starts the narrative back at the beginning, following the story of average people who were members of WallStreetBets, like nurse Kim Campbell, hair salon employee Sara Morales, college student Jeremy Poe, and Keith Gill who livestreamed on a you tube channel called "RoaringKitty." He tells the story of the co-CEOs Vlad Tenev and Baiju Bhatt who started Robinhood, the investing app that was being used by the "apes" because it allowed ordinary people to trade on the stock market without brokerage fees. And he covers Gabe Plotkin of the hedge fund Melvin Capital and Ken Griffin of Citadel Securities, along with others.

Mezrich's does an excellent job presenting what happened. The events leading up to the news breaking story of the Game Stop short squeeze is clearly presented in an understandable manner that is accessible for interested readers. Even though you know what happens, it really is a page-turner. I could follow the technical information about trading and investing, although I was also following the story when it was happening. I thoroughly enjoyed The Antisocial Network from start to finish. 

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

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Talk to Me

Talk to Me by T. C. Boyle
9/14/21; 352 pages

Talk to Me by T. C. Boyle is a very highly recommended novel about a chimp who has been taught to communicate via sign language.

Aimee Villard, a university student, applies for a job assisting animal behaviorist and professor Guy Schermerhorn in caring for Sam, a juvenile chimp he has taught to speak in sign language. As soon as she shows up, Sam bonds with her and Guy is also attracted to her. She takes on assisting with the teaching and caring for Sam with a natural ease. Guy is anxious to use Sam's ability to communicate through sign language to further his career, hopefully with an appearance with Sam on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. When Dr. Moncrief, the nefarious Iowa professor who owns Sam as well as a large number of other primates, decrees that teaching chimps to communicate is passe, he collects all his chimps, including Sam, and puts them in cages at his containment facility. Aimee, who has bonded with Sam too, leaves California for Iowa where she plans to offer to work at Moncrief's facility for free in order to be near Sam.

As expected from Boyle, the quality of the writing is skillful and superlative. The story is both a farce and a tragedy and I became invested in the plot immediately. Set in California during the mid 1980s, Boyle immediately captured the time period and setting at the opening when Aimee first sees Sam on TV and later a notice on a bulletin board looking for assistants to help with Sam's care.

The narrative is told through Guy, Aimee, and Sam's point of view. While Guy and Aimee's narrative move the plot forward, Sam's provides an awareness and emotional insight into his reactions and thought processes concerning what is happening to him. Their relationships also portray a love triangle of sorts while simultaneously exploring the consciousness, intercommunication, and analyzing the awareness of inter-species connections.

As a character study, the portrayal of Sam and his thoughts and feelings is mesmerizing and compelling. Following the actions and thoughts of Aimee and Guy reflect a more expected and anticipated development of their characters. Aimee is certainly the more nuanced character although Sam is also portrayed with and acuity and compassion. She has a connection with and love for Sam, but no legal rights. She is unable to turn her back on him, knowing the abuse Sam will face at the hands of Moncrief, who is a classic antagonist. Guy is an opportunistic pragmatist who, although he cared for Sam, is more interested in furthering his career.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Monday, September 6, 2021


Mastermind by Andrew Mayne
9/7/21; 332 pages
Thomas & Mercer

Mastermind by Andrew Mayne is a highly recommended thriller featuring Dr. Theo Cray and FBI agent Jessica Blackwood.

Jessica Blackwood is called out of the class she is teaching at the FBI Academy in Quantico because a mysterious dark cloud and electrical storm has completely enveloped Manhattan plunging the entire city into darkness. The power is out and for 12 hours the city appears to have vanished into a void. Jessica is briefed along with others in a diverse team and then they enter into the cloud (in a frightening manner) and investigate. Jessica is sure that the serial killer and cultist known as the Warlock, Michael Heywood, is responsible and the cloud is a misdirection. Clouds also cover over Seoul and Singapore. It becomes clear that Jessica needs the help of Dr. Theo Cray, a brilliant scientist and computational biologist, but he is imprisoned in Myanmar. Jessica must use all her wits to get Theo released, and then they must figure out what is happening and why. 

Jessica Blackwood and Theo Cray are consummate characters and make a great team who work well together. They are both skilled and intelligent and it will require all their individual strengths and abilities to reveal what is really happening. These are strong characters, individually and together, and their individual areas of expertise and competence complement each other.

This is an action packed thriller that moves across the globe as clues are followed and anomalies or incidences need to be investigated. There is so much going on in the plot that you need to try and follow each clue and thought as it comes up. There is a little X-Files vibe contained in the plot, especially in the search for ultimate answer based on various scientific facts and a vast array of other topics that eventually connect various events and discoveries. With the twists and seemingly unconnected clues, it's impossible the guess the direction of the plot. There are so many possibilities and directions the plot could take which serves to increase the tension and intrigue.

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

Saturday, September 4, 2021

The Night She Disappeared

The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell
9/7/21; 416 pages
Atria Books

The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell is a very highly recommended suspenseful thriller.

Tallulah Murray, her partner, Zach, (both 19) and their infant son Noah are living with Tallulah's mother, Kim. Between caring for their son, Tallulah's class schedule, and Zach's job, the two have been busy and have had a hard year. One summer night the two ask Kim to watch Noah so they can have a date night at a local pub. Kim receives a text later saying they have been invited by a college friend of Tallulah's to a house party at her families country estate, Dark Place, and will be home later than expected. This is the last time anyone hears from Tallulah and Zach. It is proposed that the two simply ran away, but Kim knows that they were both too devoted to Noah to leave him. After a search and investigation, no trace of the two were found.

A year later Sophie Beck moves into a cottage near Dark Place with her partner, Shaun Gray. Shaun has just accepted the position of head teacher at a prestigious school and asked Sophie, a writer of cozy mysteries, to move there with him. As they are settling in, Sophie comes upon a piece of cardboard with hand lettered writing saying "Dig Here" with an arrow pointing down. When she does just that, Sophie discovers a box with what appears to be an engagement ring inside. After learning about the mysterious disappearance of the two teens the year before, Sophie thinks this is tied into the case and she begins to investigate.

The plot unfolds through the narratives in three timelines: Kim's point-of-view starting in 2017; Sophie's starting in 2018; and Tallulah's in 2016. The three don't coalesce until the end and serve to keep the intrigue and tension building throughout the story. There are secrets and events from the past that are unknown until Tallulah's story begins to incrementally reveal them. This plot structure using the three narrative threads works extremely well in The Night She Disappeared and each new revelation adds a new complexity to the plot. This is a novel that you may try to predict what is happening, but you will be surprised with yet another twist. It is a perfectly presented accomplished work of suspense that will hold your attention from start to finish.

The characters are all wonderfully realized and developed with individual personalities. Tallulah is depicted believably as a teenage mother, doing her best. Kim and Sophie are presented as realistic characters - women you could know. The supporting characters also are believable and feel like distinctive characters. The development of the characters and the clever plot structure helps propel The Night She Disappeared to one of the best.

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

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Funny Farm

Funny Farm: My Unexpected Life with 600 Rescue Animals by Laurie Zaleski
2/22/22, 256 pages
St. Martin's Publishing Group

Funny Farm: My Unexpected Life with 600 Rescue Animals by Laurie Zaleski is a highly recommended collection of stories about animals rescued alternating with an autobiography.

Currently Laurie Zaleski is the founder and owner of New Jersey’s Funny Farm Rescue & Sanctuary and the founder, president and CEO of Art-Z Graphics. It was actually her mother's dream to own an animal sanctuary and Laurie now continues that legacy. Laurie's mother, Anne McNulty Zaleski, left her abusive husband in the 1970's and fled with her children to keep them safe. The family also left behind a very comfortable life to live in poverty in a ramshackle house. What they had was love for each other and a can-do attitude. Along the way the family took in various stray animals and Anne, a fierce animal lover, devoted her life to rescuing animals. 

In between the autobiographical chapters that are also a fierce tribute to her mother Anne, Zaleski tells the stories of various animals that have been rescued over the years. The many animal stories are entertaining and showcase the variety of animals that she takes in as well as the struggle and work it takes to keep an animal sanctuary running. Today the Funny Farm has more than 600 animals and is a non-profit organization which runs with help from the Zaleski family and lots of volunteers.

This is an engaging book and the writing is straightforward and accessible. Alongside the facts and tough circumstances there are humorous and inspiring occurrences too, which makes for a well-balanced narrative. As someone with a house full of adopted animal family members it's always wonderful to read anything that supports adopt don't shop. Be sure to check out the Funny Farm website.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Macmillian.

The House of Ashes

The House of Ashes by Stuart Neville
9/7/21; 304 pages
Soho Press

The House of Ashes by Stuart Neville is a highly recommended ominous, malevolent novel of psychological suspense.

After her nervous breakdown, Sara Keane's husband Damien moved them from England to Northern Ireland into a house called the Ashes that his father bought for them. Damien has been isolating Sara from her friends since the beginning and this move makes that separation complete. Damien is emotionally abusive and threatening to Sara and this has increased over the years. When Mary Jackson, an old woman, pounds on the door one morning claiming that the Ashes is her home and talks about the children, she is taken back to the care facility where she was sent, leaving Sara wondering about the history of the house. Damien dismisses her concerns, but Sara defies him and begins to uncover Mary's past imprisonment at the house as a child and the terrible history of the Ashes.

The writing is excellent in this novel, although the actual subject matter of abuse makes it difficult to read. The dual narrative tells two stories set at the Ashes, that of present day Sara and Mary's story from sixty years ago. Sara is experiencing abuse currently, but the abuse Mary experienced and lived through is chilling, horrific, and evil. Tied into both narrative threads are ghostly apparitions. While the abuse Sara is currently experiencing is awful, Mary's story of abuse is the more terrifying, frightening, and nefarious - so much so that at times it is difficult to read. The

Both Sara and Mary (as a child) are well developed characters and the dual narratives unfold through their individual points-of-view. Sara's a wounded adult experiencing gaslighting and being manipulated, and controlled by her husband. Mary's story is mainly told through the eyes of a child which in many ways makes it so much more powerful and awful because she literally has no way to escape. The outcomes of both dark narratives are violent but necessary to reach the final denouement. The House of Ashes is an exceptional novel but all the violence and wicked behavior also makes it emotionally draining. 4.5 rounded down.

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