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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Girl Who Came Back by Kerry Wilkinson

After reading Kerry Wilkinson's Two Sisters, I knew I'd be reading more books by this author.  When NetGalley offered The Girl Who Came Back, I quickly made my request.  

If anything, I liked this one even better than Two Sisters.  

Thirteen years earlier, Olivia Adams disappeared from her back garden.  Now, Olivia sits in a coffee shop observing her mother and unsure of whether or not she will approach her.

Olivia does reach out to her mother who has never given up hope.  But whether the young woman is Olivia or an impostor, whoever she is--she is not universally welcomed.

This one hooked me at the beginning and held my interest until the end.  Even when some of the puzzle works itself out, there are a few surprises to come.

Oh, yes, I will be seeking more of this young author's books!

(I've had this draft ready for a couple of weeks, holding out to schedule it for closer to publication date, but just read Lark's review of Good as Gone by Amy Gentry which has a plot that sounds similar.  I've added Gentry's book to my list as I want to compare the two novels.)

Read in July.


Psychological/Suspense.  Sept. 8, 2017.  Print length:  303 pages.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Salt Line, Friend Request, The Essence of Malice

The Salt Line by Holly Goddard Jones is a dystopian novel in which the world has been severely altered by disease carrying ticks.  Cities and communities have retreated behind salt lines to protect themselves.  The borders that protect communities also separate them from the beauties of nature, confining them to strictly urban lives.  There are, however, always adrenaline junkies who are willing to pay outfits for a "safe" trip into the wilderness.

The ticks are terrifying enough, but they are not the only problem that an adventurous group will encounter.

Given the serious diseases ticks transmit, the idea of a deadly tick-borne plague isn't as far-fetched as it may originally seem.  The latest threat from these tiny, parasitic arachnids is not from the usual culprit, the black-legged tick, but from the Lone Star Tick which causes an allergy to mammalian meat--beef, pork, or lamb.  

Tick bites can be serious enough without having the horrors that occur in the novel, but it does make one remember the devastation caused by the plague epidemic that resulted from bites from fleas infected with Yersina pestis.  

NetGalley/Penguin Group

Dystopian.  Sept. 5, 2017.  Print length:  400 pages.

Friend Request by Laura Marshall.  

How would you react to a Facebook friend request from a person who died over two decades ago?  Especially if you still felt guilty over some callous behavior involving that person?

Suspenseful, but no truly likable characters.  Louise, a middle-aged mother who receives the request from the long-dead Maria Weston, is caught in a web largely of her own making.  The strands originate in the past, but continue in the present as Louise tries to determine who really sent the request and why.  

While understanding Louise's guilt over her role in the kind of meanness that often occurs in adolescence, she never comes across as admirable.  In fact, while her behavior may be understandable in the realm of peer pressure and the search for acceptance, there is no way to condone her actions which certainly contributed to tragic results.

Several twists and turns, and the conclusion surprised me.  

An interesting premise.

NetGalley/Grand Central Publishing

Mystery/Suspense.  Sept. 5, 2017; July 2017.  Print length:  384 pages.

I just realized that I never reviewed the third novel in this series, but it wasn't my favorite.  

So The Essence of Malice moves from Lake Como to Paris and involves perfumery (do you scent the hint in the title?), Milo's old Nanny, and murder.   

These novels are reminiscent of the Golden Age of the British Detective Novel and deliberately so.  Some of the rules involved during this period included complicated plots, a clever murder and a clever detective, little graphic violence, little emphasis on character development,  all clues should be available to the reader, multiple suspects, etc.  

Weaver's novels follow the general outlines with, perhaps, a slightly more modern approach, and if you enjoy Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, or Margery Allingham, these novels should fill the bill.

My suspicions about Milo have yet to be confirmed, but hints are included.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press

Historical Mystery.  Sept. 5, 2017.  Print length:  320 pages.  

All of these were read in July, but are scheduled for August 14.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Little Boy Lost by J.D. Trafford

Little Boy Lost by J.D. Trafford.  Sometimes a book comes along that feels like a microcosm of our world, and Trafford's novel about the turbulence in St. Louis when a series of murders are discovered contains many of the elements society currently struggles with.

Jason Glass is a down and out lawyer from a mixed background.  His mother is white and his father is black; his white grandfather is a retired Federal District Court Judge who continues to hold great political influence; his black father, a U.S. Congressman, has recently decided to retire. Money and influence abound in this family, but Jason, who has been in a severe depression since the death of his wife, has neither.  

Tanisha, a young black girl, brings a pickle jar full of coins into Jason's office hoping to hire him to find her missing sixteen-year-old brother.  Jason explains that he is a lawyer, not the police or a detective.  (Or a charity, he thinks privately as he swelters in his office because he can't afford to have his air conditioner fixed.)  But Jason does end up promising to give Tanisha limited help.  

When Tanisha's brother is found, his is only one of many bodies of young black males buried in a secluded area.  Jason is quickly besieged by parents of missing boys who do not know if their sons are among the dead and who do not trust the police.

There are so many themes in this novel and all of them are treated respectfully, not glorified or exploited mawkishly.  It is a murder mystery by genre, but much more than that, the novel explores problems that are neither new nor likely to diminish any time soon.  

Initially, I wasn't sure whether I would like this one, but it didn't take long for me to become engaged not only with the characters, but with the way Trafford included important issues as part and parcel of the narrative without ever seeming pedantic or preachy.

A few quotes about some of the larger issues that may sound preachy out of context, but were skillfully submerged in the story:

"That's why Congress is so dysfunctional.  It isn't politics that's the problem.  It's the people who get into politics."

"The anonymous person had put Jimmy Poles on trial and convicted him through the Internet.  It was inflammatory.  It wasn't fair, but it was effective. ...This was the new world."

"Saint Louis had always had an identity crisis.  It was the intersection of North, South, East and West."

"The news reports were caricatures--information and images manipulated to support the political priorities of either the left or the right."

"'Oh, Mr. Glass, they never get tired of violence.' Then she looked out the window at the sky, maybe thinking about all the violence that she'd seen in Bosnia, thinking that most Americans didn't know how fragile things really were."


NetGalley/Thomas & Mercer

Crime/Politics.  Aug. 1, 2017.  Print length:  318 pages.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Blood & Ink and When You Disappeared

Well, this one was a surprise!  I chose it because I liked Randall Silvis' writing style in Two Days Gone, but what a difference!

Blood and Ink is a dark comedy about a literary mobster who falls in love, decides to change his life, and then encounters one disaster after another.  Nick is extremely well-read (he would have made a wonderful literature professor), but his day job involves working for a mob boss.  Since this has been his way of life since he was an adolescent, he is surprised by a general sense of dissatisfaction with his situation, which leads to a mid-life crisis, and  eventually, to his desire to be a better man.

Most of his attempts at becoming that better man result in one hilarious mishap after another and kept me grinning even as I worried about whether Nick would be able to survive all of obstacles that kept falling into his path and overcome his past.  Retirement is not always an option for a wise guy. 

Is Silvis doing a little parody of Quentin Tarantino?  Satirical humor, a little violence, but no murder and no gore.  In fact, Nick's crisis seems to coalesce while watching a film of extreme, but unrealistic violence.  The simmering qualms and foreboding Nick has been subconsciously harboring erupt, and Nick's anger is directed at the young writer/producer of the film.

Both Two Days Gone and Blood & Ink have a love of literature and skillful prose in common, but content and style are remarkably different.  Two Days is a psychological mystery/crime novel and Blood & Ink is a dark comedy of errors that keeps you rooting for the erudite and hapless Nick.

Although I usually eschew books about mobs or wise guys, Blood & Ink proved to be a fascinating and (mostly) funny romp with several unexpected surprises!  Recommended.  

Read in July.

Kindle Unlimited

Dark Comedy/Crime.  2015.  Print length:  230 pages.

When You Disappeared by John Marrs is another recent read that held genuine surprises.  As committed (addicted?) readers, we come to expect certain general plots and to be surprised when a narrative veers from what we anticipate.

When You Disappeared took me off that beaten path, proving surprising in a number of ways....

Catherine assumes her husband has gone for a run when she awakes to find him absent; when he doesn't return and fails to show up at work, she becomes worried.

Twenty-five years later, Simon turns up at her door and wants to tell Catherine his story.  Although Catherine doesn't particularly want to hear the story,  she desperately wants to know why a loving husband and father would leave his wife and three children with no forewarning that anything was wrong.

Alternating between past and present and between Catherine's voice and Simon's voice,  the reader begins accumulating information that informs each personality.  From the beginning, Simon insists that he will only tell Catherine the reason he left after recounting his story.  He intends to put a sting at the end to make certain Catherine realizes everything that has happened is her responsibility.

At first you might feel some sympathy for Simon, but his tendency to rationalize his decisions is questionable early on.  His subsequent behavior as he continues to relate it to Catherine becomes inexcusable.  I'm not quite sure his problem is specifically listed in the DSM.

Catherine's narrative covers the hardships of suddenly finding herself a single mother without adequate income, her grief over the loss of the man she loved intensely, her struggles to keep her children housed, fed, and emotionally healthy.  She refuses for years to believe that Simon left voluntarily, assuming that he is dead.

Clearly the initiating event occurred some time before Simon left, and a couple of possibilities that could have prompted Simon's behavior occurred to me, but the truth, when it finally arrived was even more disturbing.   

When You Disappeared is a compelling and disquieting novel that held my (sometimes reluctant) attention as Simon's self-satisfied and self-justified story is revealed.  

Read in July.  

Kindle Unlimited

Psychological Suspense.  July 13, 2017.  Print length:  350 pages. 

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Old Scores, Cold Harbor, The Tethered Mage, The Silent Shield

Old Scores by Will Thomas is a Barker & Llewelynn installment set in 1890 in London.  Shortly after the Japanese delegation visits Cyrus Barker's Japanese garden, the Japanese ambassador is murdered.  Barker is arrested and roughly interrogated by the Special Branch before being released.

Thomas Llewelynn, Barker's assistant, learns a little more about Barker's background in the search for the true murderer of the ambassador.  

This is the 9th book in the series, and I've only read one other, but I have enjoyed them.

Read in July; blog review scheduled for Aug. 3.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press/Minotaur Books

Historical Mystery.  Oct. 3, 2017.  Print length:  304 pages.

Cold Harbor by Matthew Fitzsimmons is the third book in the Gibson Vaughn series.   

Excerpt from book description:  After a period of brutal isolation in a CIA black-site prison, former Marine and gifted hacker Gibson Vaughn is free—but with no idea where he was or how much time he’s lost. Struggling to maintain his grip on reality, he races to return to the life he left behind. Angry and disoriented, his thoughts turn to vengeance and the man responsible for his rendition. 

 It isn't that I didn't enjoy this one, but The Short Drop, the first in the series is by far my favorite.  I was glad to see some of the characters from the first book.

Read in June; blog review scheduled for Aug. 3.

NetGalley/Thomas & Mercer

Suspense.  Oct. 10, 2017.  Print length:  318 pages.  

The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso posits a world where mages are identified early and "drafted" into the Falcon Army, controlled by a Falconer.  Young Zaire has managed to hide her mage-mark and powerful talent for years, but is eventually caught in a situation that changes everything for both Zaire and Amalia Cordaro, who inadvertently becomes Zaire's Falconer.  A Falcon's magic is controlled by magical bracelets known as jesses, and only a Falconer unlock the bracelets to release the magic.

Political intrigue, mystery and magic, and two strong female characters.  An interesting premise.  Did I like it?  Yes, but I didn't love it.  I'll see what the next in the series holds before firming up my opinion.  

Read in June; blog review scheduled for ??

NetGalley/Orbit Books

Fantasy.  Oct. 24, 2017.  Print length:  480 pages.

The Silent Shield by Jeff Wheeler is the fifth entry in this series that I originally thought would be a trilogy.  

The threatened invasion by Gahalatine and his powerful Wizrs, the disappearance of Own Kiskaddon, the departure of King Andrew's own powerful Wizr has Kingfountain in turmoil.  

Trynne, who misses her father and must face the immediate departure of her mother, must put her concerns aside and focus on who might be willing to betray the kingdom.  Her two top suspects include Fallon, the man she has cared for since childhood, and her mother's apprentice, a friend she no longer trusts.

An excellent addition to this series that transforms both British history and the Arthurian legends into a fantasy that provides intriguing characters and suspenseful action.  My only quibble was the conclusion, but perhaps this is a result of a modern outlook.  And anyway, there is one more book to come that might resolve my personal issue!

Read in June; blog review scheduled for Aug. 3

NetGalley/47 North

Fantasy.  Aug. 22, 2017.  Print length:  304 pages.  

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Shattered by Allison Brennan

Shattered by Allison Brennan.  In spite of the fact that this book unites multiple characters from two different series (which made a lot to absorb, since I've not read either series before), I found myself engrossed with the plot.

Maxine Revere, an investigative reporter (with her own series), reluctantly becomes intrigued when an old friend requests her help.  His wife has been charged with the murder of their young son, and he wants Max to help prove her innocence.  He has information that connects three cold cases with remarkably similar elements.  If the same person is responsible for the cold cases that match the murder of his son, then his wife will be exonerated.

Max's attention with the first of the cold cases requires her to accept a partnership with Lucy Kincaid, a rookie FBI agent and the aunt of the first murdered child.  (Brennan's Lucy Kincaid also has a lengthy series.)  Both women are sincere in their search for answers, but trust between a reporter and an FBI agent is difficult.

While I didn't find the plot especially believable for a number of reasons and there were constant references to past adventures from the two separate series, I nevertheless was quickly immersed in the story.  

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press

Mystery.  Crime.  August 22, 2017.  Print length:  368 pages.