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 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

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 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 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
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.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

The Children on the Hill

The Children on the Hill by Jennifer McMahon
4/26/22; 352 pages
Gallery/Scout Press

The Children on the Hill by Jennifer McMahon is a very highly recommended chilling, creepy, and intense psychological thriller. This is a must read!

In 1978, psychiatrist, Dr. Helen Hildreth treats patients at the Hillside Inn, her psychiatric hospital in Vermont. Living with their grandmother are Violet “Vi” and her brother, Eric. One day Gran brings another child home, Iris, a sister for them. The two are instructed to help her and so they take the new girl under their care. They invite her to join their Monster Club, where they keep a notebook of all kinds of monsters and how to defeat them. As Vi explains to Iris, monsters are everywhere.

In 2019 Lizzy Shelley (formerly Vi), a researcher and host of the podcast Monsters Among Us, travels to Vermont where it is reported that a young girl has been abducted by Rattling Jane, a legendary local monster. Lizzy has spent her life looking for monsters because she knows they exist. And she knows her sister is one of them.

Alternating between the two time periods, 1978 and 2019, this exceptional novel follows childhood memories and recent events as it ramps up the tension and the stories in the two timelines eventually connect. Among the chapters are excerpts from The True Story of the Hillside Inn, a book written about what happened at the Hillside Inn, passages from the children's notebook, The Book of Monsters, and the thoughts of the monster being hunted. All of these various sources of information are presented in a unique individual style.

Although the overwhelming issue is who is the monster and what happened forty years ago, the characters are all developed according to their ages. You are going to have questions though, and will want answers which will be eventually answered. The atmosphere is tense throughout as you compulsively keep reading to discover more information, clues, and hopefully, answers to the many questions you will have.

Inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, this is a suspenseful, compelling, and intense psychological thriller that will keep you glued to the pages until the end. The writing and presentation is absolutely perfect. It is not a re-writing of the original Frankenstein but is a unique story on its own. McMahon will keep your attention throughout while you try to figure out what is real, what is imagined, and what is really going on in both time periods. There are a couple of completely surprising twists that stunned me. The Children on the Hill is a winner.

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

Marrying the Ketchups

Marrying the Ketchups by Jennifer Close
4/26/22; 320 pages
Knopf Doubleday

Marrying the Ketchups by Jennifer Close is a recommended family drama.

The Sullivans are a Chicago restaurant family who are all under crisis. Bud, the patriarch and founder of JP Sullivan’s is thrilled when the Cubs win the world series and then he dies 23 minutes later. Adding to their distress is Trump being elected president, and concern about the family matriarch Rose, who is in an assisted living facility. The novel focuses on Bud's three grandchildren.  Gretchen, a lead singer for a 90's cover band is reassessing the direction her life is taking after a breakup and heads home. Her older sister, Jane is sure her husband is having an affair and is questioning her entitled lifestyle and her marriage. Their cousin Teddy is the manager who would like to take over JP Sullivans and is wondering why his ex keeps showing up at the restaurant.

Marrying the Ketchups is a very character-driven novel which requires that the characters all be portrayed as realistic and unique individuals, which Close does very well. Readers will be interested in following their lives and will feel invested in what happens to them. The characters all experience growth as they adapt to the changes they encounter along the way. The situations and problems all the characters are experiencing are basically commonplace occurrences. Family dynamics, transitions, and grief all play a large role in the novel. The writing shines in the depiction of the characters.

The plot is rather slow paced without a whole lot of drama aside from the normal family interactions. Don't expect a huge twist or surprise. Much of your enjoyment may hinge on how much you enjoy family dramas and, more predominately, how much very polarizing political talk you can accept in a novel. Unless you are writing historical fiction this dates the novel immediately as occurring during a specific time period. There are pros and cons to this and generally I caution an author to keep their ardent personal political/social views to themselves as it diminishes and dates the novel. Other than the immediate division the political aspects take, Marrying the Ketchups is an engaging examination of a family.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Knopf Doubleday.

Monday, April 11, 2022

Watch Out for Her

Watch Out for Her by Samantha M. Bailey
4/19/22; 336 pages
Simon & Schuster

Watch Out for Her by Samantha M. Bailey is a recommended domestic psychological thriller.

Sarah and Daniel Goldman have just moved across the country from Vancouver to her husband Daniel’s hometown of Toronto. The move was made to get as far away from their nanny, Holly Monroe, as possible. Holly's stepmother and father set up the job as babysitter for Holly, a 22 year-old medical student. The family adored her as did 6-year-old Jacob, until Sarah saw something that made her change her mind, something bad enough to send her family moving across the country. When Sarah finds hidden cameras in their new rental house, she is sure Holly placed them there to spy on them. Sarah, who has a difficult time trusting people, had nanny cameras set up at their home in Vancouver and she actually took pictures of Holly while watching her at home through a window.

Tension does build incrementally as the details in the plot unfold, creating suspense. Chapters alternate between the point of view of present day Sarah and Holly in the past. Sarah's chapters cover what is happening to torment her and her family now while Holly's cover what happened that led then to move. Readers won't know exactly what Sarah saw that was so awful they had to move until later in the novel. The alternating chapters work in this novel to propel the narrative forward and I did keep reading to the major twist at the end.

Both women are keeping secrets from each other as well as others. Neither Sarah nor Holly are particularly likable appealing characters which does make it a challenge to keep reading at times. They are both suspicious and prone to doubts, fears, and obsessions. For me this is an enjoyable but average domestic thriller.

Several things didn't ring true at the start of this novel. The obvious question is what 22 year-old med student would agree to babysit a normal, healthy 6 year-old for the summer? Even if daddy wanted to encourage it because he liked Daniel, it seemed simply inane. And then saying it would be a good addition to a resume is even more absurd. Snap out of it, Holly. Just say no, tell your evil stepmom that she can babysit, and I'm sure you could get a real job. And if daddy Monroe really owned pharmaceutical firm, why would he want his daughter who is supposed to join the family business to be a nanny even if evil stepmom wanted it? This is a totally unbelievable plot point but it is essential for the premise of the novel. There are a couple other details in the plot that will have careful readers rolling their eyes.

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

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Kingdom of Bones

Kingdom of Bones by James Rollins
4/19/22; 464 pages
Sigma Force Series #16

Kingdom of Bones by James Rollins is an action-packed, heart-stopping, un-put-downable thriller and the sixteenth addition to the Sigma Force Series. This one's a winner!

A UN relief team in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been overrun by nature running amok when floods send refugees to the camp who swiftly reach a catatonic state. Quickly following this, the camp is then overrun by violent attacking ants. After being bitten people can rapidly notice the effects. Because something is changing in the evolution of insects and animals the fear is that it could be the start of a pandemic so members of the Sigma Force team (Gray, Monk, Kowalski) are sent in along with former Army Ranger Tucker Wayne and Kane, his dog. Before they even reach the camp to rescue them from the ant armies, it is attacked on several different fronts, human and animal, and doctors are taken as prisoners. Quickly a mission for information and support becomes a rescue mission fraught with danger.  It is discovered that part of the answer may lie in the legendary Kingdom of Bones.

Kingdom of Bones starts at a gallop and this fast pace is nonstop until the end. Once you start reading it is impossible to put down. The new characters introduced for this adventure are all wonderfully interesting and capable or decidedly evil. The writing, as expected, is extraordinary, both in structure and execution. The plot is entertaining and frightening while the threats against the team are non-stop. This is one of my new favorite Sigma Force novels. I've read almost everything Rollins has written, however this is the first time he had me sobbing so hard I couldn't see and had to concentrate to pull myself together because I could not stop reading. When you read Kingdom of Bones you'll know when this scene happens. (I silently cursed him for this part.)

Rollins has had viruses and threatened pandemics in his plots before so this should be nothing new for long time readers, although it is understandable why he had second thoughts about it this time. I am thrilled that he continued to write the novel because it is incredible and everything anyone could want in a Sigma Force novel. As expected he has an informative Author's Note to Readers: Truth or Fiction section at the end of the novel, which I always appreciate and find informative.

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

Friday, April 8, 2022


Housebreaking by Colleen Hubbard
4/19/22; 368 pages
Penguin Random House

Housebreaking by Colleen Hubbard is a very highly recommended coming-of-age domestic drama but also a novel about healing brokenness.

Del Murrow is currently living with a friend of her father's, Tym. What led her there was a scandal, divorce and the death of both of her parents. When her father died Tym offered a room for her at his place. Now at age 24 she is directionless and recently unemployed. Then after no contact for years, her uncle unexpectedly sends her cousin Greg as an emissary to talk to Del about selling the abandoned family home and land from her mother's estate. Then Tym suggests she should get her own place. These changed circumstances lead her to travel back to the small town where her childhood home is located to consider the offer. Once there she devises another plan, and counters her uncle's offer with a totally unexpected condition. Her plan will require her to move her family home across a pond onto a swampy track of land.

It is the tale of a relative (Del) who is looked down at by her other relatives (her uncle) who wants to take advantage of her youth and inexperience to benefit himself. Del is certainly broken emotionally and demoralized. She feels she has no one to rely upon but herself, although Tym remains a friend and supports her emotionally. Her plan has her taking on the clearly Sisyphean task of dismantling a house and moving it across a pond. The end result of this enormous task is that her uncle will not own the house and the new houses in the development her uncle builds on the land will have a view of the junk pile of her deconstructed house.

As Del works on her monumental backbreaking task, she has her mother's friend Eleanor checking up on her and she makes friends with a supermarket clerk, but mostly Del works alone, desperate to extract her revenge on her uncle while simultaneously examining her parents lives along with her own while taking the house apart. She needs the cash but she also needs to deal with the powerlessness and hurt she feels over the treatment of her family as well as the abandonment their deaths represent by leaving her mark in the area for her mother's sake.

This strange fairy-tale of a book captured my imagination and held my attention throughout. I don't know if I can adequately express why I loved it so much, but I did. Del experiences growth as a character as she undertakes the seemingly impossible task by sheer determination. The undertaking of the project, which appears to be foolish, actually provides a calling for Del. She puts all of her fortitude and effort into the project and refuses to give up. In the end she learns something about herself.

There is one drawback which was a niggling little fact always at the back of my mind. In the real world you have to pay property taxes. I had to set aside the fact that realistically her uncle could have likely bought the property for back taxes due. Just as with any fable, reality isn't always part of the story. I embraced the folkloric part of the plot and set reality aside to enjoy the heroine overcoming the obstacles placed before her in order to finish the task she must complete.

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

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

The Patron Saint of Second Chances

The Patron Saint of Second Chances by Christine Simon
4/12/22; 304 pages
Atria Books

The Patron Saint of Second Chances by Christine Simon is a very highly recommended heartwarming and humorous story about the lengths one man will go to save his town.

Signor Giovannino Speranza, the owner of a vacuum cleaner repair shop and hotelier, is the self-appointed mayor of Prometto, Italy (population 212) and he has a huge problem. The town has failed the pipe inspection by the water commission and has two months to come up with 70,000 euros to repair the pipes or water will be shut off to the town and everyone will have to move out. People aren't even paying their property taxes, so how can raise this impossible sum? In hopes of increasing tourism, Speranza decides to spread a harmless rumor the movie star Dante Rinaldi will be filming his next project nearby. How could he know that the entire town would embrace the idea and want to have a part in the film? 

Maestro, the local butcher, donates a large sum of money toward the project if some of his fifteen sons can have a part, people all over town want a part in it, and suddenly Speranza and his assistant Smilzo have to actually plan to make a movie. Smilzo writes a screen play, they hold auditions, cast parts, and begin filming. As one mishap and set-back after another occurs, people begin to question when Dante Rinaldi is going to show up.

I absolutely apologetically love and adore this farcical, entertaining, charming, engaging, and laugh-out-loud funny debut novel. Sure it is silly and over-the-top at times as so many absurd and outlandish things occur. It reminded me of an older comedic, campy movie made just for the laughs - and I did laugh, snort, and smile my way through The Patron Saint of Second Chances. It is a witty novel full of quirky characters set in a charming small town where everyone knows everyone else and all their problems and issues.

As one mishap after another occurs and Speranza needs to try to raise more money to save his town, I was rooting for him the whole time. Sure, it might have been easier to just tell his fellow citizens what was going on, but his determination to save them from the worry and upcoming displacement is commendable. Admittedly, there isn't a lot of character development and many deep, thoughtful moments, but it does showcase a deep love for a community and perseverance in the face of hardship while being wildly entertaining. 

This is a great choice for those times when you simply need an entertaining, feel-good novel to read for escapism and relaxation.

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

The Sign for Home

The Sign for Home by Blair Fell
4/5/22; 416 pages
Atria/Emily Bestler Books

The Sign for Home by Blair Fell is a recommended coming-of-age story.

Arlo Dilly is a DeafBlind 23 year-old man and a Jehovah’s Witness who is under the guardianship of his uncle, Brother Birch. He is taking a college class and looking for an interpreter to assist Molly, his long time interpreter. This is where he meets Cyril Brewster he takes the job. He also alerts Arlo to the many ways that Molly has been making decisions without consulting him. It s also clear that Brother Birch has been controlling his life and keeping him away from Shri, the girl he fell in love with at a boarding school for the deaf.

This is a descriptive, touching, educational, sometimes humorous, and uplifting story. Chapters alternate between the point-of-view of Cyril and Arlo, with Cryril told in the first person and Arlo in the second person singular. The pace is slow in the beginning of this coming-of-age novel, but it does pick up. On the positive side it does educate readers about the different types of sign language, communication devices, the Americans With Disabilities Act, and the many resources available to the DeafBlind community. The descriptive passages are very well done. You will be cheering Arlo on as he makes his way to self-determination, independence, self-fulfillment, and happiness. It needs to be mentioned that Jehovah's Witnesses are an intricate part of the story and they negatively portrayed, which may be objectionable to some readers. People are free to practice their religious beliefs so this unfavorable portrayal made me uncomfortable and will admit that this was almost a did-not-finish. Based on the many positive reviews, I set my misgivings aside, finished it, and the last third of the novel was worth it.

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

Monday, April 4, 2022

Her Silent Prayer

Her Silent Prayer by M.M. Chouinard
4/7/22; 392 pages
Detective Jo Fournier #5

Her Silent Prayer by M.M. Chouinard is a very highly recommended procedural/thriller.

Detective Jo Fournier and her partner Bob Arnett are called to the case of a single mother, Melissa Rollins, found dead trapped inside a closet with the doors nailed shut. The heat in the house was turned up to 95 degrees during a heat wave in Greenfern, CA, and Melissa died of thirst. With no sign of a break in, it appeared that Melissa knew her killer and let her in. Melissa was in a custody battle with her ex who had accused Melissa of child abuse. Then Jo uncovers a recent case where another single mother was killed and the two cases have unsettling similarities.

At the same time Jo is privately working a cold case from the past where a serial killer appeared to have committed suicide by jumping off the Golden gate bridge, but may have actually been killed. Jo needs to keep her interest in this case quiet as Lieutenant Hayes has it in for her, but so far thirteen out-of-state tourists have been killed with similarities that make it clear it could not be a coincidence.

Soon these two separate investigations are heading on a collision course and a killer is savvy to Jo's interest and is now following her.

This is my first novel by Chouinard and won't be the last. I haven't read the previous novels featuring Jo Fournier, but I felt this one worked as a stand alone novel too, although if you like a writer it's always a good idea to check out the whole series, which I will do. The writing is excellent as is the character development, especially considering this is part of a series. I liked the details provided about following the clues and uncovering more information to solve the intricate cases. Providing superior information regarding the police work in a procedural is always appreciated.

This novel veers into psychological thriller territory as the investigation evolves. You will find yourself saying, "Just one more chapter." Luckily the chapters are short and the pace quick. Her Silent Prayer is a good choice for anyone who likes procedurals and especially procedurals that are fast paced, well-written, complicated, and become personal.

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

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Unlikely Animals

Unlikely Animals by Annie Hartnett
4/12/22; 368 pages
Random House

Unlikely Animals by Annie Hartnett is a highly recommended family drama and ghost story.

In the small-town Everton, New Hampshire, the ghosts from Maple Street Cemetery recall the birth of Emma Starling. Emma was said to be a natural born healer. Now at 22 years-old she has foregone medical school in California and is returning home, her healing touch gone. Her mother, Ingrid, talked her into returning, although she really had nothing else to do, because her father, Clive, is dying from a mysterious brain disease. Clive is hallucinating small animals as well as the ghost of naturalist Ernest Harold Baynes. Her younger brother, Auggie, is recovering from an opioid addiction and Emma's best friend from high school, Crystal Nash is missing. Emma ends up becoming a long-term substitute teacher for fifth graders at the elementary school.

The Greek chorus of the ghosts from Maple Street Cemetery chime in throughout the novel with their thoughts, observations and opinions concerning what is going on with the living members of the community. This quirky, absurd family drama displays magic realism while being funny, but also tragic and quite serious concerning the opioid crisis befalling small towns everywhere. The themes of family expectations, forgiveness, and acceptance merge with the importance of friendships. And all of this is heralded in some way by the ghosts.

The plot does move along quickly, but the wildly divergent and numerous story lines could be a bit of a distraction. Naturalist Ernest Harold Baynes was a real person and his ghost shares parts of his life story in the novel. Hartnett has an author's note at the end explaining this and the incorporation of the information into her novel. The writing style was not especially to my taste, but there were several scenes that were exceptionally well crafted. Describing the novel as a fairy tale is apropos as it has elements of one. I noted and appreciated the growth in the characters by the conclusion. I'm a huge fan of all the animals populating the novel but not so much the ghosts. 

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

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Bomb Shelter

Bomb Shelter: Love, Time, and Other Explosives by Mary Laura Philpott
4/12/22; 288 pages
Atria Books

Bomb Shelter: Love, Time, and Other Explosives by Mary Laura Philpott is a highly recommended collection of personal essays.

Philpott openly discusses her life, anxieties, joys, worries, and pleasures in this collection that covers a wide range of topics from mundane everyday actions as well as the uncertainty which accompanied her son's first seizure and diagnosis. All the topics are presented and discussed in an approachable manner. She is dealing with her mortality while also recognizing the joy and small pleasures found in life. There is the recognition that she will need to let her children go soon, off to college and on to their own lives, but she worries about their safety. Philpott explains that she believes if she cares enough, she could keep her loved ones safe.

As she searches for the meaning in what makes up a life, both the mundane and the significant events, she approaches the discussion with equal parts anxiety and optimism. The essays can take on a circuitous feeling as topics appear, reappear, a jump forward and backward in time. She does ramble on at times, but the essays will also clearly leave a feeling of camaraderie with most readers. She is expressing in her own unique way many of the things others think and ponder. This is a thoughtful collection that should appeal to many readers.

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

Friday, April 1, 2022

Kill Her Twice

Kill Her Twice by Jack Fredrickson
4/5/22; 224 pages
Severn House
Dek Elstrom #8

Kill Her Twice by Jack Fredrickson is a highly recommended hard-boiled detective story set by Chicago.

Private investigator Dek Elstrom is hunting for a lost cat with a $100 reward when Martin Tripp wants to hire him to prove he didn't kill Sara Jansen. Tripp has already stood trial and been acquitted for Sara's murder. The problem is that he says he can't find a job now due to his infamy and he thinks Sara was afraid of something before she died. Elstrom isn't exactly eager to take on this case and he thinks Tripp is guilty of her murder, but he can use the $200 Tripp pushes on him. Once he begins to causally investigate, he discovers that a whole lot more was going on in the corrupt River City.

On the one hand I do appreciate an involved and complicated hard-boiled detective case that resembles a tale of gangsters from the 1930s. The description that Kill Her Twice is a Windy City noir with a distinctly retro feel is apropos. A story that actually tries to be timeless is appreciated and to be applauded. On the other hand, elderly women being lewd in a corrupt town is just not my thing. If I set that aside, during the investigation the suspense does build incrementally and the atmosphere becomes tense and full of suspicion in Kill Her Twice.

This can be read as a stand-alone novel even though it is the eighth book featuring Dek Elstrom. As my first Elstrom book I didn't feel behind or out of pace with the character and plot. Suspicions grow with each page and each new character introduced. There is also a humorous element to the novel, which helps in creating the noir-feeling as it propels the action forward. There are plenty of characters to draw your suspicion and entertain you, a tense atmosphere that grows as each new development, and complications to keep you guessing.

The narrative is told through Elstrom's first person point-of-view which means you are privy to his private thoughts and perceptions. He is an intelligent character, personable while also jaded with the corruption around him. He knows how the system works and how to use it to his advantage. 3.5 rounded up

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