#BookReview: Under The Palms by Kaira Rouda

Sequel Perfectly Flows From Prior Book. This is one of those books where everything I said about its prior book, Beneath The Surface, still feels spot on for this book as well. This is the continuing saga of one family and their business empire and the machinations as the patriarch of the family faces his coming death and everyone else is biting at the bit to become his chosen successor. The atmosphere switches from a yacht off shore near Catalina Island to a resort onshore… as the Santa Anna winds kick up, with all of their usual effects on both land and people (at least per so many books and even some real life reports I’ve seen, I’ve never lived in Southern California or indeed anywhere west of the Alabama/ Georgia State Line).

Because this flows so perfectly from Beneath The Surface, you really do need to read that book first. But once you do, you’re likely going to be glad that this book is already available – I read almost 130 books between reading them both as Advance Review Copies.

Whatever you feel about dark family/ boardroom dramas is how you’re going to feel about this series as it currently exists, as both books have really identical feels. Rouda actually did a truly superb job in doing so well with the first book and then managing to clone the stylings so effectively in this tale while telling a similar yet distinct tale the furthers the overall universe – and even allows for some intriguing possibilities for any potential Book 3.

Overall a very fun book, and also on the shortish side at under 300 pages. Very much recommended.

This review of Under The Palms by Kaira Rouda was originally written on May 9, 2024.

#BookReview: Summers At The Saint by Mary Kay Andrews

Not A Casual “Beach Read”. With the cover and even a common understanding of the description, one might think going into this tale that it is a breezy easy beach read. Well, I’m of the belief that any book you read at a beach is a beach read, but this book takes some effort. If you’re looking for a simple tale… this aint that.

What this *is* though is a solid tale of survival on so many different levels. Yes, you have the tale of the struggle to save the resort that the description points out. But there is also *so much more* here, and the problems at the resort go *so much deeper* than is initially believed.

At first, this seems to be a tale of the resort manager building her team, Nick Fury building the Avengers style. As this slow burn story continues though, we see that not everything is as it seems, and Nick may have found Loki posing as Thor rather than the actual Thor…

Ultimately, all of the separate characters and threads do come together in a wonderful tapestry, but it takes a while to see the full picture of all that is happening and why, but for those that demand books that wrap up everything… this *is* one of those tales, at least.

Very much recommended.

This review of Summers At The Saint by Mary Kay Andrews was originally written on May 8, 2024.

#BookReview: Blackbird by Kay Bratt

Kay Bratt Goes “North Ga Dark”. Ok, so what the hell do you mean by “North Ga Dark”, Sexton? Well, growing up even “in the country” in North Ga, specifically the Atlanta exurbs (then, now northern suburbs), even on a pitch black, moonless night… you still had the glow of Atlanta and its suburbs over the horizon. Thus, even at nature’s absolute darkest… there was still *some* light, if well over the horizon and very faint.

And that is what Bratt has introduced here, with both our longer term story and one of the active cases in this story now focusing on themes of abuse in various forms. To be clear, this is one of those stories that will be quite difficult for some, perhaps many, readers – but as usual, Bratt manages to handle even these themes with a care not every other writer decides to put into their story, for any number of reasons. So while the evil is very present and menacing *in story*, it is more like a shark menacing – if you’re in its domain (ie, a character in this book, for the book evil, or pretty much anything in most any body of salt water, for the shark), you’re going to feel its presence and you should probably take appropriate precautions. The easiest of which for most of us is simply… stepping away from its domain for a bit. In which case, sitting on the beach with a good book is probably a solid idea for both. (With your beverage of choice, for when you need to step away from the book if it gets too menacing for you… as you ponder the water and the menaces within it. :D)

As with a few other reviewers, I noticed the lack of direct family involvement in this book, which had previously been a long-running staple of the series. And am I just forgetting (it has been 75+ books for me between Book 8 of this series, Starting Over, and this one), or did a certain sequence that was (somewhat briefly at that) explained as happening before the events of this book not actually happen in the previous book? Because I don’t remember that particular scene in that book, and I think I would have commented on at least its presence – even if somewhat obliquely to avoid any outright spoilers. If this is indeed the case, this was likely the most egregious miss of this entire series. While the series didn’t need a full on “Return Of The King” massive *event* for this particular scene… it still would have been great to see it “in real time”. (Note: While writing this review, I did go back to my copy of Starting Over and confirm that it did not include this particular scene. It included a blatant setup for the scene, but not the scene itself. So I stand behind my comment that this was a major miss, and a glaring hole from an author not generally known for such obvious misses.)

All of this noted, this *was* a supremely enjoyable and fast read, and it absolutely sets up for Bratt to either conclude the series (as was originally intended with Starting Over) with Book 10 – Hello Little Girl, out Summer 2024 – or possibly extend it again. It will be interesting to see which direction Bratt takes, particularly given that she seems to be actively writing that book at the time of me writing this review. Very much recommended.

This review of Blackbird by Kay Bratt was originally written on May 1, 2024.

#BookReview: The Mountain Mystic by Russell W. Johnson

Solid Second Book In Series. This is one of those tales where both the author and the reader are going on an adventure- ok, the first book was *awesome*, but I had all the time in the world to write the thing and now I need to produce a sequel in a timely manner since my name isn’t GRR Martin… so what do I do?

Johnson’s answer here is a thrilling ride that perhaps doesn’t have the same level of social commentary from the first book – though to be clear, there is still *some* here – yet manages to keep up with the action and even introduces some wrinkles not seen in the first book, going in a direction not often seen, but which makes perfect sense within this world.

And then… just when you think everything is all said and done… Thanos appears. No, not really. But there *is* that stinger scene at the end that reveals the storm clouds on the horizon… storm clouds that portend one *intense* battle coming up. Will we see that battle in Book 3, or will we simply edge closer to the storm? Yet again, I for one can’t wait to find out.

Very much recommended.

This review of The Mountain Mystic by Russell W. Johnson was originally written on April 29, 2024.

#BookReview: Darling Girls by Sally Hepworth

Excellent Twisty Thriller With Uniquely Broken Characters Will Be Far Too Difficult For Some. Straight up, I loved this one. It was so *oppressively* dark, yet done in such a way that even though there is truly little light to be had and also with no supernatural element to the darkness at all… you still want to see exactly what happened to make this tale this way.

The reason it will be difficult for some, perhaps many, is because of the *rampant* child abuse, including some sexual abuse and even a rape – though while “on screen” it is more “dark room” based. Still described, but not as… vividly… as it could have been. Showing that Hepworth *does* show restraint when going even more explicit doesn’t add anything further to the actual story. There is also a rather horrifying birth scene, though this is far from the “splatterpunk” / “horror” that one reviewer described it as. Though going further would perhaps spoil what happens there *too* much, so I’ll show the same restraint in the review that Hepworth did in the text. If such scenes are difficult for you… this may not be the book for you.

The reason I actually enjoyed the book though was because of how the central characters – three chosen sisters bound not by blood, but by shared trauma and survival- were both broken… and how they used that brokenness as adults, showing that even some of the most difficult times, the darkest times of someone’s life, *can* be overcome to varying degrees. Not that any of our adults are truly “normal” healthy – again showing a great deal of reality here – but that they’re still, to use a term used to describe Autistics that I truly despise but fits here, “functional”. Ish.

Ultimately this is one of those books that will likely prove divisive in at least some groups, but I thought was done well, with the author using so many real world horrors (and yes, in my own work through my church as a teen and just generally being an observant adult, I’ve seen this and so much worse on occassion) to craft the story she is trying to tell… while showing restraint where further graphic details don’t add any more needed information to extract the desired emotions from the reader. Showing that Hepworth truly is a master of her craft, even when she is somewhat intentionally pushing some buttons of some people.

Very much recommended.

This review of Darling Girls by Sally Hepworth was originally written on April 24, 2024.

#BookReview: Extinction by Douglas Preston

Misleading Description Yet Excellent Tale. Just Not Anything Really Remotely Like Jurassic Park. Ok, the few things that *are* like Jurassic Park: human hubris leads to “de-extincting” long-extinct plants and creatures. Commentary on modern science baked into the story. Commentary on history baked into the story. Thus ends the things that are like Jurassic Park.

In other words… don’t go into this book expecting “Jurassic Park… With Mammoths”. This is *NOT* that story. Instead, it is more “murder mystery at a park similar to Jurassic Park”. Go into this book with those at least somewhat lower expectations… and this is an awesome book with plenty of wonder, action, thrills, chills… and a few cheeky meta references. (Such as when a character is reading one of his and longtime writing partner Lincoln Child’s Pendergast books – a trope many authors use to plug their own books or sometimes friends’ books or even just random books the author has read and enjoyed.)

For the story we *do* get here, it is truly well done, a fast paced action thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat and keep you guessing about what will come next.

Very much recommended.

This review of Extinction by Douglas Preston was originally written on April 24, 2024.

#BookReview: Death Pact by Matt Hilton

Gruesome Crime Horror/ Thriller Starts With A Bang. Seriously, the start of this book feels like Hilton read Jeff Guinn’s Waco, because it truly feels like Hilton took Guinn’s hyper realistic descriptions of what actually went down there to scaffold his own fictional version.

Which is actually a *phenomenal* way to begin this particular tale.

The rest of the tale then flashes forward a bit and crosses the “pond”, becoming a UK based police/ crime tale featuring some particularly horrific murders that fans of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter trilogy or Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s Pendergast series will absolutely enjoy. The pacing of the investigation is solid, and the way the various characters meld together is done quite well.

Surprises late are well executed, and by the end you’re going to be questioning if this is meant to be a series starter afterall…

Overall truly a great crime story excellently told, and a solid change of pace from Hilton’s Grey and Villere thrillers in particular in that while the action is equally intense, the criminals here feel so much more decidedly dark and truly evil. Very much recommended.

This review of Death Pact by Matt Hilton was originally written on April 14, 2024.

#BookReview: Safe and Sound by Laura McHugh

Solid Slow Burn Mystery Will Be Jarring For Some. While never a fan of content/ trigger warnings printed in books (I prefer them on the author’s website or in reviews like this, either way separate from the book at hand and easily findable with a modicum of research), let me say up front that if you have severe issues with child sexual abuse or child neglect… this may not be the best book for you. Same with violence against women generally, addiction, stripping, etc.

That dispensed with, this was a remarkable tale of generations of women trying to leave a dying small rural town… and failing miserably, only for the cycle to repeat with their own daughters ad nauseum. It is a slow burn missing woman tale where we do get both the current timeline of one of the women being missing and the older timeline of what her life was up to the very moment she became missing. Both parts of the tale carry the same dull, dismal, depressing stylings throughout, even as both sets of women actively rebel against their situations and try their damnedest to be the women that break the cycle.

For anyone who has ever spent time in a run down house or trailer, you know this life quite well. You’ve probably lived a version of it – hopefully *without* the abuse, though this is admittedly far more common than it should be in such situations. Which makes the story that much more “real”… and yet also that much more depressing, to a point, as many read fiction as a way to *escape* their current “real” world bonds.

The time switches could be a bit jarring – they are labeled, but the label is somewhat easily missed – and the inconclusive ending, with several questions still lingering, could put some off. Personally, I felt this particular ending made the tale that much more “real” and worked for the story told to that point, particularly in the final build up to the reveal. So it is absolutely a “your mileage may vary”, and unless you are just 100% opposed to such endings… do yourself a favor and read this book and see what you think of it yourself.

Overall truly a great and all-too-real (sadly) story, and very well told. Very much recommended. With the warnings noted in this review.

This review of Safe and Sound by Laura McHugh was originally written on April 13, 2024.

#BookReview: She’s Not Sorry by Mary Kubica

Slow, Problematic (Some Say Offensive) Main Character, Largely Forgettable. Yet Good Enough. This is a book where from an objective (ish) standpoint, there really isn’t much if anything actually *wrong* about it. Yes, it is absolutely a slow burn – and yes, some people may prefer faster pacing, particularly in a “thriller”. But that is taste, and the artist is allowed to do as they will there. The MC could be argued to be quite stupid or even downright evil by some, but there again – artistic license. Writing this review even 5 days after finishing the book (while having read 5 other books since, and with quite a bit going on in my own life at the moment, admittedly), I must confess that I barely remembered the book at all and only really picked up what it was when reading other reviews.

And yet, despite all of that… I *do* remember the book as enjoyable enough while I was reading it, and a good enough tale to be a worthy read for those looking for a solid enough mystery/ thriller. It won’t be going on my personal “best of” lists any time soon, but it was also solid enough that I don’t in any way feel I was cheated out the time I spent with the book. Obviously, other reviewers have had stronger reactions both directions and will continue to have so long as this book exists. But for *me*, it was ok and with nothing objectively (ish) wrong, therefore it gets a 5* rating, a decent enough review, and an encouragement from me to you, the reader of my review, to check out the blurb, maybe check out some reviews from other reviewers you trust not to spoil anything who may highly praise it – and others who highly despise it – and make your own call.

For me, I’m comfortable enough saying: Recommended.

This review of She’s Not Sorry by Mary Kubica was originally written on April 7, 2024.

#BookReview: The Reaper Follows by Heather Graham

Copaganda Mars Exciting Series Finale. If you read my review of Danger In Numbers (Book 1 of this series), you’ll see that I read this series *completely* out of order… and yet it still somehow makes sense, even the way I read it. So take that comment however you will.

That noted, this was absolutely one of those tales where it seems like prior key characters are coming out of the woodwork to all join in the chase to the finale and the ultimate showdown of Good vs Evil in the Florida Everglades… but *who is it*? 😉

The pacing was solid, the murders gruesome, the mystery good enough, but ultimately what mars this tale is what another reviewer called the “love fest” between all the police agencies involved. Local, State, and Feds all get along perfectly (which goes against what virtually *every other source*, fictional and non, tends to say), and worse for this former anti-police brutality activist is just how often some cop shoots someone “but was forced into it” and “didn’t want to”. Bullshit. Police brutality is an all too real thing in this nation, and Graham exposes herself as just another Copaganda bullshit spewer that thinks that all cops are always saints and everyone in their crosshairs somehow “deserves it”, no matter what. This leaves a very sour aftertaste to an otherwise thrilling conclusion to the series.

This series had great promise, and *is* a legitimately solid enough story, particularly for those who agree with Graham’s position on policing in America, but it could have been *so much more*. Still, even with all of the Copaganda, this really was a fun read and is very much recommended.

This review of The Reaper Follows by Heather Graham was originally written on March 15, 2024.