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

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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

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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!

Book Review Tuesday: The Guest List by Lucy Foley, Whisper Island by Carissa Ann Lynch #psychologicalthrillers #domesticthrillers

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Happy Tuesday! I have two books to share today, both in a similar vein—a group of people on a secluded island cut off from the mainland, a murderer among them. One of these books rocked my world and the other didn’t quite live up to the hype. Both, however, kept me entertained for hours. If you enjoy murder mysteries and psychological thrillers, you’ll want to check these out.

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BLURB:

A wedding celebration turns dark and deadly in this deliciously wicked and atmospheric thriller reminiscent of Agatha Christie from the New York Times bestselling author of The Hunting Party.

The bride – The plus one – The best man – The wedding planner  – The bridesmaid – The body

On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom: handsome and charming, a rising television star. The bride: smart and ambitious, a magazine publisher. It’s a wedding for a magazine, or for a celebrity: the designer dress, the remote location, the luxe party favors, the boutique whiskey. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed.

But perfection is for plans, and people are all too human. As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. The groomsmen begin the drinking game from their school days. The bridesmaid not-so-accidentally ruins her dress. The bride’s oldest (male) friend gives an uncomfortably caring toast.

And then someone turns up dead. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why?

MY REVIEW:

Lucy Foley has done it again! Keeping in vein with her novel, The Hunting Party, she serves up a similar whodunit. The prime ingredients in both books are an isolated location, treacherous weather, and a group of characters with plenty of skeletons rattling in proverbial closets.

For The Guest List, Foley presents the marriage of two pseudo celebrities. Jules is the publisher of a trendy magazine and Will is the star of a reality TV series. Together these two make the perfect couple—attractive, glamorous, and wealthy. For their wedding, they invite guests to a remote island off the coast of Ireland. Think rugged cliffs, crashing waves, the ruins of a stone chapel, and a cemetery dotted with Celtic crosses. The setting is exquisite, wonderfully played for mood that is both over the top glamorous, yet darkly sinister. I loved how a cave along the shoreline and the sightings of cormorants added creepy atmosphere.

The story is told in multiple first person POV (I had no problem keeping track of whose head I was in), along with scattered chapters of omniscient. It’s a little slow to get off the ground, but after a few chapters—WOW! Trust me, you’ll want to stick with it.

The cast of characters is an intriguing mix—the bride, her younger sister, the groom with his frat buddies and polar-opposite best man, the caterer and her husband who are just launching their business, the plus-one and her husband…who just happens to be the bride’s best friend.

When a body turns up, Foley keeps the identity of the victim wrapped tightly until the end. Throughout, tensions simmer, tempers flare, and petty jealousies erupt. And erupt again. Entangling more and more people in the web. By the time the identity of the body is revealed, most everyone has a motive.

All of this undercutting and sniping is played against the backdrop of an impending storm and the extravagance of the wedding. I’m usually pretty good at fingering the culprit, and although I had suspicions that eventually proved correct, the whys and wherefores completely blindsided me. The plot threads are deftly woven, for a wholly satisfying and stunning conclusion.

If you like a combination of psychological thriller and whodunit murder mystery, this is a fabulous five-star read!

5 STARS

BLURB:

It was the perfect escape

Until one by one they vanished…

For friends Riley, Sam, Mia and Scarlett, their trip to Whisper Island, Alaska, was meant to be a once in a lifetime adventure – just four young women, with everything to live for…

But as soon as they arrive things start to go wrong.  First there is the unexpected arrival of Sammy’s drug addict brother and his girlfriend Opal – why are they here? 

And then the deaths begin. 

As the dream trip quickly turns into a nightmare, suspicion is high.  Are they really alone on the island?  Or is there a killer hiding in the shadows? 

And as each of the girls reveals a dark secret of their own, perhaps the truth is the killer is closer than they think…just a whisper away…

MY REVIEW:
This is an okay quick read. Four college friends, all artists, decide to vacation on a secluded Alaskan island for the summer to concentrate on their art. When they arrive, they discover the “mansion” where they thought they would be staying is a run-down relic. Other than a few outbuildings, it’s the only property on the island. Also unexpected—one of the girls’ drug-addicted brother is there, along with his latest girlfriend.

The story is told from alternating viewpoints of these six characters, all in first person. As the book progresses, the reader learns each of the characters has secrets tucked in their backgrounds. When murders start taking place, I settled in for an “And Then There Were None” Agatha Christie type story. Was there a killer on the island, or could the killer possibly be among them?

The book definitely held my interest and kept me flipping pages–despite an overabundance of internal (italicized). POV. That grew a little distracting. I enjoyed the story right up until the big reveal of the killer. Part of a mystery is trying to solve the puzzle yourself, but there weren’t enough clues peppered throughout for the ending to make sense. So, the “twist” really wasn’t a twist for lack of set up.

That aside, this is an easy read, a nice diversion if you want something quick. The author does an excellent job of crafting the spooky atmosphere of the island, and the last line of the book brought appreciation. I just wish there had been more set-up and backstory to make the identity of the killer belieavable.

3 STARS

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That’s it from me for today. I hope one of these books snagged your attention. I guess it’s pretty obvious which one I enjoyed better, but that’s the great thing about books–there is always something for everyone. As always, happy reading!

Book Review Tuesday: Confesions on the 7:45 by Lisa Unger @lisaunger #domesticthriller

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Happy Tuesday! I’m finally getting caught up with my book reviews, so I’m changing up the format a bit. I normally don’t provide the blurb when I review, but since I’m planning on doing only one book per week, I thought I’d start adding in the blurbs. I still have several back burner reviews, but I may not end up sharing them all. For today, here’s a fabulous domestic thriller.

BLURB:
Selena Murphy is commuting home on the train when she strikes up a conversation with a beautiful stranger in the next seat. The woman introduces herself as Martha and soon confesses that she’s been stuck in an affair with her boss. Selena, in turn, confesses that she suspects her husband is sleeping with the nanny. When the train arrives at Selena’s station, the two women part ways, presumably never to meet again.

Then the nanny disappears.

As Selena is pulled into the mystery of what happened, and as the fractures in her marriage grow deeper, she begins to wonder, who was Martha really? But she is hardly prepared for what she’ll discover…

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MY REVIEW:
The plot of this novel sucked me as soon as I read it. Selena, a mother of two, is coming home on the train after a day at her office when the woman beside her strikes up a conversation. Martha confesses to sleeping with her boss, and in a moment of uncharacteristic openness, Selena confesses she believes her husband is sleeping with her nanny, Geneva. When the train reaches its destination, the two part ways. Not long afterward, Geneva goes missing.

As the police launch an investigation, Selena’s marriage and her whole world implodes. Who was the woman on the train, and why is Selena suddenly receiving text messages from her?

I found this book a bit slow getting off the ground, especially when a third character outside of the main thread (Pearl) was introduced. Although I liked Pearl—a lot—there were a few hiccups in following what was happening and when. By the middle of the book, however, I was hooked and couldn’t read fast enough to see how everything played out.

The twists and turns, much like left and right jabs, kept flying out of nowhere. A few elements stretch the imagination, but for sheer entertainment value, this is a delicious psychological thriller with a superbly satisfying ending. Another book I would love to see made into a movie. I will definitely seek out more by this author.

5 STARS

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I’m glad I stuck with this one despite the slow start. The payoff was entirely worth it and I made another dent in the TBR!

As always, whatever tale you’re presently enjoying, I wish you happy reading!

Book Review Tuesday: Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam #psychologicalliteraryfiction #suspense

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 today for another Book Review Tuesday. Normally, when I finish a book, I write my review the same day, the next at the latest. It’s a habit I keep because I like the story and my impressions to be fresh in my head.

In the case of Leave the World Behind, it took me several days of ruminating to decide how I felt. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that left me waffling so indecisively. This one haunted my subconscious and is still rattling around in my head.This is a novel that will keep book clubs talking, debating, and discussing. ____________________________________________________________________________

Leave the World Behind
by Rumaan Alam

Book cover shows in-ground swimming pool at night

I want to say I loved this book, and in many (most?) ways I did, but there were more than a few moments I found frustrating. It’s a hard book to recommend because readers are likely to either be enthralled by it or hate it. There’s not much room for middle ground with this one.

The plot enticed me—Clay and Amanda, a middle-income white couple with two children rent a rural luxury home on Long Island for vacation. Not long into their stay they lose power, internet, TV—but not before getting a few jumbled hints that something terrible has happened. Something big.

In the middle of the night, G.H. and Ruth, an older, wealthy black couple arrive claiming they are the owners of the home, and that there has been a massive blackout in New York City. How these two couples react to each other, their relationship changing as it becomes more and more apparent something more than a blackout has taken place, is the foundation of the story.

Although I found this book hard to put down, there were moments that amounted to fingernails on my reading blackboard. As an example, near the beginning we get at least two pages listing what Amanda bought at the grocery store. What writer gets away with that? What editor lets it slide past? Then there are the sometimes-crude passages focused on Clay or Amanda thinking about sex. I’m not prudish, but some was just…gross. Thankfully, those passages weren’t long, but I found it weird how the author veered in that direction multiple times.

Honestly, the whole book is weird. Strange. Odd. Curious. Bizarre, and atypical. And yet it’s compelling. Riveting. There is a commanding sense of urgency as well as a building atmosphere of claustrophobia throughout.

The story is told from an omniscient point-of-view, with insight into all the characters, even the two kids, Rose, a thirteen-year-old and Archie, a sixteen-year-old. Every now and then—as the reader is experiencing what a character is feeling at a particular moment—the author inserts something unrelated. A tragic happening to someone the reader doesn’t know, in another part of the country. These “glimpses” which only last a few sentences, are never fully fleshed out, but serve to heighten the need to know exactly what catastrophic event took place. The reader is as much in the dark (no pun intended) as Clay and Amanda, G.H. and Ruth.

Of particular note, there are a few moments that I considered sheer brilliance and which made the hair prickle on the back of my neck—when Rose spies thousands of deer that suddenly appear in the woods. When a huge flock of flamingos land on the in-ground pool (you have to read the book to understand why this is so eerie) and most of all, “the noise.”

Many reviewers felt this book was poorly written. I disagree. There are passages weighted down in telling (Amanda’s grocery list, anyone?), but the passages related to the noise (and there are many) were so vividly and expertly described, I felt as if that horrific happening had reached through my Kindle and echoed in my ears. Pages upon pages of goosebumps!

Finally, we come to the ending.

Or lack of one.

I know that infuriated many readers. I actually swiped back through my Kindle thinking I must have missed a few pages. Then all I could think was “huh?” But the more I dwelled on how the author chose to wrap things up, the more I was okay with it. I really hope this book is optioned for the big screen as I can see it making an excellent movie (although I’m sure many movie-goers would be frustrated by the ending).

So… is it a good book? Yes. Is it a bad book? Yes. Did I like it?

After debating for a few days, I can fully see myself reading Leave the World Behind again when I want something unusual. A curious, sometimes annoying, but fully engrossing story. I started this review with “I want to say I loved this book.” Quibbles and problems aside, I thoroughly loved it. Guaranteed, should you give it a go, you’re bound to have a strong opinion one way or the other.

5 Stars

AMAZON LINK
Genre: Psychological Literary Fiction > Mystery, Thriller, Suspense Fiction

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If anyone out there has read this, I’d love to know what you thought. The book has had a lot of buzz, with readers mostly split on their feelings. If you haven’t read it, what do you think? Something you’d pick up or not? Let’s chat in the comments!


Book Review Tuesday: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia #GothicFiction #HistoricalFantasy

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 imageI only have one review to share today. This is a book that lingered on my reading radar for a long time. Then I reached a point where I HAD to read it. I was in the mood for something spooky and gothic, grabbed it from Amazon, and devoured it in days. Surprisingly, I couldn’t give it five stars.


Set during the 1930s in Mexico, this Gothic novel hits all the right notes—a crumbling old mansion with a family cemetery, a dying patriarch, twisted family history, suicide and murders. Socialite, Noemi, travels to High Place, the home of her recently married cousin after her father receives a strange letter from Catalina that includes references to the walls “talking,” among other oddities.  When Noemi arrives, she finds her once vibrant cousin subdued and sickly, attended by members of her new husband’s family. Noemi is uncertain what to make of the handsome and charismatic, Virgil Doyle, but finds his stern and aloof Aunt Florence—Catalina’s primary caregiver—uncommunicative and regimental. Florence’s son, Francis, is somewhere in the middle, a bit timid, even awkward. These characters drive the plot, but revelations come slowly. Although set in Mexico, nothing really marks this as a Mexican mystery. Except for Noemi and Catalina, all the characters are English. For the most part, I was glued to the pages, especially the descriptions of the moldy, depressing mansion and cemetery. The history of the Doyle family, including their ownership of a once profitable silver mine is intriguing, as are glimpses of several Doyle ancestors and the murders and suicide that bind them. As the main character, Noemi is strong, an excellent protagonist.  I give an A+ for all the above, but the horror elements didn’t work for me. I was hoping for a good ghost story, but the “big bad” is something entirely different. That plot thread got tedious, especially in the middle of the book, although the ending is fast-paced and climatic. C+ for the horror elements/plot thread, so 4 stars overall. I did like how everything turned out, and would certainly read this author again.Mexican Gothic
by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Set during the 1930s in Mexico, this Gothic novel hits all the right notes—a crumbling old mansion with a family cemetery, a dying patriarch, twisted family history, suicide and murders.

Socialite, Noemi, travels to High Place, the home of her recently married cousin after her father receives a strange letter from Catalina that includes references to the walls “talking,” among other oddities.

When Noemi arrives, she finds her once vibrant cousin subdued and sickly, attended by members of her new husband’s family. Noemi is uncertain what to make of the handsome and charismatic, Virgil Doyle, but finds his stern and aloof Aunt Florence—Catalina’s primary caregiver—uncommunicative and regimental. Florence’s son, Francis, is somewhere in the middle, a bit timid, even awkward. These characters drive the plot, but revelations come slowly. Although set in Mexico, nothing really marks this as a Mexican mystery. Except for Noemi and Catalina, all the characters are English.

For the most part, I was glued to the pages, especially the descriptions of the moldy, depressing mansion and cemetery. The history of the Doyle family, including their ownership of a once profitable silver mine is intriguing, as are glimpses of several Doyle ancestors and the murders and suicide that bind them. As the main character, Noemi is strong, an excellent protagonist.

I give an A+ for all the above, but the horror elements didn’t work for me. I was hoping for a good ghost story, but the “big bad” is something entirely different. That plot thread got tedious, especially in the middle of the book, although the ending is fast-paced and climatic. C+ for the horror elements/plot thread, so 4 stars overall. I did like how everything turned out, and would certainly read this author again.

4 Stars

AMAZON LINK
Genre: Gothic Fiction > Historical Fantasy


I’d love to hear your thoughts on this book. I was torn on writing the review because so much of the novel was spectacular. Is Mexican Gothic something you’d consider reading?

Book Review Tuesday: This Last Chance, Songs of Heartstrings, Fiona Finch and the Pink Valentine @dlfinnauthor @mhurdle112 @teagangeneviene

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 imageHi, friends. If you live in the U.S., I hope you had a wonderful Fourth of July holiday. We had relatives on hubby’s side visit from out of state. I’m still freaky about the social distancing thing, but I am venturing out more these days—visiting family, and going to stores. We even went to a restaurant for the first time. Not sure I’ll do that again, but we wanted to get together with a friend who is leaving for the summer. I have to say the restaurant did a good job with social distancing and sanitizing.

And now for the latest round of book reviews . . .


Book cover for This Last Chance by D. L. Finn has glowing red eyes looming above angel wingsThis Last Chance
by D. L. Finn

I really enjoyed the combination of mystery and supernatural elements in this book. On the mortal realm, the story revolves around Amber who is determined to discover who murdered her sister. In the spiritual realm, angels and evildwels battle for control of human souls. At the center of that conflict is Nester, an evidwel who suddenly finds himself questioning his beliefs. Toss in a remote location, plus a group of potential suspects trapped under one roof by a snowstorm, and you’ve got a tense and intriguing plot.

I loved the claustrophobic atmosphere created by the snowstorm, and the characters (both human and supernatural) present a varied and interesting group. Nester is a standout, as is Ed, an angel. The quips between them are priceless. This Last Chance fuses mystery, spiritual warfare, even a hint of potential romance. When the climatic scenes—on both planes—happen, there are more than a few surprises in store. An engaging read!

5 STARS

Amazon Link
Genre: Supernatural Thriller > Paranormal Suspense


Book cover for Songs of Heartstrings, a collection of poetry by Miriam HurdleSongs of Heartstrings
by Miriam Hurdle

The author of this collection of poetry and short snippets takes us on a journey through life—her life—as seen through the music of words and photographs. She shares experiences through marriage, parenthood, the loss of loved ones, even cancer treatments. Heartfelt and often spiritual, the book resonates with strength, love, and faith.

There are multiple poems and snippets that touched me, but a few that really stood out are Cocoon-Butterfly, A Tribute to My Dad, and Gratitude for Being. Each reader will no doubt find poems that speak to their heart. Although this collection is a reflection of the author’s life, the beauty and spirit of the work brings something for everyone.

5 STARS

Amazon Link
Genre: Religious and Inspirational Poetry > Personal Growth and Christianity


Book cover with cute illustration of woman in steampunk dress with pink umbrella and a duck by her skirtFiona Finch and the Pink Valentine
by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene

This is a cute, whimsical novella that is sure to leave you with a smile. The characters are fun, the story highly imaginative, and the descriptions dazzle like a kaleidoscope of vibrant color. Fiona Finch is a young woman with a fondness for pink.

Her brother, Steele, is an inventor whose mentor carries a heart full of unrequited love for the woman he let get away thirty-five years ago. Toss in a scene-stealing duck, a masquerade party, and a pink valentine, and you have all the elements for a light-hearted romp with threads of romance. If that isn’t enough, the ending with Quellie the duck will have you grinning ear to ear. Simply delightful!

5 STARS

Amazon Link
Genre: Steampunk > Holiday Fiction > Fantasy


That’s it from me for today, but I hope you are enjoying plenty of summer reading!

Book Review Tuesday: Sunset Beach, The Player, Watching Glass Shatter @JacqBiggar @jamescudney4

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 imageHappy almost June and welcome to summer! Yeah, I get that summer doesn’t “officially” happen until June 21st, but Memorial Day has always been the threshold to summer fun, including the key opening of east coast beaches and amusement parks. Since I live in a tourist town, I think of Memorial Day as being the gateway to summer. Even though COVID-19 has put a damper on festivities, I still feel the change.

Let it be known that I FREAKING LOVE SUMMER!

Yes, I appreciate all of the seasons, but give me my pool, my Kindle (or a fat paperback), a grill, and swimming weather, and I will pass each day in sheer bliss.

And speaking of Kindles, I have several reviews to share. I read these books in March and April during shelter-in-place time. My county is finally moving to yellow phase this Friday, but I am already back at work. I won’t be able to share all the books I read while sheltering, but I would like to share some standouts. As Jackie Gleason was fond of saying, and away we go . . .


Book cover for sunset beach by Jacquie Biggar shows young couple embrace in front of ocean at sunsetSunset Beach
by Jacquie Biggar

Trace and Mona are both single parents with teenage daughters and history that goes back to their dating years in high school. Trace made the mistake of cheating on Mona with Sally, now his ex-wife. In a small town, paths cross and gossip flies. When Mona decides to run for Mayor against Trace, life becomes even more complicated, especially as these two struggle to navigate underlying feelings for each other.

This is a sweet romance with engaging characters set in a charming town. Of special mention, Trace and Mona’s daughters, Bailey and Amber, provide a secondary plot line that shines every bit as brightly as the first. The ending is superb, providing the perfect HEA you’d expect from a story like this. A winner all the way around.

5 STARS

AMAZON LINK
Genre: Romance > Parenting Teenagers  


Book cover for The Player b Jacquie Biggar shows orange tabby cat and man and woman on opposing sides, from feet to knees, hockey skates in foregroundThe Player
by Jacquie Biggar

The tables get turned in this tale of a superstar male hockey player plagued by a female stalker. Roy Donaldson has everything going for him, except an ex-girlfriend who doesn’t know how to let go. When she does everything she can to cast him in a bad light, a public relations representative steps in to repair the unjust damage to his image.

Enter Patience Kennedy, the single daughter in a family with four brothers who knows zilch about sports, but plenty about people. When the two retreat to Roy’s home in the woods to work on strategy, sparks fly. Actually, sparks fly from the first meeting between these two, and it’s fun to watch their attraction run from frustration to simmer to bloom. Toss in a stray orange tabby and you’ve got a feel-good formula destined to bring an HEA. But reaching that point presents a path twined with danger and suspense.

Jacquie Biggar mixes all the right ingredients, even touching on mental illness and family relations both good and bad. The author’s breezy writing, witty observations, and dialogue are a pleasure to read. Many times, I stopped to marvel at a particular turn of phrase or reread a section for sheer enjoyment. I’ve enjoyed everything Ms. Biggar has written. She is a skilled author who knows her craft, but The Player may just be my favorite to date. What a feel-good gem!

5 STARS

AMAZON LINK
Genre: Amateur Sleuth Mysteries > Hockey


Book cover for Watching Glass Shatter by James J. Cudney shows broken glass with large hole in center, shatter lines forking outward from holeWatching Glass Shatter
by James J. Cudney

Olivia Glass has the ideal life with five wonderful grown sons, grandchildren, and a successful husband. It all begins to crumble when her husband, Ben, dies in an automobile accident. Worse than facing life without him, is the letter he left behind, explaining that one of their children isn’t really hers. When her baby was born dead, Ben switched the infant with a different child the birth mother wanted to adopt out. But which of her five sons?

Determined to unearth the truth before sharing it with her children, Olivia decides to visit each son in their home. This is where Cudney weaves a tangled web, family drama at its best. As the book progresses, Olivia is confronted by shock after shock, realizing each son has kept a personal secret from her and others. Five brothers, five secrets.

Each brother is thoroughly fleshed out with his own particular strengths and weakness. Olivia’s character becomes clear through her actions and how others see and interact with her. There are explosive moments, heart wrenching moments, touching moments, splashes of humor. As a reader, you’ll feel frustration, melancholy, joy and contentment. The author deftly pulls multiple heartstrings in this tale of a family imploding, only to come out stronger in the end. And let’s not forget, that among these five men, one is not really Olivia’s son.

A thoroughly satisfying read.

5 STARS

AMAZON LINK
Genre:  Fiction > Family Drama


Hopefully, I’ve sparked your interest with one of these reviews. I’ve got plenty more to share, but in the meantime, I wish you happy reading!