Book Review Tuesday: Hairpin Bridge by Taylor Adams #psychologicalthriller

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I’m back! Hubby and I spent a long weekend in Virginia for a family wedding—a wonderful event that left us with many great memories. I’m so happy for my niece and her new husband, who are now enjoying a long, leisurely honeymoon.

For myself, I’m settling back into my regular routine which includes blog posts and visits. To start, I’m kicking off the week with a NetGalley review on a book that releases today. Taylor Adams blew me away with No Exit, his debut novel. To this day it remains one of my favorite reads, and a book I easily see myself devouring again. Requesting an ARC of Hairpin Bridge, his latest was a no-brainer. Surprisingly, I found this one difficult to review. You’ll see why below.

BLURB:

From the author of the “full-throttle thriller” (A. J. Finn) No Exit—a riveting new psychological page-turner featuring a fierce and unforgettable heroine.

Three months ago, Lena Nguyen’s estranged twin sister, Cambry, drove to a remote bridge sixty miles outside of Missoula, Montana, and jumped two hundred feet to her death. At least, that is the official police version. 

But Lena isn’t buying it.

Now she’s come to that very bridge, driving her dead twin’s car and armed with a cassette recorder, determined to find out what really happened by interviewing the highway patrolman who allegedly discovered her sister’s body.

Corporal Raymond Raycevic has agreed to meet Lena at the scene. He is sympathetic, forthright, and professional. But his story doesn’t seem to add up. For one thing, he stopped Cambry for speeding a full hour before she supposedly leapt to her death. Then there are the sixteen attempted 911 calls from her cell phone, made in what was unfortunately a dead zone.

But perhaps most troubling of all, the state trooper is referred to by name in Cambry’s final enigmatic text to her sister: Please Forgive Me. I couldn’t live with it. Hopefully you can, Officer Raycevic.

Lena will do anything to uncover the truth. But as her twin’s final hours come into focus, Lena’s search turns into a harrowing, tooth-and-nail fight for her own survival—one that will test everything she thought she knew about her sister and herself…

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I loved Taylor Adam’s No Exit and counted it among one of my favorite reads when it was released, so it was a no brainer to request an ARC of Hairpin Bridge. Thank you NetGalley and Joffe Books for my ARC. I was so excited and couldn’t wait to devour it. Unfortunately, unlike No Exit, this wasn’t a homerun. 

Lena Nguyen’s estranged twin sister, Cambry, has committed suicide by jumping from Hairpin Bridge, an old suspension bridge located on a remote section of highway in Montana. Unconvinced her sister truly killed herself, Lena asks the cop who found her body—Ray Raycevic—to meet her and answer questions. The two eventually end up on the bridge where the bulk of the story takes place. 

The narrative alternates between the present, flashback sequences from Cambry, and blog entries and thoughts about Cambry from Lena. Had the story stuck with flashbacks and action in the present, it wouldn’t have floundered. I found the blog entries and Lena’s thoughts about her sister draggy and, at times, confusing. 

The book takes a while to get off the ground. There’s a lot of talking back and forth between Lena and Raycevic with nothing happening. And the near-constant use of first names between two people who had never met grated on my nerves. There was even a point I found myself skimming. 

And then . . .

The Taylor Adams novel I expected kicked in. From the moment a third party is introduced into the story, it’s a freight-train ride until the end. The second half is an anxiety-fueled rollercoaster brimming with twists, turns, and nail-biting action. I encountered things that repulsed me and things that had me on the edge of my seat. Part cat-and-mouse, part explosive confrontation, the conflict kept me glued.

As with No Exit, this book would make an exceptional movie (fingers crossed and hoping). The ending was stellar, tying up multiple threads along with a surprise I didn’t expect. Were it not for the slow start and the intrusive blog entries I’d give Hairpin Bridge 5 stars. As it stands, I’m going with 3.5 rounded up to 4 for review purposes. 

To read or not to read: READ!!! The last half makes the whole thing worthwhile. 

Release Date is Today | Purchase from Amazon

Book Review Tuesday: Cold Dark Night by Joan Hall #mystery #suspense @JoanHallWrites

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Welcome to another Book Review Tuesday. Cold Dark Night is the first novel in Joan Hall’s Legend of Madeira series. It follows her recent novella prequel, House of Sorrow, but you needn’t have read that to enjoy her latest release. Cold Dark Night serves perfectly as a stand alone. For those who read House of Sorrow, you’ll be richly rewarded by how everything fits together in this enjoyable mystery that weaves past and present with author finesse.

BOOK BLURB:

New husband, new house, new town… and a new mystery to solve.

Tami Montgomery thought her police chief husband was going to be the only investigator in the family when she gave up her journalism career and moved with him to Madeira, New Mexico.

But after the historical society asks her to write stories for a book celebrating the town’s one-hundred fiftieth year, she becomes embroiled in a new mystery. If she can’t solve this one, she could lose everything. Her research uncovers a spate of untimely deaths of local law enforcement officials. Further digging reveals a common link—they all lived in the house she and Jason now share.

Tami isn’t a superstitious person, but the circumstances are too similar for coincidence. Then she unearths an even more disturbing pattern. And if history repeats itself, Jason will be the next to die.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Tami Montgomery and her husband, Jason, have just moved to Madeira, New Mexico where Jason has accepted the job as Madeira’s new police chief. They settle into an old Victorian home, which Tami soon learns has an interesting, disturbing history. Several of Madeira’s former police chiefs lived in the house and met with untimely deaths, more than one of them murdered.

As Tami delves deeper into trying to uncover the link between the deaths and her home, Jason has his hands full dealing with a rebellious officer, a string of burglaries, an officer-involved shooting, and the mayor’s interfering wife. There’s also the unexpected arrival of Jason’s estranged father, and the frightening dream visions of danger from Tami’s new friend, Abbey.

I loved the small-town setting of this novel. Hall does a great job of bringing Madeira vividly to life, not only in the present but the past as well. There are several chapters that give readers glimpses into characters from the 1800s, and how their lives will eventually impact what takes place in the present. The author weaves a tale of more than one unsolved murder, doling out clues like breadcrumbs. Another plot thread incorporates lunar folklore and how it may or may not factor into the murders. I especially enjoyed how Hall incorporated those threads into the story, tying everything together for a thoroughly satisfying conclusion.

Bottom line: Cold Dark Night is an intriguing mystery that includes all the elements that make for a page-turning read—wonderful characters, a multi-layered plot, historical elements, and folklore. And easy five stars!

Book Reviews by Mae Clair: The Night She Disappeared by Kevin O’Brien #psychologicalthriller @KensingtonBooks

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If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you probably know I am a dyed-in-the-wool devoted fan of Kevin O’Brien. Time after time, he delivers page-turning releases. The Night She Disappeared is yet another unputdownable book from a master of domestic suspense and psychological thrillers.

BOOK BLURB:

For fans of Gone Girl and of Harlan Coben and Linwood Barclay’s domestic suspense—a gripping novel by New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Kevin O’Brien, in which “the other woman” becomes the prime suspect when the wife goes missing.

Some nightmares you can’t forget

From the depths of sleep, Seattle TV reporter Anna Malone awakens to her phone ringing. She rarely drinks, and this hangover is brutal. Why can’t she shake the feeling that something terrible happened last night? And why can’t she recall any of it?
 
But even worse
What Anna does remember: an awkward restaurant meal with her married lover, Russ Knoll, and his unsuspecting wife, Courtney. Russ’s phone call reveals that Courtney is missing, and as days go by with no trace, he comes under police scrutiny. Anna’s in the spotlight too, thanks to a TV rival with a grudge. Anna’s not proud of her affair, but she and Russ aren’t bad people. They’re certainly not the killing kind.
 
Is the one you can’t remember . . .
Anna already suspected that Courtney—a successful, charming author—might have a darker side. Is she truly missing? Perhaps the sudden disturbances in Anna’s life aren’t accidental after all. But no scenario that Anna imagines can compare to the twisted game unfolding around her, one chilling piece at a time . . .

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Thank you to Kensington Books and NetGalley for my ARC. I am a long-time fan of Kevin O’Brien and think I’ve read nearly every book he’s written. When I saw The Night She Disappeared offered on NetGalley, I immediately requested it. Once again, O’Brien delivers a nail-biter, riddled with twists and turns that race to a stunning conclusion.

Anna Malone is a TV news reporter with a devoted local following. When she makes the mistake of becoming romantically involved with Dr. Russell Knoll, a married pediatrician, her life implodes.

Knoll is married to an up-and-coming author, beloved by the public. When Courtney Knoll vanishes under mysterious circumstances and Anna is unable to recall the events of the night, both she and Russ become suspects in his wife’s disappearance. Add in mysterious phone calls, a stalker, hypnotism, drug-addiction, and a rival reporter with a sensationalized “justice-style” TV program, and there are enough plot threads to spin a thoroughly riveting and complex web.

I waffled back and forth on the suspects in this book. At the end, I was right about one of them but not for the reasons I suspected. O’Brien definitely kept me second-guessing throughout, including not just who was responsible for Courtney’s disappearance, but also whether or not she was the person she presented herself to be. Another mystery–did she simply disappear or was there something more sinister involved?

I loved the use of Seattle landmarks and the “floating houses” where much of the action takes place. The lake setting made for a creepy environment, especially at night when Anna is in her house certain she is being watched. An excellent character, she is flawed in many respects, but as a reader it’s impossible not have sympathy for her despite the mistakes she makes. 

As with all of O’Brien’s stories, this is a page-turner from beginning to end. For anyone who enjoys mysteries with fully-fleshed out characters, tight plotting and suspense that hooks you into reading “just one more chapter” despite a late hour, I highly recommend The Night She Disappeared.

Release Date is July 27 | Pre-order at Amazon

Book Review Tuesday: On the Tip of Her Tongue by Jerry Roth @_JerryRoth_ #supernaturalsuspense

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Hello, and welcome to the first Book Review Tuesday of June—and the first day of June. Pretty clever how that fell into place, huh? 🙂 Today’s review is for a novel that releases next Tuesday on the 8th, but is available for pre-order now. The author provided me with an ARC, which I quickly devoured. I think you’ll want to as well.

BOOK BLURB:

Without your memories, who are you?

When Judy Angel opens her eyes, the nightmare begins. Every shred of the past has disappeared from her mind. Without the help of memories, she must navigate her past and trust that friends and family are truly what they seem.

Finding a message from her younger self, Judy follows the breadcrumbs, sending her down a frightening path, and changing her life forever.

Why did she run away so many years before? Can she trust the visions that haunt her nights? For Judy Angel, every memory is On the Tip of Her Tongue. But will that be enough to save her?

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

As noted in the blurb, the main character in this story has to reconstruct her life through a trail of breadcrumbs. When the novel starts, she has no memory of her past or the people who have factored into her life. Judy is married to Johnny Macklemore, a famous novelist who has asked her to hand-deliver his latest manuscript to his publisher while he attends to other business. Instead, Judy ends up in a hospital, questioning how she got there and failing to recognize her own parents.

When she returns to her childhood home, she discovers her younger self—Judy Angel—has left a series of clues enabling her to begin piecing her life together. Along the course, she will reconnect with past friends and a former fiancé, now a detective. She’ll also encounter Johnny’s parents, and a sister-in-law she never knew existed. Her in-laws are nothing as expected, and Johnny’s sister, Tessa, exists in a non-commutative state, unaware of what takes place around her.

This story has a lot of “legs”—both in the past and present. The plot threads meander, take detours, circle around, then come together in a deftly constructed conclusion. The suspense is slow-build and parts of narrative are woven with magical realism. I have a strange fondness for books that use damaged minds and mental facilities devoted to odd or unusual experimentation. Both lay at the heart of this story, but it’s also a tale of sacrifice, betrayals, and starting over. Particularly touching is Judy’s relationship with her father, Bud, something the reader doesn’t grasp in entirety until the last quarter of the tale.

Two things I positively loved were the author’s use of Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird, and Billy Joel’s song, “Lullaby.” Both show up more than once in the narrative, as does a small stuffed mockingbird that carries meaning for Judy. If you enjoy supernatural suspense with forays into magical realism, this is an intriguing story with plenty of surprises waiting along the way. 4 Stars.

I received a complimentary ARC of this novel for an honest review.


This book was so different and unique in so many ways. I hope you’ll help Jerry spread the news On the Tip of Her Tongue is available for pre-order by using the sharing buttons below. Then hop over to Amazon to reserve your own copy. As always, I wish you happy reading!


NEWSFLASH UPDATE !!!

As per his comment below, Jerry has a special THANK YOU offer for everyone here:
Use the DISCOUNT CODE: TIPOFHERTONGUE21
The code is good on all print versions of “On the Tip of Her Tongue” only on http://www.Jerryrothauthor.com

Book Review Tuesday: Chasing the Boogeyman by Richard Chizmar @RichardChizmar @GalleryBooks #suspense #metafiction #serialkillers

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Happy Tuesday! For my last Book Review Tuesday of May, I have a fabulous NetGalley read to share. Before I get started, a tip of the hat to Kim of By Hook or By Book for pointing me to this title through her own fantastic review. I count Chasing the Boogeyman as one of my top reads of the year.

BOOK BLURB:

The New York Times bestselling coauthor of Gwendy’s Button Boxbrings his signature “thrilling, page-turning” (Michael Koryta, author of How It Happened) prose to this story of small-town evil that combines the storytelling of Stephen King with the true-crime suspense of Michelle McNamara.

In the summer of 1988, the mutilated bodies of several missing girls begin to turn up in a small Maryland town. The grisly evidence leads police to the terrifying assumption that a serial killer is on the loose in the quiet suburb. But soon a rumor begins to spread that the evil stalking local teens is not entirely human. Law enforcement, as well as members of the FBI are certain that the killer is a living, breathing madman—and he’s playing games with them. For a once peaceful community trapped in the depths of paranoia and suspicion, it feels like a nightmare that will never end.

Recent college graduate Richard Chizmar returns to his hometown just as a curfew is enacted and a neighborhood watch is formed. In the midst of preparing for his wedding and embarking on a writing career, he soon finds himself thrust into the real-life horror story. Inspired by the terrifying events, Richard writes a personal account of the serial killer’s reign of terror, unaware that these events will continue to haunt him for years to come.

A clever, terrifying, and heartrending work of metafiction, Chasing the Boogeyman is the ultimate marriage between horror fiction and true crime. Chizmar’s “brilliant…absolutely fascinating, totally compelling, and immediately poignant” (C.J. Tudor, New York Times bestselling author) writing is on full display in this truly unique novel that will haunt you long after you turn the final page.

MY REVIEW:

Although I’m not a fan of true crime stories, there was something about this book that appealed to me the first time I read a review. Maybe it was the hint of a supernatural/horror element, or maybe the concept of metafiction. I could honestly go rounds with that description and still have difficulty delivering a solid definition. Bottom line, In Search of the Boogeyman is a fictional novel made to read like true crime. The delivery is quite clever, and the story is riveting.

The first few chapters provide background on the central character, where he grew up, why he’s in his present circumstances, etc. etc. and those are almost entirely prose. It took me some settling in to adjust to that pace, but the descriptions about small town life and childhood memories are richly textured and sure to awaken nostalgia. Add in that Edgewood, Maryland is a real town—along with many other places referenced in the novel—and the content begins to feel more factual than fictional. I’ve visited several of the places Chizmar references. By chapter three, I wanted to speed read to the end.

It’s the summer of 1988 and Richard has returned to his hometown just as a murder occurs—unthinkable in a small town like Edgewood. When other murders follow—all young girls, all missing a left ear and posed after death—residents fear a serial killer is on the loose. Dubbed the “boogeyman” the killer seems impossible to catch. Richard finds himself caught up in the search, his path intertwining with a journalist friend and the lead detective on the case. 

I can be squeamish about books with serial killers, but there was nothing overly graphic in this novel. Chills, goose bumps, suspense and tension abound. There are several nighttime scenes that are especially creepy. It’s clear the victims met with violent ends, but gore doesn’t factor into the descriptions which I appreciated. To add to the true crime feel, each chapter closes with photos of crime scenes, town locations, and family photos of the victims. In Chizmer’s skillful hands, the book becomes mystery, thriller, and a haunting tale of small-town life that lingers long after finishing. I also loved the inclusion of an afterward from the author explaining how the book came about and how the photos were developed. Chasing the Boogeyman is definitely among my favorite reads for the year!

Thank you to Gallery Books and NetGalley for my ARC!


Want a good read that will keep you up at night flipping pages? This one surely did! Thanks to NetGalley and my own mammoth TBR, I’ve been binge-devouring books lately. Goodreads tells me I’m nineteen novels ahead in my reading challenge for 2021 (although I did cut it back from last year). As a result, you may start seeing more book reviews from me scattered here and there in the weeks and months ahead. I hope you’ll come back tomorrow when I’ll be sharing my reviews for the first book in a new cozy series, and the latest release in a buddy/paranormal adventure series.

Book Review Tuesday

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Hello! Thanks for checking in with me. Because I have a crazy day on schedule today, I’m shifting my normal book review post to Thursday this week. I hope to see you then.

In the meantime, happy blogging, happy reading, and happy writing!


Book Review Tuesday: The Scorpion’s Tail by Preston & Child, Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre by Max Brooks #historicalmysteries #horrorsuspense

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Hello, and welcome to my first Book Review Tuesday of May. I read these novels during the chilly days of winter but didn’t have the blog space to share the reviews until now. One is the second book in a spin-off series and the other was languishing on my TBR much too long. Pile enough books on your Kindle and the titles get buried. Both of these deliver action and suspense. Take a look!


BLURB:
Following the acclaimed debut of Old Bones, this second “happily anticipated” new thriller in Preston & Child’s series features Nora Kelly, archaeologist at the Santa Fe Archeological Institute, and rookie FBI Agent Corrie Swanson, as they team up to solve a mystery that quickly escalates into nightmare (Booklist).

A mummified corpse, over half a century old, is found in the cellar of an abandoned building in a remote New Mexico ghost town. Corrie is assigned what seems to her a throwaway case: to ID the body and determine cause of death. She brings archaeologist Nora Kelly to excavate the body and lend her expertise to the investigation, and together they uncover something unexpected and shocking: the deceased apparently died in agony, in a fetal position, skin coming off in sheets, with a rictus of horror frozen on his face.

Hidden on the corpse lies a 16th century Spanish gold cross of immense value.

When they at last identify the body — and the bizarre cause of death — Corrie and Nora open a door into a terrifying, secret world of ancient treasure and modern obsession: a world centered on arguably the most defining, frightening, and transformative moment in American history.

MY REVIEW:
This is the second Preston and Child outing for archeologist, Dr. Nora Kelly and rookie FBI agent, Corrie Swanson. I’m a fan of both of these ladies having followed their development in the Agent Pendergast series. While this is a good story with an intricately layered plot woven around a ghost town, buried treasure, military testing, and an ancient corpse, I found it dragged a little in certain spots. And as much as I love Pendergast—one of my all-time favorite characters—I wasn’t happy with him stealing Corrie and Nora’s “thunder” at the end. I hope P&C continue to have Pendergast make cameos in this series, but I’d rather see him applauding Corrie for her work rather than being the one to make the case-solving pronouncement.

On the plus side, I loved the character of Homer Watts, a young, marksman sheriff with a penchant for the Old West, and I enjoyed Moorwood’s (Corrie’s boss) development throughout the book. I hope these characters continue as the series progresses. The last quarter moves at a blistering pace which kept me on the edge of my seat and madly flipping pages. While it takes a while to get off the ground, and the plot develops spider legs branching in myriad directions, The Scorpion’s Tail is an entertaining read.

I give The Scorpion’s Tail 4 STARS

BLURB:
As the ash and chaos from Mount Rainier’s eruption swirled and finally settled, the story of the Greenloop massacre has passed unnoticed, unexamined . . . until now. The journals of resident Kate Holland, recovered from the town’s bloody wreckage, capture a tale too harrowing—and too earth-shattering in its implications—to be forgotten. In these pages, Max Brooks brings Kate’s extraordinary account to light for the first time, faithfully reproducing her words alongside his own extensive investigations into the massacre and the legendary beasts behind it. Kate’s is a tale of unexpected strength and resilience, of humanity’s defiance in the face of a terrible predator’s gaze, and, inevitably, of savagery and death.

Yet it is also far more than that.

Because if what Kate Holland saw in those days is real, then we must accept the impossible. We must accept that the creature known as Bigfoot walks among us—and that it is a beast of terrible strength and ferocity.

Part survival narrative, part bloody horror tale, part scientific journey into the boundaries between truth and fiction, this is a Bigfoot story as only Max Brooks could chronicle it—and like none you’ve ever read before.

MY REVIEW:
As someone who loves cryptid fiction, I was instantly drawn to this book. It’s quite different than anything I’ve read before, and was my first-time reading Max Brooks, the author who gave us World War Z. The book unfolds through journal entries with occasional interviews, articles on simian behavior, and book excerpts tossed in. I found the excerpts from Theodore Roosevelt’s The Wilderness Hunter particularly fascinating—was he really writing about Bigfoot? Recall this is the same man who almost cancelled an African safari to participate in the Great Snallygaster Hunt of 1909.

Because the book reads like a docudrama—especially in the beginning—it’s extremely slow to get off the ground. I actually planned to DNF it at the 12% mark on my Kindle. I stopped reading and switched to a different book, but that one didn’t work either, so I gave Devolution another chance and by the 20% mark I was hooked.

The story centers on a handful of people who have taken up residence in a small community tucked deep in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. Greenloop has been designed to combine technical advancements with the isolation of nature—the best of living off the grid while having all the comforts of home. That philosophy goes out the window when a volcanic eruption cuts Greenloop off from civilization and technology stops working.

But that’s not the biggest problem. Its takes a while for the sasquatch of the title to make an appearance, but once they do, events kick into hyper drive. There’s a creep factor when Greenloop’s residents realize they’re not alone in the woods. A sinisterness that quickly explodes into horror. At this point it’s necessary to overlook a bit of incredulity—that the main character (Kate) would still be scribbling in her journal with the events taking place around her. That aside, I found it hard to put the book down when I had to call it a night.

Several characters experience remarkable growth during the course of this novel. Others start flat, and end flat. But how often do you get to read a Bigfoot book? Even if it’s not perfect, for anyone who holds a fascination with cryptids, this is one to read—just slog through the start.

I give Devolution 4 STARS


I recommend both these books despite a few draggy spots and—in the case of Devolution—a slow beginning. Preston & Child TOP my list of auto-buy authors (August 17th is the next Pendergast novel–WOOHOO!) and I wouldn’t be surprised if Devolution follows in the path of World War Z and makes a splash on the big screen. I’d be in line for a ticket!

Book Review Tuesday: The Bad Sister by Kevin O’Brien, The Dinner Guest by B.P. Walter #domesticsuspense #psychologicalsuspense #bookreviews

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I seem to be devouring a lot of psychological suspense and domestic thrillers these days. There is so much to choose from and so many good titles out there. Today’s reviews are a mix of an auto-buy author and a new-to-me author. Both earn five glowing stars!

BOOK BLURB:
TOO CLOSE
The site of the old campus bungalow where two girls were brutally slain is now a flower patch covered with chrysanthemums. It’s been fifty years since the Immaculate Conception Murders. Three more students and a teacher were killed in a sickening spree that many have forgotten. But there is one person who knows every twisted detail. . . .
 
TO SEE
Hannah O’Rourke and her volatile half-sister, Eden, have little in common except a parent. Yet they’ve ended up at the same small college outside Chicago, sharing a bungalow with another girl. Hannah isn’t thrilled—nor can she shake the feeling that she’s being watched. And her journalism professor, Ellie Goodwin, keeps delving into Hannah and Eden’s newsworthy past. . . .
 
THE DANGER
When Hannah and Eden’s arrival coincides with a spate of mysterious deaths, Ellie knows it’s more than a fluke. A copycat is recreating those long-ago murders. Neither the police nor the school will accept the horrific truth. And the more Ellie discovers, the more she’s convinced that she won’t live to be believed. . . .

MY REVIEW:
Kevin O’Brien is one of my auto-buy authors. I can always count on him to deliver a complex mystery with characters who are easy to relate to.

Hannah and Eden are sisters who only recently learned they’re related. Their relationship is rocky, but when they go away to Our Lady of the Cove college, they both end up sharing the same bungalow with a third girl. Rachel tells them about the Immaculate Conception Murders which occurred fifty years ago. It’s not long after Hannah and Eden arrive that a copycat killer strikes, staging his victims in the same manner as the original murderer.

The problem with mysteries is it’s hard to say a lot about them without giving away the plot, but O’Brien has a solid winner with The Bad Sister. He builds tension throughout, the clock ticking with each successive murder. Several characters sent up potential suspect flags for me, but in the end, I was completely off base.

In addition to the sisters and Rachel, other key players include a journalism teacher and one of her students—a thirtyish man who doesn’t fit with the rest of the student body. Each has a background that plays into the overall plot, subtle layers about their pasts revealed a bit at time. When everything comes together at the end, each twisty plot thread is wrapped with a satisfying conclusion. I always think of O’Brien’s mysteries as fat, juicy reads, and for that reason I buy his novels in paperback form—perfect beach reads no matter the time of year or place.

If you like a good whodunit with strong, relatable characters, I highly recommend The Bad Sister. And if you haven’t read O’Brien before, you’re missing out. My bookcase is filled with his novels!

5 STARS

BOOK BLURB:
Four people walked into the dining room that night. One would never leave.

Matthew: the perfect husband.

Titus: the perfect son.

Charlie: the perfect illusion.

Rachel: the perfect stranger.

Charlie didn’t want her at the book club. Matthew wouldn’t listen.

And that’s how Charlie finds himself slumped beside his husband’s body, their son sitting silently at the dinner table, while Rachel calls 999, the bloody knife still gripped in her hand.

Classic crime meets Donna Tartt in this nerve-shredding domestic noir thriller that weaves a sprawling web of secrets around an opulent West London world and the dinner that ends in death.

MY REVIEW:
This is a quick read that immediately sucks you into the story with subtlety. Matthew and Charlie are married, with an adopted teenage son, Titus. One day while shopping, they encounter Rachel, a newcomer who has moved nearby. After some chit-chat, Matthew invites her to his book club. Charlie is puzzled by the swiftness of Mathew’s actions and feels there is something off with Rachel, though he can’t put his finger on why. This is just the beginning of Rachel winding her way into their lives, the lives of their family, and friends. With each successive chapter, Rachels actions grow more and more questionable, but she is far from the only character keeping secrets.

The book shifts in time with scenes in the present—Matthew has been murdered—to scenes in the past leading up to the moment of his death. Gradually, the backstories of the four main characters—Matthew, Charlie, Titus and Rachel—unfold as past rushes to join present and we learn the identity of Matthew’s killer. There are multiple twists and turns along the way. Some I figured out beforehand, others caught me blindsided. The ending is different than most books of this type but altogether satisfying in its cleverness. 

This is slow build psychological/domestic suspense, but at the same time, a riveting page-turner. I finished it in two-sittings, and have no problem awarding it a well-earned five stars. I’ll look for more from this author. 

5 STARS


I had an entertaining week of reading, as you can see. I’m also excited that another of my auto-buy authors (Jennifer McMahon) has a new novel out. I pre-ordered The Drowning Kind, it’s now on my Kindle, and I can’t wait to get to it. But…TBR, you know? Hopefully, soon.

Happy Reading!

Book Review Tuesday: House of Sorrow by Joan Hall @JoanHallWrites, The Street Party by Claire Seeber @claireseeber @bookouture #psychologicalfiction

Warm and cozy window seat with cushions and a opened book, light through vintage shutters, rustic style home decor. Small cat on window seat, along with coffee cup by pillow, Words Book Review Tuesday superimposed over image

Thank you for joining me for another Book Review Tuesday. Today, I have a short story from friend and Story Empire colleague, Joan Hall. House of Sorrows serves as an introduction to Joan’s upcoming release Cold Dark Night, the first in her Legends of Madiera series. The second novel, The Street Party by Claire Seeber is the first of many NetGalley ARCs I hope to review in the weeks and months ahead. Both of these excellent novels fall into the category of psychological suspense.


BOOK BLURB:
Dream home or damned home?

Ruth Hazelton is over the moon when her husband Lee agrees the nineteenth-century Victorian in Madeira, New Mexico, is the perfect home for them. While he starts his new job as police chief, she sets about unpacking and decorating.

But it’s not long before Ruth needs more. She becomes a fixture in the community, making time for everyone, volunteering, hosting events—she’s every bit the social butterfly her husband is not. Through her friendships, she learns several former residents of her home met with untimely deaths. If she were superstitious, she might fear a curse, but such nonsense doesn’t faze her.

Until the unthinkable happens.

Now, as the end of Ruth’s life draws near, she must find a way to convey her message and stop the cycle to prevent anyone else from suffering in the house of sorrow.

MY REVIEW:

This short read is set mostly in the 1960s and serves as an introduction to the author’s upcoming Madeira series. Ruth Hazelton and her husband, Lee, have just moved into a beautiful old Victorian home. Lee has accepted a job as Madeira’s new police chief and the world is looking up for them.

Ruth is a wonderful character. Social and outgoing, someone who quickly establishes herself as a friendly face in her neighborhood and community. I particularly liked her friendship with her neighbor Sam. He’s a bit of a curmudgeon, opinionated, but highly likeable at the same time. He also believes in curses. It’s through Sam that Ruth learns several of her new home’s former residents died unexpectedly. The history of the house is a mystery that serves to open the door for Hall’s series.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the way the author wove events from the 1960s into the story. Some are delivered via journal entries from Ruth, others through narrative and dialogue. As someone who has long been fascinated by that time period, those references were highlights for me.

I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing how this series unfolds, and can’t wait for the release of the first full-length novel which will be set in present day. I have a passion for books that combine historical elements, old legends, and contemporary settings. Legends of Madeira promises to deliver all three!

5 STARS


BOOK BLURB:

The party was supposed to be the highlight of the summer. If only I’d known that night would destroy our lives…

All the neighbours were laughing, drinking out of plastic glasses and getting along. I almost felt happy. Almost forgot about the terrible argument earlier and the sinister messages I’d been receiving from a strange address all week, threatening to expose the lies behind my perfect life.

As we finished with the red and gold fireworks and welcomed everyone back to our house, I believed that everything would be okay.

But I didn’t know who I was inviting in.

I never could have imagined what would happen here, in our home, after I’d gone up to bed.

Everyone saw something different.

It’s my daughter’s word against the story the boy from down the road is telling. But how can I find out what really happened that night without everyone finding out the truth about me?

An absolutely gripping story of the secrets you would do anything to keep hidden, with a twist you just won’t see coming. Perfect for fans of Gone Girl, Big Little Lies and The Girl on the Train.

MY REVIEW:
Thank you NetGalley and Bookouture for the ARC!

I was initially drawn to this story by the cover of the book, then I read the blurb which sounded delicious. The Street Party is told from the first person POVs of three different women—Ruby, Melissa, and Nella. Ruby and Melissa are good friends, while uber-rich Nella is a client of Melissa’s (who teaches yoga). When a street party is planned as a community fund-raiser, all three become involved, along with their teenage children.

The novel is written by a British author, so there was a slight adjustment for me with various references and slang. After a while I settled right in, especially as it became clear not everyone was as they appeared. There are enough crackling undercurrents and hidden motives to start a fire. As the lives of the three women and their families unfolded, I had specific opinions about each, but several of those changed over the course of the story.   

The first half of the book is pre-party, with the last half post-party. There is plenty of set-up and several seemingly random events which later come into play. When Nella’s daughter accuses Ruby’s son of inappropriate behavior toward Melissa’s stepdaughter (got that?) it sets off a chain of events that will alter the lives of all three women. The book takes a while to get off the ground, but keeps you flipping pages to discover how it all plays out.

This is a story that looks at what some people are willing to do to fit in, the sacrifices others make without even realizing the hole they’ve fallen into, and the fragility—and strengths—of family and friendships. Several of the plot threads surprised me. There is a large cast of characters but they’re easy to keep track of. By the end of the novel the various threads (and there are many) have all been woven into a neat bow. I wouldn’t term this a thriller as much as slow-build suspense with layers of mystery. Ruby is a strong, likable character. I was really cheering for her and Melissa throughout, but even the less than savory characters are presented in a way to make you understand their actions. Some of the men (and women) are positively wretched but their story arcs are well done. The writing is casual, which makes it easy to say “just one more chapter” which I did on several nights. I would read this author again.

4 STARS


And that’s another wrap for this week on reviews. I hope you’ll come back tomorrow for a Book Spotlight, and on Thursday for a Guest Author post. Both feature new releases from authors I admire and have read before. I can’t wait to share their latest with you! In the meantime, I hope one of the above novels have snagged your attention, or you’re currently immersed in a book that won’t let you rest until you finish it. Aren’t they the best kind?

Happy reading!

Book Review Tuesday: The Body in the Trench by Judi Lynn #cozymystery, Gods of Howl Mountain by Taylor Brown #southernfiction

Warm and cozy window seat with cushions and a opened book, light through vintage shutters, rustic style home decor. Small cat on window seat, along with coffee cup by pillow, Words Book Review Tuesday superimposed over image

Welcome to my first book review post of April! Today, I have a cozy mystery, part of an ongoing series, and a novel by an author I’ve never read before. I’m pleased to say both were five star reads. Let’s get started!

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BLURB:
This time, Jazzi isn’t called to solve murder. Ansel is. His uncle Len, who promised him a job when he came to River Bluffs and then let his sons drive him away, calls to ask for help. One of the workers on his construction site is buried when a retaining wall gives and dirt pours into the trench where Xavier is laying pipe. But is Xavier’s death an accident? Or did someone purposely sabotage the retaining wall?

MY REVIEW:
Loved this latest Jazzi mystery! Murder hits close to home when a worker at Ansel’s uncle’s construction site meets with an untimely death. Add in a second mystery involving workers at a country club, plus a new—and more difficult house—for Jazzi, Ansel and Jerod to flip, and there is plenty to keep readers glued to the pages. Once again, Jazzi and Ansel’s extended family make appearances (I love their Sunday get-togethers and Gram’s predictions), and there are a handful of new characters who add interest and suspicion.

The backstory involving Ansel, his Uncle Len, and Len’s sons worked well in crafting a balance between the murder mystery and family dynamics. There are several characters in this book I wanted to “take to task,” for their attitudes, but that was exactly what the author intended. Another character, I loved the moment she appeared on the page, and was happy to see how her story arc progressed. It’s the mark of a good author who can make you care for her secondary players as much as her MCs.

If you enjoy cozy mysteries with characters who lodge in your heart, this is an excellent series to escape with. I do recommend starting at the beginning for maximum enjoyment and appreciating how all of the characters connect. A highly entertaining read!

5 STARS

BLURB:
In Gods of Howl Mountain, award-winning author Taylor Brown explores a world of folk healers, whiskey-runners, and dark family secrets in the high country of 1950s North Carolina.

Bootlegger Rory Docherty has returned home to the fabled mountain of his childhood – a misty wilderness that holds its secrets close and keeps the outside world at gunpoint. Slowed by a wooden leg and haunted by memories of the Korean War, Rory runs bootleg whiskey for a powerful mountain clan in a retro-fitted ’40 Ford coupe. Between deliveries to roadhouses, brothels, and private clients, he lives with his formidable grandmother, evades federal agents, and stokes the wrath of a rival runner.

In the mill town at the foot of the mountains – a hotbed of violence, moonshine, and the burgeoning sport of stock-car racing – Rory is bewitched by the mysterious daughter of a snake-handling preacher. His grandmother, Maybelline “Granny May” Docherty, opposes this match for her own reasons, believing that “some things are best left buried.” A folk healer whose powers are rumored to rival those of a wood witch, she concocts potions and cures for the people of the mountains while harboring an explosive secret about Rory’s mother – the truth behind her long confinement in a mental hospital, during which time she has not spoken one word. When Rory’s life is threatened, Granny must decide whether to reveal what she knows…or protect her only grandson from the past.

With gritty and atmospheric prose, Taylor Brown brings to life a perilous mountain and the family who rules it.

MY REVIEW:
I won’t reiterate what the story is about. The book blurb does a great job of covering that. What initially drew me to this novel was the backwoods North Carolina mountain setting. Taylor Brown brings it vividly to life, along with characters like Granny May, a woman who creates folk remedies and keeps a “spirit tree” strung with glass bottles in her front yard. Add moonshiners, revenue men, a church of snake-handlers, and a decades-old secret and readers are treated to a wonderfully multi-layered story. Even the setting becomes a character.

Example: “The road spilled down out of the mountains before him like a moonlit creek. He knew it well, as he knew the lesser roads that branched along the ridges and forked down into the hollers, that swung along the great walls of blasted stone and through tunnels of black oak and hickory.”

The writing is exquisite, richly detailed without being overwrought.

Another example: “Most of all it was talk, Rory knew, the lies of gummy old men in their rockers, on their nail kegs in front of the feed store. Stories punctuated by black bullets of tobacco juice spat quivering in the dust, attended by ageless hounds that lay tongue-out in the shade like something dead.”

The story is alternately gritty and lyrical. I was surprised by the ending—didn’t see the twists coming—but loved how everything played out, especially as related to an incident in the past. This was my first time reading Taylor Brown, but it won’t be my last!

5 STARS
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In other news, I’ve signed up properly with NetGalley and have downloaded my first yet-to-be-published ARC. With as much as I read and review, it only makes sense to start taking advantage of upcoming releases. So, going forward, my reviews will be a mix of books I’ve purchased and soon-to-be-released ARCs. I’m excited to be diving in. As always, happy reading!