Thursday, June 30, 2022

A Beginner's Guide to Murder

A Beginner's Guide to Murder by Rosalind Stopps
7/22/21; 368 pages

A Beginner's Guide to Murder by Rosalind Stopps is a recommended murder mystery.

Three senior women who are all in their seventies, Meg, Daphne, and Grace are meeting for coffee after a Pilates class when a teenage girl named Nina comes running in looking for help. The women are going to but first she goes into the restroom. Then a toad-like man enters the shop, pursuing her. The women recognize he is dangerous and get rid of him. After this they come up with a plan to get Nina out of the shop in order to protect her. When they hear Nina's story they are all determined to protect her.

Chapters alternate between the points of view of Meg, Grace, Daphne, and Nina showing the current situation and also jumping back in time reveal their backstories. They are all sympathetic characters with backstories full of challenges. After a slow start the plot does become a more exciting dark comedy of sorts, although the plot could have been tightened up. In this case, the alternating chapters and time periods didn't work as smoothly as they do in other novels and the writing was lacking in my opinion. A three star rating makes me an outlier here but I really felt this novel was entertaining, but simply okay.

Trafficking of women is a serious topic. Busting up human trafficking rings is frequently in the news. For all the excuses and reasons to not involve the police immediately, in this day and age they should have been. The plot is too improbable for me to accept that murder would be easier. At this point in time you could go to the police and be believed and protected at least in the USA.  I couldn't shake off the overwhelming urge to yell at these characters to go to the police, find a secure woman's shelter, get the help and protection that are available.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022


Reputation by Sarah Vaughan
7/5/22; 336 pages
Atria/Emily Bestler Books

Reputation by Sarah Vaughan is a highly recommended thriller and courtroom drama.

Emma Webster is  an MP in parliament as a member of the Labor party. She spends part of her time in the house she shares in London with other members of parliament but as a divorced mother lives in her home in Portsmouth with her 14-year-old daughter, Flora. Part of her public life involves trolls, who are ever present but come out especially vicious after she does a photo shoot. Now Flora is learning that same lesson as she is experiencing bulling instigated by her former best friend, only Flora snaps and retaliates, which is a poor decision with consequences.

Emma knows that a woman's reputation can be easily destroyed and has been supporting new law to protect women and girls from the effects of online abuse. Flora's situation is a perfect example of this and highlights how a reactionary response is never a good choice and social media seems to make everything worse. Oh, and by the way, there is also the body of a dead man found at their home and Emma is arrested for the crime.

This is a well written thriller and courtroom drama, but is does move at a slow deliberate pace, especially at the beginning. Emma narrates most chapters but a few are from other character's point-of-view.  Once the trial starts and courtroom scenes make up most of the narrative the plot becomes more tense and compelling. Clearly Reputation should especially appeal to those who appreciate courtroom dramas. The real impetus for reading this thoughtful novel is for the topic of a reputation being damaged and how the public spotlight can bring with it a great deal of pressure.

Emma is an empathetic character but not presented in an especially personable manner. She is presented as a strong woman Clearly, the actual social issues, gender inequality, bullying, cyber and in person, and the media controlling the narrative, are the true focus of the novel rather than the individual characters. The message is the true main character here.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Atria/Emily Bestler Books.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

First Born

First Born Will Dean
7/5/22; 368 pages
Atria/Emily Bestler Books

First Born Will Dean is a very highly recommended twisty psychological thriller.

Molly and Katie Raven are identical twins, but have opposite personalities. Molly lives a quiet, life life in London following her routines while Katie is off living in NYC and taking all sorts of risks. Then Molly hears that her better half, her twin, has been murdered in NYC. She needs to do the unthinkable and actually take a flight to NYC and join her parents to bring Katie's remains home. Once there, as she tries to come to terms with what happened, she realizes that Katie was not who she though she was.

Molly is the narrator of the story and we view everything through her extreme caution and carefulness when undertaking any activity. The first part of the story moves along at an even pace and rolls along as a good, but average psychological thriller until the first huge twist, which totally changed the whole story and requires you to suspend disbelief. At this point I was shocked by one simple sentence and had to read it twice. Once I reached the second big twist leading up to the end it was almost too much.

The writing is very good and the even paced plot is totally engrossing. I was enmeshed in it throughout the entire novel and invested in the characters. But, then I was actually surprised followed, unexpectedly, by being shocked. Both twists are surprising but the second is truly shocking. They are both handled well and integrated into the story, however, you do have to go with the flow and suspend any and all disbelief.

Molly is a damaged but believable narrator and Katie also is depicted as a realistic character whose personality takes an opposite direction from her twin. It is known how close twins can be so your sympathy is strong and firmly with Molly trying to live her life without her other half. 4.5 rounded up

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

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Look Closer

Look Closer by David Ellis
7/5/22; 464 pages
G.P. Putman's Sons

Look Closer by David Ellis is a very highly recommended thriller that is guaranteed to surprise you. This one's a winner, especially if you love clever, complex mysteries!

Opening with the hanged body of Lauren Betancourt being discovered in her home on October 31st, the novel flashes back and forth between the present and the past. Simon Dobias and Vicky Lanier Dobias have been married for almost ten years. Simon is an associate law professor and Vicky is an advocate for domestic violence victims. When Simon sees Lauren, a woman he knew 19 years ago, back in the suburban Chicago area near him, he initiates contact with her and an illicit affair begins. Vicky, in the meantime, is making plans to get her hands on Simon's 21 million dollar trust fund with the help of financial adviser Christian Newsome. But hold onto your hats because nothing is as it seems.

Look Closer is an extremely well-written, clever, original, complex, fast paced, and mind-blowing twisty thriller that will hold your attention from beginning to end. Forget the page count as this one will make the pages fly by. Pay attention and follow the characters and chapter titles closely as the plot unfolds through multiple points-of-view and excerpts from Simon's journal. This format serves the structure of Look Closer well by adding depth and complexity to the narrative. Follow the story and be prepared to not know what you think you know. Trust me, this one has it all and you will not be able to guess where it is going. Any comparisons to Gone Girl are apropos.

None of the characters are trustworthy or even especially likeable, with one exception being Sgt. Jane Burke, the officer investigating Lauren's murder. Other than that, allow for an even paced start to introduce the characters and set up the action after which the plot will race at a breakneck pace. Remember to look for clues as the intricate story evolves and trust no one. Look Closer is an exceptional thriller/mystery and should not be missed.

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

Saturday, June 25, 2022

The Second Husband

The Second Husband by Kate White
6/28/22; 384 pages

The Second Husband by Kate White is a recommended domestic thriller.

A little over two years ago Emma Hawke's first husband, Derrick, was shot and killed in NYC. The killer was never found. Now Emma is married to widower Tom Halliday. The two are happy building a new life together in Westport, Connecticut and both of their businesses are doing well. Emma is excited to finally have a new friend over one night but the evening is cut short when a New York City police detective knocks at her door. They have reopened the investigation into Derrick's murder and have some more questions for her. It seems they have some new information and also questions about when she met Tom.

After an attention grabbing start, the pace slows down. At first the narrative alternates between "then" chapters focused on the time period right after Derrick's murder which serve to tell the backstory, and "now" chapters focused on the present day occurrences. Ultimately the plot is all set during the present time period. This plot device works well to tell the history while adding misgiving in the present.

The Second Husband is a well written novel, but the plot does move rather slowly in spite of the numerous twists, turns, and questions thrown into the mix. Emma is a sympathetic character which will help held your attention, but she is not always very decisive and doubts herself way-too-much. The suspense and tension are present but never reach the level where it would be impossible to set the novel aside. The ending was unsatisfying.

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

Friday, June 24, 2022

Listen to Me

Listen to Me by Tess Gerritsen
7/5/22; 320 pages
Random House
Rizzoli & Isles Series #13

Listen to Me by Tess Gerritsen is a very highly recommended investigative procedural combined with an unofficial neighborhood watch. This is the thirteenth novel in the Rizzoli & Isles Series.

Boston homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and her partner, Barry Frost are investigating the murder of Sofia Suarez, a widow and nurse. Medical examiner Maura Isles is also on the case. Sofia was liked by everyone and no one can believe there would be a reason for the horrific murder. Rizzoli and Frost follow the clues, including her calling burner phones. It seems Sophia knew something, but what? And how does it tie into a hit and run accident injuring Amy Antrim from months earlier and the man now seemingly following her.

During the same time Jane's mother, Angela, has several neighborhood events that she thinks Jane needs to investigate. First a teenager has runaway down the block and the police aren't taking it seriously. More importantly, a new couple has moved into the neighborhood. Not only did they reject her welcome to the neighborhood zucchini bread, but they are suspiciously keeping to themselves and there appears to be a lot of construction noises coming from the house. Angela is suspicious and she wants Jane to look into everything.

It is always a pleasure to read an excellent procedural and Listen to Me certainly fits that description. The procedural part of investigation into Sofia's murder is intricate and the clues are carefully followed. There are unpredictable twists and turns in both investigations and both offer surprising conclusions. Gerritsen effortlessly switches between the two story lines in Listen to Me, although, even though they are both compelling and complex, the truth is that at times Angela steals the show. She also provides levity at points in the narrative that allow some of the built up tension to be released.

As a long running series fans will know the characters, although there are a few surprises in character development presented. For those who have never read a Rizzoli & Isles novel, Listen to Me can be read as a standalone novel and will be just as enjoyable for you as it will be for long time readers of the series. This is an excellent addition to the series and it will encourage those new to the series to read some of the earlier outings of the duo.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Random House.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

When We Were Bright and Beautiful

When We Were Bright and Beautiful by Jillian Medoff
8/2/22; 336 pages

When We Were Bright and Beautiful by Jillian Medoff is a highly recommended novel that is part domestic thriller and part courtroom drama.

The Quinn family is a uber-wealthy family living in Manhattan. Parents, Lawrence and Eleanor have two sons, Nate and Billy, and an unofficially adopted daughter, Cassie. When Billy Quinn is arrested for a sexually assaulting his girlfriend, Cassie and Nate both go home to support Billy and their parents. The Quins can afford the best attorney money can buy, but Billy's profile, a white, athletic, and privileged male will immediately prejudice the media and potentially a jury against him. Cassie wonders why Billy’s ex-girlfriend Diana would be so vindictive that she make these accusations against him.

The Quinns have secrets that they need to keep that way, but they all ban together to unflinchingly support Billy. As Cassie narrates the story, we learn about the preparations for Billy's defense but it is also revealed that Cassie had a sexual relationship as a teen with an older married man named Marcus. She claims the relationship was consensual, but that is in question as she now ponders how it’s affected her life.

Readers are presented a challenge immediately at the start of When We Were Bright and Beautiful. For many of us it is a challenge to love wealthy, entitled, condescending, obnoxious characters from NYC who always believe they can change things to suit them and whine when things don't go their way. And this family is very, very dysfunctional. Additionally, Cassie, who is the narrator, seems like an unreliable narrator. You will know that you probably aren't getting a complete picture of reality.

There is a lot of information that needs to be shared but Cassie, as mentioned, isn't reliable or succinctly sharing facts, so the information seems to trickle out. It felt slow moving at the beginning for me. But then, after the half way point, everything flips upside down and sideways, bringing more clarity to Cassie's unsteadiness and what I felt was odd behavior at times. The courtroom scenes reveal more than facts about Billy's case.

There is foreshadowed by Cassie slowly revealing information leading up to the trial which also changes your perception of her. It is at this point that you will recall previous hints at the dark secrets and what was happening in this family. The ending is volatile as the breadth of the deeply hidden and shocking secrets and trauma is exposed. This is a heartbreaking novel.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Dark Objects

Dark Objects by Simon Toyne
7/12/22; 400 pages

Dark Objects by Simon Toyne is a highly recommended police procedural.

When a woman is murdered in a London mansion there are several questions that immediately come forth. The woman has 4 objects surrounding her, a stuffed unicorn, a couple of medals, set of keys, and the book, How to Process a Murder by Laughton Rees. The book may have actually assisted the killer in committing the crime without leaving clues for the forensic team. Even more puzzling is the fact that the woman, Kate Miller, does not seem to exist and neither does her husband, Mike. There is no real information on either of them.

Detective Chief Inspector Tannahill Khan of the North London Murder Squad investigates the murder. A complication is immediately part of the case as Laughton Rees is the estranged daughter of Metropolitan Police Commissioner John Rees, Laughton is having concerns about her daughter and bullying in the school she attends. Somehow the killer has made Laughton part of the investigation and perhaps even a target.

The opening is very strong and crates tension immediately. After this the point-of-view alternates between several narrators, mainly Tannahill or Laughton as well as other characters, and the rise of the tension slows down as information is uncovered. Part of the plot includes Laughton's backstory and the ongoing problems with her teenage daughter. Laughton adds a real depth to the story. Both Tannahill and Laughton are appealing characters and work well together.

This is an extremely well written  thriller that should appeal to all those who enjoy and appreciate police procedurals. I did feel like the tension and appeal lessened a bit after the initial opening but then increase again closer to the ending. There are some twists and surprises and the ending ties up all the storylines.

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

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Cold, Cold Bones

Cold, Cold Bones by Kathy Reichs
7/5/22; 352 pages
Temperance Brennan Series #21

Cold, Cold Bones by Kathy Reichs is a highly recommended novel of suspense and the twenty-first in the Temperance (Tempe) Brennan Series.

Forensic anthropologist Tempe Brennan is helping her daughter Katy unpack after returning to civilian life from the army. The two meets at Tempe's to eat when they find a box on the back porch containing a human eyeball. What's even more strange is that there are GPS coordinates etched into the eyeball which lead Tempe and Skinny to a Benedictine monastery where the answer to the missing eyeball is found and more questions arise. When a mummified corpse shows up in a state park, Tempe notices a pattern, a pattern that continues in the novel.

Detective Erskine "Skinny" Slidell, now retired but still volunteering with the CMPD cold case unit, is there to help. It seems that someone is killing people in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area in such a way to mimic or reenact Tempe's former cases. There is a copycat killer out there who has a grudge against Tempe, but what is the motive? Things escalate when Katie disappears and Tempe worries that she is a victim of the killer.

With the active copycat killer there are a whole caseload of former investigations presented in the narrative, which makes for a good way to build the tension and suspense in the plot while providing the numerous details about the current and former homicides. Tempe is her usual self with plenty of sarcastic comments and Skinny is the same great detective but dedicated curmudgeon he usually is.

Those who are familiar with the series will appreciate and enjoy this latest installment. The interest here is in the cases themselves and following the clues rather than the motivation of the killer. In fact many readers will likely know who is responsible before it is made clear in the plot. Anyone new to the series can still enjoy Cold, Cold Boness and will find it compelling and entertaining. There is enough background information provided on the characters to keep you interested without feeling as if you are missing some important information.

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

Sunday, June 19, 2022

The Lost

The Lost by Jeffrey B. Burton
6/28/22; 288 pages
Minotaur Books
Mace Reid K-9 Mystery #3

The Lost by Jeffrey B. Burton is a highly recommended K-9 mystery/procedural and the third book in the Mace Reid series.

Mace Reid and his human remains detection (HRD) dog, a golden retriever named Vira, are called out to the estate of Kenneth J. Druckman where a home invasion and robbery turned into a kidnapping. His wife and their five-year-old daughter are missing, as well as all of his wife's jewelry. Vira searches for remains and finds his wife's body, but returns back to the house, leading Mace and Chicago police detective Kippy Gimm, to suspect that Druckman had something to do with the murder. Now the search is on for his daughter and the truth behind the purported home invasion and robbery.

It is always a pleasure to read Burton's K-9 novels. If you love mysteries and dogs this is a series for you. As the third book in the series featuring Mace Reid and his pack of dogs, The Lost follows The Finders (2020) and The Keepers (2021). Although it is not necessary to read the first two books in order to enjoy The Lost, you will likely want to do so after reading it. This is an entertaining and exciting case where the tension is often softened by Mace's humor and observations.

The excellent writing helps create tension and suspense while holding your interest with a fast pace and intricate plot. This time the complex plot involves billionaires scheming, deceit, kidnapping, murder, stolen jewels, and more. After a startling opening chapter you will have to keep reading to see how it all fits into the overall plot. I liked the chapters going back in time following the events that led up to the kidnapping. Once the two story lines merge the tension is palpable and the action really takes off. This has consistently been a good series.

At this point Mace is a fully realized likeable character with flaws and strengths. He continues to have a nice balance of analytical abilities and irreverent humor, and even a good dose of self-deprecating humor as he talks to his pack. You will root for him, his dogs, and for Kippy Gimm. They are all believable characters. The dogs - Vira, Sue, the German Shepard, and collies Maggie May and Delta Dawn and blood hound Bill (Billie Boy) - are all characters too and you'll see their individual personalities.

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

Saturday, June 18, 2022


Outside by Ragnar Jónasson
6/28/22; 352 pages
St. Martin's Press

Outside by Ragnar Jónasson is a recommended psychological thriller set in Iceland.

Four friends, Daniel, Gunnlauger, Armann, and Helena are on a reunion vacation in the Icelandic highlands hunting for ptarmigan when a blizzard strikes while they are out, away from the hunting lodge. Armann, who leads tours of Iceland, knows there is a safety hut nearby where they can take shelter and wait out the storm. As the group face frostbite or worse getting to the hut, they finally find it. When they get inside, however, none of them are expecting what awaits them within.

In this Nordic noir thriller each chapter is narrated by one the four characters. As their individual points-of-view propel the plot forward, we are also privy to their inner thoughts and feelings about members of the group. They have been friends for many years so they have a history between them and know each other's flaws, however they may not know the secrets they hold.

The novel opens with the brutal trek through the blizzard to the shelter where we know something terrible and frightening is already inside. Then the narrative jumps back in time to the start of their vacation and the history of their friendship, allowing the tension and suspense to build while leading up to the hut, what is inside, and what happens next. The brutal, unforgiving weather adds a dimension to the tension in the plot.

I was engrossed in the story right up to almost the end at which point I had to suspend disbelief and the final, abrupt denouement left me cold and wanting.

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

Little Sister

Little Sister by Gytha Lodge
6/28/22; 400 pages
Penguin Random House
DCI Jonah Sheens #4

Little Sister by Gytha Lodge is a very highly recommended police procedural and psychological thriller. This is the fourth book in the series featuring DCI Jonah Sheens and his team of the Southampton PD.

Detective Chief Inspector Jonah Sheens is with his infant daughter in a pub garden when a red headed teenager with her hands covered in blood wanders out of the woods and toward the pub. He asks the girl, Keely Lennox, 16, if she needs help to which she replies she doesn't but her sister Nina, 14, does. The two sisters disappeared from a children's home a week earlier. When questioning her about Nina's location, Keely says that they must listen to her whole story from the beginning to the end in order to learn where Nina is located.

Once at the police station, Keely makes it clear that their story involves three men who have been abusers. She then proceeds to tell her story while displaying an emotionless flat affect. It is clear to Jonah that Keely is very clever, but is she also a sociopath? Keely will answer no direct questions and will only tell her story, insisting that the clues are all there for them to find Nina. Jonah and his team of DS Ben Lightman, DS Domnall O'Malley, and DC Juliette Hanson, are all scrambling to find the hidden clues in her story and investigate the lives of the girls in a frantic effort to find Nina.

For anyone who enjoys procedurals, Little Sister is a perfect choice. Although it is the third in the series, following She Lies in Wait, Watching from the Dark, and Lie Beside Me, I felt that it could be read as a stand alone. You're going to miss some character background information, but the suspense and intrigue in this case will eclipse any questions concerning character development. This is really the strongest novel in the series and an excellent police procedural and psychological thriller.

The writing is exceptional, with an intricate and clever plot that keeps a fast pace throughout. The team has to use all their skills and wit to discover the clues Keely is leaving and uncover the dark deeds she wants them to investigate while listening to her tale. And the things she wants them to discover are sinister. There are several big twists in the course of the investigation, and several of these will change your entire outlook on the case. You won't be able to predict where this novel is heading but you will be glued to the pages while trying to get there.

After reading other novels in the series, these are well established characters for me, but I really do think you can read this one without the previous three novels. The narrative alternates between the point-of-view of Jonah, Keely, and Juliette Hanson. The focus of the plot is Keely's story and the intense investigation rather than the character's lives, which makes it easy to jump right into the story without much background information on the team members. 

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

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

The Girl Who Survived

The Girl Who Survived by Lisa Jackson
6/28/22; 384 pages

The Girl Who Survived by Lisa Jackson is a very highly recommended riveting thriller.

At seven-years-old Kara McIntyre is a survivor of a Christmas Eve massacre that wiped out her family. Her sister Marlie helped her hide, which led to Kara's survival, but then Marlie disappeared. Since that horrific night Kara has been struggling with her memories, recurring nightmares, and anxiety. Her brother Jonas was convicted of the murders but now, twenty years later, he is being released after a technicality and Detectives Thomas and Johnson are back on the case, reviewing all the evidence. Kara is unsure what to think. What she does know is that the release of Jonas brings with it a media frenzy as well as reopening all of her memories. And now someone is texting her about Marlie, saying "She is alive."

The opening of this intriguing novel will immediately capture your attention as it follows seven-year-old Kara during that gruesome night of blood shed. This will immediately elicit sympathy and you will care about what happens to Kara, especially when it becomes clear that the killer is not done and people involved in the case are starting to die again. Could it be Jonas? Or is the real killer still out there? Can Kara survive again?

Kara is a fully realized character and was portrayed in a realistic manner. Enough information is provided about the other characters to give background and keep the plot moving and introduce suspects.

The writing is excellent in this un-put-downable thriller. The plot is complex and moves at a quick pace. The narrative mainly follows Kara's point-of-view, with some chapters following Detectives Thomas and Johnson reopening the case, Wesley Tate, a reporter and son of the man who saved Kara, as well as a few other characters. When murders start happening again, you won't know who to believe as the suspense and tension rises. I was totally engrossed in from the beginning to the end.

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

Monday, June 13, 2022

After Everyone Else

After Everyone Else by Leslie Hooton
6/28/22; 352 pages
Turner Publishing Group

After Everyone Else by Leslie Hooton is a highly recommended family drama.

Bailey has just been charges with the murder of her ex-husband. She knows she is innocent and can explain all the DNA evidence, but she is also concerned that someone she loves, either her husband of 23 years Griffin or their daughter, Charlie, is responsible for the death. This novel is about the intricacy and challenges of marriage and motherhood and the lengths Bailey will go to protect the ones she loves.

The narration alternates between chapters set in the past, which cover when Bailey and Griffin are first married, the arrival of Charlie, and their life leading up to the current situation, and chapters from the present, which cover the murder investigation. Frankly the current now chapters are not as interesting and don't hold the weight of the before chapters. The murder charges, although starting out the novel, are really more of an afterthought when actually reading. The true focus of the novel is the story of the family.

The quality of the writing is quite good and the plot and actions flows smoothly while reading. This is really more of a family drama/chick lit than murder mystery, so keep that in mind if you are looking for a novel featuring an intricate mystery and investigation. The interest and appeal are found in the family history and the investigation is simply an extension of the story of the family. After Everyone Else follows a previous novel, Before Anyone Else which also features Bailey's life. I felt like After Everyone Else worked as a stand alone, however I haven't read the first novel.

If you are looking for a tense, compelling murder mystery, pass this one by. If you appreciate women's fiction and family dramas that cover a span of years, this might be an excellent choice for you.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Turner Publishing Group.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Point Last Seen

Point Last Seen by Christina Dodd
7/26/22; 416 pages

Point Last Seen by Christina Dodd is a recommended mystery with romance overtones.

Gothic, the city of lost souls, is a town on the Pacific coast where everyone has a past. When Adam Ramsdell, recovering from his own personal issues, finds a body in the surf he is shocked to discover she is still alive. Elle is covered with bruises, weak, and frightened. Certainly the obvious hand prints around her throat indicate someone meant to harm her. She doesn't remember what happened and doesn't remember her full name. She does know she wants to avoid authorities and calling attention to herself. Adam does his best to care for her, but he keeps getting the feeling that he is being watched. The obvious fact is that in the small town of Gothic, a newcomer with bruises can't hide and rumors are bound to spread quickly about the woman who washed ashore half dead.

Once the story sets up the initial plot, introduces the characters, and reveals who Elle is and who is looking for her, things get a bit paradoxical. She can't remember her last name and is seriously injured, but she's able to admire Adam in a less than chaste manner. The plot lost all seriousness for me at that point because I knew what we were going to experience was some trope on a damsel in distress saved by a knight in shining armor. You can proclaim that the damsel is a strong, independent woman all you want, but the plot is still headed down this well-trodden path.

Stick this out for the mystery/action/thriller portion and suspend your disbelief on the rest. The writing is good and the mystery/thriller part of the novel will hold your interest while you flip through the rest. If romance novels are your preference, this will be an appealing novel for you and a good choice for a summer read.

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

Friday, June 10, 2022

Little Rumours

Little Rumours by Bryony Pearce
3/31/22; 416 pages

Little Rumours by Bryony Pearce is a highly recommended domestic thriller concerning three very different women searching for a missing child.

In Exton Cross everyone knows everyone else and their family and new comers are basically unwelcome. Little Rumours follows three different mothers and their children. Naomi, who grew up in Exton Cross, is an accepted member of the community. Aleema has lived here for three years and hasn't made a single friend even though she's married to a local, but she's a newcomer and Muslim, therefore suspect. Kelly is an outsider and wants it to stay that way to protect her privacy. When Aleema's daughter Mia disappears, the whole community starts looking, but the rumours and accusations also start flying.

The narrative unfolds through the point-of-view of Naomi, Aleema, and Kelly in alternating chapters. Aleema and Kelly are fully realized and complicated characters with secrets and fears they want to keep hidden. Their children are all best friends, which is what pulls the three women together in searching for Mia, but also tears them apart. Most of the characters aren't always easy to connect with because they aren't all that likable. The alternating viewpoints, however, work well in the plot.

Little Rumours didn't immediately capture my complete attention during the slow start, but this did serve as a time to introduce all the characters and set up the action. There are all manner of social problems thrown into the mix along the way and the tension and suspense rises as the search for Mia continues. While it is a compelling concept for a plot, it did feel like it ran a little long and could have been tightened up. 3.5 rounded up.

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

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

The Catch

The Catch by Alison Fairbrother
6/21/22; 288 pages
Penguin Random House

The Catch by Alison Fairbrother is a recommended domestic drama.

Ellie Adler, 24, is the oldest of her father's four children from three different marriages. James Adler, a poet, loves all of his children and Ellie has fond memories of the mixed family celebrating holidays at unique times with their father, for example, summer Christmas. When he suddenly dies from a heart attack days after she had visited for summer Thanksgiving, she is devastated. Ellie reads his famous poem, "The Catch," at his funeral. After this she learns he bequeathed specific items to his children in his will. She was expecting to get the baseball he kept on his desk, instead she is given a tie rack that means nothing to her and the baseball is given to someone she never heard of. This sets her on a quest to track this person down and find out who he is while also dealing with complications in her personal life.

The bulk of the plot consists of her tracking down someone because she wants what her father wanted to give to this man and her demanding more from her married 39 year-old boyfriend. Even giving her some grace due to her grief, Ellie's immaturity and ego-centrism becomes increasingly tiresome. I did appreciate the growth her character experienced in some areas but not so much in other ways. She does discover the reason for her father wanting her to have the tie rack. What is surprising is that she never heard the story surrounding the reason for it. She also learns some surprising information about her father.

If the majority of the novel simply consisted of Ellie finding out the truth behind the baseball and the reason for her father's bequeath to someone else, it would have made the story stronger. This search to uncover the truth is what compelled me to keep reading. Her demanding more from her affair with her 39 year-old married boyfriend was a big turn off for me and an unneeded distraction. Yet again I need to caution an author to keep their personal political/social views to themselves, which added nothing to the development of this novel. This diminishes and dates the novel while detracting from the narrative.

The Catch is a novel that starts out strong and then loses momentum along the way. The quality of the writing is quite good in this debut novel and despite the few hiccups along the way, it will be interesting to see what Fairbrother publishes next. 3.5 rounded down

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

Monday, June 6, 2022

The Lies I Tell

The Lies I Tell by Julie Clark
6/21/22; 320 pages

The Lies I Tell by Julie Clark is a very highly recommended fast-paced, intriguing story of revenge. The narrative alternates between the point-of-view of two women, one which has used many aliases over the years.

Meg Williams has gone by many names as an adult. She carefully uses a different name and history in whatever new town she has moved to for each new con job she is pulling. Meg is very intelligent and meticulously plans out each long con job. She will mold herself to be exactly who she wants you to see and will tell you exactly what you want to hear. Now she has returned to Los Angeles and is posing as a real estate agent. Her target is Ron Ashton, the man who swindled her mother and stole their home forcing the two of them to live in a van.

Kat Roberts is a journalist who blames Meg for ruing her life. For the past 10 years she has been looking for Meg, wanting to expose her for her crimes. Kat tracks Meg, becomes close to her under an assumed name, and Meg offers her a job with her company. As Kat investigates, though, the lines begin to blur between revenge and justice.

This well-written narrative uses the altering points-of-view and flashbacks to develop the characters and their background while keeping the pace quick throughout the novel. This results in fully realized characters and an intriguing, compelling plot. Meg does lie. She is clever and believable as she spins her story but exactly who are her target victims and toward what final purpose? As more information is disclosed readers will be questioning everything and everyone, including Kat's vendetta against her.

The pages will fly by in The Lies I Tell and hold your attention throughout the entire novel. The chapters from the past and present work together to create complex characters, a credible backstory, and work seamlessly to develop the intricate plot. One you start reading it will be hard to put it down, but it won't matter because the pages will fly by. This domestic story of revenge is entertaining escapism and should please a wide variety of readers. 4.5 rounded up

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

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Arms Around Frank Richardson

Arms Around Frank Richardson by Sylvia Colley
6/16/22; 340 pages
Muswell Press

Arms Around Frank Richardson by Sylvia Colley is a very highly recommended literary family drama and character study.

Following Frank, Alice and Henry across thirty years this in-depth character study and family drama demonstrates the impact of childhood trauma on three different adults. Frank and his younger sister Kitty have been abused by both their alcoholic father and their mother's alcoholic and drug abusing boyfriend before they escape for their lives one night to the couple who live next door. From this point on Frank only wants to protect his sister and make sure everything goes smoothly. Alice is physically disabled and is frustrated by her limp and recurring pain. Henry is the son of wealthy parents who consider their artistic son less intelligent than his overachieving brother.

The novel alternates between these characters starting over 30 years in the past when they are all children and follows them into adulthood. They all deal with the families and fate that life has dealt them until by chance they all meet and interact together as adults. Essentially, for most of the novel readers will be following these different characters and their individual, separate stories until they gradually start to connect toward the end. The beginning of the novel takes patience as it is difficult to see where these individual stories, which are all compelling on their own, are going to somehow merge into a complete picture.

What hold will hold your interest in these character studies of individuals and their lives is the absolutely exquisite writing. Both the characters and the sense of time and place are carefully crafted and beautifully rendered. Even when the separate chapters seem so removed from each other it will be the writing that will keep you reading and caring about these flawed individuals. This is a simple incredible well-written work of literary fiction.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Muswell Press.

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Local Gone Missing

Local Gone Missing by Fiona Barton
6/14/22; 384 pages
Penguin Publishing Group

Local Gone Missing by Fiona Barton is a highly recommended procedural/mystery.

Housecleaner Dee Eastwood shows up to clean the caravan where Pauline and Charlie Perry are living while purportedly restoring the crumbling estate Tall Trees when it is discovered Charlie (73 years-old) has disappeared. Seventeen days earlier Charlie had visited his daughter Birdie in the residential care facility where she lives due to brain damage caused during a burglary twenty years earlier. Charlie is six months behind in paying for Birdie's care, but Pauline objects to spending money on her care. Charlie's disappearance occurs on the first night that a large musical festival is being held in Ebbing where two teens overdose on drugs.

Elise King is a detective who is on medical leave who observes all the rising tensions in her community. She also employees Dee, who sees and knows many secrets, but keeps he mouth closed. When a man disappears and the teens overdose on the first night of the festival, Elise starts her own investigation with assistance from her friend Ronnie. Due to what she has already discovered, her DCI then asks her to come back to work on the case in the Major Crimes team. Elise uncovers a whole lot of information and secrets swirling through Ebbing.

The complicated plot switches back and forth between characters and alternates between the present and days in the past leading up to the present day. At first the quick pace may be a bit of an information and character overload as a plethora of facts and names are quickly introduced into the plot, but stick with it and soon information, secrets, and people will start to sort themselves out and form a larger picture.

Elise is an appealing character and it is compelling when she starts looking into what is going on in Ebbing. The novel was more appealing once it takes a clear direction toward being a procedural. It presents us with a satisfying investigation as more evidence is uncovered and pieces of the puzzle are put together. There are many characters who have some relationship or information about Charlie and others. This results in plenty of clues and suspects provided along the way and numerous subplots that sometimes left me struggling to keep interested in the overall story. 3.5 rounded up.

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

Friday, June 3, 2022


Vacationland by Meg Mitchell Moore
6/14/22; 384 pages

Vacationland by Meg Mitchell Moore is a highly recommended family drama.

Louisa McLean and her three children have arrived at her parents’ summer home in Rockland, Maine. They plan to spend the summer there while Louisa's husband, Steven, stays in Brooklyn to work. Louisa, a history professor on a sabbatical from NYU, has to finish her barely started book while watching the three kids, but this is proving difficult. Martin, Louisa’s father and retired judge, is suffering from Alzheimer’s and Annie, her mother, is worried about her husband and their finances. The children, Mattie, 12, Abigail, 10, and Claire, 7, have their own issues they are dealing with.

At the same time Kristie Turner arrives in Rockland after her mother’s death. She is deeply in debt and is planning to find work but more importantly she wants to talk to Martin about a secret her mother shared with Kristie before her death.

The characters come to life in this family drama. They are all fully realized characters with a depth of emotion, secrets, flaws, and fears. Chapters alternate from the point-of-view of Kristie, Louisa, her family members, and the housekeeper. Also included in the narrative are wonderful letters from Abigail to her father. The highlight of Vacationland is the character development and the look into their lives and thoughts.

The writing is excellent and it captures the lives of these people perfectly. The plot is predictable, but the characters and atmosphere created will keep you reading. This is a perfect choice for summer reading. It explores complications, secrets, and hurt in a family, but tackles their various issues with understanding, love, and, ultimately a sense of acceptance. The ending is satisfying and will leave you with a warm, fuzzy feeling.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

The Woman in the Library

The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill
6/7/22; 288 pages

The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill is a highly recommended, entertaining story-within-a-mystery novel.

Australian mystery writer author Hannah Tigone is writing a new novel and Leo Johnson, a fan and aspiring writer is corresponding with her and offering to be a beta reader for her new novel. In the novel Australian writer Winifred “Freddie” Kincaid has received a writing fellowship that has her staying in Boston. While in the Boston Public Library looking for writing inspiration, Freddie is secretly observing her fellow table mates when a scream is heard that starts a conversation between the four. Marigold, Whit, Cain, and Freddie, become friends and we know from her first chapter that one of them is a killer.

The dual narrative alternates between emails from Leo to Hannah which include writing suggestions and hope that the two writers can meet soon and chapters from the new mystery novel featuring Freddie. In both of the narratives there is a story that is unfolding. There is an impending sense of trepidation as the tension increases in the murder mystery Hannah is writing. Leo's correspondence is full of suggestions and initially is supportive but about half way through the book some outside information comes to light that results in Leo's letters take on a whole new dimension.

This is a fun, entertaining inventive novel with interesting characters. The dual narratives adds interest and both are unpredictable in very different ways. While I found the novel and the two perspectives entertaining, I can't say I was wholly invested in the totality of the novel until it was well underway. Some parts seemed slow moving, nevertheless, I was engaged enough to keep reading and was pleased with some of the turns the plot takes, the detective work of Freddie, and the unexpected surprises and new information that was revealed. This is a novel that would benefit from being able to read it quickly.

The characters are all sufficiently developed, with the exception of the writer, Hannah, so readers will be guessing who is the killer. I did find the sudden, intense friendship of the four a bit unrealistic, but it is necessary to move that story along. The narrative with the four instant friends does contrast nicely with Leo's epistolary narrative.

I enjoyed The Woman in the Library and found it entertaining. One suggestion would be to stick this one out through the slow start until you reach the point where the narratives both pick up and become compelling. The conclusions of both narratives are very satisfying.

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