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Saturday, June 9, 2018

Unputdownable




Lies by T. M. Logan (St. Martin’s Press, September 2018) piles complication atop complication atop complication as one lie leads to another and yet another.

Joe Lynch and his wife Melanie appear to be the perfect London couple, living a dream life. At least, Joe thinks so. They’ve been happily married nearly ten years and have a four-year-old son, William. Joe’s an English teacher at a private school, Mel’s an executive at a large retail chain. They own their house, two cars, and they have lots of friends.

Joe’s life begins to fall apart when he accidentally discovers Mel meeting her best friend’s husband at a motel bar. Ben Delaney is rich, handsome, smart, and ruthless. They have a super-smart fourteen-year-old daughter named Alice who sometimes baby-sits William. Ben and Beth have been married for 15 years, and Mel was maid of honor at their wedding. He’s owner and managing director of a software development company that specializes in creating computer games, and Ben loves to play games.

Why are Ben and Mel meeting at a motel when both are supposed to be working?

When Joe confronts Ben in the motel parking lot, Ben denies meeting Mel. Then he becomes angry and shoves Joe against his car. Joe shoves back, and Ben trips over his briefcase, loses his balance, and slams his head hard into the concrete. Blood oozes from his ear and Ben appears either unconscious or dead.

Joe tries to call an ambulance from his cell phone, but there’s no signal. William sees the blood and begins to suffer a severe asthma attack. Of course, Joe has forgotten to refill the inhaler he kept in the glove box, and he must drive William home and find another inhaler before the boy chokes to death. Save Ben or save his son? His son is infinitely more important.

When Joe returns to the parking lot to help Ben, the man and his Porsche are gone.

Mel returns home at her usual time on Thursday night. He mentions he’d seen her car at the motel and she quickly denies it, claiming she was playing tennis after work with Hilary Paine. When Joe insists he saw her with Ben, she admits she lied because Ben asked her to meet him to discuss a sensitive personnel problem she’d promised to keep secret.

Joe begins to have doubts: If his perfect wife lied to him, is then the rest of his perfect life also only a lie?

When Beth reports Ben missing to the police, Joe could become a suspect if he admits he was the last person to see Ben alive. Mel urges Joe to lie to the police, and things go rapidly downhill from there.

Joe turns to the internet to prove Ben is still alive, but technology is Ben’s strongpoint, not Joe’s. Someone has hacked Joe’s Facebook account and posted lies about him.

Told entirely in the first person from Joe’s POV, readers will easily identify with Joe and feel his pain as lie after lie comes to light and the noose is tightened around Joe’s neck. Is nothing and nobody what they seem?

Lies is a great read, fast-paced and unputdownable.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Raucously Funny




Kill the Farm Boy: Tales of Pell by Keven Hearne and Delilah S. Dawson (Del Rey, July 2018) is outrageously funny. It’s so tongue in cheek (which set of cheeks I am reluctant to say for fear of offending your sensibilities) that it’s like The Princess Bride on steroids.

Imagine making fun of literally every fairy tale trope. This can’t go on or I’ll die laughing, you’ll say, but it does. One bad pun follows another. 384 pages of side-splitting hilarity.

If you love epic fantasy, you’ll love this satiric novel. Not recommended for people with no sense of humor. Lots of fun for everyone else.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Jar of Hearts is a page-turner




Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier (Minotaur Books, St. Martin’s Press, June 2018) is a cautionary tale about the consequences of lying. Lying to others, and lying to oneself. Sometimes lies will come back to haunt you. Sometimes they bite you in the butt when you least expect it.

Geo calls it Karma.

Georgina Shaw, Kaiser Brody, and Angela Wong are best friends. They’re normal sixteen-year-olds until they encounter Calvin James. Cal’s a 21-year-old bad boy who smokes cigarettes, chews cinnamon hearts, and hangs around local convenience store parking lots to sell drugs. Geo is naturally flattered when Cal pays her more attention than he pays Ang. There’s something about him that’s exciting and compelling.

And definitely dangerous.

She can’t help but fall in love with him. He knows exactly how and where to touch her to turn her on, and he never takes no for an answer. Suddenly, Calvin James is all she can think about.

Geo ignores her friends, ignores her schoolwork, even ignores cheerleading practice. Ang and Kai try to talk sense into her, but she can’t see the forest for the trees. She loves Calvin, and nothing else matters.

Fourteen years later, Kaiser Brody is the detective who arrests Calvin James, the Sweetbay Strangler. Kaiser also arrests Georgina Shaw as an accomplice to the murder and dismemberment of Angela Wong. Geo goes to prison for five years. Calvin goes to prison for life, but he escapes.

That’s just the backstory. The real story begins when Geo pleads guilty and goes to prison.
This story is about love and death and human relationships and compulsion and heartaches and heartbreaks and the mistakes we all make as we live and learn. It’s a hard-hitting look at the raw emotions that drive human behavior. It’s also about survival and what we all do to survive, not all of which is good or pretty. No one remains innocent nor guilt-free forever. Life quickly becomes complicated, and unintended consequences often develop when we’re not paying attention.

Jar of Hearts is a real eye-opener as well as a full-of-twists page-turner. Highly recommend for everyone but the faint of heart.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Somebody's Daughter is a Compelling Read



Somebody’s Daughter by David Bell (Berkley Books, July 2018) is about a missing nine-year-old girl and the petty jealousies and doubts that get in the way of relationships.

Erica, Michael Frasier’s first wife, is a bit of a drama queen. They’d married right out of college, a starter marriage, that ended in divorce a year later. Michael left Erica when her flightiness and impulsivity—two personality traits that had attracted him to her in the first place—became unbearable.

Michael’s new wife Angela is more like he is, a detail-oriented and responsible workaholic, not a wild and crazy emotionally-high-strung attention-seeking risk taker like Erica is or Michael’s sister Robyn was. Or his other younger sister, Lynne, a musician, song-writer, and former rock star still is. Robyn died when she fell off a swing set as an infant, and Michael blames himself for not preventing the fall. Although only a child himself at the time, he was the older brother and should have been watching out for his kid sister.

When Erica rings the doorbell at Michael and Angela’s house to announce her nine-year-old daughter is missing and Michael is Felicity’s father, he doesn’t know what to believe. He and Erica have been divorced nearly ten years, and this is the first he’s heard he might be a father. Angela and he have tried to get pregnant without success. Does he already have a daughter?

Or is Erica lying to get Michael’s attention? Is she trying to break up his marriage to get revenge for his leaving her? Or does Erica hope to get Michael back to be a father to their daughter?
Erica shows Michael Felicity’s picture on her cell phone. She looks remarkably like Robyn did the day before she died.

Parts of this novel read like a typical Jerry Springer episode. Who is Felicity’s father? What will a paternity test prove? Was Erica unfaithful while married to Michael? Inquiring minds want to know.
So do the local police when Erica reports Felicity abducted. Did Michael abduct his daughter? Did Erica abduct Felicity from another mother after Erica had a miscarriage ten years ago? Did a pedophile snatch the little girl when Erica’s attention was averted? Or did Angela, jealous that Erica gave Michael a child, abduct and kill Felicity because she couldn’t have children herself?

The author tosses in a few additional complications and a handful of supporting characters to keep the reader guessing. With  every passing minute, the chances of finding Felicity alive become less and less. The timebomb is ticking. The sands in the hourglass are running out.

Somebody’s Daughter is a compelling read. Highly recommended.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Baby Teeth is a Must Read



Baby Teeth: A Novel by Zoje Stage (St. Martin’s Press, July 17, 2018) is every parent’s worst nightmare come true. Although seven-year-old Hanna displays the full spectrum of autistic behaviors like not vocalizing and destructive temper tantrums, she’s Daddy Alex’s little angel and Mommy Suzette’s devil in disguise.

Not unlike Bradbury’s “The Small Assassin” and Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin, this is more than a simple story about parental denial of their child’s murderous intent. It’s an extended metaphor of human fears, human limitations, and our failure to communicate with each other in a meaningful way.

Just as there’s a good mommy and a bad mommy inside Suzette, there’s an evil, conniving, manipulative Hanna and there’s also the reincarnation of Marie-Anne Dufossete, a girl who was burned at the stake five centuries ago for witchcraft, for casting spells and poisoning people. Is Hanna possessed? Is the murderous Marie-Anne real? Or is she merely the sign of a personality split in a deeply-disturbed highly-imaginative seven=year-old?

As Hanna is expelled from school after school for violent behavior, Suzette is forced to home school her daughter. Hanna’s idea of fun, however, is to hurt other people, especially mommy. She plots to get mommy out of the way so she can have daddy all to herself. Alex, of course, refuses to believe Suzette when she tells him Hanna acts psychotic and needs professional help. When Alex is around, Hanna behaves like the loving daughter he wants her to be.

Stage effectively alternates chapters between Hanna’s POV and Suzette’s, allowing readers access to their innermost doubts and fears. It’s a brilliant kind of she said-she said non-verbal teeter-tottering that builds suspense all the way to the end and beyond.

Alex, born in Sweden (he insists his last name be pronounced Yensen, not Jensen), celebrates traditional Swedish pagan festivals, like building a Walpurgis bonfire on the night of April 30. He uses Swedish terms of endearment for both his wife and his daughter. Suzette, born in America of a Jewish mother and a mongrel father and raised by her grieving mother after her father’s untimely death, appreciates living in a multi-cultural household and learns enough Swedish to reciprocate. Hanna, too, knows Swedish as well as English, but she refuses to talk. She keeps her thoughts bottled up inside herself until they explode in violent outbursts directed at Suzette.

And when she does talk to Suzette, she speaks the French of a long-dead witch that was burned at the stake.

Baby Teeth is a must read for anyone who loves psychological suspense at its finest.

Friday, February 23, 2018

The Suspense Could Kill You





The thrill is back as Dean Koontz returns once again to the fast-paced protagonist-on-the-run roots that made his early novels so exciting and appealing. The Jane Hawk novels seamlessly cross genres, effortlessly moving from science fiction territory into that of James Bond’s espionage and modern techno-thrillers, from noir into pure psychological horror.

None of the characters in The Crooked Staircase by Dean Koontz (Random House, May 8, 2018) learned to play nice as children, and they certainly make reprehensible adults. Jane’s piano virtuoso father killed her mother and made life hell for the young girl, Booth Hendrickson’s mother made life hell for Booth and his half-brother, and the crooked staircase leads Jane and Booth straight down into a real-life hell from which only one may emerge alive.

Alternating short chapters between Jane Hawk’s POV and other viewpoint characters, including those hunting her, Koontz paints a horrifying picture of the worst abuses of government authority imaginable. Carter Jergen and Dubose are NSA employees who also work for the FBI, CIA, DHS, and IRS. They’re covert agents of the Techno Arcadians, a secret cabal of government and business elite who seek to control the world. They’re already in control of many world leaders, politicians and businessmen, implanted with nanotechnology that turns them into mindless slaves like modern-day Manchurian Candidates.

Dean pays tribute to Robert A. Heinlein, one of his mentors and idols, throughout this novel. Characters become strangers in a strange land, mannequins controlled by puppet-masters, Waldoes manipulated by monsters. Another of his idols, Charles Dickens, receives honorable mentions. And, of course, there’s always a faithful canine companion or two in a Dean Koontz novel.

We first met Jane Hawk in The Silent Corner (Bantam, June 2017) and continued her exciting adventures in The Whispering Room (Bantam, November 2017). In this third novel, The Crooked Staircase, former FBI Special Agent Jane is on the run from the Techno Arcadians while seeking revenge against those who killed her husband Nick. With son Travis safely hidden, Jane pursues Booth Hendrickson even as Hendrickson pursues her.

But bad guys Jergen and Dubose, two of the nastiest villains you never want to meet in a dark alley, are hot on Travis’ trail.

Will Jane survive descending the crooked staircase? Will Jergen and Dubose capture or kill Travis? You need to read the latest installment of the never-ending Jane Hawk saga to learn what happens next.

Or the suspense could kill you.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Rip-Roaring SF Adventure




(Warning: Spoiler Alert!) Time Shards By Dana Fredsti and David Fitzgerald (Titan Books, February 2018) is the fast-paced kind of rip-roaring sf adventure Doctor Who fans will love. It’s set in England and includes a time-traveling doctor of astrophysics called Merlin capable of regeneration when killed and whose companions this episode are a present-day American college-age girl named Amber, an American journalist from the 1890s who calls herself Nellie Bly, a British WWII-era SAS commando named Blake, a bumbling Oxford professor who’s both a coward and a fraud, and a displaced Celtic Druid named Cam who speaks only archaic Welsh or Gaelic, plus a smattering of imperial Latin.
Amber, attending a cosplay convention in England, is ill-prepared to survive the cataclysmic event that first shatters earth’s time-line and then jams broken pieces back together in random order. Now dinosaurs roam the English countryside, Cromwell’s roundheads burn witches at the stake, and giant scorpions prowl the woods.

Amber stumbles from one horror into another, only to be saved at the last possible moment by Blake or Nellie or Cam or Merlin. Cam thinks Amber’s a faery queen when they first meet because of her cosplay costume. Although he’s technically two thousand years older than her, they appear to be the same age and he becomes enamored of her charms.  

Stearne, a 17th Century roundhead witch-finder, believes her a witch because of her costume. He spends half the book trying to torture her or pursuing Amber and her companions to tie them all to stakes and burn them as witches.

The story is a wonderful blend of adventure and history lesson that’s a joy to read. My only disappointment came during the final pages when it was evident I would need to buy at least one more book in the series to learn all the answers and find resolution. Can Doctor Merlin restore the time-line? Will technology be the savior of mankind or its destroyer? Inquiring minds want to know, and I will buy the next book because I love the characters and care about what happens next.