Wednesday, May 29, 2024

The Marriage of Anna Maye Potts

The Marriage of Anna Maye Potts by DeWitt Henry
6/15/24; 282 pages, rerelease
Pierian Springs Press 

The Marriage of Anna Maye Potts by DeWitt Henry is a very highly recommended literary character driven novel.

After her mother died Anna Maye Potts stayed and took care of the home and her elderly father while working her job at Manville’s chocolates in Philadelphia. She's worked hard at Manville and after 18 years there is now a supervisor of her department. Now 36 years-old, Anna and her sister inherit the house together after their father passed away. Her sister moves in with her husband and two daughters and immediately works on getting Anna out of the house.

A longtime co-worker of Anna, Louie Miscello, is a womanizer with an ill wife, who dies from cancer, and a special needs daughter. He often confides in Anna, sharing his struggles and fears. The two have a friendship that turns into a relationship and marriage, which brings new difficulties.

The writing is excellent. The Marriage of Anna Maye Potts is a deep dive into the inner life of the various characters. Chapters present the personal inner voices of each character, making them all fully realized, believable individuals. They may not all be likable, but their inner thoughts and motives are all laid out for the reader. This approach also allows for a close examination of the inner growth of each character as they handle the various difficulties life throws at them.

This is a great choice for readers who appreciate and enjoy literary character driven novels. It is not fast moving, but carefully follows the transformation of various characters. Originally published in 2001 the novel is being re-released on 6/15/24 by Pierian Springs Press. Thanks to Pierian Springs Press for providing me with an advance reader's copy via Edelweiss. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Sunday, May 26, 2024


Middletide by Sarah Crouch
6/11/24; 288 pages

Middletide by Sarah Crouch is an atmospheric literary murder mystery and a story of love lost and found. This debut novel is highly recommended 

In the small Puget Sound town of Point Orchards the body of Dr. Erin Landry is found on the property of Elijah Leith. He grew up there, left to become a writer, and after thirteen years he recently returned to live in his deceased father's cabin. Elijah's one book was published and was an abysmal failure after being panned from one critic. Now he is fixing up the cabin, trying to live off the land, and hoping to reconnect with Nakita, his first love.

When Sheriff Jim Godbout’s investigates Erin's death, it initially appears to be a suicide, but suspicions arise that point to murder. Then one of the few published copies of Elijah's book is sent anonymously to the Sheriff's department. The murder in the book seems to match Erin's death. It appears someone is trying to frame Elijah for murder. The question is who would perpetrate this and what would be their motive.

The descriptive writing is quite extraordinary in this debut literary novel that follows a trail of love, loss, and revenge. The setting is the star of the novel and comes to life. Elijah's struggles to build a life for himself and living off the land after his writing failure is interesting, as is the lost love story line. The murder mystery is also intriguing, but the investigation seems inept at times.

A few details in the plot do require some suspension of disbelief, but I found it easy to do so while focusing on the strengths of the writing. The events in Middletide span dates from 1973 to 1994. The dates are clearly given at the opening of each chapter so readers can keep the time period in mind, although the moving between time periods was a bit too frequent. I'll be looking forward to Crouch's next novel. Thanks to Atria for providing me with an advance reader's copy via Edelweiss. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Lies My Liberal Teacher Told Me

Lies My Liberal Teacher Told Me by Wilfred Reilly
6/11/24; 272 pages
Broadside Books

Lies My Liberal Teacher Told Me: Debunking the False Narratives Defining America's School Curricula by Wilfred Reilly is a very highly recommended examination of ten falsehoods that are being perpetrated in many school curricula today. The false assertions from American history books are all taken on using an empirical analysis of the data that exposes the truth about some of America's most controversial topics.He uses critical thinking skills along with facts and data from a vast amount of research, all annotated with additional notes afterward, rather than relying on feelings and myths.

Dr. Wilfred Reilly is a Associate professor of Political Science at Kentucky State University. He has a Ph.D. in Political Science from Southern Illinois University and a J.D. from the University of Illinois College of Law. The ten lies he takes on are: slavery was unique to America; the 'Red Scare' caught no communists; Native Americans were all peaceful; hippies, the sexual revolution, and the Vietnam War; lynchings and slaves as three-fifths a person; European colonialism was a bad thing; using nukes to end WWII was bad; white flight is racist; the 'Southern Strategy'; and the continuing oppression narrative (CON).

This is an excellent, well-written and well-researched exploration of the topics that certainly exposes the lies being presented as facts in American academia and education. It will most certainly create controversy and hurt feelings for those who won't actually read the book and critically review the research presented. Logic, using the Socratic method, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation, used to be a course taken by most college students but is seemingly lacking today. As someone who went through the public school system and college many years ago, was in the education field, reads all the time, and investigates everything before jumping in with an opinion, Dr. Reilly's analysis is both thorough and refreshing.
Thanks to Broadside Books for providing me with an advance reader's copy via Edelweiss. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Dad Camp

Dad Camp by Evan S. Porter
6/11/24; 368 pages

Dad Camp by Evan S. Porter is a heartwarming, sweet, funny, light family drama. It is highly recommended.

With his daughter Avery turning 11, John feels her pulling away as she enters her preteen years so he decides to sign them up for a "father-daughter week" at a summer camp. He doesn't tell her about it until the last minute, which only results in her pulling away from him more. Avery has been the focus of John's life since she was born and the two have always spent a great deal of time together. John doesn't want to lose his daughter and feels the camp can strengthen their bond again. Once they arrive that camp is less than John thought it would be. It's run-down, the director doesn't like him, the other dads all seem very different, and the activities aren't what he thought they'd be. 

What follows is a light drama. It is emotional, funny, and, entertaining. It can be predictable at times but it does succeed in entertaining you with a few light-dramatic events along the way. The plot is pretty simple, which also makes this a comfortable read. While Johns actions are not always entirely logical, that he has good intentions is never in doubt. The characters are all caricatures of different types of fathers and daughters, although the focus of the novel is really the fathers.

This is an appealing novel to read when you simply want to be entertained. The plot doesn't require a lot of analysis or contemplation. There are no shocking twists or heart-stopping action. It is a sweet story about a father struggling with his little girl growing up. Both father and daughter have lessons to learn about being honest with each other and really sharing what is on their minds. Thanks to Dutton for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.


Sunday, May 19, 2024

Things I Need You to Know

Things I Need You to Know by Mark Lamprell
6/4/24; 352 pages
Text Publishing Company

Things I Need You to Know by Mark Lamprell is a highly recommended novel dealing with a dysfunctional family as they grieve that turns into a psychological thriller. This is a novel that you must read to the end in order to fully appreciate the writing.

Birdie McBride and her five daughters are mourning the loss of her husband and their father. Ned was a devoted husband and wonderful stay-at-home father, allowing Birdie to pursue her legal career. Then Ned dies and leaves them all grieving and their lives upended. Birdie struggles with being a mother, working, and grieving, which leaves her relying on her oldest daughter, Charlotte, 16. Ned left behind a document for Birdie titled  "Things I Need You To Know." It is a guide to everything from household maintenance to each daughter’s emotional landscape.

Complicating the grieving process is Birdie's diva mother, singer Dawn Featherstone who must always be the center of attention. Ned's best friend, physician Marcello Architto, who is also trying to help Birdie, presents another complication as there is a long history between them.

Things I Need You to Know is a novel of a family in crisis. The narrative deals with grief and asks how a working mother can keep her family together after her stay-at-home husband dies and leaves them all floundering. Beyond that it also deals with love and trust. Birdie knew Ned loved her but she wasn't sure she totally loved him until he was gone.

Birdie is a fully realized character and all her flaws are on full display as she works through her grief and the narrative shows flashbacks from her life. She didn't always make smart decisions. She is in crisis now and looking back at poor choices she has made while realizing her flaws. In the end she uses her strengths to save her family.

There is a huge, shocking twist/revelation toward the end of the plot that changes everything, even the tone of the novel. Well played, Mark Lamprell. Your excellent writing pulled this up from an average novel to something much better. Thanks to Text Publishing for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Forgotten on Sunday

Forgotten on Sunday by Valérie Perrin
Hildegarde Serle (Translator)
6/4/24; 304 pages
Europa Editions

Forgotten on Sunday by Valérie Perrinis a highly recommended story which follows an unlikely friendship, the consequences of undeclared love, and healing the wounds of a broken past. This was Perrin's highly regarded 2015 debut novel and has been translated into English by Hildegarde Serle for the first time.

Justine Neige, 21, is a nursing assistant at the Hydrangeas, a retirement home in the small French town of Milly. As she cares for the residents, she also listens to their stories and often works unpaid overtime to assist them. She is particularly drawn to Hélène Hel, 96, who gradually reveals the story of her life and the tragedy of her lover’s disappearance during WWII. Justine carefully writes down Hélène's story in a blue notebook, which she has promised to give to her grandson, Roman. Justine also tells Hélène about her life.

In her personal life, Justine and her cousin Jules live with her grandparents after the death of both of their parents (their fathers were twins) in a car crash. Justine was 5, Jules 2, when this happened. Her grandmother is suicidal. Her grandfather is taciturn. Now, beyond work, Justine enjoys dancing and frequently spending the night with a man whose name she doesn't bother to learn.

There are mysteries taking place too. An anonymous person is calling the relatives of unvisited nursing home residents, those "forgotten on Sunday," and claiming to be representing the Hydrangeas. The caller is falsely informing them that their relatives living there have died. The police, such as they are in the small town, are investigating. While talking to the police, Justine learns that there were some suspicions behind the death of her and Jules parents.

This is a poetically written, sensitive, elegant, melancholy novel. The narrative moves between the present day events in Justine's life and the past, mainly the story of Hélène. In both timelines secrets, trauma, love (undeclared, and forbidden), revenge, attraction, and friendships are explored. The relationship between Justine and Hélène is essential to the story. Thanks to Europa Editions for providing me with an advance reader's copy via Edelweiss. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Number Three

Number Three by Mary W. Mahoney
6/1/23;  258 pages
M.W. Mahoney Publishing
Three, Two, One Murder Series #1

Number Three by Mary W. Mahoney is a recommended light murder mystery/courtroom drama. This reads like a cozy mystery. In the opening readers learn that Laurel Morrow has been indicted for murdering her husband Bob. What follows is, first, the story about all the events before the indictment as told by Laurel to a reporter she knew from high school, Catherine (Cat) Carroll. The second part part of the novel follows the trial from Cat's point-of-view. The Epilogue is told through a third point-of-view.

Laurel tells Cat that at Bob's insistence, he, Laurel, and their three young sons move from Boston to the wealthy, exclusive suburban community of Northington, an area they can barely afford. Their marriage is already in trouble and Laurel feels constantly under pressure to keep Bob calm so he doesn't explode and yell at her. The rural setting and snobbish demeanor of the local women where acceptance is based on status enforces an isolation on the family. Their older neighbor, Pearl, is very welcoming and helps Laurel out when she can. She greets them when they move in and immediately helps with protection against mosquitos. The situation is intolerable for Laurel, but she feels trapped.

The plot will hold your attention and the short novel moves along at an even pace to the epilogue. Part two through Cat's point-of-view not only follows the trial but focuses on her attraction to Jack Heggerty, another journalist following the trial, along with her other issues. The final denouement wasn't that shocking to me as it was an obvious answer to the question who-dun-it. 

Laurel and Cat are both realistic characters and relatable on some level. I have to admit that I didn't really like either of these characters. They both seemed a bit shallow. Although I felt sympathetic to Laurel's situation feeling trapped and helpless, she also grated on my nerves. She just felt whiny and complaining. Expect mosquitos and bugs in the country or even if you have a yard, it is a fact of life. (And I'm wondering who mowed their lawn.) When you own a house there are always repairs and upkeep which seem to hit all at once. If the wealthy, status conscious women don't want to be your friend, go find the normal people. They probably know better than to attend the school meetings or hang out at the exclusive beach. There is always a job that can be found. It may be in retail and not the high paying job you want, but it would be a way out. There are also places you can go for help and escape the abuse.

I'm an outlier compared to others who have reviewed Number Three so it probably wasn't a good fit for me. Thanks to M.W. Mahoney Publishing for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Ambition Monster: A Memoir

Ambition Monster: A Memoir by Jennifer Romolini
6/4/24; 304 pages

Ambition Monster: A Memoir by Jennifer Romolini is a recommended memoir for a select group of readers, especially those who are interested in a detailed, very personal autobiography of the early life and the working marathon taken on the road to success by a now burnt-out professional who had to leave their corporate jobs for their health.

The early life of Romolini most certainly impacted her adult life and that trauma had to leave scars that will need to be dealt with eventually. She shares the early memories she has and then goes on to share lots of other memories of working serving jobs, etc. on her way to try and make a living and a name for herself. This track follows her workaholism on her way to having a high-profile job and success. 

As you're reading her life story you instinctively know that something has to break because of the focus of the narrative. Her personal life is not as successful as her work life, even early on when she is doing the working class jobs. The crux of the memoir is sharing all the self-destructive decisions she has made over the years. She is incredibly honest and this can be mind numbing. It will also leave you wanting to talk some sense into her.

Honestly, there were parts where I appreciated her blunt honesty but there were also times I wish she were more focused on the whole rather than the little details. It is also, quite frankly, depressing because she is unhappy much of the time. I kept thinking of the old song admonishing you to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative. Thanks to Atria for providing me with an advance reader's copy via Edelweiss. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.


Monday, May 13, 2024

Don't Ask, Don't Follow

Don't Ask, Don't Follow by Mary Keliikoa
6/4/24; 320 pages
Oceanview Publishing

Don't Ask, Don't Follow by Mary Keliikoa is a highly recommended suspense novel set in Portland, Oregon, that seeks to solve a murder and find a missing person.

Beth Ralston, a paralegal at her father's law firm, has had enough mingling at the office party so she heads back upstairs to her office to rack up more billable hours. She finds Craig Bartell, her boss, has been murdered and she sees a woman who appears to be her sister Lindsay,  fleeing the scene. Beth is unable to catch her sister and, while she waits for the police, she discovers Lindsay left her phone in Beth's bag. The phone had an unsent message on it: "Don’t ask. Don’t follow."

Lindsay is an investigative reporter, so sometimes it is hard to reach her, but she never drops completely out of touch. In an attempt to find Lindsay, Beth begins to look into the material that Lindsay was investigating and trying to expose. It involves large scale corruption, secrets, and betrayal that may involve even her own family.

Beth is a determined, fully realized character who has a strong bond with her older sister that serves her well as she tries to find Lindsay. Since Don't Ask, Don't Follow is told through Beth's first person point-of-view, trusting and believing in her findings is important. 

The information Lindsay was chasing also involved Craig and makes her question not only the information Lindsay was collecting but also their parent's truthfulness.  It is clear as events unfold that someone is follow Beth and means her harm. The detective is also fast on the same trail and keeps encountering Beth while he investigates. 

The plot does seem to slow down in the middle after it initially takes off at a quick pace. There are also a few plot points that require a suspension of disbelief, especially toward the end. The journey to the final denouement is interesting, full of action, and will hold your complete attention. Thanks to Oceanview Publishing for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Saturday, May 11, 2024

If Something Happens to Me

If Something Happens to Me by Alex Finlay
5/28/24; 336 pages

If Something Happens to Me by Alex Finlay is a very highly recommended fast-paced, action-packed, intelligent thriller. This one was un-put-downable.

Five years ago in Leavenworth, Kansas, high school sweethearts Ryan Richardson and Alison Lane were on a date when he was yanked out of the car. He was left knocked out and she and her car disappeared. Suspicions ran high that Ryan was responsible, but there was no proof, but he was harassed enough that he changed his last name. Now Ryan is in law school at Georgetown and traveling with classmates in Italy, but he still thinks of Alison and the vague recollection he has of a man he saw that night, a man with missing fingers.

Now in Leavenworth on Poppy McGee's first day as the new Deputy Sheriff a car is found submerged in a lake. It is the car Alison was driving, but she's not in it. Two dead men are. Alison's purse is in the car and an envelope is found with the words "If something happens to me..." written on it.

Shane O'Leary, a mobster in Philadelphia has a son who is being bullied in school. His wife, Gina, is frantic. O'Leary turns to his accountant who has a daughter at the same school to fix the problem. And there are a few other characters along the way.

Once you start reading If Something Happens to Me it will be hard to put down. This is a smart, creative thriller full of tension, action, suspense, and unexpected twists. The pace is fast and relentless. Every different character, storyline and setting is interesting and compelling. 

The beginning of each chapter helpfully informs you of the location and characters to help keep readers on track. While reading, you will question how all the storylines fit together, but it will soon become clear and along the way there will be a few surprises. The chapters are short and the pace is lightning fast.

The characters are all unique, interesting, fully-realized individuals and you will either care about what happens to them or be concerned how they fit into the plot. There may be some suspension of disbelief required, but it is easily done so you can find out what happens next. Most importantly, this was enjoyable and a pleasure to read.Thanks to Minotaur for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

The Second Coming

The Second Coming by Garth Risk Hallberg
5/28/24; 608 pages
Knopf Doubleday

The Second Coming by Garth Risk Hallberg is a recommended family drama that examines the minutiae regarding the broken relationship and lives of a father and his teenage daughter.

In 2011 thirteen-year-old Jolie Aspern drops her phone onto the subway tracks and has a near-miss with a subway train when she jumps down to recover it. The thoughtless act was likely due to her drinking, but she is having other emotional issues. It does bring her estranged father back into her life.  Her father, Ethan Aspern is a recovering addict and convicted felon. He believes he can help her navigate her problems and set her straight so he returns home to NYC.

The narrative negotiates between multiple time periods and perspectives including the present and in flashbacks following Ethan's relationship with Jolie's mother, Sarah Kupferberg, relationships with parents, his addiction and more. There are many, many details and emotional insights into the characters. There are many keen insights into the raw emotions of both father and daughter, who share, in part, a bond over anxiety and addiction.

But the novel itself is just too, too much. Too full of elaborate prose, too meandering, too long, too expansive, too detailed, too emotional, too overworked, too slow paced, and, well, you get my point. From the synopsis, this is seemingly a novel I would normally relish. Instead it felt like I slogged through it, starting and stopping while losing interest in the characters or the plot. Tighten it up, refine the focus, pick up the pacing, and make us care about these characters. Thanks to Knopf for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Knife River

Knife River by Justine Champine
5/28/24; 368 pages
Random House

Knife River by Justine Champine is a recommended slow moving, literary family drama and character study following two sisters and their grief over their mother's disappearance.

Bones have been found fifteen years after Natalie Fairchild went missing. Jess was 13 and her older sister Liz was 19 when their mother disappeared, leaving Liz to care for Jess and both girls grief stricken. The two were semi-estranged until Liz called Jess to let her know that the bones are their mother's remains. Jess immediately leaves her current girlfriend and travel back to Knife river and her childhood home where Liz still lives. The home is eerily the same, frozen in time. Jess is determined to stay in knife River until the sisters get some kind of answer.

This is much more a literary novel and depressing character study of two sisters who experienced trauma and grief and how the loss of their mother effected their lives. The family drama is in the retelling of the sisters trying to process their grief immediately after their mother disappeared and later, after her bones were found. It is a very slow moving novel that carefully examines past memories, secrets, and relationships. The lack of a real investigation by police adds to the sister's frustration.

This is Champine's debut novel and the writing is quite good, both atmospheric and descriptive. The portrayal of grief and the effects of it one both sisters is well done. On the other hand, the pace is glacially slow and left such a feeling of hopelessness and despair while reading. This is a talent to watch. Thanks to Random House for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

One Perfect Couple

One Perfect Couple by Ruth Ware
5/21/24; 400 pages
Gallery/Scout Press

One Perfect Couple by Ruth Ware is a very highly recommended closed circle thriller that follows five couples, the cast of a new reality TV show, who are trapped on a remote island in the Indian Ocean.

Virologist Lyla Santiago is frustrated that her postdoc research is not providing the expected results, so when Nico Reese, her actor boyfriend, wants them to join the cast of a reality TV show called "One Perfect Couple" she reluctantly agrees. She can take off a couple weeks from work and assumes she can write up the disappointing results while on the island. Hopefully this opportunity will be the break that Nico needs and help their relationship. 

Their audition leads to a quick approval and Lyla and Nico quickly find themselves on a boat in the Indian Ocean heading toward Ever After Island with the four other couples: Bayer and Angel, Dan and Santana, Joel and Romi, and Conor and Zana. After the first challenge, things go wrong very quickly. This is followed by a powerful storm which slams the island, leaving the contestants isolated, without any support from the show's crew and assistants and with limited resources. Since they had to turn in all electronics, their hope is in reaching someone via the two-way radio. These are strangers who must band together for survival.

One Perfect Couple has strong And Then There Were None merges with Survivor and reads Lord of the Flies vibes and the plot held my complete attention throughout. Once they reach the island, the tension rises quickly and, after the storm hits, stays high as the stakes are life or death and their expectations for survival lower with each passing day. There are new issues occurring daily that will challenge each individual.

The writing is excellent. The narrative unfolds through Lyla's point-of-view, with brief pleas for help on the radio and later diary entries between the chapters. Lyla is an exceptional character and an appealing character to experience the drama through her observations. The characters are all written as unique individuals with their own strengths and weaknesses and it is easy to follow who's who while reading.

Ruth Ware is a writer who always seems to deliver an excellent novel. This one would make a heart-pounding movie. Thanks to Gallery/Scout Press for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Death Behind Every Door

Death Behind Every Door by Heather Graham
5/21/24; 336 pages
MIRA Books
The Blackbird Flies #1

Death Behind Every Door by Heather Graham is a recommended paranormal procedural following the European group of FBI agents from the special Krewe of Hunters group.

FBI special agent Luke Kendrick discovers evidence at a crime scene in London that members/acolytes of the H. H. Holmes Society are active in Great Britain. (Holmes, aka Herman Mudgett, was America's first serial killer from the eighteenth-century.)  It seems that the network of killers are active in Scotland where Luke quickly travels to join Special Agent Carly MacDonald to investigate Graystone Castle. Now a B and B, it seems that several guests have been disappearing after staying at the castle. Luke and Carly quickly solve this outbreak and move on to others.

This novel rushes from one investigation to another where they quickly catch the guilty, pass them on to local authorities, and run off to the next suspected location with barely time to inhale between scenes. The investigations are not very nuanced with careful research, planning, and field work as one would find in most procedurals. Once the guilty are caught, the two gallop off to the next suspected area of activity.

There is plenty of talk about historical events in Scotland, which was interesting, and several ghost who help them in their stings, which wasn't so interesting and actually a minus for me. Grahams Krewe of Hunters series, which this is a spin off from, is not something that I've been following so this novel does just jump into action assuming the reader has background from the original series.

The characters are rather lightly developed. The romance between them seemed rather hasty and pointless. Personally, I would have preferred the professionals, you know, act professionally. The one thing this has going for it is that the entertainment and action moves quickly for those who just want to get to the arrests/captures quickly. Thanks to MIRA Books for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Saturday, May 4, 2024

Southern Man

Southern Man by Greg Iles
976 pages; 5/28/24
Penn Cage Series #7

Southern Man by Greg Iles is a very intense, dense novel that, at 976 pages, requires quite the commitment to read, however, Greg Iles is one of my favorite go-to authors who has never let me down and I was excited to start reading Southern Man, the 7th Penn Cage novel. The writing is as sharp and detailed as I expected. There are heartbreaking events, political scheming, and social commentary all tied into contemporary topics. The plot follows two timelines in a society bitterly divided.  

It breaks my heart but it became clear that the novel was going to become too political for me during these turbulent times. I read for pleasure, escapism, and entertainment. If I read nonfiction, I want to choose the topics. For the last several years because of the current division in the country and after the lockdowns, I have held the authors of review books I accept to read to a fluid rule that they need to keep their editorializing on personal social/political views on contemporary topics to themselves and out of books as it diminishes and dates the novel. This was a "did not finish" novel, which is very unusual for me. I may revisit Southern Man in the future.

Long Time Gone

Long Time Gone by Charlie Donlea
5/21/24; 352 pages

Long Time Gone by Charlie Donlea is a very highly recommended, fast-paced, engaging thriller that expertly switches between events from the past and the present. Genealogy and DNA play a major part in setting up the complex, high-speed plot.

Sloan Hastings is starting a two year fellowship in forensic pathology under the renowned Dr. Livia Cutty and her research assignment is to look in-depth into the emerging field of forensic genealogy. Her first step in understanding the field is to submit her DNA to an online genealogy site. Sloan has always known she was adopted, so when her DNA ties her to a cold case, she is shocked. Apparently Sloan was Charlotte Margolis. As a baby she and her affluent parents, Preston and Annabelle Margolis, mysteriously vanished in July 1995, nearly 30 years ago.

Sloan and her parents immediately contact law enforcement and work with them. Nora Davies Margolis, who’s active on genealogical sites, contacts Sloan, eager to meet her. Cedar Creek Sheriff Eric Stamos, whose father, Sheriff Sanford (Sandy) Stamos was killed while investigating the case, contacts her and asks Sloan to go undercover when she meets the all-powerful Margolis family. Sloan is suddenly part of a 30-year-old cold case as she travels to where it began, Cedar Creek, Nevada, located north of Lake Tahoe.

The intricate narrative moves at a lightning-fast pace, switching between chapters telling events from the past and current occurrences in the present. The setting is primarily in the fictional small town of Cedar Creek where the Margolis family controls almost everything. There are a few of the plot points that I found implausible but it is easy to accept them as they serve the job to propel the narrative forward, and you will want the action to keep moving quickly as there is so much going on in both timelines.

Sloan is portrayed as a fully realized, believable character and you will like her. She does have questions as she is working with Eric, but she is also meeting her biological relatives under very unique circumstances. Being suddenly part of a cold case also puts her in the site of the media and cold-case enthusiasts.

The suspense, tension, and action all gallop along as the hidden corruption, power, and lies become suspect. Long Time Gone is an immersive, un-put-downable thriller. Thanks to Kensington for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Someplace Like Home

Someplace Like Home by Bobi Conn
5/21/24; 254 pages
Little A

Someplace Like Home by Bobi Conn is a highly recommended domestic drama set in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains of eastern Kentucky. It is a powerful fictionalized account of the lives of Conn's grandmother and mother and is about abusive relationships in isolated environments.

Jenny Caudill grew up in a strict home where her parents, especially her mother, laid down the law. Her parents had worked hard to stretch every dollar for a home and garage/barn where her father worked on cars for a living. As the youngest of four sisters, with one younger brother, she wore hand-me-downs. Everyone was expected to follow the rules and be home before dark. Jenny was ignored by boys until Rob Lewis laid eyes on her and began coming to her house and paying attention to her. Ignoring her mother's harsh warnings, Jenny continues to see Rob which results in a marriage of violence and substance abuse.

The narrative is divided into three sections. Part one is Jenny's childhood, part two is after Jenny and Rob are married, and the final part is from the point-of-view of Charlie, Jenny's daughter. The majority of the story is through Jenny's point-of-view and she is a sympathetic character. It should be noted that there are very descriptive scenes of control and abuse. It will be difficult for many to understand the all-too-real dilemma of why family didn't step forward to help her and the hopelessness of why she put up with the violence once she had children to protect.

The writing is excellent and Conn does a great job capturing the time, place, and setting. She depicts the lack of real choices and opportunities available in the area which left many open to abuse, trauma, addiction, and despondency. It would have been satisfying if more emotional healing from all of their trauma was covered. This would be a great book club choice, especially for the discussions on the role of location, limited choices, and isolation in circumstances of trauma and abuse. Thanks to Little A for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Friday, May 3, 2024

Under the Palms

Under the Palms by Kaira Rouda
5/21/24; 269 pages
Thomas & Mercer
Kingsleys #2

Under the Palms by Kaira Rouda is a very highly recommended tale of family treachery, greed, betrayal, and scheming all set during a weekend retreat at a luxurious Laguna Beach resort. Oh my! Under the Palms is delicious, lethal, soap-operatic fun and once you start reading, it is impossible to stop.

Paige Kingsley, the current president of Kingsley Global Enterprises, was put in charge of the family business by CEO and family Patriarch, Richard. Sons John, the eldest, and Ted, Paige's husband, still have plans to take over the family business. Paige has planned a weekend corporate/family retreat and team building time at the exclusive Twin Palms Resort in Laguna Beach. The family is there plus several surprises, which means the secrets and scheming are going into overtime.

Let the cut-throat competition of power games, and intrigued begin! The entire novel is pure entertainment with nonstop action and so much scheming, twists, humor, and dark secrets you will not be able to stop reading. It is also a whodunit mystery as a murder takes place- just another one for this bunch.

There is not one likable, trustworthy character in this glorious soapy, engrossing narrative featuring one very dysfunctional family. They are all complex, cunning, calculating, clever characters and immanently scheming all the time. You will follow the maladjusted family through chapters that present the point-of-view of Paige, Richard, John, Ted, Serena (ex-wife of Richard), Sibley (estranged daughter), Krystle (John's girlfriend), and blurbs from the gossip site OC Scoop.

Although it is the second in a series, I read it not knowing that and still followed the plot and enjoyed it tremendously. This novel is excellent fun! Thanks to Thomas & Mercer for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Cloaked Deception

Cloaked Deception by Timothy Zahn
5/14/24; 663 pages
Aethon Books

Cloaked Deception by Timothy Zahn is a highly recommended political techno-thriller that reads like an action movie. From the opening we know some group is planning a focused nuclear strike to eliminate one man in ten days. Then we learn that a tactical nuclear weapon has been stolen from an Indian research facility. This starts the countdown to the event that we know is coming but don't know who or where.

There are the two main storylines that are followed in the novel as the clock counts down the days until the planned major event will take place. Two secret agents, using the code names Ten and Eleven, are on a Pakistani container ship in the South China Sea secretly transporting the nuclear weapon. At the same time three scientists are killed and their invention, a cloaking device that can make things/people invisible, has been stolen. FBI special agent Madison Talbot and San Jose detective Natal Delgado begin investigating who took the cloaking technology. Then Angie Chandler, the wife of one of the dead scientists, has a hit squad shooting at her and she escapes with the help of private investigator Adam Ross.

Cloaked Deception is a well-written, detailed thriller that presents itself like an action movie. Honestly, it should be made into a movie. Zahn has all the details for characters, setting, and atmosphere right there, in the plot, along with plenty of new discoveries and twists. There are a whole lot of characters in this novel (but they could be pared down a bit for the movie). The cat and mouse aspect of the people moving the bomb into place versus the investigation into the deaths and stolen cloaking device create an increasing amount of tension as the days pass by and the countdown moves closer to the expected major event. Thanks to Aethon Books for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.