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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Book Review: The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby
Cherise Wolas
Flatiron Books, September 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-08143-8
Hardcover

In her first novel, The Resurrection of Joan Ashby, Cherise Wolas stretches the boundaries of the “story within a story” form. The book begins with an article about Joan Ashby, an author who, at age twenty-one, landed a collection of short stories on the New York Times bestseller list and won a National Book Award. Her book, Other Small Spaces, was translated into thirty-five languages. Four years later Ashby again lands another collection of short stories on the bestseller list. Fictional Family Life is shortlisted for a Pulitzer Prize. The article includes a brief biography of Ashby and excerpts of an interview with her, before including two of her short stories.

Joan Ashby is on the top of the New York literary scene when she meets Martin Manning, who looks like a poet but is in reality an eye surgeon. She vowed at an early age never to fall in love or let anyone interfere with her writing, but Dr. Manning’s charm is hard to resist. Her only resistance to his proposal is the thought that he might want a family, but he assures her he doesn’t want any children.

So it comes as a shock to her, when in their first year of marriage, she discovers she is pregnant. When she shares the news with Martin, fully intending to terminate the pregnancy, he becomes misty eyed and declares “I’ve never been so happy” and runs out for champagne to celebrate. She debates whether to walk away from Martin, but eventually becomes resigned to the idea of parenthood, knowing that there will likely be a second child after the first.

During her courtship with Martin, and up until the birth of her first child, Joan was writing her first novel, The Sympathetic Executioners, which she trashed on the day before she went into labor. It is twenty-eight years before she publishes anything else. Her next book sees the light of day as the result of a betrayal, and a fracture within her family.

A story of the dissatisfaction of an upper middle class suburban woman, it is complicated by the inclusion of the various short stories and excerpts from the main character’s writing, which tend to be on the dark side. The book jacket blurbs mentions echoes of Joan Didion and Carson McCullers—I was reminded of Elizabeth Berg and Jane Smiley. I’d also like to read the rest of the included novel, The Sympathetic Executioners.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, November 2017.

Book Review: Silent Rain by Karin Salvalaggio—and a Giveaway!

Silent Rain
Macy Greeley Mysteries #4
Karin Salvalaggio
Minotaur Books, May 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-07893-3
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Grace Adams has spent three years trying to move on―mentally, physically, emotionally―from the traumatizing events of her past. But it’s not easy when the world is morbidly curious about the crimes that shaped her childhood, when despite her changed name, people still track her down for the sensational details. Now in college in Bolton, Montana, the one person Grace has trusted with the truth about her past has betrayed her. The bestselling novelist Peter Granger wants to use Grace’s story in his next book, regardless of how desperate Grace is to keep the details to herself. And then, on Halloween night, Peter Granger’s house burns to the ground and his and his wife’s bodies are found inside.

Montana state detective Macy Greeley is sent to Bolton to handle the investigation into the fire and deaths…which soon appear to be arson and murder. It doesn’t take Macy long to realize that Grace isn’t the only one whom Peter Granger has betrayed, and there are no shortage of others in town who took issue with him and his wife. What at first looked like a straightforward investigation is poised to expose some of Bolton’s darkest secrets, and the fallout may put more than one life in danger.

I had never read any of the Macy Greeley books before this one but, when a review copy was offered to me by the publisher, I pounced on it. Police procedurals are among my favorite mystery subgenres and, in looking at the earlier books, it was very apparent that the series is well-regarded. Now that I’ve been introduced to Macy and her world, I have to agree and, even as a standalone, Silent Rain is indeed well worth the time.

When Macy is sent to investigate a house fire and resulting deaths, she’s unaware that she already knows one of the potential suspects. Grace, who played a critical role in one of Macy’s earlier cases, was betrayed by Peter Granger who wanted to tell the world the story she’s been running from. How far would Grace have gone to stop him? And who else hated Peter Granger enough to do this?

Macy is a single mother to a young boy and the scenes with him add a great deal to the reader’s understanding of this detective and her compassion for others, even in little ways, while she pursues truth. In this case, numerous threads come together but slowly enough to give the reader time to ponder the various leads…and, for me, come to the wrong conclusion more than once.

Silent Rain is an engrossing mystery and features vivid characters, both good and bad. I’m happy to have “discovered” another police procedural series I can get into with a good deal of anticipation.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2017.

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Book Review: Resist by Tracey Martin

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Title: Resist 
Series: Redzone #2
 Author: Tracey Martin 
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Publication date: November 17th, 2015
Genres: New Adult, Science Fiction, Thriller

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ResistResist
RedZone #2
Tracey Martin
Samhain Publishing, November 2015
ISBN 978-1-61923-234-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Truth is a powerful weapon…but explosives never hurt.

Sophia can run but she can’t hide. RedZone is on her tail and those of the six tech-augmented soldiers who escaped its clutches with her. If she could only focus on fighting her way to safety, she might live long enough to disappear. But it’s not just her own backside she needs to watch out for.

At her side is her boyfriend, Kyle. He’s the reason she found the courage to escape, and she’ll do anything to keep him and his secrets out of RedZone’s hands. Only problem is, since she was once sent to capture him, he has good reason not to trust her.

In fact, there’s not much trust to go around. RedZone keeps finding them, suggesting someone is a traitor. And if that’s not enough to recapture the group, the organization has a backup plan. One that will force Sophia and Kyle to choose between safety and risking everything one more time.

Warning: Contains killer robots, mutant college students, and dangerous super soldiers. And those are the good guys. It’s enough to make a rogue assassin wish she were taking her philosophy final instead.

When we first meet Sophia, she’s on a sort of black ops mission, infiltrating a business during a Christmas party. Using some quite special skills, she sneaks into one of the bank’s offices in search of information demanded by RedZone, the organization she works for.

What makes this so much fun is not only the adventure element but the human engineering that we encounter. For instance, Sophia can plug herself into a computer, much like a flash drive, and Kyle is able to heal himself. Sophia’s meant to be the perfect killing machine but, in fact, she does make mistakes and she has doubts about her purpose and that’s why she’s appealing.

Not all is entirely futuristic, though. The 9-1-1 system is still in place as are government agencies such as the CIA and these familiar elements help to keep the story grounded. This is a spy story and Sophia is a trained assassin but that is most definitely too simple an explanation; this girl wants badly to be normal, starting with college.  First, she and her team, led by Cole, have much to do if they’re going to put an end to RedZone and save their own lives as well as others.

Although I now wish I had read the first book before this one, that’s mainly because I’d like to know more about how Sophia, Cole and Kyle, not to mention their friends, came to be such integral parts of this world of espionage and worse. That’s my own preference, though, and Resist does actually work on its own.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2015.

About the Author

Tracey Martin 2Tracey Martin grew up outside of Philadelphia, the lucky recipient of a drama-free childhood, which is why she spent so much time reading about other people’s lives. It was while she was working on her doctorate in psychology that she had an epiphany–imaginary people are way more fun than real ones. And so she began writing. Never able to choose just one of anything, she currently writes both urban fantasy for adults and contemporary stories for teens.

She likes her coffee simple, her music epic, and her movies to contain explosions. A city girl at heart, she doesn’t understand how she and her husband ended up living in New Hampshire, but writing keeps her off the mean, small town streets. You can find her online at tracey-martin.com.

Author links:

https://twitter.com/TA_Martin
http://tracey-martin.com/
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7142440.Tracey_Martin

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Book Reviews: A Dancer in the Dust by Thomas H. Cook and The Color of Light by Wendy Hornsby

A Dancer in the DustA Dancer in the Dust
Thomas H. Cook
The Mysterious Press, September 2014
ISBN: 978-0-8021-2272-8
Hardcover

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, this novel is a mystery wrapped in a love story immersed in a tragedy.  It is the story of one woman’s attempt to help preserve a newly independent African country pitted against the force of do-good charities and the powers-that-be with their hands out to use the money and goods to preserve their control.

As a young man, Ray Campbell takes on the task of an aid worker hoping to improve conditions in the newly-independent country of Lubanda. He is assigned to a remote village where he meets Martine Aubert, a white woman in a black nation who owns a small farm and lives a simple life. While he falls in love with her, she apparently loves Lubanda more. And her beliefs are opposed to the plans of government officials for development, leading to a tragic end.

The author blends a tale of love and death that is totally consuming. By presenting the plot in the present, with flashbacks, the reader moves forward gaining knowledge slowly but logically. The book is written with grace and simplicity describing a complex narrative, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2014.

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The Color of LightThe Color of Light
A Maggie MacGowen Mystery #9
Wendy Hornsby
Perseverance Press, April 2014
ISBN: 978-1-56474-542-2
Trade Paperback

In Wendy Hornsby’s ninth Maggie MacGowen mystery, we find Maggie, two weeks before her planned trip to France to make a film, going back to her childhood home in Berkeley, California, to clear out the family house, as her mother has moved into a smaller place (her father, a physicist, having died a while back).  In the course of which her instincts, the fact that she “plays” at being an investigator on her popular TV series and, perhaps, the fact that her late husband was a homicide detective, lead to her uncovering things other than old family treasures.  She finds inescapable the memories of a murder that occurred over 30 years ago, when the beautiful Vietnamese mother of a school friend was brutally raped and killed, when she and her friends were then ten and eleven years old.  Her mother was a close friend of the murdered woman, as Maggie was with her son, Beto.

Maggie’s boyfriend at the time of the murder is now Detective Kevin Halloran, who is not crazy about the fact that she is asking questions of people she suspects are hiding secrets.  Maggie is very skittish about secrets:  It was not long ago that she discovered that her biological mother was a woman with whom her father had had an affair long ago in France.  The film she is about to make is about that woman’s family and their farm in Normandy.  Her daughter, Casey, has just finished her sophomore year in college, and Maggie is traveling with her current boyfriend, the French consul general  and a widower with a son about Casey’s age, to Los Angeles.  The ensuing investigation is fraught with danger; as Maggie’s uncle tells her, “Always an adventure with you, kid.  Always an adventure.”  The author has blended a great cast of characters and an intriguing mystery, and the book is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2014.

Book Review: the s-word by Chelsea Pitcher

the s-wordthe s-word
Chelsea Pitcher
Gallery Books, May 2013
ISBN 978-1-4516-9516-8
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Lizzie wasn’t the first student at Verity High School to kill herself this year. But the difference is, she didn’t go quietly.

First it was SLUT scribbled all over the school’s lockers. But one week after Lizzie Hart takes her own life, SUICIDE SLUT replaces it—in Lizzie’s own looping scrawl. Photocopies of her diary show up in the hands of her classmates. And her best friend, Angie, is enraged.

Angie had stopped talking to Lizzie on prom night, when she caught Lizzie in bed with her boyfriend. Too heartbroken to let Lizzie explain the hookup or to intervene when Lizzie gets branded Queen of the Sluts and is cruelly bullied by her classmates, Angie left her best friend to the mercy of the school, with tragic results.

But with this new slur, Angie’s guilt transforms into anger that someone is still targeting Lizzie even after her death. Using clues from Lizzie’s diary and aided by the magnetic, mysterious Jesse, Angie begins relentlessly investigating who, exactly, made Lizzie feel life was no longer worth living. And while she might claim she simply wants to punish Lizzie’s tormentors, her anguish over abandoning and then losing her best friend drives Angie deeper into the dark, twisted side of Verity High—and she might not be able to pull herself back out.

Sometimes it seems to be just a little thing that leads to a teen deciding to end her life but those little things loom very large in the minds of young people who are already awash in emotions just from life in general. In the s-word, we experience the journey of a girl who thought she was terribly wronged and another who truly was. The question is which is which or is it both?

I had an awful lot of affection and empathy for both Lizzie and Angie and their stories, which are really just two parts of the same story, pierced me to the heart. So much love, so much history, so much pain, , so much regret. In the final analysis, that little thing was not so little after all and it is at the center of at least one truth that could not be revealed lest it lead to disaster. How sad is it that not revealing it led to disaster anyway? In a powerful tale of heartbreak, it’s easy to understand Angie’s anguish about her best friend’s death and about the part she played in Lizzie’s decision.

Besides the two major players, I also really liked Jesse and, surprisingly, Kennedy. I do have to say, though, that I was a little put off by the rampant sex and alcohol. I’m not blind to teen behavior but this seemed a tad overboard, at least in the complete obliviousness of all the adults. Surely today’s parents and teachers are not all so divorced from reality and willing to abdicate their duty to look after the kids, at least not most of the ones I know.

Chelsea Pitcher is a good writer and there is very little about this book that I see in a negative light. I do wish some of the secondary characters had been a little more developed—I would have loved to know Kennedy better—and I found Angie to be a bit too devious and single-minded, not to mention being kind of a ridiculous “investigator”. Still, I believe the sleuthing activity was intended by the author to lighten the mood just a little and it was, in truth, a welcome distraction from the sadness. This is a worthwhile entry in the class of books about teen bullying and suicide and I’ll look forward to reading more by this author.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2013.

Book Review: Wasteland by Susan Kim & Laurence Klavan

WastelandWasteland
Susan Kim & Laurence Klavan
HarperTeen, March 2013
ISBN 978-0-06-211851-6
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Welcome to the wasteland

At fifteen,
the citizens of Prin marry.

At seventeen,
they reproduce.

And at nineteen,
they die.

Esther thinks there’s more to life than toiling at the assignments—Harvesting, Gleaning, Excavating—day after day under the relentless sun, just hoping to make it to the next day.

She doesn’t care that her best friend, a variant, is considered “the enemy.” She doesn’t care that Levi, who controls the Source, is the real enemy and might send his Taser boys after her if she makes one wrong move.

Then Caleb shows up. Could there be another way to fight for survival?

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I wanted so much to like this book but it just wasn’t to be. Wasteland turned out to be something of a wasteland itself.

Most of the characters are rather flat and that probably explains why I felt this reads like a graphic novel without the pictures. Esther is 15 but still has very childish ways and emotions even though, in a society in which death comes at 19, you would expect 15-year-olds to be much more mature. When her sister begs her not to leave a worksite because she could be thrown out of the community, she doesn’t care how her behavior is affecting Sarah. She also doesn’t question why the variants have been attacking Prin. Esther is altogether lazy—she doesn’t even bother to learn how to fix a meal, leaving that task to her sister— and amazingly ungrateful, not to mention incredibly naive.

Skar, on the other hand, is an empathetic character. She is a variant (while humans are called norms) and she and her family live on the “outside”, not welcome in town. That town is run by Rafe, a mean lout, but the reality is that everything is controlled by the clever, intelligent, supremely psychotic Levi. Then there’s Caleb, whose partner was murdered and his child kidnapped. His search has brought him to Prin and he finds a lot more than he ever expected or hoped, including the dreaded (by me) insta-love. Esther and Caleb fall too hard for each other too soon, especially Esther who has never felt anything towards boys but is suddenly madly in love.

Worldbuilding is thin and leaves far too many questions unanswered: what happened and when, when is this, why does everyone die at 19, what is the disease with lesions and how did it start, how did the variants come to be, why is the sun too hot for exposure, how could they still be using gasoline unless “it” wasn’t all that long ago in which case why are there no adults, why is there no learning to farm or hunt, why is everyone monogamous, why are the variants hermaphroditic and why mention it since it doesn’t seem to make any difference in the story, how did a 12-year-old gain such power? Levi muses that “he had found drinkable water in Prin where none had existed for decades” so why would anyone have stayed there plus he’s only been handing out bottled water for 6 years at the most so where did the townspeople get water for all those decades? Most importantly, there are only 5 or 6 pregnancies a year and only one baby, at most, survives to 3 months old but it has supposedly been decades since whatever it was happened and everyone dies at 19 so how is there any population left at all? A good dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel will leave the reader with questions at the end but not this many by a long shot.

Wasteland is not the usual dystopian as the town is controlled only by one person rather than a ruling class or government. That difference is a nice touch and I’m sure the authors will make more of that in future volumes. Unfortunately, as you can tell, there is a lot I don’t care for in Wasteland so I doubt I’ll be finding out what happens in those later entries.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2013.