Book Review: A Wolf in the Woods by Nancy Allen

A Wolf in the Woods
An Ozarks Mystery #4
Nancy Allen
Witness Impulse, February 2018
ISBN 978-0-06-243878-2
Ebook

From the publisher—

McCown County assistant prosecutor Elsie Arnold is prepping an assault case when a girl is found beaten and bloodied at a roadside no-tell motel. Elsie tries to convince the teen to reveal who attacked her, but Mandy is too scared—and stubborn—to cooperate… and then she disappears. Elsie’s positive a predator is targeting the Ozark hills, yet the authorities refuse to believe their small town could be plagued by sex trafficking.

Then middle school student Desiree Wickham goes missing, but only Elsie suspects it could be connected to Mandy’s assault. As she digs deeper into the events leading up to Desiree’s disappearance, she stumbles upon an alarming discovery: local girls are falling prey to a dubious online modeling agency, and never seen again. Elsie shares her concerns with Detective Ashlock and the FBI, but they shut her out.

She takes matters into her own hands and lands an interview with the head of the modeling agency. But when she meets him face-to-face, she discovers the fate of Desiree and Mandy… and becomes his newest captive. Elsie’s desperate to free the girls—and save herself—before the unspeakable happens. And she’s in for the fight of her life.

Sex trafficking is becoming a fairly common theme in crime fiction and I, for one, am glad to see authors shedding light on this hidden world that brings such devastation to girls and young women as well as their families. In this particular story, Elsie Arnold is a worthy warrior in the fight to obtain justice.

When first one girl and then another go missing and the local cops and FBI seem to be dismissive of Elsie’s concerns, she decides to follow her hunches on her own. It will come as no surprise to the seasoned crime fiction reader that her impulsive actions get her in trouble but Elsie is no dimwit. This woman is intelligent and driven by a need to set things right but she’s not a professional investigator so, of course, she makes mistakes, some of them real doozies.

Speaking of mistakes, is Elsie’s boyfriend, Detective Bob Ashlock, one of them? Some readers, including myself, might think so but Elsie hasn’t reached her point of no return yet and, to be honest, her attention right now has to be on this case, especially once she becomes a target herself.

I was first introduced to Elsie and this series two years ago with the third book, The Wages of Sin, and I thought then that author Nancy Allen was somebody I was very glad to have “discovered”. My opinion has not changed; if anything, Ms. Allen is even better with this entry and I really am anticipating the next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2018.

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Purchase Links:

HarperCollins // Barnes & Noble
Kobo
// Amazon

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An Excerpt from A Wolf in the Woods

Prologue

A dark haired man lounged behind a battered desk in a second floor room at an EconoMo motel that sat on the highway in flyover country, Missouri. He pulled up Skype on his laptop and studied his own image on the computer screen, rubbing the tattoo that covered his neck. Behind him, the unmade bed was visible on the screen. A thin cotton sheet covered the form of a young girl.

He adjusted the angle to cut her from the shot. The bed disappeared, replaced by beige curtains at the window, hanging askew on the rod.

The place was a dump. He could afford better accommodations, without a doubt. It was business, and business was booming. His greatest challenge was procuring sufficient supply to meet the constant demand.

On the desktop, bottles were scattered near the computer. Alprazolam. Oxycodone. Rohypnol. Diazepam. Three value packs of Benadryl: cherry flavored. A plastic bottle of Aristocrat vodka sat beside a jumbo container of Hawaiian Punch.

As he pushed them aside, the bottle of roofies rolled off the desktop and onto the dirty carpet. He caught it just before it rolled under the dresser.

A ding notified him: his Skype appointment was ready. Right on time. He liked the girls to be punctual.

He hit the button on the mouse and fixed a smile on his face. “Lola! How you doing, baby!”

A giggling girl with a mane of curly blonde hair greeted him onscreen. “Tony, you’re so funny. I’m not Lola, I’ve told you a zillion times.”

“But you look like a Lola. If you want to make it in the modeling trade, you’ll have to project glamour. Drama.” He stretched his arms over his head, displaying muscled biceps covered in ink, and locked his hands behind his neck.

“Cool.” Her eyes shone.

“Leave that country girl persona behind in Podunk. Where are you from again?”

“Barton. Barton, Missouri. Where’s Podunk?”

He laughed, running his hand over his thick hair. “Podunk is where you’re sitting right now. What you’re itching to ditch. How’s life?”

Desiree shrugged, pulling a face.

“They still giving you shit at school, baby?”

She rolled her head back onto her neck. “All. The. Time.”

“And how’s living at home?”

“Lame.”

“Wish you could leave it all behind?”

“Totally.”

The girl turned her head; he heard a whisper from someone off-screen. Sharply, he asked: “Are you alone?”

A second head appeared over Lola’s shoulder. He saw a mixed race girl. She was taller than Lola, but he pegged her at the same age: an adolescent, around fourteen.

And she was a diamond in the rough—a black diamond. Unblemished skin, full lips, high cheekbones. Lola said, “You asked if I had any friends who wanted to meet you.”

He smiled, tapping his hand on the counter. “Who’s this?”

The tall girl looked at her friend, then into the computer. “I’m Taylor Johnson.”

“And you’re interested in modeling?”

She blinked. A nervous twitch. He shot a grin, to reassure her. “You’ve got the bone structure for it.”

The tall girl pinched her lips together. “Maybe. I think so.”

“We’ll need to conduct some auditions by video, maybe an interview, before you can qualify for a live shoot at the agency.”

She looked skittish. He wouldn’t get anything from her today.

“Let’s just get acquainted, okay?” He was about to launch into his patter: find out her story, gain her trust.

But a moan sounded from the bed behind him. The girl was coming around. He glanced over, fearful that she might raise a ruckus that could scare off his new prospects.

Tony picked up his phone. “Aw shit. Call’s coming in from one of our clients. I gotta take it.” He winked and shut off Skype just in time.

In a weak voice, she said, “Tony. Help me. Please, take off the cuffs.”

He sighed. Picking up a dirty plastic cup, he poured a measure of vodka and Benadryl, and topped it off with the red punch.

The girl spoke again, in a pleading tone. “Don’t make me do it, Tony. It hurts.”

He stirred the drink with his finger and walked toward the bed. “Mandy, Mandy. You look like you could use a magic drink, baby. This will fix you right up.”

The girl tried to sit up as he extended the red plastic cup. Tony stared down at her, shaking his head. “What’s that saying? ‘The customer is always right.’ You know what you got to do.”

The girl began to thrash against the mattress. But she was handcuffed to the metal bed frame.

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Excerpt from A Wolf in the Woods by Nancy Allen. Copyright © 2018 by Nancy Allen. Reproduced with permission from Witness Impulse. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Nancy Allen practiced law for 15 years as Assistant Missouri Attorney General and Assistant Prosecutor in her native Ozarks.

She tried over 30 jury trials, including murder and sexual offenses, and is now a law instructor at Missouri State University.

Catch Up With Ms. Allen On:
Website –
nancyallenbooks.com
Goodreads – Nancy Allen
Twitter – @TheNancyAllen
& Facebook – NancyAllenAuthor

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Book Review: Another Man’s Ground by Claire Booth—and a Giveaway!

Another Man’s Ground
Sheriff Hank Worth Mysteries #2
Claire Booth
Minotaur Books, July 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-08441-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

It starts out as an interesting little theft case. Branson, Missouri’s new Sheriff Hank Worth is called out to look at stands of trees that have been stripped of their bark, which the property owner had planned to harvest for the booming herbal supplement market. At first, Hank easily balances the demands of the investigation with his fledging political career. He was appointed several months earlier to the vacant sheriff position, but he needs to win the fast-approaching election in order to keep his job. He thinks the campaign will go well, as long as he’s able to keep secret the fact that a group of undocumented immigrants – hired to cut down the stripped trees – have fled into the forest and he’s deliberately not looking for them.

But then the discovery of a murder victim deep in the Ozark backwoods sets him in the middle of a generations-old feud that explodes into danger not only for him, but also for the immigrants, his deputies, and his family. He must rush to find a murderer before election day, and protect the vulnerable in Branson County, where politicking is hell and trespassing can get you killed.

When I discover a new—or, new to me—author and they knock my socks off, I’m always a little trepidatious that the next book will let me down, be a bit disappointing. That sad occurrence has happened more often than I like to think but, happily, I had no need to worry this time. The Branson Beauty was a wonderful book and it made my 2016 Favorite Books list; Another Man’s Ground is every bit as entertaining and Sheriff Hank Worth is still one of my best-loved smallish-town cops.

Hank is a man who loves what he does, protecting and defending others besides using his considerable intellect to solve crimes. He left the Kansas City police department in hopes of finding a more congenial place for his family and, indeed, he did but detective work is in his blood and he enjoys being Sheriff. Not so enjoyable is the campaigning he has to do for the upcoming election and looking into what he thinks is a fairly simple theft is a welcome distraction but, of course, it’s anything but simple.

Claire Booth brings the Ozarks to life and, in what I can only call a touch of love, she lets us come to know the people of this rural area as far more perceptive and quick-witted than stereotypes from the past persisting today would lead us to believe. The good folk of Branson and its environs are likeable and intelligent and its criminals have their own brand of cleverness. On the other hand, the notion of a decades-long feud is straight out of the hills and adds an element of curiosity and intrigue to what should have been, as I said, a simple theft.

With a little help from a deputy named Sheila Turley and not so much from the DEA and some US Marshals, Hank brings sanity back to Branson but it’s Guapo, a kind of ridiculous dog, who steals hearts on the campaign trail and all the townfolks together make me add this to my favorite books read in 2017. And now I’m really curious about what’s in store next time for Guapo and friends 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2017.

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Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // iTunes
Amazon // Indiebound // Books-A-Million

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About the Author

Claire Booth spent more than a decade as a daily newspaper reporter, much of it covering crimes so convoluted and strange they seemed more like fiction than reality. Eventually, she had enough of the real world and decided to write novels instead. Her Sheriff Hank Worth mystery series takes place in Branson, Missouri, where small-town Ozark politics and big-city country music tourism clash in, yes, strange and convoluted ways.

For more about Claire, her books, and some of the true crimes she’s covered, please visit www.clairebooth.com, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

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“The second in Booth’s regional crime series … is both an
excellent police procedural and a surprisingly humorous
look at politics and family feuds.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Booth’s affectionate treatment of the decent and shrewd
people of Branson and Worth makes this a series
worth following.” – Publishers Weekly

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To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Another Man’s Ground, leave a
comment below. The winning name will
be drawn Saturday evening, July 15th,
and the book will be sent after the tour ends.

Open to residents of the US and Canada.

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Book Review: Just Fine with Caroline by Annie England Noblin—and a Giveaway!

just-fine-with-carolineJust Fine with Caroline
A Cold River Novel
Annie England Noblin
William Morrow, October 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-246562-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Caroline O’Connor never dreamed she’d be back home in Cold River, Missouri, the Ozark Mountain town where everyone is ‘up your business.’…they mean well as they drive you crazy. She thought she’d left town for good, but now she’s back, helping to care for her New York born mother—struck with Alzheimer’s, and prone to saying and doing anything—and her father, the beloved local doctor frustrated he can’t cure his own wife.

As for Caroline, she’s doing ‘just fine’ coping with her parents, her brazen cousin Ava Dawn’s marital disasters, her mostly-deaf dog…and with Noah Cranwell, far-flung relative of a local family mostly infamous for running moonshine, an ex-veteran who’s come to Cold River with troubles of his own.

Caroline believes she knows everything about Cold River and the people who live in its hills and hollers … but sometimes life’s greatest surprises happen closest to home.

The choices we make can have effects long after the fact and Caroline was well aware that her life would be taking a turn when she chose to leave college to help look after her mother, in the grip of Alzheimer’s. Four years later, she’s accustomed to being back home in the small town of Cold River, finding relaxation and comfort in a bit of fishing on most days, but things are still pretty boring.

Then Caroline meets a young man named Noah, a New Jersey member of the reclusive local Cranwell family. He, too, seems to have made a choice to come to Cold River, taking possession of the abandoned family store, Cranwell Station. New Jersey is a long way from Missouri but Caroline can’t help seeing the charm in this guy.

A real friendship begins to grow between these two but, when Caroline and Noah begin to move even closer together, choices that were made years earlier come into play, changing their lives and raising serious questions about their present as well as future. Whether they can fully cope with the devastating truth and help heal their families and the town is at the core of Just Fine with Caroline; in some ways, they’ll need to make an emotional journey home.

There’s nothing earth-shattering in this story, no thrills and chills, no deep questions to be answered but it’s a story of family and love and how secrets can fester over the years until new choices must be made. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting this little town and meeting the people who are its heart.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2016.

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Goodreads

Purchase Links:

HarperCollins // Barnes & Noble // Kobo

Amazon // Indiebound

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About the Author

annie-england-noblinAnnie England Noblin lives with her son, husband, and three dogs in the Missouri Ozarks. She graduated with an M.A. in creative writing from Missouri State University and currently teaches English and communications for Arkansas State University in Mountain Home, Arkansas. She spends her free time playing make-believe, feeding stray cats, and working with animal shelters across the country to save homeless dogs.

Connect with Annie on Facebook and Twitter.

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Follow the tour:

Tuesday, October 11th: Books and Bindings

Wednesday, October 12th: Buried Under Books

Thursday, October 13th: A Chick Who Reads

Monday, October 17th: A Bookworm’s World

Tuesday, October 18th: Reading is My Super Power

Wednesday, October 19th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Thursday, October 20th: Tina Says…

Monday, October 24th: BookNAround

Tuesday, October 25th: Ms. Nose in a Book

Tuesday, October 25th: Kritters Ramblings

Thursday, October 27th: View from the Birdhouse

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I’d love to send somebody my very
gently used print advance reading
copy of Just Fine with Caroline.
Leave a comment below and I’ll draw
the winning name on Friday evening,
October 14th. This drawing is open
to residents of the US & Canada.

Book Review: A Portrait to Die For by Radine Trees Nehring

A Portrait to Die ForA Portrait to Die For
Radine Trees Nehring
Dark Oak Mysteries, January 2016
ISBN 978-1-61009-222-7
Trade Paperback

Carrie McCrite and her husband Henry King have had several adventures that have brought them both close to danger and now Henry has put his foot down.   He is insisting that Carrie stop getting the couple involved in criminal activities.  Carrie has a habit of noticing things that others might overlook and so she has managed to get the couple in some tight spots.   Carrie has promised that she will abide by Henry’s wishes.

That promise lasted just about as long as it took Carrie to get to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art where she was volunteering.  First she ran into a woman who was trying to get away from a man and she asked Carrie to say she had gone the other way.

As Carrie wandered around the museum viewing some of the new items she stopped to study “Twins With Daisies” by Marie Forneau. This was part of the items on loan from Port View Historical Society’s collection.  Carrie immediately noticed what she took to be a discrepancy in the picture but decided to keep it to herself.  Valerie Knight, the museum’s director of communications requested that Carrie speak with Maylynn Brewer, a reporter, who was interested in Carrie’s observations as a volunteer.

The two didn’t hit it off right away but that changed when Maylynn suddenly disappeared.  It turned out that Carrie’s son Rob was an old friend of Maylynn’s. In addition, Catherine who is engaged to Rob was also acquainted with Maylynn.   Rob also informed Carrie and Henry that Maylynn had a twin brother who had some problems that arose from his duty in the service overseas.  In spite of all the promises not to get involved, Carrie and Henry are trying to find out what has happened to Maylynn and how it might be connected to “Twins With Daisies” since Maylynn had also mentioned noticing a discrepancy in the picture.  Rob and Catherine decide to join in the hunt for Maylynn and soon they are all four in more trouble than they ever thought of.

I enjoyed this book and looking forward to more from this author.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, September 2016.

Book Review: The Branson Beauty by Claire Booth—and a Giveaway!

The Branson BeautyThe Branson Beauty
Sheriff Hank Worth Mysteries #1
Claire Booth
Minotaur Books, July 2016
ISBN 978-1-250-08438-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

The Branson Beauty, an old showboat, has crashed in the waters of an Ozark mountain lake just outside the popular tourist destination of Branson, Missouri. More than one hundred people are trapped aboard. Hank Worth is still settling into his new role as county sheriff, and when he responds to the emergency call, he knows he’s in for a long winter’s day of helping elderly people into rafts and bringing them ashore. He anticipates a lot of anxiety, many arguments, and extra costs for emergency equipment that will stretch the county’s already thin budget to the breaking point. But those are the least of his worries after he discovers high school track star Mandy Bryson’s body locked inside the Captain’s private dining room.

Every now and then, I entertain myself by trying to figure out which subgenre of crime fiction I like best. Why I do this I have no idea since I NEVER come to a successful conclusion because there are so many subgenres and then those are further modified by all kinds of nuances. There are a few I don’t particularly care for but way too many I like to be able to pick one favorite. So, I give up the quest until the next time I decide to think about it.

What can I say? I’m easily amused 😉

Police procedurals are definitely in my positive column and The Branson Beauty pushes a whole lot of my hot buttons. I really REALLY like rural or semi-rural sheriffs and deputies, small or smallish towns, humor without sappiness, clues that the cop in question actually has a good family life and that he has avoided the stereotypical alcoholism or PTSD and is intelligent and perceptive, i.e., good at his job, but I want some edginess because, after all, murder is a serious business.  In this case, there’s a bonus….a showboat! Just thinking about showboats takes me back to earlier times with a touch of romance and adventure, not to mention a terrific movie 😉

Hank is a smallish-town sheriff, actually a county sheriff, but he came from the Kansas City police department so hard crime, including murder, is not a huge surprise to him. The same can’t be said for his fellow citizens, some of whom kind of go off the deep end when, first, the boat crashes and they have to figure out how to get a lot of people off of it and, second, a very dead murdered body is found. Fortunately, Hank has at least one pretty capable deputy. A Company Man tries to throw his weight around….hence the caps….in a semi-friendly fashion, hoping to avoid a public relations nightmare and a widow with a police scanner, Lovinia Smithson, is the first to arrive when Hank sends out the call for help, ensconcing herself on a nearby rock to watch the festivities. The Company Man’s boss turns out to have a stick up his butt and the emergency district chief can’t resist whistling the theme from “Gilligan’s Island”.

And then a rather important piece of evidence disappears, in a manner of speaking.

Quite honestly, I love this book and everything about it and it will be going on my list of favorite books read in 2016. All the characters are finely developed and much more human than many fictional people and the investigation had me guessing , surprising me more than once. Most of all, I enjoyed the relationships between Hank and his family and between Hank and his colleagues. I’m sorry I now have to wait for a second book and I’m not even sure one is planned, but I can hope. Ms. Booth, please give us more!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2016.

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“This contemporary take on a locked-room puzzle
is chilling, compelling and completely entertaining,
and Claire Booth is a wonderful new voice
in crime fiction.” – Hank Phillippi Ryan, Agatha,
Anthony and Macavity award winner

Goodreads

Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble Buy Button     Kobo Buy Button     Amazon Buy Button

Books-A-Million Button     Indiebound Button 2

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About the Author

Claire BoothClaire Booth spent more than a decade as a daily newspaper reporter, much of it covering crimes so convoluted and strange they seemed more like fiction than reality. Eventually, she had enough of the real world and decided to write novels instead. Her Sheriff Hank Worth mystery series takes place in Branson, Missouri, where small-town Ozark politics and big-city country music tourism clash in, yes, strange and convoluted ways. For more about Claire, her books, and some of the true crimes she’s covered, please visit www.clairebooth.com.

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“With nuanced characters and an intricately unfolding
plot – and a bone-deep sense of cold in this snowy
Ozark setting – this novel is reminiscent of William Kent
Krueger or Giles Blunt. Claire Booth is a writer to watch.”
– Anthony and Agatha award winner Sara J. Henry

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Follow the tour:

Monday, July 18th: A Chick Who Reads

Tuesday, July 19th: BookBub Blog – author guest post

Wednesday, July 20th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Monday, July 25th: Mockingbird Hill Cottage

Wednesday, July 27th: Write Read Life

Monday, August 1st: Bewitched Bookworms

Thursday, August 4th: Kahakai Kitchen

Thursday, August 11th: Buried Under Books

Thursday, August 18th: Joyfully Retired

Monday, August 22nd: All Roads Lead to the Kitchen

Tuesday, August 23rd: FictionZeal

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To enter the drawing for a print
copy of The Branson Beauty
by Claire Booth, just leave a
comment below. The winning

name will be drawn on
Sunday
night, August 14th.
This drawing
is open to residents
of the US and Canada.

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“Claire Booth hits the ground running in this debut
novel set in the Missouri Ozarks. She writes with the
assurance and clarity of a more seasoned pro.”
– Edgar award-winning author Margaret Maron

Book Review: The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

The Weight of BloodThe Weight of Blood
Laura McHugh
Spiegel & Grau, March 2014
ISBN 978-0-8129-9520-6
Hardcover

Seventeen-year-old Lucy Dane lives in the tiny rural town of Henbane, in the Ozark Mountains. Lucy is an appealing narrator: smart, practical, empathetic, pretty, and resourceful, she is not judgmental and tends to take the side of the underdog. Lucy seems to have a lot going for her, as she looks forward to finishing up high school. Her father, Carl, is protective and loving, a hard worker who supports the goal of getting Lucy away to college. Her uncle, Crete, owns the restaurant and store in town, as well as much of the surrounding land, and his prosperity makes him an important figure in Henbane. Birdie, the savvy old woman who is Carl and Lucy’s closest neighbour, is like a grandmother to Lucy, teaching her important skills about cooking and gardening. All of these relatives and friends have done their best to support Lucy through a significant loss in her life:  Lucy’s mother, Lila, died when Lucy was just a year old, under mysterious circumstances. Lila’s body has never been found, and there are rumours that she committed suicide in one of the old mineshafts in the area.

Although Lila’s death has left a permanent mark on Lucy, and grief and loss are always with her, she still manages to be a typical teenager in many ways.  She enjoys giggling with her best friend, Bess, about Daniel, a boy Lucy likes who is also smart and college-bound. Even in the Ozark Mountains, Lucy has a cell phone, and she and Bess get up to no good at parties held by the riverbank.

Henbane may be beautiful in many ways, but it is seedy and dark in others. Drug dealing is prevalent, and just a few months before the story begins, the town has been shocked by the murder of a mentally challenged girl named Cherie, who had been particularly close to Lucy. It is Cherie’s brutal death that really galvanizes Lucy into action and forces her to begin looking more closely at the people around her, as she tries to discover who killed Cherie. Are the people Lucy has grown up with who she really thought they were? She begins to pay keener attention to the rumours about other girls who have gone missing, and of course she can’t help but connect this with Lila, her own young mother who disappeared so many years ago.

The Weight of Blood has a strong sense of immediacy. The novel begins with first-person alternating narratives between Lucy and Lila. While Lucy relates what is happening in the present, the reader is shown, in Lila’s words, what has happened in the past, so that the stories of mother and daughter unfold together. Then, as the book goes on, more characters begin to pick up the threads, and chapters are written from Carl’s point of view, from Crete’s, from Birdie’s, and from others who know Lucy and who had known Lila.

Unfortunately for Lucy, it begins to seem more and more obvious that it may be someone very close to Lucy who is responsible for the horrible crimes she learns about. Henbane seems to become creepier and more sordid, and Lucy faces danger both for herself and for those around her.

The Weight of Blood is a perfectly titled novel. While the plot revolves around Lucy gradually solving the questions she has about Cherie’s death and Lila’s disappearance, the book is also very much about what Lucy will do with this information once she has uncovered it. The Dane family has lived in the Ozark Mountains for generations; Lucy can’t divide herself from her own ancestors, no matter what they might have done. Lila was an outsider, so Lucy struggles with her sense of herself as someone who is, like her mother, quite different from many of the people around her. At the same time, Lucy is entrenched in the town’s ways, as her Dane grandparents were before her. McHugh has done a very successful job of writing a creepy, oppressive-feeling thriller, while at the same time exploring how someone can accept themselves when they discover harsh truths about the people they love the best.

Reviewed by Andrea Thompson, July 2016.

Book Review: Adam’s Needle by Beth Lyon Barnett and Dissolution by Lee S. Hawke

Adam's NeedleAdam’s Needle
Beth Lyon Barnett
Prairie Acres Press, March 2015
ISBN 978-1503268968
Trade Paperback

Will grows up in a shack tucked away outside of the town of Pecan Grove in the Ozarks. His father is an abusive alcoholic who causes Will to quit talking when he is five years old, and his mother has been beaten down by abuse, ailments, and life. Will’s rescuer is his part Native-American granny who instills in him a sense of right and wrong and inner strength that allows him to survive.

Some of the town leaders, members of the local fundamentalist church, and several uneducated hotheads on neighboring farms are connected with white supremacist organizations. The towering white cross on Adam’s Needle was placed there by the Ku Klux Klan. Incidents of teenage pregnancy and the drug culture are growing among the poverty-stricken families.

A young Jewish couple, scientists from K.U. dedicated to improving agriculture and restoring wildlife in the area, buy a neighboring farm. A gay couple moves to town to run the florist shop. Then, the church’s pastor retires and is replaced by a phony preacher bent on making his reputation by stirring up trouble with his xenophobic interpretations of Bible passages that appeal to the poor farmers and townsfolk ready to blame their situations on something or someone. Predictable trouble.

Mass hysteria can be caused by unscrupulous, power-hungry leaders anywhere. This book is both an engrossing story unique to Will’s Ozark community and also a universal phenomenon. It’s both timely and ancient. Compare it to Winter’s Bone but with a political edge.

Reviewed by Joyce Ann Brown, March 2016.
http://www.joyceannbrown.com
Author of cozy mysteries: Catastrophic Connections and Furtive Investigation, the first two Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mysteries.

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DissolutionDissolution
Lee S. Hawke
Blind Mirror Publishing, March 2016
ISBN 978-1-925299-03-8
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

What would you sell yourself for?

Madeline knows. She’s spent the last eighteen years impatiently waiting for her Auctioning so she can sell herself to MERCE Solutions Limited for a hundred thousand credits. But when the Auctioneer fails to call her and two suits show up at her doorstep, Madeline discovers there are far worse bargains to be made.

So when your loved ones are in danger, there’s a bounty on your head and your entire city might turn out to be a lie… what would you sell yourself for?

In recent times, we in the US have come to have a rather jaundiced view of corporations, particularly the big ones, and we’ve largely lost the naive faith our parents and grandparents had that corporations cared about people. That doesn’t mean there aren’t good ones that DO have an altruistic bent but the moneycrunching type seem to be prevalent. Even with our mounting distrust, though, I don’t think we’ve anticipated the theme that Lee S. Hawke has built her story around in Dissolution.

How repugnant is the idea that our children can be bought and sold by corporations with the true parents aiding and abetting the process? I immediately felt a good deal of empathy for Maddie not only because of the auction that’s happening but also because she doesn’t know how wrong this is, never having experienced any other lifestyle. She’s an interesting girl, quite appealing, and I came to like her quite a lot despite her blind dependence on the existing system (and imagine how unromantic it must be to have to pay to spend time with your boyfriend!).

More than anything else, I found Dissolution to be somewhat incomplete. There’s no real worldbuilding and that’s pretty important in a tale like this one, a way to let the reader know how we got to such a point in our future and what propelled the corporations to a position of absolute control. The lack of such information is understandable in a novella but I’m sure I would have enjoyed Maddie’s story more in a full-length novel with space enough to provide the backstory and flesh out the characters more.

All that said, I do want to know more and I appreciated Dissolution enough to hope Ms. Hawke will bring Maddie back in the near future.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2016.