Book Review—What Has Mother Done

What Has Mother Done Cover

I’m just going to come out and say it. Barbara Petty is a little sneaky. When I began reading What Has Mother Done, the author introduced a story that could easily have been a cozy mystery. Sure, right off the bat, there’s a body. But we’ve got a main character who is wicked-funny with her internal thoughts and asides pitted against the proverbial small town where everyone—and I mean everyone—has a secret.

Petty’s Thea Browne is no ingenue, either. She’s a hard-bitten investigative reporter who has been around the block a few times. When we meet her, she faces the bleak prospect of looking after her recently widowed mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. During the investigation, Thea is forced to put up with her best friend, Annie, who has gone a little wonky of late. And she must also deal with her sister, Beryl. Yeah, they don’t get along. As if all that wasn’t enough, let’s throw in some hot flashes.

Yes, the story could have been a perfectly respectable cozy mystery. That is until the body count goes up. What Has Mother Done is a first-rate mystery thriller. The characters are engaging—and often frustrating. As Thea goes about trying to solve the mystery of her stepfather’s untimely death, I found my pulse quickening. If you enjoy smartly written scenes of small-town intrigue, violence, and questionable loyalties, then I suggest you check out this excellent novel.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description

In a small Midwestern town, on a cold, blustery March day, a man plunges to his death off a high, rocky cliff, setting in motion a string of events that lead to murders and rips open the long-hidden secrets of the town’s most prominent family…

The man is George Prentice, and the woman the police suspect of murdering him is his wife, Daphne. But Daphne has Alzheimer’s and, as she is likely to be incompetent to stand trial, has not been arrested.

Daphne’s daughter, Thea Browne, is a trained investigative reporter, who is furious that the police haven’t bothered to look any further for a culprit other than her mother. She suspects her stepfather made enemies when meddling in local politics and, according to one of his cronies, George wrote a memoir threatening to “blow the lid off this town.”

As Thea follows her own investigation, she discovers a widening circle of suspects, some much closer to home than she expected. Even her best friend from childhood, Annie Biggs, seems to be keeping a deep dark secret that she refuses to share with Thea.

More murders push Thea to the point where protecting her mother forces her to put her own life on the line to track down a diabolical killer.

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Book Review—Cades Cove: The Curse of Allie Mae

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Okay, I’ll just say it. Cades Cove: The Curse of Allie Mae, by Aiden James, is one mother of a scary book. Immediately, I became caught up in the story of a man with questionable judgment who, through a seemingly innocuous act, stumbles into a world of sheer mayhem. As a result, he puts not only himself but his family in danger. What starts out as the innocent taking of a souvenir from a magical vacation spot soon turns into an unrelenting reign of terror conducted by the vengeful ghost of a dead girl.

This kind of story has been told countless times. In lesser hands, it might have been trite. But the author has taken great pains to create a rich world of Appalachian and Native American folklore that lends an incredible depth to the haunting tale of a young Tennessee girl wronged in another century. I particularly enjoyed James’s meticulous description of a Sioux ritual meant to protect the protagonist, David Hobbs, and his family.

If you enjoy novels that harken back to an earlier, less civilized time in America and feature nail-biting scenes of supernatural horror, then I suggest you read Cades Cove: The Curse of Allie Mae. It will be well worth the nightmares.

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Book Description

Buried deep in a ravine in the picturesque Smoky Mountains is a very dark secret.

David Hobbs, vacationing with his wife Miriam, inadvertently stumbles upon a small cloth ‘keepsake’ bag and a broken tooth. A human tooth. Miriam begs David to hand the bag and tooth over to park officials, but he ignores his wife’s pleas and secretly keeps the ‘harmless’ items. The action opens a doorway that had been closed for nearly a hundred years and unleashes hell on earth, or at least hell in the lives of David and Miriam.

Following the brutal murder of his best friend in Denver, and unprovoked attack on his oldest son, David desperately seeks to understand why a mysterious teenage girl has chosen to terrorize him and the males closest to him. To prevent further devastation to his family and end the wanton bloodshed, he returns to the enchanted hills of eastern Tennessee, where a terrible truth awaits discovery… one that forces him to face the consequences for the unpaid sins of his ancestors.

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Book Review—The Gun

The Gun Cover

As I read The Gun by Fuminori Nakamura, Holden Caulfield immediately came to mind. Both novels are told in the first person. And both characters are alienated, though Nishikawa gets the prize. He hangs out with friends he is not close to, has sex with girls he cares little for, and attends school because he has nothing better to do. Wandering the Tokyo streets seems to calm him. One night, when he discovers a dead body, his life changes. But it’s the gun lying next to the corpse that intrigues him, and he becomes obsessed.

Chekhov wrote that story elements should not make false promises. If we see a gun at the beginning, then someone must use it. Nakamura takes this principle to heart as he weaves his tale of ever-growing madness. He builds an almost unbearable tension as Nishikawa tries to decide when and where to fire the weapon. In the meantime, the character’s personal relationships continue to suffer. Feelings of hatred emerge, making the threat of violence more palpable.

The Gun is a taut thriller that begs the question, “Was Nishikawa already crazy, or was it the gun that made him so?” If you enjoy nail-biting crime fiction, then I highly recommend this book.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description

A Tokyo college student’s discovery and eventual obsession with a stolen handgun awakens something dark inside him.

On a nighttime walk along a Tokyo riverbank, a young man named Nishikawa stumbles on a dead body, beside which lies a gun. From the moment Nishikawa decides to take the gun, the world around him blurs. Knowing he possesses the weapon brings an intoxicating sense of purpose to his dull university life. But soon Nishikawa’s personal entanglements become unexpectedly complicated: he finds himself romantically involved with two women while his biological father, whom he’s never met, lies dying in a hospital. Through it all, he can’t stop thinking about the gun—and the four bullets loaded in its chamber. As he spirals into obsession, his focus is consumed by one idea: that possessing the gun is no longer enough—he must fire it.

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Book Review—One For Sorrow

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Reading One For Sorrow by Sarah A. Denzil is like getting into the mind of a deeply conflicted, mental patient who must still function in society. Leah Smith is a tragic character whose need to help others while fighting her demons is heartbreaking. When she starts a new job at Crowmont Hospital and is put in charge of a troubled girl named Isabel, who may or may not be a murderer, the road to sorrow is perfectly paved.

Immediately, Leah falls under the girl’s spell, believing her innocent of the brutal murder of a small child. And we fall with the good-hearted nurse. Isabel is an incredible artist and always cheerful. She especially loves drawing birds—magpies in particular. She doesn’t remember what happened all those years ago, and she is grateful when Leah takes an interest in her. Will Leah’s kindness be rewarded in the end?

If you enjoy psychological thrillers with characters who ring true like notes on a piano, I suggest you grab this book. Oh, and one other thing. Beware of magpies.

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Book Description

A chilling psychological thriller by the million-copy bestselling author of Silent Child.

Who really killed Maisie Earnshaw?

Within the walls of the high-security psychiatric facility, Crowmont Hospital, reside many violent offenders. To nurse Leah Smith, no matter what, all offenders are patients first and foremost. When Leah is appointed as nurse to Isabel Fielding, she is determined to remain professional despite the shocking crime Isabel allegedly committed in her past.

Years ago, six-year-old Maisie Earnshaw was found face down in a duck pond, her body mutilated. Isabel—at age fourteen, found covered in Maisie’s blood—was convicted of murder.

As Leah spends time with Isabel, she comes to know her as a young woman with a sweet, gentle nature, someone she could never see as a murderer. Leah begins to suspect members of the Fielding family of framing Isabel as a young girl, and she’s not the only one. True crime blogger James Gorden thinks Isabel is innocent too.

Is Leah allowing her own dark past to taint her judgement as she grows closer to her patient? Or has a young woman been unjustly robbed of her childhood?

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Book Review—Suitcase Girl

 

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This is my first time reading a Ty Hutchinson novel, and wow. With Abby Kane, he’s created a character who is tough but with a huge heart. A skilled FBI agent, she can hold her own with anyone, yet the tenderness she expresses toward her dead husband’s mother and his two kids is almost heartbreaking.

Suitcase Girl is set in modern-day San Francisco, a town with many dark secrets. Abby is Chinese—originally from Hong Kong—and much of the story centers around Asians. Many are good, but some are bad—really bad. Combine that with sex trafficking, rogue science, and violence, and you’ve got a story that doesn’t let you breathe. It’s as if the author wants you to be as tense and focused as Abby.

If you enjoy crime thrillers that feel like the bass line in a Nirvana song, then grab this book. Trust me—it’s fun.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description

She’s your average twelve-year old, except there’s something about her that’s unthinkable, and quite frankly, unexplainable.

When a lone little girl is abandoned outside FBI headquarters, agent Abby Kane’s investigation points to a human trafficking ring—and something even worse.

For a tense, disturbing thrill-ride, pick up this USA Today Bestseller. Book one in the Suitcase Girl Trilogy.

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Book Review—Unspeakable Things

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Lilydale is the polar opposite of the idyllic paradise people usually think of when you mention a small town. In this place, there are secrets—lots of secrets. And they begin with the parents of a middle-school girl named Cassie. Though she and her sister appear to be fine, they know they need to keep silent about the goings-on in their own home, mostly centered around their father. A dark threat hangs over them like a poisonous cloud. And, to survive, they must hold their breath.

But then, things become worse. Inexplicably, young boys go missing for a time, then reappear, damaged and sullen. There’s a sexual predator loose in the town, and, although the police establish a curfew, they don’t seem to be doing enough to find the villain. Meanwhile, Cassie conducts an unofficial investigation, putting herself in danger and opening doors that are better left closed.

I enjoyed this novel, but I warn you, it is disturbing. Based on a real case, the author Jess Lourey has painted a picture of a slow-burning hell where children are at risk, and most of the adults are corrupt in one way or another. If you enjoy stories of mystery, suspense, and dark souls, then Unspeakable Things is for you. But don’t be surprised if, after reading it, you crave something—anything—to make you laugh.

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Book Description

Inspired by a terrifying true story from the author’s hometown, a heart-pounding novel of suspense about a small Minnesota community where nothing is as quiet—or as safe—as it seems.

Cassie McDowell’s life in 1980s Minnesota seems perfectly wholesome. She lives on a farm, loves school, and has a crush on the nicest boy in class. Yes, there are her parents’ strange parties and their parade of deviant guests, but she’s grown accustomed to them.

All that changes when someone comes hunting in Lilydale.

One by one, local boys go missing. One by one, they return changed—violent, moody, and withdrawn. What happened to them becomes the stuff of shocking rumors. The accusations of who’s responsible grow just as wild, and dangerous town secrets start to surface. Then Cassie’s own sister undergoes the dark change. If she is to survive, Cassie must find her way in an adult world where every sin is justified, and only the truth is unforgivable.

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Book Review—Lost Hills

I don’t read a lot of crime fiction. I’m more of a horror and supernatural aficionado. But recently, I had the pleasure of picking up Lost Hills, a new novel by Lee Goldberg. This book is the first in a series featuring a young—and already hard-boiled—homicide detective named Eve Ronin. Now, if you’re up on Japanese history, you’ll know that ronin refers to a samurai warrior without a master or lord, In other words, a drifter. I wouldn’t say Eve wanders, but she positively does not react well to being bossed around by her superiors. This quality both serves and hurts her—a classic trait in a protagonist.

My favorite aspect of this novel is that it takes place in Los Angeles, my hometown. It’s clear the author knows this place intimately, and it was easy for me to picture where something took place whenever he called out street names and neighborhoods. It was almost like being on a ride-along with Eve and her sardonic, donut-eating partner Duncan.

I’ll warn you that things get bloody pretty fast. But the interactions between the cops in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and their counterparts in LAPD are sometimes hilarious, not to mention contentious. That, and the constant crap Eve has to take from men who consider her a skirt that didn’t deserve to get promoted to detective makes for some fun reading.

If you like crime stories with unpredictable characters and plenty of twists and turns, then do yourself a favor and get this book. And while you’re at it, treat yourself to a nice glazed donut.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description

Lost Hills is Lee Goldberg at his best. Inspired by the real-world grit and glitz of LA County crime, this book takes no prisoners. And neither does Eve Ronin. Take a ride with her and you’ll find yourself with a heroine for the ages. And you’ll be left hoping for more.” —Michael Connelly, #1 New York Times bestselling author

“Thrills and chills! Lost Hills is the perfect combination of action and suspense, not to mention Eve Ronin is one of the best new female characters in ages. You will race through the pages!” —Lisa Gardner, #1 New York Times bestselling author

A video of Deputy Eve Ronin’s off-duty arrest of an abusive movie star goes viral, turning her into a popular hero at a time when the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is plagued by scandal. The sheriff, desperate for more positive press, makes Eve the youngest female homicide detective in the department’s history.

Now Eve, with a lot to learn and resented by her colleagues, has to justify her new badge. Her chance comes when she and her burned-out, soon-to-retire partner are called to the blood-splattered home of a missing single mother and her two kids. The horrific carnage screams multiple murder—but there are no corpses.

Eve has to rely on her instincts and tenacity to find the bodies and capture the vicious killer, all while battling her own insecurities and mounting pressure from the media, her bosses, and the bereaved family. It’s a deadly ordeal that will either prove her skills…or totally destroy her.

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Book Review—Between Life and Death

Between Life and Death Cover

Post-apocalyptic books featuring zombies are plentiful. Many follow the typical path. Usually, a quick-spreading virus infects just about everyone on the planet, turning the victims into flesh-craving monsters. A small band of survivors who have yet to be infected must fight for their survival, possibly while searching for a cure. Sound familiar? Oh, and you can bet there’ll be a high body count and plenty of gory action.

Between Life and Death by Ann Christy is different. Instead of loud-mouthed machos with guns, we have Emily, an eighteen-year-old cancer survivor who is holed up in a commercial building, trying desperately to keep herself from going crazy. She’s already doing what her late mother taught her—going on daily patrols and taking out the “deaders” that congregate just outside the fence. Emily is alone, but not for long. Because someone has been watching her—someone who needs her help. And soon, they will make contact.

I liked this novel. Though not big on action, the characters are well drawn and evoke in the reader a deep connection. The story is straightforward and compelling. It is an elegy to loneliness in a wrecked world. If you enjoy stories of courage, I recommend you read Between Life and Death.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description

The World Is Dead. One Will Rise.Eighteen year old Emily has a system. She wakes, eats, brushes her teeth, then spends the morning bashing the monsters that gather at her fences. That’s labeled as cardio on her schedule. Vigorous cardio.

The problem isn’t staying alive anymore. It’s being alone. Two years of solitude while surrounded by death is too much. When she starts having deep conversations with the birds roosting on her roof, she realizes she’s in real trouble.

Going beyond her fences means almost certain death, but if she stays inside, insanity will eventually take her. When one of the monsters at her gate turns out to be the bearer of a message, Emily feels hope for the first time since the end came. There are others out there, but they’re in trouble and they won’t survive much longer without some help.

If Emily can brave a trip through the mad, dead world, she might have a shot at a real life. She just has to survive the trip, and that’s not going to be easy.

Between Life and Death: The In-Betweener is book one of the exciting post-apocalyptic adventure trilogy, Between Life and Death. This book can be read first, or you can dive back to the beginning of the end and read the prequel, Between Life and Death: The Book of Sam.

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Book Review—In the Dark

In the Dark Cover

When it comes to the mystery genre, Agatha Christie is still a force to be reckoned with. Joining the ranks of other authors,  creators of film and television projects have produced original works utilizing some of the same plots and devices as Dame Christie. A recent example is the movie ‘Knives Out.’ In the novel In the Dark, author Loreth Anne White has built a story on the plot of And Then There Were None. She even references the book.

But this story has been moved from a lonely island to the dark, treacherous wilds of Canada. Like Christie’s novel, someone has decided that a group of people needs to pay for their sins. And one by one, they are eliminated as they try to survive in an abandoned lodge in the middle of nowhere. Meanwhile, a search and rescue expert and a cop are trying to find the survivors. The weather is terrible, and the clues are few. Will they succeed before everyone is dead?

This was a fun read. And the world building was excellent—especially when the author describes navigating an unforgiving wilderness. If you enjoy mysteries with plenty of twists, I recommend In the Dark.

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Book Description

A secluded mountain lodge. The perfect getaway. So remote no one will ever find you.

The promise of a luxury vacation at a secluded wilderness spa has brought together eight lucky guests. But nothing is what they were led to believe. As a fierce storm barrels down and all contact with the outside is cut off, the guests fear that it’s not a getaway. It’s a trap.

Each one has a secret. Each one has something to hide. And now, as darkness closes in, they all have something to fear—including one another.

Alerted to the vanished party of strangers, homicide cop Mason Deniaud and search and rescue expert Callie Sutton must brave the brutal elements of the mountains to find them. But even Mason and Callie have no idea how precious time is. Because the clock is ticking, and one by one, the guests of Forest Shadow Lodge are being hunted. For them, surviving becomes part of a diabolical game.

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Three Things I Learned from Ring

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Years ago, I watched Hideo Nakata’s ‘Ringu,’ the Japanese horror film that kicked off a successful series of terrifying ghost stories both in Japan and here in the US. But it was only recently that I had the opportunity to read the novel that started it all—Ring by Koji Suzuki. When I first saw the movie, I was unnerved by the image of that strange girl Sadako, her hair exposing one hideous eye, crawling out of the television set from a well into the living room. There was something demonic about her, and though the film lacks gore, her victims’ deaths from sudden cardiac arrest are frightening.

In reading the novel, I learned that, unlike ‘Ringu,’ the protagonist is the dogged investigative reporter Asakawa, who plays only a minor role in the film. The reporter is around thirty, with a wife and child he barely has time for. Courtesy of a cab driver, he stumbles into a mystery involving four teenagers, one of whom was his niece. They all died suddenly of cardiac arrest—on the same day and at the same time.

I enjoyed this novel immensely. Here are three things in particular I noticed.

Family Comes Second

Though Asakawa continually berates himself for not spending more time with his son, he nevertheless continues to work, coming home at all hours. He smokes and drinks too much and is an emotional wreck. There’s something in him that drives him to pursue stories of the occult. Despite the efforts of his hapless editor to reign him in after a previous fiasco, he takes on a new mystery—one that hits closer to home because of the reporter’s dead niece.

As Asakawa tracks down the whereabouts of the four teenagers before they died to uncover the truth, he frequently spends time away from home. It isn’t until the end of the movie that he realizes how much his family means to him. And that feeling leads him to one last terrible, desperate act.

Science and Superstition but Not Faith

Science plays a significant role in this story. Asakawa’s friend Ryuji has lots of great scientific explanations for the phenomena he and the reporter discover. But for all his theories, there seems to be an underlying current of superstition that lies deep in the Japanese character. You could imagine children being warned nightly about spooky ghosts and vengeful spirits—and demons.

But for all the talk about science and superstition, rarely is God ever mentioned. Ryuji comes close when he suggests that at the beginning of time, good and evil were the same—they were equal. But I don’t recall anyone in this story saying they needed to go to the local Buddhist temple to pray for help.

We Kill What We Don’t Understand

If you know anything about ‘Ringu,’ then you know Sadako is responsible for all the mayhem. In the movie, she was a girl; but in the novel, she is an adult and startlingly beautiful. And she has a deep hatred that takes the form of a video cassette from hell. If you watch it, you die a week later. But why should anyone want to visit this kind of evil on people they don’t even know? Because Sadako was abused, then murdered for who—and what—she was.

If Sadako and her mother had been treated well, then none of this horror would have happened. But her mother’s death, followed by Sadako’s, creates the equivalent of a deadly virus whose only purpose is to infect and spread. Perhaps the final lesson in this breathtaking novel is, treat others as you would yourself. Maybe then, you’ll live to a ripe old age.

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Book Description

The Inspiration for the New Major Motion Picture RINGS

A mysterious videotape warns that the viewer will die in one week unless a certain, unspecified act is performed. Exactly one week after watching the tape, four teenagers die one after another of heart failure.

Asakawa, a hardworking journalist, is intrigued by his niece’s inexplicable death. His investigation leads him from a metropolitan Tokyo teeming with modern society’s fears to a rural Japan—a mountain resort, a volcanic island, and a countryside clinic—haunted by the past. His attempt to solve the tape’s mystery before it’s too late—for everyone—assumes an increasingly deadly urgency. Ring is a chillingly told horror story, a masterfully suspenseful mystery, and post-modern trip.

The success of Koji Suzuki’s novel Ring has led to manga, television and film adaptations in Japan, Korea, and the U.S.

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