Book Review: The Elizas by Sara Shepard

The Elizas
Sara Shepard
Atria, April 2018
ISBN 978-1-5011-6277-0
Hardcover

From the publisher—

When debut novelist Eliza Fontaine is found at the bottom of a hotel pool, her family at first assumes that it’s just another failed suicide attempt. But Eliza swears she was pushed, and her rescuer is the only witness.

Desperate to find out who attacked her, Eliza takes it upon herself to investigate. But as the publication date for her novel draws closer, Eliza finds more questions than answers. Like why are her editor, agent, and family mixing up events from her novel with events from her life? Her novel is completely fictional, isn’t it?

The deeper Eliza goes into her investigation while struggling with memory loss, the closer her life starts to resemble her novel, until the line between reality and fiction starts to blur and she can no longer tell where her protagonist’s life ends and hers begins.

The Elizas is an interesting kind of crime fiction in that much of the story has the protagonist, Eliza, questioning her own mental faculties and the reader is just as baffled as she is. Eliza isn’t very likeable—some of her behavior, particularly in the past, can be called unpleasant at best—and most of us are not saintly enough to blithely overlook some aspects of mental issues so connecting with her takes patience and effort. After all, having someone in our lives who may or may not be psychologically damaged is just not easy but I did sympathize with Eliza as she struggled to understand what was real and what wasn’t.

There’s a scene near the end that I wondered about because it seemed so unlikely; a police detective tells Eliza something about the authorities not doing an autopsy and it struck me as a strange accommodation for the police to make. Perhaps the approach is different in Los Angeles and I was just unaware.

The impact this novel could have had on me was lessened somewhat by the use of first person present tense. I know many other readers feel otherwise but I just don’t understand why any crime fiction author does this. Instead of heightening the tension, it pulls me out of the story because (1) unless something supernatural is going to happen, I know the speaker is going to survive so I really don’t need to worry and (2) I can’t help wondering how the protagonist is telling the story as he runs down the street, gun blazing. But then that’s just me and I’m quite sure others will find this perfect for the reader who wants a thriller that is less intense than so many.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2018.

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // iBooks
Google Play // Books-A-Million
Amazon // Indiebound // Simon & Schuster

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About the Author

credit Danielle Shields

Sara Shepard is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Pretty Little Liars series. She has also written other Young Adult series and novels, including The Lying Game, The Heiresses, and The Perfectionists. Sara now lives in Pittsburgh with her family.

Find Sara:

Website
Twitter
Instagram

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“A story blending Hitchcock,  S.J. Watson, and Ruth Ware.”
—Entertainment Weekly (EW.com)

 

“Shepard brings her knack for the tightly-wound thriller that
earned Pretty Little Liars its runaway success to a whole new
demographic… Clever and attention-grabbing, this is one book
you won’t be able to leave sitting on the nightstand for long.”
—Harper’s Bazaar, 10 New Books to Add to Your Reading List in 2018

 

“With a cast of dodgy characters and twists you won’t see coming,
the New York Times bestselling author of Pretty Little Liars
will keep you on your toes until the very last page.”
—Redbook, 14 Books You Won’t Want to Miss in 2018

Book Reviews: Seeds of Revenge by Wendy Tyson and Eight Days on Planet Earth by Cat Jordan

Seeds of Revenge
A Greenhouse Mystery #3
Wendy Tyson
Henery Press, November 2017
ISBN 978-1-63511-275-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

It’s time to cuddle up with a holiday whodunit. Smell the crisp pines and baking cranberries as you sip your hot apple cider. It may be the season, but the mood in Winsome is anything but jolly.

Megan Sawyer is determined to farm year-round. So much so that she braves a December snowstorm to pitch her fresh greenhouse greens to Philadelphia chefs.

And then she sees a stranger stranded on the side of the road.

But this woman is no stranger to Winsome. It’s Becca Fox. A love chemist (you read that right). She’s headed to her aunt’s house to sell her love potions at holiday events.

Or so Becca thinks.

Her sneaky aunt only invited Becca home to reunite her with her estranged father. It sounds noble and kind-hearted, until the man ends up dead.

Megan soon finds herself in the middle. She realizes Becca’s not the only one getting iced over. Megan’s own aunt, the famous mystery author, is dragged into the drama. Her novels implicate her and she’s in trouble.

Now it’s personal. Our Megan must follow a cryptic trail of literary clues, all while sifting through the victim’s sordid past. She gets closer to the truth as the murderer gets closer to her.

How’s that for a ho ho ho? Don’t let your fresh apple crisp burn in the oven because you’re lost in this holiday homicide.

Once upon a time, Megan Sawyer was a high-powered attorney in Chicago, recently widowed, but she put all that behind and moved to the small town of Winsome, Pennsylvania, to help her grandmother run her organic farm and cafe. It doesn’t seem like a natural career change but Megan has settled in well and had just been meeting with Philadelphia chefs to set up vendor accounts for her greenhouse wares when she encounters Becca who used to live in Winsome. Becca’s aunt Merry invited her to set up a holiday shop for her love potions but Merry actually had an ulterior motive, to reunite Becca and her estranged father. Megan doesn’t know any of this but she certainly notices Becca’s angry reaction when she sees her father.

When Paul is murdered, suspects and motives begin to come out of the woodwork, as it were, and Megan gets into the thick of it first to help Becca but later to help her own aunt Sarah, a mystery author, who’s one of those suspects. That suspicion is not necessarily arbitrary—she had an odd connection to the dead man—but, before long, the victims begin to pile up and Megan herself might be in serious jeopardy.

Although this series is labeled as “cozy”, I think it’s actually more in line with the “traditional” subgenre for several reasons. There’s a bit of an edge to this story and Megan’s background as a lawyer gives her a believability as a sleuth that many cozy protagonists don’t really have. It’s also a nice touch that Police Chief Bobby King is not averse to her investigating and Megan gets some assistance from staff, friends and family rather than trying to go it alone. There are no TSTL episodes, thank heavens. All in all, this was a well-crafted mystery and I enjoyed it from beginning to end. Fair warning, that end is a bit of a humdinger 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

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Eight Days on Planet Earth
Cat Jordan
HarperTeen, November 2017
ISBN 978-0-06-257173-1
Hardcover

From the publisher—

How long does it take to travel twenty light years to Earth?

How long does it take to fall in love?

To the universe, eight days is a mere blip, but to Matty Jones, it may be just enough time to change his life.

On the hot summer day Matty’s dad leaves for good, a strange girl suddenly appears in the empty field next to the Jones farm—the very field in rural Pennsylvania where a spaceship supposedly landed fifty years ago. She is uniquely beautiful, sweet, and smart, and she tells Matty she’s waiting for her spaceship to pick her up and return her to her home planet. Of course she is.

Matty has heard a million impossible UFO stories for each of his seventeen years: the conspiracy theories, the wild rumors, the crazy belief in life beyond the stars. When he was a kid, he and his dad searched the skies and studied the constellations. But all of that is behind him. Dad’s gone—but now there’s Priya. She must be crazy…right?

As Matty unravels the mystery of the girl in the field, he realizes there is far more to her than he first imagined. And if he can learn to believe in what he can’t see: the universe, aliens…love…then maybe the impossible is possible, after all.

In many ways, Eight Days on Planet Earth is a look at how a teenaged boy copes with the downturns in his life, including his father’s abandonment of the family, and finds hope in the most unlikely of places. When his dad runs off with his own brother’s wife, Matty reacts with a bit of a stiff upper lip and some disdain for his mom’s apparent inability to accept the situation. As far as Matty can tell, his dad has been less than a great family man for a long time but he’s not about to show his deep hurt. On top of that, he has pretty much zero chance of developing anything with his secret crush and he and his mom are having a rough road financially. What should be that wonderful last summer before senior year is turning out to be anything but.

Then he finds an almost otherworldly girl in the field next to the farm, the field where a UFO landed years before, and Priya is a puzzle on many levels beginning with why she’s in the field in the first place. When Priya tells him she’s waiting for the spaceship to come back for her, he certainly doesn’t know what to think but he’s drawn to her. Priya appears to need looking after and she’s the perfect distraction from his woes but she becomes much more to him. Matty does feel a need to protect this strange and wonderful girl but, to his surprise, a deep emotional connection begins to develop.

Those eight days are slowmoving but they also pass in a flash and the ending tore my heart out while, at the same time, it gave me a glimpse of the fine young man Matty is destined to become. This is a story of hurt and hope and love of all kinds and I’m very glad to have made Matty’s acquaintance.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, 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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To enter the drawing for a
hardcover
copy of Silent Rain,
leave a
comment below. There will
be two winners that
will be drawn
Friday evening,
May 12th. Open to
residents
of the US and Canada.

Book Reviews: Safe Harbor by Rosemary McCracken, Revenge from Beyond by Dennis Wong, and Mannheim Rex by Robert Pobi

Safe HarborSafe Harbor
Rosemary McCracken
Imajin Books, April 2012
ISBN 9781926997452
Trade Paperback

Family is very important. Rosemary McCracken‘s suspense filled mystery shows us the value of family ties, especially when the unexpected happens. Set in around the New Year in frozen Canada, this book brings in various issues of family life with the overlying mystery of murder and killers on the loose.

Pat Tierney’s world is full of her two daughters, a new boyfriend, her dog Maxie, and her Toronto based financial investment career. Her world gets turned upside down when a strange woman leaves a five year old boy at her office claiming he is Pat’s late husband’s son. When the woman is murdered and the boy’s family is apathetic about the boy’s plight, Pat ends up caring for the child. The police suspect the killer is also out to get the boy and wouldn’t hesitate to remove any other obstacles. Digging into the case, Pat finds a connection with a refuge for immigrants seeking citizenship. Against the advice from her new boyfriend and the police to stay out of the case, she can’t help but be involved, especially when danger seeks her out.

There doesn’t seem to be any Safe Harbor in this book for the main character. It’s a tale where the average person delves into being an amateur private investigator. I liked the links with Pat’s investment firm, the clients, her coworkers, and the influential people in her life such as her daughters and boyfriend. McCracken does a good job with showing family values in some of the subplots. It’s a fast but enjoyable read.

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

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Revenge from BeyondRevenge from Beyond
Dennis Wong
Proverse Hong Kong, January 2012
ISBN 978-988-19935-1-9
Ebook
Also available in trade paperback

Take a trip back to ancient China’s Tang Dynasty. Where the Emperor rules and those under him speak in his name. Lawlessness is still common and murder abounds, for all the usual reasons. The same holds true for politics and corruption.

Quan Wu-Meng is just beginning his leadership in the Sui-chou District’s court. Almost immediately, the young judge encounters a murder. A struggling painter is found dead in his bed and Quan, along with the Coroner, begins the investigation. Quan must connect the following evidence: missing paintings, a political candidate with a shady background, and most intriguing, a dream begging for interpretation. The situation intensifies when the body of a rice merchant is discovered after an arson. However, there are more surprises ahead. Can Quan figure out the clues before those in power remove him from office?

Although I’m wary of mysteries set in foreign locales, this one was a quick and enjoyable read. The Chinese culture is explored, but I felt very in tune with the characters. This is a simple story with the culprits fairly easy to deduce. However, there are some very interesting bits of deduction, including a fascinating experiment to determine how a corpse didn’t die from a fire. The punishment for guilty parties is very extreme, but we’re talking about Imperial China. I’d love to read more Quan.

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

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Mannheim RexMannheim Rex
Robert Pobi
Thomas & Mercer, November 2012
ISBN 9781612184487
Trade Paperback
Also available in Kindle format

A monster fish. A depressed writer. A boy with a dream of becoming famous. A sheriff with some serious sociopath issues. These all combine to make for an excellent thriller by Robert Pobi. Don’t expect this to be some cheap Jaws knock-off. This goes so much, uh, deeper.

Gavin Whitaker Corlie, horror novelist, is a widower who can’t seem to get over his wife’s death. Contemplating suicide, he decides to move out of the crazy city. Buying a house in upstate New York on the shore of Lake Caldasac, he settles in to get his life together. Within a few days he encounters Finn Horn, a teenage fishing enthusiast who is slowly dying of cancer. All is not serene in the community lost in time. There have been strange disappearances on the lake and the local sheriff is not a big fan of rich city slickers. With more people missing and dying, danger lurking from local law enforcement, and winter approaching, Corlie and Finn make plans to capture the monster in the lake.

Pobi is a magician with words. His vivid descriptions took me lakeside and alongside with Corlie and Finn as they trolled on the water. This is a novel to display in any collection. Pobi is an author other authors need to read to learn how to write. The only disappointment about the book is that it had to end…or does it? Don’t think it’s over because the last chapter will shock your senses.

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

Book Review: My Dark Places by James Ellroy

My Dark PlacesMy Dark Places
James Ellroy
Vintage Books, 1997
ISBN 0-679-76205-1
Trade Paperback

James Ellroy, prolific Los Angeles crime writer, takes us on a rock-strewn, rutted road through his internal landscape in this memoir, which has at its heart, the loss of his mother to an anonymous murder.

This intimate view of the inside of James Ellroy is not for the faint of heart.  As one reads it, one feels the jagged edges, the desperation, the loneliness and lostness of a boy turned man, still boy, trapped with the feelings of a 10-year-old toward his beautiful, red-headed mother, like a fly trapped in amber.

Mr. Ellroy will be the first to tell the reader, and with frequency, that he transmogrified his feelings toward his mother’s death into his fascination with crime in Los Angeles.  He is one of our living literary giants of noir.  Reading this book shows one how he got there. He lived noir.  He is noir.

Yet, there is redemption.  He should have ended up incarcerated.  He should have wound up dead of an overdose or acute alcohol poisoning.  He should have died an ugly death at the end of a short, tormented life, but he did not.  He lived to thrill us with tales of the dark side, the shadow side that lives in us all.  His courage, talent and genetic midwestern work ethic pulled him out of the muck that wanted to kill him.  The reader is the beneficiary, with not only this memoir, but his L.A. Quartet (The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, and White Jazz) and his other crime books and essays.

Reviewed by Marta Chausée, December 2011.