Saturday, October 30, 2021

The Dangers of an Ordinary Night

The Dangers of an Ordinary Night by Lynne Reeves
11/9/21; 288 pages
Crooked Lane Books

The Dangers of an Ordinary Night by Lynne Reeves is a very highly recommended character driven domestic thriller.

Best friends Natalie (Tali) Carrington and June Danforth, both seventeen, are kidnapped after auditioning for a play at the Performing Arts High School of Boston. Two days later they are found south of Boston on Watties Beach. Tali is covered with cuts, bruises, and disoriented while June is dead from exposure. Tali's mother Nell blames her father, Zeke, who didn't notice that Tali never came home, but Zeke who has repeatedly let his family down with his gambling addiction has other issues that Nell should have noticed in this dysfunctional family. Therapist Cynthia (Cyn) Rawlins is there to help Tali and her family deal with the kidnapping and aftermath. Detective Fitz Jameson has personal insight into the case and suspects more is going on in the Carrington home and at the school.

The novel opens with June trying to escape someone and what leads to her death, so you know the person responsible seems to know June. When the two young women are found, the real mystery begins to be uncovered. There is a complexity and emotional depth underlying every character and all these people are experiencing and/or trying to recover from some trauma. The characters are all flawed. They may not all be especially likeable, but they all resemble real people and therefore are relatable in many ways. Cyn and Fitz are especially sympathetic characters. Nell also elicits an empathetic response, even if the choices she makes will not be understandable to all readers. 

The writing is excellent, confident and layered. The plot is even paced while the clues and additional information work together to create a complex picture of a mystery and the complex individuals who are a part of the incident and the resolution. Each of the 27 chapters are given the titles from 27 plays, tying the plot into the theater, the Performing Arts High School, and the students. I found this to be a compelling domestic thriller which I enjoyed immensely from start to finish. 4.5 rounded up.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Crooked Lane Books via NetGalley.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Game On

Game On by Janet Evanovich
11/2/21; 320 pages
Atria Books
Stephanie Plum Series #28

Game On by Janet Evanovich is the very highly recommended and hilarious 28th book in the Stephanie Plum series.

Stephanie Plum, bail bond enforcement agent for her Uncle Vinnie, has fellow apprehension agent Diesel drop in on her in the middle of the night. It seems that they are both searching for the same fugitive: Oswald Wednesday, a likely insane international computer hacker. While long time boyfriend and Police investigator Joe Morelli might not be thrilled the two are working together, Diesel has connections that can only help Stephanie. The main case leads them to a hacker group. Stephanie and Lulu have some other people to find too. To complicate matters, Lulu is having a crisis since her hair stylist left and everyday seems like a bad hair day. Grandma is still full of her own brand of wisdom and Stephanie's mom starts a new addiction.

After some disappointing reads, I needed a madcap, comical, and lively novel. Game On was a perfect diversion and provided the novel I craved. Yes, it is a little crazy. There are murders, cars destroyed and plenty of threatening actions, but it is also witty, entertaining and satisfying. The plot moves at a fast pace which makes this enjoyable and engaging diversion that will hold your attention.

The characters are known to many, but Evanovich provides enough background information that new readers won't feel left out. Although this is the 28th book in the series I think if would be easy for someone new to the series to jump into it with Game On. I have not read even close to every Stephanie Plum book and I enjoyed this one immensely. It was funny and entertaining along with plenty of action and potential danger.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Atria books via NetGalley.

Thursday, October 28, 2021


Burntcoat by Sarah Hall
11/2/21; 224 pages

Burntcoat by Sarah Hall is a recommended novel about art and relationships set in an unnamed British city during a global pandemic.

Sculptor Edith Harknes, 59, overcame her difficult childhood to become an artist. Now she has retreated inside her large studio named Burntcoat to isolate herself with her lover Halit while they wait out the virus that is devastating the population. Society collapses around them as they become closer and focused on each other. Then Halit becomes infected. This novel is partly a love letter to art, Naomi (Edith's mother), and Halit. It is about art, expression, life, love, relationships and endings.

The writing can be beautiful, lyrical, and compelling. Some of the descriptions about Edith's art and the Japanese art of Shou Sugi Ban, a process of charring wood to bring out the beauty, are love stories to the artistic process, which merges well with what is also Edith's love letter to her relationship with Halit. The closeness to the creative process is enchanting and mesmerizing. These are the parts of the novel that shine.

However, the format of the novel can be exasperating, disjointed, and challenging. The story is told as first person recollections and the narrative passages are presented in a nonlinear fashion, which left me feeling disconnected. Edith is writing to an unnamed "you" which becomes an increasingly discordant part of the novel since the "you" could be the reader or someone else. Both of these creative choices in the organization of the narrative prose increasingly became aggravating. Finally, while many reviewers appreciate the pandemic setting, it doesn't work for me.

In conclusion, this is a novel that features exquisite writing and descriptions but may put some readers off based on the format of the narrative.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Our Country Friends

Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart
11/2/21; 336 pages
Random House

Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart is a recommended novel following a group of friends plus one movie star set during the pandemic lockdown.

It’s March 2020 and the lockdown is approaching. Sasha Senderovsky, a Russian-born novelist, Masha, his psychiatrist wife, and Nat, his adopted daughter who is obsessed with K-pop, are at their New York estate where Sasha has built a colony of bungalows. He has invited a group of friends to stay at his colony for the lockdown. Arriving are long time friends Ed Kim, a wealthy citizen of the world, Karen Cho, a successful Korean American app developer, and Vinood Mehta, a struggling Indian American writer. Joining the group is a former writing student of Sasha's, Dee Cameron, and The Actor. Once they all arrive they have no idea how long they will be staying in this bitter sweet comedy of manners.

There are certain parts of Our Country Friends where the descriptions are beautifully rendered and stunning in this novel set during a notable period in history. In a modified locked room scenario morphed with a surreal comedy of manners, these characters are all stuck together much longer than they originally anticipated and were not prepared emotionally for the experience. (The plumbing was also not prepared for the group.) I liked parts of this novel and didn't care for other parts. This uncertainty in my reaction is perhaps reflected in the novel itself. 

Part of my hesitation in rating it is I didn't like any of the characters (except, perhaps, Nat and her obsession with K-pop) and couldn't relate to their experiences at all. All the awkward love stories between these people were simply uncomfortable. They are not truly fully realized characters but more a representation of different types of people. I would be enjoying certain parts of the novel and then something would happen or be said that sent it plummeting. Additionally, having never actually experienced the lock down, a time of even more work, it is unrelatable. I'll look forward to Shteyngart's next novel.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Random House.

Monday, October 25, 2021

A Little Hope

A Little Hope by Ethan Joella
11/16/21; 288 pages

A Little Hope by Ethan Joella is a very highly recommended drama of interlinking stories set the small city of Wharton, Connecticut over the span of ten months.

Greg Tyler, 39, has just been diagnosed with multiple myeloma and now he and his wife, Freddie, must find a way to deal with his illness and the treatments while caring for their 7 year-old daughter. The other stories about people in or from Wharton all touch the life of the Tyler's in some way. Greg's boss, Alex, loss his son years ago and subsequently had an affair and daughter. A widow, Darcy, grieves for her late spouse while her son struggles with addiction. A wedding is being planned and we learn about several of the people involved. People are dealing with life, uncertainty, loss, and grief all while being connected through their community.

A Little Hope is a beautifully written collection of stories that work together to depict quiet, ordinary lives in a small town. The stories do return to characters and continue following their experiences. Joella presents glimpses into the lives of people in this community and opens up a window into their feelings, thoughts, struggles, and doubts. It is reminiscent of real life in the depiction of each of the characters and their private emotions as they quietly react to and process the events around them. These are ordinary individuals and this emotionally powerful debut allows us into their inner lives.

While about different individuals, the stories all work together to create a sensitive portrait of a community through the inner lives of these people. It is a strong debut novel that has an emotional intensity even though many of the character's reactions are outwardly restrained as they deal with their struggles privately. They find a way to forgive and love, or at least accept their circumstances, in order to move on while handling the many challenges even a normal life encompasses. This is an excellent novel!

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Scribner.

Friday, October 22, 2021

The Collective

The Collective by Alison Gaylin
11/2/21; 352 pages

The Collective by Alison Gaylin is a very highly recommended unpredictable psychological thriller. An excellent, stay-up-late-to-finish page-turner.

Camille Gardener is still grieving the loss of her 15 year-old daughter, Emily, who was raped and left to die five years ago by 17 year-old college student Harris Blanchard. During the trial Emily's reputation was besmirched and Blanchard was acquitted. Now Blanchard is receiving an award from the college and Camille is angry that he never suffered any consequences for his crime. She shows up at the ceremony and yells "Murderer" at him, is immediately arrested, and a film of her breakdown goes viral on social media. When leaving the police station a woman passes Camille a card with one word on it: Niobe.

First Camille finds Niobe, which is a facebook group of grieving mothers who have lost their children and the murderers have never been held responsible. This group leads to an invitation to a group on the dark web where mothers are free to vent their rage and revenge fantasies. Then Camille is introduced through private message to the vigilante group The Collective, who seek revenge in the real world by working together to make it happen. The rules for participation are strict, however, and noncompliance is not an option.

The Collective builds slowly at the beginning as it tells the backstory and establishes Camille anger, grief, and rage. She is unable to move on and this new group may provide a safe way to help her recover. You will hope it does, and it seems to be giving her the outlet she needs to openly rage against the injustice of her daughter's death among a group of mothers who support her. The group quickly takes a more ominous tone once she is invited to participate in The Collective and Camille begins to question certain things.

Camille is a mother full of grief, pain, and rage, so you might be able to sympathize with her even if her extreme and overwhelming emotions are out-of-control. You'll understand that she needs a support group, she needs a way to express her fury over the injustice meted out to Emily. She is not an especially likable character, and her stability is questionable, but she is certainly a realistic character.

Excellent writing propels The Collective forward to an irresistible, unputdownable thriller. The concept of grieving mothers desiring to extract justice without mercy raises the tension quickly. The plot quickly escalates in the second half and you will find yourself glued to the pages. This is an engaging and compelling novel that you will stay up late to finish. The ending was totally unexpected in so many ways. The Collective is an outstanding thriller!

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

I Have Something to Tell You

I Have Something to Tell You by Susan Lewis
10/26/21; 512 pages

I Have Something to Tell You by Susan Lewis is a recommended legal procedural mixed with a domestic drama.

Jessica (Jay) Wells is a successful lawyer whose new case is defending Edward Blake, a man accused of killing his wife. She is sure he is innocent, in spite of the evidence to the contrary, and immediately sets out to uncover more information and secrets surrounding Blake's life as well as possible suspects and motives for the murder. During this same time Jay's long time marriage to Tom is threatened by his infidelity. She is already struggling with forgiving him when he informs her that he has something to tell her. The new information that surfaces strains both their marriage and her trust.

The novel starts out strong. The legal procedural and drama surrounding the case is both interesting and intriguing. Jay has a good professional working relationship with lead detective Ken Bright and the new information uncovered and the continuing search for facts surrounding the case is compelling. The novel would have been much stronger focusing on the case and the new discoveries. The story line about her marriage difficulties is less intriguing and then muddles the plot when the two story lines intermingle. This also takes away respect for the characters. Jay and Edward are interesting characters at first, when their interactions are professional, and then it changes. Tom is always self-centered and egocentric.

When I Have Something to Tell You started out, it looked like it would deserve five stars as a legal procedural. As the novel progressed, the direction it took lowered my enjoyment and rating. Again, it was as if something switched off in the writing and the novel morphed into a completely different story. There was a place in the novel where, if Lewis had changed her planned direction for the plot and had instead came to a conclusion, it would have deserved five stars. At 512 pages this would have been possible. Instead, she headed off in an unbelievable direction. This has happened before in another novel by Lewis. It is recommended, with the warning that the plot and ending will work for some readers and not for others.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

National Geographic Photo Ark Wonders: Celebrating Diversity

National Geographic Photo Ark Wonders: Celebrating Diversity in the Animal Kingdom by Joel Sartore
10/19/21; 400 pages
National Geographic

National Geographic Photo Ark Wonders: Celebrating Diversity in the Animal Kingdom by Joel Sartore is a very highly recommended collection of gorgeous photographs from the animal kingdom. During his long career, Joel Sartore set out to photograph every kind of creature. He has now amazingly captured the images of more than 11,000 of 20,000 species across the world. In this latest collection he shares 462 of his photographs, in one or two page spreads. Each photograph has the scientifically accurate name along with interesting information and/or distinctive features. Sartore also recalls interesting stories and adventures resulting from his photographic journeys.

A great example of what you can find in this latest edition of National Geographic Photo Ark Wonders is on 100-101. The photograph is of the Egyptian fruit bat, Rousettus aegyptiacus(LC). "Roosting by the dozens or the thousands, these bats are found across Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and the Eastern Mediterranean to northern India. After breeding season, females gather in nursing colonies to give birth to and rear their pups, while males form bachelor colonies elsewhere." On the page is also the story about an incident of "wet contact" Sartore experienced while taking photographs that could have potentially resulted in being infected with the Marburg virus. Thankfully, after quarantining for 3 weeks, there was no sign of infection.

The collection is broadly presented in four chapters: Pattern, Shape, Extra, and Attitude. As mentioned, most of the pages are of single animals but along with individual photographs there are several pages that feature collections of a similar group. These include mice, caterpillars, snakes, beetles, crabs, sea urchins, scorpions, snakes, parrots, and others. There are also unique pairings  such as a Western screech owl (pg. 358) and an Ocelot (pg. 359) both winking and a hippopotamus (pg. 330) and a Northern Luzon cloud rat (pg. 331) who both have their mouths wide open. The index of animals at the back are listed by the page on which they appear, with the listed divided by the chapter name.

I tried to pick out a few individual pictures that I loved, but it was simple too difficult to pair the list down. (In the running: The Sand Cat, pg 4-5; Barred eagle-owl, pg 48; veiled chameleon tail, pg 119; Brazilian Porcupine, pg. 249; and the Proboscis monkey, pg. 253.) Previous photo ark collections include: National Geographic Photo Ark, Birds of the Photo Ark, and Photo Ark Vanishing. National Geographic Photo Ark Wonders: Celebrating Diversity in the Animal Kingdom would make a wonderful, thoughtful gift.

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from National Geographic for TLC Book Tours. 


Monday, October 18, 2021

The Unheard

The Unheard by Nicci French
10/26/21; 464 pages

The Unheard by Nicci French is a highly recommended domestic psychological thriller.

Tess Moreau and Jason Hallam, her ex-partner, are co-parents to 3 year-old Poppy. Poppy spends every other weekend and Wednesdays with her father and his new young wife, Emily. When Poppy returns after a weekend and shows Tess a disturbing drawing she made while explaining to Tess, "He did kill her," Tess is sure Poppy saw something or something happened to her. When Poppy returns after another visit to her father, she is repeatedly using profanities and wetting the bed. Tess is certain someone was murdered, Poppy witnessed it, and Jason may be the one responsible.

Parts of the plot make sense. A sudden change in behavior, making disturbing drawings, talking about killing, suddenly swearing, and bed wetting are all definitely concerns that should be brought to a doctor's attention and checked out. Certainly anyone would be concerned about those people your child is in contact with. Tess does all this but then she goes beyond taking believable and reasonable actions and even talks to the police. Tess is obsessed with trying to figure out who committed the crime that she is convinced Poppy witnessed. Obviously, a 3 year-old is an unreliable witness and crayon drawings by a very young child are not a great source of evidence.

While following the plot, Tess's obsessive behavior and investigation is compelling and what will hold your focus on the novel. Tess is the narrator so we are viewing her inner thoughts and beliefs. She is neither completely reliable nor especially likeable. As Tess seems to become more manic, unstable, and unhinged, everyone is a suspect. Keep in mind that there are a lot of unreliable characters. That is the plot of the entire novel: a young child may have seen or heard something and her mother is determined to uncover the murder she believes her daughter saw. Along the way her investigations do reveal a host of secrets and crimes. There are numerous suspects introduced along the way, but Jason is surely the focus of Tess's ire and investigation.

There are a whole lot of holes in the plot and the novel felt bloated. It could have been tightened up. A novel from the writing duo of Nicci French usually means an excellent novel and while this one fell a little short for me, I'll give it a 3.5, rounded up. 

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Shadows of Eternity

Shadows of Eternity by Gregory Benford
10/19/21; 496 pages
Gallery/Saga Press

Shadows of Eternity by Gregory Benford is a highly recommended science fiction novel set two centuries in the future and spanning decades.

"Humanity has established a SETI library on the moon to decipher and interpret the many messages from alien societies we have discovered. The most intriguing messages are from complete artificial intelligences... Ruth, a beginner Librarian, must talk to alien minds—who have aggressive agendas of their own." Important: read the post-script, which shares discussions between Benford and Poul Anderson, before the novel as it will provide background information for the actual plot. Also, keep in mind that the format is a collection of short stories rather than a continuous novel.

What I wanted was a hard science fiction space opera following Ruth's work within the SETI library on the moon, discoveries, and subsequent travels, and Benford provided this. The actual format of Shadows of Eternity, however, was a bit of a surprise. It is really a series of short stories following Ruth's start as a Librarian, showcasing some of her subsequent work with alien messages, and then the main encounter that is still broken into shorter stories. The stories are all revolve around Ruth and the SETI library (until the last one), but, as with any novel that is told in this manner, characters are left behind and story lines are left without a resolution.

This disjointed flow of the novel represented in the collection of stories, rather than an ongoing space saga, is part of what I really didn't want. Additionally, the character of Ruth was not all that appealing and I don't think Benford's writing in the voice of a female main character was entirely successful or believable here. There were several scenes and actions that were off-putting and really added nothing to the plot. The latter stories in the novel were more interesting, but as a whole this was an uneven novel. Benford has been a favorite novelist for years. While Shadows of Eternity showcased many of the reasons why, it needed some more editing or a firmer direction and separation of parts. 3.5 rounded up

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Gallery/Saga Press via NetGalley.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

The Guilty Sister

The Guilty Sister by Arianne Richmonde
10/19/21; 321 pages

The Guilty Sister by Arianne Richmonde is a highly recommended psychological thriller. (Previously titled One Happy Family.)

Sara is a graphic artist living in NYC who enjoys taking long walks with her rescue dog Poppy - with Poppy in her dog wheelchair. Bradley sees Sara and Poppy walking through Central Park, is immediately intrigued, and sets out to meet her. Sara, who is reserved, is slow to warm to Bradley's attentions but eventually she accepts an invitation to dinner at his resident, a luxurious penthouse. Sara finds it hard to accept that this successful, wealthy, handsome man finds her interesting and attractive.

Part of this is due in part to Sara's insecurity. Her identical twin Cecelia is the outgoing free spirit who lives in Thailand, and is an Instagram influencer who has pictures of her life plastered across social media. She can get any man she wants. Sara has kept her at a distance for years, but Cecelia claims she wants to come visit. Sara simply can't allow this to happen or Cecelia will steal her boyfriend Bradley, just has she has done before. Sara hasn't told Bradley about Cecelis, but he finds out when they are having dinner at her Aunt Jenny's house and Sara has to admit to him that she has a twin. And now it seems that Bradley is looking at Cecelia's pictures online.

There are plenty of secrets in this novel and everyone is keeping information from everyone else. We know from the opening that the police are interviewing Sara about the disappearance of Cecelia, and the novel follows the story along to where Sara gets to this point. The plot moves at a steady pace as the story unfolds and secrets are exposed. For awhile there will be a wide variety of speculations about what the secrets are and who may have done what. Some of the secrets, as they are exposed, are surprising while others can be surmised from information presented.

Sara is a peculiar character in some ways. She is likable in many ways. She doesn't worry about appearances, loves her dog, enjoys her work, and seemingly keeps a positive attitude. On the other hand we are privy to her inner thought and something always seems just a little bit off. She loves her sister but doesn't want her anywhere near her. Part of this feeling is purposefully written into the novel to keep you guessing and wondering.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Bookouture via NetGalley.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Oh William!

Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout
10/19/21; 256 pages
Random House

Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout is a very highly recommended character driven novel.

"We are all mysteries," is certainly the thought in the forefront of writer Lucy Barton's musings, especially when considering her ex-husband, William. He has always been a hard man to read. The two have two adult daughters and remained friends after their divorce over twenty years ago due to his infidelities. Now Lucy is 63 has lost her beloved second husband and soul mate, David, a year ago. William has turned 70 and is married to his much younger third wife, yet he still calls Lucy when he has night terrors. Then, after his third wife leaves him, William asks Lucy to accompany him on a trip to Maine after he discovers that he has an older half sister that he never knew about.

As the novel unfolds, Lucy reminisces about Catherine Cole, William's mother. William's night terrors often involved his mother. Although she says they both loved her, some of the stories reflect a much more complicated and complex relationship between Lucy and Catherine that reflects less love and more control, insecurity, and a focus on social appearance. The road trip to Maine reveals Catherine's background and Lucy has a startling revelation about William's relationship with her.

This is the third of Strout's Amgash series, including My Name Is Lucy Barton and Anything Is Possible, and continues her reflections on the mysteries, fears, struggles, secrets, and insecurities inherent in families, marriages, and all relationships between people. Narrated by Lucy Barton, Oh William! is a character driven novel that explores themes of loneliness and betrayal. All the characters are flawed.

As expected the writing is glorious and perfectly executed as the complexity of relationships is examined and reveals new insights. The plots unfolds through Lucy's thoughts, insights, musings, and reactions. Fortuitously, Lucy is a thoughtful, introspective, and reliable narrator who is cognizant of the human condition and attuned to human failings and foibles. She accepts the inscrutability, and ultimately the enigma of everyone's inner thought life, and as such, the impossibility to truly understand another person.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Random House via NetGalley.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021


1414º by Paul Bradley Carr
10/11/21; 275 pages

1414º by Paul Bradley Carr is a very highly recommended unique and gripping mystery/thriller that takes on Silicon Valley billionaires.

Journalist Lou McCarthy is fearless in reporting the toxic truth surrounding the Silicon Valley billionaire bro-ciopaths who get away with all manner of criminal actions. Her latest article for the Bay Area Herald exposes the CTO of Raum, a private tech company, as a sexual predator who has assaulted young women for years. The same day her controversial expose' is published, there is an Raum event where the official announcement of the multi-billion dollar initial public offering will be made.  What happens instead is that the CTO takes his life as does another man who was a subject of one of Lou's articles. Lou is blamed for their deaths, fired, and while running for her life is suddenly rescued by Helen Tyler, a powerful member of Raum’s crisis-management team, but so much more. The two begin an investigation together that points to a much deeper, meticulously projected series of events planned by a person who calls themselves Fate, and Fate has a meticulously crafted agenda in the works.

1414º features intelligent, strong, likable, self-assured, and diverse female protagonists. The characters are all depicted as believable individuals with strengths and flaws, although most of the male characters are antagonists or trolls, there are a few good men. Lou is an excellent character to carry the plot and is believable as a journalist whose passion is to investigate, dig deep, and seek out the truth. Even with their small part of the plot, Lou's mom and her friend Carol are awesome, tough women you would want to know.

This is an extraordinary, unique, complex well-written mystery that is engrossing from start to finish. It is both fast paced and satisfying. You will not be able to predict the ending, which is a wonderfully remarkable occurrence and encouraged me to continue reading late into the night. The actual mystery/thriller is strong, compelling, and unparalleled in the plot and characters. The final denouement was very satisfying.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Snafublishing.

Monday, October 11, 2021

On Animals

On Animals by Susan Orlean
10/12/21; 256 pages
Simon & Schuster

On Animals by Susan Orlean is a very highly recommended entertaining and thoughtful collection of fifteen essays about animals.

Susan Orlean has, as she writes, always been "animalish," something people who have a relationship or interactions with animals will understand. In this collection of essays, previously published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and Smithsonian Magazine (the earliest from 1996), she covers a wide variety of animals and animal-human relationships, including: chickens, show dogs, tigers, mules, homing pigeons, animal actors, Keiko the killer whale, oxen, taxidermy, lions, rabbits, pandas, missing dogs, donkeys, and life on a hobby farm. There should be an essay within this collection that will appeal to almost everyone.

What sets this collection apart is the excellent quality of the writing and the variety of the essays. Admittedly, some of the earlier essays, particularly that of Keiko, are dated and perhaps should have included an update. Orlean is not just writing about the particular animal, she's depicting the animals in a specific setting and often time and place. The homing pigeons story, "Little Wing," involves a teenager and her homing pigeons. Biff is the boxer who was a winning show dog. Kevin Richardson is known as the "lion whisperer." Two essays involve the donkeys which seemed to be everywhere in Morocco, and the common sight of oxen in Cuba. She writes about the New Jersey woman kept 23 tigers in her yard. Did you know that most rabbits have the ability to pretend that they’re healthy even when they’re quite sick. And Orleans details the work involved with raising chickens as well a  caring for a large variety of animals. And this is just a small part of the topics covered.

Overall this is a very strong collection that should hold the interest of most readers throughout, although, as with any collection of stories, some will resonate more with various readers than others. I found it delightful, perceptive, and engaging, just as I have found other books by Orlean.

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

Sunday, October 10, 2021

The Mother's Fault

The Mother's Fault by Nicole Trope
10/15/21; 262 pages

The Mother's Fault by Nicole Trope is a highly recommended novel of psychological suspense.

Beverly is a single mother of eight-year-old Riley who works hard to keep to keep their lives running smoothly. What most people don't know is that Beverly has a secret, a secret that she is sure if anyone knows it will threaten their relationship. This is why she broke up with her boyfriend, Ethan, because he was asking questions she didn't want to answer. Now Riley is starting to get gifts dropped off at their mailbox. Beverly is sure they are from Ethan, but the card isn't signed. She tries to contact Ethan to thank him, but telling him to stop sending gifts, however, he is not responding to her messages and the gifts are coming. At the same time someone is watching Beverly and Riley, someone who has unknown plans for them. And then Riley disappears from the backyard one evening, and she contacts the police, which could change their lives forever.

The narrative is told through the point-of-view of Beverly, Riley, and an unnamed individual. Riley is the only truly trustworthy narrator, but he is limited by his age and knowledge. Beverly and the unnamed narrator both are less reliable because they admittedly have secrets. It is clear that Beverly loves Riley, and wants the best for him, but she is also terrified of having her secret exposed and the unnamed narrator is seemingly determined to do just that.

The plot and fast pace of the story will be what holds your attention and keeps you reading. There is a great deal of suspension of disbelief required, especially in the second half of the novel where we learn who the unnamed narrator is and all of Beverly's secret. The big reveal of the secret and everything revolving around it was a bit over-the-top unbelievable as far as everyone's actions and I will admit to some eye-rolling over it. But, as mentioned, the novel did hold my attention throughout and I wanted to find out what really happened. 3.5 rounded up

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Bookouture via NetGalley.

Friday, October 8, 2021

The Mother Next Door

The Mother Next Door by Tara Laskowski
10/12/21; 352 pages
Graydon House Books

The Mother Next Door by Tara Laskowski is a highly recommended novel of domestic suspense.

The neighborhood of Ivy Woods Drive is known for their annual Halloween block party. An exclusionary group of women who call themselves the Ivy Five have been in charge of the event for years, although now there are only four members, with the "Queen Bee" Kendra firmly in charge. When Theresa and Adam, the new high school principal, move into the neighborhood with her teenage daughter, Theresa is anxious to fit in and with Adam's position, she is an obvious choice to be the new fifth member of the group. The previous fifth member left under mysterious circumstances and some dark secret the group holds seems to involve her. As the group gathers to plan their annual event, it seems that secrets they have all been holding may be revealed by someone who is threatening them.

None of the characters are going to win a personality contest for their likeableness or charisma as it is clear they all have secrets and are desperate to either be in charge or at least be a part of the "in" crowd. Theresa, who is needy in her desire to fit in would be the most sympathetic character. The story unfolds through chapters from the point-of-view of Theresa, Kendra, and an unnamed character who seemingly knows one of their secrets and hold nefarious intentions toward the Ivy Five. The focus is on the character development of Theresa and Kendra, rather than all the other characters who are bit players in the drama.

The plot with a ruling group of residents running the neighborhood is a known quantity as it has been used in many novels. The plot is basically the reaction of the inner group of four to the threats via anonymous contact. They are trying to discover who it is, although they suspect the former group member, and there is a lot of talk about keeping their secret. And planning for their large Halloween Block Party. This is not a fast-paced suspense novel, but rather a slow smoldering burn as the count down to the block party occurs, more secrets are revealed, and the unnamed person threatening to reveal their secrets is becoming emboldened. There are several twists near the end. The Mother Next Door is an entertaining seasonal novel.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Graydon House.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Death at Greenway

Death at Greenway by Lori Rader-Day
10/12/21; 448 pages

Death at Greenway by Lori Rader-Day is a highly recommended historical novel.

In 1941, after a mistake at a hospital, nurse trainee Bridget (Bridey) Kelly has been compelled to take a position with the Arbuthnots to care for 10 young evacuated children who are being sent to Greenway House in Devon which also happens to be Agatha Christie’s holiday estate. The other nurse who says her name is also Bridget (Gigi) Kelly arrives late and appears to take her position lightly and with indifference. At the estate are just the staff, who make the rules clear over what rooms are available for their use. Gigi may leave most of the work to Bridey, but her upbeat attitude and high spirits helps Bridey deal with her self-doubt and sadness over the loss of her family. When a body is found in the river, and Bridey recognizes him from other encounters, she keeps this just between herself and Gigi.

The focus of the novel is Bridey caring for the children and her growth and maturation. The discovery of a body adds a touch of mystery, but the novel is more a character study of people, especially Bridey, handling the circumstances they have to deal with during WWII. So this is really is not a mystery or novel of suspense, but it is a well-written period piece that focuses on the characters and the setting during WWII. The connection to Agatha Christie is really incidental and she only appears twice in the novel.

Rader-Day is an excellent writer and her talent and abilities are on full display here. She did her research and in the author's notes at the end she informs the readers of the history she followed and where she took a few liberties. Death at Greenway does evoke the atmosphere of uncertainty and fear and follows historical facts. The novel is evenly paced, with interesting, although not shocking, revelations. This novel shines as historical fiction for those who enjoy novels set during WWII and appreciate well conceived, realistic characters.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins

Monday, October 4, 2021

The OC

The OC by D. P. Lyle
10/5/21; 304 pages
Oceanview Publishing

The OC by D. P. Lyle is a recommended investigative mystery and the fifth book in the Jake Longly series.

Jake Longly and Nicole Jamison are flying from Alabama to Orange County, CA for some relaxation before they go on to LA for the filming of Nicole's screen play. Once they arrive they find out that Nicole’s friend Megan Weatherly, a local TV reporter, has a stalker, which causes some concern for Jake and Nicole. After they arrive the behavior of the stalker escalates and Jake decides it's time to call his friend Pancake Jeffers, who works as a PI in Ray Longly's firm. What Pancake uncovers concerns him enough that he travels to CA to help Jake and Nicole protect Megan.

This is a snappy quick paced investigation that follows the actions of the stalker as the tone of the emails sent and the gifts quickly intensify the investigation for the perpetrator. The tension quickly rises in the plot which will keep you reading at a breakneck pace to see what happens next. There is no doubt that Jake, Nicole, Pancake, and Ray will find the stalker and justice will be served. The pleasure is found in reaching the climax of the investigation. This is the fifth book in the series but it seemed to work as a stand alone too. The other books in the series are Deep Six, A-List, Sunshine State, and Rigged.

What I enjoyed was the fast paced plot, the characters, and the well written, compelling investigation. I liked Pancake, Ray, and Jake and Nicole (when they were not bantering with each other). The playful dialogue between all the characters worked but what dampened a bit of my enthusiasm was all the over-the-top and continuous suggestive dialogue between Jake and Nicole. It just seemed a bit too much at times and it became a distraction. Some would be fine a fit right into the plot, but it went beyond that. I enjoyed the mystery and the conclusion, but I'm not sure these are the characters for me. I did like the flow of the plot enough to maybe give them another chance.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Oceanview Publishing.

The Silent Mother

The Silent Mother by Liz Lawler
10/8/21; 407 pages

The Silent Mother by Liz Lawler is a recommended investigative mystery.

When Dr. Ruth Bennett receives a call from her son Thomas asking her to come to Bournemouth because he has to appear in court, she naturally goes there. Once there, while waiting for him at the courthouse she learns that Thomas has committed suicide. He was also a doctor and had been charged with stealing drugs from the hospital where he worked. Ruth knows that Tom was innocent. This behavior does not resemble her son and his values at all. What she decides to do is continue to pay rent on Tom's apartment, take a job in the city where Tom worked, and try to uncover the truth behind what happened. Since Tom has his father's last name, people will not know she is his mother and as a doctor she will be able to discover the truth.

As the novel tells the story of Ruth's investigative search for the truth, it also follows Rosie Carlyle, a young woman with problems who Ruth sees as a patient. Rosie seems off from the start. She is anorexic, paranoid, perhaps disillusion or experiencing a mental disorder, and desperately missing her best friend Anabel. Rosie's story line is a bit disjointed as it follows along her thought patterns. This is in stark contrast to Ruth's logical, intelligent search for the truth. Also included in the plot are diary entries from Tom that are shared as Ruth reads them.

This is a well written novel that moves at an even, measured pace throughout Ruth's investigation. While there are some surprises, The Silent Mother is more a novel of discovery rather than shocking revelations. The twist can easily be seen coming, so it isn't really a surprise. The pull of the novel is in uncovering what happened and reaching the final denouement. This is a good novel, but it is slow moving.

The characters are developed. Ruth is an especially sympathetic character as she is looking into what happened to her son. Rosie is less so and readers will immediately realize that she is not a trustworthy character. There are others that Ruth meets along the way who help her or provide information, including landlord Henry, and neighbors Kim, Tilly, and Akito. Many of the people Ruth talks to are hesitant to share their thoughts, but ultimately most find it difficult to believe Tom was guilty.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Bookouture.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Small Pleasures

Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers
10/12/21; 352 pages
Custom House

Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers is a highly recommended period piece set in 1957 England.

Jean Swinney, forty, is an intelligent feature writer on a local London paper who takes on the task of investigating the claims made by a woman who wrote to the paper claiming that her daughter is the result of a virgin birth. Swiss born Gretchen Tilbury, allows Jean to come visit and talk to her about her claims. She also meets her ten-year-old daughter, Margaret, and her husband, Howard. Jean arranges for Gretchen and Margaret to undergo medical tests to prove if parthenogenesis actually took place, which they willingly do. As Jean investigates Gretchen's claims, she finds herself becoming friends with the family and attracted to Howard. Her burgeoning relationship with the family provides Jean with a much needed social outlet. After years of dutifully caring for her demanding mother, the family's welcoming Jean into their lives allows her what seems like a chance at happiness.

The period of time, 1957 post-war London is captured perfectly as is Jean's finding small pleasures in the simple, ordinary things in life. The characters are fully realized and depicted as individuals with their own abilities, foibles, and talents. Most importantly, they are firmly placed in the time period and setting Chambers sets forth. You will wish happiness for Jean. Gretchen is always pleasant but an enigma. Margaret is delightful and Henry is seemingly a perfect match for Jean. Jean's mother is agoraphobic and demanding, wanting Jean to attend to her needs. All of the characters have secrets

The writing is excellent, descriptive, realistic, and sympathetic. There are two story lines in Small Pleasures, the question of the virgin birth and Jean's loneliness, and both are giving consideration. I was more interested in the mystery, but that didn't detract my appreciation of the other story line. I will admit that the pace did feel rather slow. The ending is heartbreaking although not unexpected.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Custom House/HarperCollins.

Friday, October 1, 2021

Last Girl Ghosted

Last Girl Ghosted by Lisa Unger
10/5/21; 400 pages
Park Row Books

Last Girl Ghosted by Lisa Unger is a very highly recommended psychological thriller that begins with an online dating match.

Wren Greenwood, who writes the advice column "Dear Birdie," is talked into trying the dating app Torch by her best friend, Jax. She meets a few forgettable men but then she meets Adam Harper, an IT executive, and the two immediately have a connection. Three months later Adam doesn't show up for a date, deletes all of his contact information, and ghosts Wren. She has no idea why he would do this as she thought they were in a serious relationship. Then she learns that Adam may not be who he said he is and is contacted by Bailey Kirk, a private detective who is looking for Adam. Kirk is investigating the disappearance of three other women who also met Adam, although he was using different names, through Torch.

Wren's secret, disturbing background is hinted at in the beginning of the novel but more information is disclosed once Kirk enters the picture and the search for Adam becomes more intense. Chapters set in the present day are offset by chapters set in Wren's past when she was a child and are all written in the first-person. The chapters from her troubled childhood help establish who and why Wren is the woman she is today. There are many dark secrets in her past and several of them are unexpected. It becomes clear that Adam's ghosting of her is indicative of some future plans he may have, but he may not fully realize what strength Wren can pull from her past experiences.

Last Girl Ghosted is a totally engrossing well written novel. The evolution of how Wren handled the ghosting, beginning with blaming herself, and how this began to change when Kirk showed up was believable and riveting. As more information about Wren's background is disclosed, it becomes clear that there is more to her than the ability to give good advice to troubled people. She is an engaging character who has depth, resourcefulness, intelligence, and an inner strength. All the characters are fully realized and credible.

The plot is compelling and held my attention throughout. Just when you think you know all the facts, there is some new twist in the plot that adds another layer of depth and complexity. After thinking I had things figured out, it became clear that I didn't have the complete picture. Almost no one is who they appear to be. All the twists and new revelations, even when surprising, are conceivable in the plot. It was fantastic to see Wren pull all her inner resources and knowledge to the forefront to assist her. (It also serves as a warning about using online dating apps.) The setting is in late 2019 into early 2020, which also serves to add to the tension as readers know what is coming in the future.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Park Row Books