Saturday, July 31, 2021

The Edge Of The Chair edited by Joan Kahn


This is an older anthology of suspense stories from 1967.  It is an interesting mix with both fiction and nonfiction entries.  Authors include classic authors such as Alexander Pushkin, Ambrose Bierce, Harold Pinter, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Graham Greene,Jack London, Ray Bradbury, Agatha Christie, Rudyard Kipling. Arthur Conan Doyle, William Faulkner, John Buchan. G.K. Chesterton, Guy de Maupassant and Dorothy Sayers.   

I had not heard of any of the true crime cases gathered here.  One in particular was of the story of an imposter claiming to be an escaped John Wilkes Booth.  The story he gave out was that he had escaped and come out West where he lived out his days.  There were many who believed in this story and only his death finally revealed the truth.

The Christie story, The Adventure Of The Clapham Cook, was another I had not read.  An undiscovered story by the grand dame of mystery is always an occasion to be savored.  Overall, although an older book, this was an anthology I enjoyed reading with its unique mix of fiction and nonfiction as well as the interesting and renowned mystery authors found here.  This book is recommended for short story mystery readers.

Friday, July 30, 2021

The Quiet Boy by Ben H. Winters


Jay Shenk is a small time lawyer, running his own firm.  He is generally a happy man, although he is a single parent to his adopted teenage son, Reuben, after the death of his wife.  When he hears about a medical injury to another teenage boy, he approaches the parents.  Wesley Keener, 16, hits his head in an accident at school.  At the hospital, the surgeons decide that he needs an emergency surgery to relieve the pressure of the bleed around his brain.  Although it is an emergency, it is a fairly routine surgery. But something goes wrong and Wesley never returns to himself.  Instead he is left a rambling wreck, a boy who incessantly paces in circles and gives no sign of recognizing anything or anyone.  Shenk sues the hospital and has hopes of a large settlement.  Reuben hears about the trial daily from his dad and goes to watch in the courtroom.  Although the doctors don't know what happened, Shenk finds an expert witness, Dr. Theresa Plieggi, who is sure she knows exactly what happens.

Fast forward ten years.  Shenk is still a lawyer but barely getting by.  He has never recovered financially or emotionally from the trial.  Wayne is the same, still pacing in endless circles.  Reuben is chopping vegetables in a restaurant.  Then Jay gets a call.  Richard Keener, Wayne's father, has been arrested for murder.  His victim was Theresa Plieggi.  Jay asks Reuben to help him find out what happened as the DA's office is trying the case as a death penalty case.  Reuben agrees although he doesn't feel qualified.  What he discovers brings up his greatest childhood fears as well as a reunion with Wayne's sister, Eve, who Reuben had a crush on.  Can Reuben find out what happened?

Winters has written a fascinating mashup of legal thriller, coming of age story and science fiction.   There are mystic underpinnings to what happened to Wayne a decade ago and a mysterious man who has haunted Reuben for years.  Although Jay is a prominent character and loveable, it is Reuben's story and quest.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction as well as science fiction.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint


Ariadne is born on Crete, the daughter of King Minos and half-sister to the beast, the Minotaur.  Her mother is driven mad by the birth of the Minotaur so Ariadne's childhood is spent mostly with her younger sister, Phaedra.  King Minos delights in the Minotaur although it's existence is proof of his being cucockled.  He is able to extract a terrible revenge from Athens for the murder of one of his sons.  Athens is condemned to send fourteen of their youth to be slain by the Minotaur periodically, seven men and seven maidens.  After several years of this horrific event, the Athens prince, Theseus, volunteers to be one of the victims.  

Ariadne and her sister Phaedra are both fascinated by Theseus.  His beauty and his tales of heroism attract them and when he promises to marry Ariadne she agrees to help him slay the beast.  With her help he is able to do so and then he, his crew and Ariadne sail off.  He marries her on an island but when she awakes, she has been left behind to perish, his love merely a trick.

But life is not done with the daughters of King Minos.  Ariadne has landed on the island owned by the god Dionysus and over time the two fall in love, are married and have a family.  Phaedra is married off to cement a relationship with another kingdom.  The kingdom is Athens and her husband is Theseus who lets her believe that he saw her sister killed during their escape.  After being married to him Phaedra realises that he is a vain man only concerned about his adventures and legends.  When the two sisters are reunited a seed is planted that plays out in tragedy.

This is a debut novel.  Jennifer Saint was a high school English teacher and her love of language and writing leaps from the pages.  The narrator is Barrie Krinik, who is considered one of the best voice actors currently working and her narration is perfect.  Most readers will only have heard the story of the Minotaur and perhaps of Theseus.  Saint brings the women who lived in this story come to life, exposing their weaknesses and strengths and the reality they constantly faced of living in a man's world, prey to men's desires and wishes.  Readers who liked Circe will also like this novel.  It is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in mythology.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Hot Stew by Fiona Mozley


Soho is a changing neighborhood in London.  These days it is home to those who don't have anywhere else to go.  There are drug addicts, prostitutes, unemployed and struggling workers.  But neighborhoods are ever changing and there are those who think Soho is due for gentrification and a makeover.

Agatha is one of those who want things to change.  She is the recipient of a huge fortune from a father she never met, her mother having married an elderly man with a fortune who died during her pregnancy.  Agatha owns a building in Soho that with its central location, she believes would be the perfect place for condos.  The sticking point is that the inhabitants of her building don't want to leave.

Precious and Tabitha are two of those inhabitants.  They are sex workers by choice and this has been their home for many years.  They share the building with a group of homeless people and drug addicts in the basement, a restaurant, and other people struggling on the margins of life.  They are determined not to be pushed out and Precious starts a protest and movement to fight Agatha.  There are other characters.  There is a former enforcer for Agatha's father.  There is an actor who isn't sure he wants to be one.  There is a man pining for his ex-girlfriend who has inherited wealth he tires not to use.  There is a struggling magician who makes his living with tawdry tricks in bars and a woman who is so far gone that few notice when she disappears.  Together they struggle to maintain their precarious hold on life in the only place they know.

Fiona Mozeley's first novel, Elmet, was a Booker Prize finalist.  As in that novel, this second one is concerned with the ideas of ownership of property and what becomes of those pushed out by the constant pursuit of profit.  The characters are finely drawn although some are mysterious and remote and the novel raises questions of social justice and the rights of those less blessed with money and power.  It also explores the thoughts of those engaged in sex work and whether such work is sometimes a valid choice.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Girl A by Abigail Dean


She was known as Girl A.  She was the one who set herself and her siblings free from the house of horrors they were confined in.  She was the one who scrapped her flesh raw to escape from the chains, broke a window cutting herself on the glass and jumped from the roof shattering her leg but managing to get to the road and help.  Her real name was Lex Gracie and there were seven siblings in the family, the family where her father went mad and her mother did nothing to help.

The story exploded in the press and everyone knew their story.  The children required extensive medical and dental care, the starvation taking its toll on their bodies.  Having lost both their parents that day as the police took over, once the medical world released them the children were split up and adopted out to separate families.  It was felt that it would be best if the children didn't interact but tried to adjust to a different life and forget the horrors.

Grown now, Lex has finally returned to England.  Her mother has died in prison and someone has to deal with the death and the small estate.  Lex has grown up to be a problem solver, a high flyer in a corporation that arranges company mergers.  She is the best suited to deal with the legal implications left behind.  Other siblings have not dealt with the past as well as she.  One is a lecturer who uses the past as a springboard for fame.  Others have turned to religion or spent their lives in mental care.  Some of the youngest ones don't even know who they are.  As Lex talked with each of her siblings, she finds that their memories don't always jibe and each person remembers events differently or has different pieces of the puzzle.  Can she construct a whole picture from the memories they all have?

This is a debut novel.  Abigail Dean is a lawyer and former bookseller.  The novel explores the meaning of family when family goes awry.  The headlines regularly note cases such as these where a parent goes mad and power hungry and sets up elaborate rules with corresponding punishments for those who live with them.  It is heartbreaking to realize how many people, especially children, are captured in situations where their basic human needs are held against them and their days a long story of horror and deprivation.  The reader will come to know the mechanisms the siblings use to accept their pasts and to put the story together from the shifting memories each child has.  This book is recommended for readers of family relationships.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

The Never Game by Jeffrey Deaver


The news article catches Colton Shaw's eye.  A nineteen year old girl has gone missing, possibly kidnapped on her way home.  Shaw makes a living finding people for rewards.  Sometimes they are children, sometimes senior citizens with memory issues.  Often they are criminals that law enforcement needs to be found.  He makes contact with the girl's father and is hired to find her.  Although he gets almost no cooperation from the police when he shares his ideas with them, Colton is able to find the girl and bring her home safely.

But things aren't over in Silicon Valley.  Another man is kidnapped and this one isn't as lucky.  Shaw finds him also but he has been killed.  Now the police are willing to listen and Shaw goes into high gear.  It becomes evident that the kidnappings are tied to a video game.  Shaw meets a gamer named Maddie who serves as his entree into the gamer world; a world he isn't a part of at all.  Shaw was homeschooled by a survivalist family on a large forested compound.  Survival he understands; computer gaming not so much.  A female police sergeant becomes Shaw's partner as they rush to find the culprit before more victims are killed.

This is the first in the Colton Shaw series and a New York Times Book Review Top 10 Crime Novel Of The Year.  To this date, there are three books in the series.  Colton is a fascinating character although Deaver makes it clear the reader hasn't been given all of his secrets yet.  His background makes him perfect for finding those who are missing as he knows how to track and survive in any situation.  Readers will find the pace fast and there is a twist that most won't see coming.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Madam by Phoebe Wynne


Things couldn't be going better for Rose Christie.  Only 26, she has just been hired to head up the classics department at the prestigious Caldonbrae Hall school for young women.  In fact, she is the only new hire for many years and in her interview was told the school looked forward to her innovative views.

The school is supportive.  Rose is given an apartment and even her mother's care, who is confined to a nursing facility, is taken care of.  All she has to do is plan and deliver her lectures.  She finds the girls strangely unprepared and they talk quite a lot about her predecessor who left quickly with no word on her current whereabouts.  The students seem to think that the stories of the Greek and Roman women Rose lectures about, who are strong and can serve as role models, are irrelevant.

Then things slowly start to turn.  Rose is aware of whispers among the staff when she enters a room.  The office staff are, by turns, surly or impudent.  Rose is given tasks that don't seem to match her job description.  There are secrets everywhere.  Girls disappear without warning or notice. Rose starts to get anonymous letters telling her she doesn't belong there but it is soon apparent, she can't leave unless the school wants her to.  There are big secrets being kept and when Rose learns them, she knows she must do her best to change things.

This is a debut novel and has garnered a lot of buzz with accolades such as 'One of the 75 Debuts To Discover In 2021' by Goodreads and 'Best Debuts Of 2021' by Parade.  It has a gothic feel and champions women's rights and challenges the male patriarchy.  Nathalie Buscombe is the narrator for those listening to the novel and she does a perfect job of portraying a naive woman who comes to realize she has made a glaring career mistake and now must fight for her life.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

The Coffinmaker's Garden by Stuart Macbride


Ash Henderson is no longer a Detective Inspector but he's still involved in crime.  These days, he's working with his friend and criminal profiler Alice to review cases and consult with the police.  But he hasn't really changed his focus or methods.  Ever since his own daughter was kidnapped and tortured to death, Ash has been full on set on catching serial killers by any means possible.

Ash discovers the lair of one such man.  Gordon Smith is an inoffensive man, always willing along with his wife to help with the care of children.  But what Ash and Alice find in his basement is a horror show that numbers over twenty victims.  Men, women, children.  Gordon wasn't picky.  The two are only able to retrieve the pictures Gordon had mounted before the entire house is swept off the cliff into the ocean in a storm.  

Of course, that's not the only case going on.  Crime rarely lets an investigator work on only one crime.  There is someone kidnapping and killing small boys, strangling them and leaving their parents to grieve for the rest of their lives.  Ash works with a new partner in the field, a beautiful woman DI who has a chip on her shoulder.  Can these crimes be solved before more killing occurs?

Stuart Macbride is one of my must-read authors.  This is the third book in the Ash Henderson series and readers can't help but cheer for him as he chases criminals while hiding his heart of gold.  The surrounding characters are always interesting and this one also has a dog for those who love their pets.  The action and pace is furious as event after event happens in breathtaking speed.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021


Sarah Champlin is a painter in 1924 Paris, about to have her first exhibition.  But her plans are put on hold when she receives a telegram that her older sister, Ada, has been found dead in Carmel, California.  Sarah drops everything and travels to the town which is known as a gathering place for artists.

The inquest declared Ada's death a suicide but Sarah doesn't believe that.  Ada was a force and she was about to have her greatest artistic triumph ever.  Ada's personal life was also blooming and Sarah doesn't believe she would leave it all behind.  But if it wasn't suicide then it must be murder.  Who would want to kill Ada?

Unfortunately, there are more than one suspect.  There is her agent, whom Ada had recently fired.  She had also fired her assistant, a young painter who has secrets of her own.  There was a handsome rich suitor who was a sailor as well as an actor who was another suitor.  Sarah encounters secrets and motives everywhere she looks and doesn't know who to trust.  Can she discover the truth and give Ada back her reputation?

Although I have obviously heard of Carmel, I never knew it's history as a place where women artists gathered to make their art.  The reader will learn about many topics in this novel.  There is the history of women artists, the abalone divers of Japanese heritage, the discrimination those Japanese people encountered as well as the effects of Prohibition and the constraints women encountered in everyday life.  The author's own aunt was Ada Belle Champlin who served as the inspiration for this novel.  This novel is recommended for readers of historical and literary fiction.

Monday, July 19, 2021

The Queen Of The Night by Alexander Chee


Lilliet Berne is born in the prairies of the United States.  When disease killed off all her family, she gets on a train and starts traveling. She ends up in Paris where she joins a circus as a gymnast on a horse, singing to entertain.  The crowds loved her. Soon, however, she ends up working as a prostitute to make ends meet.  There she meets a patron who becomes besotted with her, the tenor.  When he hears her sing he arranges for her to audition for the finest opera school but she is turned down.

Fleeing the tenor, she leaves again.  She ends up with a former opera singer who runs a school in Austria but soon the tenor shows up again.  Lilliet ends up working for the Empress as her wardrobe mistress and falls in love with a young composer.  But their love is not to be and soon she is back in Paris.  This time she is accepted at the opera school and soon she is the toast of the town.  

But one achievement escapes her.  The best divas have operas written exclusively for her.  When she is offered a script, she realizes that the new opera is the story of her life so far.  Who knows all her secrets?  As she attempts to find out, she ricochets between the man who is obsessed with her and the one she is obsessed with.  Will she find a happy life?

This novel gained great praise with honors like an NPR Best Book, an Indie Next Pick and a New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice.  Readers may pick up suggestions of Charles Dickens with an intricate plot and tons of characters with full backstories and will learn about topics such as the opera, the brothels of Paris, the French revolution and the Franco-Prussian war.  Throughout, Lillibet is an enterprising woman who does whatever it takes to make her way in a man's world.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

The Photographer by Mary Dixie Carter


Delta Dawn is the in crowd's child photographer.  No birthday party is complete without Delta's photographs of it.  She has the knack of catching a child in delight and if not, she is a master at Photoshop and can create a wonderful memory that never really happened.  Delta loves rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous although she knows she is regarded as a servant not a friend.

When she is hired to shoot the eleventh birthday party of Natalie Straub, it is just another job to her.  That is, until she arrives and meets the parents, Amelia and Fritz.  Delta loves everything about the Straubs' lives.  The residence is gorgeous as the Straubs are architects and designers.  Amelia is compelling and beautiful, Fritz a handsome man.  She is also drawn immediately to Natalie.  She would love to get to know the family better.

A lucky occurrence makes this possible.  Amelia and Fritz need a babysitter short term and Delta volunteers.  Soon she is babysitting frequently and finding ways to make herself useful such as running errands.  She listens to Natalie and sympathizes with Amelia and her quest to have another child.  She does whatever it takes to get closer to the family, including starting to date a family friend.  Soon Delta manages to come up with a plan that will make her indispensable forever.  What could go wrong?

This is a debut novel for Mary Dixie Carter and she also serves as the narrator.  Her background is in journalism and her work has appeared in publications such as Time, The Economist and various newspapers.  The novel masterfully introduces suspense as the reader peels back the layers and realizes that anything Delta says is not necessarily true but a statement carefully crafted to serve an end just as she crafts images to reflect desires.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

The Last House On Needless Street by Catriona Ward


Needless Street is a dead end street, the houses older and neglected.  The last house is particularly descript.  Ted lives there, a lonely man with no friends.  His daughter Laura is there off and on.  Outside of that, there is his cat, Olivia.  Ted has lived there his whole life.  His father disappeared somewhere along the line and his mother died years ago.  Ted is a huge man, who often drinks too much.  His size and slovenliness puts off everyone so his life is solitary.  

Ted is suspected by many of being involved in the disappearance of various young girls who have gone missing in the vicinity.  One of those girls was Lulu.  Now Lulu's sister, Dee, has moved in next door and tells Ted they should be friends.  What is her plan?  Is Ted involved in the disappearances?

This is a psychological thriller with horror overtones.  Nothing is quite what it seems.  Why is Lauren sometimes there and sometimes not and where does she go when she is gone?  How has Dee determined that Ted is the one with the answers about Lulu's disappearance?  Why can't Ted remember things like other people can?  

Catriona Ward was born in the United States but lives in England.  Her books have won several British horror awards.  The slow unpeeling of Ted's story will horrify and surprise readers and the final story will be quite different from earlier expectations.  This book is recommended for thriller and horror readers.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney


The apartment is amazing.  Right in the heart of London yet surprisingly affordable.  It's a miracle of efficiency and smart technology, built on a minimalist plan.  But not just anyone can move in.  In order to rent it, tenants must be approved by the firm that built it and the architect, Edward.  

There are rules that must be agreed upon by those who rent.  Rules about keeping things cleaned and put away.  Rules about no pets or children.  Rules about agreeing to answer questions whenever the technology decides it's time to.  Those who are accepted seem to fit a pattern.  The women all have a tragedy in their backgrounds and are looking for a new start.

Emma had been traumatized in a break in at her former apartment.  She reported to the police that she had been terrorized and raped by the criminals.  Jane has also had a recent tragedy.  Her pregnancy had ended not in a baby to bring home and raise but in a stillbirth.  The two women share another characteristic.  They each fall in love with Edward and are soon under his control.  Jane is curious about her predecessor, Emma.  She knows Emma died in the apartment at the bottom of the stone stairs.  Was it the accident the police wrote it off as?

J.P. Delaney has written an intriguing mystery that has already been sold as a series on BBC One and HBO Max.  The novel is told in the alternating voices of Emma and Jane and the truth slowly emerges.  It has touchpoints in the author's own life and history.  He has also written under the name Jonathan Holt.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

The Library Book by Susan Orlean


Susan Orlean has written a fascinating history of the Los Angles Public Library system.  The book uses an incident in 1986 when the biggest library fire in United States history occurred to serve as the focus.  The fire and its damage is extensively described along with the restoration efforts and the costs to restore the central library as a functioning organization.  There was a main suspect and she covers the investigation as well.

But outside of the fire, the LA library is a fascinating organization and Orlean covers those topics.  Readers learn about the origin of the library and the various head librarians that served over the years as the library grew and changed.  The myriad ways that libraries dissimilate information are explored as well as the services that libraries offer now.  The issues that libraries face such as the large homeless population that uses its services are covered.  Working conditions for library staff is a large issue that Orlean covers, along with the male/female ratio of librarians.  Library services in the electronic age are extensively covered.  She grew up with library trips with her mother being their favorite activity and her love of the library and all it offers is clear.

This book has garnered much praise.  It was a New York Times Notable Book in 2018 and a Washington Post Top 10 Book of the Year.  It was a pick of the Reese Witherspoon Book Club.  Orlean has been a staff writer at The New Yorker for many years and her books, which have been highly reviewed, are nonfictions on topics that catch her interest.  This book is recommended for nonfiction readers and anyone who has ever enjoyed a trip to their local library.  

Thursday, July 8, 2021

The Craftsman by Sharon Bolton


Florence Lovelady is a new policewoman in Lancashire, a small village up North from where she grew up. She is low man on the totem pole and rooms with the local undertaker as does another policeman who doesn't have his own home.  She usually does routine tasks like checking out car accidents or cases of shoplifting but today is different.  Today a little girl is missing.

It turns out that this is the third child to go missing in Lancashire and none have been found.  Then the last girl, Patsy, is found by Florence and things are worse.  For Patsy is found in a casket, buried alive in the local graveyard and she died a horrific death.  Has this been the fate of the other two children?

The village is horrified and the press is going nuts.  Flo is brought up in the ranks to work on the case as something this big needs everyone.  Against her better judgement, she shares the techniques and insights she has, something a new recruit is never expected to do.  Is there a sexual sadist on the loose?  There are also rumors of witchcraft in this small village and an active coven.  Are the children sacrifices?

Sharon Bolton is a Mary Higgins Clark Award winner and one of the leading suspense authors in England.  She is a master of the shock the reader doesn't see coming and her books are fast paced.  This book, told from the time of the events and then thirty years later when the murderer has died and Florence returns to Lancashire to attend his funeral is intriguing and a great introduction to this author if the reader isn't familiar with her.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Couple Found Slain by Mikita Brottman


In 1992, Brian Bechtold shot and killed both his parents.  He was twenty-two years old and told the police he was taken over by devils.  Brian was found schizophrenic and not guilty by reason of insanity.  Since his trial, he has spent twenty-seven years in a mental hospital in Maryland.

Brian grew up in a dysfunctional family.  His parents had a loveless marriage and there were five children.  His father ignored the children and his mother was overwhelmed.  Both were physically and mentally abusive to the children.  

This book was written about Brian's time in the hospital.  Although he feels that he has not been ill for many years, he is caught in a cycle of misdiagnosis where if he talks about his feelings, he is considered paranoid and if he doesn't talk about them he is considered secretive.  Both options can lead to more restrictive medicine regimens and even being moved to more restrictive wards.  But Brian has not done himself any favors either.  Over the years, he has escaped in an attempt to be either shot and killed or transferred to prison.  He has attacked a staff member with a knife he constructed.  He has refused treatment for serious illnesses including cancer.  It leaves the reader sad for his life but able to understand the thoughts of the doctors who have kept him in the hospital all these years.

This book is written by Mikita Brottman.  She is a British American author who specializes in true crime fiction.  This book is different from many in the genre as it focuses not on the crime but its' aftermath.  The horrors of Brian's life in a mental hospital are portrayed although it feels like not enough weight is given to the views of the doctors.  I listened to this book and the narrators were good.  This book is recommended for true crime readers interested in causes of crime and what happens afterward.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Baltimore Blues by Laura Lippman


Tess Monaghan is at a crossroads.  Having lost her job as a newspaper journalist, she has been drifting for two years now, working temporary and part-time jobs to make ends meet while she decides what she wants to do with her life.  She has some constants and rowing is one of them.  Tess starts her mornings with a long rowing trip that carries over her skill as a college rower.  Her best friend in that world is Rock Paxton.  He is even more serious about rowing than Tess and works only to be able to afford to be on the racing circuit.  

One morning Rock has something he wants to discuss with Tess.  He has gotten engaged to Ava, a shallow woman Tess can't stand but who Rock adores.  But he has been worried about her movements lately and he wants to hire Tess to follow Ava and see if someone is bothering her.  Tess is taken aback.  She has no background in following people and she isn't really interested in doing so with Ava.  But she does think Ava is the wrong woman for Rock and she reluctantly agrees.  Once on the job, Tess quickly finds that Rock's suspicions are valid.  Ava appears to be having a relationship on the side with a lawyer in her firm, Michael Abramowitz, an older partner.  When Tess confronts Ava about it, Ava runs to Rock and the next thing Tess knows, Abramowitz is dead and Rock is in jail charged with the murder.

Now Tess has a reason to be an investigator.  She is sure that Rock isn't a murderer but the case against him couldn't be much stronger.  Can Tess find what really happened that night and who else might have wanted to kill Abramowitz?

This is the first novel in the Tess Monaghan story.  It is full of local Baltimore flavor which is the background of the author.  Tess is a strong and independent woman who won't be stopped once she decides to follow a path and there are lots of quirky and interesting secondary characters such as Tess's bookstore owning aunt and the men who are in her life.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

The Temple House Vanishing by Rachel Donohue


Louisa never thought she'd find herself attending somewhere like Temple House School.  It is a boarding school for the daughters of rich and famous families and her family is neither rich nor famous.  What her family can be defined as is broken; her mother leaving to live with a new man and her father left behind unbelieving and depressed.  Louisa is a brilliant girl and she receives a scholarship to attend the school.

The Catholic school is foreign to Louisa.  She doesn't fit in with the other girls who look down on her.  She doesn't understand the nun's love of God and their dedication to a life of service.  But like calls to like and soon Louisa is best friends with Victoria, a longtime student who is a rebel.  Then there is Mr. Lavelle, the art teacher.

All the girls have a crush on Mr. Lavelle.  Young and good-looking, he thrives on the girls' attention and devotion.  He challenges the teachings of the school, asking the girls to think unconventionally and follow their dreams.  Victoria has a crush on him as does Helen, the head girl.  Both believe that he returns their love.  Louisa doubts that and her love is reserved for Victoria.  But it is Louisa and Mr. Lavelle that disappear the same night and are never found.  

The years pass and it is now twenty-five years since Louisa and Mr. Lavelle disappeared.  What happened that night?  Did the two run away together, the result of a secret affair?  Did Mr. Lavelle kill Louisa and hide her body?  The nation was obsessed with the case when it happened and now a young journalist is called on to review the case on the twenty-fifth anniversary.  Will she finally find out the secrets of Temple House?

Rachel Donohue is an Irish writer who is at the beginning of her career.  This novel is her first and it gained much attention, being nominated for awards such as the Best Newcomer Award in the Post Book Awards and she won the "New Irish Writer Of The Year" award.  The novel is gothic in feel.  It switches between the viewpoints of Louisa and the journalist, the old and the new versions of the story and leaves the reader to decide which story is the real one.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Friday, July 2, 2021

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz


Could there be a more obnoxious student and what did Jake Bonner do to be punished teaching him?  That was Jake's thought at the writing workshop he is teaching.  Jake had a great first novel and was seen as an up and coming writer.  His second novel was a disappointment and since then he has been stalled.  To make ends meet, he teaches at a college that runs workshops for aspiring writers.

When he has an individual coaching session with the student, Jake is struck again by his confidence and his inability to see why he made those around him uncomfortable.  The man is sure that he has a bestseller in him but that everyone else at the workshop is determined to steal his idea.  He shares a little of the plot with Jake and Jake immediately sees that the idea is a potential bestseller.  Jake is jealous that such an unlikeable person does indeed have a can't fail idea.  But that's life and after the workshop the man recedes into the distance, overshadowed by the next class of aspiring writers and the next and the next.

But somewhere deep in Jake's mind, the thought of that student and his story remains.  He keeps waiting to see the book published but it never is.  His own writing is going even more poorly.  Finally one night he looks up the student only to see that the man died soon after the workshop, his great idea for a novel having died with him.  But has that idea died?  Jake struggles with his conscience but then forges ahead writing the novel that the student never did.

Two years later, Jake's life is completely different.  The novel he wrote is an immediate and tremendous success, vaulting Jake to the top of the publishing world.  He is now married to Anna whom he met on a book tour at the radio studio where she was a producer.  The couple is happy and wealthy or at least until the day Jake opens an email.  When he reads it, his blood runs cold.  Someone is writing him accusing him of plagiarism and of stealing the idea of his bestseller.  There are hints of exposure but no demands to start.  Will Jake lose everything his novel has brought him?

This novel has received a ton of buzz. It has blurbs from authors such as Stephen King and Meg Abbott and was an Amazon 2021 Book of the Month pick.  The pace is brisk and the reader is swept along in Jake's story, interested in his success and then wondering who is threatening him and how that will play out.  The exploration of plagiarism and how an author can turn from a success to a pariah overnight is explored.  This book is recommended for readers of psychological thrillers.