Book Review: The Quiet You Carry by Nikki Barthelmess @nikkigrey_ @fluxbooks

The Quiet You Carry
Nikki Barthelmess
Flux, March 2019
ISBN 978-1-63583-028-6
Trade Paperback

Teens face many troubles. From typical to uniquely terrible, talked-to-death to barely touched; there is a tie that binds: this part of life is a different kind of tough.

The Quiet You Carry ponders points that may not be particularly prevalent in publishing yet, but actually affect many children today. Certainly domestic-abuse situations are beginning to be addressed and recently, I’ve read about characters in foster-care and adoption. Still, I’m admittedly overwhelmed with what I’ve learned here and a bit ashamed of my ignorance. Taboo topics turn to thoughtful talking points when Ms. Barthelmess brilliantly blurs lines.

Contrary to popular belief, first impressions are not always accurate. The very person that seems aloof and uncaring may have the biggest heart. Only, it has been so badly broken, on multiple occasions, that it has hardened in self-preservation. After all, enthusiasm and an earnest need to make a difference can definitely be dampened by a laborious, under-staffed system. Add in the horror humans inflict on one another, and that intuitive good nature is bound to become buried beneath metaphorical armor in a vain effort to hold onto the very last bit of a kind, caring and conscientious soul.

Abuse does not need to be physical to invoke very real pain and suffering. Victoria’s story is not just about how her father changed after her mother’s death. Equally important examples of manipulation in her parents’ marriage paint a bigger picture. Accompanying this sweet, sheltered teen through her trials and tribulations evokes every kind of tear, from heartache to hope. Being that teens tend to be resilient creatures; bending, never breaking, there is also some humor.

I cannot imagine a better way to enlighten and empower our adolescents.

Reviewed by jv poore, March 2019.

Book Review: Blood by Maggie Gee @maggiegeewriter @FentumPress

Blood
Maggie Gee
Fentum Press, July 2019
ISBN 978-1-909572-12-6
Trade Paperback

Albert Ludd is a physically and verbally abusive dentist, who also cheats the National Health Service and forces his patients to have sex with him. He has six children, who all hate him in different ways. When the book opens, his youngest son Fred, has been killed in Afghanistan. His father bullied him into joining the Army, and when there was a memorial gathering for Fred, dad didn’t bother to show up.

Daughter Monica, a six foot tall, awkward, teacher, is irate at their father for skipping the get-together, and buys an axe before having a showdown with dad. She finds him, battered and bloodied, in his home. Believing that she killed him, she abandons her car and runs off through the neighborhood before the police track her down.

The book is told from the points of view of Monica, a wildly unreliable narrator, and Adoncia, one of the dentist’s patients and rape victims. The author poses the question: can the victims of bullying men fight back against them and their violence? Full of dark humor and contemporary British slang, this book may not be everyone’s cuppa.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, August 2019.

Book Review: Run Away by Harlan Coben

Run Away
Harlan Coben
Grand Central Publishing, March 2019
ISBN 978-1-5387-4846-6
Hardcover

First I have to confess I am a big fan of Harlan Coben. His latest book RUN AWAY is a complex tale about the Greene Family who live in New York City. Simon Greene and his wife Ingrid have three grownup children, Paige, Sam and Anya. Simon runs a financial company and Ingrid is a Pediatric Surgeon.

Life had been fairly normal until Paige, away from home attending Lanford College, became involved with a man named Aaron Corval, a drug addict. Stunned at the changes in their daughter, they tried to intervene, but Paige refused to listen and to their horror, left college with Corval and became an addict.

Months have passed and now, unbeknownst to his wife, Simon has been trying once again to find Paige with the intention of persuading her to leave Corval and enter rehab. A tip takes Simon to Central Park where he does find Paige, but Corval confronts him. A fistfight ensues and while Paige escapes, bystanders call the police. Simon is arrested.

A month later Aaron Corval is found brutally murdered in a run-down apartment in Mott Haven, The Bronx. The police pay Simon a visit. When he asks about Paige, thinking she might be a possible suspect in Corval’s death, he learns she is missing. Simon and Ingrid decide to check out the apartment where Corval was killed in the hope of finding a clue to where their daughter might have gone. They find no trace of Paige but as they leave they are confronted by a couple of armed drug dealers and in the contentious exchange Ingrid is shot.

Meanwhile we are introduced to two new characters, Ash and Dee-Dee and quickly realize they are killers, working their way through a list of people they have been hired to kill. While there seems to be no connection between the victims there is a strange and eerie logic to what they are being paid to do.

A combination of guilt, frustration and anguish over all that has happened to his daughter and wife (who is still in hospital), drives him to attend Aaron Corval’s funeral in the faint hope he’ll unearth a clue to where Paige is hiding. He gets an opportunity to talk to Corval’s step-mother at the bar she runs but learns little. But when he is approached by a woman who turns out to be a Private Detective looking for a missing young man they discover both Corval and the missing man were both adopted. Can this be the connection that will unravel the mystery?

This is indeed a twisted tale but at no time did I lose focus or interest in what was going on. As always the author did a commendable job of juggling the different story lines as they sped toward an exciting and satisfying conclusion.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, April 2019.

Book Review: Scar Tissue by Patricia Hale

Scar Tissue
Cole and Callahan #3
Patricia Hale
Intrigue Publishing, September 2018
ISBN 978-1-940758-85-5
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Track star, Ashley Lambert, has just been accepted into the prestigious Johns Hopkins University, so when she jumps eighteen stories to her death her parents hire the PI team of Griff Cole and Britt Callahan to find out why. The investigation exposes a deeply disturbed family hiding behind a façade of perfection and follows Ashley’s descent into performance enhancing drugs and blackmail. Ashley’s coaches, peers and even her parents come into question. The disturbing truth behind Ashley’s death is testimony to lines crossed and allegiances sworn…. in the name of love.

Meanwhile, things don’t add up next door. Britt’s working overtime researching their new neighbors whose one-year-old son disappeared four years ago. Rhea McKenzie has a secret and bruises aren’t the only thing she’s trying to hide. When an off-hand comment discloses a connection to Ashley Lambert the two cases become entwined, setting off an unstoppable chain of events. Britt is sucked into an alliance with Rhea and driven to make decisions that challenge her ethics, threaten her relationship and in the end, push her over a line she never thought she’d cross.

With each Cole and Callahan story, I become more and more enthusiastic about this series. Griff and Britt are a pair that works as a professional private investigation duo but also as a couple and, with each book, Ms. Hale develops their working and personal relationships a little more.

Britt and Griff have just bought their first house and, right off the bat, Britt has a feeling that something is not right with the neighbors. Their son went missing several years ago so they certainly have reason to be “off” but she’s sure there’s more to it. Griff would rather she stay out of whatever drama is going on but she can’t make herself ignore the bruises she saw on Rhea.

When Ashley Lambert’s parents approach Cole and Callahan, it’s because they are absolutely positive the medical examiner’s determination that she committed suicide is wrong. After all, she would never do such a thing to her father and, with that revelation, Greg Lambert shows what a control freak he is. Living with the pressure of never letting her parents down could have been enough to make her jump but, reluctantly, they agree to take the case. It isn’t long before some dire secrets begin to come out and, the two cases begin to show signs there may be connections.

Once again, Patricia Hale has crafted a story full of suspense and vivid characters and I’m already looking forward to the next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2018.

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon // Indiebound

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An Excerpt from Scar Tissue

“I don’t believe my daughter jumped. She wouldn’t have done that. I told the police, but they dismissed me. Evidently, they knew my daughter better than I did.”

“What’s your feeling on that, Mrs. Lambert?” I asked. Parents don’t always share perspectives on their children.

When she looked at me, her eyes were moist. She cradled the columbine in her palm. “Call me Gwen.”

I nodded.

“Ashley was a good girl. She worked very hard at everything she did.”

“She was the best, always. She made sure of it,” Greg chimed in.

Or else you did, I thought.

“It would have gone against her nature to jump off that building. It just wasn’t her way,” Gwen added.

“Her way?” Greg squinted at his wife, his face twisted in disgust as though studying an insect on flypaper. “What the hell does that mean?” He stood and walked around the circumference of our seating arrangement and then came back and took his chair again. “My girl did as she was told. And only what she was told.”

“It’s not always easy to tell a senior in college what to do,” I said. “At some point they start making their own choices even if some are ones their parents might not like.”

“Not my girl.” Greg shook his head, knocking my theory out of the park. Dismissed as impossible.

I couldn’t help but notice he kept referring to Ashley as my girl not our girl as though he’d created her, given birth and raised her throughout her short life singlehandedly. I didn’t like him. My assessment of Gwen was still up in the air, but she was wrapped so tight I couldn’t get a glimpse inside. It’s never easy to work for someone you don’t like, but Ashley’s case held the interest factor. Why had this seemingly perfect child jumped to her death?

“She was a star athlete at the top of her class and a week from graduation,” Greg continued. “She’d been accepted at Johns Hopkins Berman Institute for Bioethics. And you’re telling me that’s a kid who makes bad decisions? I don’t think so, Ms. Callahan.”

Okay, he shut me up. (A momentary lull.)

“Mr. Lambert,” Griff spoke up. “I have a daughter. I can’t imagine what you must be going through dealing with all this. What is it you think we can do for you?”

“I told the police and the medical examiner that my daughter wouldn’t take her own life. Cops shook their heads, said it wasn’t their call to make. The medical examiner said it presented as a cut and dried suicide.”

“And what do you say, Mr. Lambert?”

“My daughter was murdered.”

I glanced at Gwen. “Do you agree, Mrs. Lambert?”

She raised her eyes, glanced at her husband and then to me. “I’m not convinced, but I do agree that suicide doesn’t fit with who my daughter was.”

Griff kept his focus on Greg. “What makes you think someone would have killed your daughter? Did she have enemies that you’re aware of?”

“No, no enemies that I know of, but her jumping makes no sense. She had everything going for her and absolutely no reason to end her life. She would never have done that to me.”

Strike two. The selfish bastard assumed his daughter’s tragic death had more to do with him than whatever had driven her to that fateful state of mind. “Suicide is about what’s going on within the person themselves,” I said trying not to let my voice betray my disgust. “I doubt Ashley was consciously doing anything to you at the moment she jumped. If she jumped.”

“She knew the goals we’d set,” he said dismissing my remark. “And she had every intention of attaining them.”

“Goals?” I asked.

“Johns Hopkins, her PhD, an Olympic gold medal.”

“Had she been accepted to compete in the Olympics?” Griff asked.

“It was in the works,” he said annunciating each word as though we were hard of hearing.

“Did you let the medical examiner know how you felt?”

“Of course, I did.”

“And was an autopsy performed?”

Greg Lambert glanced at his wife. She looked away. Touchy subject, I gathered.

“Useless,” he said. “They found nothing.” He turned to Gwen. “Go get my checkbook.”

She rose and disappeared inside the house without a word, still holding the columbine in her hand.

I caught Griff’s eye and he raised his eyebrows as though asking, should we? “Look Mr. Lambert,” he said. “Britt and I like to discuss a case before we

commit to it. We want to feel some degree of surety that we can help you before money changes hands and we sign a contract. Give us time to talk it over and we’ll get back to you tomorrow.”

Gwen reappeared holding a large, black-spiraled checkbook. Greg took it from her along with the pen she offered and flipped open the front of the book. He looked at Griff. “How much do you want?” he asked.

“Mr. Lambert, I…” Griff started.

“We’ll give you the information you need to get started. I don’t have any doubt you’ll see it my way. What’s the retainer?” He held the pen poised over the checkbook.

“Five thousand,” Griff said.

I thought that was a little high. He must be thinking about the pool we wanted to install.

“And a list of names. Professors, coaches and friends,” he added.

Greg pointed to his wife. “Put that together.”

Dismissed, Gwen went inside to gather what we needed.

Once we had the necessary information from Gwen, and Greg’s check was folded inside Griff’s pocket, Carole stepped onto the deck and offered to show us out.

“We’ll be in touch,” Griff said. He stood extending a hand toward Greg.

Greg Lambert rose from his chair and placed his hands on his hips. “When?”

“As soon as I have something to tell you,” Griff said lowering his arm.

Griff’s ability to come off unfazed by blatant rude behavior is beyond me. I couldn’t get off that porch fast enough. If I’d lingered I would have placed a well-directed snap kick to Greg Lambert’s groin.

We followed Carole to the front door. She swung it wide and stepped with us outside then pulled the door closed behind her. On the front step she glanced from one of us to the other then dropped her head and stared at the granite, clearly trying to make up her mind. We waited. When she looked up she extended her arm toward Griff as though intending to shake.

“Look,” she said. “I’m probably way out of line here and dipshit in there will have me banned if he knows I’m talking to you. I’m already on probation around here so whatever I say stays between us, all right?”

Griff nodded and reached for her hand, keeping his eyes on her face.

She slipped a folded piece of paper into his palm. “I’m Carole Weston, Gwen’s

sister. Call me,” she said. “There’s more to this. A lot more.”

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About the Author

Patricia Hale lives in Standish, ME with her husband. She is a graduate of the MFA program at Goddard College, a member of International Thriller Writers, Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance and the NH Writers Project. Scar Tissue is the third book in the Cole & Callahan thriller series. When the computer is off, you can find Patricia on the sideline of her grandsons’ sporting events or hiking the trails near her home with her German shepherd and one very bossy Beagle.

Catch Up With Our Author On:

Website, Goodreads, Twitter, & Facebook!

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Follow the tour here.

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Book Review: Rooted in Deceit by Wendy Tyson—and a Giveaway!

Rooted in Deceit
A Greenhouse Mystery #4
Wendy Tyson
Henery Press, September 2018
ISBN 978-1-63511-384-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

It’s summertime in Winsome. Washington Acres is abloom, Megan is preparing for the grand opening of their wood-fired pizza farm, and things with Megan’s beau, handsome Dr. Finn, are getting as hot as the August temperatures. But when Megan’s ne’er-do-well father arrives in Pennsylvania with his high-maintenance Italian wife, Sylvia, and announces they’re staying at the new yoga retreat center a town away, a sweet occasion sours.

Eager to secure pieces for her Milan boutique, Sylvia finagles a meeting with up-and-coming artist Thana Moore, whose work is showing at the retreat center. After their explosive encounter, Thana is murdered and Sylvia becomes the prime suspect. Only Sylvia isn’t the only one with ties to the artist—once upon a time, Thana Moore had been Megan’s best friend. As Megan delves into Thana’s past, piecing together the years since their falling out, she realizes that something sinister is afoot in Bucks County. Unless Megan can find the killer, this idyllic summer will turn nightmarish. Innocent people may be imprisoned—and even more could die.

Organic farmer Megan Sawyer had expected happy times in Winsome, PA, this summer but, when her good-for-nothing father, Eddie Birch, and his very demanding Italian wife, Sylvia Adriana Altamura, show up without warning, Megan’s expectations head south fast. Eddie and Sylvia refuse to stay at the family homestead, Washington Acres Farm, but that may be a good thing if only for Megan’s peace of mind.

Sylvia is hoping to meet with an elusive artist at a nearby health resort but “hoping to” is more like “demanding” for Megan’s very entitled stepmother . Megan knew Thana Moore in the past, not happily, but she never thought the woman would be murdered, much less by the obnoxious Sylvia and yet she is the prime suspect. Megan is going to have to save Sylvia and her dad from their unpleasant future, with a little help from her grandmother, Bonnie “Bibi” Birch, but Dr. Daniel “Denver” Finn, Megan’s boyfriend and usual sleuthing sidekick, won’t be around, having to tend to a family crisis.

I really enjoyed Ms. Tyson’s very appealing Rooted in Deceit; it’s full of fun-to-know characters, a charming setting and red herrings galore, plus a surprise for Megan and I hope this series will be around for a long time to come.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2018.

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I have two very gently used print advance
reading
copies of Rooted in Deceit and
would love to
share them. Leave a comment
below and I’ll draw
two winning names on
Sunday evening, September 9th.
This drawing
is open to residents of the US & Canada.

Book Reviews: The Favourite by S. V. Berlin and Kyle Finds Her Way by Susie Salom

The Favourite
S. V. Berlin
Myriad Editions, July 2018
ISBN 978-0-9935633-8-6
Trade Paperback (UK)

The Favourite is an atypical read for me. Generally speaking, I seek out a sensational catalyst to kick off a story. I delightfully devour those, but the novels that nestle into my mind and reappear arbitrarily and often—even long after I’ve finished the book—are the quiet ones that sneak in.

A sad situation brings Isobel from her beloved New York City, back to her childhood home in England. Although the trip isn’t uncommon, the fact that she will see—and be required to speak with—Edward is unique. The siblings have been estranged for so long that she fears there won’t be the faintest familiarity.

Often, a rift occurs when two people simply cannot agree. Occasionally though, there is a third party involved. Perhaps not the problem, but absolutely invested in ensuring there’s no solution. This conflict comes from within the tiny, tightly-contained family and it is infinitesimally larger.

For Isobel, England had too little to offer and it was all spread too widely. A classic American film introduced New York and she knew that’s where she belonged. With the apparent support of her mum and brother, she set off and absolutely made her way. In that she was happy.

A job she enjoyed covered her rent. Absolutely anything she would ever want was found only a few steps or a subway ride away. And yet, in spite of her satisfaction, friends here furrowed their brows and worried about why she wasn’t climbing a corporate ladder.

Laughable, really. In England she was strange for following a dream; selfish to want more than a steady job and stable life. Isobel meant only to do her own thing and truly not be a bother to anyone. In doing just that, she instead seemed to frustrate and disappoint everyone. She seems sweet and confused.

Edward appears angry. Frustrated by an accident, furious with himself for not being where he truly should have been and freaked-out by the very fact that this whole mess means he’s forced to face his sister. It’s difficult to see why Isobel ever admired her brother and it is almost impossible to understand why Jules is his girlfriend. A bit mousy and oddly eager to please Edward, she could just about blend into the background, except that she’s clearly keeping a secret from both Isobel and Edward.

While not fast-paced in a frenzied way, finite time together and a fast-approaching departure date moves the narrative quicker than I’d expect. Even without being categorized as Young Adult, it is nevertheless perfect for me to share with ‘my’ students. The stark and the subtle differences between American English and English—both in speaking and in spelling will be something that will amuse and delight them. Most importantly, I want them to understand early in life that sometimes, when someone seems disappointed in you, they may actually be disappointed in themselves for not being more like you.

Reviewed by jv poore, June 2018.

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Kyle Finds Her Way
Susie Salom
Arthur A. Levine Books, October 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-85266-1
Hardcover

Kyle had no doubt that her first day of middle school would be somewhat daunting, especially without her twin brother by her side. Principal-issued-discipline or deliberately boarding the wrong bus at the end of the day had not made her worse-case-scenario list though, so there were some surprises. Initially charming, Kyle’s child-like creative imagination becomes just short of concerning quickly. For her sake, I want to watch her grow and mature; but for the good vibes, I hoped she wouldn’t change at all. Ms. Salom deftly dealt with my dilemma.

Georgia O’Keefe Middle is a bit more progressive than my middle school was. Instead of dodge-ball in a stinky gym, these students study t’ai chi. When Kyle’s punishment is issued, it isn’t so surprising to hear the head of the school tell her that he hopes it “…sparks your imagination…actually I hope it engages your crusading spirit.”

Obligatory grumbling about the forced placement on the school’s NAVS team is slowly replaced by a growing fascination with the competition’s challenge. Kyle finds herself fitting in with the team and feeling a desire to contribute. Of course, maturity isn’t an overnight accomplishment. Kyle allows herself accolades for making strides in one area as she attempts to convince herself that she isn’t actually lying to her parents or being dishonest with her best friend in other ‘opportunities for improvement’ parts of her life.

It seems to me that today, students are bombarded with ‘right or wrong’, ‘black or white’ when real life is generally just groovy shades of grey. Peppering “typical” teen dialect with profound statements such as “…some people bring out different sides of you that don’t exist when they’re not around,” Kyle Finds Her Way proves that all things are not crystal clear. This is an honest and hopeful story that I’m so excited to be sharing my favorite middle-grade readers.

Reviewed by jv poore, December 2017

Book Review: Girl Unknown by Karen Perry

Girl Unknown
Karen Perry
Henry Holt and Co., February 2018
ISBN 978-0-8050-9874-7
Hardcover

In this story of a girl who tears apart the lives of all the members of a family, author Karen Perry (actually two authors Paul Perry, Karen Gillece) shows how assumptions and lies affect the most basic relationships. David Connolly, a professor at an Irish university, his wife Caroline, and their two children, teenager Robbie and eleven year old Holly, are getting along as well as any family. There was a rough patch the previous year, when Caroline was on the verge of an affair, but she pulled back, and family life is getting back to normal.

After class one day David is approached by a freshman student, a frail and beautiful young woman by the name of Zoe. With her masses of white blonde curls, she seems otherworldly, and David can’t believe his ears when she tells him “I think you might be my father.”

David had an affair with Zoe’s mother Linda while he was in graduate school, before he married Caroline, and Linda never contacted him to say she was pregnant. Zoe offers to mail in a DNA test, and David meets with her at a local pub to talk it over. Zoe shows him the positive results, and after he tells Caroline about Zoe, the recriminations begin. Zoe claims Caroline insulted her, and physically assaulted her. Zoe says that her stepfather threw her out and she is destitute, but when David visits the stepfather, he discovers that Zoe had been given up for adoption, had only appeared in her birth mother’s life the year before she died, and had been left money for her studies. When confronted, Zoe claimed the check bounced.

The reader wonders why David and Caroline didn’t check out her story more, and when they did, they didn’t act on it. They allowed her to live with them even though she had been proved to be a liar. She manipulated them, and their friend Chris, an older man who was taken in by Zoe’s lies. The tragic and somewhat surprising conclusion could have been avoided had they been more vigilant. But they vetted Zoe less than they would a minimum wage worker. The story is told from the viewpoints of David and Caroline, in alternate chapters. Readers who enjoy psychological suspense, like Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl or Jodi Picoult may enjoy the shifting realities of this book. Perry is the  author of The Innocent Sleep and other books.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, May 2018.