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: Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson @JoshilynJackson @WmMorrowBooks

Never Have I Ever
Joshilyn Jackson
William Morrow, July 2019
ISBN 978-0-06-285531-2
Hardcover

Amy Whey is a happily married woman. She has a wonderful husband, a newborn son and a teenage step-daughter, all of whom she adores. She also has a group of woman friends in the neighbourhood. Her life is going well until a newcomer in the area joins Amy and her friends on their book club night.

Angelica Roux, or Roux as she insists they call her, charms the group and as the wine flows she suggests they play a fun game instead of discussing the chosen book. It’s a drinking game, a daring game, a game of revealing personal secrets.

At first it seems like harmless fun, but Amy senses something more is happening here and she grows increasingly uncomfortable as it turns serious. And later, after everyone heads home, Roux confronts Amy, telling her she knows all her personal secrets and will reveal them to her husband and friends unless Amy gives her what she wants; what she deserves.

Amy does have secrets and there is little doubt that Roux somehow knows what Amy did in the past, and if that knowledge is revealed, Amy is sure she will lose everything. Shocked and more than a little frightened, Amy is caught in a trap. Roux leaves, but not before telling Amy she’ll be back to let her know exactly what she wants.

Amy can’t imagine how Roux found out, but she is determined to find a way to protect her family and her marriage.

A cat and mouse game ensues. Amy manages to buy herself some time, counter-attacking as best she can, by doing some digging of her own in an attempt to neutralize Roux’s threat. As she’s struggling to keep her life on track, Roux seems to have the upper hand. The tension escalates. Amy feels she’s fighting a losing battle.

All the characters in this novel are well-drawn rounded people, especially Amy and I quickly got caught up in her predicament. I was on Amy’s side from the outset, anxious and eager for her to find a viable solution. There were many twists and turns to keep this reader turning pages. Amy’s determination and resourcefulness seemed to know no bounds, but Roux, a formidable opponent, was not about to give up.

The resolution was as stunning as it was unexpected, but none the less a fitting one.

I look forward to reading more from this author. Give this one a try, you won’t regret it.

Respectfully submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, February 2020.

Book Reviews: Black Site by Philip Mudd and November Road by Lou Berney @RoguePhilMudd @LiverightPub @Lou_Berney @WmMorrowBooks

Black Site
The CIA in the Post-9/11 World

Philip Mudd
Liveright Publishing, July 2019
ISBN 978-1-63149-197-9
Hardcover

Here is an eye-opening, compelling inside narrative of our premiere intelligence agency during one of the most upsetting periods in the life of our nation. Remember that the Central Intelligence Agency was not very old when Al-Qaeda flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and literally shocked the American public to its core. In intelligence and political circles especially, the question arose: is there a plan to protect us against a second attack?

None of the law enforcement and counter-intelligence operations in our government could answer that question with any assurance and the political organizations of the nation were peopled with a lot of very nervous individuals.

Written in the third person, by a former executive in the CIA and at the White House, and also at one time an executive at the FBI, the author has a deep experience with the changing mores and culture of the intelligence world pre- and post-9/11 world. He draws on his knowledge of the important players at all levels from the Oval Office to some of the regular workers at Langley, striving to make sense of ever-increasing flows of information.

The Central Intelligence Agency was never planned as a keeper of prisoners. It had no jails and it had no protocols to deal with high or low value prisoners who had been members of the CIA’s principal target, Al-Qaeda. Author Philip Mudd follows the torturous path of interrogation techniques through the Department of Justice, the politicians and the operators, agents and analysts of the agency, the creation of black site jails and much of the rising and falling tension and shifting attitudes throughout the nation.

From it’s very first incident to the final conclusion this is a riveting exploration of the secret and the prosaic world of intelligence gathering.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

November Road
Lou Berney
William Morrow, October 2018
ISBN 978-0-06-266384-9
Hardcover

A powerful, engaging crime novel of unusual breadth and perception: the story is a kind of road novel, involving a savvy canny New Orleans mob facilitator named Frank Guidry and an ordinary Oklahoma housewife and mother of extraordinary grit and talent.

Charlotte, mother of two small girls, is married to a husband who seems stuck in a bottle of booze and she’s frustrated with her work limitations and life in general.

It’s November 1963, and readers may remember what happened in Dealey Plaza in Dallas. The assassination of President Kennedy sends Guidry to Dallas to retrieve an unused get-away-car he assumes was parked there to be used by an assassin. Real life interfered with mob plans and Guidry is expected to clean up loose ends. He divines that he is a loose end to the New Orleans mob and takes a runner.

In Oklahoma, one more drunken episode with her husband and a putdown by the local newspaper editor is the final insult and Charlotte packs up her children and departs for the west coast.

Weather and fate bring these two adults together down the road and new adventures ensue as Charlotte and Frank meet and grow ever closer. The time period is the weeks immediately after the Kennedy assassination and Charlotte still plans to make it to Los Angeles with her daughters. Of course, other forces are at play, other characters have different plans. Carefully and thoughtfully with excellent attention to pace and environment, the author carries readers along and steadily draws us into his unique world.

This is an excellent crime novel in every aspect. NOVEMBER ROAD is not a bang-bang-shoot-up with ever increasing time-sensitive tension. The tension, and there is plenty, lies in the author’s attention to important detail and the smooth artistry of his narration as well as the thoughtful and understandable conclusions.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 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: The Huntress by Kate Quinn @KateQuinnAuthor @WmMorrowBooks

The Huntress
Kate Quinn
William Morrow, February 2019
ISBN 978-0-06-274037-3
Trade Paperback

In this terrific novel by Kate Quinn we meet three remarkable people. Jordon McBride, an American teenager, who dreams of one day becoming a renowned photographer. Nina Markova, a young resourceful Russian whose mission in life is to become a pilot, and Ian Graham, a British reporter covering the second world war and who at its end turns his attention to hunting down Nazi war criminals.

Each of their stories unfold in alternating chapters (a powerful way to heighten tension) and, as we move from the Second World War to the early 1950’s, we see Jordon struggle to fulfil her dream, frustrated in a time when young women are expected to find a suitable husband and start a family. We also follow Nina who, after joining an elite flying group targeting the Nazis, is shot down in enemy territory. She manages to avoid capture but, ultimately when the war ends, feels lost and alone, unsure what the future will bring. And Ian who soon becomes obsessed with finding one particular war criminal known as the Huntress, a German woman, responsible for the brutal murder of a number of innocent people including children and Ian’s younger brother.

These characters are all vividly drawn, with varying strengths and skills, and as their stories start to come together, tension quickly escalates and they find themselves in a race to apprehend the Huntress before she vanishes.

I had a hard time putting this book down. It’s a wonderful novel with drama and humour and thrills and a cast of characters you can’t help but like and root for.

In the Author’s Notes at the end of The Huntress you also find out how the Author conceived the idea and also learn that some of the characters are based on real people and real events. I highly recommend The Huntress. Check it out you won’t regret it…

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, July 2019.

Book Review: In Plain Sight by Kathryn Casey

In Plain Sight
The Kaufman County Prosecutor Murders
Kathryn Casey
William Morrow, March 27, 2018
ISBN 978-0-06-23635-0-3
Mass Market Paperback

From the publisher:  On a cold January morning, the killer executed Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse in broad daylight.   Eight shots fired a block from the Kaufman County Courthouse.  Two months later, a massacre.  The day before Easter, the couple slept.  Bunnies, eggs, a flower centerpiece gracing the table.  Death rang their doorbell and filled the air with the rat-a-tat-tat of an assault weapon discharging round after round into their bodies.  Eric Williams and his wife, Kim, celebrated the murders with grilled steaks.  Their crimes covered front pages around the world, many saying the killer placed a target square on the back of law enforcement.  It seemed that Williams’ plan was to exact revenge on all who had wronged him, one at a time. Throughout the Spring of 2013, Williams sowed terror through a small Texas town, and a quest for vengeance turned to deadly obsession.  His intention?  To keep killing, until someone found a way to stop him.

The book’s Prologue references the murder of an assistant DA, Mark Hasse, in the small city of Kaufman, Texas.  The identity of the killer is unknown, although there is speculation that it was the work of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, a powerful prison group, as well as a Mexican cartel.  Mike McLelland, Mark’s boss and Kaufman County’s DA, believes that the killer is local, and is “somebody bent on revenge.”  Meanwhile, one Eric Williams believes that “he has pulled off the perfect murder.”  The Prologue ends with these words: “The killing wasn’t over.”

The ensuing tale reads like a fine work of fiction, although it is immediately apparent that that is not the case:  This is a true crime story, proven on nearly every page by the quotes from conversations by the author with each of the parties involved, from the killer and his wife [and collaborator], Kim, as well as from the aforementioned Mike McLelland, about whom nothing more will be said for fear of giving anything away.  Suffice it to say that a man thought of as a small-town good citizen turns into a vengeful killer.  The publisher has called the book an “expertly researched account” of the killings, and truer words were never said.  Frequently, while reading this wonderful book, I felt as though I were reading an interesting novel, then almost immediately coming across a photo, or a fascinating quote from one of the main, or even subsidiary, characters, making it plain that this was a fascinating true account of the proceedings.  Eric Williams had had his life ruined, his livelihood taken away for $600 worth of computers, especially when one sat on his county desk, “did seem excessive.”  But “Eric never admitted the murders.”

A riveting book, and one which is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, May 2018.

Book Reviews: A Casualty of War by Charles Todd and The Gate Keeper by Charles Todd

A Casualty of War
A Bess Crawford Mystery #9
Charles Todd
William Morrow, September 2017
ISBN: 978-0-0626-7878-2
Hardcover

In the waning days of WWI, Bess Crawford was stationed at a forward medical base close to the fighting when a Captain was brought in with a head wound.  It turned out that the bullet merely scraped his scalp and he returned to his men the next day, but he claimed he was shot by a British lieutenant resembling his great grandfather, perhaps his cousin, Lieutenant James Travis. A few days later, he was returned to the facility, shot in the back.  Again he told Bess the same man shot him.  Bess got to know the Captain and believed his story.

The Armistice soon took place, and Bess was asked to accompany a convoy of wounded back to England and was granted a week’s leave.  Instead of visiting home in Somerset, accompanied by Sgt. Major Brandon, she traveled to a hospital in Wiltshire where the Captain was being treated.   She was appalled to find him strapped to his bed under horrible conditions (the medical staff thought him mad because of his outbursts regarding his claim to have been shot by a relative, attributing his condition to his head wound).  Strengthening the diagnosis was the fact that James was killed a year before.  Bess insisted he be unshackled and permitted to enjoy fresh air.

She then traveled to Sussex, James’ home, to determine the accuracy of James’ death, discovering even more complications, including the fact that after a brief meeting in Paris earlier in the war, James named the Captain his heir.   Meanwhile, the Captain escapes from the Wiltshire hospital when taken for a walk.  And the story goes on as the complications of the plot unfolds.  The Bess Crawford mysteries, of which this is the ninth, artfully weave the agonies of war with the crimes Bess attempts to solve. With the end of the war on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour, where will the series now go?  It deserves to continue in peace, as well!

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2018.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Gate Keeper
An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery #20
Charles Todd
William Morrow, February 2018
ISBN: 978-0-0626-7871-3
Hardcover

Charles Todd, the mother-son writing team, offers two different series:  The Gate Keeper is from the Inspector Ian Rutledge mystery series (the other is the Bess Crawford novels).  Both series take place in a similar time frame, during or after World War I, and are based in England (or France, of course, in the trenches).  Rutledge served as a Captain and saw bloody action and was responsible for the execution of his Corporal, Hamish McCleod, who refused orders to lead his men into another futile charge over the top.  Hamish still haunts Rutledge, and his memory serves as sort of assistant to the Inspector by offering observations and warnings when warranted.

As a result of shell shock, Rutledge was, for a time, treated for his mental condition, but now serves as a Scotland Yard detective.  Since his release from the hospital, he has been living in the family home with his sister, who is married at the start of this novel.  Returning from the wedding, he is unable to sleep and decides to go for a drive, ending up far away from his London apartment, where he finds himself witness to a murder.  He insists on taking over the investigation and when another murder occurs, it becomes more important to uncover the reason for each.  Rutledge learns of a third murder far away that might be related to the two he is working on, but it is assigned to another Scotland Yard detective.

The plot is fairly simple, but the solution is a lot more complicated and unexpected.  Rutledge plods on until he finds a common thread to all three murders, then has to turn his attention to the question of who has actually performed the murders.  And this he does with smoothness in this, the 20th novel in the series.  On to the 21st.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2018.

Book Review: You’ll Never Know, Dear by Hallie Ephron

You’ll Never Know, Dear
Hallie Ephron
William Morrow, June 2017
ISBN 978-0-06-247361-5
Hardcover

You’ll Never Know, Dear by Hallie Ephron is a stand-alone contemporary suspense novel that could just as easily be labeled women’s fiction. This book explores the long shadows and altered relationships that follow a child kidnapping. Forty years ago 7-year-old Elisabeth (Lis) Woodham was supposed to be watching her 4-year-old sister Jane. She was distracted as children that age can be and when she returned, Jane was gone along with the handmade porcelain doll she was playing with. No trace was ever found of her. Their mother began offering a reward for the return of the doll annually on the anniversary of the disappearance, thinking that whoever had the doll would know where her daughter was. While inevitably dolls of all kinds were offered every year in hopes of obtaining the reward, none of them were credible until this year, when a young woman showed up with a tattered doll that might well be the right one.

Within hours of seeing the doll and meeting the young woman a chain reaction of events occurs. Both Lis and her mother are hospitalized with carbon monoxide poisoning and the kiln in her mother’s workshop that she used for years explodes and sets their house on fire, bringing Lis’s daughter Vanessa home from New England where she is doing post-doctoral sleep research and escaping from her mother’s overprotectiveness. Together Vanessa and Lis investigate this present-day puzzle that reaches far into the distant past for answers.

The mother and daughter relationship and its variations over time are a major theme in this book. How they annoy each other and misunderstand each other and protect each other and need each other is shown over and over.  Lis and her mother, Lis and her daughter, the young woman with the damaged doll and her mother, the familiar ideas take clear human form here.

I generally dislike thrillers and mysteries based on harm to children and avoid them. I can think of nothing worse for a parent than to lose a child through kidnapping. To use it as the plot of a story, even as realistically and tactfully as this one does, seems to trivialize a horrific occurrence. To minimize the tragedy Ephron, a skilled writer, focuses on the lost doll, not the lost child. In the back of the reader’s mind, the lost doll equals the lost child but the discussions among the characters concentrate directly on the doll, which I thought was an excellent way of downplaying the calamity. A smooth, fast-moving read.

Reviewed by Aubrey Hamilton, January 2018.