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:
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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: Breaking Butterflies by M. Anjelais

Breaking ButterfliesBreaking Butterflies
M. Anjelais
Chicken House, August 2014
ISBN: 978-0-545-66766-1
Hardcover

When we think of arranged marriages, what usually comes to mind are child brides in foreign countries or royalty in olden days. For Sphinx and Cadence, things were different, very much so, in fact. Their connection began when their mothers, Sarah and Leigh, met when they were seven. Leigh was the leader, Sarah the follower. As their friendship blossomed, Leigh began scripting everything that would happen to them, beginning with what they’d have as careers, that Sarah would have a girl, while she would have a boy and the two would bond, eventually marrying and provide another connected generation.

Leigh’s plan worked until it didn’t. Both married and got pregnant two months apart. Leigh had a boy, Sarah a girl and they were raised together. Like their moms, one took the lead, the other became a follower. Cadence thought up the best games and Spinx was happy to follow. Happy until the day Cadence took out a knife and sliced her face open.

Sarah’s father was furious, more at not heeding his suspicions about Cadence, raised when at age five, the boy crushed a butterfly and showed neither emotion or remorse. Leigh was devastated and hauled her son off to her house in England where her marriage soon fell apart.

Fast forward to when the kids are sixteen. Spinx has a modest social life, but has never had a boyfriend. She’s mostly content playing soccer and spending time with her girlfriends. Every morning, however, she sees the thin scar on her cheek before applying concealer and it reminds her of Cadence and her still conflicted feelings about him and what he said the day it happened.

A phone call from Leigh, who has remained friends with Sarah, starts in motion a strange journey for Spinx, one that’s both physical and emotional. Cadence has an aggressive form of leukemia and wants her to come see him before he dies. Despite her fear, she realizes that something inside is telling her she has to do this, so she and Sarah agree to come to England for one week.

Despite Cadence’s abruptness and rudeness, Spinx comes to believe that coming was the right thing to do and when it’s time to go, she convinces her mother to let her stay until Cadence dies.

What transpires as she waits for his passing, particularly in terms of her growing insight and understanding make for a compelling read. I expected this to be more of a horror story, but it’s sad and Spinx’s growing awareness of how intertwined the two of them really are is quite insightful, particularly in terms of portraying Cadence and what’s really wrong with him.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, July 2016.

Book Reviews: Can’t Look Away by Donna Cooner, Phantom Limb by Dennis Palumbo, and The Bones Beneath by Mark Billingham

Can't Look AwayCan’t Look Away
Donna Cooner
Point, August 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-42765-4
Hardcover

From an outside perspective, Torrey Grey is your typical 16 year old in today’s age. She thrives to be popular, focuses her time on fashion and makeup, and social media are her go-to’s. But when her sister is killed by a drunk driver while filming her latest video blog – and the worlds finds out – she discovers celebrity status on the internet can make you or break you.

When I first started reading Donna Cooner‘s book, I was apprehensive about reading a modern day take on a teenager’s life. But as I continued, there are so many themes that Cooner covers. Sisterhood is a main theme, as Torrey is trying to hold on to the memories of her sister, Miranda. By combining in the celebration of the Spanish holiday el Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead), Cooner shows that grief and acceptance of the loss of a close family member as Torrey’s family try to pick up the pieces of their life after moving from Colorado to Texas. One of Cooner‘s bigger themes is the presence of bullying and cyberbullying, from students making fun and commenting on a student who may be seen as different to the norm of society, to strangers blaming Torrey for the death of her sister when a video leaks of the moments before the accident. Torrey deals with all of these themes as she struggles to decide if popularity and being seen with the right cliques are really the most important things in her life anymore.

While some of the characters seem “too-good-to-be-true,” Cooner manages to keep her main themes alive throughout the novel and presents a solid take on a teenager living in today’s world. I enjoyed the book more than I expected to, and was glad to see somebody take on these heavy themes and relate them to issues many teenagers may be going through today.

 

Reviewed by Kristina Akers, September 2014.

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Phantom LimbPhantom Limb  
A Daniel Rinaldi Mystery
Dennis Palumbo
Poisoned Pen Press, 2014
ISBN 978-1-4642-0254-4
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback

Author Dennis Palumbo is an experienced writer of screen plays, short stories and crime novels. It shows in this episodic story that features his protagonist, Dr. Daniel Rinaldi, a licensed psychologist and consultant to the Pittsburgh, PA police department. This fourth adventure pits the good doctor against a macho cabal of former military who formed up in Afghanistan and took many of their less savory skills into the criminal culture of Western Pennsylvania.

Dr. Rinaldi has an initial session with the younger wife of a local extremely prominent businessman. She professes a need and a decision to commit suicide that very evening. Dr. Rinaldi, in attempting to dissuade the woman, is drawn instantly into a convoluted interesting plot to extract millions of dollars from her wealthy husband. Inevitably, Rinaldi is required to deliver the ransom and things go seriously awry.

There are some stalwart continuing characters who return from earlier books in this novel. There are some predictable scenes. Overall the novel is very well written and there are several scenes of excruciating high tension and exciting action. There are clever lines and some well-thought-out twists, and, unfortunately for this reviewer, just a little too much predictability in the structure of the plot. I really like Daniel Rinaldi. I like his style, his attitudes and the moral strengths displayed in this novel. And I like the books of his creator.

 

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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The Bones BeneathThe Bones Beneath
A Tom Thorne Novel
Mark Billingham
Atlantic Monthly Press, June 2014
ISBN: 978-1-8021-2248-3
Hardcover

Tom Thorne returns in the twelfth novel in this series.  Most of the action takes place over a period of three days, set in a remote, isolated and nearly inaccessible island off the Welsh coast, said to be the resting place of 20,000 saints (in addition, that is, to King Arthur).  (This appears to be a very real location, one ‘steeped in myth and legend,’ and is a very real presence in the novel.)  Tom is brought here as part of a very ‘un-spiritual pursuit of long-dead murder victims,” a prisoner escort operation.

Many years ago, and only briefly, the island was the site of a home for young offenders.  Two of these were 17-year-old Stuart Nicklin, and one Simon Milner, the latter of whom never left the island alive. His murder was never solved, and only now Nicklin has claimed to have killed him, and offered to lead the police to the place where Simon’s bones were buried so long ago.  The condition being that the man who had arrested him ten years earlier, Tom Thorne, be the one to take him there to identify the site. Nicklin is thought to be one of the “most dangerous and manipulative psychopaths” the police had ever encountered.  The suspense inherent in the situation leaves the reader waiting for the other shoe to drop.  And waiting.  And waiting.

Somewhat jarringly at first, there are flashbacks to the time, twenty-five years earlier, when the seeds of the current action were laid, and when the boy whose bones were at the core of their search was killed.  And there are also scenes, at the outset in a Prologue and then every hundred pages or so, that appear to be contemporaneous, their connection to the main plot difficult to discern.

It may be obvious that I felt that the book could have benefited from some tightening, but in retrospect perhaps I should have had more confidence in the author, because the conclusion was very exciting and unexpected.  It may be that the bar being set so high by this author in the preceding books made it a tough act to follow.  My current reservations aside, I will certainly look forward to the next Tom Thorne book.

 

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, June 2014.

Book Review: The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

The Dream ThievesThe Dream Thieves
Raven Cycle, Book II
Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic Press, September 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-42494-3
Hardcover

Wow!  To say that Ms. Stiefvater has done it again, would be selling The Dream Thieves short.  Rather, the second book in The Raven Cycle surpasses even my hopes and expectations.  Having been a fan of Ms. Stiefvater for about four years now (since I read Ballad); I have been privy to her growth as a writer.  Each book has been a bit better than the last, and this is no exception.  Actually, her latest book even has something new, so I will start with that, and follow up with a couple more of my favourite things in this story.

1.    Something New

A genuine psychopath. I’ve seen mean, hateful, and ornery and I have thoroughly enjoyed hating these folks, wishing them ill-will and smugly nodding when (if) they get their come-uppance.

This character is different.  There is no “reason” for his actions, he has nothing to gain.  There is not a vendetta, no score to settle.  He taunts and tortures Ronan for the sole purpose of his very own entertainment, and nothing more.  This character was so well written, so entirely despicable, that even writing about him in a review makes me a bit angry.

Well done, Ms. Stiefvater.  Well. Done.

2.    The Hit Man

Enter Mr. Gray.  An apt pseudo name, based on his deliberate appearance; however, it quickly becomes evident that, on the inside, he is indeed a kaleidoscope.

This unique character adds another layer to the Raven Cycle.   His honesty is blatant, yet refreshing.  He doesn’t take people at face value.  Instead, he focuses deeply so that he may learn about new people quickly.  I love that he is a thinker; that he considers potential outcomes of his actions and how he feels out those actions, in order to determine what he will do.

Also, he often does his job while rockin’ to The Kinks.  Who, but Ms. Stiefvater could create a hit man that is so darn likable?

3.    Secrets

If you’ve read any of the excerpts that Ms. Stiefvater has generously shared, you knew that I would say that.  Secrets create interesting plots, when done correctly.  Ms. Stiefvater has this down pat.

In The Raven Boys (Raven Cycle Book I), we are reminded that everyone has secrets.  In The Dream Thieves, some of the Lynch Family secrets are revealed.  In a final discussion between The Psychopath and Ronan, there is even a very sneaky allusion to a deep secret that Ronan may be keeping.  Very, very subtle and sneaky.  And a definite maybe.  Again, something only Ms. Stiefvater would slip into a story—just another reason that I treasure her writing.

Without a doubt, this is my favourite Stiefvater book so far, and although I feel like a lottery winner receiving the ARC, I’ll still be ordering my Doodled, Autographed copy from Fountain Bookstore.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2013.

Book Review: Saving Ben by Ashley Farley

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Title: Saving Ben
Author: Ashley Farley
Publication date: January 31st 2013
Genre: New Adult Contemporary Mystery

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Saving BenSaving Ben
Ashley Farley
CreateSpace, January 2013
ISBN 978-
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Life is sweet for Katherine Langley. A freshman at the University of Virginia, she is free from the drama of her parents’ dysfunctional marriage and ready to focus on studying to become a nurse. Her brother, Ben, belongs to the hottest fraternity on campus, and her new roommate, Emma, is beautiful and charming, a party girl whose answer for a hangover is happy hour. She is also a psychopath. When Katherine’s obsessive-compulsive overprotective brother succumbs to Emma’s charms and falls dangerously off-track, Katherine must save Ben from himself. Lives are threatened and someone disappears on New Year’s Day. The only evidence left: a single set of footprints in the snow.

From the university campus to a cozy cottage on Carter’s Creek, Virginia, Saving Ben is a haunting tale of love and loyalty, anger management, substance abuse, and betrayal.

First, I saw in this book’s description that the story is set in Virginia. Then, I noticed that the author lives in Richmond, my town, so it was a no brainer—I had to read Saving Ben. After all, if my bookstore was still open, I’d be stocking this book and having Ashley Farley come by for a book signing event. Since I can’t do that, reading and reviewing it was my next best option and I admit to being a little bit biased from the beginning.

One of the real pleasures for me was recognizing locations, always a fun perk. Having spent a lot of time in my youth at the University of Virginia (known simply as “Virginia” to us natives), I enjoyed the time the characters spent there but also in Richmond and Carter’s Creek. The characters themselves were interesting and had depth so that I felt I had a pretty good handle on them and their individual behaviors. Kitty appealed to me a lot, especially her willingness to stand up for herself, and so did Ben in the early part of the tale. I always had empathy for Ben until an incident between him and Kitty but, even then, I felt badly about what he had allowed himself to become. Their circle of friends seemed to be likeable kids that most college students would like to hang out with.

Emma is probably the most well-drawn personality and certainly is frightening in her obsessions and her completely narcissistic attitude. For me, she was the cause of more than a little anxiety wondering what she would do next and who would suffer because of her actions. She is Ms. Farley’s strongest creation.

There were some shortcomings for me. First, I felt the mystery was kind of lightweight and the resolution was predictable along about two thirds or less of the way in. I think just as strong a story could have been done without the distraction of this mystery. Second, the rural cops are made out to be incompetent in the extreme, letting the kids rummage through Emma’s car and not taking charge of her belongings until well after they know she’s dead. I can’t help thinking that’s pretty disrespectful of our Northern Neck police and I’ve never heard or read any factual statements that would make me believe this portrayal of bad police work is accurate.

My next issue was that I thought Kitty is way too intelligent to put herself in such an obvious position of danger when she figures out who is responsible for what happened. When you get right down to it, this is a good example of the femjep—female in jeopardy—most mystery readers have begun to tire of. Also, Ben’s fraternity is initially referred to as KO but later the full name is given as Lambda Delta. I could be wrong about this and I apologize if I am but I think KO stands for Kappa Omicron.

Finally, the author makes drinking a nearly constant thing with no one, not even any of the adults, raising an eyebrow over all the underage use. I’m not idealistic enough to believe there’s not a lot of drinking among high school and college students (I do live in the real world) but it truly is excessive here. Virginia is a tough school and these students would not last with all this partying. I know Ms. Farley has been active in promoting alcohol and drug awareness so I understand her zeal but the point can be made with a little more reality.

Regardless of any failings, Saving Ben ultimately is about the strong bond that can exist between siblings and the harm that can be done to that bond by drugs and alcohol abuse. In that, Ms. Farley has done a fine job and I’ll look forward to reading more by this author.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2013.

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About the Author

Ashley FarleyI wrote a novel, SAVING BEN, in honor of my brother, the boy I worshipped, the man I could not save. It’s not a memoir, but a story about the special bond between siblings.

I’m a wife and mother of two teenagers. I have lived in Richmond, Virginia, for seventeen years, a city I love for its history and traditions. Personal experience with my brother inspired me to become involved with the leadership symposium in my son’s school where I’ve helped bring in speakers to raise parents’ awareness of the alcohol and drug problems children face. When I’m not steering volunteer committees or working on my next novel, I can be found swimming laps or playing tennis.

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