Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Watch It Burn

Watch It Burn by Kristen Bird
3/12/24; 336 pages
MIRA Books

Watch It Burn by Kristen Bird is a mystery where three women work together to find the secrets behind a woman's death and a self-help movement. It is a highly recommended small town domestic mystery.

When out on her morning run in the small Texas town of Edenberg, Nichole Miller, an elementary school teacher, finds the body of 65 year-old Beverly Hoffman. She calls 911 and then her best friend, journalist Jenny Martin. Jenny has recently moved back to her hometown in hopes of saving her marriage and reestablishing her writing career. Jenny rushes to the scene and immediately realizes that Beverly's death was no accident. 

Jenny and Nichole are sure Beverly's death is tied to her husband George Hoffman and his cult-ish personal-development company Genetive. Hoffman has bought up most of the town and controls everything in Edenberg. The two women are friends with Robin, Beverly’s daughter-in-law, and enlist her help to expose the truth behind Genetive. Robin knows the lies, secrets, and manipulation behind the Genetive empire.

Watch It Burn is a well-written examination of a death, small town politics, family trauma, a self-development cult, and a megalomaniacal man trying to control everything. The narrative is told through three points-of-view, Jenny, Nichole, and the deceased Beverly. Beverly is the most interesting narrator because she knows the truth. You know from the opening that you are not only trying to solve a murder, but waiting to discover who set the entire town on fire.

The beginning of the novel does move at a slow pace and it takes some time to really hold your attention. Once the three women decide to register and attend a weekend retreat to the private Genetive compound, the plot picks up the pace. The inside look into the cult of Genetive is interesting, but also serves to increase the tension and a sense of danger. The cult itself seems to be composed of some stereotypes combined with some real cults. 3.5 rounded up. Thanks to MIRA for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

The Split

The Split by S.E. Lynes
3/8/24; 358 pages

The Split by S.E. Lynes follows a fractious break-up and the aftermath. It is a recommended, average domestic psychological thriller.

Jessica and Will are married and have two children. Jessica works long hours in London and is the main support for the family. Will is a life coach and the main care taker for the children. The morning after they celebrated their anniversary Jessica received pictures of Will, by all appearances, having an affair with another woman. When she confronts him, he says it's not what she thinks but he can't talk about it. She kicks him out of the house. This is the start of bigger problems than their inability to talk to or trust each other.

Admittedly, I was not a fan of The Split. The pluses are I read it to the end. The plot is interesting, but average. There are plenty of secrets and twists. The narrative moves at a fast pace. It gets all the points for escapism and a sense of dread and danger. The anger and frustration with each other seems realistic. The characters are unlikable and gullible. As I was reading, I predicted to myself early on what would happen and who would be responsible. I was correct, repeatedly. Many readers will likely enjoy this for the diversion. Thanks to Bookouture for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Storm Cell

Storm Cell by Brendan DuBois
3/12/24 (originally 11/22/16); 268 pages
Severn River Publishing
Lewis Cole # 10

Storm Cell by Brendan DuBois finds Lewis Cole under pressure to prove Felix Tinos is innocent of murder charges. It is the very highly recommended 10th thriller in the Lewis Cole series.

Felix is on trial for the murder of Fletcher Moore and inexplicably is using a sub-par lawyer called Hollis Spinelli instead of his long time go-to Boston based attorney Raymond Drake. Since Lewis is not on Felix's visitor's list he can't talk to him about it. The evidence seems conclusive on the surface, but Lewis refuses to believe Felix is guilty. Things become more odd when two FBI agents approach Cole and tell him if he has to prove Felix is innocent or Felix will be murdered in prison. Then, when Lewis tries to talk to Spinelli about his defense of Felix, Spinelli sends a tough young man to convince Lewis to back off. If Lewis had questions before, this really raises his curiosity, and an inquisitive Lewis is a force to reckon with.

As expected, the quality of the writing is exceptional and the plot is compelling and intriguing. The investigation Lewis undertakes is engaging and the information he uncovers is intriguing. Part of the enjoyment is following the investigation and the clues and pieces of information Lewis uncovers. It's also good to see reoccurring characters from the series make an appearance in the narrative.

The Lewis Cole series is an excellent crime fiction thriller set in New Hampshire that just gets better with every book. The series is being re-released by Severn River Publishing. Most of them can be read as stand-alone novels, but your reading experience will be deeper and more engaging if you follow the series and have more information about all the characters. 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.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Finding Sophie

Finding Sophie by Imran Mahmood
3/5/24; 352 pages
Random House

Finding Sophie by Imran Mahmood combines a domestic drama as parents desperately search for their missing daughter with a courtroom drama because someone is charged with murder. It is highly recommended.

Harry and Zara King’s seventeen-year-old daughter, Sophie, has been missing for six weeks and they feel the police have stopped investigating. The deeply grieving parents especially want them to question the man living in number 210 on their street. They went door to door, talking to everyone in the area to see if they saw or know something about Sophie. Every one talked to them or answered a questionnaire they left except the man in 210. Now Harry is obsessed with the man in 210 and why he refuses to talk to them or answer the questionnaire. The standoff is about to escalate. From the opening we know one of the parents will be charged with murder.

The narrative unfolds between the alternating perspectives of Harry and Zara. It also covering events in a dual timeline, the weeks after Sophie's disappearance and a year in the future during a murder trial. The slow start kept my interest low, but once Harry's obsession took hold the pace becomes steady, with some small jumps in action along the way. There are pieces of information and clues provided during this section that don't pay off until much later. The slow start is redeemed by the ending when the pace and action pick up.

Where Mahmood excels is in his depiction of desperate, grieving parents, Harry and Zara. Both are handling their frustration and grief very differently, but their actions reflect their personalities. Their grief also begins to put a strain on their relationship.

The action in the court case also increases the tension. Keep in mind this novel is set in the U.K., so the court action is different from that in U.S. courtrooms. The dual timelines also begin to merge here to explain more of what happened. The ending is worth the journey. Thanks to Random House for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

In Sunshine or in Shadow

In Sunshine or in Shadow by Rhys Bowen, Clare Broyles
3/12/24; 304 pages
Minotaur Books
Molly Murphy Mystery #20

In Sunshine or in Shadow by Rhys Bowen and Clare Broyles sends Molly out of Manhattan and up north to visit her mother-in-law in Westchester County. It is highly recommended for fans of the series.

In 1908 typhoid is back in the city and retired detective Molly Murphy Sullivan is expecting so Daniel wants her, along with their toddler son and teenage ward, to go stay with his mother for the summer. Much to her relief, her mother-in-law is a surprisingly welcoming host. When Molly's friends, Sid and Gus, invite her to come stay with them for a visit, she jumps at the chance. She joins them in a visit to Sid's family in a Jewish bungalow in the Catskills where tensions are running high and soon there is a murder to solve. 

Mother and daughter Rhys Bowen and Clare Broyles team up on this 20th installment of the mystery series. This is a typical Molly Murphy mystery. At this point, the characters are fully realized and developed across the whole series. The story arc is expected, a murder will be solved, although this time it is slow to happen, which marks the start of the investigation portion of the novel. It is a predictable, but comfortable, plot.

The quality of the writing is excellent, as expected. Where it really shines is in the descriptions of life during that time period, 1908, and all the historical information on the early Catskill resorts.  Fans will welcome this latest addition and those new to the series can enjoy it as a standalone novel. This novel was reviewed in partnership with my mother who is an avid reader and big fan of the author. Thanks to Minotaur Books for providing an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

The New Couple in 5B

The New Couple in 5B by Lisa Unger
3/5/24; 384 pages
Park Row Books 

The New Couple in 5B by Lisa Unger is a mystery merged with a supernatural horror novel set in NYC in a historic Manhattan apartment building in Murray Hill on Park Avenue. It is highly recommended.

Rosie and Chad Lowan are living in NYC and struggling. Rosie is a true crime writer and Chad is an actor. Right now she needs a new book proposal accepted and he needs a good role. During this same time the two have spent the last year caring for his dying uncle Ivan. Much to their surprise, Ivan has left his multi-million-dollar apartment in the historic Windermere to them rather than his estranged daughter, Dana. She is furious that she was not only cut out of Ivan's will but that he gave the apartment to Rosie and Chad.

Rosie focuses the subject of her next book the Windermere. The building had been the scene of many gruesome accidents, murders, and incidents over the years. Even living there, Rosie can feel the dark history and is sure she saw a ghost. It is certainly a weird atmosphere present. Cameras are watching everywhere, the old elevator requires an operator, and Abi, the longtime doorman seemingly always there. When two different murders occur, Rosie begins to wonder if a building can be cursed as she also questions the integrity of those around her.

Interspersed between the chapters following Rosie during the present day happenings are chapters set in the 60' told from the point-of-view of Willa, a married woman who lived in the same apartment before Ivan. Both the story from the past and the present day intrigue are suspenseful and increase the tension surrounding the story and the Windermere. While reading you will become increasingly concerned and anxious about Rosie's safety - and Willa's in the past. Rosie is a great character, however I wanted her to get a clue earlier.

Unger is a go-to writer for me who always excels at well-written, un-put-downable thrillers. The New Couple in 5B by Lisa Unger met all those features, adding a supernatural element to the mystery. I can't say I was a huge fan of the paranormal plot elements, but I was glued to the pages regardless of my hesitancy. There is enough going on that is sinister and creepy that the tension would build anyway. There are some great twists along the way too. 

Not my top-rated Lisa Unger novel, but she set the bar pretty high with all her previous five star books. If you like a mix of the supernatural with a mystery, this would be an excellent choice for you. Thanks to Park Row Books for providing me with an advance reader's copy via Edelweiss. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

The Dredge

The Dredge by Brendan Flaherty
3/5/24; 256 pages

The Dredge by Brendan Flaherty is a recommended debut character-driven mystery featuring secrets from the past that may emerge.

Cale and Ambrose Casey are estranged brothers who grew up in rural Connecticut. Ambrose still lives in the area and has a construction company while Cale moved to Hawaii  and sells high-end real estate. The two brothers are forced to talk to each other when they learned of a real estate developer’s plan for Gibbs Pond and the land it is on. Lily Rowe ended up living near Gibbs pond when that was the last place her abusive father moved her and her brother Roy too. Now Lily is the only one left and she is working for the development company that plans to dredge the pond. Lily also has secrets to protect.

The narrative is mainly told through flashbacks and through multiple points-of-view and differing timelines with abrupt shifts between them. It all leads up to the secrets both families have that are tied to Gibbs Pond. The tone is somber and depressing throughout. While the secrets are revealed later in the novel, the title sort of gives away the direction the plot will take. It really is a bit too predictable and my attention flagged early on while reading.

The family secrets plot is a well-tread avenue so any venture down this road needs to be especially outstanding. Although The Dredge didn't meet my high expectations for the plot, there is a lot of promise in the portrayal of the characters. They were all complicated, troubled, realistic individuals although, as a reader who appreciates character-driven novels, I would have liked to see a bit more in-depth character development of these three. Thanks to Grove/Atlantic for providing me with an advance reader's copy via Edelweiss. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

After Annie

After Annie by Anna Quindlen
2/27/24; 304 pages
Random House

After Annie by Anna Quindlen is an outstanding breathtaking and heartbreaking depiction of a family dealing with the untimely death of a wife and mother over the span of a year. It is a very highly recommended, exceptional literary family drama and not to be missed. One of the best. I loved this book.

When Annie Brown, 37, dies suddenly, she leaves behind her husband Bill, who is a plumber, and four children Ali (Alexandra)13, Ant (Anthony) 11,  Benjy (Benjamin) 8, and James 6. She also leaves behind her best friend since childhood, Annemarie. No one knows how they can move forward without Annie. Bill is overwhelmed and forfeits much of his parental responsibility to Ali, who tries to step up and care for everyone as best she can. Ali carries the weight and tries to keep her family going. Ant is angry and acting out, Benjy begins wetting the bed, and James thinks his mom will still be coming home. Annemarie, a recovering addict due to Annie's help, is struggling with staying clean and sober.

Quindlen is an extraordinary writer who can deftly handle the subject matter accurately and with compassion. Anyone who has had an untimely death in their family will understand the emotional struggles this family is going through while trying to keep living their day to day lives. It is a deeply moving, emotionally charged story. Even when it seems not a lot of action is going on in the plot, those who have experienced this will know moving on after a death is like climbing a mountain every day. It is exhausting and overwhelming.

The narrative is broken up into seasons, winter, spring, summer, and autumn, and explores the inner life and practicalities of how each character is handling the loss of a person who held them all together. The characters are portrayed as fully-realized, complex, and realistic individuals who are trying to continue living. Annie is present in their thoughts and her backstory is told through them. The story is primarily told through Bill, Annmarie, and Ali. They are all faced with imagining life without Annie when she was a central part of their lives.

Be prepared to cry as the characters learn to live life without someone they loved. Yes, it is very sad, but there is hope in their memories as well as their struggles. This is a very emotionally satisfying story. It is okay and good to grieve those you love. Thanks to Random House for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Three-Inch Teeth

Three-Inch Teeth by C. J. Box
2/27/24; 384 pages
Penguin, G.P. Putnam's Sons
Joe Pickett Series #24

"Mature grizzlies tend to have two- to four-inch claws and up to three-inch teeth."

Three-Inch Teeth by C. J. Box has Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett facing a rampaging bear and enraged human. It is a very highly recommended  procedural/mystery and 24th addition to the popular, long running series.

When a grizzly kills Clay Hutmacher Jr., Sheridan Pickett's boyfriend, while he was out fly-fishing, Clay Sr. finds his son's body and immediately calls game warden Joe Pickett. It is clear what happened to Clay Jr. so Joe summons the Predator Attack Team. Normally they are successful in tracking and eliminating large predators who have attacked a human, but this time one of the team is attacked. As attacks begin to happen across the area, Joe is concerned that this bear is eluding everyone looking for it.

What Joe doesn't know is that Dallas Cates, a man he helped lock up years ago, has been released from prison. Cates has a list of six people that he plans to eliminate. Both Joe and Nate Romanowski are on the list of people he blames for the death of his family and he wants revenge.

The writing is excellent, as expected, and the pages just flew by in this tension packed installment of the series. I was actually surprised at the page count because it went by so fast. Fans of the series will know all the characters and their backstories but those new to the series will still be able to appreciate the finely tuned, fast-paced plot while meeting the characters. Once you read this you will want to read more books in the series.

The narrative alternates between Joe and Cates, which helps build suspense and a sense of urgency. Readers will begin to put clues together long before Joe, and Marybeth, his wife, begin to have an inkling of what may be happening. Sheridan also makes a surprising discovery when out on a job. Three-Inch Teeth is un-put-downable and will keep you engrossed right to the surprising and shocking ending. I can't wait for the next Joe Pickett novel! Thanks to G.P. Putnam's Sons for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace: A National Parks Thriller by A. J. Landau
2/27/24; 352 pages
Minotaur Books

Leave No Trace: A National Parks Thriller by A. J. Landau follows a series of terrorist attacks at National Parks. It is a recommended thriller by Jon Land and Jeff Ayers, writing as A. J. Landau.

When an explosion takes place on Liberty Island and topples the Statue of Liberty, Special Agent Michael Walker of the National Park Service’s Investigative Services Branch is called by his boss and sent to New York. In spite of his lack of a security clearance, Walker ends up working with FBI Special Agent Gina Delgado. Delgado has been placed in charge of the investigation as the lead of the Joint Terrorism Task Force. Walker does find a boy, Danny, who has crucial information about the attack and must be protected. It quickly becomes clear that more attacks are planned against other national cultural symbols by some radical domestic terrorist group.

The riveting start of this domestic terrorism thriller takes off at a breathless pace and will quickly grab your complete attention. The first part of the novel had all the qualities of a very highly recommended thriller. As the action continues, however, some of the initial momentum is lost when the investigation leave New York and expands to other national parks. The short chapters jumping between characters and action probably don't help as they add additional secondary characters and action. As I continued reading there would be chapters that grabbed my attention again, but they were followed by some that lessened the intensity of my interest. It was also a bit of a let down when the antagonists were identified too early in the narrative as well as the excessive personal commentary being inserted in the story. 

One plus is that the opening of all the 98 chapters have an interesting fact about one of the various national parks across the country. These were all engaging diversions and represented one of the better parts of the whole novel. This is the first of a new series and I would definitely read the second book in the series based on the pluses in Leave No Trace. Thanks to Minotaur Books for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion. 3.5 rounded down

Studies at the School by the Sea

Studies at the School by the Sea by Jenny Colgan
3/26/24; 288 pages
School by the Sea #4

Studies at the School by the Sea by Jenny Colgan is highly recommended. As a Whole, the whole series of four School by the Sea books are very highly recommended.

Maggie Adair loves teaching at the prestigious Downey House boarding school in Cornwall and she is sure she loves David, a teacher at the inner city Philip Dean school. After she had to cancel a summer vacation with him and returned home to Scotland due to an emergency, Maggie is hoping to continue her relationship with David, however, she is also misses the idea of a different life back in Scotland. Maggie's favorite students are back,  Fliss, Alice, Simone, and Isme, and bring with them their individual struggles as they finally finish their studies at the school by the sea.

Fans of the series will applaud another addition to the series. Studies at the School by the Sea is an entertaining, quirky story, but not my favorite book in the series. New readers need to know that this series is best read in order and the individual books won't work well as stand-alone novels. The first book in the series, Welcome to the School by the Sea, was my favorite in the series. The second and third books are Rules at the School by the Sea, and Lessons at the School by the Sea. a good final novel to end the series with, even though there are a few cliff hangers. Now, apparently, there is news that there will be a fifth book in the series.  This novel was reviewed in partnership with my mother who is a big fan of the author. Thanks to HarperCollins for providing me with an advance reader's copy via Edelweiss. My review is voluntary and expresses our honest opinion.

The Rumor Game

The Rumor Game by Thomas Mullen
2/27/24; 368 pages
Minotaur Books

The Rumor Game by Thomas Mullen is a highly recommended historical mystery set in Boston during WWII. It is 1943 and reporter Anne Lemire is investigating disinformation while FBI agent Devon Muvey is preventing industrial sabotage.

Annie Lemire writes the newspaper column The Rumor Clinic. In it she debunks various seditious rumors, gossip, and disinformation running rampant around town. Although her editor isn't interested in the story, Anne is also investigating antisemitic assaults on teens by Irish gangs and printed propaganda being spread around the city. Special FBI Agent Devon Mulvey is investigating national security concerns including the fatal stabbing of an employee of Northeast Munitions, Abraham Wolff. Their investigations lead them to meet each other. It turns out they knew each other as children. More importantly, their investigations actually converge and careen toward dangerous connections to organized crime, espionage, and domestic subversion.

Mullen's does an excellent job capturing the historical details and atmosphere in the setting, which is essential to the plot. All the actions the characters undertake and all the areas of Boston they encounter reflect the city and the times in which they live. This is a mystery that also explores the use of disinformation and power to control the people enmeshed in the struggle for domination. Although the action does move at a slower pace through much of the beginning of the novel, the last quarter mark a gripping turn and a heart-stopping pace.

The narrative is consistently interesting throughout the novel. There are several mysteries and questions that need to be answered and it is the search for all the answers through the investigations undertaken by Anne and Devon that will hold your attention even when the pace feels slow. The interest is in seeing the intersection of the two complicated investigations and anticipating the merging of them. The romance between Anne and Devon is secondary to the action and intrigue they are embroiled in investigating. Thanks to Minotaur Books for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

The Other Valley

The Other Valley by Scott Alexander Howard
2/27/24; 304 pages
Atria Books

The Other Valley by Scott Alexander Howard is a literary speculative fiction novel which puts a new spin on time travel. It is highly recommended.

Sixteen-year-old Odile Ozanne knows her current reality is life in the town in the valley where she lives. She also knows that beyond the mountains to the west is the same town 20 years in the past, while to the east is the same town 20 years in the future and as far as she knows this pattern repeats ad infinitum. The border between the towns are well-fenced, carefully patrolled, and heavily guarded.  In each town, the governing body called the Conseil are the only ones who can approve a visit to the past or the future.

When Odile recognizes two visitors from the future that she wasn't to see, she realizes the implications for her friend Edme. After Odile is accepted to compete for a apprentice position for a coveted seat on the Conseil, she is also talked to about her observations of the visitors and it is made clear that she must preserve the timeline and not intervene. 

The Other Valley is a literary novel in a unique setting. It is a beautifully written examination of the substance of fate versus free will, grief and love, within a coming-of-age story that turns into a larger exploration of ethics and power. It does feel slow moving, however, and the lack of quotation marks is likely is the culprit for the lack of smooth reading progression as readers have to sort out the conversations for themselves.

The novel is divided into two sections, Odile at sixteen and at thirty-six, and Odile is the narrator. She is a sympathetic character who is always introspective. The tone of the first part of the story is more promising while the second part is rather morose. This could be an excellent choice for thoughtful book clubs.

Science fiction aficionados may find some time travel continuity problems in The Other Valley. Concentrating on Odile's story and simply going along with the plot will allow you to overcome any questions. The final denouement is very satisfying. Thanks to Aria Books for providing me with an advance reader's copy via Edelweiss. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Under the Storm

Under the Storm by Christoffer Carlsson
2/27/24; 416 pages

Random House

Under the Storm by Christoffer Carlsson is a highly recommended Nordic noir procedural with excellent character development. It is translated from the original Swedish by Rachel Willson-Broyles.

In the rural community of Marbäck, Sweden on November, 1994, a farmhouse burns down with a young woman, Lovisa, inside. The autopsy reveals she was murdered before the fire was purposefully set. The investigation focuses on her boyfriend, Edvard Christensson, after officer Vidar Jörgensson finds evidence and Edvard passed out nearby. The overwhelming opinion is that Edvard is a Christensson and violent just like his father. Edvard's nephew, seven-year-old Isak Nyqvist, who loves his uncle, cannot believe he did it, but Edvard is found guilty and sent to prison, so it must be true. This fact leaves Isak feeling like he is cursed by the same bloodlines and doomed to be violent.

Police officer Vidar is initially proud of his role in the case, but later begins to have doubts over Edvard's guilt and secretly begins to investigate the crime again. Meanwhile, Isak feels his life is preordained and that Vidar is always watching him, looking for Isak's guilt in one thing or another.

The novel is broken into three parts. The first part opens in November 1994 into 1995, and follows the original investigation and the beginning of Isak's doubts about himself. The second is 9 years later, in 2004 and follows Vidar's questioning the original investigating as he quietly reexamines the case. This time period leads up to when Hurricane Gudrun slams into Sweden. Isak is just turning eighteen and still believe genetics have doomed him to be violent, like his uncle, like his grandfather.  The third is set in 2017, twelve years later, when the truth is finally revealed.

The novel shines in the character development and psychological insight into the characters of Isak and Vidar. Both characters are fully realized. They struggle with relationships and doubts. The case impacts and has consequences in both of their lives. Isak's story is especially heartbreaking.

Under the Storm does take a very measured pace in both the plot and the action. This makes it a slow-moving novel, however this deliberate pace leaves room for the atmospheric descriptions, psychological insights, and the development of the characters to take the forefront as the whole story progresses thoughtfully to a satisfying conclusion. Thanks to Random House for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Keanu Reeves Is Not In Love With You

Keanu Reeves Is Not In Love With You by Becky Holmes
1/25/24; 224 pages

Keanu Reeves Is Not In Love With You: The Murky World of Online Romance Fraud by Becky Holmes is in turn both hilarious and serious as it covers romance scams online. In this book Holmes focuses on those who target women in the UK. It is highly recommended. This is a great choice, especially for those in the UK, for the humor in the trolling Holmes does to the scammers, the basic information she provides about the fraudsters, and the stories of some of their victims.

Holmes has had fun trolling scammers and the first part of the book highlights some of her encounters and her responses to these men who are trying to lead her into a relationship which will result in them needing money from her/their victim for some reason. She has had an online presence where she shares many of her memorable encounters. Her trolling is irreverent and cheeky as she replies to the imposters with a made-up profile or to those claiming to be a well known figure, like Keanu Reeves or Liam Neeson. 

Then she shares some more serious, heartbreaking stories of women who have been scammed and taken for all they have by these con artists. There is a pattern and a scripted approach taken by the scammers, many who are from Nigeria, although Ghana and Malaysia are also strongly represented, and they have been trained in cybercrime and romance fraud to entice victims into trusting them. This is a profitable billion dollar business.

Additionally, Holmes delves into the psychology of fraud and shares information from experts. The final section is how victims can get help and support. Support is available, but real help over fraud is not very forthcoming in the UK. Real help is education, teaching people about a reverse image search and how to spot fake accounts. (The title of the book is based on Keanu Reeves being the most popular celebrity name used by scammers.) Thanks to Unbound for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Thursday, February 8, 2024

The Deepest Kill

The Deepest Kill by Lisa Black
2/20/24; 320 pages
Locard Institute #3

The Deepest Kill by Lisa Black is an excellent, heart-stopping forensic mystery/thriller featuring two complex female protagonists. This is very highly recommended and the third novel in the Locard institute series.

Dr. Ellie Carr and Dr. Rachael Davies, forensic experts at the Locard Institute, are called by billionaire Martin Post, the genius behind OakTree software design, to his compound on the Florida Gulf Coast. Martin's pregnant daughter, Ashley, has been found dead. She had taken out her boat into the Gulf, went missing, and her body washed up on the shore. Martin wants Ellie and Rachel in on the autopsy and investigation to make sure every angle is looked into. The two quickly determine her death was murder. Ashley's husband, Greg, is naturally a suspect, but her murder could also be due to the project she was working on for OakTree. FBI agents Michael Tyler and Luis Alvarez are also on the scene investigating.

The writing is exceptional in this compelling, engrossing story with a fast and riveting plot. As the facts are uncovered in the investigation and interviews in each chapter, the list of suspects grows. More details from Ellie's childhood are also revealed along with the elements from the investigation. Ellie and Rachel have various complicated pieces and clues to investigate. All the intricacies add depth and interest to the narrative while the two try to follow their knowledge and intuition to untangle the many pieces of their investigation.

The Locard Institute series continues to be a very appealing and highly rated series for me and I look forward to another installment of the series. The Deepest Kill can be read as a stand-alone novel although those following the series will appreciate the new insight and development of characters. Both Ellie and Rachel are complex, interesting fully-realized characters. It was such a pleasure to follow them along as they investigated a new case. The other characters in The Deepest Kill are also well-developed and intriguing

Anyone who appreciates novels with details about the forensics and scientific details involved in an investigation along with strong, competent female characters will enjoy The Deepest Kill. I'm anxiously awaiting their next case. Thanks to Kensington for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

The Bezzle

The Bezzle by Cory Doctorow
2/20/24; 240 pages
Tor Publishing Group
Martin Hench #2

The Bezzle by Cory Doctorow is a financial thriller that offers a glimpse along with real insight into financial shenanigans. It is very highly recommended.

In 2006 Martin Hench, a self-employed forensic accountant, is vacationing with his friend Scott Warms on Catalina Island, where there is no crime. Martin uncovers a black market financial pyramid scheme that is based on the resale of fast food on the island where fast food chains are banned. He knows that the man running the scheme, Lionel Coleman Jr., is going to take all the money the islanders have invested so he helps them bring the scheme down. Lionel finds out Martin and Scott were involved in ending the fast food scam, so he gets revenge on Scott, who ends up sent to prison. But this is just the beginning of the scams Martin uncovers that are being perpetrated by the ultra-wealthy, including California’s Department of Corrections.

The fascinating narrative is via Martin telling someone the story about his experiences in 2006 leading up to the 2008 financial crash. Doctorow does an excellent job writing about what could be considered boring financial details that a forensic accountant uncovers and makes the examination interesting. He knows about tech-sector monopolies, copyright laws, and  internet ethics. He also understands that some of these wealthy people wield real power behind the scenes.

Most of the novel is akin to a procedural and provides details into the financial aspects of cases leading ultimately up to a final major encounter/case. The writing is clear, clever, and concise. This can work as a stand-alone novel. 4.5 rounded up. Thanks to Tor for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Sunday, February 4, 2024

How to Win Friends and Influence Fungi

How to Win Friends and Influence Fungi by Chris Balakrishnan, Matt Wasowski
2/20/24; 320 pages
St. Martin's Press

How to Win Friends and Influence Fungi  by Chris Balakrishnan and Matt Wasowski is a collection of STEM topics culled from various Nerd Night presentations held around the world. It is recommended for those interested in STEM topics (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). The collection is illustrated by Kristen Orr.

Chris and Matt are the co-founders of the global science organization Nerd Nite, which was founded in 2003. The presentations cover a wide variety of topics from the monthly events held in over 100 cities where the presenters give a 20 minute informative and fun presentation. Those presenting are scientists, doctoral or masters students, or experts on a specific topic. The articles are short enough to read quickly, the range of topics is quirky and vast, and many are geared toward adult readers. It might help your enjoyment to stretch out reading the collection over a week or two rather than reading them back to back at one time.

As with any collection there were hits and misses in the selections for me. The wide range of topics covered make it a given that something will be appealing to individual readers. Many of the selections are informative and very funny. They were probably highly entertaining and memorable to hear in person, and I enjoyed reading them immensely. However there were also several where my inner nerd wanted some good footnotes and supporting documentation because they were missing the mark while presenting supposition as fact. Perhaps this was due to the assumption that the supportive audience wouldn't care, but as a reader I do care. (My appreciation of supporting materials has been well documented over the years.) I do understand that a short verbal presentation does not always reference supporting studies and documentation, but is some cases it was needed. 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.

Saturday, February 3, 2024

The Hidden Life of Cecily Larson

The Hidden Life of Cecily Larson by Ellen Baker
2/20/24; 384 pages
HarperCollins/Mariner Books

The Hidden Life of Cecily Larson by Ellen Baker is a highly recommended family drama concerning families, adoption, and ancestry. The narrative begins in 1924 and ends with a climatic conclusion in 2015.

At age four Cecily Larson is dropped off at an orphanage by her mother in 1924. Her mother promises to return within a year, but she doesn't which allows the orphanage to put Cecily up for adoption. When she is seven she is sold to a traveling circus to be trained as a trick bareback rider. She is renamed Jacqueline DuMonde and billed as the “little sister” to the star bareback rider Isabelle DuMonde.This life becomes her home and she eventually falls in love with a roustabout named Lucky.

In 2015, ninety-four-year-old Cecily is living in Minnesota by her daughter Liz, granddaughter Molly and great grandson Caden. Cecily is hospitalized after she fell and broke her hip. Cecily realizes that secrets she has been keeping need to be shared soon. Liz is keeping her own secret from everyone, as well as the fact that she and Molly tricked Cecily into taking DNA test in the hospital for Caden's biology project on DNA testing. At the same time in 2015 in Florida and North Carolina another mother, Clarissa, and her adult daughters, Kate and Lana, are wondering about their heritage and take a DNA test.

The novel is presented in three parts. The first part of the novel is very satisfying and compelling as it follows Cecily in the circus, later in 1946, and her family in 2015. Part two introduces Lucky and the other mother and daughters plot. It is this addition to the story where I lost much of my captivation with the The Hidden Life of Cecily Larson. Certainly most readers will sort out all the new characters, but it is the dueling story lines that became unwieldy making the narrative feel muddled in the middle of the novel. Some of the sub-plots could have been left out and the introduction of the second family could have been smoother. 

The gem remains the chapters set in Cecily's past and everything that she experienced. 

Obviously, readers will know something is going to tie all these people together. It is clear Cecily's hidden secrets will be revealed and readers will anticipate that the DNA tests will tell all. It is this one fact that will help many readers jump the hurdle once the secondary cast is introduced and all the new characters are sorted out. In the end story lines are tied up neatly and quickly. Thanks to Mariner Books for providing me with an advance reader's copy via Edelweiss. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Thursday, February 1, 2024


Daybreak by Matt Gallagher
2/20/24; 256 pages
Atria Books

Daybreak by Matt Gallagher follows a disaffected former U.S.soldier as he joins the Ukraine’s fight against Russia. It is recommended. Luke “Pax” Paxton has been out of the US military for almost a decade when he agrees to follow his fellow veteran, Han Lee, to the Ukraine in winter 2022 in order to help in some way. Pax also hopes to find a former lover, Svitlana, in Lviv. He finds Svitlana, who is married with a son, while also finding ways to assist others by working unloading supplies. Pax struggles with PTSD as he tries to help to somehow atone for his role in past wars.

The real main character is the conflict, the war itself, which effects everyone in the novel, physically, psychologically, and historically. Pax is a man who is searching for meaning and a purpose in life. He thinks it will be found in a war zone and that somehow assisting in another war will help him find purpose and meaning in his life. He also seems to think finding Svitlana will provide him with a sense of purpose and peace. The plot mainly unfolds through the point-of-view of Pax and I found it very difficult to connect with him as a character. Thanks to Atria Books for providing me with an advance reader's copy via Edelweiss. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.