Tuesday, January 31, 2023

My Father's House

My Father's House by Joseph O'Connor
1/31/23; 440 pages
Europa Editions
The Rome Escape Line #1

My Father's House by Joseph O'Connor is a very highly recommended historical novel and literary thriller set in Vatican City during WWII and based on the true story of Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty

Vatican City is the smallest, neutral, independent sovereign country in the world, occupying one fifth of a square mile within Rome. Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty and seven associates who refer to themselves as "the Choir" risked their lives to smuggle thousands of Jews and escaped Allied prisoners out of Italy under the Gestapo boss in charge of the area, Obersturmbannf├╝hrer Paul Hauptmann.

In September 1943 German forces moved in to occupy Rome. The only safe place to hide would be in Vatican City. Hiding people in various areas and exercising extreme caution, the Choir used aliases and forged IDs. They referred to the people they had hidden as "books" and hiding places as "shelves." Like a thriller, the subterfuge they had to use and the threat of danger is ever present, only the heroes here are doing so out of love and faith.

The writing is exceptional and the characters, who vary widely, are all brought to life as realistic individuals. They are not perfect people, but they are all willing to risk their lives to save others. Hauptmann is a seriously ruthless adversary who knows people are being smuggled out and escaping. O'Connor's prose is wonderfully descriptive and detailed, bringing the setting and the characters to life. The emotional impact of this novel is also ever present.

Chapters tell the story about what happened in 1943, but the details are told through the various points-of-view of members of the choir twenty years later. This allows them to also to share their personal reflections about what happened. My Father's House is the first book in a new trilogy.

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

Monday, January 30, 2023

The Drift

The Drift by C. J. Tudor
1/31/23; 352 pages
Random House

The Drift by C. J. Tudor is a highly recommended post apocalyptic thriller told through three storylines. The setting is during a world wide plague. The survivors in the novel are all in the midst of a raging snow storm while heading to or at the Retreat, a mountain top medical facility where survivors can assist in working on a cure or hiding from the Whistlers.

Hannah, a medical student, is trapped with a handful of survivors in a coach/bus that has crashed off the road. Meg, a former police officer, is trapped along with others in a cable car stranded high above the ground of the mountainside. Carter in in the ski chalet known as the Retreat where the generator has issues and he doesn't trust anyone who is there with him. The identities, secrets, and problems surrounding these individuals are all part of a larger puzzle. It is a sort of locked room mystery with three different rooms in a much larger maze.

The narrative switches between the three different settings/storylines. Along with the struggle for survival among the three groups, the impending sense of fear and doom is found in the harsh weather conditions, the deadly virus that some may be infected with, and the feeling of wariness and mistrust as it becomes increasingly clear that someone may not want them to survive. The Drift is certainly a post apocalyptic thriller, but it is also a mystery because you don't know the full picture of what is happening.

The dialogue between characters is great and the action and intrigue in the three storylines is compelling as the tension and pressure increases in the three situations. There are a lot of characters to keep track of among the three groups of people, which was a draw-back and slowed down my reading in the beginning while I was trying to keep everyone straight. The denouement surprised me.  

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

Friday, January 27, 2023

Exiles

Exiles by Jane Harper
1/31/23; 368 pages
Flatiron Books
Aaron Falk #3

Exiles by Jane Harper is the very highly recommended procedural and the third installment of the series featuring Aaron Faulk.

Set in Southern Australian wine country, Australian Federal Investigator Aaron Falk is going to the christening of a friend's baby and the festival on the weekend that marks the one year anniversary of Kim Gillespie's disappearance at the town of Marralee's food and wine festival. Thirty-nine-year-old Kim had tucked her five-week-old sleeping baby into her stroller and then vanished into the festival crowd, never to be seen again.

Now, a year later, Kim's older teenage daughter, Zara, and Falk's friend Greg Raco have asked him to look into the case as they ask anyone at this year's festival with more information to come forward. As he looks into the case, questions begin to emerge. What happened to Kim Gilles? What would make a mother abandon her child?

Exiles is an excellent addition to the procedural series, following The Dry and Force of Nature. Although you can read them as stand-alone novels, they are better read as part of the series. The novel sets an atmospheric, thoughtful, deliberate pace as both the setting and the investigation are carefully explored. There are plenty of suspects and motives within the narrative as the secrets and evidence is disclosed. The narrative unfolds in three timelines: a year previously, a week in the present, and three years in the future.

Harper is an exceptional writer and pays equal attention to the development of her characters as she does to the investigational part of the procedural. The characters are all fully realized, complex individuals, with established backstories. Falk is the narrator of almost all of the novel, which gives his character by far the most depth and complexity.  His voice is already the main focal point of the narrative.

There is actually more than one mystery that begs to be solved in Exiles. Clues are present as the narrative unfolds and careful readers will appreciate the challenge and the presentation. This is an excellent third novel in the series and rumor has it the final Aaron Falk. This is an excellent ending to the series if that is the case.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Flatiron Books via NetGalley

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

The Family Reunion

The Family Reunion by Karen King
1/23/23; 320 pages
Bookouture

The Family Reunion by Karen King is a highly recommended domestic drama.

Mary's husband Paul passed away after 38 years of marriage and she misses him every day, but she also never told him her guilty, shameful secret. When she was barely 16 she gave birth to a daughter she named Hope. Knowing her father would never permit her to keep the baby, she gave birth alone and then abandoned Hope wrapped in a yellow blanket with a note. She hid nearby to make sure Hope was quickly found, but has regretted her decision for 45 years. Now she has decided to find Hope and introduce her to her two children with Paul, Joanne and Jason.

When she actually finds Hope, the two confirm they are related through a DNA test. Mary learns her first born daughter's name is Cathy and the two immediately begin to form a relationship. Mary is thrilled to share time with her oldest daughter and hopes Joanne and Jason will accept her. When they all meet, however, the tension is palpable. It seems that Joanne and Jason are concerned that Cathy's motives for the relationship may be to take advantage of Mary financially. And then strange things begin to happen...

After a very intriguing opening which foreshadows problems to come, the pace of The Family Reunion slows down while setting all the pieces of the plot into place. The direction the plot takes will increasingly hold your attention after every chapter. The narrative is told through the points-of-view of Mary, Cathy, and Alison, Jason's wife. Joanne and Jason are truly disagreeable characters. At time you will fear that Mary is too trusting and naive. Cathy seems sincere and helpful, but we also know that she has a few secrets of her own.

King does a commendable job placing suspicion on everyone as well as throwing a few red herrings into the plot to keep you guessing. There is a whole lot of secrets, deception, gaslighting going on in the plot, which does make the story compelling. And then, of course, the foreshadowing in the opening of a dark turn in the plot will keep you reading to see who this man is and why he was after Mary. There are several shocking twists and turns in the narrative, but the twist at the ending is totally unpredictable and surprising.

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

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

The Devil's Ransom

The Devil's Ransom by Brad Taylor
1/24/23; 432 pages
HarperCollins
Pike Logan Series #17

The Devil's Ransom by Brad Taylor is a very highly recommended action packed thriller and the 17th novel in the Pike Logan Series.

Afghanistan has fallen and Pike and Jennifer learn about it while on a routine cover development trip to Tajikistan. They need to help Jahn Azimi, who is on the run from the Taliban as well as extract Ahmad Khan, an Afghan government official who helped Azimi flee Kabul along with the Bactrian Treasure, a priceless trunk of valuables that they liberated before their escape. Complications arise when every other entity in the Taskforce is hit with a ransomware attack and it appears to be tied to the Taliban. And this is only the beginning of the much larger problem and complicated action.

The quality of the writing is excellent and the action is truly non-stop in The Devil's Ransom. The plot is an intricate tangle of deceit, danger, and nefarious plans that Pike and his team must stop. The action along with the twists and new revelations in the plot moves along swiftly and will hold your attention throughout the entire novel. Pike and his team are quickly going from one mission to another in the swiftly moving, intricate, and changing novel. As you are reading keep track of who is who and where they all are and you will be fine.

Since this is the seventeenth novel in the Pike Logan series, the characters are complex and fully realized individuals. Readers new to the series might not have some of the nuance about the characters, but they will still be able to enjoy the novel. Enough backstory and information is provided to keep all readers up to speed. All the characters are distinct and great individuals. Action/Adventure/Espionage/Thriller readers won't want to miss this one.

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

Sunday, January 22, 2023

In the Garden of the Righteous

In the Garden of the Righteous by Richard Hurowitz
1/24/23; 480 pages
HarperCollins

In the Garden of the Righteous: The Heroes Who Risked Their Lives to Save Jews During the Holocaust by Richard Hurowitz is a very highly recommended historical account and tribute of ten individuals who risked their lives to save others during the Holocaust. Because they chose to put their personal safety at risk to rescue others during a time of overwhelming danger, their extraordinary actions and deeds were recalled by those they saved and they were all honored as the Righteous Among the Nations at the Yad Vashem complex on Jerusalem’s Mount of Remembrance.

Many know the stories of Raoul Wallenberg and Oskar Schindler who risked their lives to save Jewish people. Hurowitz presents the background and actions of ten lesser known individuals who demonstrated great strength of character, determination, and compassion while doing the right thing when their actions could result in their demise too. The ten righteous people covered include: the Portuguese diplomat Aristides de Sousa Mendes; Princess Alice of Battenberg in Greece; Gino Bartali, an Italian tour de France winner; the Japanese vice counsel/spy in Kovno, Lithuania Chinue Sugihara; circus ringmaster Adolf Althoff and his wife Maria; Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz a German Foreign minister in Copenhagen and the entire population of Denmark; Polish social worker Irena Sendler; Hiram Bingham IV (Harry), vice counsel at the consulate in Marseille; protestant pastor Andre Trocme in the French village of Le Chambon sur Lignon in the d├ępartement of Haute-Loire.

The well-written and researched accounts of these individuals and those who assisted them are all compelling and include their backgrounds, details of their extraordinary actions, and the aftermath of their actions. Hurowitz’s research also reveals the rescuers’ greatly varied motivations and examines the common traits among these individuals that encouraged them to do the right thing. Since the historical accounts are detailed and cover a wide variety of areas across many countries, this is a history that requires careful reading to follow who is where and what is occurring there. In the Garden of the Righteous by Richard Hurowitz is an excellent biography of ten people who are  the Righteous Among the Nations.

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

Friday, January 20, 2023

Don't Open the Door

Don't Open the Door by Allison Brennan
1/24/23; 384 pages
MIRA Books
Regan Merritt #2

Don't Open the Door by Allison Brennan is a very highly recommended mystery/thriller/procedural and the second book in the series featuring Regan Merritt.

Regan Merritt has left the US Marshals and her ex-husband, Grant after the murder of their ten-year-old son, Chase, and moved to Arizona. When her former boss, US Marshal Tommy Granger, is shot and killed after contacting her claiming he had new information about Chase’s murder, Regan returns to Virginia. She plans to investigate what happened to Tommy and what new information he had uncovered in his investigation into Chase's murder. As Regan begins to look into what happened and tries to meet with Grant, it becomes clear quite quickly that there is a whole lot more going on and someone wants to stop any questions or additional investigations into.

Don't Open the Door  is a wonderfully written complicated mystery/thriller/ procedural that will quickly pull you into the plot and hold your attention throughout. Although it is the second novel featuring Regan Merritt, the first is The Sorority Murder, I feel that it can work as a standalone. There is enough background information to bring readers up to speed quickly. (You might want to read it, however, because it is a very good novel.)

Regan is a fully realized character and you will support her in her search for truth and justice. It is unimaginable to have to deal with the murder of a child, but as Regan discovers more information and it seems that there are insiders involved, she isn't sure who she can trust. Her level-headed reaction to information is a perfect character trait. The FBI's involvement makes it worse and more complicated. There are numerous characters but they are all easy to keep track of within the context of the narrative.

The pace is quick throughout with short chapters to keep things moving as the twists keep coming in the developing investigation. The plot is riveting; full of twists, danger, suspense, and surprising information. Regan is a great character as she takes information in and processes what it means. Don't Open the Door is a novel you won't want to miss.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of MIRA.

 

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

What Happens Next

What Happens Next by Christina Suzann Nelson
1/17/23; 352 pages
Bethany House

What Happens Next by Christina Suzann Nelson is a very highly recommended mystery

Faith Byrne is a popular podcaster of "What Happens Next" where she tells stories of people overcoming tragedy and going on to embracing hope and healing. With her ex-husband taking their girls to Hawaii for the summer, she makes the decision to accept the request of a former friend's older sister, Brooke, who sent her a distressing letter. Apparently her childhood friend, Heather, disappeared after the summer in 1987 when they were best friends. Faith, who wrote many letters to her, thought Heather was ignoring her. No one told her about Heather's disappearance the day Faith left. Now, with her girls gone for the summer, Faith has decided to return to Deep Valley, Oregon, and look into the cold case of Heather's disappearance.

The narrative is told through chapters from three different points-of-view: Faith, Heather, from that summer in 1987, and Dora, Heather's mother who is still hoping her daughter will return home. The multiple narratives work well in this novel, with Heather covering the events from the summer of 1987 she spent with Faith, and the chapters with Faith and Dora covering the present day. Nelson takes the novel deeper than the surface mystery, looking into grief regarding Dora's denial of Heather's almost certain demise, but also the failure of Faith's marriage and her unhappy childhood.

Characters are all portrayed as realistic individuals and are well-developed. Heather's narrative does an excellent job capturing her happy family life, routine, and her mother Dora, as well as her friendship with Faith  during that time, before they both entered 5th grade. Dora's present day chapters do sharply contrast with the Dora/Mom Heather talks about from 1987.

After a slow start, the novel begins to take off and the interest will too. The subtle messages in What Happens Next are well integrated into the story, making it a perfect choice for those who enjoy and appreciated Christian novels (no language warning needed, etc.). Any discussion of faith is uplifting and positive, allowing for failings of individuals but acknowledging grace. It could also be appreciated as a novel for teens. After the cold case is beginning to be looked into and solved, the novel focuses on solving the mystery, but it never loses sight of the humanity, struggling, and suffering of the characters involved.

Admittedly, I read a lot of mysteries and had a good idea whodunit or at least who was involved early on, but that didn't diminish may enjoyment of What Happens Next. Part of the enjoyment was found in the exceptional character development and depth. I cared about what happened to these people and wished then all healing.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Bethany House via LibraryThing.

Monday, January 16, 2023

The Cabinet of Dr. Leng

The Cabinet of Dr. Leng by Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child
1/17/23; 416 pages
Grand Central Publishing
Aloysius Pendergast #21

The Cabinet of Dr. Leng by Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child is a highly recommended procedural, and science fiction thriller, and the 21st Aloysius Pendergast novel. As a long time fan of both Preston and Child, together and separate, I need to forewarn other fans that this novel is TO BE CONTINUED...a situation that has left me distressed and a tad bit frantic.

The novel follows three different narratives. First, FBI agent Pendergast is devastated that his ward (and love) Constance Greene has left him. Constance has used a time machine to travel back to a parallel universe in New York City in 1880. She is hoping to right several wrongs, save her siblings, and make the scurrilous Dr. Leng pay for his devious deeds. Pendergast plans to go back in time to save her.

Then, Special Agent Armstrong Coldmoon who has been working with Pendergast, is sent to investigate a murder on the reservation in South Dakota. And New York City, Lieutenant Commander Vincent D'Agosta is investigating the unusual murder of the curator of Native American artifacts at New York's Museum of Natural History. It is soon discovered that Coldmoon's case is related to D'Agosta's case.

The pace moves briskly in all the narrative threads and the intrigue just keep building with each new chapter. The dual timelines and cases are all correspondingly compelling, challenging, and intricate in all theories/investigations/mysteries, enough so that you will be equally interested in all the plot lines. As the chapters switch between storylines, knowing the other storylines will be updated in subsequent chapters, the new information will be welcomed.

As you reach later points in the novel, you will be wondering how in the world case Preston and Child reach a conclusion and tie up all the loose ends. Then you will find out that the novel is too be continued. sigh. The fact is that the wait will be worth it because the narrative threads are already so strong and the action so engrossing that to expand it into another novel to reach a conclusion will only result in a more riveting story and a consummate summation of all the narratives. Preston and Child are talented enough to pull it all together.

At this point all the characters are well-developed because they have been around for years. They are all complex and fully realized individuals and this novel continues adding depth to the characters. Coldmoon is a new character, as far as the series goes, but he is also well-written and realistic.

Fans of the series are going to jump on this latest novel immediately. Newcomers could start here, but it would make more sense to read the series in order. The procedural part of the novel can stand alone as a separate story, but the whole plot involving Constance and Pendergast benefits from the background information.

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

Friday, January 13, 2023

My Sister's Secret

My Sister's Secret by Diane Saxon
1/19/23; 344 pages
Boldwood Books

My Sister's Secret by Diane Saxon is a highly recommended psychological thriller.

Four sisters, Tess, Bobbi, Alexis, and Sarah, were born years apart and all very different adults, but they are still bonded together. The bond is over their childhood but also something awful that happened to one of the girls. Unknown to the others, another sister also experienced a trauma. They crossed paths with Gary Philpotts. One was molested and threatened while another was raped. Authorities were never contacted, but Philpotts was charged for another incident and they have kept track of him. When he is released on a technicality, the sisters call an emergency meeting for mutual support. Only one of them secretly takes things a bit further....

Saxon does an excellent job describing and establishing the background to her characters and bringing them to life. All the sisters were believable, fully realized and unique characters. Readers will have to pay attention to the sister's ages (and Bobbi's children) at the beginning to keep them all sorted out as the novel progresses.

The narrative in My Sister's Secret is told through the point-of-view of the sister's individually and also one of the sisters when she was a nine-year-old child and now as an adult. Her story is the beginning of the insight into what the sister's experienced and kept secrets concerning. There is an awful experience that bonded the sisters and kept them close.

Both the subject matter and the plot are emotionally charged. The novel is well-written and will immediately pull readers into the worlds of the sisters and their concerns. Once you start reading My Sister's Secret you will definitely be compelled to keep reading. There are a few incidences that require you to suspend disbelief, but you will gladly do so in order to find out what happens next. This is a very dark but entertaining novel that serves up a certain type of justice and it is up to the reader to decide if it is appropriate.

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

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

The Devil You Know

The Devil You Know by P. J. Tracy
1/17/23; 304 pages
Minotaur Books
Margaret Nolan #3

The Devil You Know by P. J. Tracy is a highly recommended procedural set in Los Angeles. There is a whole lot going on in this third installment of the series featuring  Detective Margaret (Maggie) Nolan series, following Deep into the Dark and Desolation Canyon.

From the opening, readers will know two bodies are going to be found at some point in the plot. Then we learn that a Disney actor, Evan Hobbes, is found dead after he had a fake video released portraying him in a devastatingly bad situation. He is found following a party given by Disney exec David Baum and his wife, Essie. Essie's brother, Seth Lehman, was Hobbes’ agent at Wodehouse International Talent, run by his boss Rebecca Wodehouse. Then David is found murdered. Maggie and her partner Al Crawford have to deal with self-important Hollywood egos  while pursuing their investigation.

There are a whole lot of characters in the narrative. Almost all of the characters are connected or interconnected in many ways and are almost universally odious. A whole cast of unlikable characters means there are plenty of suspects because you will suspect or want to suspect almost everyone is guilty. Secrets and bad behavior abound and Maggie must wade through all of it trying to find the killer. Maggie is the anchor and a likable character.

Although it is said that this can be read as a stand-alone, I feel that it might behoove readers to read the previous two novels to get a handle on the reoccurring characters and their traits. The cast of characters were almost overwhelming to keep track of at the beginning. This is all speculation because I haven't read the first two, but sorting everyone out did take some concentration and the background information may have been helpful.

The Devil You Know is a well written procedural. The short chapters keep the action moving along quickly and the plot is suspenseful and interesting. The writing in the opening was very descriptive, which seems to stand out in contrast to the other chapters as the plot continued. The complex characters add to the narrative as clues are dispersed along the way. even if you guess whodunit, the entertainment is worth the read.

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

Monday, January 9, 2023

Killer Story

Killer Story by Matt Witten
1/17/23; 320 pages
Oceanview Publishing

Killer Story by Matt Witten is a highly recommended mystery about a journalist searching for the truth behind a murder.

Petra Kovach, is a young reporter who has been laid off several times and is about to be let go again when she pitches a story to her editor. She claims to have sensational inside undisclosed information about the murder of Olivia (Livvy) Anderson. Petra was a counselor at a journalism camp Olivia attended when she was 14 and the two kept in touch. Olivia became a successful podcaster while at Harvard and was killed. The professor tried for the crime was acquitted, so the real killer was never found. When Petra ran into Olivia's brother, Eric, one night he intimated that he had knowledge that the police didn't know.

Although Petra didn't have any new information, she claims she does in order to keep her job. Her bravado over the claim of new material concerning the unsolved murder is now to be a series presented as both a podcast and in print. She desperately searches for new clues and ends up betraying confidences and her integrity. This lack of principles is rampant among the journalists. Is Petra really looking for justice for Olivia or is she more interested in advancing her career?

It is clear that Petra so desperately wants to succeed as a journalist that she will quickly set aside any professional ethics. It may present itself as a story about searching for justice, but it is really a story about how low Petra will go to get the next sensational story. This is what makes the story compelling, but it isn't really shocking. Despite journalist claiming they have standards, it is obvious that many would do the same thing Petra did, set principles and legalities aside to get a sensational story out that will result in more clicks, views, and downloads.

Due to her actions, Petra is an unlikable, flawed character. As the narrative unfolds, Petra actions reflect her mindset. She becomes more concerned with each sensational new revelation and the clicks it will get as she increasingly sets aside ethics while framing it all as "justice for Olivia" rather than the more truthful "career for Petra."

The twists and the direction of the investigation aren't surprising. What kept me immersed in the story was following Petra's increasingly competitive and the-ends-justify-the-means attitude. I kept wondering just how low she would go before she realized what she was doing, and how the ethics of all the journalists seemed to be tossed out the window for the clicks. And then, yeah, solving the murder mystery and learning who really killed Olivia.

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

Sunday, January 8, 2023

The Hunter

The Hunter by Jennifer Herrera
1/10/23; 352 pages
Putnam

The Hunter by Jennifer Herrera is a highly recommended debut investigative novel of suspense.

Leigh O’Donnell, former NYPD detective, has lost her job due to a poor choice. Her husband, NYPD Police Captain Eric Walker and commanding officer, was the one who had to suspend her and then the two separated. When her brother Ronan calls and tells Leigh she has a job at the Copper Falls, Ohio, Police Department, she resists until he admits three dead bodies have been found. Now she is taking her four-year-old daughter Simone to Copper Falls, her hometown, where her brother and three uncles live. The town may look picture perfect, but there is something that has been amiss there for years and some of the towns darkest secrets are about to be exposed.

While it is an investigative novel, The Hunter in many ways is more an atmospheric in-depth character study. The good news is that Leigh is an interesting, complicated character to study. She has been away from the town for a decade. Even when she is investigating the deaths of the three men, she is also dealing with complicated memories and emotions. Her interactions with the world around her are very sensory and unique. She is a character that is full of pain due to trauma from her childhood, but also a result of more recent events.  And she is a devoted, loving mother and a doggedly determined investigator.

The actual murder investigation is very interesting and compelling due to the questions that arise in this even paced novel. The investigation follows several varied directions and borders on the supernatural at times. Leigh retains her interest as a character, which keeps things rolling along while there are plenty of questions and suppositions to keep interest high. The family drama intertwined in the plot adds a different dimension to the investigation. In some ways there were a few too many extraneous story lines that could have been eliminated.

The writing is quite good. It will be interesting to see the next novel Herrera writes and see if it is more a character study or procedural.

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

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

All the Dangerous Things

All the Dangerous Things by Stacy Willingham
1/10/23; 336 pages
Minotaur Books

All the Dangerous Things by Stacy Willingham is a highly recommended psychological thriller

Isabelle Drake's 18 -month-old son, Mason, was abducted from his crib in the middle of the night while she and her husband, Ben, were asleep. It has now been a whole year and the case is going cold and Ben and Isabelle are estranged. With the exception of catnaps or small blackouts, it has also been a sleepless year for Isabelle. 

Her entire life and focus is on uncovering a clue to her son's case and finding Mason. She has even told her story at true-crime conventions, hoping for a lead. When Waylon Spencer offers to feature her story on his true-crime podcast, she isn't initially interested, but then she changes her mind, hoping his listeners might have information about Mason.

The narrative is told through Isabelle's point-of-view in two timelines, 1999 when she was a child, and the present day. The atmosphere is somber and bleak in both timelines. She is a flawed, unreliable narrator due to her lack of sleep. The pace is very slow in the first third of the novel, which focuses on establishing Isabelle's extreme lack of sleep, her desperate attempts to find leads on Mason disappearance, and begin the story of her childhood.

Admittedly, I set the novel aside twice at the beginning due to the slow pace, the repetitive focus on Isabelle's sleep deprivation, and the overly verbose descriptions. Once some kind of action picks up as she begins to talk to Waylon and more of her childhood is revealed, the novel becomes much more intriguing and the tension begins to rise.

Clearly, there are more mysteries to solve than just Mason's abduction. The narrative introduces a couple surprising twists, one of which certainly requires suspension of disbelief. (The police investigation would have uncovered clues to this.) You might think you have it all figured out, but the twists will surprise you.

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

Monday, January 2, 2023

Just the Nicest Couple

Just the Nicest Couple by Mary Kubica
1/10/23; 320 pages
Park Row Books

Just the Nicest Couple by Mary Kubica is a recommended domestic thriller.

Lily Scott is pregnant and she and Christian, her husband are thrilled but keeping it a secret due to her past miscarriages. Through the high school where she works with Nina, they have become friends with another couple, Nina and Dr. Jack Hayes. When Jack doesn't come home one night and then it becomes clear that he is missing after two days, Nina shares her concerns with Lily. Lily has some bigger concerns, which she shares with Christian. She knows why Jack might be missing and thinks she might be responsible.

Once the premise is set into place after a strong opening, the pace becomes rather lethargic in this novel, which is uncharacteristic of a novel by Kubica. It will keep you entertained. Things are done, subterfuge occurs, and events happen, all of which keep the narrative moving, but even when you know there could be some serious consequences for actions taken, nothing feels that serious. It is a quick read and there is a surprising twist at the end.

Perhaps the hesitation over this novel is the characters which never felt fully realized to me. It could also be in the writing style used in this novel - a lot of short brief sentences with repetition of the same information. Just the Nicest Couple isn't a bad novel, I would certainly still recommend it, but Kubica has written better novels. Fans who follow her work will want to read this one anyway.

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

Sunday, January 1, 2023

The Things We Do to Our Friends

The Things We Do to Our Friends by Heather Darwent
1/10/23; 336 pages
Bantam/Random House

The Things We Do to Our Friends by Heather Darwent is a so-so debut psychological thriller.

Clare is attending the university in Edinburgh, Scotland while reinventing herself. She has changed her name and hopes to distance herself from her past while studying art history. After she finds a job at a bar, she notices Tabitha, a rich privileged young woman, and her group of friends. Soon enough Clare is drawn into their group and Tabitha reveals a project she and her friends have been planning.

The characters are all unbelievable, unreliable, and unlikable, which I could go with but they are also undeveloped beyond the surface traits. Simply put they are all caricatures of a type and none of them are portrayed as realistic individuals. There were plenty of red flags to avoid this strange, annoying group of people and never any compelling reason presented for Clare to want to join them. 

Honestly, I struggled to finish this novel but pushed through hoping the ending would redeem it. Adding to my lack of motivation to finish reading it was the uneven pace and very slow start. Sure, the opening grabs your attention, after which the pace is akin to a leisurely stroll until later in the narrative. When the excitement finally does pick up, it is still uneven. I realize I'm an outlier on this one, but the plot could have been better planned out and tightened up considerably. The twist at the end did not help. Perhaps this is more of a new adult novel and one I should have avoided. Gorgeous cover, though. 2.5 rounded down

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