Book Review: Holding by Graham Norton and Trafficked by Peg Brantley

Holding
Graham Norton
Atria Books, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-5011-7326-4
Hardcover

From the publisher—

The remote Irish village of Duneen has known little drama; and yet its inhabitants are troubled. Sergeant PJ Collins hasn’t always been this overweight; mother of­ two Brid Riordan hasn’t always been an alcoholic; and elegant Evelyn Ross hasn’t always felt that her life was a total waste.

So when human remains are discovered on an old farm, suspected to be that of Tommy Burke – a former­ love of both Brid and Evelyn – the village’s dark past begins to unravel. As the frustrated PJ struggles to solve a genuine case for the first time in his life, he unearths a community’s worth of anger and resentments, secrets and regret.

Time didn’t pass in Duneen; it seeped away.

When it comes to meandering, laidback crime fiction, this one is it but that’s not entirely a bad thing. There’s not much in the way of excitement but I found myself quietly entertained and disappointed only because felt that individual characters could have been rounded out a bit more.

PJ is an odd duck, sort of drifting through life in his small Irish village, wishing for more but not motivated enough to do anything about it. When human remains are found, he thinks solving the case could lift him out of his dreary life a bit but he doesn’t actually have much to go on nor does he really know how to properly investigate. Still, he wants to try in his clumsy way if only he could manage to keep a step ahead of the big city police sent from Cork to investigate and he does have one advantage—he knows his village.

As in all small communities, everyone knows everyone else’s life history and speculation about these remains immediately calls to mind in the rumor mill the strange disappearance of a young man, Tommy Burke, nearly twenty years ago. The gossip starts up in fine fashion and, soon, PJ is looking into the long-ago story of a guy and two girls. Pretty soon, his habit of walking around the village to observe and get to know the people begins to pay off and he just might get the better of the very patronizing Detective Superintendent Linus Dunne.

Three lonely sisters are just a few of the characters who do get a lot of attention and their personal stories give a good deal of weight to this otherwise mildmannered mystery. In fact, in some ways, the mystery takes second place to the village itself and all of its inhabitants, especially PJ himself. This is a man I’d like to get to know better and I hope the author will give us a sequel.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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Trafficked
A Mex Anderson Novel #2
Peg Brantley
Bark Publishing, June 2017
ISBN 978-0-9853638-7-1
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Sex trafficking.

Not Thailand. Or the Philippines. Or Russia.

America.

Rich or poor, black or white, girls disappear across this country every day, pulled into the nightmarish world of prostitution and drugs.

Mex Anderson is back, tasked with finding three missing girls before it’s too late. Three girls. Three girls who could live in your town, your neighborhood, or in your own home.

Jayla Imani Thomas is fifteen. A smart kid from a poor part of town who has to fend for herself. Jayla is headed for college and a better life than her mother had.

Alexis Emily Halston is seventeen. Money provides everything she wants or needs except functional parents. Alexis has the world by the tail and she knows it.

Olivia Emma Campbell is twelve. She’s a middle child who dreams of being a veterinarian when she grows up. But right now “Livvy” just wants someone to notice her, maybe even to love her.

Caught up in a cruel system fueled by lust and money, all three young women must find the courage within themselves to survive. And Mex must come to terms with his own loss and face his demons head on—or he might not have the strength to save them.

Sex trafficking is one of those topics “nice” people don’t want to think or talk about; it’s more comfortable to pretend that sort of thing is so distant from our own lives that it has very little real meaning. Sure, it happens in third world countries or in really bad areas of countries like our own, but it doesn’t affect us, right? Yes, we know all about prostitution and how rampant that is, even close by sometimes , but that’s not really sex trafficking, right?

Wrong, so wrong.

The three girls depicted here could be your neighbor, your own child’s best friend, the daughter of the organist at your church. In other words, they’re completely normal girls who, for one reason or another, are at risk, and Jayla is on the verge of being dragged into the life when we first meet her. The betrayal by her friend might seem dramatic license but it happens a lot more than we want to think.

Mex and Cade have a story of their own and Mex, in particular, knows the pain of loss. The two of them have emotional ties and things they’re trying to work through but, with the help of Mex’s friend, Darius, they are intent on saving these three girls. Of course, the upshot of any saving they can do is that there are many, many more girls like them still trapped in a horrific existence.

Although this is certainly a bleak topic and there’s a lot of darkness in the story, there’s one thing that brings a light of hope and that’s the girls’ resilience, their determination that they will not lose their souls. I really think Trafficked should be on every middle and high school reading list so that these kids (and it’s not just girls) can have some sense of the dangers out there. Well done, Ms. Brantley!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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Book Review: I Found You by Lisa Jewell

I Found You
Lisa Jewell
Atria Books, April 2017
ISBN 978-1-5011-5459-1
Hardcover

Is there anything more evocative of a mystery than a stormy beach on the coast of the North Sea? Well, yes. Add in a man who huddles there wearing shirt and trousers for more than twenty-four hours while the rain beats down on his head. This is the scene that leads single mother Alice Lake, whose beach the man has selected to inhabit, out to give him a coat and ask him a question.

“Who are you?” she naturally asks. But he doesn’t know. He’s lost his memory. He’s lost himself.

In an act of kindness, Alice invites him into her chaotic home. Her three children, all from different fathers, and three dogs, all left behind for her to care for, greet the newcomer with varying degrees of welcome.

Since he lacks any other name, Alice’s youngest daughter bestows the name of “Frank”on the stranger. It serves as well as any as Alice and Frank try to discover just who he is and what he’s doing on Alice’s beach.

It’s quite a suspenseful journey.

Alice is a great character, complicated, compassionate, flawed, and ultimately, so worthy of love.

Her children, each very different from the other, are fleshed out real people. Each has a definite place in the story, when they so easily could’ve been thrown in simply for effect. And Alice’s friend Derry’s place is to help the story along.

The book is written in alternating points of view. There’s a present day young bride whose husband has gone missing, and a seventeen-year-old boy from twenty-two years ago whose sister was raped and murdered before him, her body carried out to sea and never found. And of course, both Frank’s and Alice’s.

Tension builds as Frank slowly recovers bits and pieces of his memory. The journey through his ordeal is mesmerizing.

Ms. Jewell’s storytelling and writing is wonderful. I’m already putting this one on my ‘best reads of 2017’ list, and I think anyone who picks it up will too.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, February 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Review: Freedom’s Child by Jax Miller And Manitou Canyon by William Kent Krueger

freedoms-childFreedom’s Child
Jax Miller
Crown, July 2015
ISBN: 978-0-8041-8680-3
Hardcover

Foul-mouthed Freedom Oliver is a bartender in Oregon, shielded by Witness Protection.  The reason is that 20 years before she was arrested for murdering her husband and held for two years, before the evidence she planted resulted in the arrest and conviction of her brother-in-law.  But upon her arrest she gave up her two children for adoption, fearing life imprisonment.  Incidentally neither she nor he had actually fired the gun.

The children were placed in the home of a religious zealot in Kentucky, the head of a cult.  Now, 20 years later, the brother-in-law is freed and is seeking revenge.  Meanwhile, her daughter goes missing and Freedom leaves to find the child, who may have been kidnapped.  Along the way she meets her son, now a successful attorney.

This is a debut novel, and for all its interesting plot, it also suffers from superfluous and foul language and other excessive attributes of an unpolished author, especially the novel’s conclusion, which can only be described as a neophyte’s bright idea.  Nevertheless, despite all of that, the time it took to read the story was worthwhile because it is more than interesting.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2016.

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manitou-canyonManitou Canyon
A Cork O’Connor Mystery #15
William Kent Krueger
Atria Books, September 2016
ISBN: 978-1-476-74928-0
Hardcover

Of the fifteen volumes in the excellent Cork O’Connor series, this latest is one of the best.  It finds Cork in the midst of at least two conspiracies during which he probably learns more about himself than he has in a long time.  It is November, a month in which he has undergone several tragedies, including the death of his wife.  In a depressed mood, his daughter’s wedding looms in a couple of weeks.

The Cork is approached by the grandchildren of a boyhood friend he has not seen in decades, who has gone missing in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, to try to find the man despite a two-week search-and-rescue operation having failed and efforts called off.  Instead of the couple of days by which Cork promised his daughter to return, he and the accompanying granddaughter go missing as well.  And this leads to some of the best writing and descriptions in a series that abounds in such efforts as Cork and the woman are captured and with their captors trudge and canoe northward to Canada.

Meanwhile back home Cork’s family and friends realize something has gone wrong and they fly to Raspberry Lake looking for him. With winter setting in, it becomes a race not only for survival for the group that captured Cork, but also for his rescuers.  As is usual, the author gives the reader deep insight not only into Ojibwe culture but the Northwoods environment in which the story takes place.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2016.

Book Review: The Vanishing Year by Kate Moretti

the-vanishing-yearThe Vanishing Year
Kate Moretti
Atria Books, September 2016
ISBN 978-1-5011-1843-2
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Zoe Whittaker is living a charmed life. She is the beautiful young wife to handsome, charming Wall Street tycoon Henry Whittaker. She is a member of Manhattan’s social elite. She is on the board of one of the city’s most prestigious philanthropic organizations. She has a perfect Tribeca penthouse in the city and a gorgeous lake house in the country. The finest wine, the most up-to-date fashion, and the most luxurious vacations are all at her fingertips.

What no one knows is that five years ago, Zoe’s life was in danger. Back then, Zoe wasn’t Zoe at all. Now her secrets are coming back to haunt her.

As the past and present collide, Zoe must decide who she can trust before she—whoever she is—vanishes completely.

From the opening lines, we learn that Zoe has lived with uncertainty her whole life. Yes, she had a true mother who fills her thoughts every day but it’s the girl who left her behind at birth that Zoe dreams about now, wondering about what might have happened. Sometimes, these dreams are violent, and it’s a far cry from such a start in life to the world she inhabits now of wealth and prestige. Zoe’s husband, Henry, expects her to take her place in society and she does, reluctantly, that reluctance perhaps coming from more than just shyness.

The tone set by Ms. Moretti is just slightly ominous in those first pages but, in her capable hands, the tension ratchets up until I started getting those creepy crawlies, the kind that ripple up and down your spine, and I couldn’t sleep for needing to know what was coming next. The secrets and lies, the twists and turns, kept showing up without warning and leaving little time to contemplate their true meaning before the next surprise. It’s the unknown that really frightens, isn’t it? And, yet, here the known will become even darker. more of a morass, than Zoe could possibly imagine.

It all begins when someone calls her “Hilary”.

If I have anything negative to say at all, it’s that a cast of characters would have been welcome, considering the plethora of players. Kate Moretti is a writer to be reckoned with, one who wrapped her story around me until I could barely breathe but, when all was said and done, she left me with good feelings and wanting more. This is a writer who knows how to tell a tale 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2016.

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About the Author

By Pooja Dhar at PR Photograph

By Pooja Dhar at PR Photograph

Kate Moretti is the New York Times bestselling author of Thought I Knew You, Binds That Tie, and While You Were Gone. She lives in eastern Pennsylvania with her husband and two kids. Find out more at katemoretti.com, or follow her on Twitter (@KateMoretti1) or Facebook (KateMorettiWriter).

Find Kate online:

Website: www.katemoretti.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/katemorettiwriter

Twitter: @KateMoretti1

Instagram: @katemoretti1

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“Kate Moretti’s The Vanishing Year is a Rebecca
for the modern age—a novel filled with doubts and

deception, secrets and history. Society wife Zoe Whitaker
must confront the age-old question of whether
forgetting our past dooms us to endless repetition
and more heartache and danger than one woman can bear.”

—Jenny Milchman, author of As Night Falls

The Vanishing Year is more than an engaging tale of utter
betrayal. It’s an intricate dance of realities, full of twists
and turns you won’t see coming. Kate Moretti has outdone
herself. You’ll miss your bedtime, guaranteed.” —J.T. Ellison,
New York Times bestselling author of No One Knows

Book Review: The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell

The Girls in the GardenThe Girls in the Garden
Lisa Jewell
Atria Books, June 2016
ISBN 978-1-4767-9221-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Imagine that you live on a picturesque communal garden square, an oasis in urban London where your children run free, in and out of other people’s houses. You’ve known your neighbors for years and you trust them. Implicitly. You think your children are safe. But are they really?

On a midsummer night, as a festive neighborhood party is taking place, preteen Pip discovers her thirteen-year-old sister Grace lying unconscious and bloody in a hidden corner of a lush rose garden. What really happened to her? And who is responsible?

What an interesting book this is! I was initially drawn to it by the idea of a community garden and how it could be seen almost as a locked room situation when one of the children is attacked. What really came about, though, is less the kind of mystery I might have expected and more a study of the people living in the community.

The tale is told from three points of view—Pip, sister of Grace; Adele, who’s lived in the community for 20 years; and Clare, mother of Pip and Grace. There are quite a few other characters but it’s these three whose stories are most important. Each has a distinctive presence and drawings done by Pip in letters to her absent father add a sort of charm while they also convey a good deal of pathos. That pathos is real once the reader understands the reason for his absence but Pip’s is not the only emotional upheaval. Certainly Clare has much to deal with and Adele adds a sense of normality and warmth to her observations of others who share the garden while she’s also a textbook enabler.

When I first started reading, I was put off by the use of third person present tense which for me is like nails on a chalkboard. Unfortunately, the depth and appeal of a storyline can’t overcome the way I’m constantly aware of the writing style, and I do mean constantly but, happily, the author switched to third person past tense after the first few pages. The tale takes a somewhat leisurely pace but is filled with the essence of this small community. The resolution of who attacked Grace is sort of anti-climactic but that’s okay because this is really a look at how people affect each other and cope with the vagaries of life.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2016.

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About the Author

Lisa JewellLisa Jewell was born and raised in north London, where she lives with her husband and two daughters. She is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA TODAY bestselling author of twelve novels, including The House We Grew Up In and The Third Wife.

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Book Review: Remember Me This Way by Sabine Durant

Remember Me This WayRemember Me This Way
Sabine Durant
Emily Bestler Books/Atria Books, May 2015
ISBN 978-1-476-71632-9
Hardcover

From the publisher:  One year after her husband Zach’s death, Lizzie Carter, 41 years old, goes to lay flowers on the site of his fatal accident.  Since the tragedy, she just hasn’t been the same, racked with grief and guilt and regret and . . . relief.  Even though her friends tell her she’s grieved enough for her ‘prince charming,’ her memories of a darker side of Zach that no one else knew are burned into her brain and won’t let her forget him.   But as she puts her flowers down at the roadside, she sees a bouquet of lilies at the foot of the tree.  Addressed to her husband.  She isn’t the first to pay her respects . . . but who is Xenia?  As Lizzie learns more about her husband’s past, she begins to realize that maybe she didn’t know Zach at all.  But she’s still tormented by her guilt and the memories that just won’t fade . . . because Zach doesn’t seem to be as gone as everyone thinks.  And she just can’t shake the feeling that he’s still out there, watching her, waiting to claim her as his own once again.  After all, just because we love someone doesn’t mean we can trust them . . . .

Lizzie does psychometric testing for a living; Zach is an artist, although a not-yet-successful one.  The p.o.v. alternates between that of Zach (the first page is his, and though only one page long [before the narration switches to Lizzie’s], it is quite startling, letting the reader know at once what he/she is in for.  Lizzie’s p.o.v. sections take place initially in February 14, 2013, a year to the day of Zach’s car crash, on a Cornish roadside in the middle of Cornwall and 200 miles from her home in London.  She thinks to herself “His death feels real for the first time.  I must let him go, hard as it is, because, despite everything, he was the love of my life.”  The next section, Zach’s, takes place in July, 2009.  As opposed to Lizzie’s thoughts as described above, he is thinking “She doesn’t appreciate me, that’s the problem.”

All the following alternating p.o.v. sections follow those same timelines [Zach’s last ending on the day of his car crash], wherein initially Zach has a significant other named Charlotte, overlapping with his meeting and becoming involved with Lizzie.  All who meet Zach, who is pretty much addicted to Xanax and tramadol, see him as a very handsome and charming man, although he is self-described as being “not very nice” [with which the reader wholeheartedly agrees], and “. . . People like me can’t relax.  We may roam outside the boundaries that restrict the behavior of other people, but we’re never free.”

The characters all come alive in these pages, but Zach is one of a kind, displaying love, jealousy, and vengeance, among other traits.    The ending is shocking, but thoroughly believable.  This is a book, and characters, who will stay with the reader after the last page is read, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, March 2016.

Book Review: The Fall by John Lescroart

The FallThe Fall
John Lescroart
Atria Books, May 2015
ISBN: 978-1-476-70921-5
Hardcover

John Lescroart has written 25 previous novels, many of them with superb courtroom drama featuring Dismas Hardy.  This novel, however, highlights the introduction of his daughter, Becky, just two years out of law school, as the lead attorney in an unusual murder trial which ordinarily would test the talents of the equivalent of an F. Lee Bailey.

The atmosphere in San Francisco where the novel takes place is charged with public and political outcry after the trials of a series of perpetrators of criminal acts against black victims do not result in convictions or, even worse, not even an arrest, much less even finding a suspect.  So, when a 17-year-old black female is murdered, the police and DA rush to find a viable suspect and bring him to trial.  A chance meeting between Becky and Greg Treadway, later charged with the murder, leads to her representing him as his attorney.

Give “the Beck” (her nickname) credit for showing a great deal of legal expertise and just plain acumen far  beyond what one would expect from a neophyte attorney in a maiden trial, one for murder no less.  But then, she’s the offspring of Dismas Hardy.  Needless to say, the trial takes on a life of its own, giving the author the opportunity to exhibit some arcane legal principles.  More important, Mr. Lescroart once again demonstrates his ability to twist and turn the tables on the reader in a most unexpected way.  Although the book is interesting as a whole, it is especially recommended just for the unusual ending.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2016.