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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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.

 

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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.

Book Review: The Guest List by Lucy Foley @lucyfoleytweets @WmMorrowBooks

The Guest List
Lucy Foley
William Morrow, June 2020 (CA)
ISBN 978-0-06-298895-9
Trade Paperback
William Morrow, June 2020 (US)
ISBN 978-0-06-286893-0
Hardcover

A wedding is about to take place in a rather unusual location, a remote Island off the coast of Ireland. The bride, Jules Keegan, a magazine publisher, and her groom, Will Slater, a television star, seem to be the perfect couple.  It’s a weekend affair and the guests are arriving by boat the morning of the wedding, catered by a couple who are hoping to gain some exposure to boost to their wedding planner business.

The book opens late into the evening after the wedding ceremony is over. In the author’s deft hands we shift back and forth from the present to the past and learn a good deal about the bride and groom as well as their relatives and closest friends.

The use of Chapter headings keeps the reader from getting confused as we move through the bridal party and guests, learning a variety of information regarding the history of the relationships of those close to Jules and Will. They include the bride’s half-sister and bridesmaid Olivia, a troubled young woman, Johnno, the best man, Charlie, the bride’s best friend, three groomsmen who all attended the private school with Will and Will’s father, a teacher at the school.

Nuggets of information letting us know how their relationships evolved are dispersed throughout the novel, and like a jigsaw puzzle, the pieces slowly begin to fit together to show a surprising and disturbing picture.

As the storm due to hit the island draws closer,  the degree of tension that has been escalating throughout this intriguing novel reaches a crescendo and culminates in an explosive conclusion not to be missed.

A terrific read.  Check it out!

Respectfully submitted,

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, August 2020.

Book Review: His & Hers by Alice Feeney @alicewriterland @MacmillanAudio

His & Hers
Alice Feeney
Narrated by Richard Armitage and Stephanie Racine
Macmillan Audio, July 2020
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the publisher—

There are two sides to every story: yours and mine, ours and theirs, his and hers. Which means someone is always lying.

When a woman is murdered in Blackdown, a quintessentially British village, newsreader Anna Andrews is reluctant to cover the case. Detective Jack Harper is suspicious of her involvement, until he becomes a suspect in his own murder investigation.

Someone isn’t telling the truth, and some secrets are worth killing to keep.

I haven’t read anything by Alice Feeney before but, oh my goodness, His & Hers will most certainly not be the last. There are serial killer books and then there are serial killer books but this one stands head and shoulders above many that I’ve read before.

I can’t say much without giving away important plot details but let me just say that the author has done a masterful job of creating characters of such depth that none are completely good or bad (or perhaps I should say most are not) and none can be 100% trusted (I was especially intrigued by Jack’s young colleague, Priya). Ms. Feeney has also developed a high-tension plot that has a dramatic backstory and is largely dependent on all the bodies that keep showing up; the reader has a pretty good idea of who is going to end up being those bodies but guessing the killer’s identity is something else entirely. Twice—twice!—I was sure I had the murderer pegged and, both times, I was wrong. Boy, was I wrong.

There are three points of view here and the narrators handle them beautifully, Richard Armitage for Detective Jack Harper and Stephanie Racine for TV news personality Anna Andrews. The third POV is that of the killer but that voice is cleverly disguised electronically so the listener can’t tell if it’s a man or a woman and also can’t tell if it might be one of the two protagonists. Nice touch!

Serial killer stories aren’t for everyone but if, like me, you find them interesting and compelling, His & Hers is one you won’t want to miss. As for me, I’m adding it to my list of Best Books read in 2020.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2020.