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.

Book Review: Big Woods by May Cobb

Big Woods
May Cobb
Midnight Ink, July 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5781-0
Trade Paperback

It’s 1989 in Longview, Texas, and ten year old blonde Lucy Spencer disappears. The community assumes that her body will be found in the Big Woods, like other unresolved kidnappings that have happened in years past. Her sister Leah, 14,  receives a computer message that she believes is from Lucy. It says “underground. By the woods.” Leah is convinced that Lucy is alive, and the message signals her sister’s whereabouts.  Longview is gripped by paranoia surrounding the satanic cults of the 1980s.

Chapters are told alternately  from the point of view of Sylvia, a 75 year old retired nurse, and Leah. What, if anything, does Sylvia  have to do with the kidnapping? Sylvia married John and had no children. After she was widowed early, she went back to school to become a nurse and works with newborns. In fact, she was the nurse on duty when both Leah and Lucy were born.

On the day Lucy disappeared, It was her dad’s day to dress her, feed her, and get her to the school bus. A witness saw a man with a mustache in a small green convertible push Lucy into the car. Dad, an architect, begins to drink heavily and stay away from home after Lucy disappears.

Four children went missing before, but all were from the nearby town of Starrville, that is, until Lucy. Their bodies were found in the woods next to pentagram symbols and other signs pointing to cult activity.

This psychological thriller is written in short chapters, each only two or three pages, which helps to quicken the pace and heighten expectations. There is no on-page violence or descriptions, yet the book is tense and suspenseful.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, October 2018.

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.