Sunday, July 31, 2022

The Deepest Black

The Deepest Black by Randall Silvis
8/16/22; 320 pages
Poison Pen Press

The Deepest Black by Randall Silvis is a very highly recommended metafiction true crime memoir where Silvis is the main character.

When Silvis can't come up with the idea for a new novel he just happens to meet a stranger at a buffet who tells him about a murder case in a nearby small town in Pennsylvania’s rural Mercer County. Thomas Kennaday tells him some vague details about a local mystery involving an abandoned baby and the shooting deaths of two adults and a child. Then he mentions a young woman who will have more details, Phoebe, a resident of the house where the shootings occurred. The problem is that she only reveals small portions of the story as dictated by Kennaday, and there is much more going on that is apparent in her comments. This sends Silvis on a quest to uncover what really happened and why Kennaday told him about it.

Written like a true crime story this odd genre bending novel follows the plot of a true crime novel and a mystery but also veers off into supernatural. Silvis is the main character and narrator. I may be an outlier, but I though it was not only totally engrossing, but un-put-downable. Sure there are references to various collusions, unknown sections of alphabet agencies, an abuse ring, inexplicable events, spirituality, UFOs, oppression, mind control, men in black, and more, but it all made sense within the narrative. I appreciated his honest opinions about events he is observing in the novel.

Obviously, this is a novel that will work brilliantly for some readers and not for others.

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

Saturday, July 30, 2022

The Frederick Sisters Are Living the Dream

The Frederick Sisters Are Living the Dream by Jeannie Zusy
9/20/22; 320 pages
Atria Books

The Frederick Sisters Are Living the Dream by Jeannie Zusy is a highly recommended novel that explores the relationship between sisters and the complications that can arise from being the caretaker for one of your siblings.

Maggie Frederick, the youngest of three sisters, realizes that it is up to her to take on the care of Ginny, her diabetic older sister with intellectual disabilities after Ginny nearly died from sepsis. Their oldest sister, Betsy, is off living in California. Ginny must be moved from Maryland to a nursing facility near Maggie's home in New York and her surly dog must move in with Maggie and her pets. Ginny, who is now in a wheelchair, is uncooperative, refuses to follow the rules, and won't curtail her sugar consumption.

As she tries to deal with Ginny's truculence over her care and health, Maggie is also trying to work her freelancing job, raise her son still at home, and deal with her separation from her husband. The struggles of dealing with a loved one with an intellectual disability is portrayed realistically, however, I wouldn't necessarily describe this as a novel that will have you laughing throughout.

There are moments where the sheer absurdity of a situation and the patience required to work through it will have you feeling Maggie's frustration over everything and appreciate the foolishness illustrated. Ginny's determination to continue eating vast quantities of sweets isn't really funny and neither is her porn consumption. From personal experience, there were several incidents that felt very realistic and anyone in a similar situation will relate to Maggie's narrative on some level.

The narrative is told through Maggie's point-of-view in a stream-of-consciousness style that requires and assumes that you to feel an affinity for her immediately. She has way-too-much she is expecting herself to do and accomplish, which makes the connection a challenge in some ways. The narrative does drag a bit and depends upon your interest in the character's situation to propel your involvement forward. At times this wasn't quite enough. Some of the shortcomings in the novel are rectified or at least explained while others remain. 3.5 rounded up

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Atria Books.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Dirt Creek

Dirt Creek by Hayley Scrivenor
8/2/22; 336 pages
Flatiron Books

Dirt Creek by Hayley Scrivenor  is a recommended debut mystery and procedural set in Australia.

In the opening we know her body has been found, as witnessed by the children who knew her. Following this is the investigation that begins when twelve-year-old Esther disappears on the way home from school. Detective Sergeant Sarah Michaels arrives in town to investigate Esther's disappearance and the whole community is thrown into the investigation. Esther's best friend, Ronnie, is determined to find Esther and bring her home.

Chapters are told through different points-of-view, including chapters titled "we" which represents a sort of Greek chorus composed of the children of the community watching and observing the death and investigation of Esther. It becomes clear as the investigation unfolds that everyone isn't telling the truth and that people have secrets they want to keep hidden, no matter the costs to the whole town. The children are honest with their insights, but also with their reasons to keep silent.

The action and tension in Dirt Creek builds very slowly and gradually as suspects are set apart and more information is gradually revealed by the children and the community. Media attention and the police investigation make those who could reveal more information even more reticent to do so. The personal lives of the families and their children is part of the narrative, and is also heartbreaking at times. Ronnie's chapters are the most moving because Esther was her best friend and it is clear that she misses her friend.

This is a character driven mystery. The children are sympathetic characters although also repetitious, while the adults are less sympathetic and more disagreeable. Several of the adult friendships are an important part of the narrative, but their friendships are also brought into question. The town itself is a desolate and destructive force among the residents.

The quality of the writing is quite good, but the actual slow progress of the plot inhibits the insights from making a big impact in the overall presentation of the narrative. It should be noted that there is a lot of violence in the plot that is off-putting and not necessary. The plot needs tightening up and a clarification of the direction the narrative is taking. additionally, it is never necessary to add everything you have big feelings about to one novel. 

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

Thursday, July 28, 2022

The Couple at Number 9

The Couple at Number 9 by Claire Douglas
8/2/22; 400 pages

The Couple at Number 9 by Claire Douglas is a highly recommended psychological thriller.

Saffron (Saffy) Cutler and her boyfriend Tom are thrilled to inherit a home at 9 Skelton Place and start renovations immediately. When the builders uncover human remains, the police are called in and the investigation reveals that there are two bodies buried in their back garden. It seems that they have been buried there for at least thirty years. The investigation turns to Saffy's grandmother Rose Grey who owns the cottage and lived there during the time period that the bodies were likely buried. The problem is that Rose has been diagnosed with dementia and lives in a nursing facility.

What seems to be a horrifying discovery, but one that is removed from the current residents picks up the pace when it seems that not everyone who knows what happened thirty years ago is content to stand by and do nothing. And then Rose, whose memory seems to come and go, is being questioned by the police. She remembers something, but what exactly is unclear.

The plot unfolds through multiple points-of-view and in multiple timelines. The tension builds up as more information and background is revealed in both timelines. The interest is in how the stories from the past and present are going to explain the bodies and in the identity of the person who is trying to stop any information from being released.

Several interesting characters are presented and depicted as realistic individuals in the plot through their individual points-of-view. There are plenty of secrets among the characters and some of them pertain to the murders. This helps keep interest high and increases the tension in solving the mystery and discovering the identity of the killer.

I was totally engrossed until the narrative took a convenient turn and then a twist occurred that felt a bit too contrived. The pacing does seem a little slow at times, but it still held my attention and I kept reading. Basically this is an enjoyable, compelling psychological thriller. The multiple points-of-view work well in The Couple at Number 9 and keep the tension going right to the end.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of  HarperCollins.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

The Pallbearers Club

The Pallbearers Club by Paul Tremblay
7/5/22; 288 pages

The Pallbearers Club by Paul Tremblay is a so-so novel of an unusual relationship and a pseudo-vampire.

Art Barbara started a club for volunteer pallbearers while a senior in high school and it was through this club he met Mercy Brown. She brought her Polaroid camera with her to take pictures of the corpses. This begins the manuscript/memoir of Art, which is what you are reading. Between Art's memories are comments written by Mercy, after the fact, discussing what is in Art's memoir and clarifying various points in it.

I enjoyed the opening of the narrative and then things went off the rail and into a different supernatural direction. I gamely kept with it and found things to appreciate in the changed narrative, but as it progressed, it was increasingly difficult to keep an interest in the plot. This is a wildly unique novel with plenty of strengths and weaknesses. It didn't really work for me, but I could see potential for more appreciation by other readers.

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

Red Flags

Red Flags by Lisa Black
7/26/22; 352 pages
Locard Institute Thriller #1

Red Flags by Lisa Black is a very highly recommended forensic thriller and the first book in a new series.

Dr. Ellie Carr, a D.C. crime scene analyst and part of the FBI’s evidence response team, is called to investigate the case of a 4 month old missing baby, Mason Carlisle. Once she arrives at the scene, a mansion on the banks of the Potomac, she is shocked to discover that the child’s mother, Rebecca, is her own cousin that she hasn't seen in fifteen years. Rebecca, is a policy adviser to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation while her husband Hunter owns a wealthy lobbying firm.

There is no clear trace what happened to Mason and Hunter hires Dr. Rachael Davies, a Washington DC forensic scientist and assistant dean at the prestigious Locard Forensic Institute to assist in the investigation. Now Ellie and Rachel are working together. The case becomes much more involved and complicated and involves blackmailing a lobbying effort on gaming industry regulations.

Red Flags is a great introduction to a new series. The writing is excellent and the tension rises as various scenarios are looked at and suspects are considered. The case is complicated and information and clues are uncovered as well as clever insights. The investigation is interesting to follow and there are several twists to surprise you or point you in a different direction concerning the case. There are fascinating details for crime scene fans to follow.

Both Ellie and Rachel are equally interesting characters and the investigations are compelling and detailed. The narrative moves quickly and developments are rapid in the plot and the investigations. There are plenty of forensic details and discoveries in the cases. The whole case suddenly involves a multilayered investigation and technical details. The two women work well together and this portends well for the new series. I'm looking forward to the next novel in the series.

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

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

The Last to Vanish

The Last to Vanish by Megan Miranda
7/26/22; 336 pages
Scribner/Marysue Rucci Books

The Last to Vanish by Megan Miranda is a very highly recommended excellent thriller. Miranda is one of my favorite authors and she delivers the goods again!

Abby (Abigail) Lovett arrived in Cutter's Pass, North Carolina, ten years ago and is now managing The Passage Inn. Cutter's Pass, an access point to the Appalachian trail, is known as the most dangerous town in North Carolina based on the several unsolved disappearances tied to the city. The disappearances include the Fraternity Four, a group of students in 1997; Alice Kelly in 2012; Farrah Jordan in 2019; and Landon West in 2022.

Landon West was a journalist who was investigating the disappearances before he became a statistic. Now four months later his brother, Trey, has arrived at the Inn and he has some questions. Abby, who often feels like an outsider, notices all the reactions Trey is getting while looking into his brother's disappearance, which causes her to start looking a bit closer into Landon's disappearance as well as that of the others.

Cutter's Pass may be a picturesque tourist destination but it is also the most dangerous town in North Carolina and that moniker helps draw some tourists. It also seems that it might be true, but Abby can't get any answers and has to search for them. Then she finds some incriminating evidence and must look closely at everyone she knows

The writing is exceptional in this suspenseful thriller and mystery. The narrative is told through five parts of the novel. Each carefully plotted part focuses on a disappearance, starting with the most recent. The tension and apprehension build slowly at first but then it begins to multiply, and accumulate, as Abby uncovers more information and begins to question everyone around her. How well does she know her neighbors and friends? The sense of menace and dread will begin to start immediately. There are several shocking twists I didn't see coming at all.

Abby is a great character who will immediately garner your trust and you will care about her. All the secondary characters are equally interesting, realistic, and bring different dimensions to the unique plot. Even the setting, the mountains, hiking trails, and town, bring something unique to the narrative.

Once you start reading, The Last to Vanish becomes un-put-downable and it exceeded all my expectations. Another winning novel by Megan Miranda!

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Scribner.

Friday, July 22, 2022

Real Bad Things

Real Bad Things by Kelly J. Ford
9/1/22; 334 pages
Thomas & Mercer

Real Bad Things by Kelly J. Ford is a recommended psychological thriller.

When Jane Mooney confessed to killing her abusive stepfather, she was let go because there was no body. Now twenty-five years later remains have been found and Jane has come home to Arkansas to face jail time. But there are irregularities found and it seems that the case is bring more questions to light and it is suspected that others may have been involved.

Jane has to deal with her truculent mother who is more concerned about who will pay for the funeral rather than her estranged relationship with Jane and her son Jason. Jane was called “Lezzie Borden” at the time of her confession and the attitude toward her remains. Then when others confess to the crime, the real case is searching for the truth about what happened all those years ago.

Jane and her friend from years ago, Georgia Lee are narrators and the plot unfolds through their points-of-view. The characters are portrayed as realistic individuals, but aren't deeply developed so I didn't feel a connection to them. The child abuse present in the story felt excessive. Furthermore, there is simply too much pointless dialogue, which made the novel feel overly long.

Plenty of clues are provided along the way that point to the truth, although they are disguised. I wasn't really invested in the story, however, and really questioned the name calling involved in the plot. Additionally, the novel is more concerned with trying to throw in various surprises and twists than making a truly unpredictable plot. It was a bit too predictable.

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

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Dead Water

Dead Water by C. A. Fletcher
7/19/22; 512 pages

Dead Water by C. A. Fletcher is a highly recommended folk horror novel of a blight in a small island community.

Set on a small remote island off the western coast of Scotland is an amicable community of residents, some island born going back generations while others are new to the island. All of them have their secrets, however, some secrets are more ominous than others. When the island ferry service breaks down and communication to the mainland is lost, the residents must try to work together. This becomes increasingly difficult when a mysterious infection begins to spread and rumors begin to circulate.

I loved A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World, and Dead Water doesn't live up to it, but it does have strengths of its own. It must be said that there is a very slow start to the novel, which is potentially off-putting, but it does serve to introduce the characters before the subtle psychological horror begins. Then this becomes a narrative that showcases perseverance in the face of hardship while also creating a sense of dread and horror that will build.

The characters secrets are carefully exposed and their flaws shown. They aren't likeable, but they are portrayed as realistic individuals. And this is the strength of the novel, the carefully crafted characters that are then placed in a horrific, frightening situation, which is portrayed with the same level of care. 3.5 rounded up because of all the positives, however the slow setup is too tedious and the novel loses your attention. I will look forward to Fletcher's next novel.

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

Wednesday, July 20, 2022


Lambda by David Musgrave
7/12/22; 372 pages
Europa Editions

Lambda by David Musgrave is a recommended experimental science fiction novel.

The Lambdas have arrive on the coast by sea. They are aliens but genetically human and now humans coexist with them. They tend to live in flooded basements. New police officer Cara Gray is familiar with the Lambdas from her childhood, and now her job is to keep them under surveillance after a school bombing that a lambda rights group claims responsibility. She is now community liaison officer to the lambda. Now she must decide whether to submit to the patterns of technology, violence and obsession, or to take action of her own.

This is a complicated novel with an inventive structure that includes a one sided conversation with a Lambda as well as Cara's . Within Cara's narrative the novel also addresses the refugee crises and the future of technology. This is an inventive, interesting novel, but it was also a struggle to keep focused on the narrative. Many of the plot elements are left unresolved. It is also humorous at times. This will be thoroughly enjoyed by some science fiction readers but not all of them. This is undoubtedly an odd novel that works in a weird way.

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

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Things We Do in the Dark

Things We Do in the Dark by Jennifer Hillier
7/19/22; 352 pages
St. Martin's Press

Things We Do in the Dark by Jennifer Hillier is a very highly recommended psychological thriller.

Paris Peralta is arrested for killing her celebrity husband. She is found holding a straight razor while her husband Jimmy Peralta is lying dead in the bathtub. Paris swears she didn't kill Jimmy, but she does have secrets in her past that she does want to hide. All the publicity from the murder accusation may bring to light Paris's past and secrets that she does want to hide, including another murder and her mother, convicted killer Ruby Reyes.

Investigative Journalist Drew Malcolm is planning a pod cast featuring notorious killer Ruby Reyes, aka the Ice Queen, is about to be freed on parole after serving 25 years of a life sentence. Drew was good friends with her daughter, Joey, who later died mysteriously in a fire. Drew wants to highlight the abuse Joey received at the hands of Ruby, redirecting media attention away from Ruby.

The well written, complex and intricate plot of Things We Do in the Dark is compelling and full of surprises and heartbreak. It is also an un-put-downable psychological thriller. This complicated web of relationships, deceit, and lies is told through flashbacks and the perspectives of different characters. The timeline also moves back and forth between the past and the present and includes a couple big surprising twists in the plot. What is uncovered is Paris's relationship in the present with Jimmy, but also all her relationships in the past as she was growing up in Canada.

As a character driven drama Things We Do in the Dark excels. All the characters are portrayed as real people, protagonists and antagonists. There are characters you will support and commiserate with and there are characters you will actively despise. Paris is an intriguing and sympathetic character. You know she couldn't be responsible for Jimmy's murder. Journalist Drew Malcolm is also a character you will trust.

This is really an enjoyable thriller. At times the plot does stretch credibility, but you will be too engrossed and emotionally invested in the plot to care. Since Things We Do in the Dark is my first Hillier novel, it is impressive enough that I'm now planning to look at some of her previous novels. 4.5 rounded up

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

Sunday, July 17, 2022

The Pink Hotel

The Pink Hotel by Liska Jacobs
7/19/22; 336 pages

The Pink Hotel by Liska Jacobs is a so-so social satire.

After meeting Richard and Ilka Beaumont, Keith and Kit Collins have been invited by Richard to spend their honeymoon in the iconic Pink Hotel located in Beverly Hills. Richard, who is the general manager, hopes to hire Keith to work there for him. Kit is less sure that this is the life she wants. Then circumstances (riots, rolling blackouts, fires, sudden new wealthy guests) occur that have the hotel being a refuge for the wealthy only and Keith off helping Richard while Kit is left alone.

The actual descriptive writing is quite good, but the barely there plot and slow pace isn't good. If you can overcome the glacially slow start, no characters you remotely care about and rather predictable antagonism against the ultra-wealthy, then I'd recommend this novel. If that doesn't seem like something you'd enjoy, pass on it. Admittedly, after wondering what direction the novel was meandering toward for over half of it, beyond social class, things pick up but not enough to redeem it.

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

Saturday, July 16, 2022

After We Were Stolen

After We Were Stolen by Brooke Beyfuss
7/19/22; 400 pages
Sourcebooks Landmark

After We Were Stolen by Brooke Beyfuss is a highly recommended psychological drama.

Avery, nineteen, lives in a doomsday survivalist cult with the eleven other members of her family. Her grandfather started the cult but now her domineering father is the leader and her family comprise the only remaining members. Avery is closest to her brother Cole, sixteen. The cult excels at indoctrination and abusive and cruel actions. When a fire breaks out destroying the entire compound and the other family members, Avery and Cole manage to escape and flee. They live on their own for three months before they are caught shoplifting. Now the novel switches gears.

Through their fingerprints it is discovered that Avery and Cole are not who they think they are. Both of them were abducted as children. Cole has a family who immediately arrive to take him home, while Avery is taken to a women's shelter where she can be safe and hopefully recovery from the trauma. At the same time the police are investigating the fire and questioning her.

This debut novel is suspenseful, emotionally fraught, and several parts of the narrative that are very disturbing. The beginning of the novel covers the family cult, both the indoctrination used and the activities. Abuse is clearly present and described. After the fire, the novel switches gears to escape and recovery, which is in many ways just as psychologically and emotionally fraught as being in the cult.

Avery is a fully realized character with emotional depth. As Avery struggles to recover, she must recall all the events that happened and deal with them. You will wish the best for her and hope she can live a normal life after her experiences.

This is a well written psychological drama with an even paced plot. It should be noted that there are several disturbing scenes and an author's note at the beginner warning readers about the content. The ending seemed a bit abrupt and could have used a postscript or afterward showing us that Avery is recovering.

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

Friday, July 15, 2022


Chrysalis by Lincoln Child
7/12/22; 336 pages
Knopf Doubleday
Jeremy Logan #6

Chrysalis by Lincoln Child is a very highly recommended techno thriller and the sixth novel featuring enigmalogist, Jeremy Logan.

Jeremy Logan is an enigmalogist, or, as he explains it, he is an investigator of unexplained things or solves problems nobody has encountered before. Jeremy has been called by Chrysalis, the global multi-billion dollar tech company, to investigate a threat to the update rollout of a major update of its product. They make optical devices that use virtual reality on a wide scale. It appears, after an anonymous message is sent, that the death of a board member was not an accident and can be attributed to their newest version of the Omega product. This is quickly followed by the death of two more board members.

Logan arrives at the facility of Chrysalis and meets with the legal counsel and various executives, which culminates with his receiving complete authority to investigate and ask questions of anyone in the facility. The fear is that someone has program the Omega to kill its users. Logan must use all his intelligence and skills to figure out what is happening and who is killing board members while threatening to kill more.

As expected, Chrysalis is expertly written, with a well researched and intricate plot. Child brings to life the high tech world behind the creation of the Omega VR device and their medical implants. The tension and intrigue is palpable as Logan's investigation evolves and he scrutinizes all areas of the tech company. Expect a lot of tech-talk in this one as that is the focus of the story and the direction of the future.

At this point, fans of the series know Logan and his previous cases, but Chrysalis can be read as a standalone novel. Logan is introduced along with a host of other characters as the investigation unfolds. Long time readers of the series will enjoy this latest addition. 

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

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
7/5/22; 416 pages
Knopf Doubleday

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin is very highly recommended literary fiction and a gamer's uncommon love story that spans thirty years. This is a novel written for the generation who grew up gaming that can be appreciated by anyone who enjoys excellent literary fiction.

Sam was in his junior year at Harvard when he saw and called out to Sadie. Sam Masur hadn't seen Sadie Green since 1986 when they were 12 and 11. They met at a children’s hospital where Sadie's sister was recovering from cancer and Sam was undergoing surgeries to repair a badly injured foot. Their bond and friendship started when they started playing games together. Then they had a falling out but they both intensely felt the loss of their friendship. Now, meeting again as young adults, they reconnect and become creative partners, collaborating on the design of a video game. Marx, Sam's roommate and friend helps facilitate their work as does Dov, a game designer, lover, and professor of Sadie's. Before either of them graduate from college, they have created their first game, Ichigo, which becomes a blockbuster.

The narrative alternates between the point-of-view of Sam and Sadie, allowing you to experience the inner thoughts of two of the most fully realized characters I've encountered in a long time. Sam and Sadie live in their heads, are deeply flawed, and make many assumptions about the thoughts and motives of the other person. Over the thirty years the plot covers their friendship, grief, arguments, disabilities, fame, resentments, deceit, tragedies, and creative processes. Each character is not always likable, perhaps with the exception of Marx, but always portrayed in a realistic manner.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is truly an epic, brilliant, remarkable novel and a love story to a generation and to the creative process itself. Additionally the well-plotted narrative tells an engrossing story that will hold your attention throughout. I'm not a gamer, but have some insight and understanding of games and the work, collaboration, and determination required to make them. Zevin has made this is an intricate part of her exceptional novel while also delving deep into Sam and Sadie's inner thoughts and personal experiences.

This is an epic novel that will likely become a classic depiction of it's characters but also as a reflection of a generation. Even if you are not a gamer, this is literary fiction at it's finest.

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

Sunday, July 10, 2022

The Floating Girls

The Floating Girls by Lo Patrick
7/12/22; 384 pages
Sourcebooks Landmark

The Floating Girls by Lo Patrick is a very highly recommended coming-of-age domestic drama, mystery, and a fine example of Southern fiction. This is an excellent debut novel.

Twelve-year-old Kay Whitaker and her family live off the beaten path by the marshlands in Bledsoe, Georgia. Kay, the youngest in her family, has two older brothers, Peter and Freddy. Her older sister, Sarah-Anne, is unusual, usually non-verbal, and often just stands in the yard "like a twig in mud." Their father, Clay, is habitually unemployed and their mother, Sue-Bess, is distant and emotionally absent. Kay is a feisty, opinionated, talkative, and lonely girl who is always at odds with the rest of her family.

When she is out running in the marshland one day, she comes across a house on stilts and a boy about her age, Andy Webber. From this point on she is fascinated by Andy and his father, Nile, and wants to go over to his house everyday or invite him to her house to play. Her father immediately gets angry and tells her to stay away from the Webbers. This proves to be impossible for Kay, much as it seems impossible to keep "the people from the state" from routinely showing up at their house, at which point they hide Sarah-Anne. When she learns about Mrs. Webber's death years earlier and that everyone in her family knows about it, it marks the beginning of secrets being revealed and changes everything.

Kay is the narrator of the novel and we see everything happen through her point-of-view. She is often defiant and opinionated. She likes to curse to get her family riled up. She can be very insightful, while at the same time she is naive. Some of her observations and descriptions can be humorous and sometimes they are achingly sad. All of this makes her a perfect character to narrate what is her coming-of-age story.

The writing in The Floating Girls is absolutely superb. Patrick captures the setting in descriptive prose that puts you there amid the oppressive heat and humidity in the summer. The marsh become a character as well as the location. The poverty and dynamics of Kay's highly dysfunctional family are also an intrinsic part of the narrative and the secrets that are exposed. All the characters are carefully crafted and depicted as realistic individuals. As the plot unfolds, Patrick manages to capture the heartbreak, confusion, and trauma in pitch-perfect prose.

The Floating Girls is an outstanding debut novel. If you enjoy well-written Southern literary fiction and coming-of-age stories, this would be an excellent choice.

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

Saturday, July 9, 2022

We Lie Here

We Lie Here by Rachel Howzell Hall
7/12/22; 416 pages
Thomas & Mercer

We Lie Here by Rachel Howzell Hall is a recommended domestic thriller.

Yara Gibson, a writer on a television crime drama, reluctantly leaves L.A. and returns to her childhood home in Palmdale, California, to oversee her parents’ 20th wedding anniversary party. Her 19 year-old sister can't help in any constructive way. Her dominating, bossy, and demanding mother wants a party, so Yara feels pressured into making sure she gets what she wants. Adding to the stress is the fact that Yara is asthmatic. The desert dust storms already present a problem, but her mother's demand that Yara stay at the family's home among the pervasive cigarette smoke surely mean nothing but wheezing and struggling for the next breathe.

Then, soon after her arrival, a stranger sends her a text saying, "I have information that will change your life." The message is from a woman called Felicia Campbell, who claims to be a childhood friend of Yara’s mother. She is insistent that the two have to talk. She leaves a key to remote lakeside cabin for Yara, but soon after this Felicia's body is found. What is the big secret and who would kill Felicia to prevent her from telling it to Yara.

Yara is the narrator of the novel and she is a completely realized and sympathetic character. She is really the only appealing character in the novel. She is likable, which kept me reading, but at the same time, there are a couple of fundamental questions that immediately came to mind. The first is the reliability of Yara as a narrator. She has admitted she's forgetful and has anxiety issues. The second is her maturity or inner strength. She is seemingly incapable of saying no to her mother. She didn't just tell her mother: No, I am staying at the hotel. I am trying to quit smoking and will not stay at the smoke filled house. Additionally, her mother demanded that Yara throw her big party for a 20th anniversary, not a really common thing to do.

The greatest drawback to We Lie Here, however, is the very slow pace through most of the novel. It requires a commitment to stay with it until the more intriguing questions arise. Once mysteries begin and secrets begin to be revealed, the plot quickly becomes more interesting, twisty, and intriguing. The ending was worth the long slog through most of the novel. 

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

The It Girl

The It Girl by Ruth Ware
7/12/22; 432 pages
Gallery/Scout Press

The It Girl by Ruth Ware is a very highly recommended, outstanding psychological mystery/thriller that begs you to consider how much can you trust others as well as yourself?

Hannah Jones’s Oxford University roommate, April Clarke-Cliveden, has it all. April is beautiful, wealthy, and sophisticated. She is the ultimate "It" girl, so Hannah is thrilled when the two immediately become best friends. Hannah becomes part of a close group of friends including April, Emily, Ryan, Hugh, and Will. What she could never portend is that April would be dead before the end of the year. This event changed the entire course of Hannah's life.

Ten years later, Hannah and Will are married, living in Edinburgh, and expecting their first child. The man who was convicted of killing April, Oxford Porter John Neville, has just died in prison. His death brings the trauma a decade earlier to the forefront again along with reporters and media contacting Hannah. When one young journalist who is a friend of Ryan presents some new evidence that suggests Neville might have been innocent, Hannah, whose testimony sent Neville to prison, begins to question what she believed to be true about April's murder.

The plot unfolds through Hannah's point-of-view in alternating "before" and "after" chapters. The "before" chapters follow Hannah's arrival at Oxford, her socializing with her friends, and memories of Oxford leading up to April's murder. We meet the group of friends, see their personalities, and observe their interactions with each other through Hannah's eyes. "After" chapters follow Hannah in the present day, her life with Will, her pregnancy, and the growing doubts concerning what she thought was true. She becomes obsessed with trying to uncover what really happened to April.

The It Girl is very well-written, intriguing, captivating, and utterly compelling. I was engaged from beginning to end in this even paced novel. Ware provides details that bring to life the characters and settings. The alternating timelines work remarkably well in the narrative and help to gradually create even more suspense and tension. Every one is a suspect at one time or another as Hannah tries to figure out what happened and if her observations were accurate. I was engrossed right up to the denouement, which was a shocking surprise.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Gallery/Scout Press.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

The Disinvited Guest

The Disinvited Guest by Carol Goodman
4/12/22; 336 pages

The Disinvited Guest by Carol Goodman is a recommended Gothic thriller

It's around 2030 and a new virus has surfaced. Lucy Harper's husband Reed has invited a small group of five close friends and family to isolate themselves on the island that he and his sister Liz own off the coast of Maine. In the 1850's Fever Island was a quarantine site for Irish famine ships and it has a history of stories claiming it is haunted. They have stock the island with supplies and now plan to wait out the new quarantines in isolation. But the history of the island where stories of witches, ghosts, and other spooky beings abound weighs heavy on everyone and when odd occurrences and strange signs begin to appear, the group is on edge. And then it seems that sabotage may threaten the group’s survival.

There are several things that were done right in The Disinvited Guest. The quality of the writing is excellent. The idea of isolating this group of characters on this creepy island is a good concept for a Gothic horror thriller. Providing the island with a tragic history is well played, as are the journal entries from the 1850's included in the plot. The increasing tension and suspicion created as strange occurrences that seem to be supernatural happen, like seeing the Grey Lady, work well. Suspicions are cast upon almost everyone. There are several twists and a surprising ending.

Two major strikes against The Disinvited Guest. First, the characters are truly annoying and not very credible. There were several times I had to suspend my disbelief.  Second, this could have been set during a long summer vacation rather than a new plague ten years in the future. The whole concept of "Oh, there is a new pandemic and we must be full of fear" in this novel lost points with me immediately. Pandemic fear fiction is an ill-advised choice to make as a plot element, no matter how inconsequential it may be to the overall narrative. It is also a senseless and annoying concept for the many people who worked as usual throughout the whole event.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Monday, July 4, 2022

The Perfect Neighborhood

The Perfect Neighborhood by Liz Alterman
7/12/22; 288 pages
Crooked Lane Books

The Perfect Neighborhood by Liz Alterman is a highly recommended suburban drama.

It is the talk of the neighborhood gossips in Oak Hill, New Jersey, when actress and model Allison Langley leaves her former rockstar husband, Chris, at 4 AM. But this is overshadowed when five-year-old Billy Barnes goes missing while walking home from kindergarten. Rachel, Billy's mother blames herself for her career and parenting. Cassidy, Billy's teenage babysitter blames herself because she was late to the Barnes house that day. Police are unable to find any trace of Billy. Perhaps Oak Hill isn't as idyllic as it appears to be on the surface?

The narrative is told mainly from the point-of-view of Allison, Rachel, and Cassidy, in alternating chapters with a few chapters from others in the neighborhood. As the search continues and the neighborhood gossips drink wine and discuss events, there are many secrets exposed and suspects are plentiful. Suspense and tension rises quickly. Everyone judges everyone else and we are privy to their pronouncements.

The quality of the writing is excellent in this suburban domestic drama. The characters resemble archetypes of different personalities rather than real people, but it works in a novel of this type. It is a quick read and an entertaining whodunit with a satisfying denouement. It is also a bit disappointing that whodunit is very predictable, but the appreciation is in the journey to the conclusion. 3.5 rounded up.

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


Upgrade by Blake Crouch
7/12/22; 352 pages
Random House

Upgrade by Blake Crouch is a very highly recommended thriller and science fiction novel about genetic modification and so much more. This is very likely the best science fiction novel of 2022.

Logan Ramsay works for the GPA, Gene Protection Agency, perhaps to atone for his mother's actions. Two hundred million people died when Miriam Ramsay used a biological DNA modifier system in an attempt to eliminate a leaf blight on a rice plant. The virus she created in locusts was responsible for the “Great Starvation” and devastated the world’s rice supply as well as other crops. Logan spent time in prison for his role in this since he was working for her as an intern. Now his job is to stop scientists who are creating genetic modifications that are risky and could wreak havoc on the ecosystem.

In a raid on an illegal lab Logan is infected by a virus that carries a payload encoding the most powerful genome-modifying system ever created. It has been designed specifically for Logan and infects the cells in his body editing and rewriting portions of his DNA. The result is a change in Logan. He is enhanced mentally and physically. He can read, recall facts and details, concentrate, and engage in multitasking easier. When his enhancement is noticed, government agents lock him up.

When someone breaks him out of the facility, it is revealed that his mother didn't die, as he always though. She was still working and choreographed this enhanced intelligence to preserve the human race. Now Logan needs to stop the plan that has been set into motion to significantly upgrade the human species.

Logan Ramsey is a fully realized character and narrates the action. Readers will sympathize with him and understand the complexity underlying the moral questions he is confronting, as well as the sacrifices he is facing.

Upgrade is an exceptional, engaging and entertaining science fiction novel. Once you start reading you will be unable to set this compelling novel down. The intricate plot features heart-stopping suspense while moving at a rapid pace. The concept behind the plot is believable, which makes it alarming, and as the plot develops it becomes even more irresistible, credible, horrifying, and, ultimately, unforgettable. I was totally entrenched in the plot from beginning to end.

Excellent novel and certainly one of the best science fiction/thrillers to come out this year. Crouch has put the science into his science fiction. Don't miss Upgrade, especially if you are a fan of science fiction and Blake Crouch. 

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

Saturday, July 2, 2022

The Last Storm

The Last Storm by Tim Lebbon
7/19/22; 368 pages

The Last Storm by Tim Lebbon is a highly recommended dystopian horror and climate science fiction novel.

A large area of the Great Plains in North America is now known as the Desert after years of drought. The people remaining in the area have a hard scrabble, bleak existence between the famine and drought.  Ash is a young woman traveling around the vast wasteland looking for parts that she needs to build a rain making device. The parts she needs will call out and sing to her. She is one of the mythical Rainmakers.

Jesse made and wielded a rainmaking device of his own. The last time he made it rain, he brought forth not only water, but also venomous scorpions, snakes, and spiders. After this he has eschewed using it again. Now he lives alone. Ash is his daughter and inherited his abilities, but Jesse believes she is dead. When his estranged wife Karina unexpectedly arrives, informing him that Ash is still alive and planning to start rainmaking, the two set out to find her. But they aren't the only ones looking. 

The opening of The Last Storm tells of the last time Jesse used his device. The narrative clearly describes the process to make it rain, but also the horror which followed. It is understandable why he hides from the world, why he would not want Ash to make a device. Ash on the other hand is completely in thrall to her need to make a device. The need is in her blood and she is compelled, one could say born, to do this. This is her coming-of-age story, but as with any story of maturation there is always a hurdle or challenge that must be confronted or overcame.

This is an excellent, compelling, and harrowing horror novel that should appeal to many readers. The characters are all fully realized and portrayed with a rich depth and understanding of human nature. It is their development and portrayal that make this a powerful, atmospheric novel. Chapters alternate between the point-of-view of multiple characters. This helps the plot move along quickly while developing the characters and describing the changed landscape they live in. The parched land itself becomes a character as any lush plants are long dead while nasty devil grass thrives. (I have a few qualms over some minor plot points that most readers will likely accept or overlook.)

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Titan.