Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Blood Foam

Blood Foam by Brendan DuBois
2/13/24 (originally 6/8/15) ; 246 pages
Severn River Publishing
Lewis Cole #9

Blood Foam by Brendan DuBois is an excellent, very highly recommended addition to the series. Retired Department of Defense analyst Lewis Cole helps his friend, journalist Paula Quinn find her missing fiancé,  attorney Mark Spencer.

Still waiting on the insurance payment for his fire-damaged home on Tyler Beach, Lewis Cole agrees to help Paula find Mark who has been missing for several days. He and the police assume an accident sent Mark off the road and his body will be found soon, but he still begins searching for Paula's sake. The search quickly becomes complicated and dangerous, requiring some assistance from Felix Tinois, a "security consultant," as they try to evade a truly bad guy.

Another superb well-written Lewis Cole novel features a compelling case, lightning-fast pace, surprising revelations, some good food, and heart-stopping action in the intricate plot. As this series is being re-released, I am enjoying it more and more with each new addition to this action/adventure series. Lewis and Felix are both familiar interesting characters, along with Paula, and other known characters in the series make an appearance. This was an un-put-downable, stay-up-late to finish novel. DuBois is a wonderful writer. Thanks to Severn River Publishing for providing me with an advance reader's copy via Edelweiss. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

The Book of Doors

The Book of Doors by Gareth Brown
2/13/24; 416 pages
William Morrow

The Book of Doors by Gareth Brown is a debut magic realism novel exploring the power of magic books and evil. It is highly recommended.

Cassie Andrews works at Kellner Books in Manhattan when long-time elderly customer Mr. John Webber passes away in the store. With him is the copy of The Count of Monte Cristo, which he was reading, and a small leather-bound book which says inside the cover: "This is the Book of Doors. Hold it in your hand, and any door is every door." After that is an inscription to Cassie from Mr. Webber: "This book is for you, a gift in thanks for your kindness."

It's a strange little book. Inside are indecipherable marks and illustrations of doors. When Cassie shows it to Izzy, her best friend and roommate, Izzy is leery about it, especially when Cassie is holding it and the door opens up to a scene from her trip to Venice, but then the two experiment with the book visiting some local haunts and deem it safe. Cassie and Izzy soon meet Drummond Fox, the librarian, a Scottish man who has a collection of magical books he protects. There are several copies of various magic books that are highly sought after by collectors and The Book of Doors is the most sought after powerful book. He warns them that malevolent people are seeking the book and will stop at nothing to get it.

The time travel drew me into reading The Book of Doors, but in reality the novel is much more focused on magic and dark forces wanting to use the books for evil. In some ways at the beginning it felt like a YA novel until the descriptions of the actions of very violent, evil people entered the narrative. I honestly hoped the novel would go in a different direction, one of wonderment, then the direction it went, but I gamely stayed with it. Admittedly, I often struggle with magic realism in novels.

This was an entertaining novel for me, like a super hero action movie, rather than a great read. There were a few things in the narrative that were a definite negative. The characters of Cassie and Izzy felt really young to me and I never felt any affinity toward them until later in the novel. Expect lots of magic, superpowers, and evil. Thanks to William Morrow for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

The Stolen Girls

The Stolen Girls by Jeff Stetson
2/9/24; 382 pages
Storm Publishing

The Stolen Girls by Jeff Stetson is a story about grade school-aged girls being abducted and two fathers working together to find their missing daughters. It is a recommended mystery.

Ron is a widowed single father of eleven-year-old Jennifer who disappears waiting for her father to pick her up after school. A week later twelve-year-old Rebecca disappears on Venice beach when her father, Todd, is getting them food. When the news is immediately focused on Rebecca's disappearance due to her wealthy influential family, Ron busts into the news conference demanding the same kind of attention for his daughter. Todd later reaches out to Ron and the two fathers, from very different backgrounds begin to look together for their missing daughters.

The narrative follows the point-of-view of the fathers, kidnapper, and the girls. The start is promising but the challenge is to lift the plot beyond the expected trajectory of the plot and take it in a unique, unexpected direction because this is a common plot. Alas, that didn't happen which then means going through all the personal reminiscing, soul-seeking, and revelations of the fathers is diminished by the predictable direction the narrative takes.  some connection between the kidnappings should have been investigated.

It was satisfying to see two very different fathers join together to find their daughters and the two police officers understand their positions. Based on the dialogue, the girls seem older than their ages. Perhaps they are just mature for their age, but this isn't a persuasive argument. I'm also not entirely convinced that introducing race and income to the plot helped in the final denouement. Two very different father teaming up was a good choice but to keep mentioning the racial and class differences was too much. 3.5 rounded down. Thanks to Storm Publishing for providing me with an advance reader's copy. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Friday, January 26, 2024

The Other Profile

The Other Profile by Irene Graziosi, translated by Lucy Rand
2/20/24; 224 pages
Europa Editions

The Other Profile by Irene Graziosi, translated by Lucy Rand  is a so-so novel about social media influencers. Maia, 26, is living with an older professor and works a couple days a week as a waitress at his insistence. After the death of her younger sister she just wants to lay on the sofa and watch Law and Order SVU. Then the opportunity arises to work for Gloria, an 18-year-old influencer with millions of followers. Maia's job is basically to help Gloria keep her image which is all she has and maybe include a bit of personality in her interactions.

Maia is an unreliable and unlikeable narrator. Gloria is an insipid, vacuous inst-influencer. It is a struggle to care about either of these characters throughout the whole novel, beyond being annoyed by them. The novel itself has a vague, unfinished feeling. This one is best skipped unless you are really interested in on-line personalities. Two stars because I finished it, but, honestly, I wish I had simple set it aside and moved on. Thanks to Europa Editions for providing me with an advance reader's copy. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

The Women

The Women by Kristin Hannah
2/6/24; 480 pages
St. Martin's Press

The Women by Kristin Hannah is an exceptional portrait of a nurse serving "in country" during the Vietnam War and then returning home. This is a very highly recommended, emotionally charged historical fiction novel which will certainly be one of the best books of the year. This would be an excellent choice for book clubs and will certainly result in thought-provoking discussions.

After nursing student Frances “Frankie” McGrath hears the words "Women can be heroes too," while looking at her father's wall of heroes featuring pictures of the men in their family who served their country during a party for her brother Finley who is leaving to serve his country in Vietnam. After she gets her RN she follows the lead of her older brother, and joins the Army Nurse Corps and begins basic training in 1966. Once she arrives in Vietnam, she is overwhelmed by the smells, sights and chaos, but is shown support and the ropes by fellow nurses Ethel and Barb. She quickly steps up and adapts to the responsibilities of a surgical nurse dealing with horrific injuries under extreme conditions.

After serving two years, Frankie comes home and faces a different kind of battle. Her father is ashamed of her service, the country does not recognize nurses who served and sacrificed as veterans, and the country is in turmoil. The only help and support she can find  for her PTSD are from Ethel and Barb who understand what she is going through mentally and help her adapt to civilian life in a changed country.

The writing is phenomenal and manages to create an emotionally charged, realistic, and vivid portrait of Frankie's service and her struggles. I was completely immersed in The Women from start to finish. Part of my complete captivation with the narrative was based on my memories from that time period. I was young, but have vivid memories of events from the sixties and certainly more from the seventies. Hannah managed to create a complete portrait of the women and the times (including clothing).

The experiences the characters experience is heart-breaking. Frankie is a completely fully-realized realistic character who garnered my compassion and empathy. Her treatment when coming back from war to work in a hospital is eye-opening and in many ways disgusting. 

This is the best kind of historical fiction as it takes a long sweeping view covering years of a character's life as society, information, and point-of-views constantly change around the characters. It covers an era and a turbulent time. The narrative is broken into two parts. The first deals mainly with the war and the second with trying to reenter civilian life after the war. 

The Women by Kristin Hannah is a must read novel. I expect it to be on many lists for the best novels of 2024. Thanks to St. Martin's Press for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

The Ghost Orchid

The Ghost Orchid by Jonathan Kellerman
2/6/24; 304 pages
Random House
Alex Delaware Series

The Ghost Orchid by Jonathan Kellerman has Psychologist Alex Delaware and LAPD  Homicide Detective Milo Sturgis return to solve a perplexing double homicide. It is a very highly recommended procedural and marks the 39th Alex Delaware novel. Newcomers to the series who enjoy well-written procedurals can easily enjoy The Ghost Orchid as a standalone novel, but once started you will want to delve deeper and read more novels in the series.

Alex has recovered from a previous injury so when Milo calls he is eager to assist him on another case. Two bodies are found by the pool at a house in Bel Air. The residence is that of male victim, Gio Aggiunta, the wealthy heir to an Italian shoe empire. The female victim, Meagin March, is an even wealthier married older woman. Robbery doesn't appear to have been a motive. And while Meagin's husband Douglass is a natural suspect, it becomes clear as the investigation continues that, while he is a jerk, he's likely not the suspect they are looking for. The case requires Milo and Alex to fig deep into the past of the two victims.

This is an excellent addition to the very well-written long-running series. The case is fascinating, the pace is fast, the details are interesting, and the plot is compelling from start to finish. The intricate investigation into the lives of the two victims is engaging and riveting as details emerge. While I am well acquainted with the characters, enough details are provided for new readers to easily follow the dynamic relationship between Alex and Milo.

Once I started The Ghost Orchid I kept reading until I finished it, the mark of a very satisfying procedural. Thanks to Ballantine Books for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Sunday, January 21, 2024


Nightwatching by Tracy Sierra
2/6/24; 368 pages
Penguin Viking/Pamela Dorman Books

Nightwatching by Tracy Sierra is a highly recommended domestic horror novel that morphs into a psychological thriller.

There is a blizzard outside and a mother is at home alone with her two children, ages 8 and 5, when she hears something and knows that someone is in the house. She happens to be in the shadows of the hall by her son's room when she seems the huge, tall man come up the stairs, hesitate, and then head in the opposite direction, to her room. She wakes the children with admonishments to make no noise and they quickly creep downstairs to hide in the hidden, tiny secret space concealed behind a wall. They can hear the man searching for them, while talking to them out loud and taunting them. The mother has one goal now - she must save her children.

While the tension is almost unbearable during the current situation, the narrative has flashbacks to previous events in the protagonists life. Readers will realize her husband is missing on this night and will also learn about earlier events in her life. The novel is written in a third person limited point-of-view, which works well in this case. The descriptions within the settings are very well-written and bring the struggles and challenges facing her to life.

The characters are unnamed in this debut novel, which would not be my preference in a novel, but it is handled adeptly. Everything we know is filtered through the unnamed mother's perspective and we are only following her thoughts and observations. To be honest, the frequent mentions of how tiny, small, and petite the protagonist is does become a tad bit annoying at a certain point as does her hesitation to stand up for herself.

The first part of Nightwatching is definitely written as a horror novel and then the novel transforms to more closely resemble a psychological thriller. The final denouement is very satisfying and makes up for some of the earlier doubts and questions about the plot that arose while I was reading. Thanks to Penguin Viking/Pamela Dorman Books for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Fatal Harbor

Fatal Harbor by Brendan DuBois
1/30/24 (originally published 5/8/14); 250 pages
Severn River Publishing
Lewis Cole #8

Fatal Harbor by Brendan DuBois is a very highly recommended tale of justice and vengeance. As the eighth book in the Lewis Cole series it would behoove those new to the series to at least read  the previous book, Deadly Cove, before Fatal Harbor, but, honestly, you will want to read more. Lewis Cole is a wonderful character and this series is addictive.

Lewis Cole's best friend, Detective Diane Woods of the Tyler Police Department, is in a coma after protest coordinator Curt Chesak beat her with a pipe. Chesak then, seemingly, disappeared. Cole, with help from his friend Felix Tinios, a security consultant, set out piecing together clues they have in order to find Chesak. It quickly becomes apparent that they are being followed. Someone or some organization does not want him to investigate and they are armed. What these individuals don't know is Cole's determination and resolve to bring his own brand of justice to bear on Chesak no matter the personal cost.

Fatal Harbor shows a new side to the character of Lewis Cole that readers may have suspected was always there, but now it is out in the open. This is personal. He is angry and seeking vengeance, yet he is still observant and careful in his methods. The well-written narrative moves at a fast pace with several surprises and twists along the way. The ending was absolutely excellent. This may be my favorite book in the series read along with Deadly Cove. I actually highlighted several written passages while reading. Thanks to Severn River Publishing for providing me with an advance reader's copy. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Thursday, January 18, 2024

A Soul for a Soul

A Soul for a Soul by Carol Wyer
1/30/24; 381 pages
Thomas & Mercer
Detective Kate Young #5

A Soul for a Soul by Carol Wyer is a recommended procedural and the fifth book in the Detective Kate Young series.

Kate Young is now DCI after her mentor and father-figure William Chase was killed. She misses him greatly as she does her murdered husband, Chris. Kate is also full of guilt over a death she played a role in, that of Superintendent John Dickson. DI Harriet Khatri, who is awaiting trial for William's murder, contacts Kate proclaiming her innocence. She believes evidence was tampered with and begs Kate to look into it. Kate is also doing her own separate investigation after receiving anonymous photographic evidence implicating her. She is determined to take the syndicate down and stop them once and for all.

Now Emma Donaldson is promoted to DI and takes on the investigation after a woman's body is found on the site of a new housing development. The case becomes that of a serial murderer/robber who incapacitates his victims with a powerful narcotic called Devil’s Breath and then robs them. The investigation is complicated by people withholding the truth from her. Emma's life partner, DI, Morgan Meredith, is involved with Operation Moonbeam into people trafficking. Their relationship is under a lot of stress because they are both so busy.

There are two complicated investigations being conducted in this well-paced procedural. Following Emma as she takes on the position of Acting DI is very compelling and satisfying. Although I have read one previous book in the series, it is clear that following the entire series in the order which it is written would be preferable for those interested in it.

What pulled this novel down for me were the two voices talking to Kate in her head, William and Dickson, and her replying to them. This was overdone, distracting, and quit frankly, a bit disturbing. Think about it, she is hearing voices in her head frequently and sometimes replies to them verbally. The plot device of her auditory hallucinations is likely being used to show how she has been traumatized and is under great stress, but it felt way too overused to me and became disconcerting.

Thanks to Thomas & Mercer for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Twenty-Seven Minutes

Twenty-Seven Minutes by Ashley Tate
1/30/24; 384 pages
Poisoned Pen Press

Twenty-Seven Minutes by Ashley Tate is a recommended novel of psychological suspense.

Ten years ago an accident resulted in the death of Phoebe Dean. Her brother, Grant, was driving at the time and classmate Becca was a passenger. They were both injured but survived. For the past ten years, residents in the small town have been obsessed with the tragedy and continually question why Grant waited 27 minutes before calling 911. The official story is that he hit a deer, was knocked unconscious, and injured Becca was unable to help. The town thinks he waited to sober up before calling.

June has just buried her mother. Ten years ago on the same night of the accident, her brother Wyatt and her father disappeared. No one in the town attended her mother's service or have shown any concern about her brother's disappearance. She has always wondered why Wyatt never contacted them or returned for a visit. Now on the unfortunate anniversary of that night, a memorial service is being held in Phoebe's honor and the truth about that night might finally be revealed. 

The narrative is told through the points-of-view of Becca, Grant, June and Wyatt, predominately from the present day with occasional chapters from ten years ago. Chapters are clearly marked indicating which character's POV is presented and flashbacks are italicized in these chapters. The tension and suspense is slowly created through the secrets being held and the anticipation that the truth will be revealed. There is also a supernatural element.

Having a town obsess over an accident from ten years ago while canonizing a teenage girl requires setting aside a good dose of disbelief. Once this is accomplished readers can expect a drawn-out, very slow moving story. I was hopeful that the character development would redeem the glacial pace but this doesn't happen because all the characters are unlikable and stuck in the past. There are a few glimmers of hope at the beginning and along the way that the plot may take a less predictable turn, but, alas, it was not the case. 2.5 rounded up.

Thanks to Poisoned Pen Press for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

The Girl in Room 12

The Girl in Room 12 by Kathryn Croft
1/26/24; 365 pages

The Girl in Room 12 by Kathryn Croft is a highly recommended mystery full of secrets, tension, and deception.

While their daughter Poppy is happily chatting about her day, Hannah's husband Max is late, again. Max has been staying out late, distracted, and unnaturally short-tempered lately and Hannah wonders what is instigating this change in personality. After Max returns home Hannah picks up the suit coat he left crumpled on the floor. When checking the pockets she finds a key card to a room at the River Walk Hotel, where the news just reported a young woman was found murdered. Was Max having an affair with her and is he responsible for the murder?

The narrative is a twisty tale as more information is uncovered and Hannah's personal investigation takes different directions. The Girl in Room 12 is compelling throughout. Not all of Hannah's actions are believable but the mystery, tension, secrets, deception and betrayals are nonstop right to the end. It's also clear that not all the characters are reliable or trustworthy and what is really happening is not revealed until the end.

The writing is very good. Croft establishes her characters, especially that of Hannah, and then creates a complex, layered plot to hold your attention. There is plenty of misdirection thrown into the mix to try and distract you from following clues. The story could have been tightened up a little, however, as there is a bit of a slowdown halfway through the novel. Keep reading though because the ending is jam-packed with shocking surprises and twists.

Thanks to Bookouture for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

The Child at My Door

The Child at My Door by Sam Vickery
1/23/24; 306 pages

The Child at My Door by Sam Vickery is a highly recommended domestic thriller that exposes a family's secrets.

When a taxi drops off a four-year-old boy at her door, Clarissa knows is shocked. When the taxi driver and the boy both identify her as the grandma, she knows it's a mistake but has the boy, named Tommy, come in for them to sort it out and find his mother. When she asks, Tommy tells her his mom said to call her Grandma and he says his mom is called Chloe. Clarissa's daughter Chloe left home fifteen years ago and she has told everyone that Chloe died. If Chloe is alive, where has she been for the last fifteen years?

There is no doubt that once you start reading The Child at My Door it soon becomes un-put-downable. Once this well-written thriller starts it builds slowly but steadily until you can't turn the pages quickly enough. You will find yourself glued to the pages to see what happens next. Readers will quickly learn that Tommy was sent to his previously unknown grandmother because her daughter is in an abusive relationship with his father, Scott, and she needs to protect Tommy. While some issues are clear in the novel, others are more obscure and hidden under layers of secrets and lies.

But all isn't quite as it seems with Clarrisa or Chloe and neither seems to be a reliable narrator. Chapters alternate between the two and also between the past and present. Soon questions will arise about what really happened fifteen years ago and why are the neighbors, Mirium and Jeff, so concerned about the boy and her caring for him? Are they really noisy neighbors or do they have reasons to be concerned. A complicated backstory soon emerges.

Admittedly, you have to agree to set disbelief aside and just follow where Vickery decides to take you and what information will be revealed in the plot. I did guess some major plot elements early on, but there were several surprises and some great slight of hand along the way that had me doubting my intuition. This is an entertaining novel.

Thanks to Bookouture and NetGalley for providing me with an advance reader's copy. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Saturday, January 13, 2024

The Sleeping Girls

The Sleeping Girls by Rita Herron
1/22/24; 402 pages
Detective Ellie Reeves #9 

The Sleeping Girls by Rita Herron is a highly recommended police procedural and the ninth book in the Ellie Reeves series. Ellie is again working with FBI Agent Derrick Fox and SAR Cord McCain.

Detective Ellie Reeves from the small town of Crooked Creek in the Appalachian Mountains investigates the case of missing fifteen-year-old Kelsey Tiller in nearby Red Clay Mountain. It seems she disappeared from her bedroom, but evidence shows she went outside via her window. Neighbors say they saw her with a secret boyfriend even though she is not allowed to date. Even though Kelsey is well-liked, evidence is found of teenage cyber-bullying toward her and her two friends. Before Ellie finds Kelsey, a heartbreaking picture is sent to her mother and another girl is missing.

During this same time "Digger" Darnell Woodruff is released from prison due to the work of the Innocence Project and true crime podcaster Caitlin O'Connor. He was convicted of killing his sister ten years earlier while sleepwalking. There may be similarities between Kelsey's case and what happened years ago, but Darnell has an alibi. Could he still be the perpetrator or is something else going on in Red Clay Mountain?

The writing is very good and the drama will hold your attention throughout. Readers will know from the first chapter that someone who does not have good intentions is watching Kelsey and her two friends. The narrative switches between the perspective of different characters, including the unnamed killer, creating tension and suspense while propelling the action forward. Short chapters with the different points-of-view help keep the pace fast and interest high. The ending is very satisfying.

The ongoing attraction and the tension it creates between Ellie and Cord is a plot thread for those following the whole series. This is only my second book from the series so, to be honest, I didn't really care. I was reading for the procedural and mystery rather than any romance. Readers can jump into the series and, as I did, read The Sleeping Girls as a standalone novel for the procedural, however, if you want a more complete picture of the characters personalities and the ongoing interaction between them you might want to start at the beginning.

Thanks to Bookouture and NetGalley for providing me with an advance reader's copy. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.


Thursday, January 11, 2024

The Missing Witness

The Missing Witness by Allison Brennan
1/23/24; 416 pages
MIRA Books
Kara Quinn #5

The Missing Witness by Allison Brennan is a complex procedural which leads readers through an intricate labyrinth of information to a very satisfying final denouement. It is very highly recommended and the fifth book featuring Kara Quinn.

Detective Kara Quinn and FBI agent Matt Costa have returned to Los Angeles where Kara is going to testify against human trafficker David Chen. Then Chen is shot on his way to court and a witness to the crime disappears. The witness also happens to be an important whistleblower to an even bigger case of corruption involving city leaders, the police and the FBI that is also tied to the case against Chen. There are many hidden secrets and knowledge about the corruption and who is involved is dangerous.

The pace is fast, there are numerous details to recall, and there are also a large number of characters to follow which all work together in this complex intricate labyrinth of a novel. An important aspect of the story involves the homeless population and secrets, schemes and corruption involving solutions to the issue. While the tension is high, it's essential to keep track of all the clues and details to appreciate the complicated puzzle the case presents and follow everything to the conclusion.

As I have been following this series, it was easy to recognize known characters and pick up where we left off. Readers may benefit from following the series in order, but you can also jump into it with The Missing Witness. Kara Quinn is a wonderful character. She is intelligent, determined, and fearless. Matt Costa is equally intelligent, tenacious, and compliments her character nicely. There are a whole lot of characters that are also written as realistic individuals.

This is a must read for anyone following the series, as well as those who enjoy procedurals and novels of suspense. I was actually going to rate the novel down a star until late in the novel where Brennan pulled out all the stops. At this point the action was incredible intense and there were several shocking surprises and twists. The order of the series is The Third to Die, Tell No Lies, The Wrong Victim, Seven Girls Gone, and The Missing Witness. Disclosure: My advanced reading copy (ARC) was courtesy of MIRA Books via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels

The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels by Janice Hallett
1/23/24; 432 pages
Atria Books

The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels by Janice Hallett takes a modern twist on an epistolary novel and is highly recommended. Rather than letters, the narrative develops through modern modes of communication: transcripts of interviews, texts, email, WhatsApp messages, scripts, online articles, podcasts, drafts of written work, etc.

Amanda Bailey is a true-crime author who is planning to revisit a notorious case from 18 years ago and write the definitive book about the what happened and the baby involved. The Alperton Angels were a lethal cult who believed they were angles. The currently imprisoned leader, who called himself Gabriel, brainwashed re-named teens Holly and Jason to believe that they were also angels and that the baby they were caring for was the anti-Christ. After the fatal events from years ago, the teens and baby disappeared. That baby would be 18 now.

Amanda is sure she can uncover what really happened and the real identity of the teens and the baby. When she starts her research she learns that an old rival Oliver Menzies is also planning a book on the exact same subject. The two are equally industrious and assertive journalists who are eventually forced into an uneasy collaboration by their publishers.

Following along with Amanda's fiendishly clever efforts to research and uncover material, you will be able to piece together clues and have questions arise as you follow all the clues and information which arises. It is a layered, complex narrative that can change with each new data piece and questions arise constantly. It is in doubt that the truth is known or has ever been told. The tension rises along the way as people with information seem to be dying.

Ellie Cooper, is a PhD student and the transcriber for Amanda's recorded interviews. She also inserts her own comments and observations as her work is shared, which are refreshing and always appreciated while reading.

Generally, I enjoy epistolary novels but I will admit that this felt like a little too much of a good things and toward the end I longed for some story telling in a more traditional format. It could have been due to the length of the novel. The ending is a shocking twist and made pushing through worth it. 4.5 rounded down.

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

Monday, January 8, 2024

Mr. Jimmy From Around the Way

Mr. Jimmy From Around the Way by Jeffrey Blount
1/16/24; 350 pages
Beaufort Books

Mr. Jimmy From Around the Way by Jeffrey Blount is a feel-good novel about redemption, giving of yourself, assisting others, and empowerment. It is very highly recommended literary fiction.

James Henry Ferguson is a billionaire who made a mistake that was spread across social media and ruined his reputation. His wife, Rebecca, and daughters aren't talking to him. Neither are his father, a minister, and his mother. What he decides to do is flee and return to a simpler life. He buys a dilapidated house he sees online, has it fixed up for him, and moves to Ham, Mississippi. Once there he realizes he is now living by a community of abject poverty that is called "Around the Way."

He becomes known as Mr. Jimmy and he immediately recalls lessons his parents taught him about giving of yourself and helping others less fortunate. He establishes a relationship with his neighbors, beginning with Miss Septima next door . He begins to help the children both is giving them paying jobs for a sense of responsibility and accomplishments, and helping them improve their reading skills. He tries to do more but the community of Ham is controlled by racism and a leader who enjoys his power and using it against people.

Mr. Jimmy From Around the Way is a novel that tugs at your heart strings while covering topics that seem hard to believe are still issues today. Mr. Jimmy is a great character and his heart is true. His immediate urge to reach out and find a way to help his neighbors is commendable. Even though he is trying to find redemption and make amends for an error and fall from grace - a departure from his moral integrity - he really does care about his new neighbors.

Once I started reading Mr. Jimmy From Around the Way, I was totally immersed in the novel and could barely stop thinking about the characters before I could get back to finishing it. It is that compelling and it will hold your complete attention throughout the entire narrative. While reading, I felt like I was there, experiencing Around the Way, the poverty, the families, the kids. The fact that literacy opens up a world of opportunity and a path to all sorts of other learning is something I am passionate about.

There is a measure of suspension of disbelief that is required for complete enjoyment of the plot. Certainly having something go viral on social media is believable, however, it is a bit of a stretch to think Jimmy's fall from grace would be as huge as depicted, especially considering Rebecca's problem and actions, and that this would send him off to do penance in rural Mississippi. And it is convenient in so many ways that he is a billionaire who can immediately do things to help. 4.5 rounded up because this is such a feel-good novel and the ending is satisfying.

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

Saturday, January 6, 2024

The Fury

The Fury by Alex Michaelides
1/16/24; 320 pages
Celadon Books

The Fury by Alex Michaelides is a clever literary novel full of psychological suspense told by an unreliable narrator. It is very highly recommended and sure to be one of the best novels of the year.

Lara Farrar, a beloved actress, invites friends for a get-away weekend at her home on a secluded Greek island. Guests include her second husband Jason Miller, son Leo, friend and actor Kate Crosby and playwright Elliot Chase, the unreliable narrator. Also on the island are Agathi, Lana's assistant and cook, and Nicola, the caretaker of the island. That a murder takes place is known from the start. Then our narrator informs us that this is not a classic locked-room mystery, this is, if you will, a "whydunit" that explores the characters involved and why they act the way they do. It is the story of a murder, but also, our narrator explains, a story for anyone who has ever loved.

First things first. The writing is exquisite. You need to know this is more of a literary novel that takes the form of a classic murder mystery at the beginning until it changes to another genre... and then another. The tale is told in five acts, as if it were a play. This format worked well for oh-so-unreliable narrator Elliot. As he invites the reader to sit down to a drink and listen to his tale, Elliot has complete control over the story and how it is told, as well as what he conveniently leaves out or edits later. His storytelling regarding the events is fiendishly clever.

With each new modification, revision, and updating the recounting of what happened, the narrative becomes even more tense because of the unpredictability. Elliot is sure that this is his play, another pièce de résistance showcasing his abilities. That, along with the focus on personalities, relationships and flaws of each character makes the novel not so much a thriller, but certainly a novel of intense psychological suspense. 

I loved the ties to Greek mythology and how many of the events mirrored a Greek tragedy. The Fury or Menos refers to the wind whipping around the Greek island's with such furiosity that no one can venture out on the water until the fury dies back. The island is called Aura after a wind goddess.

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

Dream Town

Dream Town by Lee Goldberg
1/16/24; 300 pages
Thomas & Mercer
Eve Ronin #5

Dream Town by Lee Goldberg is a highly recommended procedural and the fifth book in the Eve Ronin series.

Eve Ronin, the youngest homicide detective in the history of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, and her partner Duncan "Donuts" Pavone are sent to investigate human remains discovered by a dog walker in the Ahmanson Preserve. While there they are called to the Winslow resident in the nearby gated community of Hidden Hills where reality superstar Kitty Winslow is found murdered and robbed of her huge engagement ring, which she was just showing off on social media. Kitty and her family star in the reality series Life with the Winslows. At the Winslow's longtime Hidden Hills marshal Deputy Amos Tatum inserts himself into the investigation.

While this is going on,  Eve's estranged father, Director Vince Nyby, is filming a TV show based on her cases. Her mother wants Eve to play nice so her role will increase. The other officers in the Lost Hills office of the LASD are hating the disruption to their routines and the whole show leaves Eve with an odd feeling of disassociation while watching an actor play out her life.

The writing is very good and witty, the pace is quick, and the narrative flows so smoothly that you'll find yourself immediately pulled in until you are totally absorbed in the novel. Several of the plot elements are very much based on reality and effortlessly written into the story. The setting of Hidden Hills, a real gated community, plays a major role in the story and the mix of different characters is intriguing.

There are some mysteries that readers will deduce and other twists that are surprising. At about the half way point, the novel became much more interesting as some of the new developments and twists in the case begin to enter the plot. Additionally, there is a great deal of humor in the writing. This is an entertaining, very good procedural. Goldberg's background in the entertainment industry clearly shines through.

There is no doubt that Eve is a character worthy of a TV show. She is determined, intelligent, and intuitive as she tirelessly works the case. The relationship and interplay between Eve and Duncan is believable. Hopefully there will be more interaction professionally with Eve's boyfriend, forensic anthropologist Dr. Daniel Brooks - unless I missed previous interaction. This is my first Eve Ronin novel and I felt it worked well as a stand-alone novel but I'm also sure there was more backstory and character development provided in the four previous novels leading up to Dream Town. This is a series that might be best read through from the start

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

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

The Search Party

The Search Party by Hannah Richell
1/16/24; 352 pages
Atria Books

The Search Party by Hannah Richell is a highly recommended mystery. This locked-room thriller is part mystery and part procedural that gets better with each chapter.

A group of old friends are going to a glamping site for a reunion weekend. Max and Annie Kingsley with their twelve-year-old son Kip have left London and are setting up a glamping site/business named Wildernest in Cornwall. They have invited their old university friends, Dominic Davies (with his wife Tanya), Kira de Silva (with partner Frank), Jim Miller, and Suze Miller along with everyone's children join them for the long May Day weekend. Their last reunion was tense, but everyone is hopeful this will be better until tensions arise the first night when a misunderstanding between children causes Dominic to lose his temper and he holds on to his anger. The weekend heads downhill from this.

The Search Party opens with a map of the area and a list of characters. The characters are all quite distinctive as individuals, so it is easy to differentiate between them. An ominous foreboding atmosphere is set at the opening of the novel where a young woman is planning to jump off a cliff. The locked room aspect sets in immediately because when guests arrive they learn that there is no phone reception. Then later a storm rolls in, cutting power and access off. The procedural elements are found in the narrative, which allows the story to unfold between current questioning by police and past recounts of what happened during the weekend.

Because the answers to all your questions are slowly revealed during police questioning of each character and the story of what happened is told incrementally through the viewpoint of each character, the pace is slow until later in the narrative. The charged, tense atmosphere, however, begins early on. Knowing that something awful is going to happen (Someone is unconscious in the hospital) and waiting to pick up clues and hints as they are slowly revealed about the events from the weekend is part of the enjoyment. However, as I was reading I did question why these friends from 20 years ago still have such a strong bond when they really don't all seem to like each other that much.

Richell uses the locked-room plot device to a good effect and The Search Party is enjoyable. Disclosure: My complimentary review copy was courtesy of Atria Books.

The Stranger in Her House

The Stranger in Her House by John Marrs
2/13/24; 352 pages
Thomas & Mercer

The Stranger in Her House by John Marrs is a very highly recommended clever and twisty psychological thriller. Read this novel, especially if you enjoy psychological thrillers. The Stranger in Her House took me by surprise more than once and just got better with each new twist.

Fourteen months ago, following their move back to England, Gwen Wright's husband, Bill, passed. Gwen, who has vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s had no one to care for her until  Connie Wright left her career as a wedding planner in Italy to return to care for her mother,  Gwen. When a charity sends handsome handyman Paul around to the house to help clean gutters and trim back trees, Connie soon becomes suspicious of his intentions. Paul seems to be inserting himself into Gwen's life and pushing Connie out. No one wants to listen to Connie's concerns about Paul's encroachment in Gwen's life and even worse, Gwen is under his spell.

The writing is exceptional and clever in this intelligent psychological thriller. The narrative is divided into three parts and is mainly told through Connie's point-of-view with that of various other characters randomly mixed in. Mentally prepare yourself for some shocking major twists that will change everything, and yes, more than one occurs. There is going to be a standoff, but don't even try to predict an outcome as the tone of the plot becomes increasingly nebulous and dangerous.

Connie and Paul are fully realized, well-written characters who feel like real people. Eventually it becomes clear that they are really, really flawed, immoral people. Even the minor characters are portrayed as realistic characters, as their opinions and attitudes change with the rumors that are flying around. The increasingly devious actions of characters will keep you turning the pages as fast as you can.

The plot is complicated and the three parts of the novel are definitely three different huge turns in the narrative. Marrs starts the tension early on and then it just keeps rising with every page until the suspense and anxiety take over. Each twist adds a new dimension to the plot. The final denouement was absolutely stunning and brilliant.

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

Monday, January 1, 2024

Only If You're Lucky

Only If You're Lucky by Stacy Willingham
1/16/24; 384 pages
Minotaur Books

Only If You're Lucky by Stacy Willingham is a highly recommended novel of psychological suspense.

Margot has always been the quiet one and has spent her first year at Rutledge College in South Carolina grieving the loss of her best friend, Eliza. She is surprised when out-going Lucy Sharpe invites her to join her and two friends renting a house-off campus. Margot surprises herself by saying yes and joins Lucy, the dynamic ringleader, Sloane, the sarcastic smart one, and Nicole, the nice one. The house is owned by the Kappa Nu fraternity, and in fact there is easy access to the frat through a backyard shed. The arrangement seems to be going well, but by the middle of their sophomore year one of the frat boys is dead and Lucy is missing.

The writing is very good in this well-paced campus thriller. Suspense builds gradually as the narrative alternates between two timelines, before the murder and the investigation afterwards. It is also clear that more is going on than meets the eye and part of the intrigue and tension is finding out exactly what secrets are being kept. It is definitely a college setting with lots of drinking, partying, and an often present truth or dare game (which I was skeptical that college students would actually play).

Details about Eliza and Margot's past are slowly revealed as the present day intrigue ramps up. A darker side to Lucy's character also emerges. It becomes more difficult to know who to trust as more information is revealed. Certainly the perplexing nature of angsty female friendships and the search for belonging in college is explored. You need to suspend some disbelief at the ending, but the drama leading up to it is entertaining.

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