Wednesday, September 20, 2023

One Last Kill

One Last Kill by Robert Dugoni
10/3/23; 351 pages
Thomas & Mercer
Tracy Crosswhite #10

One Last Kill by Robert Dugoni is a very highly recommended procedural investigating cold cases from a serial killer and the tenth novel in the Detective Tracy Crosswhite series.

When the Seattle Times plans to run a series of articles about the Route 99 serial killer from 25 years ago, Detective Tracy Crosswhite is ordered to reopening the investigation by Police chief Marcella Weber. After thirteen victims, the serial killer seemed to stop and the task force at the time, lead by Captain Johnny Nolasco, reached no conclusion. Weber assigns Nolasco to work with Tracy in solving the cold cases. The two try to set their rocky relationship aside to solve the decades old cases and bring closure to the families of the victims. They also know that Weber is targeting them for dismissal should they fail.

Even the concept that Tracy and Nolasco are working together on a case will certainly be a huge draw for fans of the series who will also be rewarded with many of the characters from previous books making an appearance. Tracy continues to be a fully realized complex character and this time even Nolasco shows more depth and nuance.

As expected, the writing is outstanding. For much of the investigation this is a more cerebral procedural rather than an action-packed thriller, which is to be expected with a cold case investigation from 25 years ago. It will appeal to anyone who enjoys reading about the clues and puzzles that a cold case investigation presents as the evidence is re-examined through a new set of eyes. It also helps that there have been great advances in technology and DNA testing since the original case.

Another great addition to a winning series! The great news is that  One Last Kill can be read as a stand alone.

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


Monday, September 18, 2023

My Darling Girl

My Darling Girl by Jennifer McMahon
10/3/23; 320 pages
Gallery/Scout Press

My Darling Girl by Jennifer McMahon is a very highly recommended psychological horror.  I was afraid to keep reading but more scared not to find out what happened. This one had me start biting my nails. 

Alison's mother, Mavis, could be loving but was also an abusive alcoholic and she still has the physical and mental scars to prove it. It is early December and the family is decorating the house when Mavis's assistant Paul calls to let Alison know her mother is dying from cancer and only has weeks to live. Despite her childhood trauma, Ali is cautiously optimistic that Mavis really wants to try to have a relationship with her family and say good-bye, so she agrees to open up her home to her mother. It quickly becomes clear that her mother is not always who she seems to be and Ali may need to protect her own family.

That Alison would open up her home to her mother after the horrific childhood experiences she endured, is amazing and commendable. Then, when she didn't immediately ship her mother off to a facility when odd things begin to happen is shocking, more so after she begins to suspect what is happening. Clearly Alison is a complex, fully realized character. Once she begins to suspect demonic possession is stalking her family, all bets are off.

The writing is obviously excellent, compelling, and engaging. (Picture someone reading peeking between their fingers, scared, but still actively reading because they need to know what happened next.) The story is chilling and heartbreaking. Alison must unpack her mother's secrets in order to understand what is happening and then she will also know what her response to it will be. But her mothers behavior and words are bone-chilling frightening and her true self, or the evil side, only seems to come out when Alison is around.

The pages fly by in this totally engrossing, eerie foreboding narrative that will hold readers complete attention throughout. Well done, Jennifer McMahon you've proven yet again that you are an exceptional writer!

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

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Duplicity: My Mothers' Secrets

Duplicity: My Mothers' Secrets by Donna Freed
9/19/23; 252 pages
Muswell Press

Duplicity: My Mothers' Secrets by Donna Freed is recommended for readers who appreciate a wide variety of autobiographies and memoirs.

Donna learned she and her older siblings were adopted when she was six, a fact that her parents left unsaid unless specifically asked about it. Her adoptive mother was unconventional and as recorded, not always a very good and caring parent, but they came to terms with their relationship before she passed away. It is after her mother passed away that, as an adult in her 30's, Donna began looking for her birth mother and when she found her she also found a link to a true crime story. In 1967, her birth mother and father were involved with a scheme to collect a double indemnity insurance claim.

This is a novel of two parts. the first is Donna's childhood and her relationship with her dysfunctional adoptive parents, especially her mother. The second happens much later, after the half way point, and covers her search for her birth mother. Generally, I enjoy memoirs, but this one is not quite as compelling or interesting as the description implies. Honestly, the writing is average and nothing in her story reads like a thriller. There are many memoirs that are more engaging even without a tie to a true crime tale. Readers who enjoy memoirs will likely enjoy this more than I did.

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

Friday, September 15, 2023

The Wren, the Wren

The Wren, the Wren by Anne Enright
9/19/23; 288 pages
W.W. Norton & Company

The Wren, the Wren by Anne Enright is very highly recommended literary fiction following the legacy of trauma in an Irish family.

Celebrated Irish poet Phil McDaragh is the grandfather of Nell, father of Carmel, and was the husband of Terry. Each of them experiences the legacy of his poems differently. Nell was raised by her single mother, Carmel. She is a recent university graduate who never knew her grandfather, but his love poems speak to her. She's involved in a toxic relationship that she struggles to leave. Carmel is a hard, practical realist who knows the spells her father's poetry can spin, but also knows he abandoned his wife who had breast cancer and left his two daughters to care for her as he went off to charm women and had affairs. She is fiercely the mother to Nell while viewing her father realistically. She has heard how he charmed Terry and witnessed his later actions.

The novel is filled with lyrical poems featuring birds, but also very real episodes of cruelty and violence. There is a strong juxtaposition of the expressive beauty of the poetry with the realistic violence and betrayal. The narrative switches between the point-of-view of Nell, Carmel, and Phil. The complicated feeling Carmel feels for her father while also knowing the worse of his behavior illustrates the sharp contrasts between his poetry and  behavior. Nell's entanglements also seem to mimic this same disparity.

Both Nell and Carmel are portrayed as realistic, fully realized characters, with flaws, struggles, and strengths. You will hope for the best for both of them and their relationship as daughter and mother while they deal with their issues and the complications from their family name.

What sets this literary family drama apart from other novels is the impeccable writing that soulfully captures the yearning, betrayal, and longing of the characters as they must each journey to their own conclusions. They have inherited the ties to Phil's poetic accomplishes, but must determine what inheritance this will mean for their lives. That Enright successfully tackles this quandary in the narrative and accomplishes this, seemingly with ease, is part of what made this an exceptional novel.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of W.W. Norton & Company via NetGalley.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Murder in the Family

Murder in the Family by Cara Hunter
9/19/23; 480 pages

Murder in the Family by Cara Hunter is a highly recommended murder mystery presented in a unique format.

The murder of Luke Ryder in December 2003 was never solved. Ryder was the stepfather of filmmaker Guy Howard, who was 10 at the time of the murder. Guy and his two sisters were home when the body was found in the garden of their suburban family home. This was a high profile crime and true crime fans have sought clues to solve it for years. Guy Howard is now using his television series Infamous to solve this case involving his family. There is a panel of six experts, biographies with photos included, that are introduced and start looking at the evidence.

This thriller is written like a teleplay of a true crime documentary.  The text includes photos, maps, coroner's reports, newspaper articles, emails, text messages, and voicemail. Readers can follow along, review the evidence and testimony, and try to piece together what happened along with the experts on the show.

This is a rather fun, unique format for a novel and is entertaining at the start. Now, keep in mind that I know someone who will love and adore everything about this format, however, two important points need to be made for those considering the novel. First, you really have to enjoy the format of reading a teleplay script, along with all the other evidence. There is no "standard" novel/story with the other things mixed in. The novel consists of the teleplay transcript. Second, it becomes tedious reading everything digitally after awhile and I'd get a hardcover copy. (I am getting a hardcover copy for the person I know who will love the novel, especially  the format.)

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

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

North Woods

North Woods by Daniel Mason
9/19/23; 384 pages
Random House

North Woods by Daniel Mason is a highly recommended imaginative historical fiction, but with a different point of reference.

This is a novel about all the lives that lived in a single house in the woods of New England. The novel consists of twelve stories that tie into the seasons and months of the year, all set around the land and house, beginning with two young Puritan lovers who escaped from their colony. Residents also include in part, an English soldier who wants an apple orchard, twin sisters, a landscape painter, the wealthy Farnsworths, and subsequently their daughter and her schizophrenic son, Robert, and a true crime writer.

This is also the story of the land, animals, insects, spores, etc., and the changes experienced over the years. Finally, it is a ghost story, where the former inhabitants may still be haunting the area.  Included within the narrative at different points are also folk ballads, letters, diary entries, real estate listing, and accounts of nature's changes, seeds, blights and insects coming to the land. Taken in totality, it all culminates in a tale of how all things in a specific environments are interconnected over time.

The quality of the writing is simply gorgeous and undeniably compelling. The writing will pull you in and keep you reading, however, as with any collection of interconnected stories, not all stories will be as compelling as others throughout the whole novel. The structure and decision to tell a story in this manner, over decades and through different characters on one piece of land, is interesting yet also challenging. I was not especially interested in all the characters and ghosts, however I kept reading for the little gems within the writing.

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

Sunday, September 10, 2023

I'd Rather Not

I'd Rather Not by Robert Skinner
9/19/23; 176 pages
Steerforth Press

I'd Rather Not by Robert Skinner is a highly recommended collection of fourteen essays/stories. 

Skinner, from Australia, is extremely funny at times and entertaining throughout. I laughed out loud several during some stories, while others were enjoyable, although perhaps not as genuinely humorous to me. As I was reading this collection it did seem that citizens of Australia might appreciate all of these stories more than I would. Other readers should appreciate musings about his job history and other adventures. This collection can be read all at once or one at a time.

Some highlights (not quotes, modified) that had me laughing in tears include: a remark about holding racism against the Swiss;  leadership defined as when you to jump in front of a pack of charging camels after being told to; needing money from a first magazine issue to pay for the second being a Ponzi scheme; people compared to pack animals who need to know their place to thrive (still laughing over the context and complete paragraph); listing his reason for visiting a country as "Idiot."  This is a quick, easy, entertaining collection with a gorgeous book cover on the edition from Steerforth.

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

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Normal Rules Don't Apply

Normal Rules Don't Apply by Kate Atkinson
9/12/23; 224 pages
Knopf Doubleday

Normal Rules Don't Apply by Kate Atkinson is a highly recommended collection of eleven interconnected short stories. 

The title of the volume tells you what to expect from the contents. Although the stories are interconnected in regards to some recurring characters and themes, the stories themselves take place in non-linear parallel worlds where expected rules don't apply and sudden and puzzling endings can leave readers wanting more. Franklin Fletcher is a character who appears in several stories and encounters a whirlwind of different experiences.

As with any collection of short stories some will resonate with readers more than others. The stories I loved, I really, absolutely enjoyed. The few that fell flat, honestly failed for me. The rest were very good, not as exceptional as expected, but certainly above average.

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

The Sky Vault

The Sky Vault by Benjamin Percy
9/12/23; 320 pages
William Morrow
Comet Cycle #3

The Sky Vault by Benjamin Percy is a very highly recommended science fiction thriller and the third novel in the Comet Cycle. I loved this one so much I've purchased the first two novels in the series, The Ninth Metal and The Unfamiliar Garden (which I had a review copy of in December 2021). You can read The Sky Vault as a stand-alone novel, but science fiction aficionados will likely want the series.

The Sky Vault follows an investigation of a mysterious weather phenomena in Fairbanks, Alaska, and a government secret buried since WWII. The meteorite debris field of the Comet named Cain left a new metal, "omnimetal," which interferes with physics and relationship between time and space.

Chuck Bridges, a local DJ, has been trying to warn people and experts that there is a new kind of cloud over Fairbanks and has been summarily dismissed as a lunatic. He sees things in the clouds and sometimes hears soft voices. Something happens to him that send his son Theo and his friends searching for answers. Rolf Wagner, the local sheriff, finds himself investigating some odd, peculiar things. Joanna Straub is a contractor recently hired to construct a new facility on an old government site used in WWII. Sophie Chen, an agent with the shadowy group that calls themselves the Collectors, is in Fairbanks looking for something and she will do whatever she deems necessary to get what she seeks.

I was engrossed in this novel from start to finish. The writing is exceptional. The narrative is irresistible and completely engrossing. Percy expertly develops all the plot threads and brings them all together to create the larger story. The WWII chapters which are excerpts from a log book, are interesting but the full significance of them isn't revealed until later. Readers will know they need to pay attention to them as their importance becomes increasingly ominous.

The characters in The Sky Vault are varied, sympathetic, and all fully realized. I especially connected with the dialogue and thoughts of the characters and there were many times I said, "yes!" or laughed and felt as if I knew and understood these people. The Sky Vault is on my list of the best books of 2023.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of William Morrow via Edelweiss.

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Blessing of the Lost Girls

Blessing of the Lost Girls by J. A. Jance
9/19/23; 352 pages
A Brady and Walker Family

Blessing of the Lost Girls by J. A. Jance is a highly recommended investigative thriller looking for a serial killer. 

Federal investigator Dan Pardee is a field officer with the newly formed Missing and Murdered Indigenous People’s Task Force, MIP. Pardee, is the son-in-law of Brandon Walker, and also meets with Sheriff Joanna Brady as he tries to find a serial killer operating around rodeos across the Southwest. The man he is looking for calls himself Charles Milton, a serial killer who is targeting young women. Milton is careful to not leave evidence behind but Pardee has just been assigned Rosa Rios' cold case that may stop him. Joanna's daughter Jennifer also provides help to the investigation.

Jennifer has a bigger role in the investigation, but, honestly, the whole Walker family plays a smaller role in this novel. As the investigation evolves, Native American folklore is incorporated into the story at the beginning of each chapter. The narrative provides clues along the way as the investigation unfolds. Although readers know the guilty party, the tension is in following the investigation as more information is uncovered.

The writing is excellent, however, after a frightening start, the pace does slow down in this novel. The actual investigation is very interesting and detailed. Pardee is a great character and hopefully Jance will include him in another novel. Blessing of the Lost Girls should still appeal to fans of the series.

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

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Dark Ride

Dark Ride by Lou Berney
9/15/23; 256 pages

Dark Ride by Lou Berney is a very highly recommended unique thriller. Once you start reading Dark Ride you won't be able to stop. One of the best.

Twenty-three-year-old Hardy “Hardly” Reed is an easy-going stoner who is coasting through life working at an amusement park until he sees something he can't un-see. Hardly see two children sitting on a bench with no emotion at the DMV and notices cigarette burns on both children. He tries to check and see if they are okay, but they won't talk to him. Their mother comes out, they leave, and Hardly can't forget them. 

He manages to find out who the mother was and contacts Child Protective Services about them. Soon he realizes that CPS is overworked and understaffed so the two children are going to fall through the cracks, so Hardly does the unthinkable, for him, he starts investigating them in order to save them. For the first time in his life he is willing to fight for something, but he doesn't realize exactly what he is getting involved with.

Hardly is not exactly hero material, but the perfect quote is in the synopsis, "Sometimes the person you least expect is just the hero you need." And I was supporting this guy the whole time. The pace is fast, the plot is compelling, and Hardly is focused, in his own unique way, on saving these two kids the whole time. Yes, he has numerous flaws, but he knows this one cause, saving those two kids, is worth fighting for. Goodness, I really liked this completely flawed character with such a good heart.

The writing is pitch-perfect and simply excellent. I was totally immersed in this novel from beginning to end. I laughed, held my breath, rooted for Hardly, and cried. I rooted for Hardly, the kids, and the friends who helped him throughout the narrative. One of the best of the year.

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

Monday, September 4, 2023


Dreambound by Dan Frey
9/12/23; 400 pages
Random House

Dreambound by Dan Frey is a fantasy novel that is highly recommended for lovers of the genre.

Byron Kidd’s twelve-year-old daughter Liza vanishes from their home in Boston. She leaves a note stuck in her favorite fantasy book written by Annabelle Tobin saying that she’s going to the end of the world - basically to the land found in the book. Liza is not the only child to do so. Byron is a reporter and decides to uncover the truth behind his daughter's disappearance along with others. The last known clue to her whereabouts is a ping from her phone identifying her location as in Los Angeles. Byron goes to L.A. and begins to use all his skills to interview people and uncover clues about where his daughter could be.

The narrative is told through journal entries, transcripts, emails, texts, and excerpts from Tobin’s novels, Dreambound and other fairy tales. This modern epistolary approach to the novel works very well and moves at a smooth, quick pace. The plot is compelling and interesting while the suspense remains high to the end.

The characters are unique and all portrayed as fully realized individuals. Not all characters are likeable or trustworthy, but they all resemble people you may know or see daily. In the end, setting all the fantastical elements aside, this is a novel about a father searching for his missing daughter, as well as an ode to the love of stories.

I will admit to not being a huge fan of all genres of fantasy novels and tend more to science fiction, but the plot held my interest throughout. Those who enjoy fantasy will likely enjoy this novel even more than I did.

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

Sunday, September 3, 2023

This is How We End Things

This is How We End Things by R.J. Jacobs
9/12/23; 336 pages

This is How We End Things by R.J. Jacobs is a highly recommended locked room mystery.

A disparate group of graduate students at Dorrance University in Forest, North Carolina are conducting experiments on the psychology of lying and deception. Their methods are questionable, which is clear when their current test goes awry. However, it becomes deadly when, as the grad students are working at night in the psychology department building on the campus which is closed for a break, one of them is subsequently found murdered in the office of the chair of the psychology department, Joe Lyons, the next morning.

As a major snow storm rolls in, Detective Alana Larson is assigned to the case. The group of suspects is obvious. The key is to figure out who did it among a group of suspects who are experts in the science of deception.

This was an interesting closed-room mystery and following the investigation into the group of suspects is entertaining. The pacing is even and which keep the action moving. The tension rises incrementally as it is apparent that the danger is still present.

All of the characters are depicted as unique, realistic individuals and it is easy to keep in mind each of them as the investigation is underway and action unfolds through their different points-of-view. The culprit was rather easy to figure out, but the enjoyment is in the hunt and the deep-dive into the characters.

It was interesting to see a popular meme included as dialogue between characters and a viral story written into a character's development. Sort of a hat-tip to authors finding words and events around them to write into their novels.

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

Saturday, September 2, 2023

The Raging Storm

The Raging Storm by Ann Cleeves
9/5/23; 400 pages
Minotaur Books
Detective Matthew Venn Novel #3

The Raging Storm by Ann Cleeves is a highly recommended procedural and the third book in the Matthew Venn series.

Jem Rosco arrives for a visit in Greystone, Devon during a storm and stops in at the local pub, Maiden’s Prayer, for two pints. The famous sailor and adventurer, immediately charms the residents as he stops in for two pints nightly. He is closed mouth about why he is visiting, only saying he is expecting a visitor. This makes it even more shocking when he suddenly disappears and his body is later found in an anchored dinghy. Detective Inspector Matthew Venn and his sergeants, Jen Rafferty and Ross May, are called from Devon to investigate.

Venn is not thrilled to return to Greystone, a place he visited years ago with his parents. The village is home to the Brethren, a religious sect he once belonged to as a youth. Returning to the area brings back memories. It is also an area of plenty of intricate secrets, rumors, and relationships that can be circuitous to figure out the truth from the misinformation. This incorporates plenty of mystery into the investigation.

The Raging Storm is a character driven procedural set in an atmospheric location that adds to the mystery and tension. The investigation has several twists as the team uncovers plenty of secrets. When the body count rises, it becomes clear that the investigation is much more complex. The plot is even paced, although a bit too slow at times. It also might behoove new readers to start with the previous books in the series for even more insight into the characters.

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

Friday, September 1, 2023

Killer Waves

Killer Waves by Brendan DuBois
9/5/23; 292 pages
Severn River Publishing
Lewis Cole #4

Killer Waves by Brendan DuBois is a highly recommended mystery. Originally published 4/26/2014, this is a re-release and the fourth in the eleven book series.

Lewis Cole wakes up early to watch the Space shuttle Endeavour fly over his house in Tyler Beach, New Hampshire, when he notices red and blue flashing lights in the state park. He walks over to see what is happening and sees a dead man in a car in the parking lot and two officers waiting for the state police. The state police don't show up, but three cars pull up with obviously some branch of federal agents inside. Later Cole has a visit from them which eventually results in Cole being forced to assist in their investigation. They claim to be from the DEA and are looking into drug smuggling. Cole reluctantly uncovers more information than the agents expected.

This is an even paced mystery with an interesting plot. While I haven't read any other novels in the series, that presented no real problem. All the characters are unique, however, as can be the case in a series, not are all fully developed here. This won't hamper your enjoyment of Killer Waves. After starting reading and not knowing my copy was a re-release of a previously published novel, I quickly picked up clues. The first clue is the Endeavour. The second will be small town papers being printed. There are several others that pop-up while reading.

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

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

It Could Never Happen Here

It Could Never Happen Here by Eithne Shortall
9/5/23; 400 pages

It Could Never Happen Here by Eithne Shortall is a highly recommended domestic thriller told through multiple points of view.

In the town of Cooney in West Cork, a body has been pulled from the river behind the school. The parents and others in the school must be interviewed and the much anticipated play will be cancelled. Before this incident parents were jockeying for positions for their children or themselves in the play. 

Beverley Franklin is a highly controlled, tightly wound woman. As the director of the Glass Lake primary school play, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, she must make sure every goes smoothly to protect the school's reputation as well as that of her daughter, Amelia, who is the lead character. When she catches Amelia in a shocking action, she immediately gets to work to make sure the right decision is made concerning it. The problem is that Beverly has no idea what is really going on and gossip is created and past on at lightning speed in Cooney.

There are many characters in It Could Never Happen Here, but the majority are truly unlikable and written as such. The pleasure in the narrative is following the utterly despicable and gossipy bunch of rumormongers, which includes all the mothers associated with the primary school. These women aren't your average helicopter parents, they are Chinook helicopter parents.

Readers won't know who was murdered until the very end, so with this group of characters for most of the novel everyone could be the victim. Interspersed within the narrative are brief insights into the police investigation and clips from interviews with those present in the school. There is a subplot about a cat kidnapping that is odd but funny.

While the novel is interesting at first, things drag on way too long and the gossipy cliques, prejudices, and rehashing of past events begin to grate. For the review copy, transitions between character's viewpoints weren't clearly delineated which may be changed in the final copy. 3.5 rounded up

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

Monday, August 28, 2023

With Regrets

With Regrets by Lee Kelly
9/5/23; 320 pages
Crooked Lane Books

With Regrets by Lee Kelly is a very highly recommended domestic horror mixed with a science fiction locked room drama.

Liz Brinkley and her husband are invited to an exclusive soiree by Britta Harris-Che, an influencer and self-named lifestyle guru (#Brittasays). Liz, a writer absolutely does not want to go but her hand is forced by her husband. Their too-young sitter shows up and they leave for the dinner party. Seven guests show up, four wives, three husbands. At the beginning of the dinner a red alert comes through everyone's phones. Something strange is happening. An atmospheric phenomena that looks like 'glimmering clouds,' has been spreading through major cities and kills anyone they encounter. "Authorities have just one clear Find shelter. Immediately."

Guests are desperate to get home to their children, but after trying it is clear that they all are forced to shelter at the Harris-Che home. Since leaving is not an option, they must all gather supplies and take shelter in the wine cellar and family room/safe room. It is in the safe room that the atmosphere takes a decidedly different turn from a festive Soiree as tensions and suspicions quickly rise.

The narrative is told through the four viewpoints of Liz, Britta, Padme and Mable. Don't expect to truly like any of these characters, although some are more appealing than others. Certainly Britta is going to raise the ire of most readers. The men are basically all flawed side characters. None of the characters are deeply developed, but that is expected in a disaster/end of the world novel. The foe and the struggle is the point.

The beginning dinner party is the stuff of nightmares but once the red alert comes through the plot gets very interesting. The idea of some strange glimmering atmospheric phenomena where clouds of thread-like shiny things are attacking and killing every living thing is certainly a worthy horrific adversary, but the glimmer is not the only antagonist. Humans can also become a hostile party.

The writing was excellent. I was full-in once the glimmer started and the subsequent action held my full attention right up to the end. I will admit feeling slightly let down by the ending but I really enjoyed the journey getting there. 4.5 rounded up.

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

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Five Years After

Five Years After by William R. Forstchen
8/22/23; 352 pages
Forge Books
John Matherson Series #4

Five Years After by William R. Forstchen is a very highly recommended post apocalyptic thriller and the fourth book in the John Matherson series.

The most succinct introduction to the narrative is from the publisher:  "Five years after The Final Day, the Republic of New America has all but collapsed into regional powers and the world at large is struggling to remain stable as regional conflicts ravage the post EMP landscape. After several years attempting to lead a quiet life, John Matherson receives the news that the President is dying ... and is asked to step in to negotiate with what appears to be a new military power hidden in the wreckage of the world."

This is the fourth novel in the series and every book has been a winner. The series consists of One Second After, One Year After, The final Day and, now, Five Years After. While John reluctantly steps in and represents the Republic, he is up against more than he bargained for and must be ready to save what progress his community has made. As the plot unfolds, parts of the narrative will hit uncomfortably close to home, including the emergence of controlling, nefarious surviving bureaucrats.

Fans of the series will applaud this fourth installment. Those new to the series will likely be able to follow the plot easily as background information is provided and John Matherson continues to be a great character. After reading The Final Day, most new to the series will want to jump back and read the previous three novels.

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

Friday, August 25, 2023

All Good Things

All Good Things by Amanda Prowse
8/15/23; 320 pages
Lake Union Publishing

All Good Things by Amanda Prowse is a recommended family drama.

Daisy Harrop envies the Kelleway family next door. Compared to her family, with her mother depressed and sleeping all the time, her father working hard, her brother up in his room, the Kelleway family seem perfect from a distance. She looks out her window watching them and wishing she could be a part of their life, especially if it meant dating their grandson, Cass.

Winnie Kelleway is a clueless vain woman who is proud of her beautiful family. Now Winnie and Bernie are celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary at an Italian restaurant with all their family present and on display for everyone to envy them. The restaurant they celebrate at is the one where Daisy works, so she gets to see the event first hand.

The narrative is told through the point-of-view of the characters and it becomes clear after a very slow start that everything is not as Daisy believes it is and her family is not even close to how Winnie views them. As more points-of-view are brought into the story, it does become more complex and interesting. Clearly Daisy and Winnie are seeing what they want to believe and don't really know what is going on.

This is a "the grass is always greener on the other side" plot. However, beginning the novel with Daisy's musings made this feel like a YA book and then visiting Winnie's internal dialogue made this almost a DNF. It was simply an okay book for me but fans of Prowse will likely enjoy it much more.

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

Thursday, August 24, 2023

After That Night

After That Night by Karin Slaughter
8/22/23; 432 pages
Will Trent Series #11

After That Night by Karin Slaughter by Karin Slaughter is a very highly recommended, excellent, thriller and police procedural. This eleventh novel in the Will Trent Series is an absolutely must read thriller! One of the best of the year!

A current court case takes GBI investigator Will Trent and Dr. Sara Linton back fifteen years ago to a violent attack that changed her life. Three years previously, Sara encounters a young woman in the ER , Dani Cooper, who was brutally attacked and raped. The case is in trial right now and Sara, now a medical examiner at the GBI, is testifying at the civil trial of the young man believed to be responsible. Sara knew the parents of the defendant years ago and the mother hints in an odd way that this case is connected to other assaults. This confession sends Will, Sara, and Will's partner Faith on an off-the-books investigation into several cases that share a resemblance to each other.

Karin Slaughter is a must read and at the top of her game. After That Night is an exceptionally well-written procedural/thriller. The narrative is riveting, detailed, compassionate, and moves at a fast pace. The plot is engrossing and disturbing as Will, Sara, and Faith piece together connections between young women who were targeted and raped. The assaults all lead back to a group of men who were medical students at the same time as Sara. The details are gritty and horrifying as more is information uncovered. The final denouement is shocking.

Those following the series will know the characters intimately and gain more insight into them but new-comers will be as engaged with the characters as seasoned fans. They all are fully-realized characters that will prompt compassion and interest throughout the whole novel with all readers. Although this is the eleventh in the series, it can be read as a stand-alone novel.

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

Monday, August 21, 2023

Come with Me

Come with Me by Erin Flanagan
8/22/23; 300 pages
Thomas & Mercer

Come with Me by Erin Flanagan is a highly recommended thriller.

Gwen Maner, thirty-two, is a widowed single mom of Whitney, eight. She is broke and needs a job ASAP, so she decides to apply to the media agency she was an intern at ten years earlier, before she married and was in college. Two other young women were interns with her and one of them, Nicola Kimmel, is one of the leaders at the company. Gwen calls her hoping for some advice but Nicola does much more than that and Gwen is offered a high paying job at the company. She'll have to quickly move from Colorado back to Ohio, where her mother still lives. This job will mean she can take care of her daughter comfortably. 

As they settle in, Nicola inserts herself into their lives more and more, taking control of her and her daughter. At first all her help and support is welcome, but then Gwen begins to become increasingly uncomfortable. What does Nicola really want? What is the end game?

Come with Me is well-written and will hold your attention with a steady pace. Chapters alternate between the point-of-view of Gwen and flashbacks to Nicola's difficult childhood. This literary device allows suspense to build and foreshadows future events. Gwen is able to share her thoughts while Nicola's background allows insight into her character. Following the increasing creepy behavior of Nicola, a woman who wants to be in charge of everything, is entertaining.

The entertainment factor is very high because what reader of thrillers doesn't enjoy a novel where a character becomes increasingly menacing. Alternately, several of the twists are predictable and even the big twist at the end will be figured out by some readers. Also, some strong suspension of disbelief needs to be employed and it was a stumbling block for me. Gwen even thinking about applying for a job in another state somewhere she was an intern ten years ago is not credible especially after not working for ten years. 3.5 rounded up.

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

Sunday, August 20, 2023

The Keeper of Hidden Books

The Keeper of Hidden Books by Madeline Martin
8/1/23; 416 pages
Hanover Square Press

The Keeper of Hidden Books by Madeline Martin is a highly recommended historical fiction novel inspired by the true story of the underground library in WWII Warsaw.

Zofia and her best friend, Janina, who is Jewish, both love books. When bombs begin to fall and Warsaw is occupied by Hitler's forces, looting of the city begins, Jews are being locked up, and books are being banned. Zofia knows both her friend and all books need saving. She begins to salvage books from the wreckage, hiding them away, and even starts a book club. The one thing that continues to sustain Zofia and Janina is their love of reading. The struggle is to preserve the books along with the Polish culture and community.

The Keeper of Hidden Books is a very well-written historical fiction novel. The narrative is set in Poland from 1939 to 1944 and follows the campaign to eliminate Jews and the Polish population. The author's notes that follow the novel are must reading as they provide information about Martin's research into the story. The events she covers are based on the real life efforts to preserve the underground Warsaw Library during WWII. Real historical figures are woven seamlessly into the plot.

It is a story of struggling, loss, and grief, but is also an ode to the determination and bravery of those individuals who were courageous enough to risk their lives in a common goal. Those who love reading historical fiction, especially novels set in WWII will want to read this novel. 4.5

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

Saturday, August 19, 2023

North of Nowhere

North of Nowhere by Allison Brennan
8/8/23; 368 pages
St. Martin's Press

North of Nowhere by Allison Brennan is a very highly recommended race-against-time survival thriller that is compulsively readable.

After five years hiding in Montana with father figure Tony Reed, Kristin (Kris) McIntyre, sixteen, and her ten-year-old deaf younger brother Ryan, have to run again immediately. Tony has spotted men looking for them, sent by their real father, Boyd McIntyre, head of a Los Angeles crime family. The trio barely escape in a plane, which was shot at by his men. Tony is mortally wounded and the plane is malfunctioning from the gun fire but he manages to land the plane up in the mountains. With a blizzard quickly approaching and Tony dying, Kris needs to use all her learned skills to save Ryan from the men looking for them. Kris is old enough to remember what and why they went into hiding from the McIntyre clan.

North of Nowhere is an extremely well-written, compelling, fast-paced thriller that is un-put-downable. You may have to suspend some disbelief, but with an action-packed plot, characters confronting danger at every turn, and no clear outcome it is a pleasure to keep reading. The chapters are short, which keeps the pace moving swiftly and are told through the point-of-view of different characters. This adds complexity to the already tension-filled plot and ensures the just-one-more-chapter response right to the end.

There is a large cast of characters in the novel, but I found it easy to keep them all straight as Brennan takes care to provide them all with some development. The main characters all are fully realized and feel like real people. You will care about many of the protagonists and wish them well. Some characters you will feel uncertain about for a time, while the antagonists, especially a couple of them, will draw your ire.

Allison Brennan has written another complex, exceptional thriller in North of Nowhere.

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

Friday, August 18, 2023

My Other Husband

My Other Husband by Dorothy Koomson
8/18/22; 432 pages
Hatchette Book Group

My Other Husband by Dorothy Koomson is a highly recommended thriller.

The novel opens with Cleo Forsum Pryce being charged with attempted murder but she is not guilty. Then chapters jump back in time to weeks earlier when she begins to take steps to ruin her life. These chapters alternate with chapters set in 1996 when she was a student and best friends with Trina.  Weeks before the charge, Cleo is divorcing her husband. and is going to end the successful TV series 'The Baking Detective' based on her book. She is sabotaging her own life before her past secrets catch up with her. Now people around her are starting to get hurt and someone is trying to frame her for murder.

The alternating chapters work well to contrast Cleo then and now. She was fun, happy, and carefree and now is obviously carrying a heavy burden. The characters are fully realized and resemble real people, even the antagonists. It is revealed why Cleo is sabotaging her life through the look into her past.

However, the novel does have a a very slow pace after the attention-grabbing opening and doesn't really pick up until after the half-way point. The second half is intense, full of plot twists and suspense. It is a story about obsession, but is also full of murders and revenge. The final denouement is very satisfying. All in all, My Other Husband is a very good thriller but the slow pacing in the first half lessened my enjoyment.

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

Thursday, August 17, 2023

The Bridge

The Bridge by Matt Brolly
8/8/2, 300 pages
Thomas & Mercer
Detective Louise Blackwell #6

The Bridge by Matt Brolly is a very highly recommended procedural and the sixth novel in the DI Louise Blackwell series.

Detective Inspector Louise Blackwell is called in to investigate when the body of a young woman is discovered in a shipping container in Bristol. Several theories are put forth, but they are all abandoned when a camera is discovered. Apparently someone was watching her trapped and slowly dying. The case may involve claustrophilia, someone who likes to watch people in very small, cramped spaces. It may also be tied to the case of two other missing persons. Complicating Blackwell's involvement in the investigation is that she is ten weeks pregnant and experiencing bad morning sickness.

The Bridge is a well-written, excellent, engaging procedural with a detailed complex plot. The opening scene will immediately grab your attention. Right from the start the suspense and tension keep increasing as the intricate plot unfolds. There are several twists along the way to keep you guessing and some heart-stopping moments. The narrative is mainly told through Blackwell's point-of-view with other voices included.

Louise Blackwell is a wonderful, fully realized character among a cast of great characters. Although this is the sixth novel in the series, The Bridge can certainly be read as a stand-alone, although you will subsequently want to read others in the series. Those who like procedurals are going to thoroughly enjoy The Bridge.

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

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

The Last One

The Last One by Will Dean
8/8/23; 448 pages
Atria/Emily Bestler Books

The Last One by Will Dean is a very highly recommended locked-room psychological thriller.

Caz Ripley is taking a luxury cruise liner RMS Atlantica with her boyfriend Pete. After an enjoyable first evening, Caz wakes up the next morning and Pete is gone. Upon stepping into the corridor and looking around, she discovers no passengers or crew. She appears to be alone on the empty vessel which is on autopilot heading into the mid-Atlantic and she is unable to radio for help.

The Last One was an un-put-down-able, heart-stopping thriller and twisty take on a locked-room mystery. The details of events on the Atlantica are perfectly presented and utterly frightening. Admittedly, you have to set all disbelief aside and roll with the intense plot, but the great news is that the plot is well-written, compelling, frightening, and suspenseful enough to make this very easy to do. 

Readers will have all sorts of theories and some clues while reading but won't really know what is going on until the end. I was absolutely glued to the pages. The Last One was the best novel to follow my last excellent review book and hold my rapt attention. I don't want to share much more to avoid spoilers, but read this book!

I loved The Last One as much as I loved First Born. Will Dean is now on my list of authors to automatically read any of his new novels.

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

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Tides of Fire

Tides of Fire by James Rollins
8/15/23; 480 pages
Sigma Force Series #17

Tides of Fire by James Rollins is a very highly recommended, action packed, heart-stopping thriller wrapped around a geological disaster. This 17th novel in the Sigma Force series is a winner! (Teaser: there is biomineralization of bodies.)

Sigma Force joins with the Titan Project which has an international research station off the coast of Australia in the Coral Sea. The researchers are looking at the Tonga trench and the otherworldly bioluminescent coral living there when a Chinese military nuclear submarine is lost in the trench. Obviously, the Chinese want to keep this a secret, setting up a raid on the research station, but what happens next is already set into motion. A geological disaster that destabilizes the entire region starts and could bring about the end of the world.

An excellent addition to the Sigma Series! The pace starts out fast and only picks up the pace as the various plot threads unfold. Rollins knows how to write a complicated, riveting plot that is science based, detailed, and includes historical facts. The new characters introduced for this adventure are all wonderfully interesting and capable or decidedly evil.

As a long time fan, I have read every Sigma force novel. Tides of Fire rates as one of the best in the series. It is incredible and everything anyone could want in a Sigma Force novel. If you have never read a Rollins novel you could certainly start here and just enjoy the non-stop action and intricate plot. He includes at the beginning a cast of characters to help you follow who's who. You won't know the backstory of all the characters, but enough information naturally occurs in the narrative to provide basic details about them. The story is the star.

Along with maps and pictures within the novel that relate to the unfolding plot threads, there is also included an informative Author's Note to Readers: Truth or Fiction section at the end of the novel which discusses the real science and technology and where artistic license was used, which I always appreciate and find informative. There will be a sequel to Tides of Fire.

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