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

 

Murder in the Courthouse by Nancy Grace

OK, I admit to watching Nancy Grace years ago before she was quite as…Nancy Grace as she is now. Recently I’ve just thought of her as the woman-in-danger-true-crime obsessed blonde who is quick to label males suspects as guilty (admittedly, she is often right).

Apparently, she has written other novels, including two others featuring the protagonist Hailey Dean, the prosecutor who has never lost a case. In this third in the series, Hailey goes to Savannah, GA to testify as an expert witness and, while there, she gets embroiled in other murders…so far, so good. But the details of a man murdering his pregnant wife and then hers and the baby’s (fetus’s?) bodies washing up after being dumped in a body of water…it made me wish Nancy had written a more original plot. It isn’t like she was writing a roman a clef — too many differences. In any case, that kept getting in the way of my being able to just go with the story and assess this book fairly.

I do think that this might be perfect for the people who want something light with a mystery and some twists to read while sitting on the beach. Nothing that makes you think too much, you know? But it just wasn’t my thing.

Thanks to BenBella Books and NetGalley for a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review. Two stars.

Deadly Obsessions: Three True Crime Sagas by Joan Barthel

What a deal for true crime junkies!!! Three books in one, and all of them fascinating!

The first story, A Death in California, is way more interesting than its generic title might suggest. More than thirty years ago, a beautiful Beverly Hills socialite named Hope Masters fell in love with Bill Ashlock, a handsome advertising executive in Los Angeles. She had been married an divorced twice, but she thought her life was finally turning around – and then this bizarro story: she and Bill went to her family’s ranch in Central California, and were joined by a new acquaintance of Bill’s for a weekend getaway and supposedly a photo shoot. The next day, Hope wakes up with a gun in her mouth and her Bill dead in the next room. Then, after a weekend of rape and torture, Hope began to fall in love with Taylor Wright, the killer.

There is more family dysfunction than you can imagine, and I don’t think anyone will ever know what really happened…but this is another case set in Los Angeles, where you can definitely get all the justice money can buy.

The second book is A Death in Canaan. When eighteen-year-old Peter Reilly arrived home to find his mother naked on the floor with her throat slashed, he was immediately the prime suspect. local police made him their prime suspect. After eight hours of interrogation and a polygraph test, Peter confessed following many hours of harsh interrogation and a lie detector test. But the people in Canaan, CT couldn’t believe he did it, and they began a campaign to seek justice. It reminded me of Adnan Syed, where the police first decide on a suspect, then look for evidence (and, ideally, a confession) to point to that suspect as the killer, without looking anywhere else. Scary stuff.

Finally, in Love or Honor, a police officer named Chris Anastos, who was happily married and busily working on the NYPD’s anti-crime unit, was assigned to go undercover in order to investigate possible links between the Italian mob and a Greek criminal network in Queens. Anastos did this for five years, going back and forth between his comfortable home life and a criminal underground world of “wise guys, pimps, and thieves.” Then he fell in love with the daughter of a Long Island gangster…what could POSSIBLY go wrong?!?!

Excellently written, and sure to be enjoyed by fans of true crime. Four stars and thanks to Open Road Integrated Media and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my review.

 

Fatal Deceptions by Joe Sharkey

WHAT?!?! Khalessi as a murder victim? Daenerys Targarian a wife whose husband cheats on her? OK, now that I have your attention, Joe Sharkey’s book Fatal Deceptions is a collection of three previously published true crime books, one of which has been made into a movie starring Emilia Clarke of Game of Thrones fame, set for 2017 release. And, thanks to Open Road Integrated Media and NetGalley, I received a copy in exchange for my honest review.

The first story, Above Suspicion, is the one that is “soon to be a major motion picture.” A well-written story, this is the true account of Mark Putnam, the only FBI agent ever to confess to murder. In his first posting, he was assigned to Pikeville, Kentucky, he was a real go-getter as he cultivated paid informants, broke up drug rings, and captured bank robbers. He was a rising star in the Bureau, but he became too close to one informant (played by Emilia Clarke). When she fell in love with the Bureau’s rising star, things spiraled so far out of control you could just FEEL the inevitable train wreck coming.

The second story was made into a movie (“Goodnight, Sweet Wife”) in the 1990s. Deadly Greed tells the story of Charles Stuart who called to report to the police that he and his wife, Carol, were in a car and had been robbed and shot by a black male on the streets of Boston. By the time police arrived, Carol was dead, and the baby, delivered at 7 months, died soon after. There was a media frenzy as politicians and police administrators jumped on the story. Charles, a really disgusting creep, then identified a suspect and the media frenzy continued. But the only killer was Charles himself. This story resonated with me for the parallels with stories about the police today who first identify a suspect and then gather their evidence to support that story. Ugh.

In the final story, Death Sentence the vice president of a Jersey City bank moved his mother, wife, and three teenage children into a nineteen-room mansion in Westfield, New Jersey. Then he lost his job and everything changed. So fearful of what this and the changing social mores as the 1960s became the 1970s would do to his children, his solution was to shoot the entire family then disappear, taking on a new identity.

Summing up, three well-written books in the true crime genre all in one package. By the time you finish these, your concerns about police may be deepened, and you will likely think something along the lines of “What the ^&*% was he thinking?”  Four 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 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.

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.

I Found You by Lisa Jewell

COVER Jewell I found you

It’s been awhile since I read a book that I COULD NOT PUT DOWN.  Well, thanks to Lisa Jewell (and to Atria Books and NetGalley, for providing a copy of I Found You in exchange for my honest review), I had that lovely experience during the past 24 hours.

The weird thing is, I had read the blurb on this one and kind of set it aside for awhile, thinking it was just another woman-in-danger-England-Gone Girl-wannabe, and I have read quite enough of those in the past 6 months to last me awhile.

But once I dove in, I was hooked — and FAST. There are three things going on in this book: 20+ years ago, in a resort town on the coast, three teenagers had a vacation encounter. Back to today, we learn that the newlywed husband of a young woman named Lily (recently arrived from Ukraine) doesn’t come home one night – and seems to have disappeared. And then, the police tell Lily that her husband never existed. At the same time, in a small town, a single woman named Alice encounters a man on the beach who seems to have amnesia. Of course, the first guess is he must be Lily’s missing husband, right? Nope.

The story is told in alternating chapters, with twists and turns as the three stories veer toward and away from each other, leading up to a great conclusion.

Jewell does a great job keeping the reader guessing (or at least she kept ME guessing) until very near the end. Well-developed characters, a nifty plotline and good suspense. Five stars just because I had such a good time reading it!

 

 

A Stranger In the House by Shari Lapena

COVER Lapena Stranger in the House.jpg

The new novel by Shari Lapena, author of The Couple Next Door, has gotten a lot of buzz, and I’m a big fan of psychological suspense, so I was happy to get an advance copy of A Stranger In the House (thanks to Penguin Group/Viking and NetGalley) in exchange for my honest review.

In the prologue, a woman named Karen is rushing to escape something, driving wildly across town, and runs headlong into a light pole. Her husband, Tom, comes home and finds the door unlocked, Karen’s car gone, but her purse and cell phone in the house. It doesn’t make sense to him, but he soon finds out Karen is in the hospital, suffering from amnesia.

They love in a comfy neighborhood: “People who live here are successful and settled; everyone’s a little bit smug.” There is a nosy neighbor who seems way too interested in everyone else’s business, and she is only too happy to talk to the two detectives who come around looking into a murder that happened right where Karen’s accident happened – in a part of town where people like her just don’t go.

There are lots of twists and turns to keep the reader glued to the story until the unexpected ending – but it might not be unexpected for everyone; I am notoriously bad at seeing these “unexpected” endings coming.

I wasn’t wild about Karen or Tom, but the plot kept me happy. It’s a clever, suspenseful thriller of the woman in peril genre, and will be appreciated by fans of Gone Girl, Girl on a Train, etc. I think I may not remember much about it in a few weeks, other than the “oh yeah, I liked that one” memory. I will recommend it to people, though, so it’s a solid four stars.

 

Actual Malice by Breton Peace and Gary Condit

Cover Peace Actual Malice

Admittedly, the true crime genre is a guilty pleasure of mine. I also follow politics, so the whole sad, sordid Chandra Levy saga looked to be right up my alley, and eagerly anticipated reading Actual Malice by Breton Peace, published in fall, 2016. I appreciate receiving a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review – thanks to Ghost Mountain Press and NetGalley.

It’s difficult to describe my level of disappointment in this book. It was described asa true crime thriller that will take you through the backrooms of political gamesmanship, deception, and cover-up.” For me, not so much! Where to begin??

This book presents the reader with the story (or at least one view of the story) of 24-year-old Chandra Levy, a  constituent of Congressman Gary Condit of California’s Central Valley, and her disappearance in 2001 just as her internship with the federal Bureau of Prisons in Washington, D.C. came to an end. As the investigation into her disappearance unfolded, it was on the news 24/7 after Condit was revealed to be “involved” with Chandra. Good grief, it was on the news 24/7 and Condit came off looking suspiciously like a lecherous creep. I was hoping the book might reveal some backstory that would make the whole thing at least a tiny bit less creepy.

Alas, even though this book was co-authored by Condit himself and therefore clearly meant to present him in at least a slightly favorable light, he still comes off as a lecherous creep!

I did enjoy the parts of the book describing Condit’s role as a “blue dog Democrat” in the sort-of-sleazy world of California politics, as he worked closely with Assembly Speaker Willie Brown in a rapid rise to power. Condit was photogenic, charming, and ostensibly able to “work across the aisle.” Anyone with an interest in politics would find this interesting, and I did, although I kept being distracted by the gigantic need for an editor (example: when Condit’s chief of staff was described as “pouring over newspapers.” Ugh. Lots of errors like this that, to some of us, are visual fingernails on a blackboard!)

When he left California to take on the role of Representative in Washington, Condit was part of a coalition that delivered bipartisan victories during Clinton’s second term and sat on the House Intelligence Committee. It seemed like he had accomplished something that seems impossible in today’s political climate—genuine political independence from both sides of the aisle. Should have been golden, right? Well, no.

Despite all this promise, Condit seemed to have several red flags, including his relationship with his driver/bodyguard Vince Flammini, who comes across like a character from Goodfellas – or at least a wannabe in that vein. And as the Levy story is devoured by the media, stories of Condit’s womanizing emerge, contributing to the less-than-flattering picture of him.

So, overall, my four big takeaways from this book are:

  • Chandra Levy’s disappearance (and murder) is a sad tale, made even more so when you consider that the case was never solved.
  • Police often seem to find a suspect and then tailor their investigation to fit that storyline.
  • The media is an insatiable beast, especially when sex and politics are involved.
  • Men (including high-profile politicians) who can’t keep it in their pants say and do really stupid things.

Actual Malice is presented as a book that chronicles in vivid detail the heartache and intrigue behind the salacious, if fanciful, headlines that too often drive public debate and derail the serious business of our nation and its system of justice.” Really? To me, it comes across as almost a puff piece, sort of gliding over the facts that demonstrate that yes, Condit was a lecherous creep who betrayed his family as well as his constituents. I am actually surprised and a bit disappointed in myself as I admit that I expected more – even though Condit was co-author. Duh. What was I thinking?

I couldn’t resist — I knew that Condit has lost his bid for re-election and faded away, but I just had to look and see what became of him: according to the Washington Post, “Condit has written a book but allegedly can’t find a publisher. Soon after leaving politics, he invested in Baskin-Robbins ice cream franchises. The stores failed and prompted a breach-of-contract suit in which Condit was ordered to pay about $98,000. A source close to the Condit family says Gary has long since left the ice cream business.”

Like I said, sad. Two stars. I rarely give anything fewer than three, but this one was just awful in so many ways. Despite the effort of the two authors to present Condit in a positive light, I still felt like I need a shower.

 

 

No Turning Back by Tracy Buchanan

COVER Buchanan No Turning Back

As a teacher, I was always kind of a softie – an easy grader. And I suspect that is true of my reviews as well. And I REALLY liked the sound of this one: “emotional roller coaster filled with heart-stopping secrets and hairpin turns.” Sounds like my kind of escapist fiction! So, when I received an advance copy of Tracy Buchanan’s No Turning Back courtesy of Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley, I was ready for a good time!

The premise is interesting, and the beginning is strong. In fact, reading the prologue, I was sure it would be awesome: “My heart pounds, a bird trying to flutter its way out of a cage. I’m breathing fast and heavy, my bare shoulders scraping the brick with each movement. But I keep looking up, not care about the pain. He hunches down, his pale fingers curling around the wooden slats above. I hear his breath, deep and low.” THAT creeped me out, and I was sure that an author who could set a scene of danger so vividly would meet my standards for a good mystery/thriller. I read on…

In this novel, Anna Graves is a new mother who has recently gone back to her work as a radio personality following the breakup of her marriage. She is walking on the beach with her daughter one evening when she sees a group of teenagers who are not people she knows. Alert to any risk to her daughter, she is stunned to see another teenager (not part of the group) coming at her with a knife.

Adrenalin kicks in along with terror, and Anna reacts instinctively to protect her baby. The result is a tragedy but Anna and her daughter are both safe. Then her life starts to fall apart, and we watch Anna falling apart following this event and the re-emergence of the “Ophelia Killer,” a serial killer who hasn’t been heard from for twenty years. The killings stopped right when Anna’s father committed suicide (red flag alert). That event sent her mother over the edge, and Anna has bonded with her grandmother, who has always been her source of comfort.

So far, so good. And I appreciate the way the author let the reader know about Anna’s journalistic instincts. “She just had what her dad used to call the “crowd’s gut”: a natural instinct to know what the zeitgeist was at any given time.” Nice!

But things fell apart for me as the clues mounted, and the revelations about both the current mystery and the events from twenty years earlier began to mount up. At the end, I just wanted it to be over.

I looked at the author’s other titles and think that if I had looked at any of her previous work I would not have been interested in this one. But damn did the marketing people put on a good case! I was convinced, and again, it started strong. I might consider looking at her work again, because she does have strengths in the genre. But it wasn’t put on my favorite new author list. Easy grader that I am, three stars.

 

Tell Me No Lies by Lisa Hall

cover-hall-tell-me-no-lies

After the national election, I was in desperate need of some real escapist fiction. I wanted something that would drag me in to the story, keep me guessing, hold me MESMERIZED for at least a couple of days — you know the kind of book I mean! So, thanks to Carina UK and NetGalley, I had a copy of this new title from Lisa Hall (provided in exchange for my honest review).

The premise is that Stephanie and Mark have moved to a new home for  “fresh start” (at first we aren’t sure why they need one). They have an adorable little boy named Henry and Steph is pregnant with their second child. The new neighbors include Laurence, the man next door (for whom Steph feels instant attraction), and Lila, the pretty woman across the way who wants to befriend Steph (and possibly replace Tessa, Steph’s long-time BFF who has moved to New York. I was drawn into the story immediately, especially as the reader is quickly provided references to why a new start is needed, as well as what the “thing” was that happened to Steph when she was a teenager, which has left deep psychological scars. Also, what’s up with Mark being gone so much? Is it really work? And who is the mystery man seen over and over in Lila’s house? And who is leaving creepy “gifts” on Steph’s front porch?

Steph is being encouraged to keep seeing her shrink — in fact, it feels almost like Mark is bullying her. Is there some reason he is so controlling? So, there are lots of components to the “keep me guessing” part! And yes I was pretty mesmerized for a day and a half, while I kept reading (and, thank you very much, during that time I hardly thought about the election at all). But — and here is the hard part: how to say what I really think without spoiling anything for someone else. I think I just have to say it, I HATED the ending. Maybe that was the goal of this author….or maybe the idea of a sequel is so strong, it had to end as it did? Whatever the motivation, bottom line is I enjoyed the experience of reading it….and I HATED the ending. So, four stars.