Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Blind Faith

Blind Faith by Alicia Beckman
10/11/22; 336 pages
Crooked Lane Books

Blind Faith by Alicia Beckman is a highly recommended mystery.

There are several different mysteries that need to be resolved. Lindsay Keller is a lawyer who currently handles real estate deals and historic preservation projects in Billings, Montana. When she is given a wallet found on a property, she realizes immediately it belongs to Father Michael Leary, who disappeared years ago and is presumed dead.

Detective Brian Donovan has moved to Billings from Boston and taking on a notorious cold case intrigues him. The case is propelled to the forefront with the discovery of the wallet and Donovan is carefully examining all the case notes from years ago.

In Portland, Ore., Carrie Matheson, knew Father Mike. When she was young, her Baba and little sister, Ginger, moved to Billings following Father Mike. She was in her senior year of high school  when something happened that had them moving yet again. This time to Portland, Oregon.

Lindsay and Donovan are both examining and digging deeper into Father Mike's murder. Carrie, on the other hand, is researching her family tree to try and help her grandson get into a drug trial. He has cystic fibrosis and in order to be accepted into the drug trial, he needs a complete genealogy. Her investigation leads to Father Mike and Lindsay and Donovan. There is also the question of how does this all connect to an event in the 70's when a man forces another car off a cliff.

The characters are fully realized as unique individuals. You will care about what happens, but there are many characters, which requires, again, that you pay close attention to all of them and remember the facts surrounding them.

This is a well-written intelligent and complex mystery that spans decades and moves forward at a steady, even pace. Chapters are headed by the year and this is very important because the narrative jumps back and forth between years as well as the points-of-view of various characters. Clues to what is happening in the present are found in these chapters which requires readers to pay close attention to when and where the chapter is set. The switching back and forth can also be a bit disconcerting. This is an excellent mystery but the jumping timelines made it a much slower trip to the satisfying conclusion.

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

Sunday, October 2, 2022

The Animals

The Animals by Cary Fagan
10/4/22; 220 pages
Book*hug Press

The Animals by Cary Fagan is a highly recommended literary modern fable.

Dorn lives in a curious tourist village and makes miniature scale models which are displayed in the local shops. He pines for schoolteacher Ravenna, dutifully visits his elderly father who treats him callously, and has a younger brother who treats him as an afterthought. His life is quiet, predictable, and unassuming. As he makes his way through his unobtrusive daily routine he notices neighbors participating in the government-sponsored "Wild Home Project" which has wild animals, like wolves, rats, minks, otters, and bear, move into the villagers homes.

The pages will fly by in this compact novel. The writing is excellent and the narrative resembles an allegorical fairy tale. The moral or lesson is conceivably along the lines of one must be their own advocate and make their own way through the world, and that wild animals are just that, wild and unpredictable, much like many people.  Dorn is a sympathetic character and readers will support him as he goes through his days encountering various characters. The final denouement, or perhaps an alternate moral to the story, may be that life requires you to be brave, take chances, and embrace change.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Book*hug Press via NetGalley.

Saturday, October 1, 2022

A Place to Land

A Place to Land by Lauren K. Denton
10/4/22; 336 pages
Harper Muse

A Place to Land by Lauren K. Denton is highly recommended atmospheric Southern mystery.

Violet Figg and her sister Trudy live in the small town of Sugar Bend, Alabama where the two own an arts and craft store called Two Sisters. Violet has always been her sister's protector since their mother left their abusive father when she was seventeen and Trudy was fourteen. Her role was cemented, though, forty years ago when a traumatic incident left Trudy no longer speaking. She has used notes to communicate ever since and spends her time making sculptures from found objects. Violet spends her time monitoring bird activity and working at their store. When an old boat shows up on a riverbank, it brings an old mystery back into the present.

At the same time, Maya, a young eighteen-year-old, has left the foster care system and is looking for a place to belong. She has moved into town where she found a part time job. Maya has also discovered Two Sisters and is engrossed with Trudy's sculptures and Trudy allows her to help her with them.

This is a well-written, slow-paced mystery that takes its time to introduce the characters and setting while inserting a creeping sense of mystery and uncertainty into the narrative. The plot clearly examines family, love, acceptance, and redemption, along with finding a way or place to belong and use your gifts. It also has characters facing their actions and the consequences of those deeds while including the difficult topics of domestic violence and murder.

The novel is told through two time periods, the present day and events back in the 1970's and 1980's. There is a reoccurring ominous sign that something distressing is coming. This went a bit over-the-top for me, but it does set the stage for events forthcoming and secrets that will soon be revealed. 3.5 rounded up.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Harper Muse via NetGalley.

The Family Home

The Family Home by Miranda Smith
10/3/22; 292 pages
Bookouture

The Family Home by Miranda Smith is a highly recommended psychological thriller.

Lillian and Mathew are divorced and have an amicable relationship. For the sake of their daughter Mabel, and their finances, they share the family home. This means that Mabel stays in the house, while Lillian and Matthew take turns between staying at the house or in an apartment that they also share. It's an unconventional agreement that works for them. They trust each other, especially after the secret they share.

After celebrating Mabel's birthday, which is also Lillian's birthday, Lillian heads home to the apartment when she is asked out for a drink by a mutual friend. When Lillian finally makes it back to the apartment, she falls asleep on the sofa. When she wakes up later, she heads to her bedroom only to discover a dead body in her bed. First she calls Matthew, and then she calls the police. Lillian is immediately a suspect.

The characters are not memorable as they are standard caricatures, types of people, put into place to propel the plot forward. This doesn't really matter as the plot is the focus and purpose of the novel. Admittedly, the first part of the novel was stronger than the resolution, but the plot holds together and includes plenty of secrets. The dual timeline following the present day and a year ago works well with the plot as does the alternating point-of-view in the narrative. This is a fast paced psychological thriller that will immediately grab your attention and hold it right to the ending.

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

Thursday, September 29, 2022

The New Couple

The New Couple by Alison James
9/27/22; 298 pages
Bookouture

The New Couple by Alison James is a highly recommended mystery/thriller

When a renovated house in an upscale neighborhood is offered as a prize in a charity lottery, it is won by Stephanie and Richard Hamlin. The neighborhood is curious to meet the new residents, so when they are moving in along with their young daughter Poppy, and neighbor Jane Headley swiftly drops by to welcome them to the neighborhood. Jane finds their reactions a bit off-putting and odd, but Fergus, her husband, is quick to point out that they just moved in. When Stephanie stops by the next day and asks if Jane can babysit Poppy because she has to go somewhere, Jane agrees, but this only initiates even more curiosity about the new family and she starts to look into their backgrounds.

There is no question that the initial chapter indicating someone is chained up in a basement will immediately grab your attention. Then, as Jane begins snooping into her new neighbors, things slow down a bit but readers will also have their suspicions rise that something is amiss. Then the narrative goes back and totally twists things up. The story is divided into four parts. The first part is basically told through Jane's observations, it then jumps back in time and switches to someone else's experiences, and eventually unfolds through three narrators.

The plot is engaging even while none of the characters are particularly likable. The key to enjoying the novel is getting the complete picture through all three narrators. You'll have to accept really nosy neighbors, as well as some great leaps of disbelief, but it will be worth it to fully experience this fast paced, fun, and entertaining read.

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

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Treasure State

Treasure State by C. J. Box
9/27/22; 288 pages
St. Martin's Press
Cassie Dewell #6

Treasure State by C. J. Box is a very highly recommended procedural featuring Montana Private Investigator Cassie Dewell.

Cassie has two investigations underway in this complex, entertaining novel. The first one is finding the charming man who conned a wealthy widow out of millions of dollars. She called Cassie to take on the case after the Florida PI she hired disappeared while tracking down a suspect to Anaconda, Montana. Cassie soon learns that the case is bigger than she originally thought.

The second case is an unusual one. A poem is written by an anonymous author giving clues how to find a buried treasure worth millions and the search is on by treasure hunters. Cassie, however, is hired by the anonymous man who hid the gold. He wants to test his security by having her try to find him. If she tracks him down, he’ll pay her a bonus of $25,000.

Both of the investigations are complex, interesting, and full of intrigue, as well as surprises. This is the sixth novel featuring Cassie Dewell, but it works well as a stand alone. I need to go back and read the others in the series.

Cassie is a wonderful character. She's a smart, strong, intuitive single mother. She's also a realistic character who is 40 something, worries about her weight, and has to wear reading glasses. Cassie works hard and is very perceptive. I loved the interaction with her family, however brief it was here. The other characters were also interesting and memorable.

Box does an excellent job plotting the novel and setting a fast pace while Cassie follows clues in both cases. The narrative is mainly told through Cassie's point-of-view, although there are some alternating viewpoints. The chapters are short and to the point, keeping things moving along quickly. The chapter titles help the reader follow the action and the timeline of events. The final denouement is perfect. I highly enjoyed this whole novel!

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of St. Martin's Press via NetGalley.

The Winners

The Winners by Fredrik Backman
9/27/22; 688 pages
Atria Books
Beartown series #3

The Winners by Fredrik Backman is an outstanding, excellent and obviously very highly recommended third novel in the Beartown series. To date, The Winners is the best book I have read this year. Be sure to read Beartown (2017) and Us Against You (2018) the first two Beartown novels.

In the Swedish forest towns of Beartown and Hed, a storm blows through the area that downs many trees, wrecks havoc, and destroys the roof of the ice hockey rink in Hed. During the same storm a beloved citizen dies, which is the impetus for Maya Andersson and Benji Ovich to come home and a reunite with their friends. The storm also means that the Hed hockey players must train and play in the Beartown rink, which ignites another kind of storm as the tension between the two towns grow.

It has been two years since what happened to Maya, but repercussions still remain. Beartown and Hed are still bitter rivals on the ice, but there is also an undercurrent of interconnectedness to the residents of both communities, after all, they live in forest towns and it takes a certain kind of resilient person to live there.

Backman brings back his beloved characters (Peter, Kira, Maya, Benji, Ana, Ramona, Bobo, Amat, Sune and others) and introduces new ones. All of the characters are fully realized individuals who are portrayed as real people. This ability to develop a rich cast of realistic characters that readers will become totally devoted to and care about is a gift that few writers have. You will become  invested in the characters and the plot.

The writing is phenomenal, absolutely perfect. Just as real life can be complicated, the plot is also complex. There are many story lines in the narrative, but with characters as believable as these it seems so effortless to follow all of them. Backman excels at foreshadowing events that are to come, which will further invest readers in the story, if it is even possible to become more invested in such an engrossing novel.

I love everything about Backman's writing and have highlighted more passages in this one book than I have in any other for years. There are so many truisms in the narrative which had me pausing and rereading passages simply because they were so well written and filled with such truth and insight. Admittedly, I was also a sobbing mess for part of The Winners. It is both a celebration of life and a tragedy, of friendship and loss. I love this novel perhaps even more than all of Backman's previous novels, which I also loved. There are not enough stars available for The Winners.

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

Thursday, September 22, 2022

The Foster Family

The Foster Family by Nicole Trope
9/21/22; 264 pages
Bookouture

The Foster Family by Nicole Trope is a very highly recommended domestic psychological thriller.

 Elizabeth and Howard are foster parents for five-year-old Joe when he disappears from their front yard. The police are called in and the search begins. It becomes clear almost immediately to readers that Howard is not who he is trying to portray and Elizabeth as well as Joe are totally scared of him and under his control. Joe is a sweet little boy who just wants to watch the birds across the street from their summer rental at Gordon's house. Howard, however, governs them with and iron fist. He controls both Elizabeth and Joe. He doesn't accept anyone questioning his authority.

Gordon is a good hearted elderly man living across the street. He knows there is something wrong and Joe could be in trouble, but his memory isn't as good as it used to be. In an alternate story line we follow a man who found a brutally beaten young woman sitting on a bench when a man finds her and wants to call for help. She begs him not to, but agrees to allow him to take her home to recover.

The characters are all well-developed. They have and have depth and are portrayed as realistic individuals.  This is what will pull you in and completely engulf you in the plot and the characters.

The writing is excellent and, admittedly, Trope will control your emotions like a virtuoso throughout. This is one of those novels that completely dominates you. You'll switch between being upset, emotional, angry, and crying quite quickly between chapters. I was also thoroughly aware that Trope was playing with my emotions and controlling them. Yeah, I accepted it and went with the flow. Chapters switch between different points-of-view. Most of the story is from Elizabeth's and Gordon's point-of-view.

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

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Suspect

Suspect by Scott Turow
9/27/22; 448 pages
Grand Central Publishing

Suspect by Scott Turow is a highly recommended legal/investigative mystery.

Lucia "Lucy" Gomez, the police chief in the city of Highland Isle, near Kindle County, has three male police officers accuse her of soliciting sex in exchange for promotions to higher ranks. The sexual harassment accusations against her are false and part of a plan to destroy her career. While she is sure she knows who is behind this, Lucy turns to an old friend, Rik Dudek, to act as her attorney in the federal grand jury investigation into the accusations. Along with Rik, comes Clarice “Pinky” Granum, a licensed P.I. and a thirty-three-year-bisexual with plenty of ink and a memorable piercing. Pinky is Ric's secret weapon, she's smart, strange, and has keen observation skills.

Pinky is the narrator and she is definitely a colorful one. While she is clearly working on the case for Rik, she is also has other diversions. Pinky is extremely curious about her neighbor, so naturally she is investigating him too. You do have to suspend disbelief at time as far as Pinky's intuition in picking up clues or putting pieces together, but she does entertain. I'm not sure I'd want to read a whole series featuring her, but she did provide engaging escapism

This is part of Turow's series of novels set in Kindle County, but can easily be read as a stand alone. The writing is excellent. There is enough going on in the complicated investigation and the plot is sufficiently intricate to keep you guessing to the end. 

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

Monday, September 19, 2022

Lucy by the Sea

Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout
9/20/22; 304 pages
Random House

Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout is a so-so pandemic novel. Basically, William whisks Lucy out of NYC to live out the pandemic lockdown in a remote home located in a coastal community in Maine.

I've been a huge fan of Lucy Barton and have enjoyed Strout's novels for years. I was looking forward to reading Lucy by the Sea, but once I started it, the novel fell so flat I also most didn't finish it. Strout gets points for her ability to write and that's it. It's a pandemic lock down novel and a lazy, scattered story lacking a keen focus. I didn't care about this fictional story which felt perfunctory and whiny. There was no great story here.

All of us experienced the lockdown (or not) in different ways and all of us have our own stories. Setting aside this novel and allowing time to temper the facts and events would have been wiser than publishing this. My fluid rule that authors need to keep their personal editorializing on social/political views on contemporary topics to themselves and out of new books as it diminishes and dates the novel, yet again, applies. This is a disappointment. I'm apparently a complete outlier among reviewers, but I can't believe all the people writing glowing reviews read the same novel I did.

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

Sunday, September 18, 2022

A Cigarette Lit Backwards

A Cigarette Lit Backwards by Tea Hacic-Vlahovic
9/20/22; 240 pages
The Overlook Press

A Cigarette Lit Backwards by Tea Hacic-Vlahovic is a recommended coming-of-age novel set in the punk-rock scene of the early 2000s.

Kat lives in North Carolina and is desperately trying to fit in with the group that comprise the local punk scene. She's certainly a part of the group, but remains on the fringes. Her insecurities and longing to fit in and be accepted as part of a group, and not be seen as a poseur, has led to a series of poor choices and bad decisions. When she surprisingly gets back stage and has her picture taken by a journalist, her reputation as a groupie soars. This however, leads to even more bad choices and poor decisions.

This is a novel that will no doubt have an impact and elicit a visceral reaction for some readers. The characters are unlikable and they are definitely written to be that way. However, the writing felt very matter-of-fact and bare bones to me, which left me wanting more. My heart broke for Kat even though she clearly wouldn't care about that. All I could think about while reading this novel was that someone needed to care enough to talk to Kat and set her straight. This also makes me certain that I am not the target audience. 

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of The Overlook Press.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Nothing but the Night

Nothing but the Night by Greg King and Penny Wilson
9/20/22; 352 pages
St. Martin's Press

Nothing but the Night: Leopold & Loeb and the Truth Behind the Murder That Rocked 1920s America by Greg King and Penny Wilson is a very highly recommended examination of the infamous 1924 murder.

The names Leopold and Loeb will immediately be familiar to true crime aficionados and bring to mind two teens who killed for the thrill of it. Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were two intelligent and wealthy teenagers who were charged and convicted for the 1924 murder of fourteen-year-old Bobby Franks in Chicago. Franks was actually Loeb’s second cousin and the families had homes close to each other. The murder was shocking for its senselessness, the revelation of a love affair between the defendants, and defense attorney Clarence Darrow's defense summation which saved the boys from the death penalty. King and Wilson reexamine the case and who was the true mastermind behind the crime.

This is an exceptionally well researched inspection of the case and included are a bibliography and chapter notes. It remains a troubling and disturbing case that deserves a new look at the known facts and King and Wilson take on this task admirably. Those who appreciate the quest for the truth in psychological historical true crime cases will welcome this even approach to looking at the facts with new eyes. It also serves to look closer at Clarence Darrow's argument against the death penalty. His suggestion that  experts declared Leopold and Loeb were "mentally diseased" rather than evil unleashed a media frenzy.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of St. Martin's Press via NetGalley.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Abominations

Abominations by Lionel Shriver
9/20/22; 304 pages
HarperCollins

Abominations: Selected Essays from a Career of Courting Self-Destruction by Lionel Shriver is a very highly recommended collection of thirty-five opinion pieces.

Shriver is known for her sharp intellect, well-supported opinions, and perfectly chosen vocabulary. This is a superb collection covering more than two decades of some of her nonfiction selected from the Spectator, Guardian, New York Times, Harper’s Magazine, Wall Street Journal, as well as speeches, reviews, and unpublished pieces. Whether you agree with her on everything or nothing, Shriver clearly and succinctly makes her case and doesn't particularly care what others think about her opinion.

She is citizen of the U.S.A. who has lived in the U.K. for 30 years (12 years in Belfast), and shares opinions and thoughts on culture and politics concerning both countries. She does not shy away from opinions and thoughts that will be controversial. I appreciate this enormously. She clearly indicates which essays resulted in people trying to cancel her, not that she cares. Some of the pieces are lighter in tone than others, providing a nice mix.

As a proponent of free speech, she writes about what she thinks and would extend the same right to you. Topics covered include, in part: Brexit, religion, friends, fitness, taxes, cancel culture, wokeness, gender politics, semantics, trends in literature, the lockdown, tennis, cycling, nationalism, diversity, feelings, and more. Abominations is going to thrill fans of her fiction when she provides some insight into some of her novels, Big Brother being one example. I'm an ardent fan of her fiction and as I read these pieces I couldn't help but think, "Good for her." It is always refreshing to read someone expressing their firmly held personal beliefs in a logical, well-written manner and not care if any mob comes after them for it.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Lessons

Lessons by Ian McEwan
9/13/22; 448 pages
Knopf Doubleday

Lessons by Ian McEwan is a highly recommended literary fiction following one man's life through many historical and personal events.

In 1986 Roland Baines, 37, has his wife Alissa leave him and their 7 month-old son Lawrence right before the Chernobyl sent a cloud of radiation. As Roland deals with his current circumstances, he ponders past events in his life. His father was an army captain in Tripoli which meant at age 11 he had to travel 2000 miles away to a boarding school in England. At the school a piano teacher takes advantage of him and this left scars that endured into adulthood.  He rejects formal education, spends time traveling as he pursues introspective distractions through music, literature, friends, sex, politics, love, and, unexpectedly, fatherhood. Roland's life experiences are followed across generations of his dysfunctional family and many historical events.

The writing is lyrical, dense, and exquisite, with breath-taking descriptions and insight, as one would expect and anticipate from McEwan. On the other hand, giving a brief introduction to what Lessons is about is challenging. It is a compelling novel and I was engaged with the narrative, however, it also felt like just too much and became overwhelming at times.

There is a lot going on in this character driven novel. Roland himself isn't a particularly interesting character all on his own. The interest is found in the various experiences he lived through simple as an extension of his life experiences and these are all events I remembered. There are also numerous family secrets exposed and lessons shared from Roland's life. I did read Lessons over a period of time, which made it slow going and it felt like it could have been shortened or focused in tighter on a specific period of time.

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

Monday, September 12, 2022

Edge of Dusk

Edge of Dusk by Colleen Coble
7/12/22; 352 pages
Thomas Nelson
Annie Pederson #1

Edge of Dusk by Colleen Coble is a highly recommended romantic-suspense novel and the first book in a new series.

Nine-year-old Annie Pederson’s life changed the night her five-year-old sister was kidnapped. Twenty-four years have passed but Annie still thinks about this loss, even while she is mourning a new loss, that of her her husband and parents in a boating accident. Annie is now a law enforcement ranger, still runs the property at the Tremolo Resort and Marina she inherited, and has her eight-year-old daughter Kylie to keep her more than busy. Even when her first love, Jon Dustan, returns after nine years away, she is determined to avoid him. That goal proves to be impossible, especially when she discovers the body of a missing hiker floating by her docks. Quickly, bodies begin to appear and suspicious behavior abounds around the lake.

The plot expands and complications are added as the investigations multiply. It soon becomes clear that Annie is in danger too. Someone is targeting her. The novel is set in Rock Harbor in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan on Lake Superior. Coble provides plenty of realistic details to firmly establish the setting and local atmosphere and dialogue of the area. For fans of Coble, there are cameo appearances from beloved characters.

The characters are all fully realized and their struggles are realistic. There is tension building due to the investigations and because of the still present attraction between Annie and Jon. There are moments when you have to set disbelief aside in order to enjoy the novel, but that seems relatively easy to accomplish. This is a mystery that does not need a language warning.

From the multiple plot elements, there are also multiple mysteries, some of which will be solved. The pace is quick which helps ensure the plot is compelling and interesting. There are some loose ends and unfinished plot elements that will likely be carried forward to the next book in the series. Following Edge of Dusk, is book two Dark of Night (January 2023), and book three Break of Day (July 2023).

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Thomas Nelson Publishing. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

The Real Mrs. Tobias

The Real Mrs. Tobias by Sally Koslow
9/13/22; 336 pages
HarperCollins

The Real Mrs. Tobias by Sally Koslow is a highly recommended domestic drama about mothers- and daughters-in-law.

This mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship story is set in NYC in 2015. The plot follows three women in the Tobias family. The matriarch, Veronika, is a psychotherapist; Melanie (Mel) is both a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law and a counselor; and Birdie who is newly married to Mel's son, Micah,is mother to Alice. When Micah does something irresponsible and stupid, all the women chime in with their opinions on what he should do and how he should respond. Since they have already been having marital problems, after a visit from the police, Birdie takes Alice back to her parents house in Iowa.

This is an entertaining look at how strong, determined women ostensibly keep families together but the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship story is also full of stereotypes. For the most part, each chapter was narrated by one of the Tobias women, Veronika, Mel, or Birdie. The focus on a multi-generational family and all the problems inherent in their lives allows for the plot to build drama and tension. The characters are portrayed as real people with flaws and shortcomings, but with a rather light touch.

Those who love family dramas will likely enjoy The Real Mrs. Tobias. The writing is excellent and Koslow does a good job providing drama and humor in the plot. Since I enjoyed it but didn't love it, I'm a bit of an outlier. Admittedly, I'm becoming rather tired of novels that are set in NYC, let alone portraying all Mid-Westerner's as stereo typically stoic. This could be a good choice for books clubs that focus on women's fiction since there are plenty of topics and plot points in the novel that beg discussion.


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

Saturday, September 10, 2022

I Walk Between the Raindrops: Stories

I Walk Between the Raindrops: Stories by T. C. Boyle
9/13/22; 288 pages
HarperCollins

I Walk Between the Raindrops: Stories by T. C. Boyle  is a very highly recommended collection of thirteen imaginative and irresistible short stories.

The stories range from the reactions of a wealthy couple amidst a variety of experiences, passengers quarantined on a cruise ship, a society controlled by a social credit system, a man kills a rattlesnake in his yard, an author faces his paternity of a young man, a man makes a deal with an elderly woman, a man being evicted by his parents and more. 

Boyle writes excellent short stories and I Walk Between the Raindrops is a superb addition to his oeuvre. The writing is impeccable, providing concise descriptions of characters and situations while establishing the plot and setting. The stories cover both realistic situations and surrealistic ones and are set both in the past and the future. They can be simultaneously funny and serious. Some of the stories are idiosyncratic character studies, others veer toward social commentary, and some are futuristic. I thoroughly enjoyed this collection.

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

Thursday, September 8, 2022

The Final Equinox

The Final Equinox by Andrew Mayne
9/13/22; 336 pages
Thomas & Mercer
A Theo Cray and Jessica Blackwood #2

The Final Equinox by Andrew Mayne is a very highly recommended thriller with a world traveling science fiction theme.

After opening with an interesting autopsy in Atlanta attended by computational biologist Dr. Theo Cray, the plot takes a turn to New Mexico. Billionaire Thomas T. Theismann has been spending a fortune and years on trying to find extraterrestrial intelligent life in the universe and when he believes he has received an alien signal, Cray is one of the experts he hires as an advisor. In the meantime, Cray's girlfriend, magician-turned-FBI-agent Jessica Blackwood is on another case when she learns information, the death of David Ikeda, which has her very concerned for Cray's health. Blackwood finds a way in to join Cray and take a deep look into what is happening in Theismann's companies and the two face dangers that seem to be other worldly.

The discussions and interactions between Cray and Blackwood as they both use their intelligence and skills to uncover what is happening is absolutely riveting. Their interactions and insight is what makes this a wonderful thriller for action as well as perfect escapism as they both logically examine what is going on. I highly recommended their first collaboration in Mastermind, but The Final Equinox is even better. This is really a fascinating, compelling thriller and kept me glued to the pages throughout.

Both Theo Cray and Jessica Blackwood are fully realized characters. Their individual expertise, background, and strengths are fully established and clearly portrayed in the plot. Following the logical threads of the investigation through their unique personalities and outlook is irresistible.

Cray and Blackwood pursuing the clues and investigating where the signals are coming from and what could be really happening is where the action is at and worth your time to read. The collaboration between Cray and Blackwood is what pushes this novel to my highest recommendation. I totally loved this second outing of Cray and Blackwood together. Their thought processes and dialogue is pitch perfect. Hopefully I'll see another complicated  and intricate case set before the pair.

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

Monday, September 5, 2022

The Rising Tide

The Rising Tide by Ann Cleeves
9/6/22; 384 pages
Minotaur Books
Vera Stanhope Series #10

The Rising Tide by Ann Cleeves is a highly recommended murder mystery and procedural.

For fifty year a group of friends have been meeting every five years for reunions at Pilgrims’ House on Holy Island. They all first met on a school trip when they were sixteen and have remained friends since. From the original group, Phillip, Annie, Lou, Ken, and Rick are present. When Annie finds Rick is dead, apparently by hanging himself, Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope and her Northumbria Police colleagues are called in to investigate. When an autopsy reveals someone smothered Rick before faking the hanging, Vera and her team must uncover the hidden truth behind the crime.

In this excellent, complex procedural expect to find a plethora of suspects and motives. Although this is the tenth book in the series, it most certainly can be read as a stand alone.  It is vastly entertaining to follow the investigation while fine tuning your own list of suspects based on the information and background uncovered. There is a real sense of danger as the fast paced plot moves forward.

This is a character driven drama, so the most important thing to do is pay attention to the descriptions of the many characters while suspecting everyone as you follow Vera's investigation. Even the setting provides plenty of opportunities for problems with the tides and the fog. As each character is introduced and more information is revealed about them, keep track of everything. Vera does and details are going to matter. Cleeves provides all the information you need on each character and then proceeds to surprise you with where that information is going.

If you enjoy well-written procedurals, The Rising Tide will be a great choice. It will keep you guessing and considering suspects right up to the end.

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

Sunday, September 4, 2022

The Bad Angel Brothers

The Bad Angel Brothers by Paul Theroux
9/6/22; 352 pages
HarperCollins

The Bad Angel Brothers by Paul Theroux is a highly recommended psychological drama.

Brothers Frank and Cal Belanger are complete opposites in this drama of sibling rivalry and betrayal. Cal's older brother Frank has always been the favorite child of his mother, which left Cal as his father's, who passed away young. As Frank went on to become a lawyer, Cal pursued his dream of prospecting for gold and other precious minerals around the world. Frank, who craved control and money above all else, took advantage of Cal, asking for loans and even appropriating Cal's stories and telling them as his own. Cal's dream was only to leave their New  England small town and his greatest mistake was coming back and not severing all contact with Frank.

The novel opens with Cal returning from a mining venture only to find his wife distant and seemingly too friendly with Frank. Then the narrative jumps back in time to when the brothers were younger and, after college, when Cal took off to look for gold. While Cal is only interested in making enough to get by and finds real joy in the search, Frank is envious of his wealth, asks for loans, and seriously looks for ways to scam his brother. After an incident in the desert where Cal saves another man, he is welcomed into a family where he feels wanted for the first time. At this Cal should have cut ties with Frank and his mother and disappeared.  But he didn't.

The plot goes on to cover Cal's prospecting and work in various locations, including the desert South West, Alaska, Colombian, and Zambia. Admittedly, this large portion of the novel will be engaging for those who enjoy geology and learning about different areas in the world. For some it will seem to be a bit too slow. But, as Cal is traveling for his work, he is also sharing more hints at the psychological campaign that Frank is waging. He is clearly scheming, manipulating, and planning some nefarious but legal downfall to afflict Cal.

The writing is excellent and the characters are finely drawn. Cal shares some of his own imperfections while also detailing those of Frank. There is a question that will arise continuously: why didn't Cal cut off all contact with Frank after college? If a sibling has shown they wish you ill, especially to this extent, why continue any relationship?

When you get close to the end of The Bad Angel Brothers, you will not be able to read and turn the pages fast enough while you are mentally telling Cal what to do. When he finally comes to the realization (that most readers will have reached much earlier) the novel is over. This is a novel that will stick with you, but also ends so abruptly that it will leave you wanting some closure.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Saturday, September 3, 2022

On the Rooftop

On the Rooftop by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
9/6/22; 304 pages
HarperCollins

On the Rooftop by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton is a highly recommended historical fiction novel set in the 1950s.

In 1953 the changing Black San Francisco neighborhood, Vivian's three daughters, Ruth, Esther, and Chloe have been singing and dancing in harmony since they could speak. Vivian's husband has passed away, and she dreams of her three girls reaching stardom. On stage, the three girls are known as The Salvations. Now in their 20's, they are becoming well known, especially due to their weekly appearances at the Champagne Supper Club, and a talent manager has contacted Vivian hoping to help them reach the pinnacle of success. However, things are changing, both in the lives of the girls and the neighborhood.

The writing is a descriptive delight in this novel and it depicts both the good and the bad of the many events the family goes through. Chapters are from the point of view of Vivian, Ruth, Esther, or Chloe. Readers can follow Vivian's dreams for her girls and the plans the girls have for their own lives. Also detailed are the changes occurring in the neighborhood. Complex relationships reign in this novel, and they are what makes the narrative interesting, with the relationship between the mother and her daughters a main depiction.

The descriptions of the mother and sisters are all clearly delineated and each character represents an individual with dreams of her own. The experiences of the sisters are removed from those pf the mother, yet the mother's experiences ultimately effect the daughters too, although with  a modicum of restraint.

Normally historical fiction isn't a choice of mine, but this novel represents an excellent choice for anyone who understands the dreams a mother may have for her children and then the alternate paths the children take. On the Rooftop by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton was inspired by Fiddler on the Roof, and that comparison is apropos.

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

Thursday, September 1, 2022

American Demon

American Demon: Eliot Ness and the Hunt for America's Jack the Ripper by Daniel Stashower
9/6/22; 352 pages
Minotaur Books

American Demon: Eliot Ness and the Hunt for America's Jack the Ripper by Daniel Stashower is a highly recommended account of the life of Eliot Ness.

In Cleveland during the Great Depression over a period of four years, starting on September 5th, 1934,  the dismembered remains of twelve bodies were discovered. The killer became known as the Cleveland’s Torso Killer, or the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run. This case was handled by Eliot Ness, the new director of public safety. Ness came to Cleveland after he and the Untouchables ended Al Capone’s bootlegging empire. For better or worse, this case redefined Ness's career and tried to clean up the corruption in the police force.

As it cover his time in Cleveland and his involvement in the investigation into the case, American Demon acts as a biography of Ness's life . Although he didn't catch the killer, he did achieve cleaning up corruption in Cleveland. Stashower portrays Ness realistically showing his strength and flaws. He also credits those who helped solved the case, which was beyond the skills Ness had.

This is an interesting, well written account about Eliot Ness, covering his life in Cleveland. As a historical true crime novel, it covers the investigation into the serial killer as well as many other occurrences during this time. Part of the interest is in how an investigation was covered in the past and the bizarre details of the case.  Notes, a Bibliography, and Index are included.

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

Monday, August 29, 2022

Lost In Time

Lost In Time by A G Riddle
9/1/22; 416 pages
Head of Zeus

Lost In Time by A G Riddle is a highly recommended science fiction time traveling thriller.

Dr. Sam Anderson and his daughter Adeline have been arrested and  charged with killing Nora Thomas, a colleague and lover. Sam and Nora were on the team that created Absolom, the time traveling device that used to send dangerous criminals to the prehistoric past. Even though he is innocent, Sam admits guilt based on a note left for his to find. His admission will send him back in time to the Triassic period. Adeline then devotes herself to uncovering the truth, which ends up involving much more than she anticipated.

Sure, you have to add in a heaping dose of setting disbelief aside, but after that, Lost In Time is sheer entertainment and a compelling and interesting time traveling mystery. Yes, dinosaurs are a part of the plot, but in actuality only a small, very gripping part. Although, admittedly, I would have enjoyed more of Sam in the Triassic Period. There is enough to satisfy time traveling fans, while still propelling the plot forward. The bulk of the novel is concerned with Adeline finding out the truth about Nora's murder, prove her father's innocence, and, well, everything involving the development of the Absolom project.

All of the characters are well written. They are complex, sympathetic, and fully realized. Even as each problem the individual team members are dealing with is expose, you will feel support and sympathy for them.

There are plenty of technical details provided, however, you don't necessarily need to follow all of them in order to appreciate and enjoy the plot. Once the narrative alternates between Sam trying to avoid dinosaurs and Adeline trying to uncover the truth, most readers will be hooked until Riddle reaches the end.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Head of Zeus via Edelweiss.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

The Beach Party

The Beach Party by Amy Sheppard
8/30/22; 296 pages
Bookouture

The Beach Party by Amy Sheppard is a recommended New Adult murder mystery.

Katie met her friend Sophie when they were both studying journalism at the university. Sophie has several successful podcasts and is an influencer while Katie is working in print journalism. Together the two started a true crime podcast that a network has noticed and want the two to do a deep dive into an unsolved case. Sophie plans for them to go to Cornwell to investigate the unsolved murder from six years ago. Katie lived in Pengully where the murder took place, was at the beach party that night and knew the victim, nineteen-year-old Lacey Crew. Doing this podcast will mean Katie must return to the town, reexamine what she remembers from that night, and subsequently confront her past.

I'm facing a bit of a quandary in reviewing this novel. This mystery/thriller is really written and tailored toward New Adult readers, who may enjoy it more than I did. There were several elements, however, that resulted in my recommendation, chiefly the slow revelation of facts that allowed the suspicion and tension to gradually build to the surprising twisty denouement. The murder mystery plot in the novel works quite well. I appreciated the narrative alternating between the present and the past. Having the premise rely on podcasting is a trendy choice which works.

The actual beach part in the title is recalled through flashbacks and peoples recollections rather than in real time, which isn't reflected in the synopsis. The writing isn't particularly well executed technically, but this may change in the released novel.

As written, there doesn't seem to be any reason that Katie and Sophie became friends and would remain friends after college. Sophie is more realized as a character than Katie, who could have used some additional character development. Among the various characters, past and present, there is too much relationship drama and casual encounters that sets a much younger tone to the novel, and, well, all the characters are young, in their mid-twenties. (It was also laughable when Katie describes her mother as 52, but really active for her age.)

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