Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Blackbird Season

The Blackbird Season by Kate Moretti

There's no explanation for the thousands of dead birds that rain
down from the sky on the baseball field in Mt. Oanoke,
Pennsylvania, a depressed little town still reeling from the
paper mill closing that cost so many people their livelihoods.

Nate Winters is the revered high school baseball coach in Mt. Oanoke.  He and wife, Alecia, seem to be perfectly matched, the ideal couple. Behind closed doors, however, the cracks in the foundation of their marriage are growing deeper. She struggles with the daily needs of their autistic son, Gabe, as her husband spends more and more time away from home. Rumors swirl that Nate is involved with student Lucia Hamm, that white-haired teenager with the ruby red lips. Many believe she's a "witch", responsible for that deluge of blackbirds on this unsuspecting town. When Lucia disappears, colleagues and residents turn on Nate, choosing to believe the gossip and innuendos that paint him as a prime suspect. Bridget, Lucia's creative writing teacher and Alecia's good friend, begins her own investigation, deciphering telltale words in a journal that point to a complicated maze of deception and secrets. What she finds is nothing short of astounding.

This gripping drama has so many layers; a wife consumed with
obligations and insecurities who doesn't quite trust her husband, a teacher overstepping his bounds, teenagers bent on destroying reputations, the ugliness of  social media, and a town on edge, quick to believe the worst about one of their own.

The ending isn't all tied up in a tidy little package. Yes, there's closure, or is there?  Lingering doubts remain about the future of this troubled place with the hypnotic spell.

And that's what makes this novel so very, very good.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Fast Falls the Night

Fast Falls the Night by Julia Keller

Welcome back to Acker's Gap, West Virginia.

 In 2012, author Julia Keller created the first book in her series about a place in the hills of Appalachia where good, decent folks struggle every day to survive. These people bleed poverty, despair, and the unbearable fact that finding a way out is easier said than done.

In  A Killing in the Hills, readers are introduced to Bell Elkins, the strong, determined prosecutor who, after some soul-searching, returns to her hometown, hoping she can make a difference. She and her sister, a convicted felon, are haunted by childhood abuse and the hurt and shame that accompanies being a poor, outcast adolescent. It seems that no matter hard you try, success is hard to achieve when the odds are against you."The past always has the last word".

This latest installment takes place in a 24 hour period as Acker's Gap deals with an onslaught of heroin overdoses unlike anything they've ever experienced before. One by one, the victims fall like dominoes as they consume a bad batch of the drug laced with a deadly additive. Along with law enforcement, Bell and her colleagues race to expose and arrest a local who has forfeited a conscience for the almighty buck,  and a chance to escape this forsaken town.

Inspiration for the story came from the real account of a rash of drug overdoses in Huntington, West Virginia, Keller's hometown. With tormented, unforgettable characters, and page-turning sub-plots, the author tackles a topic that plagues cities and villages across our nation. Whether you choose to start your journey in Acker's Gap with this latest book, or go way back to the beginning, be assured you won't soon forget Bell and the sorrow and hope her stories bring.

Thanks, Julia, for ending this one with so many burning, unanswered questions about what's next for Bell after her sister's shocking revelation. We look forward to the continuing saga about a weary, broken town in "this beautiful heartbreak of a world".  

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Glass Houses

Glass Houses by Louise Penny

There is an eerie, hooded figure dressed in black, lurking in the town square of  the quiet little village of Three Pines, Quebec. Perhaps, the people say, it is a prank from the leftover celebration festivities of Halloween. But as time goes on, the ominous, dark shape remains, day into night, never moving, simply staring, and the people begin to whisper and wonder; what evil has permeated their calm, peaceful lives?

The sinister scenario takes a deadly twist when murder takes a life in the dank root cellar of the church basement. Months later, Chief Armand Gamache testifies in court at the trial of the individual arrested for the crime, recalling how his wife found the corpse, dressed in the same cloak as the mysterious form that silently stood watch over their sleepy little town.

 As perspiration drips down his face in the oppressively hot courtroom, Gamache tells the prosecutor that in Spain the "dark thing" was said to be a"Conscience", capable of hunting down and shaming perpetrators of dastardly deeds. The courtroom spectators squirm in their seats. If true, which one of their neighbors is hiding a dreadful secret? The trial continues while Gamache carefully weighs his words, fully aware that his decision to commit perjury puts him on a dangerous precipice that could ruin his career and reputation. Only he and a handful of confidantes are aware of a far greater threat to the world than the frightening body in black.

If you are a Louise Penny fan, the Three Pines series will be quite familiar. If not, then by all means, take this opportunity to become a fan of her writing and meet the quirky, memorable cast of characters she has created. ( Don't forget the informative author notes at the conclusion. ) Penny writes a multi-layered plot dealing with a relevant topic. Deliciously unsettling at times, this one is a bewitchingly good mystery.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Map of the Heart

Map of the Heart by Susan Wiggs

The arrival of a mysterious package takes a widow with an aching
heart on an adventure to France, where secrets from her father's past are waiting to be uncovered.

Camille Adams vows that she and her troubled daughter, Julie, are going to live a quiet, risk-free life in their Delaware coastal town, since a freak accident claimed her beloved husband's life five years ago. She spends days in a darkroom, using her photography skills to develop precious film that clients bring to her in the hopes of capturing memories long forgotten. She's oblivious to Julie's encounter with bullies at school or the significance of her daughter's declining self-esteem, until an alarming incident opens her eyes to reality.

Reluctantly, Camille agrees to leave the security of her tranquil town and  spend the summer with her ailing father and Julie in Provence, the place he called home as a child. The beauty and peacefulness of France begin to heal her broken heart, especially when she's in the presence of a handsome naval officer. Julie is exuberant in her new surroundings, making new friends, and experiencing the thrill of living life without fear.

Slowly and methodically, Camille's father begins to piece together the fragmented parts of what he remembers growing up in Nazi-occupied France during World War II. Stepping back in time reveals astonishing facts about his courageous mother, and the sacrifices she made during the dark days of War. By taking a look into what came before, a family finds the strength to face what lies ahead.

An emotional, mellow, romantic story that satisfies the wanderlust in all of us.

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Good Daughter

The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter

Absolutely chilling. Those two words describe the first forty pages of a novel that you will either put aside, unwilling to grasp the frightening details, or one that compels you to continue reading a story of murder, mystery, and revenge.

Twenty-eight years ago, sisters Samantha and Charlotte Quinn witnessed a home invasion by two masked intruders that left their mother dead. But it didn't end there. One girl was brutally shot, the other escaped into the night, bloodied and praying for her survival. Their idealistic, do-gooder attorney father, Rusty, mourns the horrific events, but is he somehow responsible?

Fast forward to the present and a middle school shooting in Pikeville, Georgia where Charlie and her estranged husband practice law. It's the same community where she and Sam grew up and the scars and whispers of that fateful night still linger. Charlie happens to be at the school to retrieve her phone from a regrettable encounter with a history teacher the night before. She finds herself an eyewitness to dead bodies and a young, shivering girl holding a lethal weapon in her hands. Repressed memories of the past mesh with the reality of the moment.

Now the intricate web begins to take shape as the reader learns how all of these happenings relate to one another. It's quite a remarkable task, one that will require the reader to pay close attention. There's all sorts of salacious secrets that combine to make this tale far more than just a typical suspense novel. Amidst the fear and panic, is also a story of empathy and compassion for the survivors.

Karin Slaughter has the ability to make her readers clamor for cold-bloodied terror, putting her latest release on the current New York Times best sellers. Take a look to see if you agree.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Emma in the Night

Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker

Teenage sisters, Emma and Cass Tanner, disappear from home in the middle of the night. Authorities find their abandoned car on the beach, keys in a purse, shoes aimlessly rolling in the surf.

Three years later, only Cass returns, with a harrowing story of isolation and mental abuse at the hands of a controlling man and woman on a remote island off the coast of Maine. She gives investigators a detailed description of their captors, the surroundings, and the circumstance that led her and Emma to find themselves at the mercy of strangers. Her pleas are deafening; find the island, and you'll find Emma.

To understand this story, one has to examine the dynamics of a dysfunctional family living on the threshold of catastrophe. Emma and Cass are the children of Owen and Judy Tanner. He's a wounded, pot-smoking, sad man whose vain, narcissistic wife left him for a more powerful, wealthy man by the name of Jonathan Martin. Owen  has a caring son, Witt, by his first marriage before he was seduced by the cunning, insecure Judy. And Jonathan has a son, Hunter, a calculating loser who secretly enjoys defying his father every opportunity he gets.

If you are dizzy already with this complicated entourage, then prepare to meet even more characters in a plot designed to make the reader question each and every one of them, which is part of the appeal.  Forensic psychologist, Dr. Abby Winter, is called in with her partner to asses the mystery, and finds herself ensconced once again in the case she couldn't solve years ago. Not to mention, the unsettling memories of growing up in a similar scenario hits way too close to home.

You may need to read a few pages again and again for clarification, but anyone with an interest in the study of classic narcissism will devour this one.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Watch Me Disappear

Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown

"Maybe this is why they say love is blind. Who you want people to be makes you blind to who they really are.".

It's been a year since Billie Flanagan presumably died while hiking alone on treacherous Desolation Trail in Northern California. Daughter, Olive, and husband, Jonathan mourn
her passing, but without a body, it's hard to find closure, especially when Olive begins to experience unexplained "visions" of her mother. Is this a result of an overactive imagination, a brain abnormality, a child simply missing her mother, or something far more sinister?

Jonathan's best friend is the bottle, as he fights financial woes and struggles to write a memoir about his loving wife; their whirlwind romance, her often unexplained absences, and the highs and lows of a relationship that's always been teetering on the edge of dangerous. He's worried about Olive, the awkward distance developing between them, her detachment from school, and her insistence that Billie is trying to send a message. And then, as he digs deeper into his wife's past, a startling revelation begins to take shape about a woman he thought he knew so well. Is she lurking in the shadows, peppering him with clues, watching him squirm, or is she in trouble, reaching out to the one person who can help her? So many questions that beg to be answered.

This thriller has all the elements to make for a tantalizing movie and that's exactly what The Gotham Group plans to do. There's nothing better than teasing your audience until the end, and this suspense novel, with a touch of the supernatural, does just that. Enticing.......