Monday, October 30, 2023

Data Baby

Data Baby: My Life in a Psychological Experiment by Susannah Breslin
11/7/23; 224 pages
Legacy Lit/Grand Central Publishing

Data Baby: My Life in a Psychological Experiment by Susannah Breslin is a recommended memoir - for the right reader.

Right after Susannah Breslin was born in 1968 her parents enrolled her in an exclusive laboratory preschool at the University of California, Berkeley. She was one of over a hundred children who were research subjects in the Block Project, a thirty-year study and psychology experiment of personality development. The study was supposed to predict who the subjects would be as adults. The memoir has limited memories and revelations concerning her participation in the study and instead focuses on her various life experiences.

The description of this memoir does a disservice to the actual book Breslin wrote since the Block Project plays such a small part in the actual text. Now, the book written is not one I would have been interested in reading and reviewing. I'm not interested in the adult entertainment scene in San Francisco or the porn industry. I pushed through, hoping for more on the study she opened with. Honestly, in the end her memoir and style of writing weren't appealing for this reader. She does finally circle back to the study. The final examination of what happened to it and questions about the future were interesting.

This would have been better if it was an article about her participation in the study, skipped over the memoir bit, and then jumped forward to the final summation of her later research into it and what it could mean for the future.

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

Sunday, October 29, 2023

The Manor House

The Manor House by Gilly Macmillan
11/7/23; 336 pages
William Morrow 

The Manor House by Gilly Macmillan is a very highly recommended psychological thriller.

Loving couple Nicole and Tom won the lottery and have moved into the Glass Barn, a custom made house on the grounds of Lancaut Manor in Gloucestershire. They are living a life that neither one could have imagined until tragedy strikes. Nicole returns home and finds Tom's body in the swimming pool. She runs to the neighbors in the Manor House, Sasha and Olly, for help. Olly runs to check and see if Tom is okay while Sasha gets Kitty, their housekeeper, to sit with Nicole before she rushes to Olly's side. The police arrive and start an investigation into Tom's death. And a best friend form Nicole and Tom's childhood shows up to support Nicole.

Chapters in the narrative alternate between the point-of-view of different characters and there are also journal entries included from Anna. Questions arise about what is really going on until the first major twist in the plot is revealed. Then readers are still going to scramble to try and parse together clues and facts to figure out what is really happening. It is very entertaining to ponder the facts and examine them to determine who is guilty of murder, as well as other maleficence.

This is a well-written, clever, discerning psychological thriller full of tension amid an ominous atmosphere as the questions mount during the investigation. The start feels slow, but once little tidbits of information begin to be released and clues can be put together, the pace, suspense, and suspects rise. This is a case of extreme gaslighting where the twists abound and people are playing a long-con.

The characters are fully realized and feel like real individuals. Most of the characters are not likeable and their motives are suspect. It is difficult to know who you can trust, if anyone, in this thriller, but that is part of the enjoyment.

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

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Being Henry

Being Henry: The Fonz . . . and Beyond by Henry Winkler
10/31/23; 256 pages
Celadon Books

Being Henry: The Fonz . . . and Beyond by Henry Winkler is a very highly recommended, thoughtful memoir from the actor, author, comedian, director and producer. Henry Winkler really is a nice guy and it comes across beautifully in his memoir.

Most people will recognize Winkler for his iconic role as the Fonz, Arthur Fonzarelli, on Happy Days, and this is most certainly covered along with the many other roles he has played on Arrested Development, Parks and Recreation, and Barry to name a few, working as a director and producer and co-author of the Hank Zipzer children’s book series. This memoir covers Winkler's career with honesty, the highs and the lows.

Winkler openly shares some stories from his daunting childhood and academic deficiencies in school. He learned to use humor to cover his trials and this self-deprecating humor is clearly demonstrated throughout the narrative as he acknowledges insight into his personal struggles. The cause of many of his difficulties was revealed later in his life when he was diagnosed with dyslexia at age 31. Occasionally there are interjections from Stacey, his wife of 45 years, to offer an explanation or different perspective on something.

While it tells all, don't expect any dirt to be dished out about others, cementing the fact that Winkler is truly a nice guy without a huge ego. Many celebrity names are mentioned, but if the details are unflattering to the person in story, names are left out. If the story is about himself, he will freely admit his faults and shortcomings.

The Hank Zipzer books, featuring a main character with dyslexia, have touched a whole group of children that need the extra support. He writes: It has always struck me that out emphasis on the top ten percent of a class says they are more valuable than the bottom three percent. It this country is going to remain strong we need every child to be great at what they can do. Winkler and his family are committed to helping children.

Being Henry is an excellent memoir! Additionally, Winkler loves dogs so how could anyone not want to read his autobiography.

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

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

When I'm Dead

When I'm Dead by Hannah Morrissey
10/31/23; 320 pages
St. Martin's Press
Black Harbor #3

When I'm Dead by Hannah Morrissey is a highly recommended murder mystery.

It is October in Black Harbor, Wisconsin, Axel and Rowan Winthorp are watching the school play their daughter Chloe has a main role in when they are both called away and instruct Chloe to get a ride home with their neighbor. Axel is a homicide detective in Black Harbor’s police department while Rowan is medical examiner so this isn't the first time the two have had to suddenly leave and Chloe resents this. The scene they are called in to investigate is the death of teenager Madison Caldwell, a good friend of Chloe. The scene is gruesome. Hours later Rowan and Axel discover that Chloe is missing. Now they have a teen murdered, one missing and it looks like the two events are connected making the investigation more complicated and personal.

The narrative is told through the point-of-view of Rowan, Axel, and Libby, the teenage daughter of their neighbor. The characters are pensive, observant, and complicated in this murder mystery. The list of suspects grows exponentially with each chapter as the tension also rises with each new detail exposed. Allowing the plot to develop through the viewpoints of different characters works very well in When I'm Dead. Each of the three perspectives focus on different details and events which lead to new questions.

Although this is the third novel set in Black Harbor, it can be read as a standalone since the town is the connection between the novels. Expect a mean girls vibe, teen drama, bullying, rumors, suspect educators, and distressing self reflection, all set in the Gothic atmosphere of an apparently cursed city. For those sticklers of proper procedures, some disbelief must be utilized since parents would not normally be officially involved in an investigation, although it is explained away as the department being so short-handed.

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

Monday, October 23, 2023

The Paleontologist

 Book Cover

The Paleontologist by Luke Dumas
10/31/23; 368 pages
Atria Books  

The Paleontologist by Luke Dumas is a recommended psychological thriller.

Dr. Simon Nealy has returned to his hometown, Wrexham, Pennsylvania to become the Curator of paleontology at the Hawthorne Museum of Natural History. His sister disappeared when the two were at the museum as children, so many complicated emotions surround his return. The museum itself is a crumbling ruin and closed due to the pandemic lockdown so no income is coming in. As Simon tries to acclimate to his new positions and set the paleontology department into some sort of order, it seems there is some supernatural element or creature loose in the museum. Either he is loosing his mind or something else is going on and Simon must try to find out the answer.

The characters are fully realized and they all are portrayed as unique individuals with strengths and flaws. The backstory of Simon and the traumatic experiences he has gone through immediately makes him a sympathetic character.

The quality of the writing is excellent and Dumas does a credible job including the scientific information in the plot. With initial comparisons to Preston and Child's Relic, I had high hopes for The Paleontologist. I stuck with it based on the pluses: dinosaur bones, a creepy museum, and a childhood trauma tied into the museum. Admittedly, the rough spots right at the start were very off-putting with Covid and masking at the forefront of the entire novel. (Authors, please leave this out of novels.) Then something was mentioned when it would have been better to simply provide the facts with a nod to the readers intelligence to figure it out. As the narrative continued it was soon clear that there were simply too many scattered subplots and one of them required an inordinate about of suspension of disbelief for this reader. It is enjoyable, but not the page-turner I was hoping for.

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


Sunday, October 22, 2023

The House of Love and Death

The House of Love and Death by Andrew Klavan
10/31/23; 312 pages
Mysterious Press
Cameron Winter #3

The House of Love and Death by Andrew Klavan is a very highly recommended third mystery in the Cameron Winter series. This is an absolutely excellent addition to an already exceptional series!

After reading about the murder of four people at a wealthy family's home in the Chicago suburbs, ex-spy-turned-English professor, Cameron Winter, investigates. The only survivor is a young boy, while his parents, older sister, and nanny were all killed. Winter has a "strange habit of mind" that allows him to see connections or suspect facts that have been left out or overlooked at a crime scene. He was previously a trained operative, so this extra-special understanding of human nature has been developed over time. The police are looking for the easiest, expedient solution to the crime, but Winter knows there is something more.

In-between Winter's investigation into the current case are psychotherapy sessions with his therapist Margaret Whitaker where he recaps his most troubling cases to her. This provides additional depth and development to Winter's character as he confronts his own past and failings.

The House of Love and Death is an absolutely riveting, un-put-downable mystery that only becomes more intense and complex as the narrative unfolds. In an already excellent series, this investigation of Cameron Winter is the best to date. I was totally immersed in the action. Winter may know what his "strange habit of mind" is sensing as he investigates and it is sheer pleasure in following along as he pieces the clues together. As the novel progresses, the danger to Winter increases while the suspense and tension also multiply. The House of Love and Death is completely engrossing and riveting throughout.

Cameron Winter is a fully realized, complex and developed character who will garner sympathy and compassion from readers. He is intelligent and tenacious while investigating and following what he senses is really going on. It is clear that Winter is working through the demons from his past while using his abilities to solve a current mystery.

This can be read as a stand-alone novel, but readers will likely want to read the previous Cameron Winter novels after The House of Love and Death. The complicated plot becomes increasingly sophisticated as more information is revealed and Winter uncovers or senses additional information.

I love this series and anxiously await another novel featuring Cameron Winter. (I would appreciate it if Klavan didn't leave me crying again, twice this time, over events in the narrative.)

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

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Far Creek Road

Far Creek Road by Lesley Krueger
10/24/23;304 pages
ECW Press

Far Creek Road by Lesley Krueger is a very highly recommended domestic drama set in the early 1960's where a young girl faces adult problems. An excellent literary novel!

Mary Alice (Tink) Parker lives in Grouse Valley, a Vancouver suburb. Her father, like many fathers, is a WWII veteran and her mother, like almost all other mothers, is a housewife. Tink is nine (and ten) years-old in the novel and her life full of playing outside, reading comics, and attending school.  Tink's brother and sister are much older than her, so she is basically an only child. Her best friend is Norman Horton whose family just moved to the neighborhood. Both of his parents are teachers and the Hortons are different. A working mother is unusual enough, but they are also  intellectuals and hold strong left beliefs during the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The narrative foreshadows the coming fear surrounding the threat of a nuclear attack but there are also other things going on in the neighborhood that Tink doesn't understand. Krueger establishes the setting and the innocence of the time which contrast sharply with the changes and adult problems that come later in the novel. Tink is a wonderful, unforgettable, fully realized character. Kruger does an excellent job capturing her innocence, as well as her fear and uncertainty of the events around her that she has no control over.

The time period, at least from a child's point-of-view, is carefully crafted and presented in a realistic way. Duck and cover drills were especially terrifying as some locations practiced these well into the late 60's. With Far Creek Road, Krueger has captured a time in history of unrest and fear and the effects this had on a young girl and her friend. The narrative covers more than the political and international atmosphere of the times. It also clearly shows bullying, abuse, infidelity, and the inevitability of some people's unwillingness to think for themselves when it is easier to go along to get along. In some ways Far Creek Road is reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird.

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

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Christmas Presents

Christmas Presents by Lisa Unger
10/24/23; 224 pages
Mysterious Press

Christmas Presents by Lisa Unger is a very highly recommended psychological suspense thriller that is definitely not a Christmas story.

In 2014 Madeline (Maddy) Martin was the only survivor of a terrifying crime among friends and is trying to recover and move on. She is currently the owner of a successful bookstore, The Next Chapter Bookshop, and trying to balance working with making sure her father is cared for after his stroke. Now a true crime podcaster/writer, Harley Grange, is in town and looking into what happened years ago with Evan Handy. Handy was convicted for killing her friend, Steph, and is suspected in the disappearance of two sisters, also friends of Maddy, whose bodies were never found.

The problem is that since Handy went to prison, three other young women have gone missing. The most recent missing woman is Lolly and from the opening chapter readers know her from her job dancing at a club. Now Christmas is approaching, a blizzard is coming, and Lolly is still missing. She was looking forward to going home for Christmas. Grange is trying to look into the missing girls, but he needs help from those who were there when it started in 2014.

Billed as a novella, Christmas Presents weighs in at 224 pages so it's on the short side, but it is a complete, compelling story that readers will love. Unger expertly sets the atmosphere and introduces the characters. Maddy is a sympathetic character, She's trying to recover from what happened years ago, but it's a well known fact in the small town she's in. She's trying to help her father recover and make a living. Granger is who he is. He's not pretending or putting on a false front. He wants to dig and uncover anything that has been overlooked. Lolly is the only character experiencing terrifying circumstances, but her voice appears infrequently.

Admittedly, I guessed what was going on before the ending, but this is the pleasure in reading thrillers. Authors leave clues and readers follow them. Keeping in mind the page count, there wasn't a lot of extra time to distract readers and set up false leads.I knew what I was getting into at the start, but also knew Unger would write an exceptional story no matter  the length. I was right.

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

Islands in Deep Time

Islands in Deep Time: Ancient Landscapes Lost and Found by Markes E. Johnson
10/31/23; 312 pages
Columbia University Press

Islands in Deep Time: Ancient Landscapes Lost and Found by Markes E. Johnson is a highly recommended guided geological journey through deep time to find the traces of ancient islands. The greater appeal of this scholarly work targets professional and academic readers working in the field or related fields. Armchair enthusiasts will appreciate the journey too, especially if you are interested in ancient islands and their discrete ecologies and well preserved fossil plants and animals.

This is a journey through deep time across the geography of today's world in relationship to the origin of paleoislands. Each chapter includes a topographic map and a global map showing the location. These maps trace the changing positions of continents and oceans beginning five hundred million years ago to the present. There are many photos throughout.

Chapters focus on: New Hampshire's Mount Monadnock, Wisconsin's Baraboo Archipelago, Hudson Bay's Jens Munk Archipelago,Inner Mongolia's Bater Island, Western Australia's Mowanbini Archipelago, Western Australia's Labyrinth Karst, Wales St. David's Archipelago,Baja California's Erendira Islands, Maderia Archipelago, Azorean Santa Maria Island, Islands on the African and Pacific Tectonic Plates, and descending Mount Misen on Japan's Miyajima.

Johnson helpfully includes a Glossary for those of us who are a bit rusty on our terms. This is followed by the Notes, Bibliography, and index. This book is a travelogue that takes readers through time showing how ancient island seascapes can be viewed today from the rock record.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the Columbia University Press via Edelweiss.

Monday, October 16, 2023

West Heart Kill

West Heart Kill by Dann McDorman
10/24/23, 288 pages
Knopf Doubleday

West Heart Kill by Dann McDorman is a highly recommended murder mystery for the right reader. In this unique metafiction locked-room mystery the author frequently writes directly to the reader.

PI Adam McAnnis accompanies an old college friend for a long Fourth of July weekend at the West Heart club in upstate New York. McAnnis is there to look into suspicious activities, which start with a suspicious drowning followed by an accidental shooting. The plot is actually a basic locked-room mystery, which the author acknowledges. What make West Heart Kill unique is the ever present commentary of the author about writing, the history of mysteries, diverse plot devices, comparisons between various mystery novels, etc.

The murder mystery embedded between the commentary is a perfectly serviceable story, but West Heart Kill is not simply a novel, it is an instructional and informative ode to the whole genre via the author. What will make readers like or dislike the novel will be directly related to their reaction to McDorman's candidly addressing them in his commentary. It does feel a bit disjointed at the start and does take some getting used to. Some of the topics of discourse are more interesting than others. At times it also distracts from the actual mystery.

In the end it was a very entertaining novel/educational resource to read if you enjoy literature and mysteries, but in other ways the metafiction additions to the narrative made the novel more convoluted than it needed to be. It might have worked better to include fewer remarks by the author and the ending wasn't entirely satisfying. 

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

Saturday, October 14, 2023

Fatal Lies

Fatal Lies by Anita Waller
10/17/23; 282 pages
Boldwood Books
Forrester Detective Agency #2

Fatal Lies by Anita Waller is a highly recommended mystery and the second book in the Forrester Detective agency series.

They are remodeling and expanding their office space after Matt Forester, his partner Steve, and sister Hermia inherited the Forrester Detective Agency. A former DI, Matt's life partner Karen, remains a DS with the police force. The agency has also hired a new office manager, Carol, an astute woman who is actually over qualified for the job, but wants to work. The first case covered starts out as a burglary but turns into a much more serious crime.

The group all work well together with each other and the police as they investigate the cases, large and small, presented. It helps that all the characters are portrayed as individuals, with a few of them much more compelling than others, but they are all appealing and sympathetic.

The narrative is told through multiple points-of-view. Fatal Lies reads like a cozy mystery that is part private investigations mixed with a police procedural, which works well together. The main case is solved, and a bit predictable, as are the other cases, but it is a very comfortable, enjoyable read. Warning, it ends on a cliff hanger. 

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

Friday, October 13, 2023


Remote by Brian Shea, Stacy Lynn Miller
10/17/23; 260 pages
Severn River Publishing
Lexi Mills #5

Remote by Brian Shea, Stacy Lynn Miller is a recommended thriller and the fifth book in the Lexi Mills series.

A senator's aide is killed in a car crash and pieces of a mysterious object are found in the wreckage. At the same time ATF Agent Lexi Mills is called away from her honeymoon to defuse a bomb in an active bank robbery. Evidence is found at both scenes that indicate the Raven is back. The Raven is not only back, but he has cutting edge technology he is using in a controversial high-tech weapon. As they investigate it becomes clear that Lexi and Nathan Croft, her partner, need to use all their training and intelligence to stop the Raven's nefarious plans.

The plot moves at a fast pace and is full of twists and surprises. It is centered around a frightening new technology that has been developed - a drone resembling an insect/fly named the Locust. This small innocuous looking drone is capable of killing its targets.

It's important in this case to take note that this is book number five in the series because it really matters. Fans and followers of the series will likely enjoy this installment much more and rate it higher than I did as they have experience with the characters. Because I didn't have any backstory or history with the main characters, I never felt a connection to them. This is important in Remote because their personal lives are a major part of the narrative.

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

Thursday, October 12, 2023

The Longest Minute

The Longest Minute: The Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906 by Matthew J. Davenport
10/17/23; 448 pages
St. Martin's Press

The Longest Minute: The Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906 by Matthew J. Davenport is a very highly recommended, well researched and authoritative account of the historic 7.9 magnitude earthquake that struck San Francisco at 5:12 on April 18, 1906 and the days of fires which followed. The Longest Minute reads like a novel at times. The fear is intense as the huge earthquake hits early in the morning and devastates the city. Then the fires begin and the terror starts.

This is a well written and researched account of the natural disaster, but more importantly this is about the extensive fires that devastated the city. The Longest Minute is also the story of some of the people who lived through the disaster and some who were lost. The corruption and discrimination present during this time period is contrasted with the selfless individuals, workers, emergency responders, military personal, and the fire department who risked their lives and worked tirelessly to save who and what they could.

Davenport makes this narrative of the historical events intimately personal as he draws from a plethora of sources, including letters, manuscripts, newspapers, periodicals, memoirs, diaries, official reports, court transcripts, and archival records to tell the accounts of individuals. He presents the history of the area and creates a complete written picture of the totality of the disaster. This is an excellent choice for anyone interested in learning about the San Francisco earthquake and subsequent fires.

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

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

The Exchange

The Exchange: After The Firm by John Grisham
10/17/23;352 pages
Knopf Doubleday
The Firm series #2

The Exchange: After The Firm by John Grisham is a highly recommended legal thriller which takes place fifteen years after The Firm. Don't worry if you haven't read The Firm before reading The Exchange. This second novel can be read as a stand-alone where characters Mitch and Abby McDeere return.

Mitch and Abby now live in NYC with their two sons. Mitch is a partner at Scully & Pershing, an international law firm with 31 locations across the globe and Abby is a cookbook editor. Mitch travels to Rome to take over a case for Luca Sandroni, a Scully & Pershing partner in Rome who’s dying of pancreatic cancer. Sandroni's case involves a Turkish construction company, Lannak, that is suing the government of Libya for a huge unpaid debt on a construction project. Sandroni asks Mitch to have his daughter, Giovanna, assist in the case. Giovanna is an associate at the London office of Scully & Pershing. This is the start of an international plot of worldwide intrigue and perhaps even danger to Mitch's family.

This is another action-packed, globe-trotting legal thriller for Grisham. It is best to approach The Exchange as a stand-alone novel that simply shares characters from a previous novel rather than feel disappointed that the connection to the The Firm isn't stronger. It is a compelling, suspenseful novel that will hold your attention throughout if you don't set your expectations to a repeat of any previous works. There are only a few courtroom scenes as most of the novel consists of negotiations and travel.

Both Mitch and Abby are fully realized, sympathetic characters. They share the narrative with a lot of other secondary characters, who were all as developed as they needed to be. Honestly, the pleasure of reading The Exchange is in the drama, the negotiations, and international intrigue. The ending leaves room open for another sequel.

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

Sunday, October 8, 2023

American Girl

American Girl by Wendy Walker
10/17/23; 359 pages
Blackstone Publishing

American Girl by Wendy Walker is a very highly recommended psychological thriller with an unforgettable teenage narrator.

Charlie Hudson, an autistic seventeen-year-old, has a list of rules and a plan for her life. Her goal is to leave Sawyer, PA. Charlie has already been accepted at MIT, she is the top student at her high school and should be a shoe-in for the town's scholarship. As her stepfather won't give her any money to attend school, she has been working every hour she can at the Triple S sandwich shop since she was fourteen . She has a spreadsheet and a plan, saving everything for school.

When Clay (Coop) Cooper the loathsome shop owner and small town mogul, is found dead outside his house, the police investigation determines he was killed elsewhere. The problem is that Charlie is caught on the store camera after closing hiding under the counter on the night the murder occurred. Charlie refuses to say what she saw or heard because several people close to her have motives and she is going to protect those she loves. Charlie's silence, however, may be putting her in danger.

Charlie is a wonderful, fully realized, unforgettable character. The plot unfolds through her first-person narrative so readers can follow her thoughts, rules, and deductions as the sense of urgency and danger increase. She is a very sympathetic character. Clearly she is protecting those she loves while putting herself into harms way and a suspect herself.

American Girl is an admirably written, un-put-downable thriller that held my complete attention throughout the entire novel. There are facts Charlie is not divulging and twists along the way as more information is carefully released. What seems a simple case is much more complex and the character of Charlie makes it a remarkable, memorable psychological thriller.

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

Saturday, October 7, 2023

The Dayhiker's Guide to the National Parks

The Dayhiker's Guide to the National Parks by Michael Joseph Oswald
10/3/23; 354 pages
Stone Road Press

The Dayhiker's Guide to the National Parks: 280 Trails, All 63 Parks by Michael Joseph Oswald is a very highly recommended guide that will help a wide variety of hikers find the right trail for them among the more than 10,000 miles of trails in the U.S. National Parks. This guide is packed full of maps and information covering all 63 parks, with 198 trail maps and 280 of the best trails and has rounded corners for easy packing and reduced wear and tear.

The guide opens with a table of contents, organized by areas of the country: East, North, South, Southeast, West, Alaska, and Remote Islands. This is followed by an introduction, trail map legend, a list of Best Dayhiking Parks, Best Trails (with best 25 trails highlighted in blue). Each state  has a list of the favorite trails on the first page. The pages all have a color coded bar in the top corner (with a different color for the different areas of the country. States are named on the top left page and park name (and occasionally states) on the right. 

Trail information includes the name of the trail, the rating (easy, moderate, strenuous, extreme) length, elevation, and type of trail. This is followed by some general information on the park, trail, and things you might need to know and consider. For some parks there can be more information on various topics. Most commonly this is about more trails in the area, but other topics include, in part: safety,  shuttles, parking, time management, crowds, fees, weather, wild life,mule etiquette, more attractions and activities, and preparation.

Honestly, there is so much information here! While trying to hold back family members from borrowing the guide so they could plan their vacations, I looked over some trails I had hiked previously at some time in my life. The general information presented was spot-on and there were even additional trails noted that I knew nothing about. This one is an absolute winner for everyone who enjoys hiking trails.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Stone Road Press via LibraryThing Early Reviews.

Night Owl

Night Owl by Andrew Mayne
12/1/23, 315 pages
Thomas & Mercer
Trasker #1

Night Owl by Andrew Mayne is a very highly recommended thriller and the first book in an exciting new series featuring Brad Trasker, a retired counterintelligence spy.

Brad Trasker is retired after three decades in counterintelligence and trying to heal after a devastating personal loss when aerospace CEO Kylie Connor invites him to attend the launch of the Sparrow, an experimental hydrogen-powered aircraft. Trasker once met her when she helped him change a flat tire, so the invitation surprises him. When the aircraft explodes before the flight, Kylie miraculously escapes harm, but it now becomes clear to Trasker why he was invited. He begins to look into the act of sabotage and the conspiracy behind it.

Trasker is a great new character. His background and experience assists him now along with his unique mnemonic device/system to remember people, places, and things involved with the case. His logical, perceptive approach to uncovering more information and clues to follow makes the pages fly by.

In Night Owl, Mayne has given readers the first installment in an impressive, sophisticated new series. The opening prologue introduces two contract killers, so readers will know to expect to be immersed into a shadowy world. The fast-paced narrative continues to present a compelling, intricate plot that features memorable characters, advanced technology, and complicated international intrigue. I was completely immersed in the plot from start to finish and am excited to be in on the start of this series. I can't wait for the next novel!

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

Thursday, October 5, 2023

What We Kept to Ourselves

What We Kept to Ourselves by Nancy Jooyoun Kim
10/10/23; 416 pages
Atria Books

What We Kept to Ourselves by Nancy Jooyoun Kim is a recommended domestic drama about a family searching for answers about the disappearance of their mother.

In 1999 the Kim family, father John (61), and grown children Anastasia (Ana) and Ronald, are still struggling after their wife/mother (Sunny/Sunhee) vanished the previous year. When John finds a body in their backyard with a letter addressed to Sunny they are questioning her connection to the strange man.
In 1977 Sunny is married, pregnant, and moved to Los Angeles from Korea with her husband. Sunny has had a hard time adjusting and John is often gone, so she welcomed an unexpected connection at the bus stop with a good Samaritan. The two form a relationship and unknown to John, their son is named after him.

While the plot may pull readers in at the start, the writing is not as smooth and polished as one would expect. The mystery is compelling and will hook readers in, so it would have behooved Kim to concentrate on it. The twists will keep our attention and we will want to know what happens next, so keep the action moving. In spite of the potential, this is a very slow moving novel that can be repetitive, unwieldy, and dogmatic. Yet again I need to caution an author to keep their personal political/social views to themselves as it diminishes a novel. Show us in the plot and dialogue, don't repeatedly tell and lecture us.

As an uneven novel, this is recommended because of the potential and character development, but it could have been so much more.

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

Sugar Birds

Sugar Birds by Cheryl Grey Bostrom
10/17/23; 352 pages
Tyndale House

Sugar Birds by Cheryl Grey Bostrom is a very highly recommended literary coming-of-age novel that is a story of survival and, ultimately, forgiveness.

In Northwest Washington State in 1985 ten-year-old Aggie Hayes loves climbing trees, looking at the nests of wild birds, and later sketching what she saw. Her mother, who is suffering from depression and is unstable, angrily tells Aggie to stay on the ground and climb no more. Aggie later lights a small fire and thought she had put it out, but it later spread and burned down the families home. While her brother Burnaby is at their Aunt and uncles farm, their parents were burned in the fire. Aggie escapes the fire. Believing her parents have died and sure that she will be arrested, she runs away, to hide in the woods.

Celia Burke, sixteen, is left at her grandmother’s house by her father so he can go work a job on an oil rig. She's not sure how long she is going to be there and secretly makes plans to escape and perhaps make her way back to her friends in Houston. Shortly after she arrives, a search party is formed to find a missing girl, Aggie. Celia joins in the search with Burnaby, Aggie's autistic brother but notices another searcher, handsome dangerous Cabot Dulcie.

The narrative covers the two storylines, which eventually converge, of Aggie trying to live and survive on her own in the woods and Celia's teenage angst and anger toward her father. Celia becomes a part of Aggie's story as she continues to look for the young girl. Readers will have to suspend some disbelief as Aggie manages to live on her own and encounters real dangers, while also overlooking Celia's occasional impetuous behavior. Both of the girls are strong characters and the other supporting characters help add a depth and gravity to the plot. Burnaby is an especially compelling character along with Celia's bird biologist grandmother.

The writing beautifully captures the descriptions of the natural world and the love, care, and connection the characters have to it. The plot move at an even pace and the rich details help make it a compelling novel. There are several heart stopping scenes and events that present true danger to the characters. This becomes a story that covers a number of themes: survival,  healing, trust, forgiveness, restoration, and redemption, along with details about various birds. Every theme is gracefully connected to the characters in the story, although some of the lessons are hard-earned and painful.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Tyndale House via a LibraryThing Early Reviewer giveaway.

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

The Day She Disappeared

The Day She Disappeared by Lisa Hall
10/3/23; 353 pages
Joffe Books

The Day She Disappeared by Lisa Hall is a highly recommended psychological thriller.

Rebecca (Becky) returns to Kirton Island, the island where she grew up, when she learns her mother is very ill. When she arrives, it is in time to plan the funeral. Rebecca knows everyone remembers her and what she did sixteen years ago. She can feel their animosity, but she needs to stay to settle her mother's estate. As a writer, she has also promised her editor that she would be looking into a girl who went missing from the island, Violet. 

Everyone, with the exception of Violet's sister Ivy, seems to think Violet left the island. Since Violet was a part of the community of Travelers who lived on the other side of the island, people assumed that Violet simply left and really didn't look too deeply into her disappearance. Rebecca is determined to uncover the truth. And then another teenage girl disappears.

Rebecca is a well-developed and sympathetic character, albeit a little too introspective and fanciful. The backstory about the incident that was the impetus for her leaving the island and never returning is shared. Readers will understand her remorse over her actions years ago as a teen, but it really stretches credibility a bit that everyone on the island remembers and holds a grudge. Additionally, Rebecca should have developed more self confidence and moxie after being completely on her own for years. It was surprising she still cared what any of these people thought.

What helps the novel is the writing which will hold your attention and Rebecca's tenacity in looking into Violet's disappearance. Someone is also trying to make Rebecca leave and they seem to be escalating their actions/sabotage. As soon as all the characters are introduced the final outcome will be easy for long time readers of mysteries and thrillers to predict. However you'll keep reading to see if you're correct about how it all turns out. 3.5 rounded up.

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

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Buried Dreams

Buried Dreams by Brendan DuBois
10/10/23; 326 pages
Severn Rivers Publishers
Lewis Cole #5

Buried Dreams by Brendan DuBois is a very highly recommended mystery/crime thriller and the fifth novel in the Lewis Cole series. 

Keep in mind this is a re-release of a novel first published 7/1/2004. That threw me off when I recently reviewed #4, Killer Waves on 9/1/23, but I was prepared this time and it resulted in a greatly enjoyed novel. I was eager to read about what Lewis Cole was up to now and appreciated appearances from recently met and known characters, Felix, Diane, and Paula. 

In this outing, a friend of Lewis, retiree Jon Ericson, has been murdered. Jon had just called him about a discovery that he had been seeking for years, and just discovered the proof. Jon had spent years looking for evidence of artifacts proving that the Vikings had landed on their coast for years. When young he had found a coin, but sold it. He's regretted that for years. Now he excitedly called Lewis to tell him the good news: he has the evidence. When Lewis arrives at his home, what he finds are the police, crime scene tape up, and Jon has been murdered in his home. There are no sign of the artifacts.

Lewis takes Jon's murder personally and contacts his mobster friend Felix Tinios to help him find the killer, assuming it is Jon's brother, Ray, who is the prime suspect. Lewis's best friend, Detective Diane Woods, had asked him to please stay out of it and leave the investigation alone, but he is unable to do so. Lewis is in for a world of hurt this time out.

Having been introduced to all the characters with the previous Lewis Cole novel, I enjoyed Buried Dreams even more. The characters were still fresh in my mind and I remembered them so the character development was not an issue, as it had been when I read #4. I was actually quit happy to see these characters again. This may be a series where reading the previous novels definitely is helpful for the enjoyment of the current novel being read.

The writing is excellent and the fast-paced plot held my complete attention throughout. Lewis is an intelligent character and completely focused on his goal. With the help of Felix, he uncovers clues to establish Jon's activities and he follows up on what he can, ignoring Diane's plea. Lewis chooses to place his safety on the line and seek the truth. The ending is an unexpected twist and very well done. I'm now anxious to move on to number 6 in the series.

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