Sunday, April 30, 2023

You Are Here

You Are Here by Karin Lin-Greenberg
5/2/23; 304 pages

You Are Here by Karin Lin-Greenberg is a highly recommended character study set in a closing mall.

A dying shopping mall is the setting for this character study of five individuals who all have connections to the mall. Tina Huang, is the last remaining stylist at a Sunshine Clips. She always wanted to be an artist. Jackson Huang is Tina's nine-year-old son who comes to the salon every day and is secretly teaching himself magic tricks. Ro Goodson is a cantankerous elderly woman and Tina's last remaining regular customer. Ro has the gift of always saying the wrong thing. Ro's next-door neighbor, Kevin, is the manager of the bookstore and stalled on finishing his dissertation. He built a tiny house in his mother-in-laws backyard for his family. Ro judges him harshly. Maria is a high school senior who works at a chicken place and wants to be an actress. She is friends with Jackson.

What follows is a portrait of this diverse group of people that follows their daily lives along with their dreams. All of these characters are portrayed as distinct, fully realized, realistic individuals with strengths, dreams, and flaws. Chapters are told through the point-of-view of individual characters and this is what moves the plot along. You Are Here, however, is much more a character driven novel than a plot heavy narrative. Events happen that involved each character, including life changing events, but the main focus is the inner monologue of these individuals reacting to the events around them.

The chapters are all connected, but they also feel like individual stories collected together to make a novel. The first part of the novel is heavy on the character development with events advancing a connection to all of them in the plot, beyond the mall closing, happening later. I appreciate and relish excellent character development, which is present throughout the novel. You Are Here will be engaging and enjoyed by those who admire strong character development.

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

Friday, April 28, 2023

We Love to Entertain

We Love to Entertain by Sarah Strohmeyer
4/25/23; 368 pages

We Love to Entertain by Sarah Strohmeyer is a recommended psychological thriller.

Holly Simmons and Robert Barron are on the property rehab show To the Manor Build  and hoping to win the grand prize with their hilltop estate in Snowden, Vermont. Erika Turnbull is Robert’s assistant, who is efficient and secretly in love with him. When Holly and Robert go missing hours after their livestreamed "flash" wedding, Erika is a suspect. Erika's mother who is also the town clerk, Kim, is not about to let anything happen to her daughter and she becomes a detective to find out what really happened.

There are plenty of twists and the plot is entertaining, but you also have to suspend some disbelief in order to fully enjoy the turns the plot takes. It's been awhile since I watched any reality TV, and the narrative kind of confirmed why. While the interesting and enjoyable narrative will keep you reading, the characters are a little less compelling.  The story is told mainly through chapters from the point-of-view of Erika and Kim. Neither character really captured my interest so I relied on the plot alone for the entertainment. This is a twisty tale that will likely appeal to many readers.

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

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Seven Girls Gone

Seven Girls Gone by Allison Brennan
4/25/23; 448 pages
MIRA Books
Quinn & Costa Thriller #4

Seven Girls Gone by Allison Brennan is a very highly recommended procedural and the fourth novel in the Quinn and Costa Series. This is an excellent series and I fully recommend fans of procedurals start it asap.

Seven young women have gone missing in the small bayou town of St. Augustine, Louisiana, over three years. Police detective Beau Hebert cares deeply, but it seems that corruption runs deep in the Parish police department. Beau calls in his friend former Navy SEAL Michael Harris who is part of the FBI Mobile Response Team. Michael arrives with LAPD officer Kara Quinn to Broussard Parish. Beau is concerned that witnesses are being silenced or intimidated and he needs help. Michael has the Mobile Response Unit, under the direction of Special Agent Mathias Costa (Matt),following him to Louisiana, along with analyst Ryder Kim, forensic specialist Jim Esteban, and white-collar crimes expert Zack Heller. 

The intricate plot unfolds with many different aspect of the investigation being closely scrutinized. It is a detailed, layered, and complicated plot as the clues are uncovered and the group discovers connections and suspects beyond the small town. The pace was fast and then picks up momentum as the number of suspects builds. The writing is masterful and the case is unique.

Having followed the whole series, I am invested in these characters and find them fully realized, well-developed characters. The relationship between the team members flourishes and they are becoming a cohesive, dedicated unit with each of them performing an essential role in the case. The personal relationship between Costa and Quinn slowly continue. Kara Quin is a great character.

This is becoming a solid, reliably favorite series. The series includes The Third to Die, Tell No Lies, The Wrong Victim, and Seven Girls Gone. I think it would still be enjoyable as a stand alone procedural, but knowing the whole backstory does provide extra depth and context. Each case is wrapped up at the end of the novel.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of MIRA Books.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

The Last Remains

The Last Remains by Elly Griffiths
4/25/23; 368 pages
Mariner Books
Ruth Galloway Series #15

The Last Remains by Elly Griffiths is a highly recommended mystery/procedural and the fifteenth novel in the Ruth Galloway series.

When builders discover a human skeleton, forensic archeologist Dr. Ruth Galloway is called in to examine the bones. It is immediately determined that they are modern and identified as the remains of Emily Pickering, a Cambridge University archaeology student who went missing in 2002 while on a field trip to the Neolithic flint mines in Grimes Graves. Suspicion falls on individuals participating in field trip, including Ruth's friend, Cathbad.

Complicating matters is the threatened closure of the archeology department at the University of North Norfolk where Ruth works. Her relationship with DCI Harry Nelson, with whom she shares a young daughter, is experiencing ongoing complications as he hints that he wants her to move in with him. She has her reasons to be reluctant to take this step.

The Last Remains is well-written and the plot is compelling and interesting. Personally, I would beseech authors to edit out the covid and masking references. Just no. All it did was become a distraction.

Admittedly, this is the first Elly Griffiths novel I have read, so I didn't have all the background and history with the characters that other readers have experienced. They certainly came to life in this fifteenth addition to the series, but I did feel like I was missing some key information and didn't care so much about the relationship as the mystery. Keep that in mind when you read The Last Remains. You can certainly read it as a stand-alone, but I think it would give you an even more satisfying experience if you read the previous novels.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Mariner Books.

Monday, April 24, 2023

The Last Word

The Last Word by Taylor Adams
4/25/23; 352 pages
William Morrow

The Last Word by Taylor Adams is a highly recommended thriller about repercussions over a one star book review.

Trying to forget a terrible event from five months earlier, Emma Carpenter and her golden retriever Laika, are staying in an old home on Strand Beach off the Washington coast. She is spending her time reading inexpensive e-books and occasionally taking walks. There is some contact from a distant with the old man next door, Deek. It is Deek who suggests she reads Murder Mountain, a serial killer novel by H.G. Kane. This turns out to be a horrendous book which Emma gives a one star review, after which the author quickly asks her to take to review down. The two counter back and forth, with Emma refusing to take down the bad review. This is followed by what seems to be the author targeting her as his next murder victim and inspiration for a new novel.

It is best to jump into this fictional world with few expectations and keep reading past the beginning, even when you are silently thinking, "Really, Really?" It gets better. All your predictions and expectations are going to fall around your feet like confetti. The structure of The Last Word totally switches up all expectations.

The pace begins quick and careens to a breakneck speed. Facts change and actions are swift in this deadly game of cat and mouse. But who is who? Yes, it is tense, dangerous, and suspenseful, but there is also some real entertainment and, dare I say it, fun in this fight for her life, or his life.

Wildly entertaining, over-the-top at times, ridiculous, and heart-stopping. Throw all expectations out the window while reading and simply enjoy the roller coast.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of William Morrow.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Small Mercies

Small Mercies by Dennis Lehane
4/25/23; 320 pages

Small Mercies by Dennis Lehane is a very highly recommended, brutal crime thriller set in 1974 Boston during a time of racial tension over school busing. Another excellent novel that is now on my list of the best novels of the year.

Mary Pat Fennessey lives in the projects of the Irish American section of Boston called “Southie.” It's 1974 during a time of social unrest after the courts have ordered busing to desegregate schools. Mary Pat isn't as concerned over that as much as she is over the fact that Jules, her seventeen-year-old daughter, hasn't come home after a night out with friends. As she begins asking questions and searching for her daughter, she learns that a young Black man is found dead after apparently being struck by a subway train. As Mary Pat begins to ask questions, Jules friends claim she was walking home around Midnight, but it also is clear that they are hiding something. What follows is a story of a mother's revenge, violence, Irish mobs, and hate.

As a tough as nails Southie, Mary Pat was raised to fight back. She uses all her instinctive intelligence, building maternal rage, and street fighting instincts while looking for Jules and extracting revenge against those involved. She is not a likable character, but she is portrayed as a fully realized complicated person who has nothing left to lose. She already lost her son to heroin. All she had left was her daughter and she will risk everything for the answers she seeks.

Homicide officer Bobby Coyne is on the case, but his investigation reaches a stand-still. Then, after Mary Pat takes matters into her own hands, he can only stand back and follow the results of her action. During this same time, tensions are rising and it appears violence might break out in the neighborhood over the integration of their schools.

Small Mercies is a gripping, realistic, and complex novel that is filled with tension and violence in a realistic setting. The pace is fast and many of the details are tragic. As expected from all Lehane novels, the writing is excellent. It is impossible to put Small Mercies down once you start it.

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

Saturday, April 22, 2023

With My Little Eye

With My Little Eye by Joshilyn Jackson
4/25/23; 336 pages
William Morrow 

With My Little Eye by Joshilyn Jackson is a very highly recommended, excellent novel of psychological suspense. As expected, I love With My Little Eye just as I have loved every book Jackson has written. This will be one of my top books of the year.

Meribel Mills is in her forties and a single mom raising Honor, her twelve-year-old daughter who is on the spectrum. Her claim to fame was a sitcom, Belinda’s World, she was in twenty years ago. Now she is considered a B-list actress, but she still has acting offers. She also has an obsessive stalker she calls Marker Man because he sends creepy letters written in fruit-scented marker. When she discovers that he has been in her home, she accepts a role in a TV series that requires her to move from Los Angeles to Atlanta.

Now in Atlanta, Meribel should feel safe, but she is still receiving forwarded letters from Marker Man. She also has a sensation that someone is watching her, following her. Could it be Marker Man, someone from her past, or a new stalker? Who can she trust?

Jackson is always an exceptional writer who knows how to tell a detailed, fast-paced story with intelligence and humor that will hold your attention throughout. Meribel narrates most of the novel at the beginning but Honor and other voices are added later. It is compelling to hear these different narrators, which add complexities and depth to the plot, while increasing the tension, suspense, and sense of foreboding. As the  complicated plot unfolds, there are several suspects that emerge.

Both Meribel and Honor are wonderful, fully realized characters who experience growth personally and in their relationships. Jackson excels at portraying the relationship between Meribel and Honor, while also capturing Honor's voice. There are a wide variety of characters and each of them is carefully crafted as unique characters with secrets.

The twists at the ending were heart-stopping and full of tension. I enjoyed the final denouement and felt like it was a smart way to end the novel. With My Little Eye is another exceptional novel by Joshilyn Jackson.

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

In the Orchard

In the Orchard by Eliza Minot
4/25/23; 256 pages
Knopf Doubleday 

In the Orchard by Eliza Minot is a recommended internal monologue of a young mother and wife over the course of one day. Maisie Moore reflects on motherhood when up late at night nursing her newborn and then during a family outing to an apple orchard. This one is for poets and those who love language, especially mothers. Those interested in a plot might want to give it a pass.

Admittedly, I had several passages that I saved for the meticulously, masterfully crafted writing or the profound insight conveyed, but there are also many, many more excessively descriptive passages that felt over-the-top. If you are a mother, you will understand and even sympathize with Maisie. However, you might grow weary of the repetition in her contemplation of motherhood, nursing, other mothers, and the Moore's inexplicable crushing debt. Readers may find themselves talking back to some of Maisie's inner dialogue. Many young families are careful and follow a strict budget rather than spending beyond their means. 3 stars for the passages I highlighted.

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


Wednesday, April 19, 2023

The Lie

The Lie by Kathryn Croft
4/20/23; 332 pages

The Lie by Kathryn Croft is a highly recommended domestic suspense mystery.

Lucy and Tom and their children Jacob and Ava threw a barbeque for their new neighbors in Surrey signifying their new start. Jacob's girlfriend Rose and her mother Carrie are among the guests. Ava adores Rose and spent much of the evening talking to her. Seemingly, it was a successful evening. Then early the next morning Carrie calls and says Rose is missing. Jacob says he walked Rose home, but there are some questions about his claim. Carrie is certain Jacob had something to do with her daughters disappearance.

The first thing you need to know is that The Lie will hold your attention from start to finish. The second is that the title of the novel is a misnomer as everyone seems to be lying about something. There is plenty of deception swirling around everyone as they are even lying to themselves.

Lucy, Carrie, and Rose narrate the story through chapters told in their alternating points-of-view. This allows insight into their thoughts, personal lives, and eventually their secrets. Honestly, I didn't trust anyone in this novel as they all seemed suspect and sketchy at times. Characters are developed, but slowly as people demonstrating who they really are is part of the plot. The surprising twist in the ending wasn't really shocking because no one is particularly believable. If you like mysteries featuring flawed characters in dysfunctional families, The Lie will entertain you.

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

Monday, April 17, 2023

The Double Life of Benson Yu

The Double Life of Benson Yu by Kevin Chong
4/18/23; 224 pages
Atria Books

The Double Life of Benson Yu by Kevin Chong is a highly recommended work of metafiction regarding the Benson Yu's upbringing in 1980s Chinatown.

After his mother dies, twelve-year-old Benny lives with his ailing grandmother in Chinatown. When his grandmother is hospitalized and his aunt is on tour with a band, Benny asks his neighbor Constantine, a man who believes he’s a reincarnated medieval samurai, if he can stay with him after a social worker stops by. The two form a bond and then Benny is taken out of his apartment and eventually goes to stay with his father, Benson, in the future.

Once Benny is in the future, with his father, who is really himself, the novel takes an odd turn and space and time are ignored in order for the narrator to grapple with the abuse he suffered at the hands of his sensei. Benson is famous for creating Iggy Samurai, a comic book which is semi- autobiographical and C., the instructor who abused him is demanding money.

I actually like Benny's voice in the 1980s. Once the novel jumped and the metafiction part of the writing took over, I enjoyed it less, although I liked the character of Benny. Although I wasn't totally engaged with the plot device of jumping forward in time and then Benson's narration, I still liked the character of Benny. Basically, I was there for Benny but no so much for the whole metafiction and therapeutic portion of the plot. I'm not a reader of comic books, but I did appreciate that detail of the story.

Benny was an interesting, resilient character who invited readers to support him and wish the best for his future. I liked the ending. I liked the beginning, and the middle part of the novel was a bit frustrating although it did eventually result in an ending that was satisfying for me. This is a coming-of-age story that follows an unusual trajectory to the conclusion. It is an interesting idea for a plot, but isn't entirely successful, however, where it succeeds, it excels.

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

Saturday, April 15, 2023

The Best Minds

The Best Minds by Jonathan Rosen
4/18/23; 576 pages
Penguin Publishing Group

The Best Minds: A Story of Friendship, Madness, and the Tragedy of Good Intentions by Jonathan Rosen is a very highly recommended account of the life of Michael Laudor, his schizophrenia, and an exploration of the history of how we treat mental illness.

Michael Laudor and Jonathan Rosen became best friends almost immediately after they met in 1973 when the Rosens moved to New Rochelle, New York. Rosen shares stories of their childhood and Michael's brilliant mind and commanding presence even when young. By the time the two both got into Yale, they were no longer as close as they were as children, but still kept in touch. Michael graduated in three years and moved on to a consulting job. After a year the stress became too much and Michael was beginning to struggle with his mental health. He moved home and this is where he was when he had his first psychotic break. He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in the locked ward of a psychiatric hospital.

Michael learned he was accepted into Yale Law School while he was hospitalized. A year and a half later while still experiencing delusions, he attended Yale Law and graduated with a whole lot of help from others. Later his story was featured in The New York Times and he sold his memoir. A film on his life was being planned. But then Michael had another psychotic break and stabbed his girlfriend Carrie to death with a kitchen knife, the act that grabbed headlines and national attention.

The history of the shifting views on mental illness and treatment is also address, including the 1980s deinstitutionalization. The history did feel a bit long, but is perhaps provided as a beneficial account for those who are not familiar with changing views and treatments over the years. Certainly it influenced the treatment Michael did or didn't receive, even while he was an activist for accommodating the mentally ill.

Rosen follows Michael's life, as well as his own, thoughtfully, with honesty and self reflection. Many details are included to help establish a complete portrait of a man, family, and community. This well-written narrative carefully explores friendship, family, and the nature of mental illness and how we have failed people who need intervention and help. Honestly, it wasn't a five until I reached the end and everything was brought to the heartbreaking conclusion.

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

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Where They Lie

Where They Lie by Joe Hart
5/1/23; 240 pages
Thomas & Mercer
Nora McTavish #1

Where They Lie by Joe Hart is a highly recommended domestic mystery.

Kaylee Volk is a vlogger and influencer whose focus is family life. She is unable to conceive so Kaylee and her husband, Justin, have three foster children Bethany, Mason, and Andrea. The children are a focus of her content. When the family's private plane crashes into the ocean only Kaylee survives. She claims Andrea caused the plane crash.

Nora McTavish is a child protective services (CPS) agent who had a troubled childhood herself. She is also familiar with the Volk family from an earlier call she had to investigate a fight between Andrea and Mason. The police are satisfied with the answers they have for the plane crash, but Nora suspects there is more going on and begins her own investigation.

Since this is the first novel in what will be a series featuring Nora, the trauma from her troubling childhood experiences are covered to help establish her personality and reactions. There is plenty of room left to further develop her character in future novels. She is a sympathetic but damaged character and readers will trust her judgment as she investigates what happened with the Volk family. There are also some fine clues to how much Nora really cares about the people she is helping.

The mystery within the novel is interesting and Nora uncovers secrets within the Volk family. There are threatening incidents to Nora personally and a break-in at her home after she brought home a broken iPad from the Volk's home. The iPad wasn't taken, and her dog wasn't hurt, but the threat of violence increases the tension. As she uncovers clues it becomes clear that the iPad may contain information about the case that someone is trying to hide, but first she will have to find a way to get the information off the broken device.  A quick, satisfying mystery.

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

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

The Atonement Murders

The Atonement Murders by Jenifer Ruff
4/14/23; 289 pages
Greyt Companion Press
Agent Victoria Heslin #7

The Atonement Murders by Jenifer Ruff is a very highly recommended mystery/procedural and the seventh novel in the series featuring FBI Special Agent Victoria Heslin.

When  NBA player Jerome Smith is found murdered in Boston with the words "This Is Your Atonement" written in lipstick on the wall, FBI Special Agent Victoria Heslin is assigned to the case. But this was not the first murder. Two months before this in Charlotte Todd Eckstrom was found murdered with the same message written on the wall. The two men knew each other and were friends since high school, so it seems perhaps the murders were related to some event in their shared past. Then two sisters are murdered with the same message written on the wall but seemingly no connection to the first two.

The Atonement Murders is a well written mystery/procedural that intelligently follows the investigation and sets a fast pace that will hold your attention throughout. The narrative is mainly set in the present day following Victoria and the evidence uncovered, with some chapters set twelve years ago when Todd and Jerome were teens. There are also occasionally shorts excerpts from the killer's journal. The motivation and identity of the murderer is not clear until the end. All the clues and connections are logical and compelling in the investigation. There are no improbably twists.

I really enjoyed The Atonement Murders and as described, it truly is a standalone investigation which concludes at the end. This was my first book in the series and I enjoyed it so much that I now I need to read the previous books. Victoria Heslin is a wonderful, appealing, insightful character. She approaches her investigation with logic, intelligence, and care, plus she loves animals. It was really a pleasure being introduced to her.

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

The Garden of Evil

The Garden of Evil by Genoveva Ortiz
4/6/23; 128 pages
True Crime Seven
True Crime Explicit Book 9

The Garden of Evil: The True Story of Herb Baumeister and The Disturbing Horror at The Fox Hollow Farm by Genoveva Ortiz is a very highly recommended true crime story. Herb Baumeister was a successful businessman, family man, and the I-70 Strangler. Eleven murders are attributed to him but he could be responsible for more deaths. He prowled the streets and highways around Indianapolis looking for boys and men to fulfill his heinous desires.

Herb was born in 1947, the oldest of five children. His father was an anesthesiologist and the family first lived in Westfield, a well-to-do suburb north of Indianapolis, Indiana. His childhood was normal  and he was well liked. Herb's personality began to change after puberty and his sense of humor included more disturbing jokes that were morbid. He was a weird awkward high schooler, and struggled after graduation for several years before he met his future wife and settled down.

His early married life had a troubled start. He was hospitalized for a time diagnosed with schizophrenia, but once he left the hospital life seemed to go better and the couple had three children. By all outward appearances he was a hard working family man, however, Herb would still secretly go to the bars in Indianapolis looking for men to pick up. This double life eventually led to the more nefarious desire to murder and Herb became one of America's most notorious serial killers.

True Crime Seven includes a note explaining the style of their books at the beginning which makes it clear to readers that all of their true crime books are written in an accessible style for a variety of reading levels and are meant to be short. True Crime readers looking for a deep dive into and examination of every fact and aspect of a particular person might want more, but those who are just interested in knowing the basic facts and details of a case will appreciate the brevity and easy to read style. It makes the pages fly by while allowing you to learn all the details.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of True Crime Seven via LibraryThing.

Monday, April 10, 2023

Standing in the Shadows

Standing in the Shadows by Peter Robinson
4/11/23; 368 pages
William Morrow
Inspector Alan Banks #28

Standing in the Shadows by Peter Robinson is a highly recommended procedural and the 28th  installment in the DCI Alan Banks mystery series. This intelligent procedural follows stories in two timelines

In November 1980, Nick Hartley learns that Alice Poole, his former girlfriend, has been killed and the police are questioning him. Nick knows that she was heading to , her current boyfriends apartment, Mark  Woodcraft, and that the two were planning to take a trip. It appears that Mark has disappeared and all the questioning of Nick by the police has rumors flying that he may be the Yorkshire Ripper. Nick is determined to find out what happened to Alice.

In November 2019, an archaeologist looking for Roman remains on the site of a future shopping center uncovers a more contemporary skeleton in a field. Detective Superintendent Alan Banks and his team are called in to investigate and try to determine when the remains were left and who they are.

This is a satisfying and intense procedural which can be read as a stand-alone, although those who are following the series will certainly benefit from some of the additional background information. The narrative switches back and forth between the two timelines and the obvious end goal of readers is to figure out how they fit together, after they figure out who the skeleton belongs to and how this fits into the earlier murder of Alice. Readers will have their own theories while reading and some are going to be correct.

There are plenty of details of pop culture and social events from both time periods, although the ones in question would be in 1980, and these details are realistic. Admittedly, the 1980 details were fun to look back on. In both time line, characters are portrayed as realistic fully realized unique individuals. The search for the truth in both timelines is equally intriguing and the details help keep the investigations compelling. Peter Robinson passed away and is greatly mourned by fans who will miss looking forward to the next DCI Banks novel.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of William Morrow.

Saturday, April 8, 2023

Everything She Feared

Everything She Feared by Rick Mofina
4/11/23; 448 pages

Everything She Feared by Rick Mofina is a highly recommended suspenseful mystery.

Anna Shaw, seventeen, is the babysitter of Katie Harmon, nine. When the two are with a group on a field trip to a Washington State park, Anna falls off the edge of a cliff while taking a selfie. Holding onto a tree, she begs Katie to run to the group they are with and get help. By the time helps arrives, Anna has already fallen to her death. Investigators gather on the scene to gather evidence. While it seems obvious, Detective Kim Pierce is less sure and senses that something else happened here. Pierce is considering that Katie may have pushed Anna. Katie's mother, Sara, also privately fears that something else may have happened but she will never share their connection to her troubling family secret.

This is an extremely well-written mystery. The plot is compelling and full of tension but it is also a slow burn. This slower pace does allow the tension to build, doubts to evolve, and questions to multiply while the investigation unfolds. Adding to the suspense is a journalist, Ryan, who has spent several years searching for a killer who was released from prison.

Sara is a well-developed, fully realized character, as are, really, all the other characters. They all feel like real people with their own concerns and problems. Sara's very real struggle, wondering if evil is inherited or made, nature versus nurture, is an age old question that has been explored many times so her struggle is understandable.

The great fact about a Rick Mofina novel is that in the progress of the narrative his characters are going to examine and experience every aspect of the story while he adds some twists and new revelations all while keeping total control of the plot. Even, as in this case, if the pacing seems slower, you will be entrenched in the novel until all the plot threads are explored, the last final twists shocks you, and then everything is pulled together in a satisfying ending.

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

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

The Trackers

The Trackers by Charles Frazier
4/11/23; 336 pages

The Trackers by Charles Frazier is highly recommended historical fiction set during the Great Depression.

In 1937 Val Welch, an artist with the WPA (Works Progress Administration of the New Deal), is commissioned to paint a mural inside the post office of Dawes, Wyoming. He has been given a contact in the area, wealthy rancher John Long and his wife, Eve, who are also providing a cabin for Welch to live in during his stay. The first person Welch meets on the ranch is Faro, a tough but well seasoned cowboy right out of the old West. When he meets the Longs he is surprised to see older Long is married to a glamorous young woman who used to be a singer in a traveling band and before that a hobo. Long has political aspirations while Eve is less than thrilled with the idea of that life. When Eve takes off one day with a valuable painting, Long hires Welch to find her, which sends him on a cross country journey.

The quality of the descriptive writing is beautiful, and some of the philosophical monologues by various characters are interesting. Frazier does a commendable job portraying life during the Great Depression. I especially enjoyed the discussion about preparation, planning and painting the mural using tempera paint.

The characters are all portrayed as realistic, unique individuals but also tend toward caricatures of a type of person - ambitious wealthy man, old wise man, sensitive artist, beautiful woman. Admittedly, the characters are also very different from each other. All the males characters love Eve, but there is no real reason for this other than she is an enigma and a beautiful woman.

The novel started out strong and then began to lose my interest. There are a few drawbacks. The lack of quotation marks is troublesome at times and the plot didn't always hold my interest and attention. The idea that Long would send a painter off as a detective to find Eve never really made sense, no matter how it was explained. Read this for the quality of the writing rather than the plot.

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

Monday, April 3, 2023

Paradise Cove

Paradise Cove by Davin Goodwin
4/6/23; 304 pages
Oceanview Publishing
Roscoe Conklin #2

Paradise Cove by Davin Goodwin is a highly recommended procedural and the second novel in the Roscoe Conklin series. The series starts with Diver’s Paradise and is followed by Paradise Cove.

When a human leg washes ashore on the island of Bonaire, retired cop Roscoe Conklin, called "R" by friends, is nearby and examines the scene. Due to a tattoo, he quickly determines that the leg belongs to Rulio, the nephew of a close friend, Erika. With little evidence, the investigation comes to a standstill. R makes a deal with the lead detective to follow his wife because the inspector thinks she is having an affair. In exchange R is given the case file. Even though it is in Dutch, he manages to decipher the few clues available. The clues seem to lead to Paradise Cove, an upscale resort run by a friendly American couple. Then the body count begins to rise...

Paradise Cove is a well-written, very satisfying procedural with an interesting investigative plot. This is the second in a series but worked as a stand alone. The unique island setting gives the novel the ambience of a procedural set in a small town. Don't expect the relentless action of a thriller. The island setting provides a vibrant and laid back atmosphere. 

The characters are portrayed as realistic individuals and are all integrated into the plot of the narrative. R's relationship with Arabella, a detective with the Bonaire police, is going strong.  His beer is a Bright with a slice of lime, which seems appropriate for someone living on an island paradise.

Goodwin presents all the clues to solve the complicated case, and, although I guessed who-dun-it early on, the action leading up to the end was engaging and interesting.

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

Sunday, April 2, 2023

You Know Her

You Know Her by Meagan Jennett
4/4/23; 368 pages

You Know Her by Meagan Jennett is a highly recommended Southern Gothic investigative thriller.

After a long New Year's Eve night at Blue Bell Bar in Bellair, Virginia, bartender Sophie Braam is trying to close up and go home when Mark Dixon demands to be let back in to use the bathroom and asks for a ride home. An ongoing thorn in her side, Dixon is a friend of the owner and often demands free drinks. This night he stole a glass of wine from a bottle that Sophie had been saving for herself, but she finally had enough when he tried to force himself on her while she was driving him home. Sophie killed him.

When his body is found a few days later, Officer Nora Martin, who is new to the force, is part of the team looking for the killer. During the investigation, Sophie and Nora become friends, bonding over their shared frustrations at the treatment they have both endured from men even while the body count rises.

Sophie is a fully realized character who is a sociopath heading down the road to insanity, which is clear during her murderous rampages. She shares her first-person thoughts in chapters which alternate with chapters from Nora's point-of-view. Nora is also a well developed character who has her own struggles with being a woman with the police department, but she is an intelligent, sane woman dealing with these issues.

You Know Her is an excellent well-written debut novel that merges an investigative procedural with a disturbing, vengeful Southern Gothic thriller. Anyone who has ever worked with the public will sympathize with Sophie when she is rightfully ranting about the comments male customers make or the jabs Nora is putting up with. Most people tolerate it, as Nora does, but will relate on some level to Sophie's rage. The murderous actions are over the top at times, which some readers might find too disturbing. 

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

Saturday, April 1, 2023

Camp Zero

Camp Zero by Michelle Min Sterling
4/4/23; 304 pages
Atria Books

Camp Zero by Michelle Min Sterling is a recommended dystopian climate science fiction novel set in the 2050s.

In northern Canada a clandestine settlement for climate refugees called Camp Zero is being built by architect Meyer. To entertain the men working there, a group of women called Blooms have been hired as escorts and are moved into an empty mall. One woman, who is given the name Rose was secretly sent by a high-profile client to investigate the camp. Grant Grimely signed on to the project as a college professor to escape his wealthy family but, as there is no college, he is actually supposed to be teaching the Diggers, the men working on the secret building site. They all have secrets and no one is who they seem to be. Finally, a group of female military and scientific experts in various areas are moved into White Alice, an old northern research station, and thrive there.

The three narratives alternate between the points-of-view of Rose, Grant, and White Alice. Then these three narratives alternate between the present and the past with numerous flashbacks. This structure wasn't entirely successful as the flashbacks are so numerous that they become distraction from the main plot lines. The characters aren't all fully realized as unique, individual characters and some veer into the area of caricatures. They are thrown into this imagined future dystopian world.

There are also several interesting ideas or choices in the creation of this imagined future, but not all the interesting details are utilized or have the consequences shown. If you throw your characters into a dystopian world, you also need to in some manner show why and how this world happened technically, not simply assume climate change caused all of it. The twists and turns are related more to secrets than real surprises. Topics covered include climate change, family, greed, misogyny and misandry. Ultimately, Camp Zero is a slow paced but interesting dystopian climate change science fiction novel with an open but satisfying ending. Liked it but didn't love it.

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