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Review: Watch Me Disappear

Watch Me Disappear

by Janelle Brown

” Leave, and they’ll hate you. 

Die, and they’ll love you forever. “

At a cursory glance, the Flanagan family is a typical Californian unit: a techie Dad with cool hair, a beautiful and athletic mother, and a mature teenaged daughter who cares about the environment. The trio share their existence in a cozy Craftsman set on a suburban street in Berkeley, passing their days grabbing lunch in vegan cafes full of lounging hipsters and on beaches with the crashing waves and sandy-haired surfers as their companions.

On the surface, Billie is a great mom. She creates Pinterest-worthy delights for the bake sales hosted at daughter Olive’s expensive private school. She stays perfectly fit by spending her weekends hiking the extensive trails in their area or finding the hottest new yoga class. Her interior is as impressive as her exterior, and Billie never fails to have something interesting to bring to the table when discussing human rights or animal activism. She left behind a checkered past wrought with rumors of a salacious father and a jailed boyfriend, all to fashion a comfortable little life in a sweet little town with a picture-perfect little family.

But, is it enough?

When Billie leaves for yet another of her weekend trips, expressing the need to – yet again – gather clarity and revel in some much-needed alone time, Jonathan doesn’t worry. The Pacific Crest Trail in Desolation Wilderness is nothing she can’t handle, and although he would prefer she not trek out on her own, he doesn’t dare say it out loud. Bille gave up her independence a long time ago in a gesture of devotion and love to their daughter, and he feels that he owes it to her to not question her need to regain a bit of what she’s lost now that Olive is getting older and doesn’t need her as much. He can’t lie and say that he doesn’t miss Billie when she’s gone, but he also doesn’t entirely mind the break from her constant barrage of perfection and soft spoken elitism. Part of him has always felt “less than” in her effervescent presence; he’s never quite managed to break into the coolness that she embodies, no matter how long they’ve been together.

But this trip proved to be a different kind of getaway. Billie never returned and was never found, not even after countless searches among the crags and caverns along the trail. The only thing left behind was a well-worn hiking boot, the object mocking the painful hole left behind in Jonathan and Olive’s life. Now, nearly a year later, they are both still struggling in vain to put their lives back together. . . to somehow glue the fragments of their shattered world into some semblance of normal. The measure of difficulty is beyond any degree they could have ever comprehended, especially as there was never a body to bury.

Missing, presumed dead. This phrase drives him insane, the way it insists on inserting doubt where there is none The facts are simple: Billie went backpacking by herself along the Pacific Crest Trail in Desolation Wilderness. She never came back down the mountain. No one was sure exactly what had happened, but the official verdict was that Billie had probably gone off-trail (this would have been so very Billie of her) and fallen into a ravine, hurt herself, and couldn’t hike out. Or maybe she was attacked by a wild animal, or just got lost and died of hunger and thirst. 

Even now, a year later, Jonathan is plagued by the question of how long it had taken his wife to die. What if she had lain there for days, somewhere under the ponderosa pines, hurt and helpless, hearing the search helicopters overhead but incapable of summoning them? He lies awake at night, imagining the horror of it all; her waning hope that someone might find her, wherever she was, before it was too late. The dawning awareness that death was approaching as she measured out drops of water and the last crumbs of her granola bars. Then nothing but her fading breath and the scuttling of pikas and yellow-bellied marmots across the granite slopes. It’s unbearable to think about. Instead, he prays that death was instantaneous: that she fell, broke her neck, and didn’t have to suffer such a lonely ending. “

Nothing is working, and in fact, things are only getting worse as the one-year anniversary of her mother’s death looms in the near future. For Olive, the hardest part of losing Billie has been her attempts at figuring out who she is outside of her mom. Billie led her, encouraged her, and kept her on a path of righteousness while lending a free spirit to Olive’s otherwise naturally structured mindset. Without that guiding light in her life, Olive is lost. She knows her dad is doing his best but . . .

And then one day the unimaginable happens —  Olive sees her mother. Actually sees her! Standing in the middle of the school hallway, Olive has a clear and concise vision of her mother standing before her, long hair billowing in the wind and toes sunken into the white sands of the beach. Billie looks right at her and asks Olive why she isn’t looking for her, her face a mixture of amusement and the slightest tinge of regret. But as Olive reaches for her mom she connects with the hard part of a wall, jolting her back into the here and now and leaving a huge knot on her forehead for good measure.

The visions and images don’t go away and although Olive desperately struggles to find a connection between her realistic daydreams and the tangible world around her, she can’t seem to gain purchase. She spends days and nights in an attempt to decipher the visions or consciously bring them on, and her weekends out searching for her mother in the places her mind has shown her. Clues run into dead ends and mysteries remain mysteries. . . and to make matters worse, her father doesn’t take her seriously and instead, drags her to a doctor who prescribes medication with the sole intent to kill the emerging clairvoyant side of her.

” ‘I believe it.’ Olive plants a palm in the center of her chest. ‘Dad. She told me to look for her.’

Jonathan is suddenly furious. ‘Stop it, Olive. This isn’t healthy. Your mother is gone. Dead,’ he snaps before he can stop himself. Immediately, he is stricken with remorse. He puts his hand to the hair at his temples and tugs on it, hard enough that it makes his eyes water. ‘Look, I’m sorry –‘ he begins. 

But it’s too late, Olive has already shut down. ‘I shouldn’t have said anything,’ she mutters to the floor. 

‘No, I’m glad you did,’ Jonathan says, not feeling glad at all. ‘I’m just trying to figure out what to say.’ 

GOD, Dad, don’t you get it?’ Olive throws up her hands. ‘It’s not about saying anything. It’s about doing something. I want to do something real for once. Can’t you open your mind just this one time? Mom would have tried to look for you.’

‘Hey –‘ he begins, taken aback. But Olive is already marching out of the room, her stride stiff and off-balance. “

What Olive doesn’t know is that her dad takes her more seriously than she thought. Jonathan has been doing some digging of his own, and is finding himself more and more baffled and unhappy by what he’s finding. Looking through the couple’s finances over the last year shows that Billie successfully siphoned off nearly $20,000 between their savings and checking accounts. And after a search through Billie’s laptop uncovers a hidden and locked file as well as some strange photos of a house he’s never seen and a bookmark to a private investigator’s office, Jonathan is left in a state of utter dismay. Did Billie really die that weekend, a year ago? Or did she disappear in another way entirely?

Both Olive and Jonathan begin to spiral out of control, their tandem paths peppered with insecurities, meddling friends, enigmatic strangers, and the question that haunts them both — is Billie still alive? 

Watch Me Disappear is the third book by noted journalist and novelist Janelle Brown.  A novel that has no qualms with delving into the complexities and flaws of each character allows readers to appreciate Brown’s raw and honest portrayal of the burdens Billie, Jonathan, and Olive all carry — each unique and solely theirs to shoulder. The people that we love are not always who or what we imagined and expected them to be, and Brown’s weaving of lives and story lines reminds readers that the human way of doing things is more often than not to see what we want to see. Billie, at her core, was not a good person. . . and it was fascinating to see how she infected lives with her selfishness while at the same time ingratiating herself.

Giving this novel a solid 4.5 out of 5 star rating, I am eager to pick up the other two novels Brown has penned. Her distinct descriptions of each character was a pleasure to read; at each turn of perspective I felt that Brown slipped into the character’s skin with ease and exceptional depth. While I did feel that a couple of the side story lines were a little contrived, I appreciated Brown’s attempts at creating even more ways for readers to connect with the realness of the characters. Several times I was sure that I had this novel and its mystery figured out, only to be given a twisting turn onto another avenue.

Watch Me Disappear is a clean and easy read for lovers of a good mystery, and is recommended for readers aged 15 and up. This book is available on all platforms on July 11, 2017.

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Review: Black Sand

Black Sand

by John Edgar Evans

It’s 1973 and in the sleepy, close-knit English community where Detective Chief Inspector Edgar Sparrow makes his living, he spends more time behind a desk smoking his pipe than he does on the beat. The small station that houses the handful of detectives that serve and protect the town isn’t used to too much activity, and although they would enjoy a mystery or two to solve every now and then, the policemen are grateful for the general sense of safety and security in their area.

After the turn of the New Year, things begin to change as a nefarious and sinister shape starts to take form, bringing with it a cloud of fear that takes root amongst the snow and drizzling rain January has to offer. An innocent young girl walking her dog discovers a man murdered and reports it to the police, and when Detective Sparrow and his unit arrive, they are baffled by the circumstances — the poor man has been murdered not once, not twice, but three times. Shot, stabbed, and strangled, the man has been left abandoned in his car for any unlucky passerby to find. Who on Earth would need to kill someone three times? And why were they left out in the open, as it were?

” ‘Huh, doesn’t look like a robbery — the wristwatch looks expensive and hi wallet is here. A couple of sovereigns, some half crowns, some pennies and photos, and ah, an envelope with a name and address.’

Holding the items carefully by their edges so as not to compromise any residual fingerprints, he handed the envelope and photos to Willis. In truth, Sparrow needed glasses for small print but was avoiding the issue, telling his wive, Eve, that at fifty two he wasn’t an old man yet and didn’t need glasses.

Willis held the items equally carefully. ‘They look like picture of his wife, and children. They’re only toddlers, too. The envelope is addressed to Gordon James, Ellingham’s, Buryfield.’

‘Ellingham’s The department store at the bottom of St. John’s Hill?’ Nichols asked.

‘Yeah, must be the place, perhaps he works there,’ Willis replied. 

‘Anything interesting inside?’ Nichols enquired. 

Willis pulled out a one-page piece of writing paper. ‘Well, well, this is interesting, take a look at this, boss.’ 

Sparrow left off from his car searching and turned to Willis and Nichols. Sparrow peered at the sheet of paper upon which letters cut from various magazines and newspapers had been pasted.

It read, ‘Talk and you die.’ “

Inside the smoke-filled offices of the police station, Detective Sparrow and his two inspectors, Willis and Nichols, begin the task of tackling a lengthy and convoluted puzzle. Trying to fit the mismatched pieces together is proving more and more difficult, especially when a second murder occurs not long after the first, perpetuating the fear around town and bringing more stress on the inspector’s shoulders. The two victims have a couple of things in common besides the strange manner of death — they both used to work for the prominent and high-end department store called Ellinghams, owned by an old aristocratic family tainted by a dark past. Both victims were also found with trace amounts of a strange black sand in their pockets and under their fingernails; sand that doesn’t come from anywhere near their part of England. Interviews with the shop’s staff are proving fruitless and the store manager Mrs. Scrivens is being more than a little difficult, forcing Detective Sparrow to send his newest recruit, young and eager Diana Evans, in undercover.

” Diana looked at the clock; it was coming up to four. The Ladies’ Wear department was empty, the appalling weather was affecting everything. People were staying indoors well out of it, and it was already winter dark outside. Unfortunately for Diana, Scrivens had been in her office virtually all day. Certainly not away from it long enough for her to get at the warehouse key. But Diana had been honing her plan and decided that getting the key from Scriven’s office would be difficult, getting it back equally so. If she did manage to get it out she wouldn’t be able to keep it for any length of time in case its loss was discovered. It was while she pondered the problem she had a flash of inspiration. “

Alice is the only daughter of Margery Ellingham, and they live together in a tidy and impressive home tucked snugly onto one of the town’s more prominent streets. Margery is one of the three siblings left in charge of the Ellingham shop and fortune since their parent’s deaths, and takes the concept of showing her money around seriously. Living with her cruel and cold mother has left Alice embittered and anxious, and with the detectives now sniffing around the property, Alice finds herself sharply intrigued and strangely happy that something has finally come to cut into the endless lengths of boredom her life has become since the end of her marriage. Her uncle Timothy is showing up around the house a lot more than he used to, and frequent phone calls coming in from her Uncle Ralph in Egypt are becoming the norm as well. Could her mother be involved in something so deviant as the murders of the shop’s staff, or is it all a terrible coincidence?

The detectives can’t seem to gain any ground in the murder case and as it happens, a string of burglaries are thrown onto their docket as well. Pressure from the media and the Superintendent to solve the string of mysterious crimes around the town is reaching an all-time high and Chief Inspector Sparrow is growing desperate. With only a few days left to solve the case, will he finally be able to crack it?

Black Sand is the first attempt at crime writing by John Edgar Evans.  I would have loved to have enjoyed it more, but the bouncing back and forth between perspectives proved a little confusing and I was dying for more character development, as I found each of the characters very interesting. My impression of Edgar Sparrow was one of a patriarchal mentor shaped in the images of an older Sherlock Holmes and Columbo. He was more of a mentor than a super sleuth, and I respected and admired his attempts at backing away from situations and allowing and encouraging his younger partners to jump in and try their hand. His three pups-in-training were all competent and interesting — I just wish there was more of them. I was intrigued by the character of Alice, cooped up as she was and virtually held prisoner by her mother, but there wasn’t enough character development for me to understand quite where her feelings for Sparrow were coming from. As the novel left off with a cliffhanger, I am assuming there is more to come featuring this cast of a motley crew, and I will be ready to read more when the time comes.

I believe the author had too many ideas and tried to shove them all into one book, leaving things a bit muddled. The pace was a tad slower than I am used to from American crime-writing authors such as Patricia Cornwell and James Patterson. Evans’ approach was a bit different and instead of moving quickly through solving the mystery, the team’s plans and strategies seemed a bit more realistic. They didn’t come across their information easily and at times, I felt as if I were sitting in the smoke-filled offices with them, struggling to figure things out and decide which avenue to take next. I was pleased with the writer’s take on words, but the sometimes very sharp back-and-forth took me some time to adjust to.

Black Sand is a slow-burning mystery that readers will be able to figure out sooner than the detectives will, but the characters will draw readers in and have them rooting for them. 3.5 out of 5 stars is my rating, and I recommend it to lovers of the residents at 221 Baker Street, or anyone looking for something to curl up with on a rainy day.

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Recommendation: Along Came A Spider

Along Came a Spider

by James Patterson

” One of the techies handed me a report to sign as I left the Sanders house. 

I signed it my usual way — with a †.

Cross. 

Tough guy from the tough part of town. Right. “

I love getting swept up in a good mystery.

As a patron of James Patterson’s elite brand of twisting and turning mysteries for years, I have developed a familiar affection for Detective Alex Cross. A few movies have been made portraying the strong, male character, but I’ve never felt that they truly capture the essence that is the notoriously persistent and skilled detective and Washington D.C. native. Alex is sexy and empathetic. He feels things, especially the victims he is fighting for and for the residents of the city he has chosen to live in. . . he is attune to their pain and he won’t quit until he’s done them justice. He’s an exemplary father, and takes cares of those in his immediate family with as much tender-loving-care as any man could. He is a loyal best friend who will, quite literally, take a bullet for his partner if need be. He’s just the sort of man I love to read about. He’s the sort of man that we should have more of.

The life and times of Detective Alex Cross have been chronicled by mystery-master James Patterson over the course of 27 (and counting) novels. But the first – the introduction – is Along Came a Spider.

School is a place that’s supposed to be unwaveringly safe. And as a parent in an affluent community, there should be zero question that  you should be able to drop your children off and go on your merry way; with zero question as to if your child will be protected or not. Money can buy anything, right? With money comes power and with such things, security and well-being become  a given. When you spend thousands of dollars a year on your child’s private education. . .a fancy building in a well-to-do neighborhood with teachers who are specially chosen for their innumerable talents in each subject, you have paid for the best and as such, shall receive it — right?

Wrong.

When the unthinkable happens – two children kidnapped right from school – the prominent and wealthy niche of Washington D.C. is shocked. Especially when the news coming across the waves is accusing a teacher of being the criminal culprit.

” Soneji climbed into the front and fired up the blue van. As he drove from the parking area, he sang “Magic Bus” by The Who. He was in an awfully good mood today. He was planning to be America’s first serial kidnapper, among other things. “

Alex Cross, a local homicide investigator and forensic psychologist, is called in to take over the case. He’s currently in the field working a string of the recent brutally violent murders of black prostitutes in the poorer part of D.C. He’s not particularly thrilled when he’s forced to abandon his ongoing case, especially when he sees how much media attention the kidnappings are garnering. Why is the snatch and grab of a couple of white kids more newsworthy than the murders of black women in the wrong part of D.C.? Irritated and angry, Alex struggles to switch gears and quickly partners up  with blonde and ambitious Secret Service agent Jezzie Flannagan. As head of the detail that was assigned to keep the children safe, she is having  hard time accepting her failure. With the other case reluctantly put on the back-burner, Alex enlists Jezzie’s help in putting the pieces together and working fast to catch a kidnapper.

” Jezzie Flannagan stayed behind. ‘I’ve heard about you, Detective Cross, now that I think of it. You’re the psychologist. There was an article in the Washington Post. ‘ She smiled nicely, a demi-smile. 

I didn’t smile back. ‘You know newspaper articles,’ I told her. ‘Usually a pack of half-truths. In that case, definitely some tall tales.’

‘I’m not so sure about that,’ she said. ‘Nice to meet you, anyway.’ Then she walked into the office behind Secretary Goldberg, the mayor, and the star FBI agent. Nobody invited me — the psychologist-detective of magazine fame. Nobody invited Sampson.

Monroe did poke his head out. “Stick around, you two. Don’t make any waves. Don’t get pissy, either. We need you here. I need to talk with you, Alex. Stay put. Don’t get pissy.’

Sampson and I tried to be good cops. We stood around outside the headmaster’s office for another ten minutes. Finally, we left our posts. We were feeling pissy. 

I kept seeing the face of little Mustaf Sanders. Who was going to go and find this killer? No one. Mustaf had already been forgotten. I knew that would never happen with the two private-school children. “

Meanwhile in the undisturbed country outside of the city proper, Gary Soneji believes himself to be in the midst of a perfect crime that will gain him prestige and fame for decades to come. An obsession with high profile kidnappings has led him on a quest to carve his own place out in history as a brilliant criminal. He has the two missing children locked in makeshift coffins in the ground at an old farmhouse, and he’s beginning his plan to extort money from their wealthy and high-profile parents by way of ransom. But after hearing some disparaging remarks about himself over the news by a FBI agent, Soneji’s plan takes a turn. He cannot allow these terrible things to be said about him on such a public platform — he cannot allow his image of a criminal mastermind to be tainted. Clad in a clever disguise, he murders the agent in question, the dumping of his body helping to soothe Soneji’s maniacally hurt pride.

As the investigation into the slippery Soneji continues, Alex and Jezzie begin to grow closer. Despite the attraction he has to wonder – is it a mistake to get so close to her so soon? Something about Jezzie is off, but Alex can’t quite put his finger on it. He’s enjoying the comfort and thrill of the relationship, something he hasn’t had in his life for a while now.  He’s also trying to keep a firm eye on the kidnapping case, but his attempts at victim retrieval are foiled when he attempts to trade ransom for one of the children, but has the money stolen from him instead. And as more murders relating the kidnappings occur, Alex is stunned to discover that he may be on the trail of solving not one – but two – cases at the same time.

In a classic tale of cat and mouse, Alex Cross is determined to have closure with the spider whose web he’s been caught in for over a year. The fast-paced style of James Patterson will at times leave readers breathless as one facet of the investigation is laid to rest but many more questions are raised. Who is Gary Soneji? Where are the missing children? And what is Jezzie Flannagan hiding?

I give Along Came a Spider 4.5 out of 5 stars. I have been a fan of James Patterson for many years now and Alex Cross is by far my favorite of his characters. My only regret for Alex is that he has such a hard time with his love life. Patterson could stand to give him a break every now and then. Patterson writes intelligent and crafty mysteries and never disappoints me, much like another mystery author I love – Patricia Cornwell. The books are quick and easy to get through and perfect to curl up with on a dark and stormy night.

Fans of Alex Cross can continue the journey with their favorite D.C. detective and jazz-playing good guy with:

  1. Along Came a Spider
  2. Kiss the Girls
  3. Jack & Jill
  4. Cat & Mouse
  5. Pop Goes the Weasel
  6. Roses Are Red
  7. Violets Are Blue
  8. Four Blind Mice
  9. The Big Bad Wolf
  10. London Bridges
  11. Mary, Mary
  12. Alex Cross
  13. Double Cross
  14. Cross Country
  15. I, Alex Cross
  16. Cross Fire
  17. Kill Alex Cross
  18. Alex Cross, Run
  19. Cross My Heart
  20. Hope To Die
  21. Cross Justice
  22. Cross Kill
  23. Cross The Line
  24. Detective Cross
  25. The People vs. Alex Cross (due out in November 2017)

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Review: Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies

by Liane Moriarty

“Pirriwee Public School

. . . where we live and learn by the sea!

Pirriwee Public is a BULLY-FREE ZONE!

We do not bully.

We do not accept being bullied.

We never keep bullying a secret. 

We have the courage to speak up if we see our friends bullied. 

We say NO to bullies!”

I love it when I’m turned on to an author I have not previously read. The majority of the books I decide to read either come from a recommendation or from stellar cover art that catches my eye as I browse my local book store. As Big Little Lies premiered on HBO earlier in the year, I was bombarded with social media postings surrounding the new hit mystery-dramedy and asked many times – “Have you read this book?” My answer was sadly a resounding NO. Not only had I not read this book, but I had never read anything by it’s author, Liane Moriarty.

I have been a reader since I was a very young child, using books as an escape from a scarring childhood and bringing them on as lifelong companions into my teenage years and adulthood. I devour books like some devour cheesecake (not that I would know anything about devouring cheesecake. . .) but I also understand that many are not the same way. Reading can, for some, be an intimidating and daunting task. Most believe they don’t have the time to read or that reading is hard. One great thing about a good book is that it will sometimes be turned into a television show or a movie, and people always seem to have time for those. . .so it’s kind of like reading, only watching. I always hope that when someone sees a show that they really love, that they will go back and read the book. The book is always better. Always. Seriously, ALWAYS. The little nuances that you love about the characters are always magnified in books, and if you have seen the program before reading, then you have a wonderful visual image to prop up in your mind and help you move along. It’s like getting to know someone on a deeper level. It’s going on a second date. It’s just better.

I watched the HBO series before reading the book. I spent a weekend binging on the 7-hour miniseries after being hooked and intrigued after the first 15 minutes. I would have watched the show in it’s entirety regardless, but add in some Alexander Skarsgård? Even as a (really) bad guy? I’m all in. No questions asked. And I am happy to report that I enjoyed the series as much as I loved the book.

Big Little Lies chronicles the lives of 3 women over the span of a few months.

” ‘Oh, sure, sure. I’m not saying I didn’t have support. I had my parents to help me too. But my God, there were some nights, when Abigail was sick, or when I got sick, or worse, when we both got sick, and . . . Anyway.’ Madeline stopped and shrugged. ‘My ex is remarried now to someone else. They have a little girl about the same age as Chloe, and Nathan has become father of the year. Men often do when they get a second chance. Abigail things her dad is wonderful. I’m the only one left holding a grudge. They say it’s good to let your grudges go, but I don’t know, I’m quite fond of my grudge. I tend to it like a little pet.’ 

‘I’m not really into forgiveness either,’ said Jane. 

Madeline grinned and pointed her teaspoon at her. ‘Good for you. Never forgive. Never forget. That’s my motto.’ “

Madeline Mackenzie is my spirit animal is a 40-year old mother who doesn’t believe in talking on the phone in the car. She also doesn’t believe that anyone should have to put up with seeing their ex-husband and his (beautifully young) new wife on a regular basis, but unfortunately some things must be endured. With grace. Humility. And in designer footwear. She works part-time to save her sanity, but her life primarily revolves around her two young children with Husband #2 and her teenager with Husband #1. Madeline always tries to maintain an air of positivity and confidence, even when dealing with the minutia that dominates the schoolyard.  She never backs down from a squabble or a perceived injustice — in fact, a good catfight is what gets her blood flowing best.

” ‘Then, years later, I go to this barbecue for a friend’s thirtieth birthday. There’s a cricket game in the backyard, and who’s out there batting in her stilettos, all blinged up, exactly the same, but little Madeline from across the road. My heart just about stopped.’

‘That’s a very romantic story,” said Jane. 

‘I nearly didn’t go to that barbecue,’ said Ed. Jane saw that his eyes were shiny, even though he must have told this story a hundred times before. 

‘And I nearly didn’t go either,’ said Madeline. ‘I had to cancel a pedicure, and I would normally never cancel a pedicure.’

They smiled at each other. 

Jane looked away. She picked up her mug of tea and took a sip even though it was all gone. The doorbell rang. 

‘That will be Celeste,’ said Madeline. 

Great, thought Jane, continuing to pretend-sip her empty mug of tea. Now I’ll be in the presence of both great love and great beauty. 

All around her was color: rich, vibrant color. She as the only colorless thing in this whole house. “

Jane Chapman is a single mother to a beautiful and sweet little boy. She and Ziggy have moved around a lot but have finally settled on a charming seaside town that’s sure to chase all of her worries away. Jane is ready to begin her life with her son anew, but the demons of her past have followed her like a lingering fog. The darkness that shadows her begins to creep towards her son when he is accused of physically assaulting a little girl and fellow classmate on the first day of school. The girl’s mother, alpha-female Renata, makes it her mission to make things as difficult as possible for quiet and docile Jane. Madeline is quickly in her corner, taking up her cause as enthusiastically as she would if she were fighting over a pair of leather pants at a designer sample sale. The secrets that Jane carries are heavy burdens that sit right on her chest at all times . . . she will never be able to forget the abusive and humiliating circumstances surrounding the night Ziggy was conceived, and she is beginning to wonder if wicked behavior is genetic.

” Did she love him as much as she hated him? Did she hate him as much as she loved him? 

‘We should try another counselor,’ she’d said to him early this morning. 

‘You’re right,’ he’d said, as if it were an actual possibility. ‘When I get back. We’ll talk about it then.’

He was going away the next day. Vienna. It was a “summit” his firm was sponsoring. He would be delivering the keynote address on something terribly complex and global. There would be a lot of acronyms and incomprehensible jargon, and he’d stand there with a little pointer, making a red dot of light zip about on the PowerPoint presentation prepared by his executive assistant.

Perry was away often. He sometimes felt like an aberration in her life. A visitor. Her real life took place when he wasn’t there. What happened never mattered all that much because he was always about to leave, the next day or the next week.

How could they admit to a stranger what went on in their marriage? The shame of it. The ugliness of their behavior. They were a fine-looking couple. People had been telling them that for years. They were admired and envied. They had all the privileges in the world. Overseas travel. A beautiful home. It was ungracious and ungrateful of them to behave the way they did.

‘Just stop it,’ that nice eager woman would have surely said, disgusted and disapproving.

Celeste didn’t want to tell her either. She wanted her to guess. She wanted her to ask the right question.

But she never did. ” 

Celeste Wright has it all – stunningly good looks, a devoted husband with a limitless bank account, and two perfect twin boys. But while everything looks immaculate to the outside world, the people closest to her would be shocked if they could see what life is really like just underneath the surface. Celeste and her husband are participants in a very abusive relationship full of physical violence, nerve-wracking panic, and misguided guilt. Perry presents such a flawless picture to those around them that Celeste has to wonder if anyone would even believe her if she tried to genuinely seek help. She’s trapped in her glass house, wrapped in diamonds and furs that hide the bruises but don’t erase them.

All three of the women have children who are attending the picturesque and peppy Pirriwee Public School, and that is the common denominator that brings them together, but certainly not what keeps them them from drifting apart. Each of the women seems to take a piece of the other in an effort to complete themselves in some ramshackle way: Madeline craves the wealth and devotion Celeste is blessed with, Jane envies the confidence and general sparkle of Madeline’s loud life, and Celeste longs for a loving relationship and a quiet atmosphere much like the lives her friends lead. If the three women would truly be honest with each other, perhaps they would see that none of their lives are the faultless and exemplary facade perpetually on display.

The novel changes hands with point of view between the three women and is peppered with testimony from outsiders of their group within the community. Readers will soon discover that something nefariously criminal has occurred within the small confines of the elementary school crowd – a murder. But who has been murdered, by whom, and for what reason, remains a mystery until the end, shocking not only readers but also the town. The undercurrent of small lies turns into a tsunami of bigger ones, and no one is safe from the wreckage.

I give Big Little Lies 5 out of 5 stars, and I can honestly say that I loved this book. The humor was spot on – from the accurate descriptions of elementary school carpool and the ridiculous politics of the schoolyard, to the jealousy surrounding a young wife and an ex-husband, I was left chuckling more than once. I was particularly tickled by the exchanges between Madeline and her ex-husband; I could wholeheartedly relate. In complete balance to the humor, the darkness of the abusive relationship between Perry and Celeste was portrayed in a very interesting light; I truly felt as if the author did her research and due diligence. The voice of Celeste was as similar to a woman caught up in horribly abusive situation as it could be. Moriarty delved into not only the physical aspects of abuse but also the mental and emotional particulars, which are sometimes even more damaging than the bruises left behind. Readers might be interested in an interview given by Alexander Skarsgård, the actor who plays Perry, where he describes his take on the controversial character and his approach to the acting — found here.

The mystery and the way it was presented was unique and while I admit, I figured out who did what and to whom pretty early on,  that didn’t stop me from wanting to know the details. I also found that the show followed the book as closely as possible, with a few extra storylines that didn’t take away from the original manuscript. I am anxious to read more from the author and already have several of her books on my list, including My Husband’s Secret which comes highly recommended to me by several bookish friends.

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Recommendation: Postmortem

Postmortem

by Patricia Cornwell

“ The dead have never bothered me.

It’s the living that I fear. ”

About six or seven years ago, I borrowed a bunch of books from a friend who had an impressive library. Most of the books that I borrowed, I read and returned. But this one. . .

. . .see, I ended up moving shortly after borrowing those books and this particular little novel was still mixed in with my own books. It was a well-worn mass production paperback and you could barely read the title on the spine because it was so broken. I threw it up on my new set of bookshelves in my brand new place, and didn’t think much of it.

Another couple of years later, I was home alone. It was a quiet, dreary day and I was bored. I grabbed a book off of the bookshelf at random and piled up on the couch to log an hour of two of reading. Trying to pass the time before my boyfriend got home.

And I stayed on the couch the entire night, in a feverish rush to finish this book.

Postmortem is the first of 24 – and counting – novels in the Kay Scarpetta Mystery Series. This particular series is the one that Patricia Cornwell is best noted for, the collection spanning nearly 30 years of writing. After devouring this first book, I ran out and got the second and third, and thankfully Christmas was right around the corner – my boyfriend bought all the rest of the books for me (wrapping them individually and piling them all under the tree). I was hooked.

While I have come to love many of the books in this series for a variety of reasons, Postmortem is one of my favorites, mainly because it is the first. We meet and get to know the dark and twisty parts of Kay Scarpetta that she allows us to see. She’s a woman playing in a man’s world, and while she’s excelling, it takes an infinite amount of determination and work to stay on top. Kay is the Chief Medical Examiner for the state of Virginia, and each book is centered around a particular case (or cases) she’s working to solve. Some books carry the killer(s) across several novels and some are solved by the last page of just one particular book.

The other characters featured, such as Detective Pete Marino, FBI profiler Benton Wesley, and Kay’s niece, Lucy, grow throughout the series. They age, they change careers, they have romantic interests, and they become thickly embedded into the storyline and under Kay’s skin. They become people that you feel like you really know, and that is a writing characteristic that has always appealed to me. I am a sucker for a good series, because I become the happiest reader when I can invest heavily in characters and their development.

As Postmortem begins, Dr. Kay Scarpetta is called to the scene of an apparent death by strangulation. There appears to be a serial killer on the loose in Richmond, and this murder is just one in a string of recent unsolved murders in the area. Cornwell pulled inspiration for this particular type of serial killing straight from the headlines;  Timothy Wilson Spencer, who terrorized the the Richmond area over a fateful fall season, killed in the same manner.

 Also on the scene is the cantankerous Pete Marino, who’s persistent moodiness is a perpetual thorn in Kay’s side. Marino has a knack for inserting himself into her cases and always makes sure she knows he’s around, either with his loud and obnoxious conversation or with his body — always too close for comfort.

” I wondered where Marino was going with this. He was hard to read, and I’d never decided if he was a good poker player or simply slow. He was exactly the sort of detective I avoided when given a choice — a cock of the walk and absolutely unreachable. He was pushing fifty, with a face life had chewed on, and long wisps of graying hair parted low on one side and combed over his balding pate. At least six feet tall, he was bay-windowed from decades of bourbon and beer. His unfashionably wide red-and-blue-striped tie was oily around the neck from summers of sweat. Marino was the stuff of tough-guy flicks — a crude, crass gumshoe who probably had a foul-mouthed parrot for a pet and coffee table littered with Hustler magazines. “

One thing that is fascinating to read is the use of technology and forensic science. This book was published in 1990 and it’s ridiculously crazy how far the medical examining system has come since then. There is mention of a criminal database but not one in actual existence. DNA’s help in catching criminals something that can only be dreamed of at this point. As the series and modern science in criminal justice advances, the author goes to great lengths to become as well-versed as humanly possible on the subject and again, it’s fascinating to watch that progression.  Cornwell is meticulous in her description and logic, having immersed herself into the world of criminology and forensic science as a passion in her personal life.

The killer has left behind several clues – most of which are nearly unseen to the naked eye. With the use of black light analysis, Dr. Scarpetta discovers unsettling bodily fluids, and she’s also intrigued by an unusual smell left behind on the victim. Kay begins to work on finding links between the murdered women, as well as trying to navigate through her murky personal life. Her precocious niece, 10-year old Lucy, is spending time in her home and keeping Kay on her toes. Lucy comes from a bit of a broken home; her mother is far more interested in her flavor-of-the-week boyfriends or her creation of children’s books to pay attention to her daughter. Lucy has smarts that border on genius-status, and she’s proficient in the relatively new art of computer science. The evolution of Lucy throughout the series is probably the most dramatic, and one of the most interesting. The love that Kay has for Lucy is that of a mother and daughter, and both fill a void in the other’s life.

“ I didn’t want her to be like me, robbed of innocence and idealism, baptized in the bloody waters of randomness and cruelty, the fabric of trust forever torn. ”

Kay is perturbed to have her case spun out into the mainstream media, and dismayed when several classified items are brought to light for the public. It seems there may be a leak coming from the inside, and that further perpetuates Kay’s sense of paranoia about the people surrounding her. Finding it difficult to trust anyone leaves Kay in an unsettling position, and leaves her coming across as cold and uncaring to the people in her life. She has built walls around her for the sake of her sanity; her job can be difficult and taxing on the emotional state. She has had to learn to cut parts of herself off in order to solve murders, catch rapists, and put awful people behind bars. This theme is seen throughout the series of books in their entirety, as Kay struggles to maintain personal relationships that invade her work space.

As Dr. Scarpetta learns more about the victims, she unknowingly puts herself in harm’s way. Crucial bits of information leave her vulnerable to the killer and in the end, she must rush to figure things out before it’s too late, relying on her wits and instincts to get her through alive.

” These strangling cases were the most difficult of my career, and I was gripped by the fear I was becoming too caught up in them. Maybe I was losing my rational, methodical way of doing things. Maybe I was making mistakes. “

I give Postmortem 4.5 out of 5 stars. This is a fast-paced and easy-to-read mystery that, regardless of the science involved, is easy to follow. Some of the things that Cornwell comes up with over the entirety of the series is genius and unique, and fans of shows such as Criminal Minds and CSI will appreciate the depth into which the solving of the murders go.

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Review: All The Missing Girls

All The Missing Girls

by Megan Miranda

I couldn’t sleep in the house, worrying that there was something I was missing — someone who’d been in my house, possibly out there right now.

I came out to the back porch sometime after midnight for the cooler air, the clearer head. I sat on the back steps but kept the outside lights off — I felt too exposed otherwise, with nothing but my dad’s words echoing in my head:

The woods have eyes.

I stared off into the night — the shadows against the dark — drifting in and out of consciousness. The shadows shifting as clouds passed in front of the moon. The dark shapes in my peripheral vision, creeping like monsters. “

Nic left her hometown right after high school graduation, trying to put the past behind her. Trying not to look back.

Trying not to remember that her best friend went missing. And that they never found the body.

And desperately trying to forget the boy she was leaving in the rear view window.

But a decade later, Nicolette gets the phone call she’s spent years dreading – the one from her brother, asking her to come home for a while.

Daniel needs help preparing their childhood home to sell. The fixing up, the cleaning out, and the paperwork. He also needs her to convince their stubborn and confused father to sign the documents that will allow the sale to happen. Nic has been home very few times since she left a decade before. One of those times was to shuffle her father off to an assisted living facility, his dementia finally forcing his time of living alone to come to a close.

She hates coming home. It reminds her of everything bad that she left behind. And Tyler.

All the Missing Girls is a thriller that fans of perplexing Gone Girl and gritty The Girl on the Train will enjoy. In the spirit of what-the-hell-just-happened writing, the story is told mostly in reverse – something I had to get used to but quickly found riveting. Reading about the consequences of the events of the day before before reading about *today* kept me hooked; I anxiously turned page after page, trying to figure out what happened. And even better – I wasn’t able to figure it out, like I am with so many other mysteries.

The day that Nicolette returns home, another girl mysteriously goes missing. This time, it’s the beautiful and young blonde who lives behind Nic’s familial property. The dense but familiar woods between the houses is where the search begins, and what is found (and not found) spins a tale of deceit, blackmail, and the truly unexpected. The disappearances are related, as far as Nic can tell, but figuring out what they have in common is going to be a difficult and convoluted task.

 ” The cops were all from around here, had been here ten years ago when Corinne disappeared. Or the’d heard the stories through the years, over drinks at the bar. Now there were two girls, barely adults, disappearing without a trace from the same town. And the last-known words from Annaleise were about Corinne Prescott. 

It made perfect sense if you came from a place like Cooley Ridge. 

If the entirety of Corinne’s official investigation existed inside that single box I pictured at the police station, I’d imagine this was all the evidence you would see: one pregnancy test, stuffed into a box of candy and hidden at the bottom of the trash can one ring with remnants of blood pulled from the caverns; cassette tapes with hours of interview reports to sort through — facts and lies and half-truths, wound up in a spool; Corinne’s phone records; and names. Names scrawled on ripped-up pieces of paper, enough pieces to pad the entire box, like stuffing.

Until recently, I imagined that this box was taped up and hidden in a corner, behind other, newer boxes. But now there’s the feeling that all it would take is a simple nudge for it to topple over, and the lid to fall free, and the names to scatter across the dusty floor. The box is exactly like it is in Cooley Ridge. The past, boxed up and stacked out of sight. But never too far away.

Open the top because Annaleise mentioned Corinne’s name and disappeared. Close your yes and reach your hand inside. Pull out a name.

That’s how it works here.

That’s what’s happening.  ” 

Although Nic has made it perfectly clear that she now has a flawless and faithful. rich and handsome fiancee (the huge rock on her finger proof of his love for her and the money he has in the bank), her ex-boyfriend just can’t stay away. Tyler keeps showing up at the house and against her better judgement, she can feel the familiar spark shooting off in her belly. Back when she was a teenager, she and Tyler thought they could take on the world; and seeing him now transports her to that exact same headspace. Being around the easy and comfortable Tyler all while being bossed around by her big brother has her flashing back to  those clear and crisp nights when they were kids; running around in the woods, crashing parties, and generally getting into teenage mischief. Nic and her brother Daniel were left to their own devices as they grew up, and the mismatch motley crew of friends they collected along the way were in much the same boat.

Corinne was one of those friends. She was beautiful. She was enigmatic. She was someone who could draw you in and make you want to stay, even while she was being cruel and cutting you down to the bone. But she had secrets.

Were they secrets that got her killed? No one knows. Maybe she just ran away. Maybe it was all a bitter joke. Or maybe it was something else.

When the second girl, the blonde photography student Annaleise Carter, goes missing, it’s like deja vu. All of the old suspects from Corinne’s disappearance a decade earlier are reluctantly brought back into the limelight and questions start spreading around the town. Was it Jackson, Corinne’s old boyfriend? Daniel, the not-so-happily married neighbor? Tyler, the playboy around town? Everyone is on edge and uncomfortable, and it doesn’t help that Nic’s dad is starting to run his mouth about things that he surely knows nothing about.

As Nic begins to unravel the worn threads of what happened on the night she came home to rural Cooley Ridge, other things about the past begin to come to light. And as she gets closer to finding out what really happened to Corinne, she pushes herself deeper and deeper into the strangling arms of the town she fought so hard to get away from all those years ago.

” ‘Goodbye, Nic.’

‘Your daughter is beautiful,’ I said.

She started leaving, tossed her hair over her shoulder, gave me one last searing look. ‘I hope she isn’t like us.’

I heard the ride beside us, the gears shifting, metal on metal as the cars came to an abrupt stop and began spinning the pposite way. The squeals of delight from inside. I tried to focus on that, on every individual sound, so I wouldn’t think about me and Bailey and Corinne oat the top of the Ferris wheel. 

I must’ve seemed so pathetic to Bailey, standing here pretending not to know what she was talking about when that whispered word had become louder and louder over the years. So that sometimes when I thought of Corinne, it was the only thing I heard. 

Her cold hands at my elbows. Her breath in my ear. Bailey’s laughter, tight and nervous, in the background. The scent of Corinne’s spearmint gum. Her fingers dancing across my skin. Jump, she said. 

She told me to jump. “

While I found myself confused at times because of all of the backtracking, I really enjoyed this book. I’d love to read it again knowing what I know now because I bet I missed a lot. The author, Megan Miranda, did a beautiful job at holding the truth back from the readers until the very last second. What I loved most was that I really thought I had it figured out – that I’d solved the mystery – but it turned out I was only half correct. The twist thrown in wasn’t weird or wonky, like in some books I’ve read, but made complete sense once you really thought about it. Miranda has up until this point been a YA author, and this is listed as her first psychological thriller. I’m now pumped to read her second, The Perfect Stranger, that just came out on April 11.

I give All the Missing Girls 4.5 out of 5 stars. It’s an easy read that will keep you guessing all the way up to the end (or beginning, depending on how you want to look at it).

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Review: The Heiresses

The Heiresses

by Sara Shepard

” The girls were the future of Saybrook’s Diamonds, and they had to act accordingly. They were to live their lives with the utmost decorum, smile for the cameras, speak several languages, hold many degrees, cultivate the art of conversation, and, most important, refrain from doing anything that might bring scandal upon the family. 

And yet they had. All of them. It had been a summer of secrets. Secrets that set them apart and made them tighten inside — secrets that they hadn’t even told one another. As they glanced around the sweeping cathedral, they each suddenly feared a bolt of lightening from above. They were the heiresses, all right, the sparkling princesses of a family that might or might not be doomed. But by Edith’s standards, they hadn’t been behaving like heiresses at all. 

And it was only a matter of time before the world found out.  “

It was a sultry and sticky summer night when Steven Barnett mysteriously died.

The waves lapped around his pale body and he was dressed all in white, as was befitting the annual end-of-summer bash at the Saybrook family mansion in Meriweather. The family compound off the coast of New York was full of anyone and everyone who wanted or needed to be seen, including the most famous of the Saybrook family legacy – the beautiful and glamorous heiresses.

However, that fateful summer changed the course of each of their lives. For some,  in more ways than one. And years later, when another mysterious death takes one of their own, the heiresses think back to that summer and have to wonder. . . is this the notorious Saybrook Family Curse at work, or is it something more sinister – like murder? Like. . . revenge?

Poppy Saybrook is the stylish and sophisticated President of Saybrook’s Diamonds, her sparkle and pedigree on par with the cut and clarity of the top-shelf diamonds her family’s company provides to the rich and famous. She has it all – the handsome husband, 1.5 children, a luxurious apartment overlooking Central Park, and the top spot at work. Even though her parents’ died in a plane crash and she is an only child, Poppy never feels lonely, not with her cousins and their troubles to keep her company. But things are beginning to feel frosty between the impossibly beautiful married couple, and Jason’s eyes are starting to wander.

” The kitchen was large and airy, with new marble countertops and Brazilian cherry cabinets. Poppy, dressed in a gauzy batik-print silk popover and skinny pants that made her legs look a million miles long, stood at the island, arranging the tray of chopped-up locally grown vegetables she’d bought at the Union Square farmer’s market, her twenty-month-old, Briony, balanced on her hip. “

Rowan Saybrook has known Jason for most of her adult life, meeting him during their mutual time at Yale. She’s a successful house attorney for the family business but goes home alone to an empty apartment, with only her duo of dogs to keep her company. Being single was never her plan, but the one man she wants is not available, and so she feels she has no other choice but to throw herself into work. . . until one evening, when she’s had too much to drink, and instead, throws herself into the arms of a forbidden man. When Rowan wakes up the next morning, she is horrified to find the much-married man she’s been pining over for years still in her apartment, especially when she finds out that the man’s wife has thrown herself off the balcony of her office onto the dirty and crowded streets of New York – to her death.

” Of course, in time those wee the girls who got steady boyfriends, while Rowan had just acquired a string of make-out buddies. She tried to change her ways, oping what she saw in the paired-up girls she knew, but becoming a softer, needier, whinier version of herself just didn’t work. And so she settled into the role of the quintessential guy’s girl. “

Corinne Saybrook is getting married.  She has the perfect, custom, Chantilly lace gown. She has the most impeccable location. She has just the right man to fit by her side. But when the catering company she’s had booked for months pulls out at the last minute and her fiancee brings in another chef, she is shocked to see a face from her past. A face she’s been trying to forget for more than five years, and a face that dredges up memories of a stolen summer, a broken heart, and a child given up for adoption. Corinne begins to watch as her flawless life garners crack after crack, and she is surprised to find that she doesn’t mind as much as she thought she would.

” Corinne pushed her dirty-blonde hair behind her ears. She’d been with Dixon since their sophomore year at Yale. Well, except for that one summer just after graduation — but Corinne had always liked a story with a happy ending, and she’d neatly trimmed that interlude from her personal history. “

Aster Saybrook couldn’t care less about her sister’s upcoming wedding. She has places to go and people to be seen with. She takes the job of socialite very seriously and makes it her purpose in life to spend as much of her family’s money as she can, her ostentatiousness rivaling that of fellow blonde heiress Paris Hilton.  When her father puts a stop to her incessant partying and forces her to get a job, she finds herself in the position of detective as much as a representative of Saybrook’s Diamonds. Aster becomes wrapped up in solving not one but two murders, and has to relive a summer she only looks back on with regrets.

” Aster teetered in on jet-black five-inch laser-cut booties. A hand-rolled cigarette dangled from her lips, the stench of tobacco overpowering the salon’s light floral scent. Her wet trench dripped puddles on the mahogany floor. Her fuchsia dress, also wet, clung high to her thighs. Though Aster would have still been striking even after a roll in a city Dumpster, there were circles under her large, luminous blue eyes, and her ice-blond hair was matted. She had a disoriented, used-up look about her. Corinne wondered if her younger sister had just emerged from a stranger’s bed after one of her typical all-night bacchanals. “

Natasha Saybrook renounced her title as heiress to the family fortune and struck out on her own, leaving her mark on the city in a very different way than her cousins. But why did she find herself so disgusted with the Saybrook’s Dimonds legacy? Too bad the cousins can’t ask her – Natasha is in a coma after a car violently and determinedly pushed hers off a bridge and she nearly drowned.

” But after Natasha disinherited herself from the family — never explaining why — she treated Rowan and the others like irritating pedestrians taking up the whole sidewalk on Fifth Avenue. “

With a nasty secret threatening to break the family and their illustrious business apart, the heiresses must get to the bottom of the mystery before it’s too late, bringing all of the skeletons out of the closet in the most public of ways. A nefarious website, The Blessed and the Cursed, is garnering heavy web traffic as the site chronicles every move the girls make, Gossip Girl style. The FBI agent in charge of the case is layered in lies and has a personal agenda. And a previously exiled red-head decides to reappear in the most powerful of ways, bringing the family together while simultaneously tearing it apart.

The Heiresses is an adult novel written by Sara Shepard, who is best known for her Pretty Little Liars Series for young adults; a series that has proven itself successful both in literary form and on the small screen, the latter of which is on its seventh and final season. I’ve never personally read any other of the other series by Shepard, but her bibliography is extensive, boasting four series and several other stand-alone books.

]I really enjoyed this novel, one that I picked up for $2 in the clearance section of my local Half Price Books. The story moved quick, and while I sometimes found it confusing as the point-of-view bounced back and forth between the heiresses in the beginning, they are all so vastly different that it didn’t take me long to catch up. The story was really fun and wild, reminding me a lot of Gossip Girl (the show, not the books. I’ve not read any of the novels).  This book would be great to read while on a road trip or vacation, as it moves along very quickly. It definitely falls into the chick-lit category, and I would save it for readers 18+ due to the sexual content.

I give The Heiresses 4.5 out of 5 stars – shaving off half a star only for the fact that I am seriously annoyed that the author has announced this is a stand-alone book and will not have a sequel – despite it being categorized as a “series” on the author’s website. It left off with one heck of a cliffhanger, and I am dying to know what happened! I can’t believe the author would leave her readers hanging like that – shame on you, Sara Shepard! I’m still going to hold out hope!

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Recommendation: Grave Sight

Grave Sight

by Charlaine Harris

“Sometimes I dream I am an eagle. I soar above them, noting their remains, bearing testimony to  their disposal. I spy the man who went hunting with his enemy – – there, under that tree, in that thicket. I spot the bones of the waitress who served the wrong man – – there, under the collapsed roof of an old shack. I detect the final destination of the teenage boy who drank too much in the wrong company – – a shallow grave in the piney woods. Often, their spirits hover, clinging to the mortal remnants that housed them. Their spirits do not become angels. They were not believers during life, why should they be angels now? Even average people, people you think of as “good,” can be foolish or venal or jealous. 

My sister Cameron lies somewhere among them. In some drainage pipe or under some foundation folded into the rusted trunk of an abandoned car or strewn across a forest floor, Cameron molders. Perhaps her spirit is clinging to what is left of her body, as she waits to be discovered, as she waits for her story to be told. 

Perhaps that’s all they desire, all of the silent witnesses.”

Harper Connelly is a professional.

Some might say she’s a professional freak.

But no matter what they say, she always gets the job done.

Harper can find dead people. If she’s in the vicinity, she can sniff out a dead person’s place of demise like a bloodhound on a hot trail. She can sense their final moments and help piece together the dreadful puzzles of murder, suicide, or natural caused death for family members and desperate law enforcement officers. What she can’t do is stay in one place for long because as mentioned earlier, more often than not, she is considered a freak of nature. A witch. A devil woman. Someone who is just not normal. It’s almost as if people think it was her fault she was struck by that bolt of lightening.

“His eyes lit up. He was thinking I’d faked my results before, somehow, and that now he’d unmask me. And he’d get his money back. He had about a ton of ambiguity resting on his shoulders. 

I stepped gingerly onto the nearest grave, the ground chilly under my bare feet. Since a cemetery is so fully of death, I have difficulty getting a clear reading. When you add the competing emanations from the corpses to the effects of the embalming process, you have to get as close as you can. “Middle-aged white man, died of. . . a massive coronary,” I said, my eyes closed. The name was Matthews, something like that. 

There was silence while Hollis read the headstone. Then Hollis growled, “Yes.” He caught his breath jaggedly. “We’re going to walk now. Keep your eyes shut.” I felt his big hand take mine, lead me carefully to another patch of ground. I reached down deep with that inner sense that had never failed me. “Very old man.” I shook my head. “I think he just ran down.” I was led to yet another grave, this one father away. “Woman, sixties, car accident. Named Turner, Turnage? A drunk, I think.”  “

The disappearance of her sister, Cameron, haunts her. One mystery and possible murder she cannot put to rest. The one person she cannot find.

Tolliver is her brother, sometimes bodyguard, only confidant, and booking agent in the spectrum of the supernatural. They travel the seemingly endless roads together; wrapped up in mysteries and sometimes  becoming part of the murderous puzzle personally, no matter how much they try to stay out of it.

The tiny town of Sarne has a problem. A teenage girl is missing and no one wants to talk about it. Harper was brought into the backwoods narrow-minded community under false pretenses and it’s glaringly obvious that she isn’t wanted. Not only do they think she is weird, but they find fault in her brother as well – – Tolliver isn’t the warmest cookie in the oven, and it suits him to be stoic and reserved. The townsfolk openly shun the pair and make the job as hard as they possibly can. What secrets is this provincial town hiding? Why don’t they want this murder solved?

“I didn’t exactly feel like all these deaths were my fault, but I didn’t feel good about them, either. I’d done what I’d been hired to do, with no idea what the consequences might be in a confused place like Sarne.”

Harper dives into the job anyway. She’s got some time between gigs and she is being paid. At the bequest of the presumed victim’s mother – a woman with too much time and money on her hands – Harper and Tolliver roll up their sleeves and get to work. Very quickly however, Harper finds herself involved in not one but two murders, and the town is again not at all happy to hear her news. The teenage girl is dead by murder, as is her boyfriend. All under very mysterious circumstances.

Something a little too fast and furious to be called romance is heating up between Harper and the town’s police deputy, but it has to take a backseat as even more strange things begin to happen. Someone is hell bent on sabotaging Harper and Tolliver, and will go to any means necessary to send their message — including it seems, another attempted murder. Harper is distraught when Tolliver is thrown in jail and she is on complete edge. And she has a reason to feel that way.

“Suddenly, from inside the room there was a grip on my upper arm that spun me around, then I was stumbling into the room and meeting with the rug with a speed that was terrifying. 

I rolled to my feet and launched myself at my attacker, pushing him right back out the open door. Never let yourself get cornered. You have to fight instantly, I’d found as a teenager, or your opponent has the upper hand; your injuries hurt too much, or you get scared. And you have to go with it with every fiber of your being. Pull, bite, strike, scratch, squeeze; let go completely. If you’re dedicated to hurting someone else, it doesn’t register so much when they hurt you. I hardly felt the two pounding blows the man got in on my ribs before I grabbed his testicles and clamped down, and then I bit hi on the neck as hard as I could. “

The book revs up to an exciting and climatic ending where the mystery is solved, but more questions about Harper, her brother, and her dead sister Cameron are left the table. This is book one is a series of four, entitled The Harper Connelly Mysteries. I haven’t read the others as of yet, but I have them stacked on my nightstand ready to read. They are quick, fast, and easy reads — which I love for a good rainy weekend. The ending was a bit predictable, but aren’t most mysteries these days? It’s hard to fool your reader when they spend all day watching CSI and How to Get Away With Murder. I was much more intrigued with the characters than the subsequent plot line, and I’m looking forward to reading more about Harper. I hope we get closure on her sister’s disappearance.

Along with much of middle America, I became a fan of Charlaine Harris after the debut of her vampiric-telepathic-werewolvian-fairyesque books – The Sookie Stackhouse Series. It’s a set of 13 novels and several companion pieces set around an awkward Southern blonde who waits tables in the local bar and becomes wrapped up with not one, not two, but a nest of vampires and as slew of other creatures. This book series was transformed into a highly successful television series for HBO called True Blood, starring Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer. It spanned seven seasons and strayed far from the books as each season progressed, much to The Belle’s dismay.

Charlaine Harris writes mostly about the supernatural and their counterparts, and writes them into modern day story lines. Vampires are a part of society, living openly next to mere mortals. Werewolves aren’t stuff of legend, but more like your neighborhood furry friends. Men can transform into animals on a whim. Women can read minds and market their talents to the highest bidder. A lot of her stories are set in the South, and all are a mystery in some way or fashion. She writes in a very relatable style that makes it easy for the reader to become quickly caught up in the story and just as quickly finish it. Her books are not long and can be read over a weekend. The stories flow and move fast.

The other books in the series are as follows:

  1. Grave Sight
  2. Grave Surprise
  3. An Ice Cold Grave
  4. Grave Secret 

There are also three graphic novels set around Grave Sight.  There are currently four films surrounding The Aurora Teagarden Series written by the author, starring Candace Cameron Bure. Aurora is a librarian who meets once a month with The Real Murder Club to discuss unsolved crimes.

I recommend Grave Sight with a rating of 4 out of 5 stars. Again, it’s a quick read, a lends itself very well for the reader on the go. You can pick it up and put it down, read chapters at at time or just a few paragraphs and have no trouble picking up where you left off. If you enjoy reading about Harper, keep your fingers crossed that she will make her way to the small screen as several other of this author’s heroines have!

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Recommendation: The Witching Hour

The Witching Hour

by Anne Rice

“Who in God’s name are you? she thought. The incongruity of it struck her slowly, along with a completely alien thought. This is not what it appears to be. this is some form of illusion I’m looking at! And with a sudden interior shift, her anger passed into suspicion and finally fear. 

The dark eyes of the being implored her. He raised his pale hands now and placed his fingers on the glass. 

She could neither move nor speak. Then, furious at her helplessness and at her terror, she cried:

“You go back to hell where you came from!” her voice sounded loud and terrible in the empty house. 

As if to answer her, to unsettle her and vanquish her totally, the intruder slowly disappeared. The figure went transparent, then dissolved utterly, and nothing was left but the faintly horrible and completely unsettling sight of the empty desk. 

The immense pane of glass rattled. There came another boom from it as though the wind had pushed against it head on. Then the sea seemed to settle. The rushing of water died away. And the house grew still. “

Diving into a work written by Anne Rice can be a daunting task, to say the least. She has a way of writing that completely envelops you as a reader, bringing you into her twisting and turning world of the occult, vampires, and sexual deviancy with as clear a vision as if you were standing in the middle of the French Quarter yourself. Her Vampire Chronicles are legendary and her unique style at telling a tale is spellbinding and bewitching. If you’re ready to embark upon an adventure that will wind you through decades of the Mayfair family’s life, be prepared to put in the time. Anne Rice can spend three pages describing a perfectly serene and near reverent setting for you, and then challenge your sense of propriety with a shocking revelation or scandalous taboo all in the same chapter. You need time to read this book. It’s not something you’re going to fly through while lounging poolside or during quick reads while sitting in carpool. The Witching Hour is a marathon, not a sprint. But in my opinion, the novel is a perfectly woven tale with the most unique sense of mystique.

I began my journey with this acclaimed author by reading this very dense tome, the first in a series of novels known as the Mayfair Witches Trilogy. I soon learned that what I’d read about the author in my previous research was true – Anne Rice does not write anything easily. Her writing style is meaty, heavy, and full of a lyrical sense of description that can sometimes be daunting to sift through. Whether you like how she writes or not, her descriptive voice is mesmerizing and admirable. She sets scenes up with a deliberate and nearly obsessive amount of detail, but all while keeping her characters rather ambiguous and most definitely mysterious. After reading, I still felt there was much I could learn about the lead characters and I enjoyed that. Not having it all put on the table allows much room for interpretation and for growth, something that I admire in any writer. It’s not easy to hold things back from your reader and allow them to come to their own conclusions about characters; as writers our first inclination is typically to throw it all out there at once because we know our characters better than anyone. They are typically a piece of our very self. The character development of Mayfair beauty Rowan, her devoted lover Michael, and the devious ghost Lasher evolves like a previously cocooned butterfly as the trilogy spans on.

Rowan Mayfair is an accomplished surgeon living in California. She was adopted at birth by a distant relative and only later in life discovers her immediate family who are residents of New Orleans, Louisiana – the Mayfairs. Rowan has gifts she doesn’t understand, namely the power to kill or heal via telekinesis. Several incidents involving her seemingly malicious talent have traumatized her, making her closed off to others in the emotional sense. She tries to use her burden for good and through helping others and the field of medicine seems like the perfect match.

After Rowan saves a drowning man, her life takes a turn. Michael Curry is undeniably handsome, enigmatic, and charming. They soon become obsessively involved with one another. When he decides to move back to his hometown of New Orleans to work on restoring his dream house, she follows suit. The trip allows her to delve deep into the family history she wasn’t aware she had. She goes from being an only child to two less-than-devoted parents to being the heiress of a family so huge she can barely keep them all straight. They are respectful to her in an almost chilling manner, as she is the last of the female line, someone very important to their lineage.

“Once the glass doors of the restaurant called Commander’s Palace had shut behind them, and Rowan had realized they were now in a faintly familiar world of uniformed waiters and white tablecloths, she glanced back through the glass at the whitewashed wall of the graveyard, and at the little peaked roofs of the tombs visible over the top of the wall.

The dead are so close they can hear us, she thought. 

“Ah, but you see,” said the tall white-haired Ryan, as if he’d read her mind, “in New Orleans, we never really leave them out.” “

In Mayfair tradition, the legacy and subsequent fortune is passed down through maternal lineage, from one woman to her first born daughter. Rowan is the last of the female line and as such bears a responsibility of the largest magnitude. Rowan becomes the designee of the family estate and eventually ruler of a strange ghost-man named Lasher, who appears to her as the keeper of the Mayfair women. The nefarious ghost has haunted and stalked the women of the family for generations using seduction of the highest form as the chief tool in his bag of tricks. His greatest wish is to become human so that he may walk the world freely and he needs a Mayfair woman to help him achieve his goal. The novel goes back and forth through time, taking the reader to different eras and annotating different Mayfair women’s battles with the spirit.

“”And Stella was the one shot by her own brother.” 

“Yes, and that was a terrible thing, to hear Daddy tell it. Stella was the wild one of that generation. Even before her mother died, she filled that old house with lights, with parties going on night after night, with the bootleg booze flowing and the musicians playing. Lord only knows what Miss Carl and Miss Millie and Miss Belle thought of all that. But when she started bringing her men home, that’s when Lionel took matters into his own hands and shot her. Jealous of her is what he was. Right in front of everybody in that parlor, he said, ‘I’ll kill you before I let him have you.’ “

Aaron Lightner is a prominent member of an order called the Talamasca, an ancient group of scholars who study all things supernatural and prepare case files with as much information as they can garner. Aaron has followed the lives of the Mayfair family as part of his life’s work and is well aware of the spirit Lasher’s ill intentions. He has insight as to the spirit’s motivations and means and becomes friend to both Rowan and Michael as the story progresses. His retelling of the information he has gathered through the years is a beautiful puzzle with the elusive Mayfair family ever at the center. He knows something is about to come to a head but he isn’t sure what or how. As Aaron’s sense of urgency increases, the reality that Rowan is indeed in danger (as her female predecessors were) comes to fruition – but there is always hope of beating Lasher if one continues to push forward and doesn’t give up trying to solve the mystery.

“All these years he’d known that man wasn’t real. All his life he’d known it. He’d known it in the church. . . 

“Michael, that man is waiting for Rowan,” Lightner said. 

“Waiting for Rowan? But Lightner, why, then, did he show himself to me?”

“Listen, my friend.” The Englishman put his hand on Michael’s hand and clasped it warmly. “It isn’t my intention to alarm you or to exploit your fascination. But that creature has been attached to the Mayfair family for generations. It can kill people. But then so can Dr. Rowan Mayfair. In fact, she may well be the first of her kind to be able to kill entirely on her own, without that creature’s aid. And they are coming together, that creature and Rowan. It’s only a matter of time before they meet. Now, please, dress and come with me. If you choose to be our mediator and to give the file on the Mayfair Witches to Rowan for us, then our highest aims will have been served. “”

The history of the Mayfair family is so interesting and engaging, I just loved it. The way Ann Rice presents it is deep and magical and makes you feel as if you reading something you shouldn’t be privy to. The secrets are deliciously scandalous and I was thrilled to learn even more in the second book, Lasher. One characters in particular, Julian Mayfair, was extremely riveting; but I won’t give too much of his own personal story away. The story retells the lives of many decades of Mayfair women and their dealings with Lasher.

Many of the questions raised in The Witching Hour are laid to rest in Lasher. The third book in the trilogy, Taltos, I felt was unneeded. It felt as if the author was too involved in her characters and was having a hard time letting go. As a result, I had a hard time getting through the book and would not recommend it unless you are just a diehard fan. Three other books follow spurs from the Mayfair family tree- Merrick, Blackwood Farm, and Blood Canticle.  These books weave the Vampire Chronicles and Mayfair Witches Trilogy together with familiar faces and unique story lines.

The Witching Hour provides a beautiful portrait of New Orleans and the Garden District, narrating a history in such a lovely way that you never doubt the love Anne Rice has for her city of birth. She lived there on a grand property (much like the Mayfair family home) for much of her 41 year marriage, selling and making the exodus to California to be closer to her son after her husband’s death. She writes of her city as a lover recounts infatuation with their beloved; New Orleans runs through the very veins of this author and I’m sure more than one reader of her work if traveling down the French Quarter, has turned their head to see if a vampire is lurking in the shadows behind them.

I rate The Witching Hour 4 out of 5 stars, recommending it only to a reader who has the time and energy to put into reading it. It’s a book clocking in at over 950 pages and takes a few chapters before you really get into it. Be prepared to expect and accept the unexpected and throw out the idea that anything can be taken at face value. Anne Rice dictates and categorizes the natures of the supernatural in a way that makes you wonder what sort of otherworldly company she keeps.

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Review: The Dark Tower 1 – The Gunslinger

The Dark Tower 1

The Gunslinger

by Stephen King

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” 

I have, regrettably, only had the pleasure of reading one Stephen King novel – 11.22.63. Before reading that particular book, I’d always avoided King because I grew up in the early ’90’s when the miniseries IT was popular and like many other 10 year old children, I was scared out of my skin. I figured Stephen King only did horror, and I wanted no part of it. (I do however highly recommend 11.22.63 – it was fantastic.) 

Two years ago I went back on my promise to never read books of a horror persuasion, and I read Ann Rice’s Mayfair Witches trilogy – and  while I found the third book to be completely gratuitous, I was spellbound by the first and second in the series…bewitched and fascinated with the story of a family of witches living in New Orleans . I decided to give Stephen King another chance while I was on the horror kick, and picked up 11.21.63, not knowing that it was not in fact a horror book, but in fact a wonderfully intricate mystery centered around the JFK assassination. I hadn’t had a chance to continue down the road Stephen King has paved with strange and twisting characters, until now.

There was an article I recently read that stated The Dark Tower series was considered King’s magnum opus. This intrigued me beyond belief. Of all the famous and quite frankly infamous novels King has written (IT, The Green Mile, The Stand, Misery, just to name a few) this was considered his greatest achievement? I began to comb the used bookstores in search of the first volume in The Dark Tower series, The Gunslinger, but couldn’t find it. I’m almost glad I didn’t because when I went onto Amazon to Prime-order it, I noticed that this particular book had been given a facelift in 2003. King decided to go back and add a few scenes to tie all 7 of the books together in a more cohesive manner.

I had extremely high hopes as I began The Gunslinger, a relatively short book with only 250 pages in it’s entirety. The Dark Tower was originally written as a series of short stories that were published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s and the book is set up in the same style, containing the first five of such stories.

Where 11.22.63 flowed and ebbed through a tale that  was incredibly easy to read and refreshingly relatable, The Gunslinger proved to be as mysterious and cantankerous as the title character, Roland Deschain – the gunslinger himself. I read the book in about three days and still had as much of an idea as to what was going on when I read the last page as when I read the first. The loose premise of the story is that Roland is on a steady, slow chase after The Man In Black, whom I believe to be a purveyor of death  or an agent of the devil – it was never made completely clear. I believe that is King’s intent, however, as there are so many other books in the series. The back and forth the reader receives as Roland reminisces and tells tales gives us some insight into the gunslinger’s world, but not much. I found myself yearning for so much more and was frustrated to no end as the story progressed without satisfying my hunger.

The reader is introduced to several characters along Roland’s journey, all of whom he gains something from. One in particular, a young boy of about 10 years old, is the most poignant of the group. The gunslinger grows to love little Jake in the short amount of time they spend together, and he learns of Jake’s violent death in New York City (in a time and world that is not where they currently inhabit)  through a hypnosis exercise. They become traveling companions and continue the search for The Man In Black across a ruthless and uncaring desert.

“”Look,” Jake said, pointing upward.

The gunslinger looked up and felt a twinge in his right hip. He winced. They had been in the foothills two days now, and although the waterskins were almost empty again, it didn’t matter now. There would soon be all the water they could drink. He followed the vector of Jake’s finger upward, past the rise of the green plain to the naked and flashing cliffs and gorges above it . . . on up toward the snowcap itself. Faint and far, nothing but a tiny dot (it might have been one of those motes that dance perpetually in front of the eyes, except for its constancy), the gunslinger beheld the man in black, moving up the slopes with deadly progress, a minuscule fly on a huge granite wall. 

“Is that him?” Jake asked.

The gunslinger looked at the depersonalized mote doing its faraway acrobatics, feeling nothing but a premonition of sorrow. 

“That’s him, Jake.””

The gunslinger was trained in his occupation from near birth, growing up in an Arthurian atmosphere among other boys his age who were also learning the delicate art of war. His father was a gunslinger, and his father before him, but I could never truly figure out what that actually meant. I believe gunslingers are protectors from evil, an angel of some sort, and they protect The Dark Tower. Or maybe I got it all wrong – something that would be easy to do considering how the story bounces back and forth so much while seeming to give nothing away. But again, I think this is the author’s intention. He really wants you to work for the meaning of this story; interestingly enough he mentions something to that effect in the newly added foreward. In any event, Roland has been chasing The Man In Black (not of the Will Smith variety) for roughly 12 years and they are on their way to The Dark Tower.

“Roland felt his face flush with heat in the dark, but when he spoke his voice was even. “That was the last part, I guess. Of my growing-up, I mean. I never knew any of the parts when they happened. Only later did I know that.”

He realized with some unease that he was avoiding what the boy wanted to hear. 

“I suppose the coming of age was part of it, at that,” he said, almost grudgingly. “It was formal. Almost stylized; it was a dance.” He laughed unpleasantly. 

The boy said nothing. 

“It was necessary to prove one’s self in battle,” the gunslinger began.”

The setting of the gunslinger’s world is one of enigmatic magic; a world that holds clues to what it used to be but is now a world that has “moved on”. There are snippets of the past world; a pianist playing “Hey Jude” in a saloon, a man who is the owner of a gas pump that is viewed to be a sacred idol. But the world Roland lives in is not normal. Ravens are able to enjoy conversations, men argue over eating meat carved from a mutated animal, and even the grass will turn one mad. I’m interested enough to read the next book, but I think I need some time for reflection before I dive back in. I was left feeling very curious about The Dark Tower, it’s meaning, and Roland’s quest…and much like many other frustrating books, the story didn’t begin to get interesting until the near end.

“Very well,” the man in black said. “To begin then:  You must understand the Tower has always been, and there have always been boys who know if it and lust for it, more than powers or riches or women. . . boys who look for the doors that lead to it. . .”

I do recommend this book, giving it 3.5 out of 5 stars – but I only recommend reading it if you plan on reading the series in its entirety. I cannot see the purpose in reading this one book, as it leaves all of your questions unanswered. Really. Not one thing is revealed in this book.

Read it in preparation for the movie coming out this summer staring Idris Elba as Roland Deschain and Matthew McConaughey as The Man In Black, as well as a proposed television series due for 2018. I’m sure anyone would agree while reading it that the casting is spot on.