Book Review: Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson @JoshilynJackson @WmMorrowBooks

Never Have I Ever
Joshilyn Jackson
William Morrow, July 2019
ISBN 978-0-06-285531-2
Hardcover

Amy Whey is a happily married woman. She has a wonderful husband, a newborn son and a teenage step-daughter, all of whom she adores. She also has a group of woman friends in the neighbourhood. Her life is going well until a newcomer in the area joins Amy and her friends on their book club night.

Angelica Roux, or Roux as she insists they call her, charms the group and as the wine flows she suggests they play a fun game instead of discussing the chosen book. It’s a drinking game, a daring game, a game of revealing personal secrets.

At first it seems like harmless fun, but Amy senses something more is happening here and she grows increasingly uncomfortable as it turns serious. And later, after everyone heads home, Roux confronts Amy, telling her she knows all her personal secrets and will reveal them to her husband and friends unless Amy gives her what she wants; what she deserves.

Amy does have secrets and there is little doubt that Roux somehow knows what Amy did in the past, and if that knowledge is revealed, Amy is sure she will lose everything. Shocked and more than a little frightened, Amy is caught in a trap. Roux leaves, but not before telling Amy she’ll be back to let her know exactly what she wants.

Amy can’t imagine how Roux found out, but she is determined to find a way to protect her family and her marriage.

A cat and mouse game ensues. Amy manages to buy herself some time, counter-attacking as best she can, by doing some digging of her own in an attempt to neutralize Roux’s threat. As she’s struggling to keep her life on track, Roux seems to have the upper hand. The tension escalates. Amy feels she’s fighting a losing battle.

All the characters in this novel are well-drawn rounded people, especially Amy and I quickly got caught up in her predicament. I was on Amy’s side from the outset, anxious and eager for her to find a viable solution. There were many twists and turns to keep this reader turning pages. Amy’s determination and resourcefulness seemed to know no bounds, but Roux, a formidable opponent, was not about to give up.

The resolution was as stunning as it was unexpected, but none the less a fitting one.

I look forward to reading more from this author. Give this one a try, you won’t regret it.

Respectfully submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, February 2020.

Book Review: Desert Kill Switch by Mark S. Bacon

Desert Kill Switch
A Nostalgia City Mystery #2
Mark. S. Bacon
Black Opal Books, 2017
ISBN 978-1-626947-19-1
Trade Paperback

A great cover for a novel with excellent possibilities. Unfortunately, the opportunities were never quite realized. To be clear, this is a largely enjoyable story with an eminently satisfactory conclusion. The characters are interesting and have elements which are unusual, intriguing and certainly worth following in future stories.

The beginning of the novel is particularly interesting. Lyle Deming, the stepfather of a college girl, is driving her through the desert so she can get some pictures for a class project. They happen on a murder scene and Deming is desperate to shield the girl from the bullet-riddled body. He drives away, calls the local sheriff and a short-time later learns they can’t find either the body or the vintage 1970 Pontiac that was parked next to the body. The car is important because Deming is working as a cab driver for a new Arizona tourist attraction called Nostalgia City, designed as a trip back to the nineteen seventies.

The public relations and marketing office of the Arizona nostalgia site is run by Kate Sorenson. Readers meet her first in Reno where she is attending Rockin’ Summer Days, an annual Reno event, as a vendor for Nostalgia City to recruit travelers. When she has a confrontation with a local auto dealer of questionable reputation, things get complicated.

The two characters come together, become entangled at several levels and ultimately murder and thievery get sorted. The use of kill switches is explained, although the kill switch of the title seems to almost be an afterthought. The novel is neither memorable or inferior, it just is, neither memorable nor especially disappointing.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 2017.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Pre-Meditated Murder by Tracy Weber

Pre-Meditated Murder
A Downward Dog Mystery #5
Tracy Weber
Midnight Ink, January 2018
ISBN: 978-0-7387-5068-2
Trade Paperback

Kate Davidson and her trusty canine companion Bella return in Pre-Meditated Murder. As the book opens, Kate and her boyfriend are celebrating Kate’s birthday at the fancy restaurant atop the Seattle Space Needle. SkyCity was the perfect place for what Kate assumed was going to be a moment of her lifetime. After avoiding any thought of “commitment, marriage or children,” Kate is ready.  She is sure tonight is the night that Michael is going to pop the big question and Kate is ready to say yes. In fact, she can hardly wait to say yes. They are at the restaurant, he pulls out her gift, she opens it and-it’s a necklace. Stunned for sure, but her evening is going to get much worse.

Michael professes his love for Kate, but then proceeds to tell her that he can’t marry her, at least not yet because there is this little detail he has failed to mention before. He is already married, wants a divorce but Gabriella won’t budge without a big pay out.

Kate and Michael decide to go to Oregon to try to talk Gabriella into giving Michael the divorce. I was right with the book up until this point but then  things get a little strange even for a “cozy” mystery series. They take Bella with them, BUT, here is where it goes a little wonky for me. Kate’s best friend Rene, her husband, their twins and their dogs also make the trip. Really?

Skipping ahead and overlooking that fact that entirely too many people have made the trip, Kate and Michael meet with Gabriella and the meeting goes poorly. The next day, things take an even worse turn when Kate and Bella are out for a walk and Bella digs up Gabriella’s body. Things get worse still when the police turn up at Michael’s sister’s house and Michael has no alibi for the time of the death.  Obviously Michael is suspect number one on the police’s list. In keeping with the cozy mystery genre, Kate then  jumps in to solve the crime and clear Michael. What Kate uncovers surprises her and changes how she thinks of Michael.

From there the book takes a few interesting twists which might well push it off the “cozy” shelf for subject matter.

The book gives readers a chance to learn more of Michael’s background while certainly wondering what is next for Kate and Michael.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, January 2018.

Book Review: A Talent for Murder by Andrew Wilson

A Talent for Murder
Andrew Wilson
Atria, July 2017
ISBN 978-1-5011-4506-3
Hardcover

From the publisher—

“I wouldn’t scream if I were you. Unless you want the whole world to learn about your husband and his mistress.”

Agatha Christie, in London to visit her literary agent, is boarding a train, preoccupied with the devastating knowledge that her husband is having an affair. She feels a light touch on her back, causing her to lose her balance, then a sense of someone pulling her to safety from the rush of the incoming train. So begins a terrifying sequence of events—for her rescuer is no guardian angel, rather he is a blackmailer of the most insidious, manipulative kind.

“You, Mrs. Christie, are going to commit a murder. But, before then, you are going to disappear.”

Writing about murder is a far cry from committing a crime, and Agatha must use every ounce of her cleverness and resourcefulness to thwart an adversary determined to exploit her expertise and knowledge about the act of murder to kill on his behalf.

Real people have been featured as characters in works of fiction before now, pretty frequently, in fact. Having Agatha Christie be the central figure in a murder is taking things a step further considering who she was and her undoubted mind for crime and her well-known yet unexplained disappearance is the perfect backdrop to such a scenario. As a longtime Christie enthusiast, I couldn’t help wanting to see what Andrew Wilson would do with this idea and I was rewarded, with some reservations.

Solving the puzzle of where Dame Agatha was during those few days is one of the holy grails of the mystery world and, hey, this could have happened, right? If anybody was ever born to successfully commit murder, she’s the one, but I think I know too much about her persona and her life to fall completely for the plot. Still, I think Mr. Wilson showed restraint in not letting the premise go too far and become laughable, proving his true regard of this remarkable woman.

The style of this mystery is just right for the times and the then-existent quirks of society with a despicable villain, a wandering husband, a shameful mistress and a heroine who’s not exactly helpless. Think about it—who better to contemplate doing murder and then work to figure a way out than the Queen of Mystery?

Hesitations put aside for the nonce, I let myself go with the flow and found this to be a highly entertaining “what if”. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate this wonderful author, can you?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2017.

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“In a stranger-than-fiction spin, crime novelist Agatha Christie
went missing for 11 days in 1926. Author Andrew Wilson uses
that real-life mystery as a starting point for a whodunit
as gripping as Christie’s own beloved writing.”
Coastal Living, 50 Best Books for the Beach This Summer

“It’s a real-life mystery that has never been explained: In 1926,
mystery writer Agatha Christie left her house, abandoned her
car and disappeared for 11 days. Christie, in her mid-30s at the
time, claimed that she had amnesia and couldn’t remember what
had happened or why. Now, nearly 100 years later, Andrew Wilson
has written a novel that imagines what might have happened to
her in that missing chunk of time – a story based partly
on research and partly on his imaginings.”
Houston Chronicle, Summer Reading List: 15 Anticipated
Books for the Long, Hot Days Ahead

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About the Author

Andrew Wilson is the highly-acclaimed author of biographies of Patricia Highsmith, Sylvia Plath, Alexander McQueen, as well as Shadow of the Titanic: The Extraordinary Stories of Those Who Survived. His first novel, The Lying Tongue, was published by Atria in 2007. His journalism has appeared in The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Observer, The Sunday Times, The Daily Mail, and The Washington Post.

 

Website // Twitter

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Agatha Christie never spoke of her ten-day disappearance in the
winter of 1926, and it has remained one of the most intriguing
mysteries of modern times. She eventually turned up in a seaside
hotel, registered under the name of her husband’s mistress. 

The official statement released by the family was that Christie
suffered a sudden episode of amnesia as the result of a car crash.
She rarely talked about the experience, and omitted its
mention entirely from her autobiography.

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“Wilson (The Lying Tongue) effectively imagines a different
scenario in this twisty thriller… Wilson fully realizes
the potential of this ominous setup.”
Publishers Weekly 

“A most ingenious homage, solidly researched…
Christie would have applauded its intricacy.”
—Andrew Taylor, author of The Ashes of London

Book Review: Jimmy and Fay by Michael Mayo

Jimmy and Fay
The Jimmy Quinn Mysteries #3
Michael Mayo
Open Road/Mysterious Press, October 2016
ISBN 978-1-5040-3607-8
Trade Paperback

Jimmy and Fay reads like one of those old gangster films from the thirties, mixing noir and glamour with a touch of the illegal thrown in to keep it interesting. Jimmy Quinn runs a speakeasy in New York City; his girlfriend Connie Nix and right-hand man Arch Malloy keep the business going. Someone has made dirty photos of the film “King Kong” but anyone can see the woman in the photos in not Fay Wray. Even so, the studio is anxious to make the story go away. They will pay $6000 to the blackmailers and Jimmy is tapped to be the go-between for ten percent.

“Jimmy the Stick” is not your usual good guy battling evil. He’s short, has a bum leg, and sometimes uses his cane as a weapon. The story focuses on the seedy world of stag films, corrupt cops and blackmail. Real life gangsters Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano provide background for the world of Prohibition in 1933 New York City. Plenty of colorful slang and details from the time period add to the solid mystery at the center of this story.

The author writes on film for the Washington Post and the Roanoke Times, and is the author of American Murder: Criminals, Crime and the Media. This is the third in the Jimmy Quinn series.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, March 2017.

Book Review: Game of Fear by Gledé Browne Kabongo

Game of Fear Tour Banner

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Title: Game of Fear
Series: A Fearless Novel

Author: Gledé Browne Kabongo
Publisher: BrowneStar Publishing
Publication Date: February 24, 2016
Genres: Mystery, Thriller, Young Adult

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Goodreads

Purchase Links:

 

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Game of FearGame of Fear
A Fearless Novel #1
Gledé Browne Kabongo
BrowneStar Publishing, February 20116
ISBN 978-0692539729
Trade Paperback

From the author—

A desperate act, an explosive secret, and a diabolical enemy—all part of a treacherous game, with no limits.

Overachieving good girl Abbie Cooper has her future all planned out. As senior year at her elite private school kicks off, she has one simple goal: get into the Ivy League. But at St. Matthews Academy, nothing is ever simple. The pressure is overwhelming, the secrets are dirty, and the games are wicked. Abbie has a dirty secret—one that could destroy her chances of getting admitted into Princeton, and the lives of those closest to her.

One morning, she discovers a note in her locker with the warning, “I know what you did”. Then a photo arrives in the mail. It captures her most shameful deed—the shocking blunder she can never erase, in glorious detail. Someone is out to ruin her, but who and why? The answer lies with the sender of the photo, a mysterious girl known only as The Avenger. For a price, she assures Abbie her secret will remain safe. There’s only one problem: The Avenger may not exist at all. If Abbie doesn’t uncover her true identity before acceptance decisions are made, it’s game over…

Poor Abbie…her nearly perfect, planned-to-the-last-detail life has run into a stumbling block, one she can’t control or even understand. Who could be sending her these threats and what are they referring to? While that’s going on, she’s monumentally distracted by bad boy Christian who seems to be pursuing her relentlessly but Abbie doesn’t trust that his intentions are good and his ex-girlfriend, Sidney, queen of the mean girls, is out to make Abbie’s existence miserable.

Christian actually is pretty likeable and Abbie is, too, except that she’s so controlled, so driven, to the point where I sort of thought these threats from The Avenger might rattle her cage enough to make her a bit more like an ordinary teenager. Her best friends Callie and Frances are truly loyal to Abbie and each other and the three take strength and comfort from each other. In fact, all of this is almost too good.

I know there are very privileged kids in this world and many of them go to extremely exclusive private schools but Saint Matthews Academy and its students are so over the top I couldn’t really relate to any of them. This is a world in which nearly everyone has enough money to buy a small island or the Hope Diamond and they’re all paragons of beauty. Essentially, they’re interesting but nowhere close to normal.

I also can’t really agree that this is a thriller because the pace is pretty slow and, in fact, far more attention is paid to the romance than to the apparent blackmail. The final resolution is kind of ho-hum, possibly because it’s hard to feel too sorry for these kids. On the positive side, though, this is a pretty good story, better than average escapism, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

Autumn of Fear, the sequel to Game of Fear, will be coming out in the future but, for those who’d like to know more about Abbie before then can check out her first appearance in Swan Deception, available now.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2016.

About the Author

Glede Browne KabongoGledé Browne Kabongo writes intense psychological thrillers—unflinching tales of deception, secrecy, danger and family. She is the Amazon Bestselling Author of Game of Fear, “Mark of Deceit” (Eye of Fear Anthology), Swan Deception, and Conspiracy of Silence. Her love affair with books began as a young girl growing up in the Caribbean, where her town library overlooked the Atlantic Ocean. She was trading books and discussing them with neighbors before Book Clubs became popular.

She holds both an M.S. and B.A. in communications, and worked as a freelance news reporter right out of college. After she abandoned the dream of winning the Pulitzer Prize as a reporter for the Boston Globe, she jumped into marketing management for over a decade. Gledé lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two sons.


Author Links:

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Book Reviews: Double Switch by T.T. Monday and Don’t Look Back by Gregg Hurwitz

Double SwitchDouble Switch
T.T. Monday
Doubleday, March 2016
ISBN:  978-0-385-539958-1
Hardcover

The book is equal parts mystery and baseball.  Johnny Adcock is a terrific protagonist.  He is a no-longer-young baseball player, 36 to be exact, fourteen years in the big leagues, his assigned role to come into a game in the eighth inning, primarily to face left-handed hitters (as he is a southpaw himself), and retire them (working, as he says, ten minutes a night).  Divorced and with a teenage daughter, he plays for the fictional San Jose Bay Dogs.  In the opening pages, Johnny meets a woman with the unlikely name of Tiff Tate, who apparently has a following as a sports stylist – who knew?  In effect she does makeovers on sports figures, upgrading their image, including hair, body ink, clothing and the like.  We are told that “Her work is legendary, lucrative, and highly confidential.”

Johnny’s side job, so to speak, is as an investigator for friends and colleagues, which primarily involves cheating spouses, for which he charges no fee; he says that “an empty bullpen is the closest thing I have to an office,” seeing it as his job down the road after he retires from baseball.  Tiff asks him for help with regard to a Colorado Rockies rookie outfielder who is as well known for his escape from Cuba as for his power at the plate.   She says that he is being blackmailed by the Venezuelans who smuggled him out of Cuba, and are apparently holding his family at gunpoint in Havana as collateral.

At some point, dead bodies start to pile up, and Johnny’s sideline brings him into danger that he never anticipated.  There is much about the less glowing aspects of the sport, with its history of steroids and humongous salaries.  There are tidbits such as that the Coors Field equivalent of a no-hitter is four runs on eight hits, and Johnny pitching to a power hitter who is facing the possibility of leaving “a runner in scoring position against a thirty-six-year-old finesse pitcher who makes a fraction of his salary.”  Oh, and to the uninitiated, the eponymous ‘double switch’ is a “maneuver that allows a manager to change two players at once and swap their places in the batting order.”

Timing is everything, they say, and my reading of this novel on the eve of the new baseball season couldn’t have been more perfectly timed.  It is a good mystery, with just the right amount of humor, and lots of terrific baseball lore and references.  And I even learned a new word:  callipygian!  Of course, the final scene has Johnny coming into a critical game in the eighth inning with the bases loaded.  One doesn’t have to be a baseball addict to enjoy the novel (although, to be fair and in the spirit of full disclosure, I am exactly that).  This is an entertaining book, on any level, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2016.

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Don't Look BackDon’t Look Back
Gregg Hurwitz
St. Martin’s Paperbacks, December 2015
ISBN:  978-1-2500-6831-6
Mass Market Paperback

The title derives from words spoken by a mysterious figure at the heart of this book, an exhortation not to be taken lightly.  When the warning is ignored, in the early pages of the novel, it is the last mistake made by the woman to whom it is spoken.  The man is lethal in a nearly unbelievable way, well-trained in jihadi tactics, and intent on only one thing:  That no one must see him, no one must endanger his hard-won invisibility.

Our protagonist, Eve Hardaway, single mother of an adored 14-year-old boy, has taken a rafting and hiking trip in the mountains of Oaxaca, in Southern Mexico.  Having come upon the fatal encounter referenced above, she is plunged into the most threatening and dire of situations, both nature-made and man-made, exhibiting incredible bravery.  The man hunting her, having seen her observing his murderous actions, has almost inhuman expertise in all things offensive and defensive.  Eve is facing unimaginable odds and a relentless adversary.  In fact, that last adjective describes the book as a whole, for it too is relentless.  So much so that I kept finding myself wanting to put the book down, but could not bring myself to do so.  The author’s descriptions of the jungle and its inhabitants, human and otherwise, are very well wrought.  There are occasional chapters from the pov of Eve’s adversary, giving the reader a glimpse into the mind and heart of a man who is basically, in addition to and despite being a devoutly religious man, a homicidal terrorist.

The book spans about one week, but the scenes that play out sometimes seem endless.  Eve is one of a group of seven, of varying ages and greater or lesser abilities under these threatening circumstances, and they each find their bravery and loyalty to one another tested.  At some point they see the reality of the situation:  “Us vs. nature.  Us vs. him.”  Which just about sums it up.

Despite some reservations, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2015.