Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Deep Water

Deep Water by Emma Bamford
5/31/22; 320 pages
Gallery/Scout Press

Deep Water by Emma Bamford is a recommended tale of a newlyweds trip gone disastrously awry.

When a yacht is sending out a distress signal in the Indian Ocean, Royal Malaysian Navy Captain Danial Tengku orders his crew to aid the boat. On board is a British couple, Virginie Durand and her gravely injured husband Jake Selkirk. As Jake is rushed to receive medical help, Virginie tells their story to Captain Tengku and confesses that what happened was all her fault and she killed them. After this foreshadowing, the novel jumps back in time when newlyweds Virginie and Jake bought their yacht and were planning to travel to Thailand. Then they heard about Amarante, a tiny, remote island with unspoiled beaches, and decide to change their plans.

The couple arrives on Amarante, and finds there are already visitors there. Pete and Stella are a Canadian couple, and Roly is from Australia. They’re soon joined by the wealthy, enigmatic Vitor and his girlfriend, Teresa. At first things go well, but then Virginie and Jake have engine problems, and tensions begin to rise between couples.

The synopsis written for this book does not do it justice and is misleading. There is no dark spell of the island with creeping evil. There are human failings and frailties. If you enter the novel with the perspective that it is a trip that has taken a terrible turn it will help your appreciation of the novel and result in less disappointments.

Virginie is telling us what happened on the island that lead to the distress signal. Captain Danial Tengku is listening to Virginie's recount of what happened before she tells the full story and then afterward, once they are found. His own internal monologue and reactions are added to the opening and concluding chapters. Her account of their time on the island moves too slowly for any real tension or suspense to build as it mostly feels like normal disagreements and tension that could be found among any group of people.

The writing is very good, enough that I kept reading, experiencing vicariously life on a remote tropical island. It is not quite good enough to make this slow paced novel a thriller. By the time action/suspense does pick up, the novel is basically over. This will appeal to fans of novels that feature remote islands where the people provide the danger, or the guilt. 

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

Sunday, May 15, 2022

The Daughters

The Daughters by Julia Crouch
5/26/22; 324 pages
Bookouture

The Daughters by Julia Crouch is a highly recommended thriller featuring a highly dysfunctional family.

First, lets look at the basics of this blended family. Carys has been married to Bill for 12 years, is 25 years younger than him, and the two have a daughter, Binnie. Bill's first wife Alice died by suicide. Bill and Alice had two daughters, Sara and Lucy. Lucy was only 6 when her mother died so Carys has been a step-mother to her while Sara, 5 years younger than Carys, has been off living in Australia during their marriage.

Now Sara is coming home for a long visit. She has evidence that her mother's body was never found and the casket was empty at her funeral. She blames Carys for controlling everyone since she and Bill married shortly after Alice's death and she's going to confront Carys. She also knows she needs to come back to help Lucy.

At the same time, Lucy has been suffering from various struggles with her mental and emotional health. Carys has tried to help her, so when she meets a hypnotherapist who is sure he can get to the root of Lucy's trauma, Carys takes Lucy to him without telling Bill. Lucy's sessions bring out all kinds of hidden secrets and thoughts from her childhood. She is sure she saw someone killed... and maybe more than one person. And she thinks she knows who the killer is.

There is a whole lot going on in the plot, so you have to pay attention while following all the various twists, turns, and new revelations. None of the characters are particularly likable and all of them have some aspersions cast their direction. You won't know who to believe or if anyone can be trusted, which is what makes The Daughters so entertaining. You have to set some disbelief aside as you sit back, enjoy reading, follow the clues left in the narrative, and see if you figured it all out by the end.

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

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Glitterati

Glitterati by Oliver K. Langmead
5/17/22; 288 pages
Titan Books

Glitterati by Oliver K. Langmead is a highly recommended satirical, allegorical dystopian novel.

Simone is one of the beautiful people, the Glitterati. The Glitterati are at the top echelon of society, the extremely wealthy leisure class who all closely follow the rules of fashion. They ardently follow the daily couture magazines on trends, the rules of what to wear on each day of the week, and how to act in every situation. No one wants to be one of the unfashionable or ugly people. The pinnacle of the top of the Glitterati would be to set a new fashion trend.

Then several disconcerting events happen to Simone and his wife Georgie. Simone has, shudder, a nosebleed at fellow fashionista Justine's party and he asks her to make sure there are no pictures of it. Justine instead takes this incident and steals it, using it to set a new trend. The second event was when Georgie and Simone find a child in their garden. The creature, as they are unsure exactly what this is, is dressed in another shudder, denim. They shoo it into their greenhouse for the time being but have to deal with her more later.

The vapid Glitterati are living in a weird dystopian world of their own choosing and their concerns are so removed from any reality it is farcical. This is actually a humorous novel throughout the majority of the plot and you will find yourself laughing at the absurdity. Within the narrative Glitterati is also a satire which becomes allegorical as it exposes uncomfortable truths about a wealthy ruling leisure class that is disconnected with all reality, like children, and are totally consumed with themselves, fashion, and appearances.

Character development is present, as Simone goes through a drastic change which is a major part of the denouement. I was actually surprised at how much I enjoyed this novel by the end. The introduction to the Glitterati and their obsessions was interesting and funny, but I did wonder where the plot was going to go as their lives were too silly and tedious to hold your attention throughout a novel. Readers should keep reading until they reach the event that changes things and results in real depth to the character of Simone; it will be obvious.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Titan Books.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Never Coming Home

Never Coming Home by Hannah Mary McKinnon
5/24/22; 368 pages
MIRA Books

Never Coming Home by Hannah Mary McKinnon is a highly recommended, entertaining psychological thriller.

Lucas Forester loves his mother-in-law and deeply cares for her as she battles cancer. He cares for Roger, a stray dog he adopted. He is also a con man who has been planning the hit on his wife for years. Lucas met his wealthy wife Michelle Ward at a London gallery opening. He quickly fell in love with her trust fund, the two married, and moved to the wealthy enclave of Chelmswood to be near her family.

Biding his time for years, Lucas plans the perfect demise for his wife so he can get his hands on her money. He takes out a hit on her, she disappears, presumed kidnapped for a ransom, and Lucas publicly grieves for her. It looks like he is going to get his hands on her money, until it appears that someone may know his secret plan and are now playing mind games with him.

Lucas is a funny, charming, witty, likeable scoundrel that you will adore and dislike at the same time. As the narrator of Never Coming Home you are privy to Lucas's every thought. You'll know everything he has done, know he is a devious liar, crook and murderer, but still find him a sympathetic character and even be conflicted about whether or not he should be held accountable for what he has done. This is an accomplishment - making a scoundrel so appealing and compelling that you support him.

The writing is wonderful and entertaining with a plot that will hold your attention right from the start and a pace that moves along quickly. The humorous, entertaining crook narrating the action is irresistible and despicable at the same time. The ending is predictable and not quite as enjoyable as the rest of the novel, but on the whole this is a wildly entertaining novel.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of MIRA Books.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Poison Lilies

Poison Lilies by Katie Tallo
5/24/22; 368 pages
HarperCollins
Augusta Monet #2

Poison Lilies by Katie Tallo is a highly recommended thriller about family secrets set in Ottawa, Canada.

Augusta "Gus" Monet and her dog Levi have moved to The Ambassador Court, an art-deco apartment building with cheap rent. When she finds a cat, Gish, and looks for the owner, Gus makes friends with, her elderly upstairs neighbor, blind, reclusive Poppy Honeywell. Soon the two are sharing dinner together every night and Gus learns that Poppy is a descendant of the Mutchmores, one of the city's founding families. When a body is found in the pond at a neighborhood park, Poppy says she knows who it was, a lost lover. Gus is drawn to the story and begins investigating, a dangerous decision.

This is a direct sequel to Dark August, so it helps to have read the first book before this outing of Gus. You can read this as a stand alone novel, but I think it helps to have read the first novel. The novel is broke up into four segments: first trimester, second trimester, third trimester and birth. Obviously, Gus is pregnant in Poison Lilies and will give birth. We know from the opening that she is locked in a sub basement with no way out and about to give birth.

Gus is a well developed character as an amateur PI, so her skills and interests seamlessly continue in this second novel. She can be sassy and funny as well as serious and doggedly determined. Poppy hires Gus to uncover the truth in her investigation of events from Poppy's past and the Mutchmore family. She is assisted by a journalist she meets, Howard, who is an interesting character and a nice assistant for her. The investigation is full of suspense and secrets that some want to keep buried in the past. You'll have to suspend disbelief, but this is another entertaining investigation by Gus Monet.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins via NetGalley

Monday, May 9, 2022

Two Nights in Lisbon

Two Nights in Lisbon Chris Pavone
5/24/22; 448 pages
MCD

Two Nights in Lisbon Chris Pavone is a highly recommended domestic political thriller.

Ariel Pryce is accompanying her husband John Wright on a business trip to Lisbon, so when she wakes up in their hotel room and John is gone, she assumes he is having coffee and will be meeting her for breakfast. Soon it becomes clear that John is gone. He left no note and is not answering his phone. Ariel talks to the hotel staff and then goes to the police, followed by the American Embassy. She is sure something has happened to John. The CIA gets involved; John was in the CIA years ago.

Then Ariel receives a ransom demand for 3 million euros to be delivered within 48 hours for John’s safe release by unknown captors, which just increases the questions investigators have. Why did both Ariel and John change their names years ago? The CIA knows that John changed his name. Why would anyone kidnap John? Ariel is not wealthy, why would someone assume she could come up with a large ransom? Ariel is desperate and knows one man who could come up with the money, but it requires contact with someone from her past that she doesn't want contact with ever again.

There is no question that this is suspenseful, tense, well-written layered thriller that will hold your attention throughout. I was engrossed beginning to end. This is a complicated plot that is structured to allow tension to build and rise incrementally as the timeline clicks down. Between the officials doubting and questioning her motives to the reporter who was given a tip to investigate, readers will also be questioning along with officials, "Why John?" There are clues that will open readers up to speculating the answer to the question, but Pavone has plenty of twists to keep you guessing. Sympathies will be with Ariel as there appears to be no obvious course of action for her to take beyond what she chooses to do.

The narrative alternates between events in the present and flashbacks to Ariels's past. She is a well developed character, but the only one. Two Nights in Lisbon does require you to accept that events have happened in Ariel's past which have shaped and molded her into the person she is today. Occasionally I wanted her to have experienced healing from them and move on rather than dwell on the events, but I also have a lot of sympathy, compassion and understanding for her.

The final denouement was suspected, but still a surprise leading up to an unanticipated final disclosure. Two Nights in Lisbon is a lengthy novel, but it is also quite entertaining

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Macmillian.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

The Island

The Island by Adrian McKinty
5/17/22; 384 pages
Little, Brown and Company

The Island by Adrian McKinty is a highly recommended survival thriller set in Australia.

After the death of his wife, surgeon Tom Baxter married 24-year-old massage therapist Heather. His two children, 14-year-old Olivia and 12-year-old Owen aren't thrilled with now having Heather taking over caring for them and view her as too young to be a real mom. Tom is the keynote speaker at a medical conference in Melbourne, Australia, and the whole family has accompanied him, making the trip a short vacation. When the kids keep demanding to go see kangaroos and koalas, Tom rents a car and they go in search of wildlife.

While taking a break and eating at a roadside stand, they meet two members of the O'Neil family who say that the private island they live on has plenty of Koalas. The kids want to go, and Tom, along with a Danish couple, end up paying a large sum of money to take their private ferry to the island. The Baxter's realize that something is wrong on the island, and after a horrible accident they are taken prisoner by the O'Neil family and brought before Ma, who will decide their fate. Suddenly circumstances leave them fighting for their lives. Both Heather and the kids must work together to use all their skills and intelligence if they want to survive and get off the island.

The first thing I though while reading was that this was Deliverance set in the outback. It is an uncivilized, frightening, harsh plot that moves at a rapid tumultuous pace with brutality at every turn. The danger can come from both human and nature. Neither the hunters nor the hunted will accept failure. McKinty includes intermingled among the attention grabbing action some earnest thoughts about human existence, spirituality and meditation.

There is no doubt that this is an intense, compelling, hard-to-put-down thriller that will hold your complete attention throughout the novel, however you also need to set aside some disbelief to fully enjoy the experience. Sometimes setting aside your incredulity and going with the action is the best way to appreciate a novel and that approach will work well with The Island.

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

Friday, May 6, 2022

An Island

An Island by Karen Jennings
5/17/22; 224 pages
Penguin Random House

An Island by Karen Jennings is a highly recommended allegorical novel of a light keeper on an isolated island who has a stranger wash ashore.

Samuel has live on a small island as a lighthouse keeper off the coast of an unnamed African country for many years. He tends his garden, builds his wall surrounding it, cares for his chickens and the lighthouse, and buries any bodies that wash ashore. When a stranger washes ashore still alive, Samuel manages to get him up to his home. The stranger seems to be recovering, leaving Samuel uncertain what he should do.

He vividly remembers his former life on the mainland where he was a political prisoner and his country was exploited under colonial rule. After a revolution, his country won independence, but this did not change the suffering of the people. The stranger induces in Samuel pondering and reminiscing about events that have occurred in his past. Samuel knows how fickle people and governments can be, and how only certain lives are actually valued, those who can promote the current regime and their plans.

The narrative follows Samuel recalling his past and trying to live with the stranger. This is really a character study of an old man who has seen enough in the past to doubt what the present has to offer. He is used to being alone and having this stranger living with him on his island is jarring to his sensibilities, but is also causing Samuel to remember events from his past. This juxtaposition of past and present results in mistrust and resentment in Samuel over the stranger which can be akin to the struggles of his unnamed country.

This is a bleak, forlorn novel written in spare prose and meager but essential details. The tension and foreboding runs high, although nothing occurs in the present day to warrant it, Samuel's imagination and reflections on the past are brought to the forefront of the present. 3.5 rounded up

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Hogarth Press via NetGalley.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

On a Quiet Street

On a Quiet Street by Seraphina Nova Glass
5/17/22; 320 pages
Graydon House Books

On a Quiet Street by Seraphina Nova Glass is a highly recommended novel of domestic psychological suspense. Brighton Hills is an exclusive community on the Oregon coast but underneath the surface it is a community full of grief, secrets, anger, lies, abuse, cheating and deceit.

Paige and Grant lost their adult son Caleb to a hit and run driver last year. The grief has hit them both hard, but Paige seems to need to grieve alone and lashes out in anger. Her husband has moved into the apartment above their restaurant although he still loves and supports her. Paige is always looking for the driver who hit her son in their gated community because she is sure it was one of her neighbors.

Cora and Finn have a teenage daughter, Mia. Cora is outgoing, positive and helps with all sorts of community events, although she is critical and hard on herself. This doesn't help with the major problem in her life, which is the fact that Finn is a serial cheater but Cora just can't seem to collect the evidence to prove it and when questioned Finn dismisses her concerns. Cora turns to Paige to do the sleuthing and obtain the proof while catching him in the act. The couple has a prenup and proof of Finn's cheating will break it.

Georgia is much younger and has a baby, Avery. Her husband, Lucas, a judge, has spread the rumor that she has agoraphobia. Cora has been diligent to make advances of friendship toward the young woman in hopes that support from a friendly neighbor will help, but it seems that something more is going on in Georgia's life and Cora is keeping an eye on her. Georgia is very afraid of something that traumatized her, but what happened to this previously vibrant outgoing young woman?

Chapters alternate between the point-of-view of Paige, Cora, and Georgia, who all are portrayed as individuals with their own unique voices. Paige is a super sleuth, but also an angry woman. Credit also needs to go to Cora who is also very observant. The characters are developed and their separate personalities allow you to easily distinguished between them. 

Stick with this one through the beginning chapters which seem to move a bit slowly and appear to be somewhat meandering and vaguely reminiscent of other similar novels with a plot based on suspicious neighbors. Action will pick up, your interest level will rise, and the novel gets much more interesting before setting off at a break-neck speed to a twisty ending. As I continued reading, my rating improved, especially when the pacing picked up, secrets were uncovered, and the action really started. 

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Graydon House Books.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Seven Days in Virtual Reality

Seven Days in Virtual Reality by Jeff Yager
4/1/21; 286 pages
Hannacroix Creek Books

Seven Days in Virtual Reality by Jeff Yager is a recommended science fiction novel.

Louis Parker is not winning at life. The divorced father of two teenagers is trying to drive and work at a restaurant and neither job is working out. When out one night drinking he runs into Jack, one of his brother's old friends. Jack gives him his card and says to call if he needs a job. Louis does and finds out that he can make a whole lot of money just for testing out a virtual reality game. For the first game he relives specific chosen days from his life. Then he's offered the chance to test the second version in which the consequences of participating in this can be much greater.

The premise of the story and the consequences of playing the VR game is what really is entertaining and interesting in Seven Days in Virtual Reality. It is difficult to relate to Louis as he isn't a particularly appealing, likable, or fully realized character, but the fast pace and the VR game is really the whole point to the novel. The money entices him, but quite frankly any paying job would have. The large paychecks just had him spending money foolishly. (And there is way too much smoking, heavy drinking, and foolish behavior.)

So, read this novel for the idea of a VR game that actually allows you to go back and relive days of your life and maybe even change things. It could be an impetus for some very interesting conversations. The writing is uncomplicated and don't expect great character development. Recommended just for the idea of reliving days of your life or maybe change events through a VR game.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Hannacroix Creek Books .

 

The Language of Birds

The Language of Birds by Anita Barrows
5/17/22; 320 pages
She Writes Press


The Language of Birds by Anita Barrows is a highly recommended introspective and melancholy coming-of-age drama.

As children Gracie and her younger sister Jannie were taken by their mother on a pointless trip to Europe, where they finally went Germany to stay with their Oma. After eight months the traumatic trip ended in their mother's suicide. Gracie did make a best friend during this time, Martin, a boy her age who also spoke English and German. Then at 12 1/2 and 5. Gracie and Jannie are back in Berkeley with their father. Their father tirelessly devotes himself to getting help and support for Jannie, who is autistic and very passionate about birds, but leaves Gracie to make her own way.

Gracie is a serious, sensitive girl who doesn't reveal the truth about her mother's suicide or Jannie autism. She withdraws from any social contact and purposefully isolates herself. Her only connection is writing letters to Martin and meeting a fellow disengaged student, Gina, who also wants to be a writer. The two girls open up to each other when Gracie tells Gina the truth about her family. Gina has many of her own problems and only shares a few with Gracie.

The well-written novel is narrated by Gracie and chapters alternate between 2002, when Gracie is 16 and Jannie is 8, and 2017 when they are young adults. The themes covered in The Language of Birds are all serious and weighty. These include Gracie's chosen method to cope with the mental illness and suicide of her mother, her sister's autism, and a death, by closing herself off to others, and Gina's story, which is even rougher. These topics are handled with sympathy, understanding and care by Barrows, but be forewarned that the tone of the novel is very somber, heartbreaking, and thoughtful. There is a resolution, but the tone remains rather somber throughout.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of She Writes Press via Edelweiss.

Monday, May 2, 2022

What They Don't Know

What They Don't Know by Susan Furlong
5/17/22; 286 pages
Seventh Street Books

What They Don't Know by Susan Furlong is a highly recommended domestic psychological thriller.

Mona and Ben Ellison live in a Victorian home in suburban Belington where their neighbors are all close friends of Mona and everyone keeps an eye on everyone else, but now they are selling and moving to a condo in the city closer to Ben's clinic. Ben, a child psychologist, has a flourishing career, however Mona and Ben are having a trouble in their marriage. Their son Gus has fallen in with the wrong crowd and left home, breaking Mona's heart. Mona is obsessed with her vast collection of dolls and is constantly looking at social media to locate Gus.

To make matters more interesting a young woman who was a friend of Gus has been murdered in the area. The police are wanting to question Mona and Ben, but Ben is out of town. Mona seems overwhelmed and confused. Ben has been medicating her and she is trying to follow any clues on social media that lead to Gus's whereabouts while hanging out with her dolls.

Readers won't know who to trust or believe in this creepy domestic psychological thriller and the police have their work cut out for them. Suspects are plentiful and no one can be believed or trusted. Do you trust the woman who talks to her dolls and might be crazy? Or do you trust the neighbors who seem to be watching everyone and then jumping on the phone or stopping by the house? Or do you trust the husband who lies about where he is and seems too smooth to be real?

The plot moving along at a fast pace while including plenty of twists and turns along the way in this well-written thriller. This is a good choice for escapism, as long as you can handle a woman who talks to her dolls, which is never a good sign in most cases.

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

Sunday, May 1, 2022

This Time Tomorrow

This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub
5/17/22; 320 pages
Penguin Random House

This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub is a very highly recommended time traveling tale.

Alice Stern is visiting her seriously ill father, Leonard, in the hospital. Leonard, the famous author of a best selling and cult classic time travel novel, is no longer responsive and Alice knows the end is near. He has been the constant in her life as the parent who raised her since age six. Since she is about to turn 40, Alice is taking stock of her life. She is still very close to her life-long best friend, Sam, satisfied with her job, her independence, and her apartment. She does wish she had asked Leonard more questions when she was younger. Then after a night of drinking on her 40th birthday, she wakes up back in 1996 on her 16th birthday and this changes everything.

Admittedly I wasn't smitten with This Time Tomorrow at the beginning until Alice found the key to her ability to time travel. It begins as what feels like a stereotypical novel about single woman in NYC, the only place to live, and it felt like something written a thousand time, with the exception of her ill father. Once she went back to age 16, my interest in the novel spiked because what adult would want to go back to 16? The chance to really talk to her father is a crucial factor to the charm of going back in time and then her attempts to change the future are intriguing. This is a story of love and loss.

In this novel of self discovery, Straub perfectly captures the setting, time, and place of NYC in both time periods. There are also plenty of references to other time traveling novels and movies. The quality of the writing in This Time Tomorrow is exceptional and makes reading a pleasure as you explore how the choices you make influence your whole life. There are also a few surprises along the way.

Character development is well done and we see Alice experience growth in both time periods as she examines her current life and takes on the quest to change the future. Giving her the opportunity to really talk to her father back when he was younger and healthy would be an extraordinary gift for most people. Alice and Leonard's relationship and love for each other (and her relationship with her best friend, Sam) is really the foundation of this story with love being the one enduring quality in both time periods. 4.5 rounded up

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

The Family I Lost

The Family I Lost by Ali Mercer
5/10/22; 358 pages
Bookouture

The Family I Lost by Ali Mercer is a highly recommended mystery within a dysfunctional family.

Lisa has grown up knowing that her father was sent to prison for some crime and that the family of her mother, Julie, completely cut off all ties with them. When Julie passes away Lisa finds an address of someone who may be a relative of hers, Amy, so Lisa writes to her in hopes of some connection. Oddly enough she then meets Amy's husband Joe, and the two realize that Lisa and Amy are cousins. Lisa is invited over and meets Amy, Joe, and their daughter Tilly. Amy is pregnant and due soon, and not especially cordial to Lisa, but when their son is born and Joe's away for the summer Amy reaches out to Lisa to help her.

Lisa does end up helping Amy while Joe is gone. As she helps care for Tilly, she persistently feels as if she has been in their house before. Perhaps the answer to her father's crime and the family secret can be uncovered while she is there. It also becomes abundantly clear that Amy's family and their grandmother have a skewed outlook on events.

Lisa is a sympathetic character as she deals with the dysfunctional family she never knew. Amy is a dislikable character, enough so that readers will wonder why on earth Lisa agreed to help this selfish, self-centered woman. It is imperative that these two women meet and question what they have been told or know about their family history because they have both been keep in the dark about the facts.

While the writing is very good and the plot moves along at an even pace, you have to set your disbelief aside in order to appreciate The Family I Lost, especially regarding Amy calling Lisa after one meeting, asking her to help, and then Lisa agreeing to help for months while Joe is gone. Once you've accepted this rather far-fetched premise, then you can sit back and watch the mystery unfold. 3.5 rounded up.

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

Saturday, April 30, 2022

The Lioness

The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian
5/10/22; 336 pages
Knopf Doubleday

The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian is a highly recommended historical literary fiction novel set in Tanzania in 1964.

Katie Barstow an A-list actress, and David Hill, her husband, have chosen to bring a group of family and friends to accompany them on a photo safari to the Serengeti for their honeymoon. Included in the group are Billy Stepanov, Katie's brother, and his wife Margie; Reggie Stout, Katie’s publicist ; Peter Merrick, her agent; Carmen Tedesco, her best friend and actress, and Felix Demeter, Carmen’s husband; and Terrance Dutton, Katie's recent co-star. A list of the large cast of characters is included in the front of the novel which can help readers keep track of the many players in this drama.

The vacation/safari starts out lovely until a group of Russian mercenaries kidnaps members of the entourage, killing the guides. They keep guns trained on their hostages, who are divided up into different groups while they load them into different Land Rovers and drive them away to a group of huts where they are tied up. No one is safe and not everyone is going to make it out alive.

As a character driven drama, the exceptionally well-written narrative is told through the point-of-view of individual characters in their own chapters. These chapters are opened with Hollywood gossip columns or stories and then follow with flashbacks, background information, and events from the current horrific situation as experienced by that particular character. We know the inner thoughts of these people and learn their strengths and weaknesses. This background information also can point to the motive for the kidnapping, although the complete reason is explained at the end. There is violence from humans and from wildlife in the Serengeti.

While a wonderful addition to the selection of historical literary fiction and character driven dramas, The Lioness will actually make a more impactful and powerful movie than novel. As a novel, while compelling, it also moved a bit slowly. Visually sometimes facial expressions and looks exchanged by characters or directed toward a character can express a volume of words. Background stories can also be covered quickly with flashbacks. The only real question would be how much of the violence would be shown.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Knopf Doubleday via NetGalley.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Overboard

Overboard by Sara Paretsky
5/10/22; 400 pages
William Morrow
V. I. Warshawski Series #21

Overboard by Sara Paretsky is the highly recommended 21st book in the private detective series featuring V.I. Warshawski.

V.I.'s dogs get loose during a walk and discover an injured and unconscious teenage girl hiding in the rocks along the shoreline of Lake Michigan. The girl regains consciousness enough to only utter one word, nagyi, before the paramedics whisk her away to the hospital. The girl isn't identified before mysteriously disappearing from the hospital. As V.I. looks into her disappearance, a whole host of corrupt individuals, including cops,  come out of the woodwork and start harassing her. Soon it becomes clear that V.I.'s life is in danger too.

There is a whole lot going on in this latest installment of the long running series. As expected at this point, after 20 previous installment of the series Paretsky has her formula for writing V.I. Warshawski novels down pat. The action, new information, complex plot, and twists hold a reader's attention, keep the pace quick, and the plot compelling. Everything in the plot isn't necessarily believable, but it all does lead to a conclusion that will satisfy fans.

Since this is a series with many previous installments V.I. and all her associates are well-known characters to many people. Those trying the series for the first time can likely keep up with the plot and all the characters, but at this juncture it might be best to have with some familiarity with them before starting the latest novel.

Adding to the action is the pandemic featured front and center in the plot, which many people can do without now. Also as expected, Paretsky makes her political views clear. It is clear that it was written in 2020, but it will be published in 2022. Time has passed. Considering the current climate it would have been a wiser choice to just choose to write an exciting thriller and keep personal political/social views to themselves as it diminishes and dates the novel. 3.5 rounded up

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of William Morrow.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

The Murder Rule

The Murder Rule by Dervla McTiernan
5/10/22; 304 pages
HarperCollins

The Murder Rule by Dervla McTiernan is a highly recommended novel of psychological suspense.

Maine law student Hannah Rokeby has set her plan into motion. She has transferred to the University of Virginia for a semester in order to join the Innocence Project which looks for new evidence in cases where convicted individuals profess their innocence. Once in, she orchestrates an offer for her to join the team working on freeing Michael Dandridge, who has served 11 years for the rape and murder of a woman. Her alcoholic mother, Laura, has feared him for years.

The narrative alternates between Hannah's current actions (in 2019) and excerpts from Laura's 1994 diary. In 1994 Laura was working as a maid at a hotel in Seal Harbor, Maine. She became friends with wealthy Tom Spencer and also knew Tom's friend Michael Dandridge who was staying with him in the family vacation home. It is a slow build up to answer questions and disclose what is really happening but it becomes clear that Hannah has joined the Innocence Project and finagled a way onto the team trying to save Michael's life for a completely different purpose. And the team discovers unexpected information that surprises everyone.

Hannah is very self-contained, focused, and clearly has a goal in mind, a goal she is willing to lie and manipulate in order to reach. She's not particularly likeable. Readers won't know her end game until they are already invested in the plot. Clues and additional information are gradually revealed in the even pace narrative that gradually becomes more intense, accelerated, and dangerous as it races to an explosive, twisty ending.

What begins as a mother and daughter story changes to something else and McTiernan does an excellent job leading the reader down one path while clearly changing the direction multiple times. There are a few plot threads that leave questions unanswered and not everything is completely believable, but there is no doubt that this is a compelling novel of psychological suspense that will hold your attention to the end.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Denver Noir

Denver Noir edited by Cynthia Swanson
5/3/22; 288 pages
Akashic Books 

 Denver Noir edited by Cynthia Swanson is a very highly recommended collection of fourteen short stories set in the Denver area.

This is part of Akashic Books international noir series that launched in 2004 and now is at over 100 volumes. The volumes are all set in a specific city, feature a local writer as an editor, and then have fourteen new stories by local authors. The volumes showcase a broad variety of styles from authors included and take place in neighborhoods across the city. A basic map of the city/area is included with the silhouette of a body indicating where individual stories take place. As a fan of procedurals and detective stories it was fun to read the wide variety of talented writers found in this latest edition to the international noir series

The collection is presented in three parts and writers included are:  David Heska Wanbli Weiden, Twanna LaTrice Hill, Cynthia Swanson, Erika T. Wurth, Peter Heller, R. Alan Brooks, Amy Drayer, Mark Stevens, Manuel Ramos, Barbara Nickless, D.L. Cordero, Francelia Belton, Mathangi Subramanian, and Mario Acevedo.

The wide range of styles and diversity of the selections (including a graphic story) are well selected. As with any short story collection some of the selections will resonate more with readers than others and not every story will appeal to all readers. All in all, however, this is a strong collection with a good variety of stories and styles. Denver Noir is an excellent addition to the series.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Akashic Books via Library Thing.

 

Sunday, April 24, 2022

One for Sorrow

One for Sorrow by Helen Fields
3/3/22; 384 pages
Avon Books/HarperCollins
D.I. Callanach #7

One for Sorrow by Helen Fields is a highly recommended police procedural and the seventh book in the D.I. Callanach series.

DCI Ava Turner and DI Luc Callanach take on a case that requires all hands on deck as a bomber seems to be targeting/taking specific people hostage and then using them in the crimes. The bombs are also resulting in the deaths of investigators and emergency medical personal. While investigating the current bombings they need to try and uncover why this is happening and find some clues or evidence that link all the victims to the individual responsible.

In alternate chapters titled "Before" that are set back in time before the current situation, the relationship between a young woman and her boyfriend is examined. At first these offer a bit of relief from the tension created by the current investigation, but soon they also take a chilling turn.

Turner is taking this case very personally and is out for justice no matter the personal cost. Each new situation created by the bomber places all the team members present in a dangerous, precarious situation. Clearly these bombings are personal to the perpetrator too.

While the tension is high in the investigation in the present, clues can also be found in the chapters set in the before chapters. The alternating story lines work well in this novel as each have their own separate plot and clues while they become more anxious and suspenseful. Both lead to an explosive ending. The writing is excellent and the pacing is taut and brisk.

As my first book in the series, One for Sorrow can be read as a stand alone procedural. I think it would help with backstory to have read others in the series, but I didn't experience any real problems following the plot due to a lack of information about the characters. I was not as invested as long time readers in Turner and Callanach's relationship, however, and don't have all the information on the team members.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Avon/HarperCollins.

Magpie

Magpie by Elizabeth Day
5/3/22; 336 pages
Simon & Schuster

Magpie by Elizabeth Day is a highly recommended domestic psychological thriller.

In the first half of Magpie Marisa and Jake move in together and plan to start a family immediately. Even though Jake's mother, Annabelle, doesn't approve of Marisa, Marisa is sure they will have a happy life together. With money being tight they decide to take on a renter, Kate. It appears to be a great idea until Marisa notices that Kate seems to be pushing personal boundaries and is overly familiar with Jake. Marisa begins to feel threatened by her and is concerned about what her future plans are involving Jake and their baby. The second half of Magpie totally turns the plot upside down as it is told from Kate's point-of-view.

Suffice it to say that not much more can be said about the plot without spoiling it. I will mention that experienced readers are likely going to have some of their very early plot twist predictions come true and I'm not completely comfortable with one of the plot devices used. I can also affirm without any hesitation that predictable or not, the writing is quite good and Day does create a whole lot of tension while keeping the pace fast. The novel starts out rather slow but the switch changes things. The ending is a bit over-the-top, but will keep you glued to the pages. 3.5 rounded up

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

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Our Little World

Our Little World by Karen Winn
5/3/22; 352 pages
Penguin Random House

Our Little World by Karen Winn is a highly recommended coming-of-age drama.

Sisters Bee (Bourka) and Audrina Kociss have always been close until recently. Audrina, a year younger than Bee, is pretty, outgoing, and the favorite of everyone, including their parents. While Bee struggles to fit in it seems Audrina does so effortlessly. Neighborhood mothers take turns driving the kids to school and to either the club or the lake during the summer. It is July of 1985 when Max and Sally's mom's takes them all to Deer Chase Lake in New Jersey. This is the day when four-year-old Sally goes missing and changes everyone's illusion of safety and stability. Audrina and Bee's relationship becomes strained and distant under the stress of the disappearance and Bee's move into seventh grade, as well as a secret Bee is holding. 

Our Little World is an excellent, well-written, even paced character driven novel coming-of-age drama that examines the complicated relationship between sisters and in families. This is the story of loss and lost innocence as the sisters grow up. Bee is our narrator and tells the story of their complicated relationship, secrets unspoken, harsh words exchanged, and how envy and trauma asserted themselves and changed things. All of the characters are depicted as realistic, believable individuals with flaws, strengths, weaknesses, and secrets.

Winn excels at setting Our Little World during a specific time and place. Those who knew the 1980's will immediately recognize the time period and little tidbits of descriptive information the clearly set the novel in the '80s. Readers will know at the start that Audrina is going to die, but how, when and why won't be answered until much later in the novel. The disappearance (and presumed murder) of Sally changes everyone's life in some way as it is the major occurrence in the first part of the novel that propels the plot forward toward the second part of the novel, which focuses on Audrina.

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

Thursday, April 21, 2022

The Patient

The Patient by Jane Shemilt
5/3/22; 320 pages
William Morrow

The Patient by Jane Shemilt is a recommended novel of domestic suspense.

Set in Salisbury, England, Rachel Goodchild is a doctor, her husband Nathan teaches at an elite private school and their 24 year-old daughter Lizzie is a librarian. When French architect Luc Lefevre comes to her practice for a consult concerning his depression, Rachel is immediately attracted. She meets him again when his wife throws a party at their restored a historic home in Rachel’s neighborhood.The attraction between her and Luc continues at the party and turns into an affair. At the same time her daughter Lizzie is increasingly distant and hostile toward Rachel and Nathan has grown progressively more remote. Adding to her uneasiness are the footsteps and the feeling that someone is following Rachel all the time.

This is a slow-moving novel that really never picks up speed until the end. We know that Rachel is being held for committing some crime at the beginning but reaching more information about what happened and why is slow to be revealed. The story of the beginning of her affair with Luc seems related to the crime. It also becomes obvious that a whole lot of people are lying about something. The key to everything is knowing who is lying and the clues crawl to the resulting ending. This isn't a psychological thriller as much as it is a novel of domestic suspense.

Although it is an interesting story, it is not quite as suspenseful as one would hope. Readers are required to follow every thought that Rachel has in order to follow the plot. It is really about an affair and requires you to buy into all the excuses for a 49 year-old doctor to start up an affair with a younger patient. I know you are expected to approve of their relationship but there really is no reason given to do so. Neither are appealing characters. The events leading up to the ending are not especially intriguing and the ending is a little over the top and beyond belief. It is technically well written and the plot is thought provoking.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of William Morrow.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Traitor

Traitor by David Hagberg
4/26/22; 240 pages
Forge Books
Kirk McGarvey #27

Traitor by David Hagberg is a highly recommended thriller and the 27th and final novel in the Kirk McGarvey series.

Otto Renke, the CIA chief of electronic surveillance, has been arrested, charged with treason and quickly whisked away to be held in a secret location. His best friend, Kirk McGarvey (Mac) and his wife Petey fly in from Japan to clear Otto's name and support his wife, Mary. In the meantime, Otto is  being interrogated by a homeland security agent. Someone or some foreign agency is clearly targeting Otto and must be stopped. Sadly Otto's computed, named Lou, is unable to be accessed for help. The real traitor must be found in order to clear Otto.

As the 27th novel in the series, I admittedly felt like I was several steps behind in knowing the players and their background in this series. It is still an enjoyable thriller and provided plenty of tension and suspense. There is enough information provided to follow along with the characters current situations as well as their back story. No concrete information is giving about the evidence that is being used to charge Otto, but aside from that, Mac and Petey are fighting other intel agents while trying to prove Otto's innocence. This was at times a rather slow moving thriller but it still held my attention throughout.  I somehow haven't read any of the previous novels in the series, but Traitor has convinced me that it's time to start at the beginning of the series and work my way to this final novel.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Macmillian

Monday, April 18, 2022

The Wrong Victim

The Wrong Victim by Allison Brennan
4/26/22; 464 pages
MIRA
Quinn & Costa #3

The Wrong Victim by Allison Brennan is a very highly recommended procedural and the third book in the excellent Quinn & Costa series.

In Friday Harbor on Washington’s San Juan Island a bomb explodes on a charter cruise killing 9 people. The boat was piloted by retired FBI agent Neil Devereaux. FBI special agent Matt Costa and LAPD officer Kara Quinn, who’s on loan to the FBI, along with other members of his Mobile Response Team are on the scene to investigate the bombing and try determine if one of the passengers was the target or if it was an action planned by a local environmental group who has been protesting the charter boat company.

The Wrong Victim is another winning procedural in the Quinn & Costa series which started with The Third to Die and Tell No Lies. All have been five star reads. Everything I love about a great procedural is here. The writing is exceptionally good and will hold your attention throughout the whole novel. The action-packed plot presents a detailed, intricate and engrossing investigation that follows the clues and discoveries as they are found. Readers get to follow along with the investigation as the agents and detective uncover more information. Yet again Brennan has written a sophisticated novel that demands you closely follow the clues and action in the plot.

The characters are all written as real people with their own issues and flaws. There are plenty of suspects and tension among team members. The Wrong Victim does require that you pay attention while reading to keep track of all the characters and their actions. This would also work as a stand alone novel as enough backstory is expertly included to provide the information you need. Another winning procedural that is sure to make my list of top procedurals of the year.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of MIRA.