Book Review: The Quiet Child by John Burley and The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine

The Quiet Child
John Burley
William Morrow Paperbacks, August 2017
ISBN 978-0-0624-3185-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher:  It’s the summer of 1954, and the residents of Cottonwood, California, are dying.  At the center of it all is six-year-old Danny McCray, a strange and silent child the townspeople regard with superstition, who appears to bring illness and ruin to those around him.  Even his own mother is plagued by a disease that is slowly consuming her.  Sheriff Jim Kent, increasingly aware of the whispers and rumors surrounding the boy, has watched the people of his town suffer, and he worries someone might take drastic action to protect their loved ones.  Then a stranger arrives, and Danny and his ten-year-old brother, Sean, go missing.  In the search that follows, everyone is a suspect, and the consequences of finding the two brothers may be worse than not finding them at all.

This is a tale of what appears to be a kidnapping gone horribly wrong.  But put aside any preconceptions you may have with regard to kidnappings – this is not like any conjecture you can imagine.

This is a difficult time for the residents of Cottonwood, where “it seemed everyone had something wrong.”  The protagonists are Michael McCray, a science teacher at Anderson Union High School, and his wife of 12 years, Kate.  Days go by, and no headway is made in finding their two kidnapped sons, despite the best efforts of Michael and Jim Kent, 65 and “the town’s only plumber and part-time sheriff,” who thinks “there was something out here, some trace of them.  There had to be.  People do not just disappear.  There was a concerted law enforcement effort under way.  They would find them – – soon, he thought.  He only hoped it would be soon enough.”  The boys are 6 and 10 years old, of whom Michael thinks “one a constant source of chatter and energy and the other an enigma, silent and indecipherable,” the eponymous brother.

The reader is introduced to Richard Banes, who is at the crux of most of what takes place in this novel, and who “had harbored the suspicion that he might be going insane. True, it was not a condition that had plagued him in the past.  But the recent events had been wild and unpredictable – – and beyond his ability to control.  If he had heard the story from someone else and not experienced it for himself, he would have scoffed at it and questioned their mental stability.    But here he was: incapacitated by a small child . . . ”

This is a psychological thriller of the highest order, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2017.

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The Last Mrs. Parrish
Liv Constantine
Harper, October 2017
ISBN 978-0-06-266757-1
Hardcover

From the publisher:  Amber Patterson is fed up.  She’s tired of being a nobody:  a plain, invisible woman who blends into the background.  She deserves more – – a life of money and power, like the one blond-haired, blue-eyed goddess Daphne Parrish takes for granted.  To everyone in the exclusive town of Bishops Harbor, Connecticut, Daphne – – a socialite and philanthropist – – and her real-estate mogul husband, Jackson, a man of apparently limitless wealth, are a couple straight out of a fairy tale.  Amber’s envy could eat her alive . . . if she didn’t have a plan.  Amber uses Daphne’s compassion to insinuate herself into the family’s life – – the first step in a meticulous scheme to undermine her.  Before long, Amber is Daphne’s closest confidante, traveling to Europe with the Parrishes and their lovely young daughters, and growing closer to Jackson.  But a skeleton from her past may destroy everything that Amber has worked toward, and if it is discovered, her well-laid plan may fall to pieces.

Part I of the novel is told from Amber’s perspective, Part II, roughly half-way through the book, from Daphne’s.  The two women meet at a gym they both attend, and are drawn together by a shared interest:  It appears that Daphne, through an organization called the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, puts out a magazine dealing with that disease.  Daphne tells Amber, when questioned, that she had lost her younger sister to that disease, 20 years earlier at the age of 16.  When Daphne asks, Amber reveals that her own younger sister had died of the disease at the age of 14.  That is the beginning of a friendship that becomes much more than just that, with Amber becoming almost of the Parrish family

The reader discovers late in the novel that Amber’s name isn’t even Amber – it was Laura Crump.  She had made everything up, including the ostensible existence of a sick sister, an abusive father, when in actuality she was a criminal, a fugitive.   But we are told very early on that the only sisters she does [or ever did] have are all alive and well.  She apparently makes monthly pilgrimages to the main library in Manhattan and to museums, the better to display her apparent knowledge and acumen to others, most importantly to Jackson Parrish.  She inveigles her way into the family dynamic and, in doing so, into the “world of the rich and mighty, mingling and toasting each other, smug and confident in their little one percent corner of the world,” and ultimately landing a job as Jackson’s new office assistant.  I have to admit I found myself at one point I could not help but admire Amber’s success in achieving her aim of worming herself into the Parrish world in many aspects, although that didn’t last too long.  The Parrish marriage of 12 years soon is threatened.   I also have to admit that once the 2nd half of the book is under way–from Daphne’s p.o.v.–that admiration quickly ended.

This novel received starred reviews from each of the most highly respected review sites in the industry, each comparing it favorably with “Gone Girl,” one of the mostly highly lauded novels of its kind in the last couple of years [and one I must admit I have never read, unlike, I suspect, most of the readers of this review, I humbly realize].  That said, “Mrs. Parrish” kept me turning the pages as quickly as I could until the very end.

Liv Constantine is the pen name of sisters Lynne Constantine and Valerie Constantine., a remarkable job, considering they live several states apart!  They have created a book that captivates the reader, and one I highly recommend.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2017.

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A Passel of Teeny Reviews, Part 2

Once again, big surprise, I find myself with
an overload of books read but not yet reviewed
so I think it’s time for a roundup or two…

 

All the Little Liars
An Aurora Teagarden Mystery #9
Charlaine Harris
Minotaur Books, October 2016
ISBN 978-1-250-09003-4
Hardcover

Charlaine Harris has to work really hard to make me not like any of her books and this one is no exception. Aurora Teagarden is her fluffiest series and I was SO excited when she brought it back with this book, 13 years after the last one.

Roe is a librarian—now married and pregnant—in a small town in Georgia and, as librarians are wont to do, falls over dead bodies on a regular basis. This time, a bunch of kids have gone missing and her teenaged brother is somehow involved. I enjoyed this story even though I thought it was just a little weak but I chalk it up to the difficulties of rebooting a series and fully expect the upcoming Sleep Like a Baby to be back on top.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Gizelle’s Bucket List
My Life with a Very Large Dog
Lauren Fern Watt
Simon & Schuster, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-5011-2365-8
Hardcover
Simon & Schuster Audio, March 2017
Narrated by Lauren Fern Watt
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

I both read and listened to this one and was glad I did because the audio edition added a strong connection between me and the author. This is a true story and, as you can guess from the title, it’s all about this wonderful dog’s last days. Get out a box of tissues because you’re going to need them. Yes, it’s terribly sad but also joyful and uplifting as Lauren helps Gizelle do the things she loves best and those Lauren is sure she’ll enjoy before it’s too late. The love and devotion between Lauren and Gizelle are as real as it gets and I appreciate the time I spent with them.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Smugglers & Scones
Moorehaven Mysteries, Book 1
Morgan C. Talbot
Red Adept Publishing, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-940215-87-7
Trade Paperback

Moorehaven is a bed and breakfast in Oregon that caters to crime fiction writers—what a great setting for murder and mayhem, right? Pippa Winterbourne, manager, gets pulled into the investigation when a local is killed and a boat mysteriously crashes on the rocks, leaving her to house an intriguing injured man who just might be guilty of murder. This is a delightful tale full of the history of coastal Oregon and a beautiful setting and featuring some very appealing folks. The setup with the B&B is unusual in that a trust is actually in charge so this is not the typical scenario in which the innkeeper has to scrimp and save to keep things going. That frees Pippa to do some sleuthing on her own while she rides herd on her crochety great-uncle and the current group of author guests. This is a clever, charming series debut and I’m looking forward to the next one, Burglars & Blintzes.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Still Life
A Chief Inspector Gamache Mystery #1
Louise Penny
Narrated by Ralph Cosham
Blackstone Audio, August 2006
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

When murder is done in a small town in the Quebec province, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is called in to investigate. Most of the villagers think it must have been a hunting accident but Gamache is quite sure something else is going on.

I’m hanging my head in shame, I think, because I’m apparently at odds with the mystery reading world. I’d always avoided this series ( now up to #13) for no particular reason other than I have a bit of distrust when everybody raves about the first book, then the second, the third… But, I finally started feeling kind of silly about it and bit the bullet and, well, I’m kind of underwhelmed. The narrator was quite good (I understand fans were devastated when he passed away a few years ago, after recording the tenth book) and the story was good but I just didn’t connect with it. Still, a gazillion readers can’t all be wrong so I’m going to try the second book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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The Introvert
Michael Paul Michaud
Black Opal Books, November 2016
ISBN 978-1-626945-47-0
Trade Paperback

He’s a vacuum salesman, a quiet individual, kind of a loner but only because solitude is usually easier. He’s Everyman. He also has moments of inner rage so intense he imagines the other person “red and open” but he’s perfectly normal. Right? Well, there was that incident a couple of years ago…

{{Shudder }}

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

 

Book Review: Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton

Little Black LiesLittle Black Lies
Sharon Bolton
Minotaur Books, April 2016
ISBN:  978- 1-250-08067-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher:The remote Falkland Islands serve as the setting for Sharon Bolton’s chilling new standalone novel.  When a young boy visiting the islands with his family goes missing, a sense of dread settles on the isolated, tight-knit community.  It’s the third young child to go missing in as many years.  While the previous two were assumed to be accidents, the third disappearance sends an ominous message to everyone on the islands:  A killer may be living among them:  “The chances of three boys between the ages of seven and three disappearing in three years” cannot explained by coincidence.

The first of three points of view in this novel is that of Catrin Quinn, a marine biologist who has her own form of PTSD after the accidental death of her two sons three years ago, the result of the utter carelessness of her childhood best friend, Rachel, and the ensuing years have seen her emotions go from grief to a determination to seek revenge in an as-yet undetermined way.  The events described take place over the space of several days, the most fraught of those on November 3, 1994, when a solar eclipse occurred (although not at the precise time of day that it actually happened, we are told in an author’s note).  As the book opens, it is approaching the third anniversary of Catrin’s boys’ deaths, a date of which all and sundry are well aware.

The second p.o.v. is that of former Second Lieutenant Callum Murray, who first came to the Falklands during the 1982 UK war with Argentina in its 74 days of occupation, still suffering from the more severe sort of PTSD resulting in severe panic attacks and flashbacks as a result of that horrific time.  And the third and final p.o.v. is that of Rachel, the aforementioned best friend of Catrin, who describes herself as “something of a ghoul on the islands.  No one looks at me and doesn’t think: woman who killed two kids.”

The Falklands are described thusly:  “When you’re hundreds of miles away from the rest of the world, when news from outside is always too little, too late, then the world you inhabit, however small and sparsely populated, assumes a terrific importance.  In the Falkland Islands, everybody knows everybody else’s business.”    There is infidelity and jealousy and suspense aplenty here.  The gorgeous writing is particularly vivid in glorious descriptions of the islands and their natural beauty.  There is a lot of death in these pages, both the human and animal variety.  But the twists and shocking turns of events, and the suspense as the three narrators converge in the local constabulary in the final pages, are well worth reading, and the novel is definitely recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2016.

Book Reviews: The Longings of Wayward Girls by Karen Brown and The Last Word by Lisa Lutz

The Longings of Wayward GirlsThe Longings of Wayward Girls
Karen Brown
Washington Square Press, July 2013
ISBN 978-1-4767-2491-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

It’s an idyllic New England summer, and Sadie is a precocious only child on the edge of adolescence. It seems like July and August will pass lazily by, just as they have every year before. But one day, Sadie and her best friend play a seemingly harmless prank on a neighborhood girl. Soon after, that same little girl disappears from a backyard barbecue—and she is never seen again. Twenty years pass, and Sadie is still living in the same quiet suburb. She’s married to a good man, has two beautiful children, and seems to have put her past behind her. But when a boy from her old neighborhood returns to town, the nightmares of that summer will begin to resurface, and its unsolved mysteries will finally become clear.

Most of the big review publications love this book, using such terms as nervewracking, haunting, absorbing, tension, suspense. I’m sorry to say none of these words come to mind when I think about The Longings of Wayward Girls. It’s not that it’s a bad book—it really isn’t—but to say it’s full of suspense and tension is miles apart from what most mystery readers are looking for.

We know from the jacket copy that two children have gone missing but getting to any real information about those disappearances is a chore. The second instance, which is the real focus, doesn’t actually happen until more than two thirds through the story and that is simply far too long for the mystery reader to wait. In essence, the only real tension is caused by wondering when on earth we’ll be told anything about this second disappearance beyond the fact that it happened. To make matters worse, there’s no real resolution to that second crime because we’re left wondering whether it really was a crime or rather jealousy gone out of control leading to unintended consequences.

On the other hand, as a look at a woman’s life and how her adulthood is so heavily influenced by her childhood, this hits the mark. Speaking personally, I couldn’t like Sadie very much—she’s remarkably self-centered as a child and as an adult—but she has some reason to be that way. If I had thought this would be a personality study that happens to include a couple of mysteries, I might have enjoyed it very much because Ms. Brown is a fine writer, particularly when it comes to evoking a sense of setting. Unfortunately, the description makes it sound much more like suspense is the overriding theme and that just isn’t the case.  The publisher should come up with a more accurate description for future editions to prevent disappointing readers looking for a solid crime drama.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2013.

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The Last WordThe Last Word
A Spellman Novel, Document #6
Lisa Lutz
Simon & Schuster, July 2013
ISBN 978-1-4516-8666-1
Hardcover

From the publisher—

The sixth installment of the critically acclaimed, New York Times bestselling, Edgar- and Macavity-nominated and Alex Award-winning series by Lisa Lutz, finds our intrepid heroine of the series, Isabel Spellman, PI, at a crossroads. Izzy is used to being followed, extorted, and questioned—all occupational hazards of working at her family’s firm, Spellman Investigations. Her little sister, Rae, once tailed Izzy for weeks on end to discover the identity of Izzy’s boyfriend. Her mother, Olivia, once blackmailed Izzy with photo­graphic evidence of Prom Night 1994. It seemed that Spellman vigilance would dis­sipate after Izzy was fired for breaching client confidentiality, but then Izzy avenged her dismissal by staging a hostile takeover of the company. She should have known better than to think she could put such she­nanigans behind her.

In The Last Word, Izzy’s troubles are just beginning. After her takeover of Spellman Investigations, her employees are the fur­thest thing from collegial…and Izzy finds herself struggling to pay the bills. But when she is accused of embezzling from a former client, the ridiculously wealthy Mr. Slayter, the stakes become immense. If Izzy gets indicted, she could lose her PI license and the Spellman family’s livelihood, not to mention her own freedom. Is this the end of Izzy Spellman, PI?

A few years ago, word spread that Lisa Lutz was retiring her Spellman clan after the fourth book and I was one of many who were horrified to hear that news. Then, lo and behold, a fifth book showed up and, now, number 6 in the series. I don’t know what changed the author’s mind but I couldn’t be happier.

Izzy Spellman is a character I’ve come to love and I wish I could spend real-life time with her. Alas, that is not to be, so I have to get my fill of her company through her books and this latest is no disappointment.  Her squirrelly family is just as much fun as they’ve always been—who else would carry on inter-family warfare with boxer shorts and fluffy slippers?—and, although the cases being investigated are not exactly earthshaking, going along for the ride is an adventure in itself.

I especially appreciated baby sister Rae’s development of a new way to bring in much-needed income and and Izzy certainly needs to find out who’s taking advantage of a tycoon’s weakness but there really are two primary mysteries…will the family survive Izzy’s hostile takeover of the investigation business and what will it take to get a three-year-old despot named Princess Banana to approve of Izzy?

Anyone who enjoys a good deal of humor in their mystery reading will love The Last Word and all the other Spellman books and I’m already eagerly awaiting #7.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2013.

Book Reviews: Unwanted by Kristina Ohlsson, The Tehran Triangle by Tom Reed with Sandy Baker, and Through a Yellow Wood by Carolyn J. Rose

UnwantedUnwanted
Kristina Ohlsson
Emily Bestler Books/Atria, February 2012
ISBN 9781439198896
Hardcover

One of the worst fears a mother must have is the abduction of her child. In Ohlsson’s debut novel, three mothers experience that fear. It is up to a Stockholm investigating team to uncover the clues, connect the pieces of complex cases because the kidnapper won’t stop until he completes his agenda.

A little girl disappears off a train while her mother, distracted at a previous stop, missed returning to her car. Later the little girl is found dead outside a hospital. The word UNWANTED is marked on her forehead. Thus is the case for police legend Alex Recht, consultant Fredrika Bergman, and investigators Peder Rydh and Ellen Lind of the Stockholm police. At first they suspect the mother’s abusive husband but anomalies keep popping up. Fredrika doesn’t think the husband should be the main focus and takes it upon herself to track down other leads. Soon, other pieces start falling into place but before the team has a chance to act, another child is taken. Recht and his team are up against a killer who won’t stop unless they stop him.

This isn’t just a kidnap/murder mystery. Unwanted also delves into the team members’ backgrounds. Troubles at home. Their own relationship with children. Ohlsson did an excellent job of feeding clues and drawing me in, urging me to solve the puzzle. Unfamiliar with the country and its landscape, I had to rely on Ohlsson’s knowledge to keep me guessing throughout. This is a very fine first novel.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, August 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

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The Tehran TriangleThe Tehran Triangle
Tom Reed with Sandy Baker
Black Garnet Press, March 2012
ISBN 9780983238324
Trade Paperback

Iran is going nuclear and they will not be denied. This is the story spanning thirteen years, tracing the progress Iran makes in its goal to own a nuclear weapon…and what happens when they finally get one. Combing truth with an exciting thriller, Reed and Baker show a scary situation and America’s best heroes who have to cope with it.

In 1999, Elizabeth Mallory gets her first field assignment for the CIA. She has to stop a major Gharabaghi from acquiring nuclear material for his home country of Iran. Foiling the plot only puts her in his gunsights. Moving quickly through the years, Elizabeth adds more responsibility to her career but always keeps in her mind how Iran continually moves forward to become a nuclear power. She learns of a plot to build a nuclear weapon in El Paso and to explode within the United States. Behind the plan, her old  nemesis, Gharabaghi, now a Colonel. And he hasn’t forgotten about Mallory.

I enjoyed the bits of fact with the fictional tale. It’s a realistic tale and shows the might and power of very determined people. There’s some good old American nationalism put up against Muslim fanatics. The authors really did their homework to bring to light facts and scientific know-how when it comes to Iran, the intelligence community, and nuclear physics.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, September 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

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Through a Yellow WoodThrough a Yellow Wood
Carolyn J. Rose
Carolyn J. Rose, June 2012
ISBN 978-0-9837359-4-6
Trade Paperback

Hemlock Lake heats up with another murder mystery and more drama than a prime time television show. This one has a little bit of everything. A bit of light humor, death, tragedy, tears, love, and hope. There is no rest for the mountain community and by the end of the fall, lives will be changed forever.

Trying to settle down in Hemlock Lake, Dan Stone receives a request to check on Clarence Wolven, a man Dan discovers is a distant relation. When he and his friend Jefferson Longyear arrive at Wolven’s mountain cabin where he raises tracking dogs, they discover Wolven and all but one of the dogs have been murdered. On a return visit, they bring  the surviving dog who leads them to a dump site containing victims of a serial killer. It’s a summer of full of suspense and death of various kinds for Dan as he finds himself involved with not only the investigation but problems relating to his past.

This is a long involved story. I suggest anybody interested in this book read the first Hemlock Lake story unless you want it spoiled. This book references the past Dan Stone adventure and the plethora of characters and their relations with each other may be a bit confusing unless properly introduced. Some good tension and suspense to make a trip Through a Yellow Wood worthwhile reading.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, December 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

Book Review: Paradise Falls by Jonnie Jacobs

Paradise Falls
Jonnie Jacobs
Five Star, March 2012
ISBN 9781594153785
Hardcover

It’s every mother’s worst nightmare–her child goes missing. The grief, the despair, the hoping the worst case scenario doesn’t come to pass. Add to the agony is the suspicion one of her own family members may be involved. This is the premise of Jonnie Jacobs’ latest novel, Paradise Falls. Small town life in the middle of a crisis is depicted with varying reactions from several parties.

Caitlin Whittington is the second girl to go missing in five months. Her mother, Grace, now married to a second husband, is of course devastated. When Grace discovers a possible connection between Caitlin’s disappearance and her stepson, Adam, things go from bad to worse. Meanwhile, Rayna Godwin, lead investigator on both cases has her own problems. Her desired laid back life in small town Paradise Falls, Oregon, is ruined by the girls’ disappearances. They bring up memories of her own daughter’s kidnapping and murder years  before. Adding to the problem–her ex lover, FBI agent Neal Cody has been assigned to help out.

This mystery is low key with new revelations thrown in your path every so often to keep you moving along. Character driven with several personalities to keep it interesting – from the reactions of the exes, to the constantly sniping reporter, to the mysterious taunting figure just out of sight. I knew something good was going to happen at the end, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, April 2012.
Author of Night Shadows and Beta.