Book Review: An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

An Anonymous Girl
Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
St. Martin’s Press, January 2019
ISBN 978-1-250-13373-1
Hardcover

Imagine your life as a giant freewheeling gear. At times, it spins freely and isn’t meshing with anything. At others, it meshes with one, or several other gear-lives. The majority of the time, those meshing instances are benign, often interesting, but very seldom result in terrifying, confusing, or life changing encounters. What happens when one involves all three?

Jessica Ferris already carries around guilt, anger and shame. She’s never told her parents the truth about what happened to her younger sister who has brain damage and requires almost constant supervision. She’s never dealt honestly with what happened between her and a New York producer that has taken up residence in the back of her mind. She worries constantly about money for reasons she’s unwilling to share with her small circle of friends. She has to hustle every day to make all the appointments as a professional make-up artist for well-to-do clients through her contract with BeautyBuzz. When she looks at her future, it looks dim and fuzzy.

Then one of those life-gear moments happens, she fills in for a friend at an appointment to be screened for a psychological testing project. While the odd questions raise a red flag, the possibility of getting ahead financially is too strong, so she continues after confessing that she filled in for her friend.

Her admission isn’t a deal breaker for Dr. Shields, a wealthy and somewhat icy female psychologist. As Jessica gets pulled further and further into the complex web woven by the doctor, she’s initially dazzled by the amount of money dangled before her, not to mention the hint that Dr. Shields might be able to get her soon to be unemployed and broke dad a new job.

By the time Jessica’s at a point where she can hear warning bells, she’s not only stuck in the doctor’s web of manipulation, she’s also realized that she’s been involved with the woman’s husband and if any word of that gets back to Dr. Shields, the possible consequences are too scary to imagine.

I can’t reveal more without spoiling the rest of this book, but consider this, At some point, everyone is suspect, there are multiple layers of duplicity, you can’t trust anyone, Jessica has to walk a tightrope to stay reasonably safe and sane, and the twist at the end is a dandy. If you enjoy psychological thrillers that read like a tilt-a-whirl and are extremely edgy, then this is your kind of book.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, May 2019.

A Passel of Teeny Reviews, Part 5

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…

Peachy Flippin’ Keen
Southern Eclectic #3
Molly Harper
Pocket Star, April 2018
ISBN 978-1-5011-7894-8
Ebook

Molly Harper has a ton of books but I had never “met” her until I came across the first book in this 4-book series and fell deeply, madly in love with Lake Sackett, Georgia, and the McCready clan, not to mention the folks in their town. These books are Southern fiction at it’s best and this novella is no exception. Nothing earthshattering happens here as it’s pretty much a set-up for the book coming out in June, Ain’t She a Peach (and I can hardly wait to start that one).

Frankie McCready has to be the cutest, most unusual county coroner and embalmer you ever did see but she fits right in with the family and the McCready Family Funeral Home and Bait Shop which is exactly what the name says. One day, there’s a new lawman in town, Sheriff Eric Linden, fresh from Atlanta, and he apparently never read the Southern charm book. Pranks are being perpetrated on the McCready premises but it’s questionable whether the sheriff will help solve the case or drive Frankie to murder (of him) first. Then again, they did have a previous encounter so keeping that secret is one thing they have in common, probably the only thing. Can you guess where this is headed?

These books can be read out of order because each one focuses on different members of the family but, for a real treat, read these in order.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

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Death Promise
Jacqueline Seewald
Encircle Publications, May 2018
ISBN 978-1-893035-94-2
Trade Paperback

On the surface, this sequel is a thriller involving human trafficking and organized crime as well as maybe Russians and international intrigue but, for me, the core story is that of Daniel Reiner and the family dysfunction that suddenly mushrooms when he learns he has a much younger teenaged sister, daughter of the father who abandoned him as a child. Who is Beth and is she truly his half-sister? International consultant Michelle Hallam agrees to help Daniel look into the situation but what they learn in Las Vegas sends them into a tornado of more and more questions with frightening answers. This is a nice blend of suspense and romance with lots of action to keep the pages turning.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

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The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place
A Flavia de Luce Novel #9
Alan Bradley
Delacorte Press, January 2018
ISBN 978-0-345539991
Hardcover
Random House Audio
Narrated by Jayne Entwistle
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

Great sadness and a near-cliffhanger enveloped our cheeky pre-teen detective at the end of the previous book and fans had to wait, with huge anticipation, for this newest book to find out what would become of the de Luce family and its faithful servants, Dogger and Mrs. Mullet. When Aunt Felicity becomes overbearing and a bit of a bully, Flavia decides to do away with herself but Fate intervenes when Dogger suggests an outing, a boat trip on a nearby river. Is anyone surprised when Flavia quite literally catches a corpse, setting her off on another investigation?

Rumor has it the next book, The Golden Tresses of the Dead (January 2019), will be the last we see of Flavia but, oh my goodness, I hope not and the surprise at the end of The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place gives me a little bit of hope for her future. Who knew, back in 2009 when the series began, that so many mystery readers would fall in love with this kid?

As always, narrator Jayne Entwistle kept me entranced and, at times, sitting in the car in my driveway or a parking lot so I could continue to listen. I’ve said it before and it bears repeating: Jayne Entwistle brings Flavia to life and I highly, highly recommend the audiobooks and/or the print books (I do both so I won’t miss anything) but reading in order is a must.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

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The Library Ghost of Tanglewood Inn
A Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Short Story
Gigi Pandian
Henery Press, November 2017
ISBN 978-1-63511-314-3
Ebook

“Jaya, for the love of all that’s good and holy, please remember that not everything is a murderous plot.”

With that, Jaya and Tamarind (the latter wearing stylish purple combat boots) are rescued from the Denver airport in a snowstorm by a pair of friendly guys and are soon ensconced at a Victorian hotel, the Tanglewood Inn. Did Jaya really see someone at the window of the turret room she’s been assigned? Kenny thinks the hotel is perfect but it puts Jaya more in mind of a spooky haunted house. Sure enough, the owner, Rosalyn, shares the tale of her hotel library’s “avenging ghost”.  A former guest, a Mr. Underhill, died there in the 1930’s and an Agatha Christie book had something to do with it in a classic locked room mystery.

And then they hear a scream in the night…

I’m already a devotee of Jaya’s historic treasure hunting adventures and this little story is a perfect interlude before the next novel. Besides, who could ask for more than a locked room mystery?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

Book Review: A Child Is Torn by Dawn Kopman Whidden

A Child Is TornA Child is Torn: Innocence Lost
Dawn Kopman Whidden
Brighton Publishing, December 2012
ISBN 978-1-62183-040-5
Trade Paperback

There is only one right way to begin this review, and that is with a huge “Thank You!” shout out to the Psychological Thrillers Group on Goodreads. You guys rock! You refused to let this author fly under my radar for another second and I could not be more grateful.

Always a fan of that which is puzzling, frightening, and quite incomprehensible, A Child is Torn is the perfect tale for me. First, this book is scary. Not the nail-biting, Stephen King/Dean Koontz; how-I-am-ever-going-to-finish-this-book-with-my-eyes-closed, scary; but more the horrifying, Danny Boyd/Bill Bitner; chilling, creeping, this-will-forever-be-in-my-brain, scary. The kind that, as you read, you think; okay, this is frightening…and creepy…and…haunting; but that angst doesn’t end when you close the book. Rather, the terror settles deeply in your bones only to leak out when you least expect. A seemingly innocuous situation suddenly slams you straight into a scene from the book. Once again, obsesses with young Brad; pondering, wondering “what if…”, “how would I handle….” and the ever-present, “why?”

Quickly immersed in Brad’s own personal and perplexing Hell; it occurred to me: maybe Ms. Whidden didn’t write this book at all. I caught myself reading ridiculously fast, at times, because I felt compelled to keep up with the frantic pace of so many words spilling onto page after page; almost as if the author was more of a channel for a story that demanded to be told than the creator of it.

Filled with rich, vibrant (yet authentic) characters; this reader was promptly invested in the plight, the ebb and flow of relationships and the individual and unique opinions about Brad and the tragedy. Solving the mystery became imperative, not just for the sake of a little boy, but in order to alleviate the pain and suffering of all those quirky people that I’d quickly grown fond of.

The mystery is of epic proportions. Smart, educated people are forced to challenge logic, evidence and cold hard facts if, for no other reason, than keeping hope alive. Accepting would mean reevaluating beliefs and understandings developed over a life-time. No more tidy pigeon-holes, good-bye black and white; wrong and right; hello complicated questions spiraling downward, leading only to more queries.

The ending….well, that’s for you to decide. Right now, I need to clear off some space on my Jonathan Kellerman bookshelf to make room for more Dawn Kopman Whidden. I am so looking forward to reading each and every one her books.

Reviewed by jv poore, June 2014.

Book Reviews: Board Stiff by Elaine Viets, Always Watching by Chevy Stevens, and Joyland by Stephen King

Board StiffBoard Stiff
Elaine Viets
Obsidian, May 2013
ISBN: 978-0-451-23985-3
Hardcover

Elaine Viets’ newest entry in the Dead End Job Mysteries begins shortly after her protagonists, Helen Hawthorne and Phil Sagemont, have gotten married and started a private detective agency out of their condo office in Riggs Beach, Florida, a beach town just south of Fort Lauderdale.

Helen and Phil, now in their mid-40’s, with a reputation as the best private eyes in South Florida, are hired to work undercover for a paddleboard rental concession owner in Riggs Beach, where he needs help finding out who is behind the vandalism and sabotage at his business, theft of his equipment, and competitors who seem to really want to put him out of business.  The couple accepts the job, Helen feeling that “I’m getting paid to sleep late and sit on the beach,” and Phil that he can get paid while sitting drinking beer with some guys on the beach trying to gain their confidence and information, seemingly a win-win situation.

The crimes have been reported to the authorities, but they are convinced that no “official action” can be expected in a town like Riggs Beach (known as Rigged Beach since Prohibition days and rumored to be fairly uniformly corrupt).  Their client’s problems multiply exponentially when a female tourist, one of his clients, tragically dies; he is threatened with revocation of his license and the City lease on his valuable beach property, as well as a wrongful death lawsuit by the victim’s husband.  Helen and Phil are tasked with proving their client was blameless in her death.

Things become more complicated, on a more personal level when a situation regarding Helen’s sleazy ex-husband, thought dead, comes back to haunt them, almost literally, affecting their marriage and their partnership, and overshadowing the case they are trying to solve.

Ms. Viets always manages to come up with a good old-fashioned mystery, which, while containing a murder or two, is more lighthearted and contains less blood and gore than many others in the genre, and is a decidedly pleasant way to spend a summer, or even late summer, day. It is, as were the prior books by this author, recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, September 2013.

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Always WatchingAlways Watching
Chevy Stevens
St. Martin’s Press, June 2013
ISBN:  978-0-312-59569-2
Hardcover

The story at the heart of this newest book by Chevy Stevens deals with a subject not touched upon to my knowledge in years: communes, popular in decades past among “hippies” [a seemingly archaic term], and the total subjugation of their followers.  Imagine my amazement when, as I was about to finish reading this engrossing tale, I discovered an article on the front page of a section of that day’s Sunday NY Times dealing with the enormous following of a group in San Francisco which holds “guided meditations . . . [long] wait lists for panel talks and conferences [that] now run into the hundreds,” even discussing a “meditation app” that can be downloaded.  I felt as though the lines could have been placed whole into the narrative of Ms. Stevens’ new book.

The protagonist is Dr. Nadine Lavoie (who readers met in the author’s earlier novels), attending psychiatrist at the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit in Victoria, British Columbia, whose newest patient is Heather Simeon, involuntarily committed after a suicide attempt, her third try, this time by slashing her wrists.  She and her husband of six months were both members of what can only be described as a cult, located on the outskirts of Shawnigan Lake, on the tip of Vancouver Island, calling itself The River of Life Spiritual Center.  When Nadine hears these details, memories come flooding back to her:  Now 55, when she was a young girl in the late ‘60’s, she and her mother and brother had lived for 8 months in a commune run by the same man, then only 22 years old.  That period had left her with devastating memories, worse than which are the blank spaces among them, knowing only that she has suffered from panic attacks and severe claustrophobia ever since.

Nadine’s life is a very troubled one, coming as she did from a dysfunctional family; in addition, she has recently been widowed, and has a 25-year-old daughter who had left home at 18, become a drug addict, and is now living on the streets.  As she deals with this situation, she delves into Heather’s recent past, as well as her own early years, trying to fill in the blanks, for all of which she must confront the commune and its leader, almost dreading the answers for which she searches.

The novel, suspenseful and at times grueling, is not easily forgotten when the book is put down, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2013.

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JoylandJoyland
Stephen King
Hard Case Crime, June 2013
ISBN: 978-1-781-16264-4
Trade Paperback

Devlin Jones (“Dev” or “Jonesy”), now a writer in his sixties, reminisces about the summer of 1973 when he decided to take a year off from his college studies and take a job as a carny in a North Carolina amusement park, 700 miles from his home town of Durham, New Hampshire. This is basically the plot of the newest novel by Stephen King.  But whatever preconceptions the reader might have about a book by this most prolific and best-selling novelist, be prepared to set them aside; I know I had to!  And I mean that in the best way possible.

The tale opens in 1973, when the protagonist was a self-proclaimed 21-year-old virgin.  He had just had his heart broken by his first love, and his life suddenly becomes one wholly inhabited by carny workers, as well as a ‘boy and a woman and their dog.’  Most of the summer hires are “college students willing to work for peanuts.” There is a backstory involving a dead girl killed in the amusement park years before, and four similar murders in Georgia and the Carolinas, all of young girls.   Of course, there is also the ghost in the funhouse.  Towards the end, things turn suddenly darker on, of course, an unforgettable “dark and stormy night.”

The novel is utterly absorbing, fast-reading, and very moving.  As always, Hard Case Crime has done a wonderful job of bringing us a book that may seem a throw-back to a simpler time.  And I mean that in the best way possible as well.  The novel is simply terrific, and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2013.