Cut to the Bone by Ellison Cooper

A cop and a teenage girl are dead, the girl found lying inside a circle of animal figurines below a cryptic message written in blood. She is one of twenty-four missing high school students, all science proteges who are now gone. Agent Sayer Altair is called in to investigate and soon she discovers a dark, twisted tie to her own past. It is now a race against time to save the remaining the students.

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When I was first offered Cut to the Bone, I never had heard of the author, Ellison Cooper. After reading this book, the third in the series, I immediately went back and purchased the first two to read. Yes, the series is that good! Let me first tell you about the author. Ellison Cooper has a Ph.D. in anthropology from UCLA, with a background in archaeology, cultural neuroscience, ancient religion, colonialism, and human rights. She has conducted fieldwork in Central America, West Africa, Micronesia, and Western Europe. She has worked as a murder investigator in Washington DC, and is a certified K9 Search and Rescue Federal Disaster Worker. I tell you this because she brings every bit of that extensive knowledge into her writing. I was fact checking various things she had written left and right and finally quit because it was pointless. She’s brilliant. Her writing is brilliant. While the story line is fiction, the knowledge is real and it is fascinating! However, it isn’t just the intelligent writing that I loved – her characters are fantastic. They are real. They are quirky. They are full-bodied, not ever what you expect and ever evolving, growing and changing with every book, just as you would expect your friends to be in real life. I loved – and hated – them all!

I read this series completely out of order as I could get the books but if you want to fully enjoy them I would suggest reading them order but I truly do encourage you to read this series. It’s fantastic!

Thank you to  @ecooperauthor #MinotaurBooks and #Edelweiss for my copy of this amazing book!

The Familiar Dark #AmyEngel @aengelwrites

Everyone is a suspect.

Everyone has something to hide.

And someone will answer for her daughter’s murder.

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It has been a while since I’ve written about Southern Noir and I’ve missed it especially after reading the perfect book for this collection, The Familiar Dark.

Eve Taggert was raised on the wrong side of the tracks – far, far away from those tracks, in a trailer with a drug using/selling mother. Things didn’t get a lot worse than Eve’s home life. Her family had the reputation of being the worst of the very worst. Now, as adults, Eve has moved into town and has a daughter whom she adores. Her brother is a respectable cop. Eve lives entirely for her daughter, Junie, and is completely devastated when Junie and her best friend is found murdered in the park. In any other town in America, Junie’s death would be considered reprehensible but in this dirty backwoods Ozark town, it’s just another day in America. That is why Eve has vowed to find the killer herself, even if it means reverting to her mother’s brand of vigilante justice.

Let me just write a few WOWs here! WOW! Oh WOW! Seriously WOW!! Because I am stubborn, I didn’t read the first book by Engel, The Roanoke Girls, which was all the buzz a few years ago. That’s because I’m really stupid!! Amy Engel is a southern author to be reckoned with whose flair for noir puts Nordic authors to shame! From the opening lines, which perfectly capture the last horrifying dying moments of the two girls, to the volatile and satisfying ending, there is not one moment of The Familiar Dark that is not brilliantly written. Every.Single.Word. The characters are raw, gritty, dirty, corrupt and corruptible. Even the richest in this town are grimy and you know it, you feel it. Those of us who ever have lived in the Ozarks know towns exactly like this one. We’ve known people like Eve and her family and Engel skillfully brings the town and these people off of the pages and into our reality with a flourish of her pen-stroke.

I’m not going to elaborate on the plot, I’m simply going to say that if you have not read The Familiar Dark yet, I have no idea what you are waiting for. Go. Get it right now and start reading it today and, if you haven’t read The Roanoke Girls, then make sure you get that one as well, because of course I had to go back and read that one too!

The Familiar Dark gets all the stars all the way up to the highest Ozark Mountaintop! WOW!

#LongBrightRiver by Liz Moore

Let me begin by saying that I have no doubt that Long Bright River will end up in my Top Ten Favorite Books for 2020. It really is that good.

Having said that, you may notice that I’m day late and always a dollar short with this review. I KNEW I had read the book. I thought I had written my review but I couldn’t find either one any where. After reading the review from Two Sisters Lost in a Coulee (review here) I was even more confused! I searched and searched and looked and looked and TA DA!!!!!! I didn’t “download” the book! The publisher was so incredibly kind enough to send me a copy (yes, I know this is the sign of hoarding) But what about my review!?!  After a lot of technical geek talk with WP, I discovered that I have about 20 reviews that got “backlogged” over the holidays and never, ever got published. It happened when I switched themes. So, sadly, now I have to swamp you with reviews BUT I have found the missing ones that were driving me crazy. Okay…. back to this fabulous book!!!!

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Long Bright River is women’s fiction disguised as a thriller or the other way around but really it is just an amazingly well written novel about two sisters who have had one helluva a hard life. Told in alternating time lines, we learn about the difficult lives of Mickey and Kacey whose parents were addicts and who died when the girls were young. Forced to live with a grandmother who made it pointedly clear that she resented having to raise them (and we wonder how the parents turned out bad, right?) the girls soon find themselves in trouble. However, Mickey soon joins an after school program and later becomes a cop while Kacey gets in with the wrong crowd and becomes a sex worker. When these workers begin to go missing and later are found dead, Mickey’s boss at the precinct really doesn’t care. After all, they’re just sex workers. But when Kacey also goes missing, Mickey decides to find out what is going on and what has happened to her sister.

That summary in no way does justice to this magnificent book. It was heartbreaking to read about their lives and it would have been easier if I thought for one minute that it was exaggerated, but I know better. This is the reality of far too many people all across the US. This is a story that, yes, is a thriller and will keep you in suspense until the end. But even more so, it is the story of dysfunctional families, families who need help and simply are not getting it. Children who need help and are falling through the proverbial cracks. This is a powerful story, a gripping wonderful, perfect for today’s society novel that truly is a 2020 must read!

Thank you to @LizMooreBooks and @RiverheadBooks for my copy of this incredible novel!

 

 

Jane Anonymous @LaurieStolarz

WOW! If ever there was a book that should be summed up by that one word it is Jane Anonymous. From the first word of the prologue to the last letter in the book, I was fully engrossed and utterly captivated. Not once did I look up, stop for a break; I’m not sure I even breathed until I finished. It.Is.That.Good. Need more? Fine.

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The prologue is an open to letter to us, the readers, from “Jane” who has just returned from being held captive for seven months by a monster. Jane was taken one early morning by a man who vaguely looked familiar, put into a room and given a scoresheet from which she would be rewarded for simple things like eating, bathing, putting her trash out the pet door. That sounds far more simple than it was for the prisoner Jane who rebelled against her captivity by not eating, not bathing, not cleaning. But she is not alone. There is someone else on the other side of the wall. Someone who shares her darkness, her fears, someone she comes to love. But what if that someone goes away…. what if he isn’t real or worse.

Jane’s story is written in a then/now perspective as though Jane is writing her story for you as part of her therapy. We are able to read first hand her innermost thoughts, fears, hopes and crushing anxiety as she navigates back through the world of the free and living. This is a heart-pounding, gut-wrenching tale that dives into our deepest emotions and will leave you breathlessly ragged when you have finished but it so worth it! Yes, this book is written for young adults but don’t let that fool you. It is, by far, one of the best books I have read in a very long time. Just as SE Hinton wrote for this age group in the 70s with words that resonated across the age spectrum, Jane Anonymous will translate well for readers of all ages.

#StMartin’sPress @WednesdayBooks @netgalley #LaurieFariaStolarz

My Favorite Books of this Decade…

I’ve loved reading all of the blogs that have listed the “best books of the decade.” Everyone is so different and unique and the included books say as much about the person as they do about the decade of reading and publishing. I’ve decided to go with my favorites that were actually published from 2010 to the present. I also debated the number I would include finally ended up at plus/minus THIRTY. Choosing a favorite book is much like choosing a favorite child, it cannot be done. These, from various genres, resonated with me for one reason or another. I’ve included links to Amazon for each if you’d like to read one or two of them. Also, because there are so many, I’m dividing them up into two posts. LOL. My attention span is small this time of year and I assume that’s the same for most of you as well.

2010-2019 Favorite Published Works:

1. Little Darlings by Melanie Golding. This was a somewhat controversial book with many readers either loving or hating it. I, however, cannot stop thinking about this little bit of horror. A tale of a woman who truly believes her newborn has been taken and switched with another baby, a changeling. She has proof but it all can be explained away with logical reasoning – or can it. When she ultimately tries to drown “the changeling,” she is institutionalized. It’s a profound story either full of horror and paranormal activity OR one of the best books I’ve read about postnatal depression.

2. Night Film by Marisha Pessel. Wow! Before Night Film I read very light reading such as women’s lit, mild crime-fi like Kathy Reichs. This book was my first foray into the darkness, the noir that lies in the world of fiction. After this there was no turning back. I was a noir reader forever.

3. The Good Detective  by John McMahon (see my review HERE)

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The Good Detective was a book I expected to NOT like. Instead, it has become the high bar against which all other Crime-Fi books that I read are judged. An extremely flawed detective, a great sidekick who is a strong woman of color, exposing the horrors of the southern US and crimes based on true stories. Put all of those together in an amazingly well written thriller and you have a winner.

4. The Fourth Monkey by J D Barker  – I was going to include a link to my review and realized it was published before I had my blog. Geesh, time really does pass quickly. To say that I loved The Fourth Monkey is a huge understatement. I told everyone I know about this book, bought it for friends and family and still think about it all of the time. Yes, there was a lot of gruesome material. No, I didn’t care for the sequels nearly as much as this one but this one was at the top of its game and one of the very best pieces of crime fiction I’ve ever read.

5. I read a lot more historical fiction over the past years, more than I have since my university days in fact. There are some terrific books in this genre and the authors go above and beyond when it comes to research, research and more research. I tend to fact check a lot of books as I read and I’m always stunned by how much I learn from historical fiction. To that end, I have a few favorites from this decade beginning with House of Gold by Natasha Solomons (MY REVIEW) This is a sweeping saga that follows the story an Austrian heiress leading up to and during WWII. She is an Austrian who marries an Englishman and ultimately has to choose between her new family and her old. Generally I don’t read books set during WWII because they are very one sided. History is told from the winner’s perspective but House of Gold includes minor story lines from all of the Gold family which is scattered throughout the various countries involved in the war from England to Germany to Austria and across Europe. Most importantly, not since books about the Vietnam War have I read such realistic, horrific descriptions of the war itself. There were places where brother literally was fighting against brother to the death. This is a book that I will not forget for a long time, if ever.

6. Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris. Oh My. This was one highly emotional read based on a photograph that the author discovered of children with a “for sale” on them. You know already that it’s going to be heart-wrenching. Set in the Great Depression, a reporter/photographer snaps a photo of these children and then sets out to find out who they were and what led to the circumstances of their being sold. I read the author’s notes on the selling of children and then did my own background research and was so dismayed to discover that this was not a unique occurrence. Single women, particularly, who could not afford to take care of their children often sold them to families who wanted work hands. These were kids, not teens or young adults, but kids. It’s a horrible time in our history and a story that I encourage you all to read so that, perhaps, we can learn from our past sins.

7. Coptown by Karin Slaughter, a stand alone historical fiction novel. Karin Slaughter is one of “must read” authors. I love both of the series that she wrote and is writing but, a huge but, of everything she has written Coptown is the book that has stayed with me, made me really think about our racial divide, especially in the south and, most importantly, how far women’s rights have come just since the 70s. Although I came of age in the 70s, it never occurred to me the rights that I take for granted like having a checking account in my own name. This book, while fiction, is one of the best portrayals of women, especially women of color, in an era that seems like it was only yesterday. In reviews I often write the sentence, “yeah, but have you read Coptown….” because it was one of those books that set the standard for historical fiction.

8. Fast Falls the Night by Julia Keller – This is the book I talk about the most to anyone who will listen. While I adore Julia Keller and her characters, part of the reason that I feel like they are “family,” is because of this book. Set in a period of 24 hours – exactly – this is the story of a struggling town in West Virginia that broke the record for most the overdose deaths of the opioid crisis we are facing today. Based on true facts, in this story we watched as characters we have come to know either die or watch their loved ones die in a harsh, realistic look at just how pervasive this epidemic truly is in the US. Doctors, politicians, addicts, politicians, church family, ALL are affected. We often live in a sheltered world assuming that this epidemic does not affect us. Fast Falls the Night changes this town forever and we get a glimpse of how it would affect each and everyone of us should it happen in our own towns – if it hasn’t already happened in yours.

9/10. Because I’m a historian, I like to read the occasional historical biography. Over this decade there two that really stood out for me: Hoover and Grant. Grant by Ron Chernow was an eye-opening read about one of the most misunderstood and chronically lied about men in US History. Cast as a loser, a drunk, a bad general, this biography sets the story straight. The research is impeccable and tells the story of a recovered alcoholic, a devout man who hated war, hated fighting and yet, along with Gen. Sherman, conducted a military campaign that is still taught at West Point. Generals world wide have come to the US to study the genius of these two men. The civil war is over and it’s time to recognize the brilliance of the men who bravely fought to keep the US Union together as one.

Likewise, Hoover has been blamed for “the Great Depression,” as if one man could be responsible for worldwide famine, poverty and circumstances beyond anyone’s control. The entire world was in a depression, one NOT caused by Herbert Hoover. More importantly, the work Hoover did after the war is phenomenal. The airlifts from Poland where the survivors literally were starving in the streets are a result of Herbert Hoover’s work. He was an amazing man who should be admired and not vilified. Herbert Hoover by Glen Jeansonne a must-read for anyone who enjoys American history.

In the FANTASY category, or perhaps they are more paranormal and magical realism, I honestly never know. For me, fiction is just fiction.

11. Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – okay, seriously, I loved this book from start to finish but it really didn’t occur to me until nearly the end that this was fantasy and not reality. I think that should tell you something about me and my love of the fictional world. This is a beautiful book, a fairy tale of sorts, about survival, the magic all around us and of believing in the impossible. It is, by far, my favorite book by Gaiman

12. Where the Forest Meets the Sky by Glendy Vanderlah – This is, quite simply, one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. The story of a child who wanders into the lives of two people who need this child the most. They are broken, faced with debilitating illnesses and this child, who claims to be from another planet, brings these adults back to life, figuratively, as they care for him and try to unravel the child’s story. A stunningly written book that I’m so glad found its way into my world.

13.The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor – simply put, it is based on a true story, one that will have you believing in fairies by the end of the book. If you haven’t read The Cottingly Secret, which is part paranormal, part historical fiction, then I truly encourage you to do so. The magic is real. 51wvP7ALclL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Thirteen is my lucky number so I will stop here for this post. Stay tuned for PART 2 tomorrow…. In the meantime, tell me which ones you’ve read. Were any of these on your favorites list for the decade? What was your favorite book this decade OR this year? Can you name just one?

 

 

The Woman in the Park @teresasorkin @tullanh

A married woman meets a handsome stranger – In The Park. When the handsome stranger’s wife turns up dead, the only suspect is the married woman….

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The Woman in the Park is the exciting debut from the writing pair Teresa Sorkin and Tullan Holmqvist. A woman, Sarah Rock, is determined that her husband is having an affair with his young associate. Sarah, who has been under care for depression in the past, has weekly or twice weekly sessions with her psychologist through which we, the reader, learn more about Sarah, her family, her loneliness after her children leave for boarding school and, quite frankly, this appeared to be more of sad tale about mid-life rather than a suspenseful mystery. When Sarah meets Laurence in the park, however, things begin to change. Her life, formerly heartbreaking, appears to be filled with new life and energy – until the police show up at her door. There has been a murder in the park, a woman, and Sarah is their primary suspect. As Sarah’s world unravels, we go on a desperate journey with her to discover the truth, if the truth is capable of being found.

The Woman in the Park is a very short, extremely taut, marvelously written story that had me enthralled from beginning to the end. I literally read it in one afternoon never stopping once! While we know that Sarah is an unreliable narrator, the last section of the book is so surprising, so amazing that I never suspected until the very end. I was speechless!! Yes, The Woman in the Park really is that good!

Have you watched or do you remember The Sixth Sense with Bruce Willis when, at the very end, you sit there with your mouth hanging open and your head shaking in disbelief? That is exactly what I felt like at the end of The Woman in the Park. If you haven’t see that movie – you need to. If you haven’t read The Woman in the Park, you absolutely must! If this is their debut, I cannot wait to see all of the great books that will come from this writing pair!

Thank you #Edelweiss, the authors and @BeaufortBooks for my copy of this amazing book!

The Whisper Man #PublicationDay #AlexNorth

There is nothing that I love more than a true psychological thriller, one that gets into your head and won’t let go. That is exactly what I found in The Whisper Man by Alex North. 41nYBGAZjpL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

Let me first say that the cover art is one of my all time favorites. I had to read this book just for the cover alone and it definitely is representative of the horror within.

Tom and his son Jake have suffered the loss of their wife and mother. As a result, Jake – a very sensitive child – is having nightmares about the house in which she died. The pair move to a new village and into a home that others call “the scary house” but Jake insists is his very favorite. Tom decides the house has character, not terror, within its walls. He was wrong. In their small, sleepy village there once was a child killer, currently behind bars, Now another person is abducting children. Will Jake be the next victim of The Whisper Man?

This very easily could have been a run-of-the-mill child abduction book but it is so much more than that. The character development was superb throughout, even with minor characters who only appear infrequently such as Jake’s teacher. These characters draw you into their lives so that you become part of the story itself. And what a story it is! This is a very scary, creepy book. It is on the scale of Stephen King’s earlier works and reminded me why I originally read horror/thrillers. It turns out to be more psychological than horror but, wow, you do not know that until the very last chapter of the book. And yes, I am being deliberately evasive about the story line because part of the joy of reading this book was going into it blind and not knowing the real from the psychological terror. I want that for you as well.

This is a must-read book for anyone who loves horror, thrillers, psychological suspense or simply a really well told story! It is in my Top Ten favorites for this year and I highly recommend it.

It is publication day for The Whisper Man so run, don’t walk, to your nearest bookseller and get it today.  Thank you to #Netgalley, #CeledonBooks and @writer_north for my copy of this terrific book!

Two for Thursday? The Vanishing Season by Dot Hutchinson

I know, I know… it’s supposed to be Two for Tuesday but since I’m so behind I have to keep going with these reviews and I definitely didn’t want to forget this one by one of my favorite authors: the final installment in the Collector Series by Dot Hutchison.

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We were first introduced to this series with The Butterfly Garden, a book that horrified and traumatized many readers several years ago. It continued with The Roses of May and last years bestseller, The Summer Children. (You can read my review of that book HERE) Each book has built on the development of the team members who originally found girls in the Butterfly Garden and their work within a special unit of the FBI. Now a child has been abducted, their specialty, but the case is eerily similar to kidnapping of Eddison’s sister years earlier. As the team members deal with their own haunting demons from past cases, they also must search through clues to see how and why this case may be linked to the cold cases from old before it is too late to save the missing child.

Let me state up front that absolutely is not a “stand alone” book. I read The Summer Children last year and only slightly fell through the cracks a few times. After that, I promptly went back and read the first two books in the series. All of these books are top notch, horrifyingly marvelous thrillers. This one, however, is the end of the story. For those of us invested in these characters it is a book that ties up all of the loose ends, answers questions from the past and allows us and the author to move on to new topics. It is a must -read for followers of Hutchison’s work, but I don’t recommend starting here. I do, however, recommend reading every single one of the books in the series. They are absolutely fantastic! Hutchison is a masterful storyteller whose tales you will not want to miss.

Blood Relations @JonathanMoore

Lee Crowe is a dis-barred lawyer, now a PI who has a reputation of getting the job done – regardless. Even he doesn’t realize what that will mean when he finds a body of a beautiful woman, dead, on the roof of a Rolls Royce in the middle of the ghetto. Wait, can we still use the word ghetto? Well, you know…. Being the type of guy that Lee is, he snaps some great photos of the woman and sells them to the highest bidding magazine. That sets him a course that will take him from coast to coast with a trail of dead bodies in his wake.40796146

Blood Relations started off like any other PI/Crime/Detective story: dead bodies, downtrodden former somebody barely getting by in their new life with a beautiful ex-spouse who haunts them. But this isn’t just any ‘ole story; this is a Jonathan Moore story. If you know anything at all about this author then you know that there will twists, turns and a pile of noir throughout and I absolutely was not wrong or disappointed with this one. While the theme of the story, and the atmosphere remains constant – that of a gumshoe looking for a killer – soon we are on the trail of an errant FBI agent and a scientist who is so cutting edge that his work is either insane or genius or both. This is Mary Shelley meets Michael Crichton with some Mickey Spillane thrown in for good measure. How could it be anything other than amazing?

Obviously, I highly recommend Blood Relations and, if you haven’t already Moore’s other books, I absolutely loved The Dark Room. Check him out and let me know what you think.

Murder Theory (The Naturalist #3) @AndrewMayne – Publication Day

I have a confession. I may be a book nerd, but I’m a science geek at heart and this geekiness of mine manifests itself in the strangest of ways. Since I never was allowed to truly follow my scientific love due to parental influences as a child, I did weird stuff instead: became a Trekkie, followed volcano trails throughout the US, collected fossils and rocks, studied astronomy for the fun of it and look for the scientific principles by any and absolutely everything. I know, I know…. you’re wondering what this has to do a book review, aren’t you? Andrew Mayne is one of my very favorite authors. He is a former illusionist. Can one be a “former” illusionist? I don’t think so. Being an illusionist is more than being a “magician.” It’s understanding the psychology and science behind the slight of hand, the trick of the eye. It’s becoming the master of one’s own body. It’s absolutely amazing! Today, Mayne is an author who incorporates these same scientific and “slight of hand” principles into his books. And I love them!

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What a long intro, right? In Murder Theory, Computational biologist and serial-killer hunter Dr. Theo Cray is back after slaying dragons and killing monsters in the previous two novels. Well, okay, no dragons and the monsters were serial killers. Now there is something strange lurking in the dig around the last murder site, something that is making seemingly normal people kill and kill violently. While the local cops and even the FBI are quick to write this off as a one time psychotic break, Cray begins to see a pattern of behavior that could be viral based and, if it is, could spell potential problems if it falls into the wrong hands aka WMD used by any government or military. As Cray searches for the causes, the how and why of the virus and how it could be spread, he begins to trip ever so lightly over the line of good and evil and, at times, appears a little closer to the monster he once was chasing. Has the virus affected him or is this just part of his mad genius working overtime?

Mayne is an excellent story-teller. His writing style and quick chapters propel the story along at a rapid fire pace making this a thrilling ride to the finish. There are times when the story could get bogged down in the scientific jargon, and there is a lot of that, but Mayne makes the science so interesting that it lends to the excitement of the tale rather than detracts from it. It creates substance rather than has the reader skimming over the dry parts because, quite simply, there are no dry parts. I have no idea if any of the science is real but it certainly sounds authentic to me and I love it! And let me tell you – I’m a sucker for last lines that make me go “WHAT!?!?” and the last line of the book had me doing exactly that!!! I would read this book all over again just to get to that last line! You know me well enough by now that when I write that, it’s a killer ending! And in this case it may very well be just that!

Murder Theory could be read as a stand alone. There is enough back story that a new reader could pick up and carry on without reading the first two installments. I do, however, highly recommend the first books as well as his Jessica Blackstone series. They are well worth reading and highly enjoyable!

Murder Theory is available today at your local book seller or library. Many thanks to #Netgalley, #AndrewMayne and #Thomas&Mercer for my copy of this great thriller!