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!

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 Bomb Maker by Thomas Perry

I started this book, and after a few pages of VERY intense and detailed narrative about bombs, bomb making,  and what they can do, I just put it aside. I just wasn’t in the mood for something so dark. Then my husband picked it up and he REALLY liked it and thought I would as well. He was right! So, with thanks to Grove Atlantic/Mysterious Press and NetGalley, I give The Bomb Maker four enthusiastic stars – and I will be reading more o Perry’s work.

The story opens with a threat called in to the LAPD Bomb Squad, and the results of the detailed bomb-making in the opening of the book result in a horrific event. Half the entire bomb squad (including the man in charge) has been obliterated, and they need a hero. The protagonist, Dick Stahl, is asked by a friend and former colleague to come and take over on a temporary basis until they can get things somewhat up to speed (it takes a full year to train a bomb squad technician).

Stahl was both a cop and in the military and he knows about people as well as bombs, so he is the perfect guy to figure out the process and techniques of the extremely evil villain, a guy who has been recruited by an unnamed organization who promises to pay him ten million dollars for his skills.

Along the way, Stahl gets involved with co-workers in various ways, and although I don’t think many people are as ideal (smart, beautiful, thoughtful) as the two main characters, it actually didn’t seem weird to me that they hooked up right away.  It was handled fairly well, even though there was a bit of male fantasy fulfillment in the actions of Diane at the end of Stahl’s first day on the job. But it’s going to make a great movie – in fact, as the tension mounted and the situation with the bomb maker was resolved, I found myself thinking that if it ended in a certain way, it was probably written with a screenplay in mind. It did, it probably was, and I will most likely go see it when it comes out.

Killing Pace by Douglas Schofield

Back in 2015, I read and reviewed Time of Departure by Douglas Schofield, so when (thanks to St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books  and NetGalley) I had the opportunity to read Schofield’s new novel, Killing Pace, in return for my honest review, I leapt at it.

Like Time of Departure, Killing Pace also features a female protagonist facing some crime-related challenges. Time of Departure was set in Florida, and while Killing Pace begins in Florida, it then moves back and forth between Sicily and Florida.

The first chapter is straightforward, and provided me with a good hook, as it described a woman named Lisa Green crawling bleeding and barefoot out of a car accident, completely confused. Not only does she not know where she is or how she got there, she doesn’t even remember who she is. In the next chapter, the woman begins to regain memory with flashes of remembrance related to Flight 103 (crashed over Lockerbie, Scotland), conversations with an older woman, and eating Nutella. She beats the crap out of the man who had been holding her captive and reports herself missing to the police. The next section, titled Sarah, describes the activities of a female Customs and Border Protection Office named Sarah Lockhart, and just as I was wondering if she was the woman in the car accident (despite the different name), the next section was back to Lisa. Because my reading was interrupted by a couple of weeks of personal chaos, I was a bit disoriented by the shifts among Lisa, Sarah, and yet another female character, Laura Pace – but in looking back over the book, I realize this was just me – Schofield did a great job weaving the sections together, and it all made sense.

The story becomes an international chase, involving not just Sarah’s efforts in Italy and Miami on behalf of the US Border Control, but expanding to include the Sicilian mafia, human trafficking (infants taken from Syrian refugees and made available for adoption to wealthy American couples, also known as “baby laundering”), and smuggling. There is also a tiny bit of romantic interest, which I would expect will be explored in the next Laura Pace novel (and I hope there will be one!). And I JUST realized the title is a play on words!!

There are several issues explored, including questions of trust, ethical behavior of government officials, and loyalty. Like Time of Departure, this novel requires some willing suspension of disbelief, but I read with the attitude of “just go along for the ride,” and I am glad I did. Following the two-week hiatus between when I started this book and yesterday when I picked it up again, I was hooked and spent the majority of the day yesterday reading it. I love mystery-thrillers than take over my whole day, and give this one four stars. I look forward to reading more from Mr. Schofield, whose experience as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney contributes to his ability to tell a story that hooks the reader.

 

 

Need to Know by Karen Cleveland

SPOILER ALERT: The basic premise (which is a surprise at several points) of Karen Cleveland’s Need to Know is laid out here; so if you want total surprise, stop reading! But I’m not giving away the BFD ending which is designed to be a real shocker, so if you don’t mind reading a plot outline, have at it!

I had read some of the hype about this book (optioned as a film with Charlize Theron, so my image of protagonist Vivian Miller was of Charlize), so I was pleased to get an advance copy of this book from Random House/Ballantine and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. As the story begins, we meet Vivian Miller (Charlize), a super-dedicated CIA counterintelligence analyst who has been working for years on a project that, if successful, will uncover the identities of people living in the U.S. as members of Russian sleeper cells. She has developed this system to identify the people who appear to be normal residents of the U.S., but who are actually working as Russian agents.

Vivian’s life has gotten complicated as she and her husband Matt and their four children live the lifestyle of a middle-class couple, complete with a big mortgage and some medical problems for one of their kids that guarantee they can’t just walk away from her job on a whim. One day, while she is online accessing the computer of someone she thinks may be a Russian operative, Vivian stumbles on a secret file that contains information about deep-cover agents in the U.S. As she scrolls through the photos of the agents assigned to the suspected handler, she is stunned to see her husband Matt’s photo. She is torn about what to do – if she turns him in, her job will be over, her kids will be devastated, and everything that matters to her will be gone. Should she confront Matt? Maybe tell her boss? Or tell her trusted friend who works with her on the special project, FBI Agent Omar?

She seems to be faced with impossible choices. She starts looking back at her entire relationship with Matt – how they “met cute,” fell in love, got married, had kids, lived together for a decade – is it possible she is wrong, her life’s work of developing a method to identify the sleeper agents a failure?

I really enjoyed the process of reading this, and it was pretty much all-engrossing. But it required a bit of willing suspension of disbelief, because this genius woman seemed to keep making some dumb decisions. But then, I’d think, “Who knows what I’d do in her situation?”

Good plotting, good character development, good escapist entertainment. More than a bit unsettling, TBH. Just like you sometimes find out the seemingly normal guy down the block is a serial killer, you might have a member of a sleeper cell in the neighborhood, coaching your kid’s soccer team. Four stars.

The Late Show by Michael Connelly

I’ve enjoyed many books by Michael Connelly, and when I learned his new book, The Late Show, was coming out, I looked forward to reading it. I didn’t know anything about the storyline, and I think perhaps I assumed it would be another in the long line of Connelly’s crime novels set in Los Angeles with a strong male protagonist (such as Harry Bosch or Mickey Haller).

But no! In the first paragraph, we learn that two police officers (“Ballard and Jenkins”) are working the night shift. We soon learn that Ballard is a female officer (at which point I thought, “OMG, is she the lead character here? A woman? AWESOME!!)

The way Connelly reveals Renee Ballard’s backstory, interweaving it with a complex police procedural full of the workings of the LAPD, is masterful. We learn that she is working nights (aka “the late show”) as a punishment for filing a sexual harassment suit against a former supervisor. She managed to keep her badge, but is clearly a black sheep in the squad room.

One night Renee catches two assignments that seem unrelated: the brutal beating of a prostitute left for dead in a parking lot and the killing of several people in a nightclub. Although typically the night shift turns all their cases over to the day shift, Ballard is determined not to give up these two cases. As the plot moves along, she chooses to go against both explicit orders and her partner’s wishes, working on both these cases during the day while still taking her regular shifts at night.

She is definitely a woman with a past that drove her to become a cop. After a fatal shooting, she notes there “…was something inside her she didn’t know she had. Something dark. Something scary.” As her investigations progress, she calls on sources she has developed, including navigating the intricacies of dealing with the media: “She knew a couple of things about how the murky lines between the media and law enforcement were negotiated. She knew there was little cooperation.”

She is advised that her job takes her “…into the bleakest side of the human soul…If you go into darkness, the darkness goes into you. You then have to decide what to do with it. How to keep yourself safe from it. How to keep it from hollowing you out.”

No spoilers here, just a STRONG recommendation for Connelly fans, anyone who likes a good mystery, appreciates police procedurals, or just enjoys a good story with a strong, interesting female character, to READ THIS BOOK. It is terrific! Five stars (only because I can’t give six)!

With gratitude to Little, Brown and Company and NetGalley, as I received a copy in exchange for my honest review.

 

UNSUB by Meg Gardiner

UNSUB by Meg Gardiner has gotten GREAT reviews, so when I started it and found my mind wandering, I put it aside for a couple of weeks and picked it up again.

I knew going in that the story involved a serial killer in the Bay Area with a catchy nickname, reminiscent of “The Zodiac Killer.” This time, the name is “The Prophet,” and this book is a dark, twisted thriller revolving around the apparent reappearance of a criminal who terrorized the Bay Area before disappearing a couple of decades ago.

Back in the initial hunt for The Prophet, Mack Hendrix was the lead police detective in the effort to stop the crime wave. His failure to do so has haunted him ever since. Now, his daughter Caitlin is also a police officer, whose focus has been narcotics. She looks to her father for help as she takes up the work of catching the killer whose victims bear the characteristics of The Prophet’s victims.

I suspect my lack of enthusiasm for this book is based on my own weird experiences. Living in Solano County in the Bay Area during the time of the Zodiac spree, I knew a man who was creepy. I saw a large flashlight in his car with clear red wrapping paper over the lens, held on with a rubber band. The Zodiac supposedly used a flashlight as he approached victims’ vehicles, possibly a large red flashlight to make people believe it was a police vehicle approaching. And as if that wasn’t enough, someone had tracked this guy’s schedule and he was always out sick or otherwise unaccounted for on the dates of the killings. I distanced myself from this creepy guy, but he contacted me by email in the year 2000 to tell me he had been “following” me online. So, yes, anything about the Zodiac brings up some less than positive feelings!

But, I digress. Lisa Gardiner has done a masterful job of plotting and character development showing both Caitlin’s strengths as a police officer and her softer, more human side. I expect we will see a string of stories featuring this feisty young woman. The ending was a bit abrupt, so that knocked off a star. The creepy factor almost knocked off another one, but the “it’s not you, it’s me” thing isn’t something I like to bring into my reviews. Thanks to Penguin Group/Dutton and NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for my review. Three and a half stars, will show up as four.

Shadow Man by Alan Drew

Cover Drew Shadow Man

Talk about a grabber: the description for Alan Drew’s book Shadow Man starts out “What Dennis Lehane does for Boston, Alan Drew does for Southern California in this gritty thriller…” I thought “what a trifecta!” I’ve been a Dennis Lehane fan for many years, I grew up in Orange County, CA (I am a huge fan of the earlier books by T. Jefferson Parker that were also set in the OC), and thrillers are among my favorite genres. So I couldn’t WAIT to dive into this book! Unfortunately, my husband snagged my Kindle and was instantly hooked, so I had to wait a few days for my chance. Wow, was it worth the wait!

The protagonist is Ben Wade, a police detective who left the LAPD and moved back to the fictional town of Rancho Santa Elena, partly in a failed attempt to save his marriage to Rachel. (Note the town is fictional, but it PERFECTLY captures the Orange County I escaped some years ago.) Ben is a good guy and a loving father, but he clearly has some baggage: as Natasha, the medical examiner and potential romantic interest, points out: “she could see why Rachel left him. He was a room with a locked door, and a wife wanted access.” Ben works on two separate cases throughout the book, one involving a serial killer and the other a mysterious gun death of a teenage boy, whose body was found near the residential labor camp that provides labor for the remaining crops that haven’t yet been replaced by the suburban sprawl that is gobbling up Orange County. No spoilers ahead, but great plot development in both areas.

The setting is incredibly important to the story. As the book opens, the Santa Anna winds are blowing: “The morning had been heavy with gritty smog, the taste of leaded gas on the tongue… winds had burst into the coastal basin midmorning, dry gusts billowing off the desert in the east that electrified the air…” And anyone who has lived in Southern California will nod in agreement with Ben’s thought that there “…wasn’t any scientific evidence for this, but every cop knew something went haywire in people when the winds hit.”

Drew clearly knows the area, and I love the way he reveals what makes Rancho Santa Elena distinctly different from his previous life in LA: the town “… survived on being the opposite of L.A.—clean, organized, boring.” The essence of much of Orange County is due to the people who have moved there: They “…were afraid of the world; that’s why they moved here, to escape it. They believed master-planned order—straight streets, identical houses, brightly lit shopping centers—would keep them safe from the outside world.”

Along with the setting, the characters come alive with Drew’s outstanding descriptive skill: he notes a woman who is “Blonde of course, radiating the forced sexual brightness of plastic surgery and makeup.” (yes, I KNOW these people!) Not everyone is in the same class, including “…beach bums who lived in rotting wooden apartments and worked stocking grocery shelves so that they could ride the waves every day.” Sounds like my adopted hometown of Santa Cruz, which frequently reminds people of Orange County in the 60s.

Even further down the social ladder are the farmworkers who are an integral part of the story. Drew captures their situation and interweaves the immigration issue without being pedantic, always keeping the story moving while at the same time making the reader aware of the class distinctions that are such a strong characteristic of the area. Talking about the farmworkers, we learn that ICE “…harassed the camp every few months, sending a few people back over the border. A cynical game, really, since the owners of the fields didn’t want their people deported, but local immigration needed to look as if the were doing their job. So, a compromise: Haul a few away, get it in the newspapers to appease a certain type of vote, and then let more come in the replace the ones sent home.” Wow.

Ben’s investigations lead him toward two social issues:  the plight of the farmworkers and the effects of child abuse. As he ponders why the latter is often so well hidden, he reflects, “ “There were a few rumors among the teachers.” Jesus. What was the law worth if it was used to keep people quiet about what they all knew?”

I loved this book! It more than met my high expectations, with its compelling plot and relatable characters. But even more, it is the best kind of novel: one that truly entertains the reader while making us THINK. Ben Wade is a great character, and I hope Shadow Man is the first in a series.

For any refugees from behind the Orange Curtain, you will totally relate to Rancho Santa Elena, with lines like “Sigalert for an accident on the 22…everything backed up to the Crystal Cathedral” and the description of what seems to clearly be the Melrose Abbey Mortuary, which is “…crammed between a strip mall dotted with taquerias and a cement wall that separated the cemetery from the rush of the Santa Ana Freeway.” AWESOME!

After finishing the book, I read a few comments from people who were complaining that this is not actually a thriller. My response is “not only is it a thriller, it is a good one, and so much more!” Can’t wait for more from Alan Drew! (Neither can my husband.) Five enthusiastic stars!

NOTE: I appreciate that I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley and Random House in exchange for my honest review.

The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda

cover Miranda PErfect Stranger

I first became aware of Megan Miranda’s storytelling skill when I read her previous novel All the Missing Girls, which was told BACKWARDS. Not an easy thing to pull off, but she did it in a 5-star fashion, so I was ready with high expectations when I received an advance copy of her latest book The Perfect Stranger in exchange for my honest review (thanks, Simon & Schuster and NetGalley!!)

In this one, the protagonist is an apparently troubled journalist named Leah Stevens, who has moved to a small town in western Pennsylvania to escape and start over. She picks up and takes off with her friend Emmy, becoming a high school teacher while Emmy works odd jobs under the table…or does she??? In fact, did Emmy really exist at all? When Leah reports her missing and the police come to investigate, there is no record of her existence anywhere, either currently or in the past when Leah and Emmy were college roommates. The reader is taken on a twisted ride while Leah tries to find Emmy while hiding her own past (the details of which are rolled out slowly, revealing the reason for Leah’s rush out of Boston and into Pennsylvania.

As the details of her past are revealed, we learn there was a restraining order against Leah and a threatened lawsuit for her actions in a story she wrote in Boston. Leah is just settling in to her new life when someone beats the crap out of a woman who bears an uncanny resemblance to Leah, and then Emmy disappears.  Leah desperately wants to find Emmy, and becomes deeply entangled with the lead detective working on Emmy’s disappearance. She tries to cooperate, but the is no trace of Emmy, not even a digital footprint. At this point the reader may wonder if Emmy ever existed, or whether Leah might have dissociative identity disorder.

The possibility of a split personality is revealed as Leah tells the reader “I was an adolescent when I first started to see myself as two people…I was both walking down the hall and watching myself walk down the hall.” Speaking of a female student, she said she ”…held herself as if she knew it. She must’ve thought there were certain rules that still applied. “

Leah’s struggles become more clear as she continues ”…then you learn. Your backbone was all false bravado. An act that was highly cultivated, taught and expected of girls now. The spunk that was appreciated and rewarded. Talk back to the professor to show your grit.” Leah has learned that for her young student “…danger had not yet made itself apparent, but it was everywhere, whether she wanted to believe it or not.” 

That is part of what makes this so GOOD: this is not just a mystery/thriller (although it definitely is a good example of that genre) – it is also a critique of how women fit in (or not) and learn to make their way in the world, whether it is essential to follow the rules, and the importance of learning about trust.

Leah’s struggle to reclaim her good name, find Emmy and figure out who, if anyone, she can trust makes this an interesting and exciting book. Five stars. And I look forward to Megan Miranda’s future work!

 

The Vanishing Year by Kate Moretti

Cover Moretti Vanishing Year

 

I admit, the thing that initially compelled me to dive into this book in a frenzy of “oh-please-let-this-be-a-story-that-makes-me-unable-to-stop-reading-til-I-have-finished-it” were the strong quotes from Mary Kubica and Heather Gudenkauf praising it. I have enjoyed some of their psychological thrillers, so I figured, “YES! I HAVE ONE!!!!”

The protagonist, Zoe Whittaker, lives a life that, to all outward appearances, is perfect. She moved to New York, found a job in a florist shop where she met a handsome, wealthy Wall Street bigwig, and then was swept off her feet and quickly married (very Henry Higgins) They live at a prestigious address in a penthouse, have a country house on a lake, and spend time traveling, enjoying fine dining and wine. Zoe is a bit bored, and spends time at a child-focused philanthropic organization in addition to pondering her mysterious past and wanting to locate her birth mother.

The story unspools gradually (perhaps a bit TOO slowly for those readers who like their thrillers to grab them at the get-go and never let up), and we learn that Zoe is a liar…just a bit at first, as she is bristling at her husband’s controlling behavior, but she seems good at it: “The lie feels good, fits like a well-made winter coat.”

The outline of the story is familiar: young beautiful woman who isn’t who or what she appears to be, damsel in distress, ominous mysterious past, blah blah blah. What I really liked about it, despite this oft-used device, was the way Moretti portrays Zoe’s unhealthy relationship: she rationalizes and defends her husband and the subtle hints at just how unhealthy this relationship really is hook the reader and keep the story moving along. About halfway through, there is a sort of “WTF?” moment, then things start getting really strange. There is a bit of a requirement for willing suspension of disbelief, but overall the plot is nicely twisty, the characters are well developed, and I would definitely look for other titles by this author.

Can’t say much more without giving out spoilers, which I hate! Four stars, and thanks to NetGalley and Atria Books for an advance copy in exchange for my honest review.

Arrowood by Laura McHugh

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In her mid-20s, Arden Arrowood has inherited the family home on the banks of the Mississippi River in Keokuk, Iowa, where she lived as a child. When she was just eight years old, she was in the front yard of the elegant home, watching her twin sisters, Violet and Tabitha, who were almost two years old. She turned her back for just a moment, and the girls disappeared They were presumed to have been kidnapped based on Arden’s recollection of something she saw.

Described as a “gothic mystery,” the story is captivating from the start, and the characters are vividly drawn. Arden’s mother, who remarried a religious guy, “played the part of a pastor’s wife with the convincing zeal of a prescandal of Tammy Faye Bakker.” The setting is important as well, and I loved McHugh’s description: “…the dismal towns where we’d drifted after Keokuk. I’d look out my window at scrub brush or empty fields or a parking lot and find nothing large enough or strong enough to anchor me. Nothing outside but miles between me and the river and home.” And “It appeared to be a trend in Keokuk, and maybe in all the other small, dying towns across the heartland: churches taking over abandoned retail space. Jobs trickled out and God seeped in to fill the void.”
At the time she inherits the house, Arden’s life has fallen apart: She can’t finish her master’s thesis, and she is miserable after a breakup. She has held on to the hope that her sisters are still alive, and she can’t she can’t seem to move forward until she finds them. When she arrives in town, she is welcomed back by her old neighbor and first love, Ben Ferris, whose family seems to know more about the Arrowoods’ secrets than she realized. With the help of a young amateur investigator, Arden tracks down the man who was the prime suspect in the kidnapping. She eventually finds out the devastating truth in a mysterious story that examines the ways in which memories impact our lives.
Although I wasn’t wild about the resolution or the ending, I enjoyed the experience of reading this, and will look for future work from Ms. McHugh. Recommended for anyone who likes mysteries or psychological thrillers. Four stars, and thanks to Spiegel & Grau and NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for my honest review.

 

Ink and Bone by Lisa Unger

COVER INK AND BONE

Ink and Bone by Lisa Unger was high on my TBR list, but for some reason I kept not really getting into it. It had a couple of things that I don’t really “get” – namely, visions and tattoos. Both of these are fine for others, but just don’t do it for me…in my fiction reading or in my personal life.

So, here we have a 20-year old young woman, Finley Montgomery, who goes to live with her grandmother, Eloise Montgomery, who is a famous psychic living in a town in New York known as The Hollows. Finley has all the trendy trappings to attract a demographic of which I am not a member: the aforementioned tattoos, a motorcycle, a bad boy boyfriend…and the visions. They are freaking her out so she turns to Eloise for help.

Jones Cooper is a detective in The Hollows who has been hired by Merri Gleason, a woman who has spent the past ten months searching for her missing daughter, Abbey.  Cooper has worked with Eloise in the past, and while Merri isn’t a believer in Eloise’s “gifts,” she is desperate.

Finley and Eloise are drawn into the investigation, which proves much more complicated than a simple mission persons case about a local girl.   Finley digs deeper into the secrets in The Hollows…and that’s about all I can say without spoiling some of the twists and turns in the plot.

I am a fan of Lisa Unger, and I think this may be the start of a series featuring Finley and Eloise…and, of course, The Hollows, which is in some ways a character itself. I appreciate having an advance copy from NetGalley in exchange for my review. I think fans of horror will love it, and thriller readers (more my genre) will enjoy it. It gets four stars from me!

 

Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica

Dont YouCryKubicaCover2016-03-10_10-40-20

I’ve been a fan of Mary Kubica’s densely plotted novels, including Pretty Baby and The Good Girl (a big hit with  a book club I belong to) – so was looking forward to her latest effort, Don’t You Cry.

The story unfolds along two tracks: the first involves the mysterious disappearance of Quinn Collins’s roommate Esther. Quinn awakens one morning to the sound of Esther’s alarm, and then finds Esther’s window onto the fire escape open and no Esther. She later is startled to hear Esther’s phone ringing…clearly wherever Esther has gone, she has left her phone behind. Quinn begins to seek answers, but at first only questions emerge, as she finds out that Esther has a new name, has advertised for a new roommate, and has asked their super to change the locks on their shared apartment. The second track involves Alex Gallo, a smart kid who has been left behind in a town on Lake Michigan when everyone else left for college. He has a sucky job in a restaurant and a worse home life. He sees a woman come into the restaurant, and later he watches as she takes off most of her clothes and walks into the icy lake.At which point, I suspect most readers had thoughts similar to mine: “WTF?”

I love the way Kubica reveals her plot points, making her readers ponder the actions of her characters, with their motivations generally only revealed near the conclusion…in her books, things are NOT what they seem, and it is a fun ride to see how everything will come together, with disparate stories and people converging.

While this one is entertaining, for me it didn’t come up to the level of her prior books. Likely my expectations were a bit high, and I think her fans will enjoy it, and she will likely gain some new fans. I appreciate the opportunity to read an advance copy from NetGalley in exchange for my review…and I wish I could say more about the story itself, but I HATE it when a review spoils the story, so I won’t go there! Four stars.

Watching Edie by Camilla Way

COVER Watching Edie Camilla Way

This is another one of those CREEPY psychological thrillers involving young women who were friends as teenagers, then they lose contact, and years later they reconnect with more or less unpleasant results.

In this one, Heather and Edie are the two main characters. The novel is definitely creepy and it all leads to a horrifying conclusion. I have to say, I admire the skill of the author, but I just didn’t care about either of the two main characters while I was reading…and yet, I found myself thinking about the way we all have baggage from earlier selves, and either from our own or others’ actions. The way our younger selves and experiences of our earlier years inform our situations and choices as adults is usually interesting and worthy of a closer look.

I will read this author’s future books, because she is skilled at plot development and I love a good psychological thriller…I just hope I care more about at least one of the characters in her next book. Thanks to NetGalley for an advance copy of this in exchange for my honest three-star review.

Saving Jason by Michael Sears

Saving Jason Sears cover

 

The first book in this series, Black Fridays, was released in 2012, and I have been recommending the author and the series ever since. The author and the protagonist, Jason Stafford, share the life experience of being Wall Street types, and the information about that whole complex way of life is interspersed throughout the series…but in a totally fitting way, not pedantic or overly technical…in other words, it just fits!

The other interesting aspect of the series is that Jason’s son is autistic. When I picked up the first one and read the cover blurbs I thought possibly that “Black Fridays” referred to Wall Street or financial events…but no, it refers to the fact that on certain days, the son (aka “”The Kid”) only wears certain colors. Lots of interesting stuff about autism, parenting a special needs child, etc. but again, just totally fits into the story.

So, right off, I love that there is learning going on, about finance and autism, while Sears totally entertains with his tight plotting, excellent pacing, and amazing character development. So, here we are, four years later, and he gives us the fourth in the series. Jason and The Kid are both here, and it is impossible to discuss plot much without spoiling things! If  you are like me, even when a reviewer announces “spoiler alert” there is that nearly impossible-to-resist urge to read ahead…I have no shame, I always sneaked a peek at gifts under the tree. So, sorry, no real plot reveal here…

In any case, this is a series, and there have been  some seriously significant events happen to main characters, so it may be best (or at least preferable) to begin with Black Fridays and read through the first three. But this one can definitely stand alone.

Michael Sears has real talent, and I am definitely a fan. I only gave this one four stars because I didn’t feel like I learned as much as from the prior ones, and there were some WTF? moments where I questioned the actions of a character, but if you like mysteries/thrillers with excellent character development, you will definitely want to add this one to your TBR list. Four stars, and thanks to NetGalley for an advance copy in return for my honest review.

Close Your Eyes by Michael Robotham

Close Your Eyes Robotham Cover

OMG. OMG. OMG.

I just finished an AMAZING book! Now that I have that out of the way, let’s talk about Close Your Eyes by Michael Robotham (wish I knew how to pronounce his last name), which is the 8th in the Joe O’Loughlin series…but truly, if you haven’t read any in the series, you should still read this. It will all make sense, and you will love it, and you will be entertained for hours on end…and at the end, you might be going “WHAT?!?!?!?! NOOOOOOOO!” But it’s OK because Michael Robotham is going to be one of your new favorite authors.

First off, you will SEE his characters. For example, the man whose “tight curls are starting to gray, clinging to his scalp like iron filings on a magnet.” And put the characters in relationships: “…the best of marriages can become like a {Pinter play, with long pauses, or characters finishing each other’s sentences or having no dialogue at all.”

See what I mean? And although his stories are fictional, they sometimes feel like they are absolutely about today’s news and newsmakers: a media personality who “likes to pick on particular groups…immigrants, Muslims…proves that his prejudices run wide and deep, even if his listeners come from the shallowest of gene pools.” And he can describe setting vividly, as when he takes us to the “nursing home. It is the smell I can never get used to—a combination of a male urinal and an RSPCA shelter.” Or see “…the edge of the horizon, a container ship barely seems to be moving, as though pinned between the sea and the sky like a drop of moisture trapped between two panes of glass.”

OK, so we have established that he writes REALLY well and that I love his writing. And I mentioned this is a series…which, if you haven’t read any (and you SHOULD HAVE, but might not have, since he is Australian and for some reason possible related to that geographical quirk, hasn’t become wildly popular in the US). The protagonist, Joe, is a forensic psychologist who has Parkinson’s. Which is just a tangential fragment of what makes him who he is and what he does, especially in relationship to his estranged wife and daughters. In this story, Joe is brought in to advise on a murder…that becomes a series of attacks/murders. And he uses his skills to ferret out the personality of the evil person or persons (don’t want to give anything away – I am not a spoiler alert! Kind of person, I prefer to just tell you that you should trust me, if you like mysteries, or psychological themes, or thrillers, or best of all a mystery that is a psychological thriller, you HAVE TO read this. Then go get Robotham’s other books. He is that good. If you need more encouragement, if you enjoyed Gone Girl, Girl on a Train, I Let You Go, or The Lies We Tell, you will like this…but even more, because it is SO well done.

Many thanks to NetGalley for an advance copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

I Let You Go Mackintosh

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

For starters, I loved this book, which I was surprised to learn is Clare Mackintosh’s debut novel (can’t wait for the next one!) Secondly, I need to word this carefully, so as not to give anything away…

There is a horrible hit-and-run accident, and a young boy is killed. The protagonist, Jenna Gray, devastated by the accident, moves to a remote cottage on the windswept Welsh coast, but she is seriously traumatized and can’t seem to escape her fears, her grief and her memories of the accident.

While Jenna is working through her fear and grief (among lots of great scenery, with vivid, well-developed characters all around), a parallel story develops as police Investigator Ray Stevens try to solve the mystery of the hit-and-run.

This really is an outstanding psychological thriller…like others who have commented on it, I was mesmerized. The plot is well done, and is hugely emotional

I really appreciated that this is a compelling story that doesn’t have to preach to emphasize for us the reality that lives can change in an instant.

Five stars, and thanks to NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for my honest review.

 

The Travelers by Chris Pavone

Travelers by Pavone Cover

The first thing I read from Christopher Pavone was The Accident, which knocked me out (thrillers are probably my favorite genre, when they are done well). The follow-up, The Expats, convinced me that he was not a one-hit wonder, so I was happy to receive an advance copy of The Travelers (in exchange for my honest review), and I settled in last weekend to savor what I thought would be a fast-paced glove-trotting story full of deception, lies and deceit, with clearly drawn characters and detailed, intriguing setting…

The bottom line is that this was NOT exactly what I expected…AND I loved it. For the first half of the book, I was reading interesting exploits centered around journalist Will Rhodes, a writer for Travelers magazine, and his wife, Chloe, who worked at Travelers prior to Will being hired there, and who has recently left – or has she? But it wasn’t at all clear what was going on. Two other people at The Travelers are Malcolm Somers, the boss (following the mysterious disappearance of the previous guy) and Gabriella (aka “Gabs”), who has taken on a New-York based management position, giving up her own globe-trotting following the death of her husband. Malcolm is a classic middle-aged success story, complete with multiple homes, gorgeous wife, etc. A long-time employee of Travelers, he thinks “This is probably what it means to be middle-aged: to be horrified by the irresponsibility of your own youth.” Gabs is just a mystery for the longest time!

Throughout this first half of the book, there are cryptic little clues, and several things that strongly evoked what I call the “WTF ? Factor. ” Several times I found myself using my Kindle search feature as I had thoughts along the lines of “wait a minute, who the hell is Taylor Lindquist again?”

I love the way Pavone’s descriptive skills reveal so much about his characters: early on, he gives clues to his characters’ real natures: describing a minor character Alonso, he writes “For some people violence is woven into their fabric, like the bright blood-red thread that his grandmother would weave into the turquoise and indigo serapes on her loom.” Then, when Will returns home from a trip, speaking of Chloe, he writes “She hates it when Will comes home in the middle of the night, wearing inebriated sexual arousal like a game-day athletic uniform…”

I can’t actually talk about the story without spoiling it… I can only relate that it was a long, slow buildup to the big reveal about the Travelers, and that the ride was incredibly well done. The really memorable thing for me is just the reading, finding out things along the way, as Pavone shows his  skills at describing both people and settings, which made for an enjoyable read.

For example, he talks about how, in a somewhat clandestine meeting, Will “Walks past the sneeze-guarded steam tables, suffused with the ineffable sadness of dinners plucked from a cheap deli’s salad bar.”

And relating the atmosphere in the city: “…the subway rumbles through one slum after another, graffiti on the station walls, the stench of urine when the doors open, busted overhead lights, the ever present possibility of malevolence amid all this malignant neglect, where the real-estate stick is unredeemed and unredeemable – housing projects and six-story apartment buildings with trash-strewn concrete courtyards, abandoned buildings alongside empty lots filled with junk and junkies, police-cruiser lights flashing and engines revving as the sedans race between disaster and tragedy, cops getting out warily, hands on holsters.” Seriously, this gave me the creeps and was so vivid I could both see and feel the scene.

It’s not just his skill with setting:  the description of people (both individually and in crowds)  is spot-on, as the following scene (which will resonate with anyone who has visited popular tourist destinations) shows: “This crowd is heavy on professional-looking tourists in their task-specific lightweight water-wicking manmade-fiber gear, with profuse zippers and pockets and mesh vents for breathability. There are hobbled undefeated old people, and panic-stricken Chinese, and towering magenta-haired German women and skinny smoky Frenchmen, everyone all pressed together, waiting to take the glossy brochure and hang the audio player around their necks, like digital cowbells.” Wow, I felt like I was back at the Smithsonian or the Louvre!

And then there are the moments when he leaves zero doubt about the people as he describes a scene, as when he visits the old man Katz, who has collected decades of magazines: “…a living room that’s an explosion of clutter, magazines and papers and books everywhere…the lingering aroma of pipe tobacco layered atop the fresh scent of takeout-Chines garlic with undertones of litter box. This is the type of room Will has nightmares about.” AWESOME!

As I said, for more than half the book, I was wondering where it was all going, although there were lots of clues, both subtle and not, along the way. But I KNEW it was going to all come together and it did! Thanks, NetGalley – FIVE STARS.

 

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

beforethefallcover

Whenever I see a blurb that says something like “…THE thriller to read in 2016!!” my reaction is something along the lines of “hmmm, I’ll be the judge of that.” So I was a bit of a skeptic going in to this one. Also, a bit of curiosity about whether this might come across as one of those novels that you just KNOW was written with a film or TV adaptation in mind, as the author has a successful history as a screenwriter and is currently show runner for the TV series Fargo. You know how some novels just fall apart at the end, with the obvious geared for the screen ending? Clearly, this one had challenges from me going in.

The basic plot is that on a Sunday evening at the end of August, a bunch of rich people plus a less-than-successful painter (for a total of 11 individuals) hop on a fancy private jet for a quick flight from Martha’s Vineyard to New York. A famous TV producer/media mogul, who weekends on the island in summer while his wife and their son and daughter have spent the entire month of August there, chartered the jet. It was during that month that the wife became friendly with the painter, Scott Burroughs, whose work she admired, so she offered to let him hop a ride on their flight rather than endure the ferry ride into the city on a Sunday night. Other passengers include their bodyguard and a Wall Street bigwig and his wife (friends/investors who are well-known to the producer and his wife), who we will learn are on the cusp of a financial meltdown. The crew includes a career pilot, a female flight attendant, and a copilot who steps in at the last minute as a replacement for the originally scheduled copilot, who is reported as having taken sick.

Sixteen minutes into the flight, the plane and its contents disappear into the Atlantic Ocean, and the only survivors are Scott and the media mogul’s 4-year old son, who clings to Scott’s back as they endure an unbelievably challenging swim to safety.

As it turns out, the boy stands to inherit an enormous fortune, and the mysterious crash suddenly looks like a conspiracy. Why else would so many influential people have died? As the mystery around the financial shenanigans of the Wall Street bigwig begin to be revealed, a huge media frenzy unfolds, spurred on by Fox-ish personalities whose outrage and accusations threaten to swallow Scott whole.

Questions of fate, chance and destiny run rampant through the book, and I enjoyed the thought-provoking way the events of the story were presented: “Everyone has their path. The choices they’ve made. How any two people end up in the same place at the same time is a mystery. You get on an elevator with a dozen strangers. You ride a bus, wait in line for the bathroom. It happens. To try to predict the places we’ll go and the people we’ll meet would be pointless.” Scott has lots of time to ponder the events that led him to this, and he tries to make sense of it all, as he consider “it is the job of the human brain to assemble all the input of our world—sights, sounds, smells—into a coherent narrative. This is what memory is, a carefully calibrated story that w make up about our past.”

The relationship between Scott and the boy whose life he saved is a key piece of the story, and as Scott turns the boy over to his aunt and uncle, he things it is “one of those critical junctures in life when you’re supposed to say something or do something, but you don’t know what. Only later does it hit you : later, the thing you should have said will be as clear as day, but right now it’s just a nagging feeling, a clenched jaw and low nausea.”

Two other themes are the role of journalism/entertainment in the media and the nature of art itself. Scott ponders the media circus that surrounds and considers how it might have been covered in the days of Cronkite, Mike Wallace, Woodward and Bernstein. The question becomes one of information versus entertainment. In looking at the nature of art, Scott considers that “to be an artist is to live at once in the world and apart from it. Where an engineer sees form and function, an artist sees meaning. A toaster, to the engineer, is an array of mechanical and electrical components that work together to apply heat to bread, creating toast.To the artist, a toaster is everything else. It is a comfort creation machine, one of many mechanical boxes in a dwelling that create the illusion of home.”

There is plenty of suspense, and I was eager to discover the reason for the crash, how Scott fit in to the picture, and how his relationship with the boy he had rescued would resolve. Too many spoiler possibilities, so I will just say I give it 5 stars: it held my interest, it made me think, and it made me care. I appreciate getting an advance copy of this in exchange for my honest review.

 

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).