The New Neighbors by Simon Lelic

 

I’d never heard of Simon Lelic before i got this book, although I now  know he has written some other thrillers. But his latest book The New Neighbors got a positive blurb on the cover from Tana French, and I figured if it’s good enough for Tana, it’s good enough for me.

The story revolves around a young couple named Jack and Syd who have recently been able to (at long last) buy a house in London. It came with all furnishings, including some weird stuff, but they felt terribly lucky to have been picked by the seller to be the buyers of his house, especially as they didn’t have enough money to afford such a big place.

Before long, they start to clear out some of the detritus left by the former owner, when Jack makes an unsettling discovery in the attic. Around the same time, Syd befriends a young girl from the neighborhood – a girl who is apparently being abused by her father – a fact that hits very close to home for Syd. Neither Jack nor Syd shares either of these factoids (the attic find and the abuse) with the other.

The story is told in alternating points of view, as Jack and Syd each write about what happened. There are twists and turns, and suspense as the book moves toward the big reveal – which I (as usual) did not see coming. This has “MOVIE” written all over it – not necessarily a bad thing. For fans of Girl on the Train, Gone Girl, or The Couple Next Door. Escapist entertainment. Well done, and even though  I doubt I will remember it in another month,  four stars (and thanks to Berkley Publishing Group and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for this honest review).

And I will probably pick up one or more of Mr. Lelic’s earlier books – pure entertainment!

Force of Nature by Jane Harper

Last year, I read Jane Harper’s debut novel, the thriller The Dry, which introduced Australian Federal Agent Aaron Falk. I LOVED it, so I jumped at the chance to read the second novel featuring Agent Harper, Force of Nature (thanks to Flatiron Books and NetGalley) prior to publication in return for my honest review.

In this second installment in the series, Aaron Falk and his partner Carmen are called to the Giralang Range, because a woman is missing. A corporate team building trip, with five men hiking in one direction and five women going another way goes awry. The two groups were supposed to meet up after three days in the wild, but something has gone wrong and only four women return.

The story follows the police, the search party, and Aaron as they investigate and look for the missing woman (or her corpse?). This progress is related in chapters alternating with the story of the trek as told by the other women who were on the trip. There was so much going on behind the scenes, with tons of secrets, corporate intrigue, grudges and jealousy, so there is a ton of material for Aaron to unravel.

LOTS of suspense, and vivid descriptions of gorgeous scenery and interesting characters. While The Dry focused more on Aaron’s own personal story, Force of Nature continues to reveal details about his past.

While there is violence, there is no gore. I love this writer and this series, and eagerly await the next one from Jane Harper. Five stars.

Look For Me by Lisa Gardner

 I am a big fan of mysteries, and each year I read what seems like a ton of them – especially those featuring a “plucky heroine.” So I was pretty sure I had read Lisa Gardner before, but looking through goodreads and my blog, I see a bunch of Lisas (See, Wingate, Jewell) – but nothing by Lisa Gardner. So I am clearly a bit late to the party here, but thanks to Dutton and NetGalley, I just read Look for Me, Lisa’s latest (published 2018), AND  I just learned this is the TENTH novel featuring Detective D.D. Warren of the Boston Police Department. (Like I said, late to the party).

This latest in the series  all takes place in a dizzying span of a couple of days, and begins when Detective Warren is called to a homicide scene, where four members of a family have been savagely murdered. The fifth member of the family, a sixteen-year-old girl named Roxanna (or Roxy) is missing, along with the two family dogs.

Roxy is a likely suspect, or possibly she was out walking the dogs and narrowly escaped being the fifth victim, D.D. isn’t sure which. An Amber Alert goes out, and she and her team start an intense search for Roxy (and the dogs). They are joined in the hunt by Flora Dane, who was a crime victim featured in Gardner’s Find Her (#8 in the D.D. Warren series), and now is on a mission to avenge crimes (including burning a rapist to death) and provide support for survivors.

 Some of the chapters are told in the first person by Flora, gradually revealing her backstory and explaining the reason she is so hot to find Roxy (no real spoiler here, but Roxy has recently joined Flora’s online chat group, which is by invitation only – Sarah, who is one of Flora’s rescued victims and another member of the group, has befriended Roxy and invited her to join, so Flora has some insider info that D.D. needs). D.D. and Flora both are looking for justice, but it might come in different forms… 

There are also chapters that are essays written by Roxy’s little sister Lola, one of the murder victims. She wrote them as a series for a school assignment, and they gradually reveal some of the horror endured by the sisters during their time in foster care.

As a former foster parent, the stories of the children in foster care (and the system that “cares” for them) hit me pretty hard. And the suspense was terrific. I was seriously tempted to turn to the end to find out WTH had gone on, but I persisted J and am glad I stuck with it.

Good characterization, and the whole thing was chilling.  I’m still not sure how I have missed this series, and am also not sure if the others can stand alone or should have been read in order to fully appreciate them, but I am about to find out! And I will definitely look for future novels by Ms. Gardner. Anyone who likes a good suspenseful mystery/thriller without TOO much graphic violence and especially fans of plucky heroines and police procedurals (in this case, both!) will enjoy this. Five stars

 

The Wanted by Robert Crais

Let’s just get this out of the way: I have been a diehard fan of Robert Crais/Elvis Cole/Joe Pike for THIRTY YEARS. Seriously, when The Monkey’s Raincoat was published in 1987, I was working in a public library, grabbed it as soon as it came in, and was HOOKED. Since then, this has been one of the most reliable series in the mystery genre – consistent as in “OMG, <blank> has a new book coming out! YAY!” So I was happy to receive a copy of The Wanted from G.P.Putnam’s Sons and NetGalley in return for my honest review.

In this latest installment, a single mother named Devon Cole comes to Elvis Cole because she is concerned about her teenage son, who suddenly has cash, which makes her suspect he might be dealing drugs. Devon’s mom reveals that her son Tyson has serious anxiety issues and has been failed to succeed at several schools, finally landing in an alternative school. His mom first notices he is wearing new shirts from Barney’s, an extremely expensive store. Tyson tells her that one of his friend’s parents runs a studio’s wardrobe department and got them a great deal.

After the shirts, Tyson acquires an Xbox and a new computer with three monitors. Elvis discovers hidden cash totaling tens of thousands of dollars, and a Rolex watch worth upwards of $20,000. So clearly he is up to SOMETHING. The truth is that he and two friends have been burglarizing the houses of rich folks, getting lots of cash and new clothes in return. As it turns out, the Rolex provides a clue for Elvis, as it is registered to a specific person, and with that clue, Elvis is off and running. But the happen to steal the wrong thing from the wrong house, and one of them is murdered.

The victim, who REALLY wants his property back, hires two killers named Harvey and Stems, who are frantically looking for Devon and his girlfriend. Elvis, determined to find Devon and the girl before the bad guys do, brings in Joe Pile and Jon Stone.

In addition to just absolutely loving Elvis, I love Robert Crais’s writing, including structure, setting, character and plotting. The structure is terrific, going between Elvis Cole and two hired killers, Harvey and Stems. Each time the story shifts to another character’s point of view, we get another clue. The various areas of Los Angeles are familiar, and well described as Elvis searches for the missing teens at places including “…celebutante clubs with a squad of paparazzi camped at the door…”He not only captures the vibe of Southern California, he is great at describing people: one potential witness is “a flea market regular, this older woman with sun-scorched skin and liver spots…” and Devon “…carried herself with so much tension she might have been wrapped with duct tape.” Elvis is his usual intuitive self: “…something about her bothered me, but I wasn’t sure what.”

Then there is the scene where Harvey and Stems are passing time in the car, discussing the movie Psycho while staking out a house, watching for Elvis: one guy’s take is “The message was women are powerless. Here’s this lunatic, he’s stabbing her, what did she do, the chick in the movie? Just stood there. So what’s being modeled? Whatever some guy does to a woman, they’re supposed to take it. That’s the message.”

The plot is complex, as the story races forward at a pace that kept me up til nearly dawn when I got to the final reveal that felt just right. Robert Crais is one of the very best mystery writers out there, and although there are recurring people and places in this series, this story can be read as a standalone. I had huge expectations for The Wanted, and it met (or exceeded) them all. Five stars!

 

The Blackbird Season by Kate Moretti

The opening of The Blackbird Season by Kate Moretti creeped me out, as it was designed to do: “The day the birds fell, I dealt the tower card.” Based on the title, you might infer the birds mentioned were blackbirds, yes? But no, we learn at the start of chapter 2 that “A month before Nate was fired, nearly a thousand starlings fell from the sky. Not fluttering to the earth like snowflakes, but plummeting, like quarter-pound raindrops.”

So I was already thinking maybe I was just not reading carefully enough (happens more with each passing year, but I went back to resolve my ornithological confusion). TBH at the end of this excellently written and paced mystery/thriller, I was still not clear on the whole bird thing. But a fun read!

Here is the basic premise: there is a small town in the east where the high school has a beloved high school teacher, who is also the baseball coach in a town where baseball means WAY more than either football or basketball. We are led to wonder about his possible involvement with the disappearance of a female student as we learn that Nate, the teacher/coach, “…always had a soft spot for her and those like her: the damaged, pretty girls.” When the police become involved, Nate is less than fully honest about his involvement with Lucia, the missing student. While being questioned, he “…had no way of knowing that this moment would become the linchpin, the moment that all the moments after would hinge upon. The papers would call him a murderer; …ex-friends, his gym buddies…would say, Nate was the last one to see her alive, right?”

Really nice way she reveals information about the four main characters who tell the story in alternating points of view: Nate, his wife Alecia (who is a frazzled stay-at-home mom to their autistic son and maybe is inclined to suspect Nate’s involvement; Lucia, the missing student: and Bridget, a co-worker and buddy of Ned who was part of the two-couple friendship with Nate and Alecia before her husband dies (and was the only character I REALLY liked). Not everyone in the story is likable or smart. In fact, Nate seems like quite a dolt and Alecia sure was quick to suspect her husband of possibly killing a student with whom she is sure he was having an “inappropriate relationship” and she was awfully bitchy to Bridget. I wanted to like her, but found her annoying as her frustration with Nate, their child, and the marriage in general kept moving her actions along.

Again, some great writing, as in this passage where we learn a great deal about both Lucia and Bridget: “Lucia tackled pain and death clinically, a biology lab discussion. As if Bridget’s hurt could be pulled apart like little frog’s legs, pinned back to the wax, sliced clean down the middle and simply exorcised.”
Okay, there are lots of clichés here, in the small town, star athletes, rocky marriage, beloved teacher, etc. But Kate Moretti is a GOOD writer and my only thought was some editing of the narrative about the woods/mill etc. might have helped. Overall, it’s a fairly quick read, and quite well written. I’ll definitely check out Kate Moretti’s other work, and I appreciate Atria Books and NetGalley for providing a copy in exchange for my honest review. Four stars.

 

The Secrets She Keeps by Michael Robotham

I am most familiar with Australian author Michael Robotham’s series of novels featuring protagonist Joe O’Loughlin, and I have recommended him to many people without hesitation. When I received a copy of his latest, The Secrets She Keeps, from Scribner and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review, I had no idea what the premise was, whether it was an O’Loughlin book, or something new and different. And it WAS different – for sure. This is the story of two women who are apparently pregnant at the same time. One of them, Agatha, works at a supermarket, isn’t married, and spends a lot of time and energy dreaming of the life she doesn’t have (especially the roles of wife and mother). She watches (and seriously at first her stalking really creeped me out) Meghan, a beautiful mother of two seemingly perfect children, wife to a good-looking television personality, whose pregnancy seems about as far along as Agatha’s own.

We learn that although everything LOOKS perfect. Meghan is restless in her marriage: “…sometimes I rake my memory to find moments that make me truly happy.” Told in the alternating points of view of these two women, a recurring theme of honesty and trust is voiced by Meghan early on: “Anyone who says that honesty is the best policy is living in la-la land. Either that or they have never been married or had children. Parents lie to their kids all the time—about sex, drugs, death, and a hundred other things. We lie to those we love to protect their feelings. We lie because that’s what love means, whereas unfettered honesty is cruel and the height of self-indulgence.”

Agatha is no less unsettled: “How can she ever understand my life? What it’s like to live in a cramped, claustrophobic tunnel that gets smaller and darker as each year passes.” Much of her viewpoint is revealed when she says to Meghan “I am an outlier. I am the incredible disappearing woman. I am childless. Less of a person. Not in the club. You take those things for granted.”

Agatha wants the life she thinks Meghan has. Meghan sees Agatha as a familiar face from her shopping trips and yoga class, but little does Meghan know that the ho-hum exchange she has with a store employee during her hurried afternoon shopping trip is about to change the course of her not-so-perfect life!

It’s quite the page-turner, as the characters of the women and their families are revealed in alternating chapters. I was somewhat skeptical about Mr. Robotham’s ability to write from the perspective of two different pregnant women, but he did it with his usual outstanding plot development and attention to details of the characters’ personalities. Never having been pregnant myself, lots of the feelings about pregnancy were unfamiliar – but the lines about childlessness really resonated. I take off one star just because I wasn’t wild about the ending, but I really did enjoy reading it (in pretty much one sitting – I was riveted). Four stars.

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

COVER Zevin Young Jane Young

Being in a book club offers lots of positive experiences…for me, it frequently means I will read something I NEVER would have selected on my own! That was the case with Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry. Why wouldn’t I have picked it? For starters, there is that weird title. Then the blurb, letting me know it was about a loner who owns a struggling bookstore…well, those weren’t exactly grabbers for me. But I loved the book, and after pondering why, it came down to the fact that it was just FUN to read. It entertained me and it made me THINK.  So I was happy to receive a copy of Zevin’s new book Young Jane Young, from Algonquin Books and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Young Jane Young is the story of Aviva Grossman, a Congressional intern in Florida who has an affair with her boss and telling the story in her (supposed to be) anonymous blog. As is often the case, the guy is temporarily damaged by the scandal, but Aviva becomes notorious. Like Lewinsky, she is slut-shamed and her name becomes synonymous with the ick factor in politics in general.

Aviva changes her name to the generic Jane Young, moves to Maine, and starts over, with her daughter in tow. She becomes a successful small-town business owner, raising her daughter to be a strong, confident young woman. Everything goes well until Jane runs for public office and finds that Google provides an indelible scarlet A. It seems that in social media, the past is never gone. Ruby finds out her mother isn’t the person she had always thought she was, and as she confronts the reality of the world, she needs to decide how much this matters.
The novel follows three generations (Aviva’s mother, Aviva and Ruby) and uses rotating points of view to tell their stories, along with that of the Congressman’s wife. The characters are terrific: Aviva’s mother Rachel is the first one we meet, and she tells us (as she is talking about how her best friend Roz and her new husband spend time together) “I don’t particularly want a husband. They’re a lot of work, but I don’t want to spend the rest of my life alone either, and it would be nice to have someone to go to classes with is what I’m saying.” Jane works hard on raising Ruby mindful of the lessons she absorbed from her own childhood: “I believed a mother must act like the woman she wanted here daughter to become.” And Ruby is just…amazing.

I loved how it entertained me with tons of humor, and made me think about how the world still wants to define women’s roles and possibilities. I’m kind of a political junkie, so that aspect of it appealed to me as well.

Sadly, double standards are still with us, and misogyny is rampant in politics and business. This is a fairly quick read, but anyone who cares about the issues will find the characters and their experiences rolling around in their brain long after the final chapter. Five stars. Hugely enjoyable, as was Fikry.

The Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

cover-whalen-the-things-we-wish-were-true

The Things We Wish Were True, by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen, is a classic beach read. It tells the story of Sycamore Glen, North Carolina, where it is summertime, and everyone spends time at the neighborhood pool, talking to and about each other. Along the way, some old secrets come to light, some new mysteries are solved, and lots of people get to know other people even better than they already do/did.

Sycamore Glen seems to be the whitest community on the planet. Not sure about this, but everyone seemed shiny white and presentable, except for the obvious creepy guy, or guys.

There are LOTS of chapters, and at first I was struggling keeping everyone and their kids straight, but soon I could recall that Jencey’s kids were Pilar and Zara, and Cailey’s brother is Cutter, and Zell is the neighbor everyone wants to have, or at least to talk to.

It’s fluff, but entertaining fluff. Not my genre, but I give it four stars because it held my interest, there was some suspense (although I figured out one of the main mysteries VERY early on, and I am TERRIBLE at that), the many characters were well-developed, and it took my mind off the election (although I was thinking, Sycamore Glen is sort of the Mayberry-esque America that some people want to return to – whiter than white)

In any case, much gratitude to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for providing an advance copy of this fun read, four stars.

The Twenty-three by Linwood Barclay

Cover Barclay The 23

I really enjoyed the first two novels in the Promise Falls Trilogy by Linwood Barclay, Broken Promise (2015) and Far From True (2016). There were some things left hanging at the end of the most recent one, so I was happy to have the opportunity to receive an advance copy in exchange with my honest review (thank you, NetGalley and Berkley Publishing!!)

As this story opens, it hasn’t been too long since the disastrous events of Far From True (including the fatal collapse of the drive-in theater screen). It’s now Memorial Day weekend, and on Saturday hundreds of people start showing up at the local hospital with what first looks like flu…then dozens die. It looks to many like the water supply is tainted, but the motive isn’t clear.

Familiar characters (to those who have read the prior novels in the series) crop up: Private investigator Cal Weaver, police Detective Barry Duckworth, former reporter David Harwood, and the somewhat sleazy former mayor, whose ownership of the local spring water bottling company puts him in line to profit from the disaster). There is also the return of “23,” which is seen in several places: bloody mannequins are found in car #23 of the ferris wheel at an abandoned amusement park, 23 squirrels are killed, a buse is set on fire and sent down the road with #23 painted on it…and it’s May 23rd.

In addition to the plague-like outbreak, a college student is found dead, and the death is reminiscent of the deaths of other women in town. Things start to add up, but there seem to be many possibilities for murderer and motive. Can’t say too much more without spoiling something for someone, but for fans of mystery, psychological suspense, and Linwood Barclay, this one is a good choice.

I appreciated the varied points of view, and while I am usually not a big fan of many short chapters, it seems to work well in this case. I expected complete resolution to EVERYTHING, being the third in a trilogy, but there may be room to tell more stories about the people and events in Promise Falls.

While it is a trilogy, each of the books works as a standalone, so don’t be hesitant to read this because you haven’t read the first two in the series. I don’t know how to give this one 4.5 stars, and it isn’t quite a 5-star for me (as a teacher I was sort of known as a tough grader!), so this one ends up at four stars…even though it’s really better than that.

Siracusa by Delia Ephron

Cover Ephron Siracusa

I’m a long-time fan of both Ephrons, Nora and Delia…and I had heard (read, actually) good things about this book: good summer read, revelatory about marriage, secrets, deceit, etc. So I had pretty high expectations as I dove in o his one.

And it really is a great story, told from alternative POVs by four adults who travel together to Italy (including the place where all hell breaks loose, Siracusa) one summer. You know right from the beginning that something has gone horribly wrong on the trip, but it takes awhile to get there, and I kept wondering what the disaster was, and who was involved. The two couples, both married, are Michael and Lizzie from New York and Finn and Taylor from Portland, Maine. Two other characters who figure in to the events in Siracusa are Finn and Taylor’s 10-year-old daughter Snow, and Michael’s mistress Kath who shows up unexpectedly. Ephron does a great job presenting the alternating chapters following the same events from the varying perspectives, and her wit and insightful observations are great fun.

Michael (the man with the mistress) is a writer whose play won a Pulitzer 15 years ago, and who seems to have been trying to recapture some success ever since (he is now 37). He’s kind of a pig, and truly a liar, and apparently a real charmer because both Lizzie and Taylor think he is amazing…and then Snow falls under his spell as well (OK, a bit creepy for sure). Lizzie is also a writer who has not had much success, but the two of them are firmly entrenched in the Manhattan literary scene (which Ephron delights in skewering here and there). Michael has told Kath that he will be leaving Lizzie to be with her, and Kath believes him, so she breaks into his computer, steals his passwords and uses his miles to fly to Italy to surprise him. She is a hostess at a restaurant Michael and Lizzie frequent and, like very other female in the book, has fallen under his spell, believing every word.

Finn owns a restaurant and has a thing for a lobsterwoman back in Maine, although his real desire is for Lizzie, ever since they had a fling some years back. Taylor is basically an icy bitch whose world revolves around Snow, her beautiful daughter who suffers from “extreme shyness syndrome.” Taylor is a pretentious snob and – well, I just couldn’t find anything to like about her.

The two couples interact during various meals and outings and it gets clearer each day that Taylor and Lizzie can’t stand each other, and Finn isn’t fond of Michael, calling him out on his lies (including, finally, his affair). Tension builds as the seemingly inevitable volcanic eruption that will occur when Lizzie realizes who Kath is and why she is there…but then one afternoon, Kath and Snow disappear. The resolution to what happens after that is one of those things I can’t even hint at without ruining something, so just leave it at this: it’s a breezy read, but has a lot of thought-provoking commentary on marriage, honesty, parenting, and secrecy. I am not sure “like” is the right word to use for how I feel about it, but I do recommend it.

Thanks to NetGalley and Blue Rider Press for offering a free copy in exchange for my honest review. Unfortunately, the digital file was unreadable and, while I got a polite response to an email requesting a new file, I never got it…disappointing, but I don’t mind buying a book that entertains me as much as this one did. Four stars.

 

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Cover Picoult Small Great Things

When I told a friend and former library co-worker that I liked Jodi Picoult’s books, she basically sniffed her disapproval – and our friendship was changed forever. I worked for several years  in public libraries and tried not to be judgmental of people’s reading preferences, or to let the fact that someone thought Danielle Steel wrote great literature to negatively impact my opinion of them. But really, I don’t get it. I know JP is writing for a mass market – and sometimes her resolutions might be just a bit too neat for snooty readers. But I’ll admit right up front, I am a sucker for a well-plotted story that makes me think about a social issue or two along the way.

Having said that, you might guess (correctly) that I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to read an advance copy of JP’s latest work Small Great Things in exchange for my honest review (thanks, NetGalley and Ballantine!). I deliberately didn’t read anything about it before diving in, and it’s hard to describe the impact this had on me. I really want to review it, but don’t want to spoil the story…and it is a GRIPPING story, for sure. What I really should do is just say “TRUST ME! YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK!!” but that’s not exactly how this works, so I will provide a synopsis that won’t spoil anything, then remind you again YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK.

The protagonist of this, and the individual around whom the story swirls is Ruth Jefferson, an experienced (20+ years) labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital. The story is told from multiple perspectives, and when it begins, Ruth is just beginning a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The baby’s parents, who acted a bit squirmy when Ruth came on shift and relieved another nurse, are white supremacists and make it clear they refuse to allow Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, and (you can kind of see that something is coming) the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Here is the dilemma: does she assist the baby, going against her supervisor’s direct orders, following her instinctual desire (and training)?

Ruth ends up being charged with a crime, and is represented by a public defender, Kennedy McQuarrie, who insists that even mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. The story is incredibly timely, with the increasingly ugly rhetoric inspired by events and politicians in 2016, and Jodi Picoult uses her storytelling skills to make the reader consider issues surrounding race, prejudice, privilege and justice.

Trust me, YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK. You will thank me!  It may be unsettling, but you will enjoy the story, and it will make you think (always a good thing!) Five stars.

 

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner

Missing,Presumed Cover

I’m a huge fan of Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley mystery series, often described as “literary mysteries.” So when a new (to me) author’s book is described as a literary mystery, I’m in! I was eager to read Susie Steiner’s Missing, Presumed, knowing nothing about her work or ability to deliver the kind of story I was craving: something with enough of a mystery to hold my interest, so I could settle in and lose myself in something written with skill and creativity.

For starters, I have to say that Steiner’s protagonist, Manon Bradshaw, reminded me a bit of George’s Barbara Havers of the Lynley series. Like Barbara, she is a no-longer young woman who has an interesting and successful career – but she is dissatisfied with her situation, and she REALLY wants to be in a relationship. She is 39, and trying to get her life in order, “Manon would determinedly fill the fridge, resolve to paint the cupboards…while the washing machine churned, resolve too to eat beetroot more and take up Zumba, only to have it all disappear in the suck and tow of the next tide.” I loved Manon’s keen observations: for example, on journalist Keeley Davis, she notes the woman “will no doubt be off to the Mail any day now, with her tight suit and that retro Nissan she drives, the automotive equivalent of a Prada handbag.” Manon’s luck at Internet dating hasn’t been great. She meets Alan Prenderghast, with whom she finds conversation comes easily…perhaps too much so, as when Manon blurts out to Alan “I sometimes think I don’t actually like anyone that much. That all I ever want is to be on my own. And then I can’t cope with it – with myself, just myself all the time, and it’s like I become the worst company of all – and there’s this awful realization that I need people, and it’s almost humiliating.” That’s some serious self-awareness!

The point is, Steiner is GREAT at developing her characters. Manon finds herself on a case that is bound to be high profile: Edith, the beautiful young daughter of a physician whose clients include nobility and royalty, has gone missing. The girl’s parents, Ian and Miriam, and her brother Rollo are desperate for a resolution to the mysterious disappearance.

Like Manon, Miriam is a strong woman whose unhappiness is revealed in a variety of ways, nearly always in relation to others. “Any confidence Miriam ever had in herself as a mother has been eroded, and what is that confidence built on anyway, she thinks now – the luck of one’s children? The DNA lottery? If they’re bright and successful, you congratulate yourself. If they fall by the wayside, the world judges you.”

The relationship with Ian is revealed gradually. Thinking of her husband, Miriam muses that he “has that curious inability that the upper classes have to wear casual clothes convincingly. She wonders if he emerged from his mother’s vagina in a sports jacket. “

She notes that the two of them “both prone to … thinking their way out of their predicaments, as if sheer force of intellect could control the random world.” Reflecting on their marriage, Miriam says, “It is a slog, marriage. How could she tell her daughter that without making it sound worse than it is? Built on hard work and tolerance, not some idea of perfection as Edith might have it.” Edith has a boyfriend, Will Carter, and “Miriam has had the thought in the past that Will Carters handsomeness is an emblem of Edith’s belief in perfection – or at least her belief in appearance. She hasn’t realized yet that looks count for nothing, that how things appear is nothing next to how they feel.”

As Manon investigates Edith’s disappearance, the story is revealed from multiple points of view, particularly those of Manon and Miriam. While it is somewhat a police procedural, the real strength of this book is in its writing style and character development. While it’s not up there with Elizabeth George’s better efforts, it is certainly well worth reading, especially for those who appreciate well developed female characters and an interesting plot without excessive violence and gore. I will definitely read whatever Susie Steiner comes up with next. Gratitude to NetGalley for an advance copy of Missing, Presumed in exchange for my honest review. Four stars!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Try Not to Breathe by Holly Seddon

Sneddon Try Not To Breathe cover

I actually read Holly Seddon’s book Try Not to Breathe on Groundhog Day…highly appropriate, since there was so much about it, both in plot and tone as other things I have read recently (esp. Girl on the Train).

There are several interesting characters in the book, especially the two women Alex and Amy, who are connected in the present day by a horrific event that happened fifteen years ago and left Amy is a vegetative state. Alex, a journalist who seems to be trying to resurrect either her career or her sense of self-worth (or both?), is working on a story about Amy and comes across Jake, who was Amy’s boyfriend back in the day and who has continued to visit her pathetically sad space nearly every day since. Of course, there is a mystery surrounding the events that led to Amy’s current situation, and there is sort of a mystery about Alex’s messy life and whether or not she can get it together, and what the hell is Jake hanging around for? (a question his pregnant wife is also asking).

It was a quick read, and the characters were compelling, but I cannot say I LIKED the book. It was more the train wreck, I just couldn’t look away! I am not bothered by alternating points of view or shifts in time, and I think the author did a great job portraying the pain caused by Alex’s addiction. So, if you want a book that will grab you in terms of mystery and wanting to know why characters do what they do, grab this one! I give it four stars for interesting plot and well-drawn characters, but there was a boatload of willing suspension of disbelief that had to happen (esp in terms of Alex still being alive after her self-destructive history and how Jake can chase people down while on crutches etc. – but overall, a thought-provoking read. Thank you, Net Galley, for an advance copy in return for my review.

The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton

Lupton Quality of Silence Cover

I consider myself a fan of Rosamund Lupton, having read and enjoyed Sister and Afterwards. And there are things about her writing that I really enjoy: she can evoke strong emotions about the power of love like few authors I can think of, and (as she shows in her latest, The Quality of Silence) she can describe harshness of nature and the dangers of sticking your neck out like nobody’s business!

Her latest book, The Quality of Silence, tells the story of former astrophysicist (hence no intellectual slouch) and current stay-at-home mom Yasmin, who takes her daughter Ruby and heads for Alaska to spend Christmas with Yasmin’s father, nature photographer (think Frans Lanting) Matt. Two complicating factors are that Ruby is deaf and the Yasmin-Matt marriage has been a bit shaky of late.

When they arrive in Alaska, they are told that Matt has been killed in a fire in a remote area, and it seems to Yasmin like the police are not doing their jobs. She is so sure that Matt is alive that she hijacks a big rig to drive them through the rough country to the location to make sure that she saves her marriage and that Ruby doesn’t lose her father.

Along the way, the two of them deal with challenges separately and together, and it feels like Ruby will definitely “be heard” in her life (which is what Yasmin wants most for her), and that Yasmin has recovered some of what she used to be: determined, brave and courageous.

Woven throughout the story are details about the indigenous people of the region and information about fracking, and there is tension that mounts as they near their goal.

This is another of the many recent novels with multiple points of view, which I don’t mind. Lupton seems to be steering herself into the Jodi Picoult mode, combining family challenges with one or more social issues, which I also don’t mind. My biggest problem with the book was that I personally hate being cold, and I found the effectively written description of the harsh environment unsettling. If you don’t mind that, and you like a family-saga-mystery/thriller-with-a-touch-of-social-commentary, you will enjoy The Quality of Silence.

I appreciate receiving a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my review. Four stars (might have been three except I DO like Lupton, and might have been five except I hate being cold).

 

 

 

 

The Girl with No Past by Kathryn Croft

Firl With No Past Cover

 

After reading the premise of this book, and skimming a couple of reviews, I was so prepared to settle in for a nice binge read – I am a sucker for psychological thrillers (a la Gone Girl) and I went into it with an open mind and heart…and OK, maybe it was just me, maybe I was in a pre-holiday funk, or possibly my expectations were too high (I am itching for a book to CONSUME me, which happened just last week with Robert Crais’ new book – but, I digress). In any case, I suffered a bit of a letdown.

The protagonist, Leah Mills, had a really bad day about fourteen years ago, and she has lived basically as a fugitive since then. She lives a solitary life, isolated and keeping totally to herself except for a bit of an online existence, where she meets Julian…But, then she receives a letter from someone who apparently knows what happened. And, to make things worse, it looks like the person who wrote her wants to destroy the life she has created.

I admit I went back and forth between feeling like “yeah! This is great!” and “bleah.” Croft is a good writer, the pacing is good, the story flowed along, and the varied points of view didn’t distract as they can do when a story is told with multiple POVs. (Ps of V?)

I read a lot of mysteries and thrillers and am the first to admit I am not adept at figuring out the mystery early on – in fact, I am more often surprised to find “who done it” in a whodunit. But in this case, I figured it out early, so I suspect the plot may have been the problem for me. In addition to that expectations thing, pre-holiday funk, etc. Also, this was very similar to last summer’s The Lies We Tell, by Meg Carter, so possibly that made it feel like old terrain? Unclear…but the effect is that it was a bit of a disappointment for me.

Despite what may sound negative, I enjoyed the EXPERIENCE of reading this, and will definitely read other things by this author, who clearly has strong skills. I am grateful to NetGalley for providing me an advance copy of this book in exchange for my review. Three and a half stars (marked as four, as I think three is too low J).