Book Review: The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

The Wife Between Us
Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
St. Martin’s Press, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-250-13092-1
Hardcover

From the publisher—

When you read this book, you will make many assumptions.
You will assume you are reading about a jealous ex-wife.
You will assume she is obsessed with her replacement – a beautiful, younger woman who is about to marry the man they both love.
You will assume you know the anatomy of this tangled love triangle.
Assume nothing.

Twisted and deliciously chilling, Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen’s The Wife Between Us exposes the secret complexities of an enviable marriage – and the dangerous truths we ignore in the name of love.

Read between the lies.

Take a good look at that cover. Don’t those two women look an awful lot alike? When I first saw it and read the description, I couldn’t help wondering if this was going to be like one of those serial killer things where the guy has an obsession for women who resemble each other and someone who was once very important to him (yes, I’m being sexist; it’s simpler and it’s almost always men killing women). So, was I right? I’m not telling because that would ruin the enormous surprise at the end 😉

Without a doubt, The Wife Between Us is one of the most intense and page-turning books I’ve read and it turned my expectations completely on end. Most of all, I was impressed by how often I was surprised, perhaps because I trusted too much, like at least one of the three people in this tale of treachery and love. Then again, are any of them really on the up-and-up? Vanessa, Richard, Nellie—are any of them real?

I’m in awe of any author who can create a story and characters as compelling as in this book but I’m purely amazed that two authors could collaborate so extremely well. I suspect their ability to do this has at least something to do with one being an already accomplished author and the other being her editor; they had a certain connection, if you will, and it really shows in the quality of their writing. I really hope this is the beginning of a long-running partnership that will bring us many more books to keep me up at night.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2018.

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Spotlight on Just Between Us by Rebecca Drake

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Title: Just Between Us
Author: Rebecca Drake
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Publication Date: January 9, 2018
Genres: Mystery, Psychological Suspense

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Purchase Links:

              

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Synopsis

Alison, Julie, Sarah, Heather. Four friends living the suburban
ideal. Their jobs are steady, their kids are healthy. They’re as
beautiful as their houses. But each of them has a dirty little
secret, and hidden behind the veneer of their perfect lives is a
crime and a mystery that will consume them all.

Everything starts to unravel when Alison spots a nasty bruise on
Heather’s wrist. She shares her suspicions with Julie and Sarah,
compelling all three to investigate what looks like an increasingly
violent marriage. As mysterious injuries and erratic behavior
mount, Heather can no longer deny the abuse, but she refuses to leave
her husband. Desperate to save her, Alison and the others dread the
phone call telling them that she’s been killed. But when that call finally
comes, it’s not Heather who’s dead. In a moment they’ll come to regret,
the women must decide what lengths they’ll go to in order to help a friend.

Just Between Us is a thrilling glimpse into the underbelly of suburbia,
where not all neighbors can be trusted, and even the closest friends
keep dangerous secrets. You never really know what goes
on in another person’s mind, or in their marriage.

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A Few Words from the Author

The Power of Language or Things Aren’t Always What They Seem

When I was 13 years old, and living in Indiana, I took over a friend’s paper route. I’d done a lot of babysitting, but this was my first “real” job. In those days, carriers for the Bloomington Herald Telephone collected the paper’s fee directly, carrying a book that had each customer’s name and address along with tear-off receipts. The daily paper cost a grand total of $4.30 a month. Laura, the girl whose route I’d taken over, had written notes next to the name of every customer. Most of them were innocuous comments about where customers liked their papers to be placed, but sometimes they carried warnings about mean dogs or their owners, and in one case she’d written next to a man’s name:  “Exhibitionist!”

That customer was an old man who always seemed to be home when I delivered his paper, inviting me inside to see his “collections” with a seemingly friendly smile. I would always politely decline, hustling away from his house as fast as I could.  But he was persistent, repeatedly inviting me in. Sometimes I’d catch a glimpse of his wife and I was aghast that he’d try this with her no more than a few feet away. She seemed perfectly harmless, but her husband was a creepy old man and I wasn’t about to become his latest victim.

However, it had been drilled into me by my mother to be polite and respectful to adults, and by the paper company that the customer was always right, and so the day finally came when I could no longer refuse the old man’s offer.  I was frightened as I stepped over the threshold, but I could see his wife puttering about in the kitchen at the back of the house and I figured I could scream or outrun him if he tried anything. The old man was thrilled I was there, showing me a button collection displayed on his walls, but then he said I had to see the “surprise” in his basement. I tried to say no, insisting that I had to leave, but he was adamant, blocking my exit and shooing me toward his basement door.

I wrapped a spare newspaper tightly in my hands as we descended the dark stairs, filled with the delusion of the desperate that I’d whack him with this “weapon” when he attacked me. I could see nothing as we reached the bottom; the basement was completely black and I was terrified. I heard fumbling behind me, and I wheeled around, paper raised, just as the entire basement suddenly lit up. There, spread out across multiple display tables, was an enormous model train village. The old man waved his hand proudly at it as he excitedly told me about plans to show off this labor of love at his next “exhibition.”

That’s when I learned the power and importance of language.

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About the Author

Rebecca Drake is the author of the novels Don’t Be Afraid, The Next Killing, The Dead Place, which was an IMBA bestseller, and Only Ever You, as well as the short story “Loaded,” which was featured in Pittsburgh Noir. A graduate of Penn State University and former journalist, she is currently an instructor in Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction M.F.A. program. Rebecca lives in Pittsburgh, PA, with her husband and two children.

Photo credit Joseph Mertz

Website: https://www.rebeccadrake.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rebecca.drake.writer/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AuthorRDrake

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“A twisty, domestic thriller […] tense, bombshell-laden,
and action-packed.” — Publisher’s Weekly

“Female friendships flourish, then falter, under the weight of
chance events underlaid by secrecy and deceit […] Drake
shows a sure hand in spinning suburban thrillers.” —Booklist

“Fans of Liane Moriarty and B.A. Paris are going to love this twisty,
diabolical suburban thriller. Clear your evening, you won’t be able to put
it down.” — J.T. Ellison, New York Times bestselling author of Lie to Me 

A Frenchman, Odette, and a Book-within-a-Book

LISE McCLENDON is the author of fourteen novels of suspense, mystery, crime, and wise-crackery. She writes the Bennett Sisters Mystery series, as well as series set in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and WW2-era Kansas City. As Rory Tate she’s written two thrillers, Plan X and Jump Cut. She co-wrote the dark comic thriller, Beat Slay Love, with four other mystery writers calling themselves Thalia Filbert. Her short story is included in the new anthology edited by Gary Phillips, The Obama Inheritance. Lise served on the national boards of Mystery Writers of America and the North American chapter of International Crime Writers. She lives in Montana and at lisemcclendon.com

My latest mystery about five lawyer sisters, The Frenchman, is the fifth in the series. It tells the story of Merle Bennett, the middle sister, who goes to France to write her own novel and renovate her stone cottage. Sure that La Belle France will cure all her ills, she sets out to prove her theory correct. Pascal, her Frenchman, scoffs at this. He says, “You think France is a gastronomic Disneyland full of sunflowers!”  As a policeman he knows France is pretty to look at but not as delightful under the surface.

While Merle writes and renovates, Pascal encounters an old enemy in the vineyards, a man he put in prison years before. When Pascal disappears Merle isn’t sure if their relationship is over, or something terrible has happened.

A soupçon of danger, a brush with ‘madame guillotine,’ and the quirky characters of the countryside, all collide in France where, obviously,wine, sunflowers, and Frenchmen cure all ills. Or do they?

Chapters of Merle’s book, Odette and the Great Fear are included inside The Frenchman. It’s a book-within-a-book.

Of course there is a book inside those covers, or behind that e-book screen. But these are separate stories, two books. But how does that work? Does— the author hopes— one story reflect, develop, and deepen the other? What’s the point otherwise?

That was the challenge I set for myself when I wrote The Frenchman, the newest in the Bennett Sisters Mystery series. In the story, the main character, Merle Bennett, goes to France for an extended stay to let the beauty of France soothe her soul (as we do) and write her gothic romance she alluded to at the end of the previous book in the series, The Things We Said Today. In that story she is briefly in France during the time of her sister’s wedding in Scotland. While watching the cherry blossoms fall and getting dreamy, she has an idea: write a gothic romance like she and her sisters loved to read when they were younger. A character came to her, based on the neighbor’s goat farm. Her character would be a goat herder during the French Revolution. It would be a way to incorporate some history, always a bonus for me (and Merle, naturally.)

As research I searched for other books-within-books. I found a mystery that includes one, The Magpie Murders by British author Anthony Horowitz. This classical-style mystery in the vein of Agatha Christie features chapters from another puzzle mystery written by a curmudgeon of an author with a Hercule Poirot-type detective. As Janet Maslin said in the New York Times: “Magpie Murders is a double puzzle for puzzle fans, who don’t often get the classicism they want from contemporary thrillers.”

Although there are parallels between the two stories in Magpie Murders — and I admit puzzle mysteries aren’t my usual cup of Earl Grey — in my opinion the plots of the two mysteries didn’t really reflect on each other. One is a foil for the other but they are separate stories, separate mysteries, so as Maslin says, double the fun for puzzle fans.

After reading this book I realized that, for me, for the inside story to work it had to be close to the main story in some way, either in ideas or plot or something. Without this connection your mind just bounces from story to story, unable to connect the dots. So I worked hard when writing the nine chapters of Odette and the Great Fear that are included in The Frenchman, to make the stories hang together.

Then there is the issue of history in a story. The French Revolution was a rolling nightmare that didn’t begin or end with the beheading of the king and queen. It lasted for ten years, until a short guy named Bonaparte ended it all. Unlike the American Revolution of the same period, there was no happy ending, only more war and deprivation and monarchs. But the French Revolution did change France– and the world– in remarkable and lasting ways, and I hoped to show some of that in Odette.

Because with a scant few chapters and a real story to portray within them, there wasn’t a lot of space left for exposition about the Committee for Public Safety, or the Commune, or the storming of the Bastille. So the explicit history of the period is implied. (If you’re interested in the French Revolution I recommend Peter McPhee’s Liberty or Death.)

With The Frenchman done, and the included chapters of Odette as seamless and reflective of the main story as I could make them, I then turned back to Odette to flesh out her story.

Odette and the Great Fear now has nearly 20 chapters and more back-story into the characters and what happens to them. It was such a fascinating, chaotic time. I wondered what a young merchant’s daughter, radicalized by the Parisian women who marched to Versailles to demand decent wheat prices so their families wouldn’t starve, might do after all that. Their protest reflected a panic in France that elites and royalty were trying to starve them out, hence ‘The Great Fear.’ Like all good gossip it spread like wildfire and contributed to violence and a general terror in the populace.

Many people were displaced in France, not to mention beheaded. Odette wanders south by foot, to the Dordogne, and finds a farmer in need of a goat herder. It’s not her favorite job — goats don’t follow directions. She can’t stay forever. She’s a city girl at heart but she’s grateful to the farmer and his wife for taking her in, giving her food and a place to sleep, things she took for granted before the Revolution. When she finds a wounded man near the farm, her life changes. Who is this handsome soldier? Why is he so secretive about his past? Because this is a gothic romance there is a creepy, half-burned chateau, a scary, scarred noble, and a bunch of rabble-rousing villagers. I like to think Merle would have been proud.

I’d love to hear what you think about my success, or lack thereof, of my book-inside-a-book experiment. Both The Frenchman and it’s spin-off, Odette and the Great Fear, are available wherever books are sold.

iTunes   Amazon    Nook    KOBO

Book Review: The Woman in the Camphor Trunk by Jennifer Kincheloe

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Title: The Woman in the Camphor Trunk
Series: An Anna Blanc Mystery #2
Author: Jennifer Kincheloe
Narrator: Moira Quirk
Publication Date: December 6, 2017

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Purchase Links:

Audible // iTunes // Amazon

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The Woman in the Camphor Trunk
An Anna Blanc Mystery #2
Jennifer Kincheloe
Narrated by Moira Quirk
Jennifer R. Kincheloe, Ltd.,
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook
Also available in trade paperback from Seventh Street Books

From the author—

Los Angeles, 1908. In Chinatown, the most dangerous beat in Los Angeles, police matron Anna Blanc and her former sweetheart, Detective Joe Singer, discover the body of a white missionary woman, stuffed in a trunk in the apartment of her Chinese lover. Her lover has fled. If news gets out that a white woman was murdered in Chinatown, there will be a violent backlash against the Chinese. Joe and Anna plan to solve the crime quietly and keep the death a secret. So does good-looking Mr. Jones, a prominent Chinese leader who has mixed feelings about helping the LAPD and about Anna.

Meanwhile, the Hop Sing tong has kidnapped two slave girls from the Bing Kong tong, fuelling existing tensions. They are poised on the verge of a bloody tong war that would put all Chinatown residents in danger.

Joe orders Anna out of Chinatown to keep her safe, but to atone for her own family’s sins, Anna must stay to solve the crime before news of the murder is leaked and Chinatown explodes.

There’s something about turn-of-the-century fiction that really appeals to me and I can’t truly put my finger on just what it is. Maybe it’s the knowledge that things are on the very edge of tremendous change and that life is going to become quite different as well as a good deal less innocent.

Anna is the epitome of these coming changes. Raised in a privileged society, she yearns for something that will engage her intelligence and her interest in people who aren’t nearly so well off and she’s willing to fight for her ambitions (although “ambition” isn’t entirely the right word). Having found that she’s good at detective work—she’s curious and very smart, not to mention bold enough to go after what she considers justice—she goes where no woman has gone before, so to speak, throwing societal mores to the wind. Anna isn’t allowed to be an actual detective but she gets a lot done as an assistant police matron.

This time, Anna is involved in investigating the murder of a white woman in Chinatown which, of course, exposes her to a world very different from anything she’s known before with tongs, brothels, opium dens and the like. At first, she’s assigned to work with Joe Singer but, due to some unfortunate circumstances, she soon has to develop her own leads, much to the dismay of every man she knows.

With a lot of humor from Anna, we get a good taste of how things were at that time and how a feisty young woman could get around some of the restrictions placed on women (and the painful consequences of defying society). The narrator, Moira Quirk, does a wonderful job of bringing Anna to life and, in fact, she makes me think of an older Flavia de Luce transported to America in an earlier day. The combination of Ms. Kincheloe’s well-researched and lively story and characters along with Ms. Quirk’s talent make for a wonderful tale, the first I’ll be adding to my list of favorite books read in 2018.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2018.

About the Author

Jennifer has been a block layer, a nurse’s aid, a fragrance model, and on the research faculty at UCLA, where she spent 11 years conducting studies to inform health policy. A native of Southern California, she now lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband and two teenagers. She’s currently writing book three in the Anna Blanc Mystery series. Book two, THE WOMAN IN THE CAMPHOR TRUNK, came out in Fall of 2017 from Seventh Street Books.

Website // Facebook // Twitter // Goodreads // Pinterest

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About the Narrator

Moira grew up in teeny-tiny Rutland, England’s smallest county, which is fitting as she never managed to make it past five feet herself.  Moira’s work spans the pantheon of the voiceover world: plays for BBC radio, plays for NPR, video games, commercials, television promos, podcasts, cartoons, movies and award winning audiobooks. She’s won Multiple Audie Awards, Earphone Awards, as well as Audible’s prestigious Book-of-the-Year Award. She has lately set foot in front of the camera again, appearing in “Pretty: the Series” and the Emmy-winning “Dirty Work.”

Website // Facebook

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Play an excerpt here.

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Follow the tour here.

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Book Review: Disappeared by Francisco X. Stork

Disappeared
Francisco X. Stork
Arthur A. Levine Books, October 2017
ISBN 978-0-545-94447-2
Hardcover

Existence in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico requires a combination of courage, vigilance and restraint.  The typical work-day commute equals exposure to potential harassment and harm.  Truly dangerous, totally unavoidable.  Students don’t have the luxury of focusing on academics or sports.  Families need financial support.

Emiliano attends his high school classes and participates on his soccer team, but he focuses on family and ‘his’ Jiparis.  Intelligent, innovative and driven, Emiliano creates a small business of collecting hand-made folk art from his pseudo-Mexican-Boy Scouts, which he sells to small shops. The Jiparis’ families receive the bulk of proceeds, of course, but Emiliano’s cut helps at home and his business has been noticed.

A journalist with El Sol, Emiliano’s sister writes a weekly column about the city’s missing girls.  Sara had shared her own story of loss, writing of the day her best friend was kidnapped.  Friends and family members of other missing girls responded to her article, and Sara was assigned a weekly column.  After reporting progress, Sara was stunned when she was ordered to drop the investigation and the article.

Emiliano becomes acquainted with several of the city’s successful businessmen and his views seem to shift.  Hard work is nothing without the willingness to get “a little dirty”.  A person can only truly move up, in this world, when illegal activity is going down.  Clearly, everyone is doing it; but it takes Emiliano time to realize how closely it is all connected.

Mr. Stork deftly displays the complexities of life in Mexico, even as he highlights the hope, strength, determination and compassion in the people that call it home.  Disappeared is a fictional story about Mexico’s missing girls, but the fact is, hundreds of Mexican women do disappear in this border city every year.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2017.

Playing in the Snow

If you haven’t seen this video, well, you
just have to or your life won’t be complete 😉

Continue reading

Book Review: Lucky by Henry Chang

Lucky
A Detective Jack Yu Investigation #5
Henry Chang
Soho Crime, March 2017
ISBN: 978-1-6169-5784-1
Hardcover

The protagonist in this series, Jack Yu, is a Chinese detective.  The action centers in New York’s Chinatown.  The novels offer a brutal look into the poverty and violence, the gangsters and crime of the society.  The “Lucky” of the title is Jack’s boyhood friend, a Chinatown gang leader name Louie who was shot in a Chinatown OTB establishment and lay in a coma for 88 days, finally awakening on Easter Sunday.

Jack believes his blood brother friend has run out of luck, and tries to get him to enter the witness protection program.  But Lucky eschews Jack’s advice, and upon his recovery after leaving the hospital puts together a small crew in an attempt to regain his position as the crime boss of Chinatown.  He masterminds several daring operations against other crime bosses’ gambling dens or massage parlors, stealing large sums of money.  It is a race with one of two results.

Meanwhile Jack is called upon to perform his duties as a New York City cop, giving the author the means to describe the culture and people of Chinatown (and the satellite areas in Queens) , portraying the streets, buildings and environment as only a native can.  Henry Chang writes simple, hard prose, tightly plotted.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2017.