#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: One Wrong Word by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Twisty Interconnected Suspense. This is another one of those tales where Tony Stark’s snark about Nick Fury in The Avengers rings true: his secrets have secrets! Or to use another movie connection… Now You See Me: Come in close, because the more you think you see, the easier it’ll be to fool you. Yes, this is one of *those* books, the kind where the WTFs per minute rise and you begin to get whiplash from whipping your head back and forth trying to follow all the twists and turns, particularly late in the tale. Ultimately a satisfying read… if you like that kind of story. For those that don’t… you’ve been warned. Very much recommended.

This review of One Wrong Word by Hank Phillippi Ryan was originally written on February 9, 2024.

#BlogTour: The Missing Witness by Allison Brennan

For this blog tour, we’re looking at an all too real story of homelessness and corruption set in a *just* fictional LA. For this blog tour, we’re looking at The Missing Witness by Allison Brennan.

Here’s what I had to say on the review sites (Hardcover.app, TheStoryGraph, BookHype, Goodreads):

All Too Real. Despite what some may claim about the problems of the Homeless Industrial Complex not existing in the real world, When We Walk By by Kevin Adler and Donald Burnes – released just 10 weeks or so before the publication of this book and so far as I can see, never read by Brennan as she was doing her research for this book – shows all too well just how much these kinds of things actually do exist.

Now, as with all *fictional* tales, Brennan has clearly taken a *few* liberties – no one is making any claims about the “real” world LA here, ultimately this is truly a fictional tale set in an alternate world very similar yet not completely identical to our own. Though the corruption in this particular version of LA and the multiple murders being investigated through the course of this book tied to that corruption… eh, I’m sure the citizens of that LA were wishing they had a particular dude styling himself after a small flying rodent whipping around their town.

Instead, they get Kara Quinn. And let’s face it, with her “irregular” investigative methods and keen detective abilities… Kara Quinn may at minimum prove she could be a reliable partner for that other dude. Here, her skills are both throttled at times and allowed to bloom into their full wonder at other times, all while the other members of the team she works with – Matt Costa’s FBI unit – each prove to be equally capable supporting members in their own ways.

Ultimately this is truly a fictional crime thriller, and Brennan as usual shows just how great she is at weaving tales that are clearly fictional, yet all too real. Does she get a touch preachy at times? Perhaps for some, though it was never truly heavy handed enough for me to deduct a star over or truly even mention here other than this very “your mileage may vary” kind of statement. The rest of the action is well paced, the mystery is complex with quite a few moving parts, and just when you think you may have everything figured out… well, it turns out you probably don’t know quite *everything*.

It will be interesting to see where Brennan takes this series next, assuming she does, given how this particular tale ends – and I very much look forward to finding out what may be next. Very much recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt from the book followed by the “publisher details” – book description, author bio, and social media and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: The Missing Witness by Allison Brennan”

#BlogTour: The Weekend Retreat by Tara Laskowski

For this blog tour, we’re looking at an intriguing tale with multiple (and rapidly switching) character POVs. For this blog tour, we’re looking at The Weekend Retreat by Tara Laskowski.

Here’s what I had to say on the review sites (Hardcover.app, TheStoryGraph, BookHype, Goodreads):

Intriguing Tale With Multiple (And Rapidly Switching) Character POVs. This is one of those tales with a lot of moving parts and a lot of different character POVs that can throw some people off. So if that is you, know up front that this is the style Ms. Laskowski has chosen to tell this particular tale in. Specifically, we have three couples – each of the surviving children of a now deceased former matron of the family + their significant others, as well as a seventh person – an unannounced and unplanned guest. (The final central character is another, planned, guest.) The tale uses the perspectives of each of the three females + the unplanned guest as our narrative device, and ultimately it tells a strong tale of family secrets, petty grudges, and everything else that makes a family so complex at times. Here, the book truly shines – and yes, it is helped by its stormy, near gothic mansion (complete with hidden passages and rooms!) setting. The prologue is particularly strong, drawing the reader in and urging them to find out what exactly happened on this eventful weekend among siblings (and their partners), and the overall mysteries are much deeper than are originally thought, adding to the depth and complexity of the tale.

Overall Ms. Laskowski did a truly great job telling this story in this particular format, even as confusing as the frequent perspective jumps can be at times – she also used them to great effect to propel the reader forward in an “I’ve GOT to see what happens next!” manner. Yes, after an admittedly somewhat slow start, this will eventually become one of those that you’re going to want to stay up later than you probably should to finish the book.

Those looking to end 2023 with a bang would do well to pick this book up, as it releases just in time to be many peoples’ final book of 2023. Very much recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt from the book followed by the “publisher details” – book description, author bio, and social media and buy links.

And at the very end, special to this particular blog tour… the Spotify Playlist Ms. Laskowski created for this book!
Continue reading “#BlogTour: The Weekend Retreat by Tara Laskowski”

#BookReview: People To Follow by Olivia Worley

Four POVs. Three Big Ideas. Two Interesting Twists. One Technically Error Free Book.

Ok, so the title may have been a bit of a stretch there.

There are absolutely four primary POVs here across our 10 “influencers” (my God I both despise the term and indeed the entire concept, despite some authors labeling *me* as one), and while it can at times be confusing when switching between them early on, as the characterizations and “voices” get set, it does in fact get a bit easier.

The Big Ideas here are all various flavors of social commentary on the idea of the “influencer”, though so much as mentioning them begins to get too close to spoiler territory for my own comfort in writing this review.

The two interesting twists are deep in the book and *absolutely* spoiler territory to discuss, but I found them fairly well done and truly intriguing.

And yes, ultimately there are no technical flaws here. Yes, there were absolutely different things that different readers may have problems with – including the multiple POVs. But there was nothing wrong that begins to approach a universal, objective level, and thus the book retains its full five stars. Very much recommended.

This review of People To Follow by Olivia Worley was originally written on December 27, 2023.

#BlogTour: The Vacation by John Marrs

For this blog tour, we’re looking at a complex, interwoven thriller with a lot of moving parts. For this blog tour, we’re looking at The Vacation by John Marrs.

Here’s what I had to say on the review sites (Hardcover.app, TheStoryGraph, BookHype, Goodreads):

Complex, Interwoven Thriller With Numerous Characters And Flashbacks. Hell, the one thing to knock this book on is just how sudden the flashbacks and returns can be. Other than that, this is one of those twisty, complex, interwoven tales more about the people that find themselves at a particular hostel at a particular moment than any titular “vacation” – though, as you’ll come to see, every single one of them is truly on a “vacation” of sorts, so the title *does* work. I simply think the original title of “Welcome To Wherever You Are” may have actually been a more apt title for the tale.

If you want a single, simple plotline with a one or two true main characters and maybe a supporting cast… this isn’t that kind of tale. If you want a tale where there are definitive answers and everything is black and white… this isn’t that kind of tale. If you want an absolute mind fuck of a tale that makes you question your sense of reality… this isn’t that kind of tale, either.

Instead, this truly is one of those more interesting in between tales that shows a more accurate depiction of humanity and how we’re all flawed and we all have our own stories both before and after any given encounter, this simply happens to be the tales of those people who wind up being in the same Los Angeles area hostel at the same moment in time at the particular moment of the story here. If you’re looking for *that* kind of tale… congratulations. You’ve found one of the better examples of it I’ve ever come across in my own reading.

Very much recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt from the book followed by the “publisher details” – book description, author bio, and social media and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: The Vacation by John Marrs”

#BookReview: The Last One by Will Dean

Deceptive Description Mars Otherwise Still Intriguing Tale. Straight up: The description of this book (which can change at any time, but my commentary here is accurate to the one that exists at the time I write this review) is NOT an accurate depiction of what this tale actually is – and this blatant deception is the reason for the star deduction here. The description leads the reader to think this is going to be some kind of ghost ship type story, or at least a far more mysterious adventure than it turns out to be. Instead, we get (without going *too* deep into spoiler territory)… more of a social commentary disguised as a mystery thriller.

To be clear, the story we get is actually *good*. It is a heart-pounding, balls to the wall, never want to stop reading thrillfest where just when you think you know what is happening… you realize you don’t have a freaking clue. But just like with the 2010s era “Robocop” movie, don’t lead me to believe I’m getting one thing and then give me something that is not only not that thing, but something very different than my expectations were when you told me I was getting that thing.

Even the writing structure is interesting here, choosing for 130+ shorter – sometimes barely a single page long, even in Kindle form – chapters, perhaps as a crutch to help “sell” the pacing. But every single chapter does end on a bit of a stinger/ cliffhanger that entices the reader to actively go into the next chapter right this second… even as smart readers quickly realize exactly the mechanism being used here.

For those who want a mysterious action thriller with a side of social commentary that will leave you breathless and desperately wanting the next chapter (or perhaps even a sequel)… this is absolutely a great escapist Summer Thriller kind of read that would play well in Summer Movie Season on the silver screen – it has that same kind of “you absolutely need to suspend all disbelief, but if you do, you will be rewarded with one *hell* of a ride” quality.

Overall, truly a great read for what it actually is – but what it actually is is *not* what the current description leads the reader to believe. Very much recommended.

This review of The Last One by Will Dean was originally written on August 8, 2023.

#BookReview: North Of Nowhere by Allison Brennan

Bone-Chilling Survival With Lots Of Moving Parts. This is one of those excellent lost in the wilderness/ lost in the blizzard survival tales that also happens to be a chase tale that is actually a story about family and breaking generational problems. So clearly, there is a LOT going on here, and a LOT of moving parts. And the non-moving parts – the wilderness and to a lesser extent the blizzard – are given their own fair respect here as well, both in the area natives’ respect for them and in the out-of-towners’ disrespect. One of Brennan’s most complex stories I’ve yet come across after working a couple of her other series over the last few years, this is truly an excellent tale of a different type from her, with her usual excellent execution in all aspects of the story. You’re going to *feel* the impacts here, from the coldness of the wilderness – and the coldness of some of the characters. Which is great, for a summer release during several consecutive days of “Excessive Heat Warning” events. 😀 Very much recommended.

This review of North Of Nowhere by Allison Brennan was originally written on August 8, 2023.

#BookReview: You Can Trust Me by Wendy Heard

Hunter and Hunted – But Who Is Who? This is one of those books that seems like it wants to take on Big Ideas, but in its brevity… eh, those Big Ideas are more sacrificed to telling a more compelling and less potentially divisive story, while still hitting some of the high points of the Big Ideas. Ultimately, this is a book whose main characters are very finely drawn and nuanced… and whose lesser players are almost cardboard caricatures. Still, Heard here uses the main characters, their varying histories, and the island setting (through at least half the book) quite well indeed to craft a suspenseful tale that will keep you on the edge of your beach or pool lounger just enough to keep your feet in the water… without giving you a heart attack before you can finish the book and dive in. A couple of bits in particular are more mind-bending than others, though those are quickly moved on from and the more cat and mouse nature of the book again reasserts itself. Overall a solid, mildly pulse pounding book that will be quite enjoyable as a vacation read and one that should be able to be devoured almost no matter how little reading time one may have on a summer break or vacation. Very much recommended.

This review of You Can Trust Me by Wendy Heard was originally written on May 26, 2023.

#BookReview: The Vanishing Hour by Seraphina Nova Glass

Solid Use Of Multi-POV To Create Compelling Thriller. Ok, this is one the “intelligentsia” claim “you can see coming from a mile away with a blindfold on”. Eh, maybe. I didn’t, not until the actual reveal. But I don’t read mysteries or thrillers *trying* to do that. If anything, I’m looking for deeper connections to the current zeitgeist or to some legend or lore. (None of which is really present here, to be clear, other than this being yet another missing person based book.) What I found here was a solid use of multiple POVs and perspectives to create a thriller where everyone has secrets, everyone is lying… and yet one person’s lies are hiding an awful truth that will unravel the entire thing. And then there is the back quarter or so, where all the lies are revealed, and the tale instead turns into a race to save a life… or end another. This part was where Glass apparently lost some readers, who felt that the tale fell off the rails here. Again, I disagree. While a different approach through this section (yet still maintaining the multiple POVs), I felt it was at least as compelling as anything that had come before it, and indeed even the ending itself felt justified and at least understandable, if not completely realistic. Overall, this book admittedly isn’t likely to win any awards, yet as compelling or at minimum serviceable escapism for a few hours (clocking in at just under 300 pages), this is absolutely a book that will transport you away from the “real” world and into one with a bit of everything for everyone, including even doses of humor and romance. Very much recommended.

This review of The Vanishing Hour by Seraphina Nova Glass was originally written on May 19, 2023.