Three For Thursday: I Will Make You Pay, On Cold Ground and Tell No Lies

There was a time during 2020, when I simply had to step away from crime fiction and thrillers. Perhaps it was the reality of death everywhere or maybe I had hit a tipping point of reading too many but I switched gears into other genres. I’ve gone back to some types of crime fiction as you can tell from my posts, but thrillers and suspense still leave me dry. The three books that I am featuring today were some I set aside and came back to and, for the most part, I’m glad that I did.

I WILL MAKE YOU PAY by Teresa Driscoll

Driscoll is one of my favorite go-to authors for creepy, timely crime fiction. She nearly always hits on a subject that we’re already feeling a bit uncomfortable with such as social media. I Will Make You Pay is another in that same vein. Alice is a journalist who begins receiving strange phone calls every Wednesday like clock work. At first she brushes it off as a crank call but when gifts begin arriving as well, she realizes she has a stalker. Uhm, yes Alice, you do. It took her a bit too long to come to this realization I think.

Alice’s boss wants her to take some time away from work and her husband hires a private detective but he discovers more secrets about Alice than he does about the person stalking her. So many secrets, lies and miscues and so much stupidity from Alice made this book hard for me to stomach. Of all of Driscoll’s books, this is my least favorite just because I cared so little for Alice. I won’t give up on Driscoll but I cannot recommend this book either.

ON COLD GROUND by D.S. Butler

On Cold Ground is the fifth book in the Karen Hart series and I think it is the best thus far. I got sidetracked with other British police procedurals and then realized that I completely missed this one. Good thing I discovered my error because On Cold Ground is terrific!

Karen Hart is out enjoying the holiday festivities when she hears a scream from the nearby cathedral. Although it is her night off, one of few, she runs toward the scream and discovers a dead male with a cross carved into his forehead. Unknown to Karen, she has been followed for the past few hours by a person known as “the sparrow” and as the case gets more involved and twisted, there is a hint of police corruption involving a car accident. SO much to keep up with and yet it all ties together and is brilliantly done so with Butler’s deft writing skills. If you like British suspense then I highly recommend On Cold Ground which can be read as a stand alone, however, I encourage you to enjoy the entire series.

TELL NO LIES by Allison Brennan

I absolutely loved (!) The Third to Die which is the first in this series by Allison Brennan and I was really looking forward to reading the second! On top of that, the book’s subject matter was totally in my wheelhouse – environmental disasters and industry pollution killing wildlife and our national parks. Sadly, I couldn’t even finish the book. 😦 To be very honest, I have no idea why. I love the characters. I do. But the writing for this book was so utterly different from the first that I have difficulty believing that it was written by Allison Brennan. I am going upstream against all those who loved the book and I know that but this is one that I cannot recommend and Iwill be very leery about reading the next in the series.

Please share your thoughts with me. Have your read these books or others in the series? What did you think about them?

Preserving the Season by Mary Tregellas

Years and years ago, maybe hundreds, I learned to make a simple strawberry jam with my grandfather. I thought I was a proper know it all at that point because none of my friends knew how to do that. It was like magic watching the berries and pectin slowly meld into such a marvelous concoction. That simple strawberry jam was as far as I got for year and years more until I discovered the joys of food preservation. Now I look forward to summer when I gather fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables together knowing that I can make this bounty last all winter long.

That knowledge is the basis of Mary Tregellas’ book, “Preserving the Season,” a beautifully illustrated, simple to understand guide, full of easy to understand recipes about using and preserving the wealth of your garden or local market. There is an introduction to items you will need or find useful for preservation which moves into the recipes for actual preservation. The recipes are varied and mostly unique ranging from jams, jellies and marmalade to cordials and vinegar.

Some of my own preservation thus far this season. Yummy!

The second half of the book is dedicated to using what you have preserved – herbs, jams, etc., in your cooking. There are recipes for herb breads and scones, chutneys and so much more, all using the items from your well preserved panty. While the book and recipes are written simply enough that a beginner preservationist could certainly understand, I think the content might be geared more toward those like me who have been doing this for some time. We’ve got the basics down and now are looking for new ideas and ways to use what we actually preserve, taking it to the next step. We rarely do see guides that answer these questions and Preserving the Season does that brilliantly. I loved it; it’s a perfect addition to my kitchen library and I hope it will be to yours as well.

Not One of Us @DebbieHerbert

I lived in the Southern US nearly my entire life and, honestly, didn’t like it one bit. I did, however, love southern literature. When I moved north, however, I found I didn’t enjoy reading southern lit nearly as much as I once did because it seemed less honest or real, more sappy and contrived as though the authors were attempting to create a genteel place that only existed in their minds or perhaps in Scarlett O’Hara’s mind. I do love Southern Noir, though. Those writers who dig deep, find the darkness that lurks under the low hanging Spanish moss and the evil that hides behind those big tobacco laden grins. Debbie Herbert is one of those authors. While she has written some really interesting paranormal romances in the past, recently she has penned the Normal, Alabama series and now she gives us Not One of Us, set once again in the backwoods of Alabama.

When Jori Trahern was in high school her boyfriend and his entire family disappeared. Now you have to understand that while they lived just across the field from one another, Jori lived in a trailer and her boyfriend lived in a mansion. When he didn’t show up for their prom date, she was convinced by her grandmother that he had a change of heart – but then the family was never seen again. Now, Jori has returned to this backwater town and she is determined to find answers, answers that may get her killed.

What appears to be a formulaic thriller plot line surpasses your expectations due to the vivid imagery of the southern bayou, Herbert’s fabulous character building and the fact that Jori has Synesthesia, the ability to “see” sounds as colors. I swear, I learn something new in every book I read! These three thing elevate Not One of Us to a higher level than your normal southern ho-hum and Herbert’s ability to keep things unusual and interesting are what keep me coming back to Alabama.

Recent Reads, Rapid Reviews: The Heirloom Garden, The Long Call, The Fourteenth of September

It’s time for some quick-fire reviews of books that I’ve pulled from my TBR list, some which were hits and others, well, not so much.

The HEIRLOOM GARDEN by Viola Shipman

For the PopSugar reading challenge I needed a book about a passion of mine. As you know, gardening is a huge passion for me, this year more so than in the past. When I saw the title of this book I thought it would be a perfect read for me. Sadly, I should have read the synopsis more closely. What I read was a younger woman and an older one bond both of whom are suffering bond over their love of the flower garden. What the book is about is a woman who endured the suffering a loss of WWII and a family suffering the effects of the Iraq war. The fact is that I’ve grown a bit weary of reading books about WWII written from the romanticized viewpoint of the US and UK and I simply do not read books about the unjustified Iraqi invasion. Period. I’m very sure that readers of Viola Shipman will love and adore this book. It’s very predictable, a bit on the saccharine sweet side but it definitely wasn’t a book for me. 😦

THE LONG CALL by Ann Cleeves

You already should know what I think about Ann Cleeves writing – I think she is a master, in a class all her own. Since I’m quickly nearing the end of the Vera series and am almost caught up with the Shetland series, I’m thrilled that The Long Call is the beginning of a new and quite different series by Cleeves.

The Long Call introduces us to Matthew Venn, a Detective from North Devon, who has just attended the funeral for his estranged father when he receives a call regarding a murder very near his home by the sea. The case brings Matthew in circles back to his former life in a very strict church which then collides with his new life for which he was ostracized by his family and church. As always with Cleeves, the story unfolds slowly as the characters and the clues unfold allowing the characters to come alive for the reader. I was a bit unsure about Matthew when the book began but by the end I wanted more and, thankfully, the next book in the series is out this summer!! If you like Ann Cleeves, you will adore The Long Call. If you haven’t read her before, this is the perfect starting point for you.

THE FOURTEENTH OF SEPTEMBER by Rita Dragonette

At the opposite end of the plethora of WWII novels is the scarcity of books about the Vietnam war. Amazingly, here in the US, we just skim right over that war as though it’s the black sheep stepchild we’d rather forget, pushed in a corner, brushed under the rug, out of sight, out of mind. And then along comes books like The Fourteenth of September to remind us exactly why we never should forget that period in US history and why it changed an entire generation of American lives forever.

On September 14, 1969, Private First Class Judy Talton celebrates her nineteenth birthday by secretly joining the campus anti-Vietnam War movement. When her birthday is pulled from the draft lotto a few weeks later, she realizes that if she were a male, she would have been one of the first ones shipped out to Vietnam with very low survival expectancy. This realization propels her toward action that will alter her life forever.

This book is a stark, realistic look at the late 60s/early 70s, the anti-war movement, the emerging feminist movement and the anger that was sweeping across university campuses throughout the US. It is extremely well researched and very tightly written. What appears as hyperbole is actually just the facts of that time. It’s harsh and thorough and a must read, especially for Americans. It asks the question, will anyone remember? I do! I will never forget and my entire life has been based on what I learned from this war, from the atrocities committed by the US government during the entire era (50s-70s) and the horrors that linger long after the governments say the war is over.

The Noise @JDBarker and James Patterson

Let me state up front that J.D.Barker could write a phone book and I would read it and enjoy it. I have, in the past, given his books less that five stars because I thought he could do a better job than he did – NOT because I thought he wasn’t stunningly awesome. That said, I started The Noise late in the afternoon and did not put it down once, not even, until I finished late last night. I was spellbound from start to finish. As with all of Barker’s books, The Noise will not appeal to everyone but it sure as hell made my day!

The Noise… two girls, part of a survivalist group in the mountains of Oregon, are the lone survivors of something that wiped out their entire village, literally everything was decimated to the ground as though a tornado had leveled it, crushing everyone and everything in its path. Except that there was no tornado, or any other weather related incident in the area. Nor were there nuclear events, military attacks nor any other reasonable explanations for the horror. Scientists are called in to study the area and the two girls – one whom appears to be fine and the other who is behaving strangely. And then it happens again in a small city just up the road from the village…

Holy. Freaking. Terrifying. You know, I don’t watch movies or television, books are my thing, and I love it when books are written in such a way that I can visualize exactly how they would play out on a screen. Often what I picture in my head is far more horrifying than anything producers come up with which is why I stick to books. The Noise is a perfect illustration of this. It ticked all of the boxes for me: Disaster. Science Run Amuck. Government Gone Wrong. Barely Plausible but… what if? And then there is the ending…….. they were still running… The Noise is a little Sci-fy, a little disaster thriller, a little medical thriller, so cross-genre that you can’t really put it into a category at all. I loved it, obviously, and highly recommend it, especially to those who are bored to tears with most of the stuff coming out right now.

I’ll also note here: You can put James Patterson’s name on any book that you want. I’ve never been a Patterson fan and I never will be. Clinton wrote that poli-sci thriller and The Noise is all Barker from start to finish. It was the same with the last book as well. Hell, I don’t even know if Patterson is still alive. Sacrilegious? IDK. IDC. I just read J.D. Barker.

FANTASTICLAND by #MikeBockoven

I was searching for something similar to Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre and FantasticLand was recommended multiple times. Similar in writing styles, both are written after the fact as follow up accounts of “true crime” too terrible to comprehend. The first time I read FantasticLand was just during the Covid lock down. Thinking that my mindset might have been influenced by the circumstances, I just read it again. Perhaps my thinking is still influenced by the circumstances. 😉

Several years ago, my family and I visited Silver Dollar City in Missouri. A crazy storm blew up out of nowhere and they shut down the park trapping a handful of families inside the park. In between tornadoes going overhead (typical for Missouri) and bursts of sunshine, the families would come out and enjoy the characters from the park or “play” with the various old timey gadgets that the park had all around. It was the strangest, most surreal day. I thought about that day while reading FantasticLand.

Set along the coast of Florida, FantasticLand was an amusement park lover’s dream. Similar to Disney Land but even better, it was divided into sections e.g. Pirate’s Cove, Princess Kingdom and the characters and rides were amazing. The problem is that it was far closer to the coast than Disney and the mother of all hurricanes was bearing down on it. The contingency plan, should something happen, was to get out all of the visitors and a core group of “employees” would stay in the lock down storm shelter and then, after the storm passed, ensure that the park remained safe. As with most amusement parks, the employees were mostly teenagers but no one really expected anything major to happen so it was all good. Until the storm hit.

What happens after the storm is one of the most chilling, horrifying tales I ever have read. Ever. The first time I read it wasn’t as bad as the second for the mere fact that I – we all have – watched as the world has devolved over the last year or so. We thought people would come together in a crisis, embrace and help one another, didn’t we? Instead we’ve seen the opposite happen culminating in the US with the insurrection at our US Capitol. People, humans, are behaving worse now than they have since…. when? The Middle Ages? So just imagine what would happen if you trapped some teens in a park for weeks on end and expected them to survive. It would put the television show Survival to shame. Horrifying with a capital H!

If you like horror, podcasts, fictional true crime then you should love FantasticLand and, by the way, I LOVE that cover art!!

Red Widow @AlmaKatsu

Of course I’ve read The Hunger and The Deep and I assumed that Red Widow would follow along those lines, lines which I loved for the record. I could not have been more wrong. How can an author write such completely different genres!? Aaaaah, but lest you think that I was disappointed, I was not. This is, by far, one of the best spy novels I’ve ever read and, wow, I’ve read all of the original Tom Clancy novels, the ones before he jumped the shark and then, well, he died. Red Widow is amazing! Fabulous. Incredible. Just wow.

Let me state up front that I hate spy novels. Hate! Tom Clancy actually ruined them for me. I loved them until I realized that the majority of them always (!) are nothing more than US propaganda. There always (!) will be the bad guy (them) and the good guy (the US) but somewhere along the line I became a real live adult with a brain and recognized that the world operates in shades of grey and the US sure as hell is not always the “good guy,” not even most of the time. So I stopped reading spy novels even though I loved them. (sigh) Had I known that is what Red Widow was about, I never would have read it and then I would have missed out on one terrific book!!

This is set in current time and involves – yes – the US, Russia and other modern day players. There are references to current events that you will recognize and some of the things that happen in the book will make you pause and think “wait, didn’t that just happen,” but even if you search for it, it’s not there. The premise is, perhaps, too realistic which is why I love it. The characters are spot on and there’s a reason for that. Did you know that Alma Katsu used to work for the CIA!? AND the DoD!? Yeahhhhh, there is a reason she gets it so right and I love the book for that!! Not to mention that the ending is the best, absolute perfection.

So, can you tell I highly recommend this book? There also is a movie in the works for this one and I may just have to break my no t.v. or movie rule to see it. READ THIS ONE!!!!

Beyond the Headlines

Beyond the Headlines is the fourth book in the Clare Carlson series and the second that I’ve read. Clare is a seasoned journalist now working in a news room but the hard core journalism bug never quite let go of Clare. When she comes across a good story, she runs with it – which is exactly what she does in Beyond the Headlines. Clare goes beyond the 5 second sound bite to get at the truth, something I sorely miss in the news today.

If you are old enough to remember the old Murphy Brown series starring Candace Bergen, the dry wit and sardonic humor that was prolific in that show is very present in this book series. In fact, I have a hard time separating out the vision of Murphy Brown from Clare Carlson when I’m reading these books. That’s most likely why I love them as much as I do. And, yes, I do realize that I just aged myself considerably. Now that I’ve read the last two books in the series, I’m going back to grab the first two. There’s so much to catch up on! Obviously, I highly recommend the book and the series.

Recent Reads and Rapid Reviews: The Hive, When a Stranger Comes to Town and The One I Left Behind

This is the third book I’ve recently read involving cults, bees and the perfection of their hives. It’s weird BUT I absolutely loved this book! Gregg Olsen is a hit or miss author for me and this one definitely was a hit.

If you think about Mary Kaye Ash, the home based “beauty” guru, and put her philosophy on drugs then you have the main protagonist of The Hive. Marnie, the “queen bee” is obsessed with bees and their royal jelly. All of her beauty products are made with it. In addition, she forms a community of women who help her with her empire – they are called “The Hive.” It’s a cult but it’s a strange one. These women are encouraged to leave their family, their husbands, children and homes behind in order to fully encase themselves into The Hive. As with most cults, it eventually turns deadly.

This is a terrific police procedural, something that Gregg Olsen does very well, and despite knowing the “who,” it is the why and how that is important. If you like good crime fiction then you should enjoy The Hive.

WHEN A STRANGER COMES TO TOWN, various authors, edited by Michael Koryta

Living in a very small town I have found that one of the most used phrases here is “there’s a stranger in town.” Living in the city is so different – who would know if someone is a stranger or not? But here, everyone knows. Are they here for good for bad? That’s always the question.

When A Stranger Comes to Town is a compilation of short stories based on the premise of a stranger in our midst. Admittedly there were some stories that I enjoyed more than others and, surprisingly, some of those were by “new to me” authors. Of course, there also are stories by some of the best mystery writers of today: Michael Connolly, Dean Koontz and Joe Hill (shivers on the thought of Hill and his entry) but you’ll find a collection of really good mysteries throughout the book.

This would make a great summer read because you read each mystery at your leisure, at the beach or beside the pool, in between innings. 😉 This one is a great addition to my library and one I highly recommend.

THE ONE I LEFT BEHIND by Jennifer MacMahon

I read one Jennifer McMahon book and then another and now I cannot stop. I’m hooked – all the way. Her writing style is so fluid that once you begin a story, you simply cannot stop until the end. Literally. I need to sleep but I have another book ready to go. Sleep can wait!

The One I Left Behind, on the surface, is about “Neptune,” a serial killer who cuts off the right hand of his victims, leaves it on the police station steps and then four days later he leaves the body of the dead woman, sans hand, lovingly bandaged, naked with stomach contents of a recently eaten lobster dinner. Bizarre, right? But the real story is that of Reggie and her friends, Tara and Charlie, three outcasts who bonded years ago during the time of the Neptune killings. Reggie’s mom was the only victim to be taken but never returned – now she’s back and the three friends are reunited. This is their story, told in two different timelines. It’s raw, edgy, suspenseful and satisfying. As always, I adored the ending. I truly believe that the powerful stories that McMahon tells make her endings all the more beautiful. And now, I’m off to read another McMahon book….

Tuesday Shorts: The Sacrifice of Lester Yates, The End of Men, Find You First and The Moonlight Child

Of course I’ve been neglectful of writing blog posts and reviews; of course I have. It’s spring and that means gardening for me. That doesn’t mean I stopped reading. In fact, I think I’ve read more books already this year than I did last year during the height of the pandemic. So, bear with me as I post some short, quick reviews of some of the books I’ve read thus far.

From beginning to end The Sacrifice of Lester Yates captivated me. Robin Yocum, a new-to-me author, can seriously write. His descriptions and knowledge of the grittier side of Ohio and midwestern politics are so spot on; it truly is impeccable writing. Labeled as a “legal thriller,” I thought it was more political suspense. It’s a story told well, not an edge of your seat thrill ride.

What was most interesting for me is that the book is told from a Republican politician’s viewpoint which is something I tend to avoid. However, here was a pro-death penalty guy working like crazy to get an innocent man off of death row. He also does a great job of showing the nasty underbelly of party politics which we see so often today in the US.

I loved the book and highly recommend it. I’ll be reading the prequel now and am happy to have found another great midwestern author to follow.

THE END OF MEN by Christina Sweeney-Baird

The End of Men is one of those books where I think the hype is influencing the reviews. I’ve read two other books about a pandemic that wipes out males and they were far better than this one. Far too many characters to keep them straight and, in the end, there still was just greed and nations fighting over crap. I’d like to think that women could do better than this but given the results of the pandemic, perhaps I’m overly hopeful. Read Athena’s Choice for a far superior book about the end of men.

FIND YOU FIRST by Linwood Barclay

Normally I love Linwood Barclay’s books and I did really like Find You First until I didn’t. First, exactly how many people know and are willing to hire “hitmen?” Is this just something that I have missed throughout my life? Executioners around here are generally so stupid that they get caught and then turn out to be young men on drugs. In Find You First there is a plethora of these men just waiting to be hired and apparently screw the wealthy person hiring them. Who does that!? I liked the premise of the main character finding his “offspring.” That was an interesting storyline. However, the book totally went off the rails in the end with the Winnebago. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a serious piece of crime fiction that resorted to something so ridiculous. Ever. So, I gave it three stars because I was semi-sort-of hooked until the end.

Lest you think I haven’t enjoyed my reading material this year, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite books so far:

The Moonlight Child by Karen McQuestion

I didn’t expect to love this as much as I did! This is a beautiful story of horror, loss, love and forgiveness. This author is new to me but her writing is mesmerizing, pulling you into the lives of each character and then wringing your heart out with emotion.

The Moonlight Child is the story of wee little girl named Mia who is kept hidden by a family that she knows is not her own. She knows that her world is different from other children; she is well fed and cared for but also is forced to do the housework which is expected to be done perfectly. The child is only five years old. It is also the story of Nikki, a foster home “graduate,” who knows there is more to life than what she has experienced to date. She is intelligent, caring and, currently, at loose ends. Nikki is taken in by Sharon, her social worker’s mother, and the relationship between these two women is one of the most beautiful that I’ve ever read. Together, Sharon and Nikki try to unravel the mystery of the girl they only see in the moonlight.

This book is emotional and beautiful and one that I I highly recommend.

Have your read any of these books while I’ve been away? What did you think of them? Am I once again out in left field? Let me know!