Book Review: Death by the River by Alexandrea Weis and Lucas Astor

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Title: Death by the River
Authors: Alexandrea Weis and Lucas Astor
Publisher: Vesuvian Books
Publication Date: October 2, 2018
Genres: Psychological Thriller, Young Adult

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

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Death by the River
Alexandrea Weis and Lucas Astor
Vesuvian Books, October 2018
ISBN 978-1-944109-14-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

SOME TRUTHS ARE BETTER KEPT SECRET.
SOME SECRETS ARE BETTER OFF DEAD.

Along the banks of the Bogue Falaya River, sits the abandoned St. Francis Seminary. Beneath a canopy of oaks, blocked from prying eyes, the teens of St. Benedict High gather here on Fridays. The rest of the week belongs to school and family—but weekends belong to the river.

And the river belongs to Beau Devereaux.

The only child of a powerful family, Beau can do no wrong. Handsome. Charming. Intelligent. The star quarterback of the football team. The “prince” of St. Benedict is the ultimate catch.

He is also a psychopath.

A dirty family secret buried for years, Beau’s evil grows unchecked. In the shadows of the ruined St. Francis Abbey, he commits unspeakable acts on his victims and ensures their silence with threats and intimidation. Senior year, Beau sets his sights on his girlfriend’s headstrong twin sister, Leslie, who hates him. Everything he wants but cannot have, she will be his ultimate prize.

As the victim toll mounts, it becomes crystal clear that someone has to stop Beau Devereaux.

And that someone will pay with their life.

Years ago, I read a book by Iain Banks called The Wasp Factory that I’ve never forgotten and I don’t mean that in a good way. The story of an extremely disturbed teenager, it’s filled with violence and perversity and it literally kept me up at night, hoping to find at least one redeeming factor in this boy or even a reason for the story itself. I suppose I have to say it’s a good book because it made a huge impression on me but I can think of better ways to get my attention. When I read the description of Death by the River, I really hoped this psychopath would be more tolerable than the one in that book.

Fortunately, as psychopaths go, Beau is a lot less horrific than Frank was but that’s not to say he’s a pleasant guy to be around. He reminded me in a way of Ted Bundy with his charisma but, in Beau’s case, he has the rich, privileged background—and protection from others—that allows him to intimidate and bully his victims, feeding his narcissism. Beau has turned manipulation into a fine art and each episode of depravity just makes him want more. He’s a fascinating young man.

Leslie and Dawn are not quite as vivid (because they’re normal teens) but I liked both for different reasons. Dawn, who seems to be kind of forgettable as the stereotypical high school cheerleader, turns out to have a lot more going for her than you might think and Leslie stands out as a girl who can’t be charmed by a handsome face.

I did think the pacing of the story was a bit uneven but all was forgiven by an ending I definitely did not see coming. All in all, I’m glad I had the opportunity to read Death by the River and will be interested to read more by these authors.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2018.

An Excerpt from Death by the River

Crickets chirped and mist curled around him as Beau eased out of the crack in the wall to the cells. The chill in the air teased his sweaty skin, but the surge of power pounding through his blood was like liquid fire.

The rush consumed him. He knew in that instant he would find another victim, but his rational mind begged him to be careful.

Don’t get caught.

He chuckled. Besides the money, his father still had hefty political clout in Baton Rouge, thanks to his notorious grandfather and years of murky business dealings. The family name had spared him in the past from legal proceedings and institutions. It would again.

Heading toward the fountain across the grassy field, Beau considered his next night of fun. Before he reached the forgotten angel, a flash in the corner of his eye made him turn.

Amid the trees, crowding the edge of the property, something darted in and out. He could just make out a long, white hooded cloak, fluttering and billowing at the edge of the woods. Then it disappeared.

His heart rocketed to his throat. It can’t be!

All the stories he’d heard of the lady in white of The Abbey came rushing back at once, intensifying his panic.

Then he calmed. Someone had to be messing with him. It wasn’t the girl. Kelly had taken off, a bawling mess, across the field several minutes before and he’d heard the slam of the iron gate. He was alone. Unless … the guys had pulled a fast one on him.

But the guys don’t know about your room in the cells.

Beau cut across the grass, anxious to get to the iron gate and back to the party. Almost to the path, he glanced back over his shoulder to the patch of trees where he had seen the ghostly presence. Nothing was there.

It was just your imagination. Or was it?

He made it to the party at the beach, relieved to be back among people, but the incident with the ghost had eradicated his high.

He hungered for it to return but would have to wait.

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About the Authors

Alexandrea Weis
Alexandrea Weis, RN-CS, CRRN, ONC, PhD, is a multi award-winning author of twenty-five novels, a screenwriter, ICU Nurse, and historian who was born and raised in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Having grown up in the motion picture industry as the daughter of a director, she learned to tell stories from a different perspective and began writing at the age of eight.

Infusing the rich tapestry of her hometown into her novels, she believes that creating vivid characters makes a story moving and memorable.

A permitted/certified wildlife rehabber with the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries, Weis rescues orphaned and injured animals. She lives with her husband and pets in New Orleans. Weis writes paranormal, suspense, thrillers, horror, crime fiction, and romance.

Website, Goodreads, Twitter, & Facebook!

Lucas Astor
Lucas Astor is from New York, has resided in Central America and the Middle East, and traveled through Europe. He lives a very private, virtually reclusive lifestyle, preferring to spend time with a close-knit group of friends than be in the spotlight.

He is an author and poet with a penchant for telling stories that delve into the dark side of the human psyche. He likes to explore the evil that exists, not just in the world, but right next door behind a smiling face.

Photography, making wine, and helping endangered species are just some of his interests. Lucas is an expert archer and enjoys jazz, blues, and classical music.

One of his favorite quotes is: “It’s better to be silent than be a fool.” ~Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird)

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Book Review: The Boy at the Keyhole by Stephen Giles

The Boy at the Keyhole
Stephen Giles
Hanover Square Press, September 2018
ISBN 978-1-335-65292-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Nine-year-old Samuel lives alone in a once-great estate in Surrey with the family’s housekeeper, Ruth. His father is dead and his mother has been abroad for months, purportedly tending to her late husband’s faltering business. She left in a hurry one night while Samuel was sleeping and did not say goodbye.

Beyond her sporadic postcards, Samuel hears nothing from his mother. He misses her dearly and maps her journey in an atlas he finds in her study. Samuel’s life is otherwise regulated by Ruth, who runs the house with an iron fist. Only she and Samuel know how brutally she enforces order.

As rumors in town begin to swirl, Samuel wonders whether something more sinister is afoot. Perhaps his mother did not leave but was murdered—by Ruth.

Artful, haunting and hurtling toward a psychological showdown, The Boy at the Keyhole is an incandescent debut about the precarious dance between truth and perception, and the shocking acts that occur behind closed doors.

On the surface, this book would seem to have elements of a dark, gothic story, something like Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, with a looming, cavernous manse, a creepy, sinister housekeeper and a protagonist who becomes more and more suspicious about what’s going on. Really, the main difference is that the protagonist is a child rather than a new young wife being intimidated by the housekeeper while the husband is apparently distant emotionally.

Certainly Samuel has reason to be suspicious, lonesome, baffled, all the feelings a child would have when one parent is dead and the other disappears, supposedly legitimately but without even telling him goodbye. Right there, my empathy went to this little boy who surely deserved better. How disappointed he must have been each day when she didn’t come home.

Ruth is undoubtedly an unpleasant caregiver and it’s no wonder Samuel begins to have dark thoughts about this woman and her peculiar behavior. These feelings are exacerbated by Samuel’s friend who, intentionally or not, hints at nefarious goings-on and the suspense begins to build while Ruth understandably becomes more and more frustrated by this child who dares to snoop and raise questions. Is this all just a child’s imagination run amok?

A promising beginning doesn’t quite succeed, as least not as fully as it could have, and the very slow pace doesn’t help. I also felt the ending was a bit lacking but, overall, I think readers who like a slow-building suspense will be satisfied.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2018.

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Books-A-Million
Amazon // Indiebound

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About the Author

Stephen Giles is the Australian author behind the lauded children’s series “Anyone But Ivy Pocket”, penned under the pseudonym Caleb Krisp. The series, published in the US by HarperCollins/Greenwillow and the UK by Bloomsbury, appeared on the New York Times Best Seller List, has been translated into 25 different languages and was optioned by Paramount Pictures.

Prior to selling his first book, Stephen worked in a variety of jobs to supplement his writing including market research, film classification and media monitoring. The Boy at the Keyhole is Giles’ first work for adults and the film rights for this book have been acquired by New Regency.

http://madeleinemilburn.co.uk/mm-authors/stephen-giles/

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Book Review: The Quiet Child by John Burley

The Quiet Child
John Burley
William Morrow Paperbacks, August 2017
ISBN: 978-0-06-243185-1
Trade Paperback

This is not a novel for the faint of heart. Dark, moving, at times excruciating, the pain author Burley evokes from his characters is a palpable presence through the entire novel. One wonders how many readers have ever been faced with the community disdain and rejection based, not on race, but on more common attributes. And a reader wonders what the response might have been.

In Cottonwood, California, multiple unexpected deaths are occurring. The family of Michael and Kate McCray are beginning to feel isolation as it grows, the odd looks, the loss of friendly interactions, the murmurs behind their backs. McCray is a valued teacher at the local high school. He and Kate have two sons, Danny and Sean. Danny, the youngest, is the focus of the growing community concern. He doesn’t speak. At all.

Kate is becoming ill and the doctors are worried but non-committal. The novel moves smoothly back and forth in time which can at times confuse a reader, but the technique works extremely well to heighten the tension and overall feeling of dread.

One evening, Michael drives the boys to a nearby convenience store and with a startling suddenness the tension rises. The boys are kidnapped. The rest of the story concerns the police attempts to find the boys and rescue them, Kate’s accelerating deterioration, and the rising suspicions from the community.

Ultimately, of course, there are resolutions, nearly all of which are unforeseen and startling in their placement and evolution. Enthralling, mesmerizing and surprising, a dark, moving thought-provoking experience.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, April 2018.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Wicked River by Jenny Milchman

Wicked River
Jenny Milchman
Sourcebooks Landmark, May 2018
ISBN 978-1-4926-6441-3
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Six million acres of Adirondack forest separate Natalie and Doug Larson from civilization. For the newlyweds, an isolated backcountry honeymoon seems ideal-a chance to start their lives together with an adventure. But just as Natalie and Doug begin to explore the dark interiors of their own hearts, as well as the depths of their love for each other, it becomes clear that they are not alone in the woods.

Because six million acres makes it easy for the wicked to hide. And even easier for someone to go missing for good.

As they struggle with the worst the wilderness has to offer, a man watches them, wielding the forest like a weapon. He wants something from them more terrifying than death. And once they are near his domain, he will do everything in his power to make sure they never walk out again.

Many, many years ago when I was a teenaged Girl Scout, my troop traveled from Virginia to New Hampshire so we could hike a 50-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail through the White Mountains, ending at the summit of Mt. Washington where you can find some of the most extreme weather imaginable. We were experienced hikers and campers and had trained hard for this adventure which turned out to be wonderful except for one night. During the day, we had separated into two groups because some of us were more energetic than others and the slower group, the one I was in, took the wrong path at a fork, not long before dusk. Hours later, we were undoubtedly lost and we had to spend most of the night in the wilds until a team of rescuers showed up. Needless to say, we were humiliated but, still, it was an adventure for sure so I’d have to say we all felt an array of emotions from embarrassment to elation and I still remember it with a good deal of clarity.

All that came to mind while I was reading Wicked River and I think allowed me to have a real connection with Natalie and Doug during their ordeal, especially Natalie. It’s a different forest, of course, and the Whites are generally considered to be the most challenging and formidable terrain in the Northeast but wilderness is wilderness, no matter where it is and especially so for Natalie who was only minimally prepared for this honeymoon trip.

Natalie is a really interesting character because she’s so much like most of us. Her experience in wilderness trekking is limited but she wants to please Doug who loves this sort of thing. That doesn’t mean that she’s been talked into the trip against her will; far from it, although she does have reservations about her abilities even after a certain amount of training and preparation. In short, she’s you and me, setting off on an adventure with more than a little trepidation but she’s still looking forward to it.

What Natalie and Doug don’t know but we do is that there’s a truly dangerous man in this part of the Adirondacks. As Natalie prepares for her wedding, we get a hint of something being not quite right, actually several somethings, and, at the same time, we meet Natalie’s niece, Mia. This teenager can be monumentally annoying but I liked her and it’s a good thing since she’s going to become very important later on.

Jenny Milchman is a master at wilderness settings and this one is no exception. Instead of crippling cold, which the author does extremely well, Wicked River plants us in the midst of heat and alarming sounds and smells as well as the frightening sense of aloneness and being truly lost. None of that even begins to reflect the menace coming up behind them nor what Natalie will have to do if there’s any hope of survival.

Well done, Ms. Milchman—once again, you’ve kept me up at night because I couldn’t stop reading 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

Teeny Book Reviews: Shattered Roads by Alice Henderson and Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land

Shattered Roads
The Skyfire Saga #1
Alice Henderson
Rebel Base Books, April 2018
ISBN 978-1-63573-049-4
Trade Paperback

Shattered Roads starts out gloomy—in a subgenre that’s already exceedingly gloomy—with a protagonist who’s living a life of nothingness. Her soul purpose in life is to remove bodies when people die, much like the people in 17th-century London who trundled carts from door to door to pick up the dead. The truth is no one in this terribly damaged world has any joy, having no names, spending all their time in front of computers, interacting with no one while, outside the city walls, chaos reigns supreme.

One day, H124 finds something that piques her curiosity and leads her to unimagined discoveries about what really happened to bring such devastation to this land and to people who just might be able to make a difference. Now, H124 has a new purpose in life and, after a somewhat slow start, I found myself almost unable to turn away. Shattered Lands will be out in December and I’m already anticipating spending more time with this brave young woman.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2018.

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Good Me Bad Me
Ali Land
Flatiron Books, September 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-08764-5
Hardcover

We often wonder whether nature or nurture plays a bigger role in the development of a person’s psyche, especially a violent criminal, and Good Me Bad Me addresses that very question. Milly is placed in foster care after turning in her mother who was a vicious serial killer of children and you would think that Milly, only fifteen, has at least a chance of a normal life now. The trial is coming up and that gives Milly enough stress but her new family is not as welcoming as one could hope and her foster sister, the real daughter in this family, really resents her presence. That animosity leads to bullying in school but, in reality, it’s Milly’s own mind that could be her worst enemy in any future she might have.

This is a truly unnerving story and could be almost too much if the mother were present but the author chose to keep her on the periphery. We never see her commit her heinous crimes but we know what she’s done and the feeling of evil is full-blown. Watching Milly learn to cope—or not—with her life before and after was intriguing in many ways and I heartily recommend this to any reader who is curious about what happens to the children of truly wicked people.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2018.

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 Review: The Clarity by Keith Thomas

The Clarity
Keith Thomas
Leopoldo & Co./Atria Books, February 2018
ISBN 978-1-5011-5693-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Dr. Matilda Deacon is a psychologist researching how memories are made and stored when she meets a strange eleven-year-old girl named Ashanique. Ashanique claims to harbor the memories of the last soldier killed in World War I and Matilda is at first very interested but skeptical. However, when Ashanique starts talking about being chased by the Night Doctors—a term also used by an unstable patient who was later found dead—Matilda can’t deny that the girl might be telling the truth.

Matilda learns that Ashanique and her mother have been on the run their whole lives from a monstrous assassin named Rade. Rade is after a secret contained solely in memories and has left a bloody trail throughout the world in search of it. Matilda soon realizes Ashanique is in unimaginable danger and that her unique ability comes with a deadly price.

Fast-paced, suspenseful, and a chilling blend of science and danger, The Clarity is a compelling take on the possibilities of reincarnation and life after death.

With splashes of science and history, The Clarity is, at its core, the stuff of a little girl’s nightmares but the nightmares are real. Certainly, past instances of experimentation on humans have turned out to be dark shadows on our psyches no matter what the initial, seemingly well-intended, idea was or where it took place. Then, throw in a good oldfashioned conspiracy and a villain who would frighten even the most unimaginative of us and you have a frantic race to find truth and survival.

For readers who tend to be a little squeamish, be forewarned—Rade is no mildmannered, polite assassin. He literally will kill anyone in his way and do so with a lot of gore and even more gore. At the same time, he’s the most fascinating character (to me, at least) because of his complete lack of morals or compassion. Ashanique is almost as mindgrabbing but its because of what’s happening to her rather than any aspect of her short, inexperienced life.

As thrillers go, this one has its pacing issues and, as mentioned earlier, an abundance of violence, but I enjoyed it and recommend it to anyone interested in stories rooted in the past.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2018.

A taut, riveting thriller, a perfect balance of scientific
speculation and storytelling.—
James Rollins

About the Author

Keith Thomas worked as a lead clinical researcher at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine and National Jewish Health before writing for film and television. He has developed projects for studios and production companies and collaborated with writers like James Patterson and filmmakers like Paul Haggis. He lives in Denver and works in Los Angeles.

Website

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“Chilling speculative thriller. Tautly plotted and well researched,
this book is a riveting take on the possibility of afterlife
and reincarnation.”—Book Riot