Sunday, October 30, 2022

We Are the Light

We Are the Light by Matthew Quick
11/1/22; 256 pages
Simon& Schuster

We Are the Light by Matthew Quick is a very highly recommended epistolary novel and one of the best novels I have read this year. It is both inspiring and heartbreaking.

Lucas Goodgame lives in Majestic, Pennsylvania, and is the survivor of a horrific event that occurred in the town's movie theater where 17 people died, including his wife. He sees his deceased wife, Darcy, every night when she visits him as an angel. Darcy's best friend, Jill, has moved into the house to help care for him. Lucas is trying to come to terms with his trauma and the recovery by writing letters to his former Jungian analyst, Karl. Karl's wife always died and he is no longer seeing patients. When Eli, the eighteen-year-old brother of the shooter begins camping out in Lucas' yard, Lucas naturally wants to help him and the two come up with an idea that will help Eli and the surviving family members of the other victims heal.

The narrative of the novel is written through the letters Lucas writes to Karl in which he honestly shares his struggles, thoughts, feelings, and the events occurring. Lucas is a good person who deeply cares about others even while he is grieving, so helping Eli, who is also struggling to heal and recover after the tragic event, comes naturally. Much later the full scope of the massacre is reveal. The terms and methods of Jungian analysis are used throughout the narrative in Lucas's letters to Karl. This didn't bother me, but other readers might find it off-putting.

Lucas is a wonderful character who immediately garnered my full support. I cared about him as he wrote the letters to Karl and wanted him to find the help he so needed and was looking for. Eli's project in the novel gives him direction and helps heal Eli, but it is clear from the start that Lucas also needed help.

The epistolary presentation of the narrative is admirably and skillfully handled. Focusing on the healing of Lucas and his care for the other survivors was a meaningful way to handle the topic of a mass shooting. The twist in the novel is an emotional, poignant, and heartbreaking revelation that will lead to a breakthrough in the healing journey of Lucas. It left me a sobbing mess. This is a memorable novel that will stay with me for a long time and one of the best novels of the year.

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

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Before You Knew My Name

Before You Knew My Name by Jacqueline Bublitz
11/1/22; 320 pages
Atria/Emily Bestler Books

Before You Knew My Name by Jacqueline Bublitz is a recommended murder mystery.

Alice Lee arrived in NYC with nothing but $600 and a stolen camera and ended up dead a month later. Ruby Jones leaves Australia and arrives in NYC at the same time. Ruby is the one to find Alice's body by the Hudson River. While Alice is a Jane Doe, Ruby becomes consumed with finding out her identity and what happened to her. Alice follows Ruby and silently encourages her to find out the answer to her murder as well as learn to set boundaries in her life.

Alice narrates her part of the novel from the grave, and her spirit tells her story and her encouragement of Ruby's search for the truth. Both are running away from bad relationships, although the kind of bad relationship is quite different. Alice was definitely being used/abused. She had a tragic background and made a poor choice encouraged by an adult who should be held responsible. Ruby was a knowing participant in her problematic relationship with a man already in a relationship.

The focus of the novel is the tragedy of Alice's life being cut short, and Ruby suffering from the trauma of finding Alice's body while caring about the identity of the young woman. The guilty party is evident right after being introduced. While examining loneliness, loss, love, interpersonal connections, and the ability of humans to survive and recover, the novel moves at a slow pace in the beginning and it is a slog to get through to the point where the narrative picks up some speed. Additionally, these two characters are not intriguing individuals and the narration from beyond the grave felt gimmicky rather than groundbreaking.

Before You Knew My Name is an okay novel with potential that was unrealized. It is an interesting murder mystery that is easily forgettable. I'm unable to fathom the rave reviews and having a problematic time looking at this as a groundbreaking novel. There have been other novels that cover the pertinent topics much better. The quality of the writing will certainly have me reading another novel by Bublitz.

The description of NYC as the real world and the dismissal of the star spangled flags from small town
America at the beginning of the novel was an immediate turn-off. After many visits to the Big Apple, I'm always happy and grateful to leave. Always. Especially now.  It is hardly the real world. Great place to visit and then leave.

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

Friday, October 28, 2022


Interface by Scott Britz-Cunningham
11/1/22; 464 pages
Keylight Books

Interface by Scott Britz-Cunningham is a highly recommended science fiction investigative mystery.

In the future the governments around the world require everyone at age 14 to be linked by a brain implant called the Interface. It replaces cell phones and computers and has become something everyone depends upon for everyday life. All the information you need is immediately available and you can connect to anyone at any time. It is also illegal to not have the Interface, upon penalty of death.

Taikai Graf invented the Interface and has been presumed dead for years. His half-brother Egon is head of the USA's FATA, Federal Anti-Terrorist Authority, and he wields his power as a draconian threat. NYPD captain Yara Avril was married to Egon, but loved Taikai. Yara starts investigating a case of a man that has went on a bizarre rampage, when Egon and the FATA inexplicably take it over. It becomes clear that much more is going on and Yara fights to continue her own investigation which leads her to question the presumed death of Taikai and the wisdom of the implants.

Brain implants are an interesting premise for a novel, but the real focus is the investigation into where Taikai is and why he is taking his current course of action. There are a few scenes, however, that could have easily been edited out to keep the focus on the actual plot but these can easily be skipped over. The medical information provided to back up the Interface is realistic due to the author's background, but the actual plot requires some suspension of disbelief.

The writing is to the point and the plot, the investigation, is compelling. The characters aren't fully realized, but the real reason to read the novel is to find out why Taikai is on his present course of action, what is his end game, and, ultimately, to consider our current addiction to always being plugged in and what this could mean in our near future.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Keylight Books via Edelweiss. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

The Singularities

The Singularities by John Banville
10/25/22; 320 pages
Knopf Doubleday

The Singularities by John Banville is a recommended multilayered literary novel from a revered wordsmith. This one is for those who love literary writing by a true wordsmith.

A murderer recently released from prison, now calls himself Felix Mordaunt. He returns to returns to his childhood home, Arden House, where the descendants of Adam Godley, a legendary scientist, currently lives. Mordaunt becomes a part of the household working as a driver and servant. Soon another stranger joins the household with his own agenda. As the two compete for favor, they uncover each other's secrets. The narrative continues to move from one point of view to another. Characters from previous novels are revisited, alternative universes are explored, and the normal boundaries are gone.

Readers can expect beautiful, intelligent writing with clear literary references. Let me be clear, the writing, the careful crafting of sentences, is the draw, the allure of The Singularities for me. The atmospheric (and often scattered) story is one of redemption, nostalgia, life, death, and quantum theory. It is obvious that there is no clear plot in sight. The novel started out promising and then went downhill fast until it was simply the well crafted sentences and descriptions that held my attention. I'm sorry, but I need some plot.

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

Monday, October 24, 2022

A Strange Habit of Mind

A Strange Habit of Mind by Andrew Klavan
10/25/22; 288 pages
Mysterious Press
Cameron Winter #2

A Strange Habit of Mind by Andrew Klavan is a very highly recommended thriller and the second book in the Cameron Winter series. I loved this second book even more than the first and am looking forward to more novels featuring Cameron Winter in the future.

A young man, Adam Kemp, texts someone he trusts with two words, "Help me," and then jumps off a building. The man he trusted is Cameron Winter, currently an English professor who was once a spy with a secret government agency called the Division. Winter tries to contact Kemp unsuccessfully, and then looks into what happened. After talking to the detective who investigated the case, Winter has a few more questions about the reason for Kemp's final decision. Winter begins to look into Kemp's life and after talking to Kemp's girlfriend, he begins to suspect her brother-in-law, Big Tech billionaire Gerald Byrne may have had a hand in Kemp's death, as well as the death of others.

Winter is a wonderfully unique and fully realized character. He has what he calls "a strange habit of mind." He is able to look at a situation from all angles and reach a clear understanding of what actually happened. He is also haunted by his past, questions the idea of spiritual faith, and struggles with a guilty conscious over what he has done. Excerpts from Winter's therapy sessions where he talks about his background and his guilt are included between chapters with more action. These help to create a picture of who Winter is and what he is struggling with.

Once I started reading, I was totally engrossed in the story from start to finish. The mysteries that need to be solved, the suspense created as the danger rises, and the analytical problems that must be handled within the thriller made the action and the characters memorable. Winter may know what his "strange habit of mind" is telling him, but it is sheer pleasure in following along, putting the clues together, and figuring out what he knew long before the reader.

The writing is absolutely excellent, as one would expect from a seasoned, experienced two time Edgar winner. Klavan has provided an exceptional second novel for the series. As a strong, independent, modern woman I loved this novel and am looking forward to another installment in the series. A Strange Habit of Mind was a pleasure to read.

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

No Plan B

No Plan B by Lee Child, Andrew Child
10/25/22; 368 pages
Random House Publishing
Jack Reacher #27

No Plan B by Lee Child, Andrew Child is a highly recommended action thriller and the 27th novel in the Jack Reacher series.

Jack Reacher is passing through Gerrardsville, Colorado, when he sees a man stealthily push a woman under the wheels of a moving bus. He is the only witness who saw the complete view of the murder and the killer taking the woman's purse. The death is ruled a suicide, but, Reacher, being who he his, chased the killer down and now he is a target. When urge to not get involved, he doesn't care. He is going to find out why the woman was murdered and who is responsible. The problem is that those responsible don't truly understand the talents of Reacher and think any threat he poses can easily be eliminated.

Adding to the main story line which follows Reacher's quest for justice, there are two other subplots. In one, a 15-year-old boy runs away from his foster home in L.A. after learning from his dying birth mother the identity of his father. The second one is a father, who is also an arsonist, is seeking vengeance for his son’s death.

This thriller moves along at a rapid pace, with plenty of complications and twists along the way. Readers of the series know there will be violence as Reacher dispenses justice and stops the bad guys. Reacher should be a known character by this time, along with his physique, background, and determination to right wrongs and bring justice to whatever situation he encounters. You might have to suspend disbelief, but No Plan B, the latest addition to the series, will be read for the action movie plot, clever fight scenes, and escapism. 

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

The Dark Room

The Dark Room by Lisa Gray
10/25/22; 288 pages
Thomas & Mercer

The Dark Room by Lisa Gray is a highly recommended thriller full of lies and betrayal.

Leonard Blaylock was a crime reporter before he cheated on his fiancée, Caroline Cooper, which ended very badly for his relationship and career. Now he freelances and spends most of his days buying and developing mystery film, the forgotten and discarded rolls of film of strangers. When he develops one roll, he finds pictures of a murdered woman. Leonard recognizes the woman as "Red," a woman he had a one-night stand with five years earlier, the night he thought she died, the night Leonard lost his fiancée and career. If she didn't die five years ago, then what really happened and who was she.

Leonard is an unappealing character, however readers will be sympathetic to his current situation, when he realizes he was deceived five years earlier and it was certainly a planned event. But it is also clear he was using drugs, cheating on his fiancée, and fled the scene when he thought Red had died. He contacts Martha Weaver, a woman he knows who is also into mystery film. The two begin to work together to try and figure out what happened five years ago,

The plot unfolds through the point-of-view of several different characters, and also moves in different timelines. This allows tension to build because you don't know exactly what happened and who did what. Leonard may have been behaving badly five years earlier, but he wasn't the only on harboring secrets and schemes. Oh, the darkness that hides in the human heart. There are multiple suspects and duplicity is prevalent at every turn. With the disclosure of new information uncovered during the investigations by Leonard and Martha, the narrative includes plenty of twists and surprises.

The story line moves forward at a steady pace as the new clues and information are revealed. At times you will have to suspend some disbelief, but this is an entertaining thriller. 3.5 rounded up.

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

Monday, October 17, 2022

The Boys from Biloxi

The Boys from Biloxi by John Grisham
10/18/22; 464 pages
Knopf Doubleday

The Boys from Biloxi by John Grisham is a very highly recommended legal thriller and the story of two families.

Biloxi, Mississippi, is known for its beaches, resorts and seafood industry, but it is also know for gambling, liquor, and prostitution which is run by a small group with tacit approval by the local police. Keith Rudy and Hugh Malco, two sons from Croatian immigrant families grow up as friends in Biloxi in the 1960s, head in different directions as teens, and find themselves on opposites sides of the law as adults. Hugh’s father, Lance, became the “Boss” of Biloxi’s criminal underground. Keith's father Jesse, became a lawyer determined to take down the illegal establishments plaguing Biloxi.

The narrative of The Boys from Biloxi is the kind of intricately plotted and detail oriented story that will grab you and pull you into the lives of these fully realized characters. Rather than a story with lots of twists and surprises, this is a legal thriller, but more essentially it is a family drama spanning generations and decades while covering the history of Biloxi and the fictional families involved in this saga. The enjoyment is the details of the story, who does what over the decades, the choices the characters make as well as the consequences of these choices. The novel starts out at an even pace before it takes off and picks up speed.

The writing is excellent in all areas: the quality of the writing, the complexity of the plot, the establishing of the setting, the development of the characters, the corruption, and the courtroom scenes. Everything on the pages springs to life under Grisham's hands and these characters and the story become real. It should be mentioned that the novel is populated with male characters, with females taking a secondary role, but it works as the focus of the novel is on fathers and sons as well as the male dominated social circle that dominated the area.

I loved this long family saga that is rich in details and atmosphere while creating a tense and compelling drama.

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

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Found Object

Found Object by Anne Frasier
10/18/22; 272 pages
Thomas & Mercer

Found Object by Anne Frasier is a very highly recommended psychological thriller. I could not put this found object down, which counts for a lot. Arguably Found Object might have a few flaws, but I was totally engrossed in the story, start to finish, and, oh my, what a finish!

In the opening Jupiter Bellarose, an investigative journalist, is leaving the hospital after recovering from a breakdown brought on by her latest investigation. Now 36 years-old, Jupiter is no novice to adversity. At sixteen she and her father went to her famous actress mother's house only to find the police there and her mother's dismembered body in the backyard. Her editor, hoping to give her a lighter story, is sending Jupiter to Savannah to cover the 100th anniversary of the cosmetic company Luminescent. It's not as simple as it sounds. Savannah is where Jupiter grew up, her semi-estranged father still lives there in her mother's home, and Luminescent is the beauty company her mother, Marie Nova, was the "face of." With all of this in play, it is doubtful Jupiter's homecoming is going to be as relaxing as her editor hoped.

Every clue, every new development is handled masterfully. I was completely engaged in the entire novel and savored the clues provided, Jupiter's observations, and the advancements in the investigation. Jupiter may seem like a chameleon with conflicting actions and emotions as a character, but with her background it seems like she has learned over the years to perform her role well. Plus, the clues are all there for the detailed oriented reader to follow.

The well-written narrative moves along at a brisk pace and follows story lines set in the past and present with adept skill while providing great character development. All the loose ends and story lines were provided with closure. Now, admittedly, the ending was a maelstrom of exciting new information and developments evolving at a riotous pace. I set all my disbelief and misgivings aside, went with it, and really enjoyed the entire novel, including the sudden, multiple twists at the end.

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

Friday, October 14, 2022

A Fearsome Moonlight Black

A Fearsome Moonlight Black by David Putnam
10/18/22; 330 pages
Level Best Books
Dave Beckett #1

A Fearsome Moonlight Black by David Putnam is a very highly recommended police procedural set in two timelines, 1979 and 1988, and presented in two parts.

In 1979 Dave Beckett is a 21 year-old rookie on probation with a police department in West Valley, a small town in Southern California. Dave tries his best to do a good job and is proud to be a cop, but then he get several of the toughest cases in the department. He also reconnects with Beth, a woman that he had a crush on in high school. During the last case in the 1979 time period, he is attacked and the timeline jumps forward to part two of the book set in 1988. Now Dave is a homicide detective in the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s department. His marriage to Beth is in jeopardy and he has a five-year-old-daughter. He also understands now that everything isn't always cut and dried and that those thought to be the good guys aren't always good. Dave ends up going back in time when he was a rookie and taking a closer look at some of the cases he had.

Dave is a realistically portrayed character and there is definitely growth in his character simply due to time. The writing is very good as Putnam follows multiple complicated cases in an intricate plot that has an authenticity that will hold your attention throughout the novel. This is a gritty look behind the public image.

Book one is an even paced look at the life of a rookie cop while book two becomes a much more intense and complex investigation undertaken by a more seasoned investigator. Book one is interesting but book two is much more compelling due to Dave's experience and insight. Apparently book one is closer to the real life experiences of author David Putnam while book two is fiction. Putnam does a good job depicting the life of a law enforcement officer while presenting an investigation that enters thriller territory in the second part. There is a satisfying conclusion to the narrative.

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

Wednesday, October 12, 2022


Duplicity by Shawn Wilson
10/18/22; 256 pages
Oceanview Publishing
Brian (Brick) Kavanagh #2

Duplicity by Shawn Wilson is a recommended investigative novel.

Retired homicide detective Brian (Brick) Kavanagh is returning home to Washington, D.C. after spending three months in Ireland recovering from the trauma of his last case. It is good to be home among friends and, even better, he and Nora, an Aer Lingus flight attendant, are planning to continue seeing each other when she is in the USA.

When a job opening at a local university presents itself, Brick isn't especially interested at first. The job would be training criminology students on techniques in solving cold cases, but the case does intrigue him. Professor Grace Alexander has chosen the hit-and-run death of a grad student where the prime suspect has diplomatic immunity and the case file is interesting. Brick proceeds on to Chicago to spend a weekend with Nora, when he receives distressing news. Jasmine, the wife of his former partner and friend, Rob, and their infant twins have disappeared, and possibly were kidnapped. Brick rushes back to support Rob and assist in any way to finding his wife and children.

This follows the first Brick Kavanagh novel Relentless, although you can read Duplicity without having read the first novel. Duplicity is a very comfortable procedural to read. The chapters are short which keeps the narrative highly focused on the two cases presented as the plot moves along at an even pace. Both cases are resolved at the end of the novel.

As mentioned, this is a very comfortable novel to read. Brick treats women with respect, which is appreciated, but he's also kind of a bland character. The opening chapter set in Ireland was interesting, but it didn't add anything to the rest of the story, beyond adding Nora as a character. All of this could have been covered in a few paragraphs. There are a lot of descriptions of what people are eating or drinking, which was different in an investigative novel. There was also a bit too much telling of the story versus showing the story.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Oceanview Publishing.

The Last Chairlift

The Last Chairlift by John Irving
10/18/22; 912 pages
Simon & Schuster

The Last Chairlift by John Irving is the highly recommended, albeit long-winded, story of the life of Adam Brewster. This one is best for fans of Irving who will already be delighted to see a new novel.

Adam Brewster shares an account of his life in this first person narrative. In 1941 Adam Brewster's mother, Rachel (Ray) manages to get pregnant in Aspen, Colorado, at the National Championships where she was competing as a slalom skier. The Brewster's live in Exeter, Vermont where Ray is a ski instructor, but she leaves Adam with her mother and sisters during the ski season. His grandmother really raises Adam. All of Adam's family members are a progressive group of women and this is reflected in the plot. Basically, the is the story of Adam's life.

Certainly Irving covers all the topics that one expects him to cover in a novel. These topics include: New Hampshire, unusual mothers, absent fathers, writers, ghosts, prep schools, dysfunctional family relationships, wrestling, sexuality, politics, cultural changes, etc.. Following Adam's life from 1941 to the present, this is a novel that will celebrates unique families and the affection they share. It exhibits tolerance and understanding for those who are different.

The major drawback is that The Last Chairlift is simply too long. Honestly, this is a novel that will exasperate many reader because it is so rambling and the plot is weak. About a quarter of the novel is a screenplay written by Adam. This is really a novel for fans of Irving's writing. If you haven't read any of his novels, go back and start with The World According to Garp, A Prayer for Owen Meany, or Cider House Rules. Between the length and the repetition in the writing, many readers will want to pass this one. Irving has penned much better works, but he has said that this is his last long novel.

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

Monday, October 10, 2022


1989 by Val McDermid
10/11/22; 416 pages
Allie Burns #2

1989 by Val McDermid is a highly recommended second novel featuring investigative journalist Allie Burns and following events in 1989.

Allie Burns is running the northern news operation of the Sunday Globe, but she is till an investigative reporter at heart. While covering the memorial service for Lockerbie Pan Am bombing victims, she receives a lead over another story about HIV/AIDS patients and pharmaceutical companies. This is just the start as Allie covers 1989, an unsettling year that I wasn't sure I wanted to return to, but following Allie through the events was interesting. The plot mainly focuses on the Aids/HIV crisis, but also sends Allie to East Germany, covers Gorbachev, perestroika to the Berlin Wall coming down and numerous events in-between.

Allie and her girlfriend, Rona, are both fully realized characters who work well together in the narrative and help add depth to the plot. There are little details included in the plot that will take readers who remember back in time while the narrative also covers the bigger, news worthy topics from the time. There are plenty of little pop culture references included in the plot. The writing is excellent, as expected, but the novel did feel a little overly long and slow-moving. Perhaps covering so many well researched events from one year was a bit too much, but 1999 will be an interesting third novel to this series that started with 1979.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Grove/Atlantic via NetGalley.

Saturday, October 8, 2022

The Maze

The Maze by Nelson DeMille
1/11/22; 464 pages
John Corey #8

The Maze by Nelson DeMille is a so-so thriller.

There is a lot of retelling of events in Corey's past as found in previous novels. This is helpful to new readers, but the recounting of his past activities went on too long and needed to be edited down to a more manageable summary in the narrative with repetition eliminated. This is also a slow moving novel and takes way-too-long to actually pick up the pace. While some of Corey's constant quips and jokes are funny, all of the constant sexual jokes, thoughts, crude comments, etc. became tiring after, perhaps ten pages. All of the subsequent sexual jokes and comments were just annoy and grating. If non-sexual sarcastic comments, jokes, and observations were the majority with the sexual comments very sparingly thrown in, it would have made the novel much more satisfying - along with less retelling of Corey's past escapades. I managed to make myself finish this novel and the plot doesn't get good until the very end.

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

Beasts of the Earth

Beasts of the Earth by James Wade
10/11/22; 350 pages
Blackstone Publishing

Beasts of the Earth by James Wade is very highly recommended literary fiction.

Two timelines are followed in the novel. First, in 1987 Harlen LeBlanc is an employee of the grounds department at Carter Hills High School in Texas. He is a quiet man who keeps to himself and his routines. When his coworker and recent high school graduate, Gene Thomas, is discovered holding the dead body of a former girlfriend, he is charged with her murder.  LeBlanc is certain that Gene is not responsible and he sets out to find the guilty party.

In Louisiana in 1965, 12 year-old Michael Fischer tries his best to protect his younger sister and survive with his fanatical mother. He steals from trap lines in the bayou to provide for his family. Then his father, a child rapist and murderer, returns from serving his prison sentence. His father's evil actions eventually result in Michael fleeing and finding help and safety with an older man who is dying, but more importantly is a kind and good man who rescues him. He teaches Michael to be good and care even when the world around you is bad and uncaring.

This is a beautifully written, descriptive novel that skillfully intertwines the two stories in the alternate time lines. The narratives in the two timelines are both tightly plotted and create suspense in events that are surely coming in both story lines. Although crimes and investigations occur, Beasts of the Earth is not a procedural or investigative novel. It is a pensive, thoughtful novel reflecting on what it means to be a truly good person in a world full of wickedness and corruption. Even in the most forlorn and bleak moments, there is still a small measure of hope and, perhaps, redemption for the characters.

Beasts of the Earth is a visceral, disturbing tale that explores polarizing themes, including hate and love, fate and free will, trauma and goodness. It poetically yet starkly confronts how to deal with evil and guilt all while moving steadfastly toward a heartbreaking ending.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of  Blackstone Publishing via NetGalley.

Thursday, October 6, 2022

Bad Vibes Only

Bad Vibes Only: (and Other Things I Bring to the Table) by Nora McInerny
10/11/22; 224 pages
Atria/One Signal Publishers

Bad Vibes Only: (and Other Things I Bring to the Table) by Nora McInerny is a highly recommended collection of nineteen essays.

In the "Before We Begin" opening where McInerny discusses people saying everything is "fine" in response to the question, "how are you?" no matter how things really are, she immediately won my heart as a co-worker and I repeatedly would say, "It's fine, everything is fine" to each other in stressed out voices while running to handle one crisis after another. These essays excel in the truisms that reside within them and many people will be able to relate to most of the essays on some level.

The essays are all honest and reflect on events that have happened in her life, some of them are weighty, and this is where their strength lies. Subjects cover include in part: grief and loss, parenting, self-improvement, aging, makeup, teenage years, several childhood experiences, mental health, social media, and more. All of the essays are firmly experiences from her life, which made them skew a bit on the younger side for me, but they will likely resonate much more with people, especially mothers, in their thirties to early forties.

The writing is very good and the topics are interesting. McInerny uses humor and vulnerability to share the empathetic insights into her life. As with any collection of essays, not all of them will appeal to everyone but most readers will find something to enjoy in this collection. And the cover is very appealing.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Atria/One Signal via NetGalley.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

The Face of the Waters

The Face of the Waters by Robert Silverberg
10/11/22 ; 386 pages 
Three Rooms Press
originally published 10/1/91

The Face of the Waters by Robert Silverberg  is a highly recommended re-release of the classic science fiction novel originally published 10/1/91.

After the destruction of Earth, a surviving groups of humans are living are living on other planets. Hydros is a world covered in oceans and has a few artificial islands. When a human commits an offense against a group of  intelligent aquatic mammals, the human population of the island Sorve are forced into exile. The group is on six ships and they are searching for new home while navigating oceans full of hostile intelligent creatures as well as bad weather.

Silverberg excels at creating worlds and this gift is in full display here. The world building is what makes The Face of the Waters worth reading and I'm sure it is why it is being re-released. The intelligent creatures he imagines and populate Hydro with is incredible, as are the artificial islands humans populate.

The epic is told through the point-of-view of Valben Lawler, the doctor, who is addicted to drugs trying to treat his own problems, but he is a moral character.  Delegard, who is disagreeable as a character still portrays some redeeming human characteristics.  The Face of the Waters clearly explores what it means to be human and in a community in contrast to what it is to be alien.

There are several plot elements that date the novel to be clearly written in 1991. There is a mystery embedded in the novel and the ending is satisfying, but, as a fan, Silverberg has written better. 3.5rounded up

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Three Rooms Press.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Blind Faith

Blind Faith by Alicia Beckman
10/11/22; 336 pages
Crooked Lane Books

Blind Faith by Alicia Beckman is a highly recommended mystery.

There are several different mysteries that need to be resolved. Lindsay Keller is a lawyer who currently handles real estate deals and historic preservation projects in Billings, Montana. When she is given a wallet found on a property, she realizes immediately it belongs to Father Michael Leary, who disappeared years ago and is presumed dead.

Detective Brian Donovan has moved to Billings from Boston and taking on a notorious cold case intrigues him. The case is propelled to the forefront with the discovery of the wallet and Donovan is carefully examining all the case notes from years ago.

In Portland, Ore., Carrie Matheson, knew Father Mike. When she was young, her Baba and little sister, Ginger, moved to Billings following Father Mike. She was in her senior year of high school  when something happened that had them moving yet again. This time to Portland, Oregon.

Lindsay and Donovan are both examining and digging deeper into Father Mike's murder. Carrie, on the other hand, is researching her family tree to try and help her grandson get into a drug trial. He has cystic fibrosis and in order to be accepted into the drug trial, he needs a complete genealogy. Her investigation leads to Father Mike and Lindsay and Donovan. There is also the question of how does this all connect to an event in the 70's when a man forces another car off a cliff.

The characters are fully realized as unique individuals. You will care about what happens, but there are many characters, which requires, again, that you pay close attention to all of them and remember the facts surrounding them.

This is a well-written intelligent and complex mystery that spans decades and moves forward at a steady, even pace. Chapters are headed by the year and this is very important because the narrative jumps back and forth between years as well as the points-of-view of various characters. Clues to what is happening in the present are found in these chapters which requires readers to pay close attention to when and where the chapter is set. The switching back and forth can also be a bit disconcerting. This is an excellent mystery but the jumping timelines made it a much slower trip to the satisfying conclusion.

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

Sunday, October 2, 2022

The Animals

The Animals by Cary Fagan
10/4/22; 220 pages
Book*hug Press

The Animals by Cary Fagan is a highly recommended literary modern fable.

Dorn lives in a curious tourist village and makes miniature scale models which are displayed in the local shops. He pines for schoolteacher Ravenna, dutifully visits his elderly father who treats him callously, and has a younger brother who treats him as an afterthought. His life is quiet, predictable, and unassuming. As he makes his way through his unobtrusive daily routine he notices neighbors participating in the government-sponsored "Wild Home Project" which has wild animals, like wolves, rats, minks, otters, and bear, move into the villagers homes.

The pages will fly by in this compact novel. The writing is excellent and the narrative resembles an allegorical fairy tale. The moral or lesson is conceivably along the lines of one must be their own advocate and make their own way through the world, and that wild animals are just that, wild and unpredictable, much like many people.  Dorn is a sympathetic character and readers will support him as he goes through his days encountering various characters. The final denouement, or perhaps an alternate moral to the story, may be that life requires you to be brave, take chances, and embrace change.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Book*hug Press via NetGalley.

Saturday, October 1, 2022

A Place to Land

A Place to Land by Lauren K. Denton
10/4/22; 336 pages
Harper Muse

A Place to Land by Lauren K. Denton is highly recommended atmospheric Southern mystery.

Violet Figg and her sister Trudy live in the small town of Sugar Bend, Alabama where the two own an arts and craft store called Two Sisters. Violet has always been her sister's protector since their mother left their abusive father when she was seventeen and Trudy was fourteen. Her role was cemented, though, forty years ago when a traumatic incident left Trudy no longer speaking. She has used notes to communicate ever since and spends her time making sculptures from found objects. Violet spends her time monitoring bird activity and working at their store. When an old boat shows up on a riverbank, it brings an old mystery back into the present.

At the same time, Maya, a young eighteen-year-old, has left the foster care system and is looking for a place to belong. She has moved into town where she found a part time job. Maya has also discovered Two Sisters and is engrossed with Trudy's sculptures and Trudy allows her to help her with them.

This is a well-written, slow-paced mystery that takes its time to introduce the characters and setting while inserting a creeping sense of mystery and uncertainty into the narrative. The plot clearly examines family, love, acceptance, and redemption, along with finding a way or place to belong and use your gifts. It also has characters facing their actions and the consequences of those deeds while including the difficult topics of domestic violence and murder.

The novel is told through two time periods, the present day and events back in the 1970's and 1980's. There is a reoccurring ominous sign that something distressing is coming. This went a bit over-the-top for me, but it does set the stage for events forthcoming and secrets that will soon be revealed. 3.5 rounded up.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Harper Muse via NetGalley.

The Family Home

The Family Home by Miranda Smith
10/3/22; 292 pages

The Family Home by Miranda Smith is a highly recommended psychological thriller.

Lillian and Mathew are divorced and have an amicable relationship. For the sake of their daughter Mabel, and their finances, they share the family home. This means that Mabel stays in the house, while Lillian and Matthew take turns between staying at the house or in an apartment that they also share. It's an unconventional agreement that works for them. They trust each other, especially after the secret they share.

After celebrating Mabel's birthday, which is also Lillian's birthday, Lillian heads home to the apartment when she is asked out for a drink by a mutual friend. When Lillian finally makes it back to the apartment, she falls asleep on the sofa. When she wakes up later, she heads to her bedroom only to discover a dead body in her bed. First she calls Matthew, and then she calls the police. Lillian is immediately a suspect.

The characters are not memorable as they are standard caricatures, types of people, put into place to propel the plot forward. This doesn't really matter as the plot is the focus and purpose of the novel. Admittedly, the first part of the novel was stronger than the resolution, but the plot holds together and includes plenty of secrets. The dual timeline following the present day and a year ago works well with the plot as does the alternating point-of-view in the narrative. This is a fast paced psychological thriller that will immediately grab your attention and hold it right to the ending.

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