Tuesday, May 31, 2022

The Midcoast

The Midcoast by Adam White
6/7/22; 336 pages
Random House

The Midcoast by Adam White is a highly recommended debut novel examining a family striving to achieve wealth and status in the town of Damariscotta, Maine

Ed and Steph Thatch have risen from a modest beginning to a place of wealth and prominence in Damariscotta. Andrew, a high school English teacher and coach, has recently moved his family back to Maine due to the lower cost of living there. He knew Ed Thatch back when they were both teenagers and Andrew worked summers for Ed as a dockhand at the Lobster Pound, owned by Ed’s father. As the narrative opens, Andrew and his family are invited to a lavish reception for the Amherst College lacrosse team at the Thatch's estate. It is here that Andrew sees a disturbing photo that will be the impetus for the rest of the novel.

Questions arise when the police show up at the reception and from this point on Andrew starts looking back at their lives and what led to the current events. Back when Andrew knew Ed, he never would have predicted Ed would become the owner of several lobster boats and a major donor for town projects and Steph would become the town manager. A common theme running through their marriage is the known fact that Steph wants nice things and Ed wants her to have the life she deserves. This is the motive for everything Ed does.

There is a Gatsbyesque element to The Midcoast as it examines the quest for wealth and the deception involved as Ed does everything he can to make Steph happy and Andrew looks at Ed's life from the sideline. The narrative mainly follows Andrew interviewing people after the day of the party for a book about Ed's actions. The timeline is not chronological. The narrative moves around in time culminating with a return to the opening scene as the last scene in the novel. The complex plot slowly builds as Andrew discovers more of Ed's actions and activities. Sometimes the narrative is in first person while other times it is revealing the actions and thoughts of other characters. Suspense builds over the mystery concerning a photo Andrew sees while attending the reception.

The Midcoast is certainly an excellent debut novel that tackles an impressive amount of details and a myriad of issues in a complex plot. Not all the characters are as fully realized as I would hope as some important personal motivating factors seem absent, but this could be a deliberate choice as certain character's backstories are told through their own voices. It is not a quick paced thriller, but once you start reading you will want to know what happened, what the photo means, and how Ed is involved.

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

Monday, May 30, 2022

Good Husbands

Good Husbands by Cate Ray
6/7/22; 416 pages
Park Row Books

Good Husbands by Cate Ray is a recommended domestic drama that focuses on a sexual assault.

Jessica (Jess), Stephanie and Priyanka (Pree) all receive the same letter from a young woman named Holly who claims that her mother was sexually assaulted by their husbands 20 years ago and she is the child of one of the men. Her mother died years before. Holly will be dead by the time they receive the letter, but she has left proof of her claim in a storage locker for them. Each woman reacts differently to the letter, but Jess is the one who contacts the other two and tries to get them to work together to uncover the facts and decide how to proceed.

The narrative alternates between the point-of-view of Jess, Stephanie, and Pree. We are introduced to them, their husbands, children, and jobs and are privy to their thoughts. They are all very different from each other and each woman approaches the accusations differently. The story of the assault is told through diary entries that are revealed chronologically in each woman's point-of-view. The women are all fully realized characters with a backstory and they all experience change and growth in the novel.

There is no question that Good Husbands confronts a serious societal issue that has been an issue for years. There are discussions of how assault allegations can be viewed from different angles. However, contacting the other women seemed odd. it was surprising to me that Jess and Pree didn't just show the letter to their husbands and confront them immediately. Stephanie had reasons not to incite anger in her husband. Of course, that would change the plot considerably, but it seemed odd that this didn't happen while I was reading. 

The whole novel hinges on these three women all not trusting their husbands and working together to discover what happened 20 years ago. The plot is rather slow moving, however, and the writing is lacking at times. However, the female characters are strong, intelligent, and determined women and there are some big surprises at the denouement. 3.5 rounded down.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Park Row Books.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

The Girl They All Forgot

The Girl They All Forgot by Martin Edwards
6/7/22; 352 pages
Poison Pen Press
Lake District #8

The Girl They All Forgot by Martin Edwards is a highly recommended procedural and whodunit as well as the eight book in the Lake District Series.

What happened to Ramona Smith? The man who was accused of her murder committed suicide. His son also did so on the same day twenty years late. Now DCI Hannah Scarlet, and her Cold Cases Division have reopened the investigation of Ramona Smith's death. Her body was never found, but Det. Insp. Ben Kind, father of Heather's colleague and lover Daniel, is sure she was murdered. In a small close knit community though, everyone has their own opinion. The race is on as Hannah and her team collect clues and leads on the cold case as the body count rises.

This is a well-written atmospheric whodunit that moves at a relaxed pace until the end. Since I haven't read any of the other books in this series, I did feel a bit out of sorts reading the novel at the beginning. I kept up with what was happening, but still felt for most of the beginning that I was a step behind or off to the side of the action. Once things clicked the reading was smooth and interesting but I can't help but think I should have started at the beginning of the series due to the strong sense of location in the setting.

There are a lot of characters and viewpoints presented in the complex narrative, especially with two narrative threads to follow in pursuit of the answers, but when you continue reading and focus on the plot they all sort themselves out eventually. This is set in a small community, so there are many interrelated rumors and theories swirling around in the populace and all of these must be investigated. Those who like complex mysteries will appreciate The Girl They All Forgot, but may want to start the series from the beginning.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Poison Pen Press.

Monday, May 23, 2022

The Favor by Nora Murphy

The Favor by Nora Murphy
5/31/22; 288 pages
Minotaur Books

The Favor by Nora Murphy is a highly recommended psychological thriller.

Leah and McKenna both have abusive spouses and are leading the same horrific existence, although they don't know each other. Leah is the one who first notices McKenna and recognizes someone who is in an abusive relationship. She begins to secretly spy on McKenna and her husband Zach. When she sees an act of violence perpetrated by Zach toward McKenna, Leah intervenes, altering the fate of both women's lives. Which is good because Leah could use someone who is watching her husband, Liam, and his violence toward her.

Leah and McKenna are fully realized characters who will elicit a lot of sympathy. Their situations are clearly very similar, where their husbands are controlling their every move, leaving them basically prisoners in their homes and marriages. they are both well educated professional women who have found themselves not working and living a life of leisure that they don't necessarily want. The husbands, Zach and Liam are less developed as characters, but this works in the situation that Murphy has set up for her heroines. Later in the novel, Detective Jordan Harrison, of the Clarkstown Police, is investigating and in contact with both women.

The Favor has been compared to a feminist retake on Strangers on a Train, so this might be something to keep in mind when choosing to read it. It does provide a portrait of domestic abuse as seen through the lives of two similar women although the comparison could be stretched to encompass more women in different situations. The voices of Leah and McKenna are shared in alternating chapters so the readers will know their thoughts, struggles, and the truth about what has been going on in their marriages. For those who love procedurals, there are elements of one in the narrative as Detective Harrison conducts his investigations.

Once it starts, The Favor never lets up. It is a totally engrossing compelling novel that should hold your attention throughout. There is a plethora of helpful information regarding domestic abuse after the narrative ends in the notes/ acknowledgements. Murphy also makes the point that a woman's success and education doesn't protect her from domestic violence. This is a debut novel, which is an accomplishment in itself.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Macmillian Publishers.

Sunday, May 22, 2022


Aurora by David Koepp
6/7/22; 304 pages

Aurora by David Koepp is a very highly recommended scientific thriller. This one is going to be made into a movie.

A coronal mass ejection or solar storm, on the sun sends out a massive cloud of solar plasma aimed at the Earth resulting in a Carrington Event. Everyone is on notice that in a short amount of time the whole electric power grid on the Earth will go down. A Carrington event of this size would cause auroras to be seen almost world wide. In Aurora, Illinois, Aubrey Wheeler is caring for her ex's teenage son and trying to stay away from Rusty, her ex, due to his semi-criminal connections. Her brother, Thom, is a billionaire who has been planning for years just for this end of civilization scenario.

We are due for another massive solar storm that perhaps could reach this size, which makes Aurora is a compelling and intriguing scientific thriller. Koepp takes the basic science and writes an irresistible narrative which places the characters in the situation. Personally, I love science fiction novels that are based on facts and Aurora covers all the bases as we have the event and we follow several characters through it. Even better the movie rights have already been sold; this novel was written to be made into a movie.

While you will like some characters and dislike others, all of them are fully realized and will experience change and growth for the better or the worse in the plot. I appreciate how Koepp has reduced his action down to the local response to it, especially in Aubrey's cul-de-sac, because an event of this nature would very much play out locally for most people. Suddenly the big picture wouldn't matter as much as how you and your neighbors are able to cope and, hopefully, work together.

When you are in the hands of an experienced writer, you know it. Koepp does an exceptional job setting up the action with all the pertinent information readers will need and then allowing the events to occur. The tension builds gradually as the action unfolds. The narrative switches between characters and locations while developing the characters and allowing the plot to take hold. It becomes clear that events will lead to some kind of major confrontation, but Koepp includes some humorous and heartwarming scenes along the way. This is escapism at it's finest.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

The Favor by Nicci French

The Favor by Nicci French
10/18/22; 448 pages
William Morrow & Company

The Favor by Nicci French is a highly recommended psychological drama.

Jude has reached her life goal to be a doctor. She has found love, is planning her wedding and is happy and satisfied with her life. This all makes it a completely unexpected and shocking surprise when her first love, her boyfriend from 11 years ago, suddenly shows up at her work. She hasn't seen him since the car crash they were in as teens. Liam wants a favor from Jude. It's an odd favor. He wants her to drive to a country cottage in his car and then pick him up at the train station later that night. She's not supposed to tell anyone what she's doing and he'll explain it all when he arrives. Jude does as he asks, including lying to her fiance about where she is, but Liam never shows up on the train.

Back at the cottage, Jude is uneasy, especially when she hears a noise and realizes that it is Liam's phone, in his bag which she brought to the cottage for him. Someone is trying to call him and after this the police call his number. Jude learns that Liam has been found dead. Her favor makes her part of the murder investigation and could result in the loss of everything she has.

It is a huge leap of logic that Jude would do this odd, weird favor for someone she hasn't seen in 11 years. This preposterous plot point will hang over the story until, finally, her reason for doing it is explained later in the narrative. Now, many readers may has guessed something like her secret was the case, but Liam also making her along with his brother an executor of his will is equally odd. The house of unusual people Liam was living with, including his girlfriend and son, are also offbeat. Jude quickly becomes entangled into secrets and lies swirling around Liam's social circle.

Jude is a fully realized, engaging character and easy to connect with even when you are questioning her choices. As she becomes involved in Liam's life after his death, a picture of his life and character also emerges. Once she begins looking into Liam's life, she begins to realize that she is perhaps the only one who

The writing is excellent in this psychological drama and held my attention even while I was doubting almost all of the choices Jude was making over everything. Author Nicci French (Nicci Gerrard and Sean French) are well known for their tension filled psychological thrillers and dramas that are filled with misdirection and twists. The Favor compares favorably to their other collaborative novels and is an enjoyable, engrossing page-turner.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of William Morrow & Company.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Deep Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 15, 2022

The Daughters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 14, 2022


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

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

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

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

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

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

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Titan Books.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Never Coming Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of MIRA Books.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Poison Lilies

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

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

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

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

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

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins via NetGalley

Monday, May 9, 2022

Two Nights in Lisbon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Macmillian.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

The Island

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 6, 2022

An Island

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 5, 2022

On a Quiet Street

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Seven Days in Virtual Reality

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Language of Birds

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 2, 2022

What They Don't Know

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 1, 2022

This Time Tomorrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Family I Lost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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