Monday, February 28, 2022

Lost Worlds & Mythological Kingdoms

Lost Worlds & Mythological Kingdoms, John Joseph Adams, Editor
3/8/22; 384 pages
Grim Oak Press

Lost Worlds & Mythological Kingdoms, edited by John Joseph Adams, is a highly recommended anthology of science fiction/speculative or alternate reality short stories.

Much akin to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World, this anthology focuses on lost places, adventures, undiscovered realities, mysteries, or new parts of our world. The collected stories cover the gamut from spectacular to mediocre. The span between the excellent and inadequate seemed a bit greater than what is normally found in anthologies, but perhaps that was only my experience. My rating is based on the majority of the stories which I liked enough to highly recommended the whole collection. One of the weakest stories was the first one for me, which actually had me considering setting this collection aside.

Contents include: "The Light Long Lost at Sea" by An Owomoyela; "The Cleft of Bones" by Kate Elliott; "The Voyage of Brenya " by Carrie Vaughn; "Comfort Lodge, Enigma Valley" by Charles Yu; "The Expedition Stops for the Evening at the Foot of the Mountain Pass" by Genevieve Valentine; "Down in the Dim Kingdoms" by Tobias S. Buckell; "Those Who Have Gone" by C.C. Finlay; "An Account, by Dr. Inge Kühn, of the Summer Expedition and Its Discoveries" by E. Lily Yu; "Out of the Dark" by James L. Cambias; "Endosymbiosis" by Darcie Little Badger; "The Orpheus Gate" by Jonathan Maberry; "Hotel Motel Holiday Inn" by Dexter Palmer; "On the Cold Hill Side" by Seanan McGuire; "The Return of Grace Malfrey" by Jeffrey Ford; "The Tomb Ship" by Becky Chambers; "Pellargonia: A Letter to the Journal of Imaginary Anthropology" by Theodora Goss; "There, She Didn’t Need Air to Fill Her Lungs" by Cadwell Turnbull.

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

Sunday, February 27, 2022

The Whispers

The Whispers by Heidi Perks
3/8/22; 320 pages
Gallery Books

The Whispers by Heidi Perks is a highly recommended psychological suspense.

Since they were five-years-old Anna and Grace were just like sisters until Grace's family moved to Australia when they were seventeen. Now nineteen years later Grace and her daughter have moved back to Clearwater, England. Grace is ready for her best friend to embrace her return, but Anna already has a set of close friends and is reluctant to have Grace join their group. When Anna goes missing one night after a girls' night out at the pub, Grace seems to be the only one who is concerned. She is the one who contacts the police and becomes more frantic as the days pass.

The novel opens with a body discovered on the beach, so part of the suspense is discovering who died and why. The narrative flips between Grace in the present day and Anna months in the past leading up the final denouement, with insertions of whispering gossip from other parents meeting during the neighborhood school drop off/pick up. The plot moves at a slow and steady pace, however there is some repetition in the middle that will have some readers skimming ahead to new action.

The writing is suspenseful enough to hold your attention while slowly making it clear that everything may not be quite as clear as it seems. The tension increases as more information about the past of both Anna and Grace is uncovered and disclosed. This is more a novel of suspense rather than a thriller or mystery.

Basically, The Whispers is a novel about a very toxic friendship. It is also a novel full of unlikable characters, most of which are depicted as caricatures rather than realistic people. What will keep you reading is discovering who was found on the beach and untangling all the lies in search of the truth. And all of the characters are lying or hiding something. 3.5 rounded up.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Gallery Books.

Private Way

Private Way by Ladette Randolph
3/1/22; 242 pages
University of Nebraska Press

Private Way by Ladette Randolph is a so-so tale of a woman who needs to take a break from the internet.

Vivi Marx started the online community Pie, which became very successful, but with the success came conflicts. Events led to Vivi being cyberbullied and doxxed, which has brought fear and anxiety to her life. For her own mental health and safety she decides to de-grid, leaving her life, her phone, and laptop in L.A., and heads to Lincoln, Nebraska, where she had spent several summers with her grandmother who is now deceased. Vivi rents a small house for a year and meets her new neighbors on Fieldcrest Drive.

There are parts of the novel where the writing is wonderfully descriptive, but the numerous problems with the plot and the flow of the novel take away from the descriptive writing that can be quite nice. Concerning the plot, events in the story line that are left unresolved became a distraction. Additionally, I really didn't care for the fact that we are told the story rather than having the action flow as an integral part of the plot.

Initially, I found Vivi an unappealing character and this first impression never changed. I struggled throughout the novel to keep an open mind and try to connect with this character. There was also a disconnect with the way Vivi acts/talks and her age. 

Perhaps I should have left this novel as a "did not finish" because it never won me back after a few questions arose early on. Perhaps it's being nick-picky, but what is the deal about it taking 5 days to get to Lincoln, even after buying an atlas in Elko, NV (when you would be on I-80). Even daydreaming, at that point the interstate takes you most of the way with efficiency and ease. Then when Vivi is crossing the Missouri (and wondering about its depth) to get on I-80 toward Nebraska, I was shaking my head. She would have had to cross the river somewhere else in order to even approach Lincoln from the east. And then there is the ghost.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the publisher.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Ocean State

Ocean State by Stewart O'Nan
3/15/22; 240 pages
Grove Atlantic

Ocean State by Stewart O'Nan is a very highly recommended literary fiction and a profound and heartbreaking family drama. This is an excellent novel and will certainly be on my top ten list for 2022.

Set in 2009, Carol Oliviera has two daughters, Angel and Marie, and they live in the working-class town of Ashaway, Rhode Island. Angel is a senior in high school and has been dating Myles for three years. Birdy Alves is dating Hector, but she and Myles are conducting a clandestine relationship, secretly cheating on their partners. The impending tragedy is foretold by thirteen-year-old Marie's opening statement, “When I was in eighth grade my sister helped kill another girl.”

Ocean State is not a murder mystery. It is a character study and the narrative is told through a series of flashbacks and internal monologues from the alternating  perspective of these four women: Marie, Angel, Carole, and Birdy. Marie's account binds the whole story together as she is reflecting on all of the events which occurred years earlier. Each of these characters are depicted as realistic individuals with secrets, obsessions, guilt, and fears. Each of these characters are flawed, unhappy, and seeking love and acceptance. It is an intimate, sympathetic portrait of sisters, mothers, and daughters and how they interact with each other as well as a story of working-class life during a recession. 

O’Nan is one of my favorite authors and Ocean State demonstrates all the reasons why. The writing is exceptional. Once you start it you will not be able to set Ocean State aside until you have finished it. It is beautifully written with insightful details and a plot that is heartbreaking and compelling. The details are meticulously chosen and the plot is deliberately crafted to make every detail vital to the story. Everything leads to the tragic climax, which even though we know it is coming, it is still poignant. And all of this is handled with compassion and tenderness.

If you enjoy literary fiction, Ocean State should be on the top of your reading list. This is a perfect choice for books clubs and one of the best books of 2022.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Grove Atlantic.

Friday, February 25, 2022

The Far Land

The Far Land: 200 Years of Murder, Mania, and Mutiny in the South Pacific by Brandon Presser
3/8/22; 352 pages
PublicAffairs Books

The Far Land: 200 Years of Murder, Mania, and Mutiny in the South Pacific by Brandon Presser is a very highly recommended reexamination of the story of the HMS Bounty mutineers and their Tahitian companions.

In 1790 the mutineers of the HMS Bounty settled on the South Pacific island of Pitcairn. In 1808, an American merchant ship came upon the uncharted island in the South Pacific. "Seven generations later, the island’s diabolical past still looms over its 48 residents; descendants of the original mutineers, marooned like modern castaways. Only a rusty cargo ship connects Pitcairn with the rest of the world, just four times a year." In 2018, travel writer and author Brandon Presser took the freighter Pitcairn to live among the present day two clans on the island who are bound by circumstance and secrets. While on the island, he collected the details of Pitcairn’s full story.

The story of mutiny of the Bounty has been told through books and films numerous times. Presser makes it clear that the mutiny was only the prologue to the actual dramatic events that occurred on the island. The Far Land adds to the collection with both chapters focusing on the historical events and chapters told through a contemporary personal narrative. He recounts in detail the original mutiny and settling of Pitcairn and his 2018 visit to meet the islands 48 inhabitants. Most of the current residents are descendants of the mutineers.

Presser has visited over 130 countries and is an experienced travel writer who can look beyond the novelty of an experience and dig deeper into the real story behind the facade. He uncovers a tale of power, tribalism, obsession, paranoia, and betrayal. Presser does an excellent job presenting the exhaustive research he undertook. References and a select bibliography are included. This is a well-written, great choice for anyone interested in Pitcairn's history and its current inhabitants.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of PublicAffairs Books

Thursday, February 24, 2022

The Heights

The Heights by Louise Candlish
3/1/22;416 pages
Atria Books

The Heights by Louise Candlish is a highly recommended novel about maternal obsession and revenge.

When Ellen Saint is at a client's home and sees Kieran Watts standing on a roof top terrace in the apartment building across the way she is shocked. She knows that this is not possible because he's been dead for two years, and she should know because she killed him. Kieran was responsible for her son Lucas's death and she extracted her revenge on him for his actions that impacted her son's life.

This really is a slow-burn psychological thriller that examines grief, fear, guilt, and revenge and the disastrous effects that Kieran had on her family. You will know that something bad is going to happen and as you read the reason for all of Ellen's hatred is set up. At the beginning Ellen is writing about the events as a form of therapy. Interspersed in  between  Ellen's words is the Sunday Times magazine article about Ellen and chapters following the perspective of Vic, Lucas's father.

We have no likable or relatable characters here. The first part of the novel, which is through Ellen's point-of-view is very slow. Once the second part begins, the pace picks up and we are provided with more information. The struggle is staying engaged with the first half of the novel which is very slow and some what repetitive. Things do pick up in the end but the trick is to stick with it through the beginning in order to make it to the end.

The writing is good and Candlish provides plenty of twists, but you have to endure the slow start to get to the actual psychological thriller part of the novel. Ellen's obsession with Kieran can become a bit tiresome. The key to enjoying this novel is sticking with it to the final denouement.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Atria Books

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

The Night Shift

The Night Shift by Alex Finlay
3/1/22; 320 pages
Minotaur Books

The Night Shift by Alex Finlay is a very highly recommended spellbinding thriller following two murder cases fifteen years apart.

On New Year's Eve evening in 1999 four teenage girls are working at Blockbuster Video in Linden, New Jersey. All four are attacked, along with the manager, but only one girl survived. A boyfriend of one of the girl's is the main suspect, but he vanished and hasn't been found since. Fifteen years later, four teenage girls are attacked at the Linden ice cream parlor and, again, only one girl survives. Ella, a therapist, is called in to talk to the survivor of the ice cream shop attack, Jesse Duvall. Ella is the survivor of the Blockbuster attack and Jesse has a keen interest in that unsolved case. Called in to help police with the investigation is FBI agent Sarah Keller, who is 8 1/2 months pregnant with twins. She is assisted by temporary partner Atticus Singh.

The engrossing, riveting narrative unfolds through the points-of-view of Ella, Sarah Keller, and Chris, an assistant prosecutor who actually has a hidden tie to the Blockbuster case. Surrounding their accounts are a host of supporting characters who have some association with the cases and add depth and intrigue to the plot. It becomes clear that solving the current murder investigation may require a closer look at the earlier case. The characters are wonderfully written and resemble real people with all their fears, failings, and foibles. Even the depictions of minor characters feel authentic.

The Night Shift is truly an unputdownable novel with fantastic writing. I was so looking forward to this novel and am so pleased that it met all my lofty expectations. The plot is gripping and compelling and held my rapt attention throughout. There are twists as new information is uncovered and the investigations follow logical developments. The suspense and tension continue to increase as more information is revealed until the explosive ending. This novel has it all, suspense, memorable characters, and a compelling story line.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Minotaur Books.

Monday, February 21, 2022

The Guilty Husband

The Guilty Husband by Stephanie DeCarolis
3/19/21; 384 pages

The Guilty Husband by Stephanie DeCarolis is a highly recommended mystery.

Vince Taylor is the CEO of the technology company, Kitztech, located in NYC. When Layla, an intern at the company is found dead and the police question her co-workers, Vince initially denies knowing her well. Soon after this, after talking to his lawyer, he has to admit to police that he was having an affair with her, especially when a salacious news story comes out about his affair that same day. This also means that he has to confess to his wife, Nicole, that he was having an affair, and it also means that news reporters are hovering around them. Through it all Vince adamantly denies murdering Layla, but he is the prime suspect.

This is a well-written and entertaining read that moves along at a quick pace. The chapters are largely told through the point-of-view of Vince or Allison, the lead detective on the murder case. The voices of Layla and Nicole also jump into the mix. All the characters are flawed but believable. Everyone has told lies and has secrets and many of these are gradually exposed. There are numerous elements of suspense and tension throughout which keep the pages flying by, especially as new information is revealed. Perhaps it depends upon how many mysteries you read, but some readers will certainly know the twist ahead of time. This won't hamper the enjoyment of watching it unfold.

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

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Snake Eyes

Snake Eyes: Murder in A Southern Town by Bitty Martin
5/15/22; 264 pages
Prometheus Books

Snake Eyes: Murder in A Southern Town by Bitty Martin is a highly recommended true crime story.

In the summer of 1966 13-year-old Cathie Ward was killed while horseback riding at Blacksnake Ranch, located just outside of Hot Springs, Arkansas. Frank Davis, the 42-year-old owner of the ranch, claimed her death was an accident that happened when her foot caught in a stirrup and she was dragged. Even so, the town was rife with rumors and doubts about the veracity of Davis's claims. Doubts turned to certainty when in January of 1967 Davis stalked and gunned down his young fourth wife Sharron Knight Davis, killing her and wounding her mother. Sharron, who had recently left him, had left behind a letter implicating him in Cathie's death. Davis was indicted for both murders. He was sentenced to death for killing his wife, but the charges for Cathie's case were dismissed. Davis's sentence was later commuted to life. He was paroled in 1984.

This debut true crime is written by an author who knew the case, the town, and those involved. Bitty Martin was a friend of Cathie, so this case has been on her mind for years. It is one that shaped her childhood. Even if adults were trying to keep quiet around their children, kids always hear and know more than adults realize and that certainly applies to Martin and other friends of Cathie. She and her hometown friends had collected information about the case and had been following it for years. As someone who was well acquainted with the town and many of the residents, Martin had an insiders view of how the murders affected the whole area.

This well written and documented narrative features personal interviews, recollections, and stories, crime scene records, court documents, and Davis’ own prison files. Snake Eyes: Murder in A Southern Town includes an appendix, and sections on source interviews, source documents and notes. True crime aficionados will appreciate the nuanced details presented in this true crime tale. Those with ties to the area will likely have a greater interest in the complete story than casual readers.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Prometheus Books.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Tell Me an Ending

Tell Me an Ending by Jo Harkin
3/1/22; 448 pages

Tell Me an Ending by Jo Harkin is a highly recommended debut novel about a tech company that can delete unwanted memories.

Clients at Nepenthe, a memory removal clinic, are classified as two types. Self-informed clients know they had a procedure to wipe a recent memory. Self-confidential clients have chosen the option to forget they’ve had the removal. After self-confidential clients plagued by trace memories file a class action lawsuit, Nepenthe begins to to inform all self confidential clients of their deletion and offer memory restorations. Noor is a psychologist at a Nepenthe who begins to have some concern about the actions of her boss, Louise.

Four clients of Nepenthe are followed along with Noor. Mei is living in Kuala Lumpur and is experiencing trace memories of a city she doesn't remember visiting. Finn, an architect in the Arizona desert, suspects his wife of having an affair. William, a former police inspector, is struggling with PTSD, and breakdown of his marriage. Oscar, a wealthy young man who has almost no memories at all, spends his time traveling the world in a state of fear.

Set in an alternate near-present dystopian world, Tell Me an Ending is an imaginative, speculative science fiction novel that raises questions about the nature of memories and how those memories may make us who we are. If your worst memory could be removed, would it change you for the better or would you lose part of the fabric that composes your personality. If you began to have phantom memories, trace memories of some event you don't remember, would you opt to have the memory restored after learning you purposefully chose to remove it? Would you feel compelled to get an answer to what you had removed? So many hypothetical questions arise over the question of removing memories and beg for discussion. Harkin's novel offers thoughts over some of those discussions and explorations through the characters in her novel.

Tell Me an Ending is an imaginative and engrossing novel with a plot that will keep your attention throughout. The plot is character-driven rather than science based once the scenario is introduced along with the characters. Admittedly, some of the character's stories were more descriptive and compelling than others for me and it took a while for the novel to pick up momentum and offer connections. The story lines could have been tightened up because there was repetition in some of the characters questions and thoughts. Once the story lines begin to connect, and the characters begin to question their choices, it is hard to put down until the end.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Scribner.


Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Her Last Affair

Her Last Affair by John Searles
3/22/22; 336 pages

Her Last Affair by John Searles is a highly recommended novel of psychological suspense.

The novel unfolds through the point of view of three characters. Skyla Hull, a retired nurse in Rhode Island, was married to Hollis for almost fifty years until his accident the previous year. Now that macular degeneration has severely reduced her sight, her activity is limited so she spends much of her day mourning Hollis and ruminating about his long term affair. She decides to rent the cottage next door to a British man named Teddy Cornwell. Miles away in Florida, Linelle Durfort reconnects with her first love, Teddy Cornwell. In NYC, Jeremy Lichanel, a writer who is unhappy with his physical appearance, gets an assignment to review a restaurant in Providence and decides to look up an old friend who broke his heart years ago.

These desperate, heartbroken, and isolated characters are seeking retribution and closure, thinking their actions will provide them satisfaction, fulfillment, and love. As the three diverse, and atmospheric multiple narratives unfold, you will be waiting for the connection between these characters. The connection won't come right away, but when it does it will be in a meteoric twist that will entirely change the story from a complex study of forlorn, unhappy, and bitter characters to almost a horror novel. This is an intricate plot that requires attention to each narrative thread in order to fully comprehend and appreciate the intense cinematic denouement.

I have to admit, sheepishly, that while I was glued to the pages at the shocking end of the novel when everything was going down and coming together, I actually quit enjoyed the earlier character studies of these despondent, unlikable individuals a bit more than the chilling climax. Understandably, I'm likely alone in this feeling. The ending is compelling and shocking. It pulls together all three narratives and undeniably will hold your attention.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Monday, February 14, 2022


Chorus by Rebecca Kauffman
3/1/22; 272 pages

Chorus by Rebecca Kauffman is a very highly recommended collection of stories that create a portrait of the Shaw family. This will be one of the best literary fiction novels of the year.

The nonsequential chapters, each prefaced by the year the story occurred (1903-1959), follow Jim and Marie Shaw and their seven children, Wendy, Sam, Jack, Maeve, Lane, Henry, and Bette. The chapters cover the individual family members during notable moments in each of their lives and the memories each sibling has of the events. These events include their mother's death in 1933 when they were all children, a teenage pregnancy, the Great Depression, marriage, divorce, deaths of spouses, life choices, addictions, enlistment in the Second World War, their own lives as parents. All of the short chapters work together to create a beautiful, haunting, and profound portrait of a complicated family. 

It's difficult to capture the many reasons Chorus is such an extraordinarily exquisite novel. It is a novel composed of stories through the point-of-view of various family members. Anyone from a large family can understand how events are always viewed differently by each family member as well as the many secrets and things that are left unsaid by parents and siblings. There is often a complicated relationship between siblings. Adding to that is the untimely death of their mother, who was an invalid/inaccessible, and how each child viewed this. "And he knew that this beautiful world had a forked tongue. And he knew that everything he thought and felt and feared was real."

The writing is admirable, brilliant, and poetic. Each story is impeccably executed and presented. Ultimately the stories all create a portrait of each family members as realistic, complex characters. This is truly a superbly executed saga about the heart of a family and their complicated relationships with each other. It's difficult to fully express how much I loved this novel, but it will be on my list of top books of 2022.

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

Nothing to Lose

Nothing to Lose by J. A. Jance
2/22/22; 368 pages
J.P. Beaumont Novel #25

Nothing to Lose by J. A. Jance is a very highly recommended procedural featuring J. P. Beaumont.

J. P. Beaumont (Beau), currently a PI, formerly a homicide detective with the Seattle PD, always felt guilty over the murder of his partner, Sue Danielson by her ex-husband, who then killed himself. Her two sons went to live with her parents in Ohio. Beau is surprised when her older son, Jared, comes to see him and ask for help in finding his younger brother, Christopher. Apparently Chris ran away as a teen and went to Alaska, where his father's parent's live. He hasn't been heard from since and his grandmother in Ohio is in ill health and wants to see him again.

Beau takes on the case pro bono and heads to Alaska to find Chris. What he finds is a complicated case involving much more than a missing person. Beau uses his many law enforcement resources, contacts, and experience to untangle the secrets and find the answers needed.

Even though this is a long running series and character, new readers will be able to jump right in and read Nothing to Lose without needing any additional background. Beau is a fully realized character and Jance includes everything readers need to know about him to easily follow the plot. He is personable, intelligent and a devoted husband.

This is a well written story, a solid PI procedural, and I completely enjoyed it. There were no outlandish jumps in logic, all the twists or unexpected turns in the novel came logically out of the investigation. Beau carefully follows clues through interviews and additional information and follows it all to intelligent, plausible conclusions. Certainly clues indicate the suspect and the motive, so it is not a surprise when you guess the guilty party while reading. The pleasure is in following the clues and evidence, and gather enough proof for law enforcement to charge the person.  It was really a comfortable pleasure to read Nothing to Lose. 

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Friday, February 11, 2022

Don't Say We Didn't Warn You

Don't Say We Didn't Warn You by Ariel Delgado Dixon
2/15/22; 320 pages
Random House

Don't Say We Didn't Warn You by Ariel Delgado Dixon is a recommended literary debut novel following the tragic tale of two sisters.

The two sisters Fawn(or May), and our unnamed narrator, are five years apart and survived a traumatic childhood that included living in a commune, abandonment by both parents, and stints in the Veld Center, a wilderness camp and program for troubled youth. Even as adults when the sisters try to stay away from each other, Fern always seeks out her sister. When our narrator thinks she is escaping her past, it is always right there. The stays at the Veld Center and the struggle for survival the program necessitated have resulted in deep, psychologically changes.

Basically the plot is an unnamed adult looking back at the very messed-up childhood of her and her very disturbed sister. The narrative follows two different time periods and the structure of the novel can initially make where and when the reader is confusing until you become accustom to the indications of a change. This is also a rather slow moving, confusing novel for about the first third. The writing style can be very poetic at times, but beautiful writing can't always compensate for other flaws in the plot and construction of a novel.

Not all of the recollections our narrator shares involve her sister. Many of the memories are solely from her life experiences. However, while following their dysfunctional history it is clear that the sisters have many unnamed bonds that connect them to each other. You will also realize the background of the constant battle these two sisters are engaged in with each other. It is a tension filled and very disturbing novel with unlikable characters. Animal lovers need to avoid this one.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Random House.


Wednesday, February 9, 2022

The Paradox Hotel

The Paradox Hotel by Rob Hart
2/22/22; 336 pages
Random House

The Paradox Hotel by Rob Hart is a highly recommended time bending science fiction mystery.

January Cole is the hard-bitten head of security for the Paradox Motel with an AI drone named Ruby as her constant companion. A former Time Cop, January is now Unstuck, a condition that resulted from entering the time stream too frequently which results in unexpected jumps ahead or back in time and will eventually be the cause of her death. She is still grieving over the accidental death of Mena, a waitress at the Paradox, but her brief glimpses of Mena during the day help keep her going. Now January's problem is keeping control over the wealthy clients staying at the Paradox, the only hotel adjoined to the Einstein Intercentury Timeport, and this job has just gotten more difficult.

A blizzard is rolling in, time travel destinations, flights, and transportation have been shut down and the ultra wealthy clients who can afford these luxuries are not happy and very demanding. Three raptors are running loose, clocks are jumping around in time, and electricity is flickering. Guests are demanding the best accommodations and unhappy when their demands aren't met. Time travel technology is about to be privatized and powerful people are present, wanting to stake their claim to it. But more concerning to January is the body in room 526, a body only she can apparently see, and a killer only she can catch.

This is an action-packed, detailed and complex adventure that moves at a rapid pace throughout. I enjoyed the melding of science fiction to a detective novel in a locked-room murder mystery plot. The Paradox Hotel does require your full attention while reading because Hart packed a whole lot of detail into the novel.

The large cast of characters can initially seem overwhelming, but they will sort themselves out as you read. January is an interesting, irresistible, and sometimes annoying main protagonist. She has an attitude. She is sarcastic, abrupt, insightful, funny, fearless, and vulnerable. She is also in a tense time-bending situation that only she can solve because she doesn't know who else she can trust or if she can even trust herself. 

I loved Hart's The Warehouse but I didn't connect with The Paradox Hotel quite as much. I do think, yet again I need to caution an author to reign in their personal political/social views to a degree as it diminishes the novel, income inequality (the ultra wealthy vs. the rest of us) in this case. I am looking forward to Hart's next novel.

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

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Every Little Secret

Every Little Secret by Sarah Clarke
2/25/22; 384 pages

Every Little Secret by Sarah Clarke is a recommended domestic drama.

Grace, Marcus and Kaia, their seven-year-old daughter are a happy family. Sure, there are some adjustments to make with recent changes, but they are all settling into life back in the UK after living in New Zealand. When Marcus and Kaia are climbing a tree and she falls, it is terrifying. When Kaia tells the doctor that her dad pushed her out of the tree, Grace finds it inconceivable. The doctor does admit that it could be due to the concussion Kaia has, which can cause confusion. Grace holds onto this thought knowing Marcus would never hurt Kaia, but the doubts are still there, lingering just under the surface, especially when Kaia is exhibiting other behavioral issues. Kaia continues to blame Marcus for hurting her in other incidents too.

The narrative is told through multiple points-of-view and follows two timelines, Marcus in 2005 and Grace in 2019. Grace is the primary narrator, especially in 2019, as is Marcus in 2005. The perspective of Coco, a friend of Grace, and Kaia are also shared. We know that Grace and Marcus have a big secret they are keeping hidden. We know that back in 2005 Marcus, a friend of Grace's brother, Josh, was attracted to Coco. So, basically, we know Kaia is accusing Marcus of hurting her, there are some long held secrets that obviously goes back in time, Grace wants to support Kaia and secretly has doubts about Marcus, and Grace has many doubts and fears about the truth of the long-held secret coming out. This information is presented in a drawn-out, tedious fashion.

Every Little Secret unfolds like a day time melodrama, with an increasing number of theatrical turns. After a promising start, the plot development began to deteriorate. (For example, early in the novel, instead of hand wringing and worry about the secret, why not take Kaia to see someone immediately once she started acting out and accusing her father of hurting her?) I understand that this would infringe on the tension being built in the contrasting action between the two timelines.

Perhaps it was the obvious build up to make this drama into a psychological thriller, but I began to lose interest in all the drama and just wanted to know what the secret was that would be so devastating if it was revealed.  Admittedly I did not connect to or care about any of these characters. Every Little Secret is a recommended novel with the caveat that some readers will connect with it more than others.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Monday, February 7, 2022

Diablo Mesa

Diablo Mesa by Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child
2/15/22; 400 pages
Grand Central Publishing
Nora Kelly & Corrie Swanson Series #3

Diablo Mesa by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child is a very highly recommended excellent thriller and the third book in the Nora Kelly and Corrie Swanson series. The gripping plot is engaging from start to finish and engrossing throughout. You can always count on Preston and Child to deliver an entertaining and satisfying story.

Lucas Tappan, a wealthy billionaire and entrepreneur, recruits archaeologist Nora Kelly and her brother Skip to assist a team in a scientific excavation of the Roswell Incident site. Specifically, they will be looking for artifacts at the site where a UFO purportedly crashed in 1947. When examining an aerial survey of the area, Nora detects an area that has indications of being a burial site, so this is the first section she digs up, uncovering two murder victims who were shot in the head and had acid destroy their faces and hands. Nora calls FBI Agent Corrie Swanson, who is assigned the investigation. Corrie has the added benefit of also being a forensic anthropologist. Nora continues on with her excavation of the Roswell crash site while Corrie's homicide investigation uncovers a different facet of the areas intriguing history.

The pages will fly by while reading Diablo Mesa, confirming why Preston and Child are among my favorite authors. This novel has it all. The quality of the writing is excellent. The action keeps moving and the tension and suspense remain high throughout the novel as the two different mysteries evolve simultaneously. Both mysteries and investigations are equally compelling and I couldn't turn the pages fast enough. Readers will know that there is more going on, which only serves to increase the tension as the mysteries take a turn to the covert, classified and otherworldly.

Nora and Corrie are both wonderful female protagonists. They are intelligent, strong, resourceful, fearless, and appealing. The two have worked together previously in Old Bones and The Scorpion's Tail, but Diablo Mesa can be read as a standalone novel, although you will likely want to read the previous two novels in their series after you read this one.

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

Sunday, February 6, 2022

The Night She Went Missing

The Night She Went Missing by Kristen Bird
2/8/22; 352 pages
MIRA Books

The Night She Went Missing by Kristen Bird is a recommended novel of domestic suspense.

Emily Callahan was missing for months when she is found unconscious by the water. She is hospitalized, stable, but discovered to be pregnant and still unconscious, although she is mentally aware of her situation. The Callahan family name represents the prominent social class on the Island of Galveston, Texas, and Rosalyn Callahan, Emily's grandmother, is the grande dame. Emily’s family recently moved to Galveston for her senior year of high school after her mother, Catherine, was involved in a scandal. Catherine meets other mothers, Leslie, Rosalyn's right hand woman, and Morgan, mother to Alex who becomes Emily's best friend. When Emily went missing, Alex was a suspect, but then who was leaving threatening notes in Emily's locker? Could it be Anna, Leslie's daughter?

The narrative starts with Emily being found and we are privy to her inner thoughts, so we know she is going to be alright when she later disappears. Then the point-of-view alternates between the voice of Catherine, Leslie, Morgan, and Emily. Everyone is keeping secrets while holding resentment and suspicion toward others. Really, you wouldn't want to know any of these women. Emily, however, is depicted as almost too perfect to be a realistic eighteen-year-old.

While the plot starts out relatively strong, it soon descends into a brouhaha of privileged women/mothers behaving badly and doing what ever they can to protect their reputations and that of their children. In many ways this well tread path is what will keep you reading while trying to find out what happened to Emily. The final adventures of all these women on the way to the conclusion is a bit ridiculous and unbelievable. The enjoyment in this novel is found in viewing it as a bad movie as you keep track of all the players, and sometimes that is entertaining enough. Yet again, however, I would like to caution writers to keep their personal political/social views about current events to themselves as it dates and cheapens the novel.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of MIRA Books.

Saturday, February 5, 2022

How High We Go in the Dark

How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu
1/18/22; 304 pages

How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu is a very highly recommended literary science fiction novel that evolves through a collection of stories with interconnected characters.

In 2030 melting permafrost in Siberia reveals the preserved remains of a girl who died of an ancient plague. This discovery/revelation unleashes the ancient contagion across the world. The insidious virus, the "shape shifter syndrome," first afflicted children and destroys organs by causing one to turn into another. Soon death is the catalyst for businesses, like the City of Laughter, an amusement park where infected children can enjoy one last, fun-filled day before riding a roller coaster designed to kill them or hotels where family members can gather for a final moment with a deceased member.

The progression of these linked stories covers a span of hundreds of years. Each chapter represents a few years in the future and increasingly take on a surreal tone. One life is connected to the next and characters in one story will be in another story, although the associations are not always in a linear advancement. These narratives have a decidedly somber tone as they explore familiar relationships, disappointment, grief, loss, and heartbreak as death is imminent for someone or everyone in each story and society is collapsing. There is also compassion, soul searching, artistic expression, moments of tenderness, care, and kindness as death approaches and it appears humanity is ending.

How High We Go in the Dark captures an apocalyptic future in what could be described as a melding of literary plague fiction with science fiction in a beautifully written novel. It is a melancholy, sad novel but it also manages to depict the adaptability of the human spirit and the relationships, creativity, and bonds that have the potential to strengthen humanity during difficult times but can also divide us. This is a lovely novel in some ways while an overwhelmingly sad one in other ways. The final chapter is the perfect ending to a very intense, personal, humane novel.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the HarperCollins.


Wednesday, February 2, 2022

The Nineties

The Nineties: A Book by Chuck Klosterman
2/8/22; 384 pages
Penguin Publishing Group

The Nineties: A Book by Chuck Klosterman is a highly recommended look back at the decade of the 1990's.

Presented as a group of essays or discussions of a wide variety of topics randomly organized and interconnected, Klosterman covers cultural observations from the 90's. This sweeping collection of topics covers major trends in music, TV, film, radio, sports, political moments, technology, and more. The decade was bracketed between the fall of The Berlin Wall (11/9/89) and the Twin Towers collapsing. It is the era of grunge, Seinfeld, the reunification of Germany, videotape, The X-Files, Bill Clinton, clear drinks, landlines and phone books, Ross Perot, The Phantom Menace and Jar Jar Binks, Art Bell and Coast to Coast AM, Waco, Columbine, Cops, hanging chads, Dolly the sheep, Michael Jordan, and so much more.

Looking back at the 90's through Klosterman's eyes is both entertaining and perceptive. His essays provide a shrewd and diverse look back at a time when you didn't have anything trending or going viral. If a story was a big news event, it really was news worthy. People living during this time were the last ones to know life before the Internet. If you remember the 90's, you will remember the sounds involved in dial-up internet service. You will also remember life before everyone had a cell phone and you depended on a landline where you never knew who was calling and had to answer the phone. You also were not connected all the time and could actually be unavailable. There were no binge watching shows. If you missed an episode, you had to wait for reruns. Video rental stores were huge.

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