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?

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!!

Tell Me (Inland Empire 2) #AnneFrasier

Tell Me, the second in the Inland Empire (a specific area with the Mojave desert) series, picks up a few months after the first with Remi back in her desert abode and she and Daniel physically recovered from their previous ordeal. Daniel is called out to the Pacific Coast Trail in search of hikers who are missing after one of the hikers is found brutally murdered. He, of course, enlists the help of Remi because of her tracking skills. The secondary story line, searching for Daniel’s mother, also plays a key role in this offering.

Tell Me ultimately circles back to the role of social media influence, how much young girls will do in order to attract attention and gain viewers. The story here asks that question – is this really what has happened? Have these girls set up a fake scene in order to gain more followers?

While I didn’t find Tell Me to be as fast paced or compelling as the first in the series, I realize that second books seldom are. However, I love Frasier’s writing, her ability to illustrate the atmosphere from the claustrophobic woodlands of the Pacific Coast Trail to the sheering winds and glorious colors of the Mojave desert. I would read her books for her descriptions of locale alone, the fact that I also like her characters is just icing.

I highly recommend this series but you really must read the books in order or you will be totally lost in Tell Me. Then, after you’ve read these two, go back and pick up her other series. They are terrific as well.

A Deadly Influence by #MikeOmer

I love (!) Mike Omer’s writing and especially adore his Zoe/Tatum series – she’s a profiler, he’s an agent – so when I saw that Omer had a new series I had to read it. But… it took me three different times of reading, putting down the book, reading and putting it down again before I actually read all the way through it. I would have been so stupid if I had not convinced myself to pick up A Deadly Influence once last time. This is one terrific book!

Abby Mullins is first and foremost a single mom of two kids, both of whom are very bright and, at times, more than one or two or even ten parents can handle. She also is a crisis negotiator and a former member of cult that was involved in a serious showdown with the FBI, a showdown that went terribly wrong. See, it’s a very eclectic and intriguing premise for a series and I knew it would be great. I just had to get Omer’s other series out of head before I could fully immerse myself in this one.

A child has been kidnapped and the child happens to be the son of one of Abby’s surviving cult members (there were only three of them.) Abby immediately thinks the cult is involved but a different angle emerges revolving around the child’s older sister who is a social media “influencer.” As the FBI follows both of the leads, the kidnapper and the cult grow more anxious and impatient until the very climatic conclusion.

For the first time in a long time I honestly can say this was a suspenseful suspense/thriller. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy reading the book but I absolutely had no clue “whodunit” until the end and, wow, what an ending it was!! If you haven’t read A Deadly Influence yet, I highly recommend it. If you’ve not read any of Mike Omer’s book then, by all means, start now. Go…. grab a book. They are terrific!

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!

The Virus by Janelle Diller

I’m not entirely sure that early 2021 was the best time to read The Virus especially as the various vaccines are being rolled out across the world and all are being thrust upon the population and lauded as “safe” and “effective.” Nevertheless, I did read it for the PopSugar Challenge and it was eye opening.

The Virus begins with the death of one person, a middle easterner, from Smallpox. Soon there are unconfirmed cases popping up all over the US and deaths are reported in every region of the country. Smallpox is a virus that has been tackled before so the government quickly ushered out a vaccine before the economy could suffer too badly and before too much hysteria set in. In order to travel, attend school, etc., you had to have the vaccine. 🙂 Sounds a little familiar already, doesn’t it? The itty bitty problem is that there is no “vaccine.” What it actually does do is for you to find out by reading this fast paced, wonderfully written thriller.

After reading other reviews I would like to post that this is not an anti-vaxxer book. It is a government conspiracy book not unlike so many others out there. That is what fiction writing is about – asking the what if’s, how about’s, could it be’s…. To read something other than what it actually is into this book shows that reviewer’s own prejudices. This was a great thriller and I highly recommend it – even now.

Aftershock by Judy Melinek & T.J. Mitchell

You know, I realize that I am a horrible blogger. I’m inconsistent. I rarely follow up like I should. My heart is in a good place but my bipolar brain sometimes does it own thing. Then the guilt sets in and I think, oh god, I’m so far behind or my reviews are too lame or too short or too far behind so I just don’t post. It’s a never ended cycle. SO just know that I’m trying. I’m reading like the crazy person that I am and will post as often as my brain allows….

Aftershock is the second in the Jessie Teska series revolving around Teska, an abrasive, hard core forensic pathologist in San Fransicso. I absolutely loved (!) First Cut, the first in the series by this writing duo and anxiously awaited the arrival of this Aftershock. I was quite disappointed with myself, actually, because I simply could not connect with the story line or even with Teska, herself, in this follow up. There is another questionable cause of death, this one at a construction site, but then there is a major earthquake which Teska must survive. Simply put, there was too much going on. Pick one – forensic thriller or earthquake thriller but I didn’t need both on top of Teska’s already bit over the top personality. I’m just not sure I’ll bother with another book, if there is one, in this series despite my love of the first.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

Dear Edward is the story of Edward Adler, the sole survivor of a plane crash that killed his entire family along with many others. Told primarily through Edward’s perspective, we also flashback to other passengers on the plane and follow their stories leading up to the crash. This, of course, is hearwrenching as we learn of their good and bad qualities, their secrets and their desires, all of which vanish with them in an instant. Except for Edward’s. As Edward physically recuperates, we also see him mentally grow stronger as he deals with his new reality with the help of his aunt, uncle and their wonderful next door neighbors. This is a story of pain, love, growth and giving and it is one that I am so thankful that I read.

So, why not 5 stars? There was a point about midway through where I almost quit reading the book. It meandered to the point of feeling lost and confused. Then, just as I was about to put it down, it turned a corner and the remainder of the book was far better than the first; so much so that Dear Edward will go into my top favorite reads. It is a book that stays with you to remind you just how precious life truly is.