Book Review: The Pact by Sharon Bolton @AuthorSJBolton @TrapezeBooks

The Pact
Sharon Bolton
Trapeze/Orion Publishing, May 2021
ISBN 978-1-4091-9831-4
Trade Paperback

Sharon Bolton’s latest is a terrific read.

Six friends are celebrating the end of term exams;  exams, the results of which, will set them on their individual paths to careers and futures.  Bored and a little inebriated they attempt the daredevil pursuit they’ve managed to pull off successfully a number of times throughout the year – driving the wrong way down a busy Motorway. The dare this time ends in a horrific accident.

Not aware of the full extent of the accident, Megan offers to take the blame, accepting the fact that it might well result in jail time. The others are quick to accept her offer and when Megan suggests they all sign a Pact stating they will grant a favour once she is released from prison, they readily agree.  But none of them, least of all Megan, anticipates the length of the sentence brought down by the judge.

The lives of the five friends proceed in expected ways, although none of them have either the courage or the decency to call or visit Megan in prison. When the time comes for her release, each of them grows anxious fearful of the price they will be asked to pay.  They meet to discuss what they might expect,  wondering if they should have tried harder to find the Pact they signed with the object of destroying it.

When Megan makes contact with them one by one, wanting to renew the friendships, she is hurt and angry at the reception she receives. It’s payback time, she tells them, but senses that her old friends are unwilling to fulfill the Pact they all signed.

It is interesting to watch the reactions of the friends as Megan deftly invites herself into their lives.  None of them are willing to welcome her back into the fold. She is an ex-con now and definitely not the kind of friend they would normally cultivate.  Tension mounts as she pushes harder to get what she feels is owed to her.

When one of the five is murdered it appears obvious to the other four Megan has crossed the line and is out for revenge.

The author raises the stakes as the remaining four fear for their lives.  As a result I found it difficult to put the book down until I reached the unexpected but thrilling conclusion.

The Pact is a must read….

Check it out.  You won’t be disappointed.

Respectfully submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, September 2021.

Book Review: Beneath the Marigolds by Emily C. Whitson @CamCatBooks @partnersincr1me

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Beneath the Marigolds

by Emily C. Whitson

October 1-31, 2021 Virtual Book Tour

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

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Beneath the Marigolds
Emily C. Whitson
CamCat Books, September 2021
ISBN ‎ 978-0-7443-0420-6
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Playing on our universal fascination with reality TV, Emily C. Whitson’s Beneath the Marigolds is The Bachelor(ette) gone terribly wrong.

When her best friend, Reese Marigold, goes missing after attending Last Chance, an exclusive singles’ retreat on a remote island off the coast of Hawaii, no-nonsense lawyer Ann Stone infiltrates the retreat.

Ann quickly realizes there’s more to Last Chance than meets the eye. The extravagant clothes, never-ending interviews, and bizarre dates hint that the retreat is a front for a reality dating show. Could Reese be safe, keeping a low profile until the premier, or did something sinister occur after all?

Torn between the need to uncover the truth and her desperate desire to get off the island, Ann partakes in the unusual routines of the “journey to true love” and investigates the other attendees who all have something to hide. In a final attempt to find Reese on the compound, she realizes that she herself may never get off the island alive.

Time to confess—I’m a dyed-in-the-wool, hardcore reality show junkie. Bachelor/Bachelorette/Bachelor in Paradise, Real Housewives, Vanderpump, Southern Charm, etc., etc. You’ll note it’s all the sleazy stuff that indulges in as much outrageous behavior as one could possibly want. Do I think any of it’s real? Of course not, but it’s one of my indulgences. Hey, I’m retired with plenty of time for the semi-smut so why not?

Then along comes Emily C. Whitson offering another of my obsessions, a murder (?) mystery! Now, I ask you, how could I possibly turn down this chance?I

At its core, this is a look at the deep friendship that can develop between two women who have at least one important something in common. In this case, the link is substance addiction, a powerful thing to share. When Reese appears to be missing after several weeks at a singles’ retreat that may or may not be actually a reality show, Ann drops everything in her orderly life to go in search of her friend. What she finds will turn her own life upside down and threaten her very survival. One tension-filled lead after another turns this into a hunt for truth that may not be so easy to accept.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2021.

“Cleverly plotted…Whitson’s debut novel is an intriguing new entry in the women’s suspense genre, driven by dual first-person narrators and tension-filled parallel timelines.” — Carmen Amato, Silver Falchion Award Finalist and author of The Detective Emilia Cruz Mystery Series

An Excerpt from Beneath the Marigolds

Prologue

I knew too much. On that island, on that godforsaken singles’ retreat. I knew too much. I ruminated on that thought, chewing it carefully, repeatedly, while Magda, the makeup artist, transformed me into a life-size nightmarish porcelain doll. Ghastly white face, penciled-in eyebrows, blood-red lips. I’d look beautiful from a distance, she had told me, leaving the other part of the sentence unspoken: up close, it’s frightening. She tsked as she dabbed my damp forehead for the fourth time, her Russian accent thickening with frustration. “Vhy you sveating so much?” I worried my voice would come out haggard, so I shrugged, a little too forcefully. Magda shook her head, her pink bob sashaying in the grand all-white bathroom as she muttered something foreign under her breath. My gaze danced across the various makeup brushes on the vanity until it landed on one in particular. I shifted my weight in the silk- cushioned chair, toyed with my watch. “Magda, what do you want out of this retreat?” No response. Did she not hear me, or did she choose not to respond? In the silence, I was able to hear Christina’s high-heeled feet outside the bathroom. Click, clack. Click, click. When I first met the host of the singles’ retreat, I was in awe of her presence, her unflappable poise. Shoulders back, she walked with a purpose, one foot in front of another, and though she was a couple inches shorter than I was, she seemed larger than life. Her icy eyes, colored only the faintest shade of blue, seemed to hold the secrets of the world—secrets she intended to keep. But I had stumbled upon them just a few short hours before, and I was now afraid her gait represented something more sinister: the march of an executioner. Click, clack. Click, clack. Her stride matched the even tick of my watch, and a drop of sweat trickled down my back. Was I being ridiculous? Surely Christina wouldn’t hurt me. She had been reasonable with me earlier, hadn’t she? “One meenute,” Magda shouted at the retreat’s host. She doused my fire-red curls in hairspray one last time before asking me if I was ready to go. “I just need to use the bathroom.” I wheezed through shallow breaths. “I’ll be right out.” Magda exaggerated her sigh before shuffling out of the white-marble immurement, closing the doors behind her with a huff. My last remnants of safety and rational thinking left with her. I shoved the vanity chair underneath the door handle. I grabbed the makeup brush with the flattest head and hurried to the bathroom. I gingerly closed the lid of the toilet and slipped off my heels before tip- toeing on top so I could face the window. After removing the beading, I inserted the head of the makeup brush between the frame and glass. The brush’s handle cracked under the pressure, but it was enough to lever the glass out of its mounting. I placed the glass on the floor as gently as I’ve ever handled any object, trying not to make even the slightest sound, before hoisting myself up and through the window. I jumped into the black night, only partially illuminated by the full moon and the artificial lights of the mansion. I allowed my eyes to adjust. And then I ran. The loose branches of the island forest whipped at my cheeks, my limbs, my mouth. The soles of my feet split open from fallen twigs and other debris, but the adrenaline kept the pain at bay. I tripped over something unseen, and my hands broke my fall. Just a few cuts, and a little blood. I couldn’t see it, but I could feel it. I jumped up, forcing myself to keep moving. The near darkness was blinding, so I held my bloody hands up, trying to block my face. The farther I ran, the more similar the trunks of the trees became. How long had I been running? I gauged about a mile. I slowed down to gather my bearings. Behind me, the lights of the mansion brightened the sky, but they were only the size of my palm from that distance. I heard the hum of a moving car come and go. I must have been near the road. I was about to start moving again when I heard the snap of twigs. Footsteps. I stopped breathing. I swiveled to my left and right, but nothing. I exhaled. It was just my imagination. I continued away from the lights. Away from the retreat. And then someone stepped toward me: Christina. Her face was partially obscured by darkness, but her pale eyes stood out like fireflies. “It doesn’t have to be like this,” she said. Her expression remained a mystery in the darkness. I turned around, but one of her handlers was blocking that path. Christina took another step forward, and I jerked away, tripping over the gnarled roots of the forest in the process. My head broke the fall this time, and my ears rang from the pain. Her handler reached for my left hand, and for a moment, I thought he was going to help me stand. Instead, he twisted my ring finger into an unnatural position. As my bone cracked, my screams reverberated through the woods. It was showtime. *** Excerpt from Beneath the Marigolds by Emily C. Whitson. Copyright 2021 by Emily C. Whitson. Reproduced with permission from CamCat Books. All rights reserved.

 

“A fun, propulsive read…this book cleverly combines the archetypes of “reality TV” and the “trapped-on-a-remote-island” mystery that will perpetually keep you guessing.” — Marcy McCreary, author of The Disappearance of Trudy Solomon

About the Author

 

Emily Whitson received a B.A. in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She worked as a marketing copywriter for six years before pursuing a career in fiction and education. She is currently getting her M.Ed. at Vanderbilt University, where she writes between classes. She is particularly passionate about women’s education and female stories. This interest stems from her time at Harpeth Hall, an all-girls college preparatory school in Nashville, Tennessee. When she isn’t volunteering, writing, or in the classroom, Emily can usually be found with her dog, Hoss, in one of Nashville’s various parks. Beneath the Marigolds is her debut novel.

Catch Up With Emily C. Whitson: EmilyCWhitson.com Goodreads BookBub – @emilycwhitson_author Instagram – @emilycwhitson Facebook – @emilycwhitson

“Exhilarating twists and turns…a fast-paced psychological thriller that mashes up the reality series The Bachelor with Gone Girl.” — Helen Power, author of The Ghosts of Thorwald Place

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Giveaway

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Emily C. Whitson & CamCat Books. There will be 1 winner of one (1) print edition of Beneath the Marigolds by Emily C. Whitson (US, Canada, and UK Only). The giveaway runs October 1 through November 2, 2021. Void where prohibited.

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Book Review: The Ninth Session by Deborah Serani @DeborahSerani @TouchPointPress @AnAudiobookworm

 

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Title: The Ninth Session

Author: Deborah Serani

Narrator: Deborah Serani

Length: 6 hours and 52 minutes

Publisher: TouchPoint Press

Released: Apr. 16, 2021

Genre: Suspense

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An edge-of-your-seat psychological thriller that brings a unique mix of psychotherapy and sign language and Coda culture. Just when you think you have it figured out, think again!

Dr. Alicia Reese takes on a new patient. Lucas Ferro suffers with crippling anxiety, and as sessions progress, he begins to share the reasons why he’s struggling. As Ferro’s narrative becomes more menacing, Reese finds herself wedged between the cold hard frame of professional ethics and the integrity of personal truth. And, finally, when Ferro reveals his secrets, Reese learns how far she’s willing to go, willing to risk and willing to lose to do the right thing.

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Buy on AmazonBuy on Audible

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Deborah Serani is an award-winning author, writing about psychological topics in many genres. She is a psychologist in practice over 30 years and a senior professor at Adelphi University. Dr. Serani has worked as a technical advisor for the NBC television show, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit – where a recurring character, Judge D. Serani, was named for her.

 

WebsiteTwitterFacebookGoodreads

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Way back in medieval times, I majored in psychology; although I never did anything with it, to this day, I’m still fascinated by the abnormalities of the mind and, in particular, implications in criminal justice. The Ninth Session, written by a woman who knows her topic very well, satisfied my interests as well as any crime fiction I’ve read. Luke is a formidable and dangerous man while his doctor, psychologist Alicia Reese, may or may not be truly prepared for what she learns about him from one session to the next and my nerves became ever more tense with every revelation. Like Alicia, the more I learned, the more I realized that he was capable of causing great harm to Alicia and those who were important in her life. “Creepy” doesn’t begin to cover it.

As narrator, Ms. Serani is clear but the various voices are not especially distinguishable. Her pace is a little slow and I could understand very well at 1.45 speed which didn’t make her sound like she’d been inhaling gas.

One thing I especially liked was the author’s method of interweaving sessions and supervision and personal life. It was interesting that the notes Alicia wrote out provided a fair amount of information not heard in the session, meaning I had to always pay attention. All in all, this was a compelling look at a psychopath’s mind and how others, including his doctor, are affected.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2021.

I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by Deborah Serani. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.

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Book Review: He Started It by Samantha Downing @smariedowning @BerkleyPub

He Started It
Samantha Downing
Berkley, April 2021
ISBN 978-0-451-49176-3
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

From the twisted mind behind mega hit My Lovely Wife comes the story of a family—not unlike your own—just with a few more violent tendencies thrown in….

Beth, Portia, and Eddie Morgan haven’t all been together in years. And for very good reasons—we’ll get to those later. But when their wealthy grandfather dies and leaves a cryptic final message in his wake, the siblings and their respective partners must come together for a cross-country road trip to fulfill his final wish and—more importantly—secure their inheritance.

But time with your family can be tough. It is for everyone.

It’s even harder when you’re all keeping secrets and trying to forget a memory, a missing person, an act of revenge, the man in the black truck who won’t stop following your car—and especially when at least one of you is a killer and there’s a body in the trunk. Just to name a few reasons.

But money is a powerful motivator. It is for everyone.

Road trip! Those two words have differing connotations to many people but, to most of us, road trips from our past bring good memories, memories we like to savor. For me, they represent family vacations and occasional outings with college friends. There were also a few day trips with my best friend, sort of a high school Thelma and Louise kind of a thing…but without the cliff 😂

Such pleasant meanings don’t hold true for Beth, Portia and Eddie, though, as they’ve been coerced to take this particular road trip by greed and a demand from their deceased grandfather that they recreate a trek from years before. Trouble is, that long-ago journey wasn’t the nicest thing that ever happened to those kids and dear old Grandpa was the guy behind some very creepy pit stops. Now, if they want his millions, they have to recreate it and scatter his ashes but there are rules that have to be followed.

And then the REAL creepiness begins.

There are stories full of dark family secrets but Ms. Downing takes He Started It to a new level and I couldn’t help feeling truly sorry for the two spouses who had no idea what they were about to find out about the siblings and, of course, none of them could have expected the new craziness that was coming. I found myself enthralled with characters that I didn’t even like and had to keep reading to see what levels of awfulness they’d reach next. “Entertaining” is almost too mild a word to be used for this and, yet, it kind of fits if you’re entertained, as I am, by weirdly harrowing tales. If I have any quibbles at all, it’s because there’s more telling than showing here and that lessens the effect a bit, but I still recommend He Started It.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2021.

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“Wholly original. Scarily clever. Completely mesmerizing. You
will never look at family road trips the same way again.”
—Lisa Gardner, #1 New York Times bestselling author

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Credit Jacqueline Dallimore

Samantha Downing currently lives in New Orleans, where
she is furiously typing away on her next thrilling book.
Website // Facebook // Goodreads

Book Review: His and Hers by Alice Feeney @alicewriterland @Flatironbooks

His & Hers
Alice Feeney
Flatiron Books, July 2020
E-Book

The Title – His and Hers –  refers to the book’s two main characters.

Hers:  Anna Andrews, a newsreader, divorced and living and working in London, with a troubled past.

His:    Detective Chief Inspector Jack Harper who lives and works in the small English village of Blackdown where he grew up.

We are introduced to these two characters in separate chapters at the beginning and throughout this rather unusual and intriguing novel.

When the body of a young woman is found in Blackdown Woods, Detective Chief Inspector Jack Harper is called to the scene.

Anna Andrews, who has recently been taken off her job as newsreader, is asked to travel to Blackdown to cover the murder. She is somewhat reluctant to go.  Anna grew up in Blackdown, her mother still lives there, but Anna hasn’t seen her in months and the village holds no good memories for her.

The murder victim, Rachel Hopkins, is known to both Anna and Jack,  a fact neither wants revealed.  But as the investigation unfolds the reader is privy to both Anna’s and Jack’s take on the murder. It isn’t long before the connections between Jack and Rachel and Anna and Rachel  surface, casting suspicions on both of them.

This twisted tale is full of surprises and more victims before it reaches an exciting and dramatic climax.  But even there the tale isn’t quite over…

You’ll have to check this one out… You’ll be glad you did.

Respectfully submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, November 2020.

Book Review: The Dead Girl in 2A by Carter Wilson @PPPress

The Dead Girl in 2A
Carter Wilson
Poisoned Pen Press, July 2019
ISBN 978-1-4926-8603-3
Trade Paperback

This novel is a deep dive into a heavy psychological pool. It is, additionally, a deliberately moving novel with the power, at times, to rock your senses. Jake Buchanan is a freelance writer on his way to Denver under contract to ghostwrite a memoir. On the plane he is seated next to a woman named Clara, who he doesn’t know. Except he begins to believe he does. Just as Clara grows to believe she has known Jake before. But, before when? Both are confused as they hesitantly begin to explore this situation. But after landing, they go their separate ways and the reader is left to wonder how, when and why they will reconnect.

The novel is carefully and precisely written. It insidiously enmeshes the reader in an ever more restrictive web of questions and partial answers as more and more about the central characters is revealed until the story becomes more complex and almost impossible to set aside.

Government research intrudes and parts of the novel become so slow-moving as to be almost tedious. Some elements could profitably have been mentioned but not explored in such detail. Still, even in those parts, the skill of the writer is evident.

Part of the attraction of the novel is the setting, mountain ranges around Aspen, Colorado which is attractively described, even as the growing menace of the increasing circle of characters dominate Clara and Jake and their control over their decisions—their lives—lessens. Mountains loom, questions arise, and readers may be inclined to read faster toward what they hope is a rational explanation. The novel is an interesting and tangled examination of life and fraught decisions we make under the influence of external forces, and all the consequences that derive therefrom.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2020.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: The Second Mother by Jenny Milchman—and a Giveaway! @jennymilchman @Sourcebooks

The Second Mother
Jenny Milchman
Sourcebooks Landmark, August 2020
ISBN 978-1-7282-2636-1
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Opportunity: Teacher needed in one-room schoolhouse on remote island in Maine. Find the freedom in a fresh start.

Julie Weathers isn’t sure if she’s running away or starting over, but moving to a remote island off the coast of Maine feels right for someone with reasons to flee her old life. The sun-washed, sea-stormed speck of land seems welcoming, the lobster plentiful, and the community close and tightly knit. She finds friends in her nearest neighbor and Callum, a man who appears to be using the island for the same thing as she: escape.

But as Julie takes on the challenge of teaching the island’s children, she comes to suspect that she may have traded one place shrouded in trouble for another, and she begins to wonder if the greatest danger on Mercy Island is its lost location far out to sea, or the people who live there.

I live on an island but, I guarantee, my island is nothing like the one that Julie moves to. Physically, there’s a world of difference between Maine and Florida climates so there’s that. Also, my island has the “island time” thing going on and I’m not sure that’s as strong in a non-tropical setting plus Mercy Island is decidedly more rustic and therein lies one of Jenny Milchman‘s strengths, the evocation of the danger that can come with a seemingly simple, homespun kind of atmosphere.

Julie is running from her grief-stricken past but learns all too quickly that this fairly remote island may present her with even more darkness and secrets that could very well bring her to her knees. One interesting facet of being on this island is that the isolation, the distance from the real world back on the mainland, actually creates a sense of claustrophobia because she can’t really escape or, at least, not easily.

Another thing that Ms. Milchman does extremely well lies in her main character. Like other women who have preceded her in Milchman novels, Julie has an inner toughness that comes out when she most needs it, proving to herself and, ultimately, others that she is no pushover, no shrinking violet. On the other side, the malefactors here are surprising and add much to the sense of growing tension. While The Second Mother isn’t my favorite of this author’s books and I do think it’s a good bit longer than it should be, I still found myself reading into the wee hours because I just couldn’t sleep without knowing what was going to happen 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2020.

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Giveaway 

To enter the drawing for a very gently
used advance reading copy of

The Second Mother by Jenny Milchman,
leave a comment below. The winning name will
be drawn on Thursday evening, December 24th.
Open to the US and Canada.