Thursday, June 29, 2023

Dead Man's Wake

Dead Man's Wake by Paul Doiron
6/27/23; 320 pages
St. Martin's Press
Mike Bowditch Series #14

Dead Man's Wake by Paul Doiron is a highly recommended procedural and the 14th book in the series featuring Game Warden Mike Bowditch.

His stepfather, Neil Turner and his new wife Jubilee Batchelder are holding an engagement party for Mike Bowditch and Stacey Stevens at their lake house. Her parents are also attending. The party is interrupted when mike and Stacey hear a crash and are sure it is a hit-and-run speedboat accident. When they arrive at the scene, they find a severed arm. Later, upon further investigation, the dive team recovers two bodies. The two were both married, not to each other, and having an affair. Mike suspects that the deaths were purposeful. The hunt is actively on for the killer and the suspects are plentiful.

Dead Man's Wake is a well-crafted, compelling procedural. Since it is the 14th novel in the series, readers who start here may feel, as I did, like they have missed a step or two, but it doesn't matter once you continue reading. The details of the  investigation help build suspense as leads are tracked down and the danger seems to increase with each step of the investigation. The plot is unpredictable and fast-paced.

Mike and Stacey are great characters and work well together. They are both highly intelligent, determined and persistent. The other characters all represent a diverse collection of characteristics and everyone feels like a fully realized character. Anyone who enjoys procedurals will enjoy Dead Man's Wake.

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

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Wonder Drug

Wonder Drug: The Secret History of Thalidomide in America and Its Hidden Victims by Jennifer Vanderbes
6/27/23; 432 pages
Random House

Wonder Drug: The Secret History of Thalidomide in America and Its Hidden Victims by Jennifer Vanderbes is a very highly recommended, thoroughly researched investigation of thalidomide in the US and beyond.

Thalidomide represents a shocking and alarming example of pharmaceutical negligence. Many people know of the severe birth defects suffered by babies in Germany and England when pregnant women were given the supposedly safe thalidomide early in their pregnancies. Few know that in 1959 the William S. Merrell Company was distributing samples of it to doctors for clinical trials. The company describing it as a sedative without risks and said that its approval by the Food and Drug Administration was sure to be soon. 

However, in 1960 when FDA medical reviewer Frances Kelsey was reviewing the application for thalidomide she wanted more data and testing documentation to prove the many claims being made about the drug. Soon it became clear to her that the research on side effects was shoddy and incomplete. The safety claims were reckless. Then she learned about the severe birth abnormalities abroad. She and other fought to block the authorization of the drug in the USA.

What was not immediately known was that this "wonder drug" was still distributed to thousands of women in the US through the free samples given to doctors. The records of who these doctors gave the thalidomide to were incomplete or nonexistent.  Most of the American victims of thalidomide were unknown or unable to prove they were given the drug. The pharmaceutical companies in the USA were never held accountable for the damage their "drug trials" did to people.

Wonder Drug is very well-written investigative journalism. The details are gripping and all of the historical facts are researched and documented. To help readers follow the story of this world-wide big pharma negligence, a list of people involved is in the front of the book so readers can keep all the personalities separate. This is a must-read, especially for those who are interested in history and details concerning a medical scandal of epic proportions.

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

Monday, June 26, 2023

Have You Seen Her

Have You Seen Her by Catherine McKenzie
6/27/23; 336 pages
Atria Books

Have You Seen Her by Catherine McKenzie is a highly recommended slow burning thriller set in Yosemite National Park.

Cassie Peters is escaping her husband and returning to a job she previously held ten years earlier when she lived in her hometown of Mammoth Lakes, California. She has it all planned. After dumping her phone and purchasing a burner phone, she heads off to her summer job working with Yosemite Search and Rescue. A case that occurred 10 years ago was the impetus for her leaving and this case still haunts her.

Also in the area is Petal, a young woman living in a trailer with Sandy, her much older partner. She writes in a journal daily observations about life around her. Also in the park are social media influencers and recent college graduates, Jada and her boyfriend Jim, who are documenting their trip to Yosemite on Instagram. Then, when a crisis occurs and hikers go missing, tensions run high and all hands are needed in the search and rescue team.

The narrative is slow to build but sets perfectly into place the final twist. Chapters alternate between noted "now" and "then" chapters, as well as journal entries and Instagram posts. Readers who enjoy novels from several unique points of view expressed in different ways will appreciate the format of Have You Seen Her. Some readers will need to take extra care to follow the layout of the novel, but most should easily follow the setup.

Clearly, the tension builds as you know something awful is going to happen right from the start of the novel. Character development is slowly established and similarities between characters are established. The women in the novel are fully established personalities that resemble real people. Although there are several surprises in store for readers that involve the character's personalities.

Those who love twists, a narrative told in a differing structure, and strong female leads will appreciate and hopefully enjoy Have You Seen Her for a great summer read.

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

Sunday, June 25, 2023

The Road to Roswell

The Road to Roswell by Connie Willis
6/27/23; 416 pages
Del Rey

The Road to Roswell by Connie Willis is a very highly recommended, hilarious science fiction novel. This delightfully entertaining novel has it all: aliens, a hideous bridemaid's dress, movie talk - science fiction and westerns, rattlesnakes, conspiracy theories, men-in-black, and a hint of romance. 

Francie owes her college roommate so it is her duty to show up in Roswell, New Mexico, and be a bridesmaid for Serena's wedding to a true UFO believer during the annual UFO Festival. Much to her shock and surprise, Francie is abducted by a real alien when she goes out to Serena's car to get the decorative fairy lights for the wedding. Her abductor doesn't look like any alien she has heard about. It resembles a tumbleweed with  lightning-fast tentacles and is forcing her to drive it out of town.

Francie is not the only abductee of the alien who is quickly given the name of Indie after Indiana Jones for his fast-moving tentacles. Wade, a hitchhiking con man is pulled into the car. Additional abductees who are pulled along include Lyle, a true UFO believer, Eula Mae, a gambling retiree, and Joseph, a fan of classic Western movies. They soon come to believe that they need to help Indie accomplish something, but what?

I laughed my way through this charming, humorous novel and was completely captivated by all the elements Willis included in the fast-paced plot. First, it was the awful neon green, glow-in-the-dark bridesmaid dress. Then it was all the references to science fiction movie plots and later Westerns. Adding to the engrossing story is the divergent cast of characters, the comedic dialogue between them, and the unique alien.

It's hard to explain fully why I loved this lighthearted, comical caper so much. The diverse cast of characters certainly added a comedic depth to the narrative and added to the entertaining plot. Francie is a wonderful character, both compassionate and rational while in the midst of an absurd situation. This is an absolutely perfect, wildly entertaining summer read. One of the most entertaining books of the year and I absolutely very highly recommend reading The Road to Roswell.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Del Rey via NetGalley.

Thursday, June 22, 2023

The Rachel Incident

The Rachel Incident by Caroline O'Donoghue
6/27/23; 304 pages
Knopf Doubleday

The Rachel Incident by Caroline O'Donoghue is a highly recommended coming-of-age novel about friendship and love set in Cork, Ireland.

The novel opens up in 2022 with Rachel pregnant and then quickly jumps back in time to 2009 when college student Rachel Murray first met James Devlin. Rachel and James both work at a bookstore and it is love and the start of an intense friendship at first sight. The two soon become roommates and as they experience the nightlife around Cork while the threat of a financial crisis emerges. When Rachel admits her crush on her married professor Dr. Fred Byrne, the two conspire to set up a reading of his book at the bookstore. Instead of Rachel trying to flirt with the professor, the event results in the unexpected entanglement of James and Dr. Byrne. This relationship results in complications between Rachel and James with the professor and his wife. Adding to the turmoil is Rachel's boyfriend, James Carey.

This is an in-depth character study, with a focus on young adult friendships continuing into adulthood. Neither Rachel nor James are particularly lovable characters. They can be humorous, engaging, and dramatic. They are both in the midst of growing into becoming the adults they will become while trying to navigate their current drinking and late night parties with living expenses and planning for some sort of future career. Really, this is about mistakes you make when you are young and revisiting them as an adult.

The first half of the narrative essentially captures the delayed adulthood of these characters, as Rachel looks back on these years. The development of the plot starts out rather slow and doesn't pick up until later in the novel. That is also when the characters begin to display more depth. 3.5 rounded up

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

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

The Last Sinner

The Last Sinner by Lisa Jackson
6/27/23; 400 pages
New Orleans #9

The Last Sinner by Lisa Jackson is a very highly recommended twisty Southern Gothic thriller which has led me to declare that I am never visiting New Orleans.

New Orleans homicide detectives Rick Bentz and Reuben Montoya are back. When a crazed killer targets Kristi Bentz, she is injured, but her husband Jay McKnight is killed defending her. Kristi has a series of true crime best sellers and one of the killer she wrote about may be after her. At the same time it appears that Father John, a fake priest obsessed with killing women that they though was killed and left for dead in a swamp, may be back or a copycat is at work. Several recent murders have followed Father John's modus operandi, choking victims to death by a string of sharpened rosary beads.

The set ups of the attacks happening and questions surrounding them work up to a frantic nail-biting pace that will keep you glued to the pages as they flew by. I was surprised at the page count as it felt shorter when I was reading. Is Father John back and responsible for all the murders and attempt on Kristi's life? She did write a book about him. Or is it someone else Kristi wrote about? What is happening is unpredictable and held my attention from beginning to end.

This is my first in the New Orleans series and I think I need to read the previous installments. It does work as a stand-alone for anyone who wants to start here, but you'll feel the same way and want to revisit previous novels in the series. All of the characters are great and feel like realistic, unique individuals. The plot was totally unpredictable and kept me guessing to the end. The Last Sinner is a winning summer read!

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

Saturday, June 17, 2023

The Imposters

The Imposters by Tom Rachman
6/27/23; 352 pages
Little, Brown and Company

The Imposters by Tom Rachman is a recommended literary novel told in stories.

Dora Frenhofer is an aging author with a failing memory. She wants to finish one more novel but she also knows her mind is going. It's the pandemic, she's in lock down and writing chapters about characters who are based on interesting individuals from her life. She invents stories that are likely based on her real life. Taken together, the stories the individuals chapter tell work together to create a whole picture.

This novel may, perhaps, not be one that everyone will generality enjoy. Many will appreciate the skillful, elegant writing but not everyone is going to like the literary device where the individual stories make up the totality of the novel. There were parts of the novel that I enjoyed very much, but not the entirety.

Normally, I appreciate character studies and novels that focus on character development, however, I felt very disconnected from this novel. I found it very difficult to immerse myself in the stories and care about the overall theme. What is clearly present is a depressing tone.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Little, Brown and Company via NetGalley.

Friday, June 16, 2023

The Quiet Tenant

The Quiet Tenant by Clémence Michallon
6/20/23; 320 pages
Knopf Doubleday

The Quiet Tenant by Clémence Michallon is a very highly recommended debut thriller about a serial killer and the one woman he kept as a prisoner.

A woman who has been instructed by her captor to call herself "Rachel" has been a prisoner, chained up and locked in a backyard shed for five years. She knows his rules and routines. She lives in constant fear and follows everything he says in order to live. Her captor is Aidan Thomas is a well -liked, hard-working family man and serial killer.

When his wife dies through natural causes, Aidan is forced to move. He takes Rachel with him, instructing her to say she is a friend who needs a place to stay, especially to his thirteen-year-old daughter Cecilia. She has a room/prison cell in the house and has a small measure of freedom in her new arrangements. However, when Emily, a restaurant owner who has a crush on Aidan, begins to try and form a relationship with him, it may unbalance the already tenuous situation.

The well-written narrative is told through the points-of-view of Rachel, Cecilia, and Emily, as well as some chapters from previous victims of Aidan. The Quiet Tenant is a woman-centered novel. Aidan is never developed beyond the superficial, but neither are the women beyond how Aidan influences their lives. Rachel is the most developed, but she is also the most fearful of her captor. 

This is absolutely a compelling and an un-put-down-able thriller. It is also, admittedly, a melodramatic novel, but, whatever. The narrative held my rapt attention throughout. It is an intense novel where the suspense keeps building and growing throughout the entire novel. Readers will fell Rachel's fear and trepidation while simultaneously learning how popular and well liked Aidan is in the community. A story of survival and resilience in an incredibly stressful and heartbreaking plot. Michallon is a writer to watch and I look forward to her next novel.

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

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

The Hotel

The Hotel by Louise Mumford
6/22/23; 336 pages

The Hotel by Louise Mumford is a highly recommended thriller.

Ten years ago four eighteen-year-old students travel to Ravencliffe, an abandoned hotel rumored to be haunted on the Welsh coast, but only three returned. Bex, Leo, Richard, and Oscar go to the hotel and film themselves exploring the spooky  setting. Something happens and Leo disappears, never to be seen again. The footage they filmed goes on to become a cult horror movie with a large fan following and an annual convention for fans, RavenCon.

Since her life-long friend Leo disappeared, Bix has hidden herself away and wants nothing openly to do with fans. However, she does attend the RavenCons just to see what is going on with the fans. It is there, on the tenth anniversary, she learns that Oscar, Richard, and, apparently, herself are going back to Ravencliffe and filming again. She doesn't want to, but a package she receives in the mail guilts her into participating and returning to the setting of her nightmares.

The narrative covers what happened ten years previously during the filming of the original Ravencliffe film that went viral and the current time period during the re-visiting of the movie sight. Mumford does an excellent job capturing the chilling terror in the original cult movie and the behavior of rabid fans, which creates the tension in the anticipation of what may happen in the re-boot. The creepy, apprehensive atmosphere will pull you into the story.

Bix is a sympathetic character and readers will like her. The pace is slow, especially at the start. It eventually picks up, but it does slow down the appreciation of the plot. Keep at it and the mystery is solved, but the writing could have been tightened up a bit the keep a faster pace. I did like the alternating between decades in the narrative to tell the story of the films in both time periods.

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

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

What the Neighbors Saw

What the Neighbors Saw by Melissa Adelman
6/20/23; 304 pages
Minotaur Books

What the Neighbors Saw by Melissa Adelman is a highly recommended domestic psychological suspense novel set in a wealthy DC suburb.

Alexis and Sam buy a fixer-upper in an exclusive DC suburb. It's a stretch for their budget, but Sam is sure to make partner at his law firm soon. Besides, they need the space for their family since Alexis is pregnant with their second child. It becomes clear that they may have taken on more than they can handle, especially after their second child is born. Having a space for their live-in nanny does help Alexis even though Sam is often away and becoming increasingly distant.

Alexis soon starts to meet the neighbors. After neighbor Blair's husband Teddy is found murdered on the steep banks of the Potomac River off a neighborhood walking trail, a friendship begins to form between Alexis and Blair. Blair actually helps Alexis meet other women in the neighborhood. Soon it becomes clear that the upscale neighborhood may not be as safe as Alexis first thought.

What the Neighbors Saw is a compelling novel that will hold your attention, like really good gossip. And the discussion of all the neighbors and their secrets is a very real thing in this novel domestic suspense. Many of the characters are simply caricatures of types of people, but there is a lot of juicy gossip that will be shared about them. Additionally, since Alexis just had a baby, even with a nanny she is exhausted all the time.

The novel alternates between chapters narrated by the first-person points-of-view of Alexis and Blair, so readers have real insight into their characters and thoughts. It becomes clear that social status and wealth has little impact on actual character. Alexis was embarrassed by her background, but she clearly had nothing to be ashamed of, especially as the novel progresses. What the Neighbors Saw is an entertaining domestic suspense novel, even if you guess where the plot is going.

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

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Welcome to Beach Town

Welcome to Beach Town by Susan Wiggs
6/20/23; 336 pages

Welcome to Beach Town by Susan Wiggs is a highly recommended coming-of-age novel.

Alara Cove is a California beach town known for its surfing and small town charm. Nikki Graziola, the daughter of a surfer, grew up in her dad's beach side trailer park. She became a scholarship student and valedictorian at the prestigious Thornton Academy, when, instead of her approved speech, she exposed the school's cover-up of a hazing incident that left her best friend dead. The school refused to give Nikki her diploma, even when other students came forward. She left her dreams of college behind and ended up marrying a professional surfer and becoming one herself. A tragedy has her returning to Alara Cove fifteen years later only to see the same wealthy family still controlling the town.

The novel is divided into four parts. Part one grabbed my attention and made me care about Nikki, while part two was less successful. The narrative picks up later in the novel and eventually reaches a satisfying conclusion. The plot is going to wander about quite a bit in the middle, however, before events eventually tie up all the loose ends. Set some disbelief aside, keep reading, and most readers are going to enjoy this novel as a great summer read.

As a character driven novel, the main focus are the people and you will care about them, flaws and all. All the characters are distinctive and believable. The descriptions of the beach town of Alara Cove, surfing, and making art will resonate with interested readers. Welcome to Beach Town is an enjoyable novel from start to finish if you just go with the flow.

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

Saturday, June 10, 2023

Malibu Burning

Malibu Burning by Lee Goldberg
9/1/23; 304 pages
Thomas & Mercer
Sharpe and Walker #1

Malibu Burning by Lee Goldberg is a very highly recommended thriller and procedural. What happens when you mix a charismatic and caring con man, a smart aleck, insightful former US Marshall, and a brilliant arson investigator and add in wild fires? A very engaging, entertaining thriller and pursuit.

An unexpected incident allowed US Marshall Andrew Walker to apprehend master thief and con man Danny Cole. While serving his sentence, Danny is a volunteer inmate firefighter and several memorable incidents during a fire sear a plan into his mind. When he is released, Danny begins to set his plan into motion.

Walker, now a new arson investigator, is assigned to partner with veteran arson investigator Walter Sharpe. Sharpe has an encyclopedic knowledge of flammable items and no real need for a partner, especially a comedian wearing a Stetson. When a series of fires begin right as the Santa Ana winds are blowing, resources are stretched thin and the fires are out of control. Sharpe and Walker are investigating, while Danny and his group are planning.

Memorable characters, great dialogue, dangerous situations, fast-paced action, and an interesting plot all work together to make Malibu Burning an impressive un-put-downable novel.

Obviously, the writing is excellent which makes for a compelling and captivating narrative. The descriptions and details in the story make it come alive and the plot keeps the action interesting and moving along at a brisk pace. Adding to its appeal are the well-developed and engaging characters who are all portrayed as unique individuals. There is plenty of humor, especially in the interaction between Walker and Sharpe, and several heart-stopping scenes with even a twist or two.

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

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Don't Forget the Girl

Don't Forget the Girl by Rebecca McKanna
6/20/23; 368 pages

Don't Forget the Girl by Rebecca McKanna is a so-so novel dealing with the aftermath of a traumatic incident.

Jon Allan Blue is about to be executed. Blue is the serial killer suspected in the murder of 18-year-old University of Iowa freshman Abby Hartman. Her body was never found. Abby's friends, Bree and Chelsea are still mourning her and upset that the memory of Abby is being overshadowed by the story of Blue's other victims. Now, twelve years after Abby disappeared, Blue's upcoming execution is news and a podcast is planning to focus on the story.

Rather than being a thriller, the narrative is really a deep-dive focus on the personal lives and feelings of Bree, Chelsea, and Abby, with Abby's chapters set in the past. At the beginning with the revelation that Bree was having an affair with a student, I was ready to set the novel aside. I stuck it out but perhaps should have DNF it. Adding to my discordant feelings is the fact that Bree and Chelsea's chapters are written in third person, while Abby's are written in first person. I found this incongruous and it made the flow of the story rough. However, since I was never fully invested in any of these characters and their feeling, it really didn't matter after awhile because I didn't care. This may be more of a new adult novel and I'm simply not the target audience.

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

Be Mine

Be Mine by Richard Ford
6/13/23; 352 pages
Frank Bascombe Novel #5

Be Mine by Richard Ford is a highly recommended literary novel and the fifth one featuring Frank Bascombe.

Frank, 74, is dealing with his own aging when he finds himself becoming the caretaker for his son Paul, 47, who has been diagnosed with ALS. They start their trip in freezing Rochester, Minnesota, where Paul is part of a study at the Mayo Clinic. The two decide to take a field trip for Valentines Day and travel in the winter through MN and SD to Rapid City to see Mount Rushmore. The two are both facing their own mortality while trying to create the happiness they can with what they have.

While the prose can soar and showcases the intelligence and insight that Ford is known for, this can also be a depressing novel. Certainly there are entertaining and funny parts, but the over all tone is melancholy. The narrative is told through Frank's point-of-view and he is a contemplative man, reflecting on his life, mortality, thoughts about happiness and the events transpiring around him. He remains a totally unique character in literature.

The Frank Bascombe novels are all centered around traveling during a holiday. For those who may want to read all of them The Sportswriter happens around Easter, Independence Day occurs around the 4th of July, The Lay of the Land is set during Thanksgiving, and Let Me Be Frank With You transpires during Christmas, and Be Mine takes place around Valentine’s Day.

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

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

The Long Way Back

The Long Way Back by Nicole Baart
6/13/23; 384 pages
Atria Books

The Long Way Back by Nicole Baart is a very highly recommended domestic thriller with several surprising twists in the plot.

When her thirteen-year-old daughter Eva begs her for an Instagram page, Charlie, mother to Eva, agrees to open a shared one as mother and daughter. The page is titled The Sutton Girls and a photo Charlie takes of Eva goes viral and the two actually begin to become influencers. After a year, the name of the account is changed to Eva Explores. The two share photos and descriptions of places they traveled, camped, and explored in their vintage Airstream trailer. Charlie is always very careful to never photograph their full faces.

When Eva is ready for her senior year of high school, she asks if the two can settle down so she can attend high school. They temporarily settled in Minnesota on the North Shore of Lake Superior. Eva has a job and is sending off applications to colleges. Charlie is hoping for one more summer on the road, but Eva isn't interested. The two do take their boat out on the lake one day just before Eva's graduation. When Charlie falls asleep on the boat, Eva disappears and Charlie is the main suspect. But hold on because that is just the first act of this novel. Things are about to get much more complicated and twisty.

The well-written narrative is told through the point of view of Charlie, Eva, Instagram posts, and Eva's college application essays. The presentation of these various plot elements work very well. The novel is almost divided into several sections. They are all interconnected, but each new revelation will be totally unexpected and shocking as it is explored in the novel.

One important point that can be written about is the two largest fears that are tapped into: a child's disappearance and the risks inherent in social media. Both Charlie and Eva are characters you will care about and long the best for in the end. The writing is pitch-perfect as it reveals new information and twists in the plot. Readers will not be able to guess the direction the plot is going to take.

A note must be made about the quality of the writing. Baart does an exceptional job presenting the story in the most caring, suspenseful, and intricate way possible. The Long Way Back goes above and beyond many mother and daughter novels. This will be a perfect choice for book clubs as there is so much that could be discussed.

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

Monday, June 5, 2023

Girls and Their Monsters

Girls and Their Monsters: The Genain Quadruplets and the Making of Madness in America by Audrey Clare Farley
6/13/23; 304 pages
Grand Central Publishing

Girls and Their Monsters: The Genain Quadruplets and the Making of Madness in America by Audrey Clare Farley is a highly recommended account of the Morlok quadruplets.

The four girls were born in 1930 in Lansing, Michigan to parents Carl and Sadie Morlok. The girls, Edna, Helen, Sarah and Wilma, were portrayed as part of a perfect family and even performed dancing and singing on stage for awhile. Behind closed doors, however, the girls were subjected to a turbulent home life and frequently cruel treatment from abusive and controlling parents. Their public image remained untarnished as the family made sure it was always portrayed as spotless.

By 1954 all four women, now 24, were diagnosed with schizophrenia. Researchers at the newly formed National Institute of Mental Health wanted to study the genetics of the mental illness and once they learned about the Morlok quadruplets they immediately included them as part of their research. They were given the "Genain" surname pseudonym during research projects to protect their identities. Their research was not quite as straightforward as they hoped because it became clear that both genetic and environmental factors played a role in the mental health of the Morloks.

Farley expands the account by including mid-century cultural factors, the background and practices of the psychologists involved, the exploitation of children, and other historical factors of the times. The story of the Morloks is compelling and horrifying. The background and extraneous historical and cultural information is not as interesting and not all of it was applicable to their story. There were several passages late in the account that had no association with the Morloks or their experiences and were more opinions on current cultural topics. Some of the things Farley attempted to associate with the Morloks did not apply to their situation.

The historical account involving the Morloks and mid-century psychology is interesting, horrifying, and powerful. This is what makes Girls and Their Monsters worth reading and what calls forth the comparison to Hidden Valley Road. There is some extraneous information and opinions which occur late in the narrative which should have been edited out.

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

Saturday, June 3, 2023

Speak of the Devil

Speak of the Devil by Rose Wilding
6/13/23; 304 pages
St. Martin's

Speak of the Devil by Rose Wilding is a recommended murder mystery.

Seven dissimilar women gather together at midnight on New Year’s Eve, 1999. In the middle of the room sits a man's head, no body in sight. The head belongs to Jamie Spellman and each of the women in that room had a reason to kill him. He had alternately lied to, seduced, manipulated, threatened, and betrayed each of them. They all say they didn't do it, but someone did and they need to find out who it was.

Chapters cycle between the voices of each of the seven women, slowly revealing their secrets and creating an incriminating picture of Jamie. To be sure, there are a whole lot of points-of-view to negotiate before you learn to care about any of these people and differentiate between them. This was a struggle for me because I wasn't caring about them as quickly as I normally would.

Also, to be fair, the opening does grab your attention and makes you want to know more. The chapters are short and things move along quickly so individuals do end up sorting themselves out.

Basically, Speak of the Devil is a tale about various women who encountered a hideous man and the reasons each of them might want him to be gone. It is an entertaining novel and a good vacation read if you can sort out all the characters while reading. It will create a diversion during any flights, however, if you misplace it in the airport you won't care.

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

The Island of Lost Girls

The Island of Lost Girls by Alex Marwood
6/13/23; 480 pages

The Island of Lost Girls by Alex Marwood is a recommended novel that tackles current headlines involving wealthy, corrupt, evil individuals and lost innocence.

Set on the fictional Mediterranean island of La Kastellana the narrative follows two timelines set in 1985 and 2016. London-based multimillionaire Matthew Meade arrives in La Kastellana in 1985 with the new Duke and plans to develop the island into a destination for the rich and powerful. This is when twelve-year old Mercedes Delia meets thirteen-year-old Tatiana Meade. The Meades secure Mercedes as a companion for Tatiana, which is the beginning of a life of serving the Meades.

In 2016 Robin arrives on the island looking for her seventeen-year-old daughter Gemma who has been missing for over a year. She had clues that Gemma was heading to the island, but once Robin arrives there she realizes that finding people willing to help her is going to be hard on this island controlled by the wealthy. At the same time an undercover Europol investigation of human trafficking is secretly working with Mercedes to gather evidence about the disturbing activities on the island.

This is a slow-moving and slow-to-build suspense novel that requires time and attention to details in order for readers to become immersed in the plot. However, once you stick with the story about half way through the book you will know the dark hidden truth and exactly the direction the narrative is taking. The plot clearly took inspiration from news stories about the wealthy and powerful using their positions to do exactly what they please and the cost their nefarious desires extracts from others. The details are dark and gruesome.

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

Friday, June 2, 2023

She Started It

She Started It by Sian Gilbert
6/13/23; 352 pages

She Started It by Sian Gilbert is a highly recommended debut revenge thriller.

Annabel, Esther, Tanya, and Chloe were best friends when they left secondary school ten years ago. Now all 28, Annabel is currently a housewife married to a wealthy man; Chloe is a social media influencer; Esther is in investment banking; and Tanya is an event planner. They were all surprised but couldn't say no to an invitation from another girl they knew way back when, Poppy Greer.

Poppy has shockingly invited them all to a hen party, a bachelorette party, on a luxurious private Bahamian island and is asking them to all be her bridesmaids. She has sent them first-class plane tickets to the all expenses paid luxury vacation. How could they possibly say no, even when they all know how horribly they treated Poppy years earlier.

Readers will know from the opening that everything is not going to go well. These are all shallow self-centered annoying characters and their first shocking surprise is that Poppy is no longer the insecure social misfit they teased and tormented years earlier. It is clear that this event is going to go awry in a big way. The narrative unfolds through alternating chapters through the point-of-view of different characters.

You do have to set disbelief aside right at the start. Even if they were feeling remorse for their earlier actions, why on earth would anyone go to any luxury resort with the tacit agreement that you are going to be a bridesmaid for someone who you bullied and abused? The whole set up for the plot is improbable and unbelievable. But once you accept the premise of the plot, it is addictively compelling, especially because any astute reader will know that things are going to go terribly wrong and secrets will be exposed.

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

Thursday, June 1, 2023


Backstory by William L. Myers, Jr.
6/7/23; 320 pages
Oceanview Publishing

Backstory by William L. Myers, Jr. is a recommended contemporary noir mystery.

Bob, Jackson Robert Hunter, had his head smashed against a brick wall by some unknown person and can't quite remember who he is. He's in a bar where people know him, so he knows his name is Bob. He gradually pieces together clues and memories. He lives in Kansas. His Wife, Helen has recently died by suicide. He can't remember what his job is or who his co-workers are. He does slowly recover memories of Helen and begins to believe that his wife was murdered. This memory and other clues eventually lead him to Philadelphia and his secret past.

This is a compelling narrative and readers will be sympathetic to Bob's search for answers. He is a complicated character with a complicated past. Readers will sympathize with Bob at the start of the novel, but Meyers will quickly show that he is a more perplexing and troublesome character than he appears to be at the start. The novel quickly turns from a noir to a thriller as Bob looks into his past to try and solve who killed Helen.

As a reviewer it was admittedly a struggle at times to read Backstory because it was slow paced at the beginning and the advanced reading copy was missing complete words and/or letters so I had to piece together clues from the text that was there to figure out what was what. This won't be in the final published edition, but it does inhibit an ease of reading comprehension for an advanced reviewer. The plot does pick up the pace and quickly becomes engrossing in the final chapters in the novel.

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