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.

Book Reviews: The One That Got Away by Joe Clifford and Murderabilia by Carl Vondereau @joeclifford23 @DownAndOutBooks @CarlVonderau @midnightinkbook

The One That Got Away
Joe Clifford
Down & Out Books, December 2018
ISBN: 978-1-948235-42-6
Trade Paperback

An upstate small town where almost everyone has at least one scurrilous or dangerous secret, is the fall setting for this story. Alex Salerno is the flawed, inept and persistent hero of this long and winding tale.

A decade ago she was one of several girls in the town, located in upstate New York, who was abducted and held for unnamed assaultive practices in a dark space. Waiting there, she knew the other girls had been killed. And then, a small miracle, she is rescued by the local detective who becomes her lover. Her abductor now resides in prison.

The experience, naturally, has permanently damaged Alex’s psyche and her life in New York State, at least as she relates it, is fraught, unrooted and filled with booze, drugs and impermanence. For uncertain reasons she has now returned to her home town to meet a reporter who may or may not be preparing a story for the local paper on the history of that time when so many young women and girls had been abducted and murdered.

She knew her abductor was in jail and the reporter was focusing on the later disappearance of another teenager named Kira Shanks. The rambling torturous plot is further obscured by the belief in some corners of this conflicted community that the man now held in a nearby mental institution was not responsible for Kira Shanks disappearance.

As the plot slowly unwinds and layer after layer of a depressing community are revealed, against her better judgement and with menace ever closer, Alex Salerno persists in sticking her nose in unwanted sometimes dangerous places. She is physically and mentally abused and even her tenuous family ties in the town are stressed. The narrative blends the viewpoints of several characters and at times readers may be confused as to who is speaking. Ultimately some of the mysteries and secrets of this town are resolved but one is left wondering about the future life of Alex Salerno.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2020.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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Murderabilia
Carl Vonderau
Midnight Ink Books, July 2019
ISBN 978-007387-6130-5
Trade Paperback

A dark, intense story of murder and family destruction, this novel, after a slow start, will engage readers in a way that will leave them in thoughtful contemplation of family relationships.

Will McNary has a successful career as a private banker who works with individual clients on their financial investments and other monetary activities. He’s married with two young children and living in San Diego. His life is generally calm and ordinary, although he’s feeling a little heat in the form of competition from other officers of the bank. His sister Polly and their aging mother share an unsettling secret.

When Will was a child of only eight, his father was sent to prison for murdering and butchering several women. He compounded his heinous crime by posing and photographing the women, pictures that were circulated and sold on the underground market. McNary’s father was convicted and when the novel opens, has been in prison for more than thirty years. Now, a copy-cat killer linked to Will’s father has emerged, one who appears to be targeting Will and his family.

The story follows Will along a sordid twisting trail as he attempts to protect his loved ones, help law enforcement find the vicious copy-cat, and plumb the emotional depths of the knowledge that he is the son of an incredibly twisted killer.

The novel is well-written and once moving along its trail, enthralling. I hesitate to call it a page turner, however, for those readers attracted to the truly dark side of humanity in several of its manifestations, this carefully crafted story is insistently engaging.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2020.
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: 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.