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The Bone Farm (and some series spotlights)

⇒This week I review Dean Koontz’s The Bone Farm and shine a spotlight on some of the other book series I’m addicted to.⇐


Author: Dean Koontz

(3.76 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Crime Fiction / Mystery / Thriller

Published April 25, 2018by Brilliance Audio

Format: Audiobook

Narrator: Elisabeth Rodgers

Pages: 100

#TheBoneFarm #JaneHawk


Let me say first that if you are looking for a series to get invested in, Dean Koontz has some wonderful, easy reads that will keep you on a series train for a nice, pleasant (tense, suspenseful, thrilling, sometimes scary) ride. The Bone Farm is book #0.5 (a case file that precedes the events of the Jane Hawk series), and is every bit as engaging as its older, bigger siblings. But if death-defying females aren’t your thing (hmm, who are you?), then you could try any of Koontz’s other appealing series: Odd Thomas, 9 books that will have you seeing death in a whole new light; Frankenstein, a new look at an old monster in 6 books; or Moonlight Bay, 3 books (2 pub & 1 on the way) that will test if you can survive the darkness of night. I’ve read all of Odd Thomas (love, love, love) and Moonlight Bay (well, not book 3 because it isn’t out yet (and may actually never happen). And I read Prodigal Son of his Frankenstein series last year (sooooo good). Dean Koontz has yet to disappoint me.

But let me back up a little and give you the Goodreads blurb on The Bone Farm:

Katherine Haskell, a young college co-ed is on her way back to school, but she never makes it there. Instead, she becomes the latest prey of the rapist and murderer dubbed by the tabloids the “Mother Hater.” He is a twisted soul who kidnaps young girls for pleasure then discards them. Katherine is missing, but she’s not yet dead. FBI agents Jane Hawk and her partner Gary Burkett must descend into the hell of this killer’s mind to solve the case before it is too late. The question is – will they both get out alive?

This novella is presented as a case file which only hypes me up that there will be more of these – oh book gods, please don’t fail us on this one. The bad guy is bat$&!# cuckoo, Jane is smart and ruthless, there’s a controlling mother, and an old creepy farm house – I’m here for ALL of it!!!! I almost wrote a spoiler right there because I got excited, but stopped myself right in time. Y’all lucked out. But just know, it gets twisty and good!

The Bone Farm is part of the Jane Hawk series, which includes 6 other books to date. The series features a strong heroine in an all-out battle against a new world order. The books are suspenseful, thrilling, and addictive. In a word, readthem. (I know, I know. Just do it.)


So since we’re talking about series, I thought I’d spotlight just a few of the other series that I have followed unfailingly over the years. Most of them are in my preferred genre of mystery/thrillers, but there are a few deviants in the bunch. And you might be surprised by what you won’t find on my list: namely, Harry Potter. (No shade! I just haven’t read them!)

Pendergast Series

One of my longest-standing series, I got hooked on Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child’s series featuring the enigmatic Aloysius X.L. Pendergast from the very first book, Relic (read the book, skip the movie) – even though he was only a supporting character way back then. The authors obviously saw something in him and took off running with his story, and it has been a favorite ever since.


Stephanie Plum Series

Many readers will own up to the fact that they have at least one numbered (or alphabetical) series on their reading list. Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series is mine. She just released book #25 last year and Twisted Twenty-Six is expected in November 2019. These books are cozy crime fiction with hilarious characters that become as familiar as your own family members. I don’t care if this series goes to 200, I am never not going to read a Stephanie Plum book. And oh, by the way, #teamRanger.


Jack Reacher Series

Please, please, please do me a favor and tell me that you did not watch the movies that were supposed to depict this character. And if you did, just forget all that you saw. This Jack Reacher – The REAL Jack Reacher (yes, he’s real to me) – is bigger than life and yet can disappear at a moment’s notice (just thought about that – Sasquatch tendencies? Hmmm…). He is such a fascinating personality with such an amazing skill set (think Taken, but with a brilliant, powerful, Matrix-like Army drifter). Reacher is BIG and BRAWNY, but he is not beautiful. He’s a brawler that doesn’t want to fight unless he has to. And then he’s deadly.


Crazy Rich Asians is a new series for me. I only started reading it because I saw that the movie was releasing soon and I happened to find the first book on the shelf at my neighborhood Goodwill store (where I buy most of my books). After I read it, I went back and found the other two there as well (I have some very generous, good-taste readers in my area, apparently)! I love the humor of this series, as well as the way they sneak social commentary into the text without being preachy or judgy. (It’s a word!)


OTHER SERIES I LOVE:

4MK Thriller series by J.D. Barker

(The 3rd book may release in 2019 – fingers crossed)

Illuminae Files series by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

(I’ve reviewed all of these and I wish it wasn’t over!)

Archie Seridan & Gretchen Lowell series by Chelsea Cain

(A sadistic female serial killer. Nuff said.)

Court series by Sarah J. Maas

(YA romance with faeries. Yep.)

Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

(Seriously, these are as good as – or even better than – the HBO show)

So if you’re a dedicated series reader, stick with it because series = goals! And if you haven’t found a series you love yet, keep looking – there’s a perfect succession of books out there just waiting to be discovered. Happy Reading!


Little Darlings

⇒”Lauren will risk the unthinkable. But if she’s wrong about what she saw… she’ll be making the biggest mistake of her life.”⇐

**Many thanks to NetGalley, Crooked Lane Books, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Author: Melanie Golding

(4.03 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Thriller

Format: Kindle Version

Expected Publication Date: April 30, 2019, by Crooked Lane Books

Pages: 315 (Kindle version)

#LittleDarlings


She’ll have to put them in the water, if she wants her own babies back … Right under the water. Hold ’em down.

Fairy tales. As children, we love them. They’re the stories of magic and happy endings. Sometimes they can be a little twisted, but we love them for their power to convey simple messages in otherworldly ways. As an adult, I learned that most of the fairy tales I heard as a child were not how they were originally written. They were dark, scary, and didn’t always have a happy ending. And I love them!

Right now my podcast subscriptions are filled with those same types of dark stories. Podcasts like Lore and Tales entertain us with the scary side of folklore; and just like them, Little Darlings will have you guessing about what is real and what is imagined.


Here’s a portion of the book summary…. Everyone says Lauren Tranter is exhausted, that she needs rest. And they’re right; with newborn twins, Morgan and Riley, she’s never been more tired in her life. But she knows what she saw: that night, in her hospital room, a woman tried to take her babies and replace them with her own… creatures. Yet when the police arrived, they saw no one. Everyone, from her doctor to her husband, thinks she’s imagining things.

A month passes. And one bright summer morning, the babies disappear from Lauren’s side in a park. But when they’re found, something is different about them. The infants look like Morgan and Riley- to everyone else. But to Lauren, something is off. As everyone around her celebrates their return, Lauren begins to scream, These are not my babies.

A book of scary stories about twins, for a woman who’s just had twins? How inappropriate can you get?

Let me say that identical twins are creepy enough all on their own. Add in a stinky old river lady, an ancient book of unsettling tales, and a disinterested police force, and you have great ingredients for a harrowing mystery. And in Little Darlings, Golding keeps you guessing from the maternity ward to the psych ward.

The characters are unreliable; yes, nearly all of them. The story development is well-paced – going to from a banal baby birth to a creepy child abduction in short order, building from there all the way up to possible infanticide.

There was a darkness to this, something unknown, the tang of evil.

Soon to be a motion picture, I can guess that the imagery on screen will be as haunting as it is on the page: a traumatized new mom, infant twins that just may be something a little less than human, and more life and death in one town’s rivers than should legally be allowed.

Read his book if you love folklore that crosses the line into creepy. Read it if your favorite Disney characters aren’t the princesses, but the witches. Read it if you get excited just by seeing the word “changelings”. And read it if you want to see what magic one debut novel author can make with one dark little fairy tale.


Melanie Golding

Melanie Golding grew up in a village in Leicestershire. She has been employed in may occupations including farm hand, factory worker, childminder and music teacher. Throughout all this, because and in spite of it, there was always the writing. In recent years she has won and been shortlisted in several local and national short story competitions. In 2016, she graduated from the MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, with distinction. Little Darlings is her first novel.


Audible Originals (x3)

⇒I binged a couple – or three – Audible Originals last week. Let’s see how they stacked up to my usual audiobook reads.⇐


Last week was slower than usual at work (thanks spring break), so I popped in my earbuds and binged a few Audible Original audiobooks to see what all the fuss is about.

What fuss? Audible members now have access to at least two free original audiobooks per month. And we get to choose which two from a variety of genres.

These were my picks last week (three because I’m just now getting around to reading them), and a short review of each.

Author: Bryan Burrough

Narrator: Steve White

(3.32 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Nonfiction / True Crime

Published 2019by Audible Originals

Format: Audiobook

Length: 2 hrs 45 mins

#DemonNextDoor


The small town of Temple, Texas, where Bryan Burrough grew up, had harbored a dark secret. One of his high school classmates, Danny Corwin, was a vicious serial killer who had raped and mutilated six women, murdering three of them. Yet the town had denied all early signs of the radical evil that was growing within Corwin. -Adapted from Goodreads

As a true crime junkie, I was immediately drawn to this title. How much better can a crime story get than when it’s being told from someone close to both the victims and the criminal? Although I enjoyed exploring this story about a serial killer I’ve never heard of before, I think the choice of narrator for the audiobook was a curious one. Steve White’s voice, although perfect for book narration, did not convey the serious and grave tones the subject matter deserved. The story is tragic and graphic at many points, but White’s “Mr. Rogers”-style tone forced me to remove a star from my rating.


Author: John Woolf, Nick Baker

Narrator: Stephen Fry

(3.75 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Nonfiction / History

Published: First published October 20, 2018

Format: Audiobook

Length: 7 hrs 33 mins

#VictorianSecrets

Step right up, step right up and don’t be shy—welcome to Victorian Secrets. Over 12 fascinating episodes, Stephen Fry explores the weird and worrying ways of Victorian Britain through true accounts delving deep into a period of time we think we know, to discover an altogether darker reality. –Goodreads description

This book is only available as an audiobook and once you hear it, you’ll understand why. Stellar audio production combined with superbly perfect narration by Stephen Fry make this a book standout effort. And if you’re into spicy British secrets, then this is definitely the book for you! While I found the beginning of the book very intriguing, as it progressed, my interest steadily waned all the way down to the somewhat “unfinished ” ending.


Author: John Scalzi

Narrator: Zachary Quinto

(4.02 stars – Goodreads rating)


Genre: Fiction / Science Fiction

Published: 2019 by Audible Originals (First published October 4, 2016)

Format: Audiobook

Length: 2 hrs 18 mins

#TheDispatcher

Tony Valdez is a Dispatcher – a licensed, bonded professional whose job is to humanely dispatch those whose circumstances put them in death’s crosshairs, so they can have a second chance to avoid the reaper. But when a fellow Dispatcher and former friend is apparently kidnapped, Tony learns that there are some things that are worse than death and that some people are ready to do almost anything to avenge a supposed wrong.
It’s a race against time for Valdez to find his friend before it’s too late…before not even a Dispatcher can save him. -Goodreads description

Easily my favorite of the three audiobooks, The Dispatcher is sufficiently sci-fi enough and thrilling enough to satisfy my reading needs on both fronts. I could easily see the action playing out in my head, and I’d pay for a full-price ticket to see it on the big screen. Plus, let me ask in super-kudos for Quinto’s narration on this one – I’d listen to anything he reads!


Verdict? If you’re an Audible member, give the Originals a try – after all, with everyone else creating original content, why shouldn’t Audible as well? Happy Reading!


Sharp Objects

⇒When you shake the family tree and more than a few rotten apples fall out.⇐


Author: Gillian Flynn

(3.95 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Psychological Thriller

Published 2006by Broadway Paperbacks

Format: Paperback

Pages: 254 (Paperback)

#SharpObjects


I like checking days off a calendar — 151 days crossed and nothing truly horrible has happened. 152 and the world isn’t ruined. 153 and I haven’t destroyed anyone.


About one fourth of the way into this book, I had parts of my review already written. In my head, it was complimentary and mostly lighthearted. Then I kept reading.

While I knew Sharp Objects would be telling a dark story (hellooo, murder), I wasn’t prepared for this next-to-hell level of depravity. Ummm, Gillian, Gone Girl, Dark Places, Sharp Objects? Your therapist is working overtime, sweetie. But I’m glad for it because this book was terribly fantastic.

Here’s the Goodreads blurb: Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, reporter Camille Preaker faces a troubling assignment: she must return to her tiny hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. For years, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed in her old bedroom in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Dogged by her own demons, she must unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past if she wants to get the story—and survive this homecoming.


I’m almost afraid to write this review because I don’t want to give anything away. This is when I could use a little of Flynn’s skill because she gives NOTHING away. Reading Sharp Objects is like lifting off the top of the first Matryoshka doll and finding a rotten egg in there instead of another doll. And then a cockroach inside the egg. And then Ebola inside of the cockroach. Not exaggerating. This story is all kinds of messed up.

They always call depression the blues… Depression to me is urine yellow. Washed out, exhausted miles of weak piss.

Our first-person perspective comes from Camille Preaker, who pretty much proves she’s unreliable and dangerously flawed before we’ve even made it out of the first chapter. But this is the ticket we paid for, so buckle up ’cause it’s gonna be a bumpy ride. As the layers of Camille’s past are peeled away during her visit home to Wind Gap, Missouri, the murders of two young girls almost take a back seat to Camille’s personal family drama. Who are these weirdly damaged people?! Once you meet her mom, stepdad, and half-sister, you start to understand why Camille did a stint in the psych ward; you really can’t blame her. After reading this book, I’m thinking that checking out the Talkspace app may not be such a bad idea.

How do you keep safe when your whole day is as wide and empty as the sky? Anything could happen.

So the book’s subject and events are dark, but I didn’t find it gloomy or depressing. Flynn wraps up all the impending danger and distress like a little present and then stands back like a sinister villain to watch us unwrap it. It’s like watching Black Mirror on Netflix when you think you know what’s going on, but then all of a sudden you’re like, “Wait, what the heck happened just now?!” Same feeling.

Readers of Gone Girl will love Sharp Objects – if they haven’t already read it (I know I’m behind the crowd on this one). It’s suspenseful, gritty, mysterious, and strange. There are almost too many triggers to list for sensitive readers, and if I did try to list them, some might spoil the cleverly crafted plot development.

There isn’t much pretty or clean about it, but it is, in fact, a masterpiece. From the first few paragraphs, I knew Flynn was going to be a force to be reckoned with, and I love her now for that.

To refuse has so many more consequences than submitting.

Camille’s family portrait should be the top-right-corner graphic on the Wikipedia page for “dysfunctional”. (Is dysfunction-in-denial an entry?) As this book ended, I wanted to go hug my family and tell them thank you for always being good to me even if every single one of them is cuckoo-crazy! Oh, and I also kept touching my teeth with my tongue too. Read it, you’ll get it then.


Gillian Flynn

Gillian Flynn is an American author and television critic for Entertainment Weekly. She has so far written three novels, Sharp Objects, for which she won the 2007 Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for the best thriller; Dark Places; and her best-selling third novel Gone Girl.


Beautiful Bad

⇒”… a beautiful marriage turns beautifully bad.”⇐

**Many thanks to NetGalley, Park Row Books, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Author: Annie Ward

(3.81 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Suspense / Psych Thriller

Format: Kindle Version

Publish Date: March 5, 2019, by Park Row Books

Pages: 384 (Kindle version)

#BeautifulBad


Are you hiding something? It’s so simple. It’s so direct. It’s almost uncanny. As if someone out there knows I’m not supposed to be thinking the things I’m thinking.


One of the things that can easily ruin a suspenseful book for me is if I can figure out how the book is going to end even before I get too far into it. I’m not omniscient nor do I have any form of ESP, but sometimes plots are so cookie-cutter you can predict the conclusion long before you read the final chapter.

Thankfully, Beautiful Bad was not one of those books. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads…

Things that make me scared: When Charlie cries. Hospitals and lakes. When Ian drinks vodka in the basement. ISIS. When Ian gets angry… That something is really, really wrong with me. Maddie and Ian’s romance began with a chance encounter at a party overseas; he was serving in the British army and she was a travel writer visiting her best friend, Jo. Now almost two decades later, married with a beautiful son, Charlie, they are living the perfect suburban life in Middle America. But when a camping accident leaves Maddie badly scarred, she begins attending writing therapy, where she gradually reveals her fears about Ian’s PTSD; her concerns for the safety of their young son, Charlie; and the couple’s tangled and tumultuous past with Jo. From the Balkans to England, Iraq to Manhattan, and finally to an ordinary family home in Kansas, sixteen years of love and fear, adventure and suspicion culminate in The Day of the Killing, when a frantic 911 call summons the police to the scene of a shocking crime.

Ian was a damage junkie, and I was out of order in a way that got him off.

This book is ideal for lovers of suspense, drama, and twisted love triangles- it has it all, plus an underlying love story between some seriously damaged people.

It’s hard to talk about this trippy book without giving some meaty tidbits away. I refuse! I want you to have the same experience I had while reading it- picking through the landmines of drama and subterfuge that Beautiful Bad has to offer.

I adored him, as damaged as he was. I found him all the more fascinating for the chunks that had been torn out of him.

Written in a multi-perspective style that counts down to “The Day of the Killing”, readers end up jagging back and forth in time and in and out of locales foreign and domestic, including the Balkans, New York, England, and Kansas. And if the time travel and relocations don’t keep you on your toes, the messy love triangle and intense personal dramas will.

Have I said it yet? This is a good book. Almost none of its main characters are damage-free, so they’re entirely unreliable. There is no one to trust with this story, least of all the ones telling it! However, the story is only made better by all of its uncertainty.

I don’t just say whatever pops into my head. I may be glitchy, but I’m mostly in control.

Beautiful Bad is a gritty thriller that doesn’t appear that way at first. There are a few triggers that sensitive readers should be aware of: PTSD is a big one, alcoholism, domestic abuse, and miscarriage. The violence isn’t gratuitous, but there is some brutality- this ain’t a romance novel, folks.

Annie Ward, thank you for this deliciously suspenseful novel with an unpredictable ending that’s one step beyond twisted; it’s warped!


Annie Ward

During Annie’s five years in the Balkans she received a Fulbright Scholarship, taught at the University of Sofia, and script doctored eight screenplays for Nu-Image, an Israeli/American film company that produced a number of projects in Bulgaria for the SyFy Channel. She was later the recipient of an Escape to Create artist residency. –Bio adapted from Goodreads.


The Forbidden Door (Jane Hawk, #4)

⇒Jane Hawk’s adventures continue in Book 4, The Forbidden Door. When Jane’s son’s safety is threatened, she pulls out all the stops to keep him safe.⇐


Author: Dean Koontz

Narrator: Elisabeth Rodgers

(4.19 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Thriller

Format: Audiobook (CDs)

Published September 11, 2018by Bantam (Brilliance Audio)

Pages: 480 (Hardcover) ; Audible Audio (14:57)

#TheForbiddenDoor #JaneHawk


This is a world of lies and always has been. We live in a time of even greater deceptions than in centuries past.


You’ve read the books where the hero – and even the bad guy – is highly motivated to do what they do because of their love for their kids. This is that, but on steroids.

This is a gritty story with some really brutal and insane bad guys, some intensely damaged victims, and a “she-ro” who has to be really tired by now.

Not familiar with this series? Here’s a blurb of this book: She was one of the FBI’s top agents until she became the nation’s most-wanted fugitive. Now Jane Hawk may be all that stands between a free nation and its enslavement by a powerful secret society’s terrifying mind-control technology. She couldn’t save her husband, or the others whose lives have been destroyed, but equipped with superior tactical and survival skills- and the fury born of a broken heart and a hunger for justice- Jane has struck major blows against the insidious cabal. But Jane’s enemies are about to hit back hard. If their best operatives can’t outrun her, they mean to bring her running to them, using her five-year-old son as bait. Jane knows there’s no underestimating their capabilities, but she must battle her way back across the country to the remote shelter where her boy is safely hidden… for now.

We’re rewriting the play, and the play is this country, the world, the future. We break Jane’s heart, we’ll also break her will.

OK, in this one, lots of people are crazy. And I don’t say that word lightly. I mean, certifiable. Book #4 has a lot going on: chases, subterfuge, tech-talk, nano bites, hand-to-hand battles, and… oh yeah, zombies. Yes, you read that correctly. Zombies.

The bad guys are worse and they seem to have even more resources. However, Jane isn’t lacking in that department either, and when the battle comes to a head with Jane’s son in the cross hairs, all her friends and supporters (those who are still alive, that is) come together to help her save yet another day.

Beware actors who can be anyone they wish to be; they are in fact no one at all, cold and empty, though they can be pied pipers to the masses.

This series feels a little different from your standard Dean Koontz fare, even though it is still action-centered, has that other-worldly element, and – oh yes – it has dogs. So if you’re a Koontz purist, this isn’t a departure by any means. And with a more satisfying “ending” than book #3, The Forbidden Door still leaves readers waiting with baited breath for Book #5, The Night Window (releasing May 14, 2019).

Readers should be aware, though, that there is gratuitous violence of several types, discussion of rape, murder, etc. Sensitive readers won’t get a reprieve until the last page. Fair warning.

Other books in the series include The Silent Corner, The Whispering Room, and The Crooked Staircase.

Dean Koontz

Acknowledged as “America’s most popular suspense novelist” (Rolling Stone) and as one of today’s most celebrated and successful writers, Dean Ray Koontz has earned the devotion of millions of readers around the world and the praise of critics everywhere for tales of character, mystery, and adventure that strike to the core of what it means to be human. -Bio from Goodreads


A Spark of Light

⇒A hostage negotiation gets extremely personal when a dad has to save his daughter from a madman bent on revenge.⇐


Author: Jodi Picoult

Narrator: Bahni Turpin

(3.68 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Thriller

Format: Audiobook (CDs)

Published October 2, 2018by Random House (Random House Audio)

Pages: 384 (Hardcover) ; Audio Discs (14:30)

#ASparkofLight


Laws are black and white. The lives of women are a thousand shades of gray.


I cannot tell a lie. I am attracted by what is bright and shiny and new – especially when it comes to books! Social media and advertising does such a good job of putting new releases and pretty covers in front of us. And they are soooo enticing!

I have told myself countless times to stop being swayed by books that ride happily along on the social media popularity wave, but somehow I keep letting myself get dragged along on the bandwagon of new-release hype. A Spark of Light is one of those books that pulled me in when I should have just let it pass me by.

The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love?

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Here’s the abbreviated synopsis: The warm fall day starts like any other at the Center – a women’s reproductive health services clinic… Then, in late morning, a desperate and distraught gunman bursts in and opens fire…. Told in a daring and enthralling narrative structure that counts backward through the hours of the standoff, this is a story that traces its way back to what brought each of these very different individuals to the same place on this fateful day.

Violence, from one angle, looked like mercy from another.

What pulled me in to this latest Picoult novel? Hostages! A great hostage story is usually a sure bet. Usually. Unfortunately for Spark, the tension that should naturally build and escalate during a hostage situation didn’t get that same opportunity because of the unique narrative setup of this book.

What do I mean by that? Remember Memento – the movie told in reverse? This was Picoult’s version. I say that and then I instantly feel disloyal to Memento because I really like that movie, but this book… not so much.

We are all drowning slowly in the tide of our opinions, oblivious that we are taking on water every time we open our mouths.

Ok, here is my bad-rating disclaimer for this book: Abortion is an important topic. No matter which side of the debate you fall on, you should have the right to your own opinion. My dislike of this book is in no way directly related to my opinions about abortion.

More accurately, I wasn’t happy with the development of the story, it’s lack of true action, and the lackluster ending (beginning?) and epilogue. The feeling was more akin to sitting through a lengthy pro-life vs. pro-choice college debate with some sad backstories mixed in.

Die hard Picoult fans will rate this book highly, talk about how much they love her and all her work, and say how well she represented both sides of the argument. A Spark of Light will fare well despite my poor rating here. However, I will definitely be more wary of bandwagon book picks from now on.


Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult is the author of 24 novels. She lives in New Hampshire.


Restoration Heights

⇒He was the last person to see her alive and he has to find out what happened to her, but why doesn’t anyone else seem to care? ⇐

**Many thanks to NetGalley, Hanover Squre Press, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Author: Wil Medearis

(3.44 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Thriller

Format: Kindle Version

Published January 22, 2019, by Harlequin Enterprises / Hanover Square Press

Pages: 336 (Hardcover)

#RestorationHeights


Because Restoration Heights had a bottomless appetite… [it] craved, finally, a murder, if not hers then yours, anyone, a body to consecrate the ground.


I have visited New York as a tourist: wide-eyed, with a camera, trying to see everything, eat everything, and learn everything that a born-and-raised southerner should know about the Big Apple (including that it’s really lame to still call it the Big Apple). Although I left NY generally unimpressed and wondering what all the hype is about – we have great Italian restaurants in Atlanta too! – I do respect the energy of that city and of the people determined to survive there.

Main character, Reddick’s, mysterious run-in with a female stranger and how distinctly that one night changes his life and perception is one of those “New York minutes” that will drag you – willingly – into the depths of a city and lifestyle the travel agent wouldn’t dare include on the brochure.

Here’s the blurb (courtesy of Goodreads): Reddick, a young, white artist, lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a historically black Broooklyn neighborhood besieged by gentrification. He makes rent as an art handler hanging expensive works for Manhattan’s one percent, and spends his free time playing basketball at the local Y rather than putting energy into his stagnating career. He is also the last person to see Hannah before she disappears. When Hannah’s fiance, scion to an old-money Upper East Side family, refuses to call the police, Reddick sets out to learn for himself what happened to her. The search gives him a sense of purpose pulling him through a dramatic cross section of the city he never knew existed. The truth of Hannah’s fate is buried at the heart of a many-layered mystery that, in its unraveling, shakes Reddick’s convictions and lays bare the complicated machinations of money and power that connect the magisterial town houses of the Upper Eat Side to the unassuming brownstones of Bed-Stuy.


The truth exists, but your ability to perceive it depends upon the assumptions you begin with.

I am being totally honest when I say that this book surprised me. Frankly, I didn’t expect it to be good. That was just my first impression, “Ugh, another book about a missing girl in New York. Blah blah, blah.” Thank you for proving me wrong, Wil Medearis!

Instead of the same-old same-old, I was treated to an evenly-paced mystery that stealthily wraps commentary about gentrification, racial bias, and inexcusable economic gaps around a thrilling plot that is not a bit cookie-cutter.

The story is headlined by a likable, imperfect, and complex protagonist whose ping-ponging grit and naivete equally made me cheer and cringe throughout. And this, dear “other authors”, is how you make a character who, in general, has absolutely nothing in common with me personally, relatable in a more personal way. Take notes.

…if I didn’t think this was important that a life was at stake, I wouldn’t be here right now.

I also noticed that Wil Medearis can really write! OK, see this as a blatant generalization, but often male authors’ prose lacks poetry! There is no true rhythm to it – no ebb and flow. They state facts and describe action, but there’s often no scenery, no scene-setting, and no reference to the “emotions” of the space around the characters’ actions.

Not so with Mr. Medearis. And who would actually expect poetry in a novel based in Bed-Stuy? But check out this short excerpt – this is exactly how an artist would view his city:

He put his coat on and left. The afternoon was already darkening, the day spent before he could use it. The sky and the hardened snow were an identical humming lavender, the townhouse windows seeped orange like cracks in the shell of winter.

Just that one sentence makes my little reader’s heart all kinds of happy!

There was meaning in the contours, the outlines a unity of shape and intent, facts that could be shimmied into being by proximity, by the tug of two-dimensional gravity. If he could just get the shapes right he could find her.

Thank you, Wil Medearis, for writing this book, for making it a captivating read, for not being preachy while you taught me about gentrification, and for naming your main character Reddick (enough Jacks and Maxs and Duncans, thank you). And for giving me a story that I can both rate and recommend highly to all of my reader friends and family.


Preview this book here: Restoration Heights (courtesy of Google Books)

Wil Medearis

Wil Medearis holds an MFA in painting from the University of Pennsylvania. His artwork has been featured in galleries in Richmond, Philadelphia and Manhattan’s Lower East Side. He has worked as an adjunct professor, tended bar at a country club, refinished furniture for an antiques dealer and hung art inside the homes of some of the wealthiest art collectors in Manhattan. Restoration Heights is his first novel. –Bio from Google Books


An Anonymous Girl

⇒Knowing whom you can trust is a valuable life skill – because “uncertainty is an excruciating state in which to exist.” ⇐

**Many thanks to NetGalley, St. Martin’s Press, and the authors for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Authors: Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

(4.15 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Thriller

Format: Kindle Version

Published January 8, 2019, by St. Martin’s Press

Pages: 375 (Hardcover)

#AnAnonymousGirl


Every lifetime contains pivot points — sometimes flukes of destiny, sometimes seemingly preordained — that shape and eventually cement one’s path.


You’ve probably heard of the philosophy of eating your dessert first. The premise behind that is that life is unpredictable, so make sure you’re enjoying as much of it as you can, while you can. And while I certainly agree with that idea, I have never really put it into practice with my dinner.

However, as a younger person, I did employ that philosophy in my reading. If I was reading a book that was particularly suspenseful or scary, I would skip to the end of the chapter or to the end of the book to make sure that my beloved characters survived whatever current crisis the author was subjecting them to. I had no qualms with “skipping ahead” in my books or even skipping entire chapters if the writing started to drag. It never came back to haunt me and I never felt like I missed out.

So why is it that, as an adult, I feel an overwhelming sense of guilt if I even consider not finishing a book or skipping ahead in it if it starts to become dull or disengaging? I’m not sure why I imagine the book police coming for me if I don’t force myself to slog through even the worst plots and excruciatingly banal writing styles in order to say that I, in fact, did read the whole book.

I should take advice from my younger self and erase the guilt because this was a book that I think I could have enjoyed more if I had skipped ahead.

Sometimes an impulsive decision can change the course of your life.

I was convinced that An Anonymous Girl was going to be a great book because of this line in the summary: “Seeking women ages 18–32 to participate in a study on ethics and morality. Generous compensation. Anonymity guaranteed.” You know what that means to me? Secrets!!! And who doesn’t love a good mystery book involving a secret psychological study? It guarantees that somebody is going to be crazy – usually, the one hosting the study – and that some young innocent is going to find themselves in danger pretty quickly. True and true.

Here’s the Goodreads summary to get you acquainted with the story:
“When Jessica Farris signs up for a psychology study conducted by the mysterious Dr. Shields, she thinks all she’ll have to do is answer a few questions, collect her money, and leave. But as the questions grow more and more intense and invasive and the sessions become outings where Jess is told what to wear and how to act, she begins to feel as though Dr. Shields may know what she’s thinking…and what she’s hiding. As Jess’s paranoia grows, it becomes clear that she can no longer trust what in her life is real, and what is one of Dr. Shields’ manipulative experiments. Caught in a web of deceit and jealousy, Jess quickly learns that some obsessions can be deadly.

Sometimes a test is so small and quiet you don’t even notice it’s a test.

So I was set up to love this book, I was all set to love it, but after I got about 40% into it, I knew that it wouldn’t be a 5-star read for me. That was disappointing for me – especially after seeing so many 5-star reviews for it. And although I never let other readers’ reviews sway my own opinions, I wonder what the 5-star raters interpreted in this book that was the exact opposite from what I experienced while reading it.

Let’s look at the good first: The book is engaging. The premise immediately draws you in, and almost from the first chapter you’re off and running with Jess, the main character, headlong into uncertainty and sketchy adventures. Readers who enjoy this book will appreciate the underlying current of danger at every turn, and the authors did a good job with that sense of impending danger.

Another good: At first the character of Dr. Lydia Shields is masterfully creepy and commanding. Readers get the sense that she is powerful and manipulative – both of which are valid assumptions made stronger by the authors’ use of dual perspectives (Jess’s and Dr. Shields’) to control the tone of the story and build it to its ultimate denouement.

Sometimes a therapist who coaxes out all of your secrets is holding the biggest one in the room.

OK, now on to the bad – or should I say instead, what could have made the book better for me. I didn’t feel connected to any of the main characters. Jess seems too gullible and moon-eyed over the specter of Dr. Shields, without sufficient evidence as to why she should be so enamored.

Plus, maybe it’s just part of my innately distrustful personality, but almost immediately my hackles were raised at how much information Jess gives away so freely within the study. Hasn’t she ever heard of holding something back?! I blame her friends because it seems like she just needs someone to talk to other than Leo, her dog.

Another that felt like it was missing was that I needed the book to be a little more layered. We were exposed only to the basic information about each character and then only given additional information that related only to the action at hand.Was Jess really isolated? Other than her family did she only have 1 or 2 other friends? Did she not socialize with any of her coworkers? Neighbors? Former classmates? We’ll never know because none of those relationships was ever explored. And the second-tier characters that are included are treated more like pawns instead of people with personalities and backstories.

A secret is only a secret if one person holds it.

But the main point that could have made this book a bit more thrilling for me is that Dr. Shields should have remained more of a mystery for a longer period of time. The authors did a great job initially of setting her up to be enigmatic and influential. However, once we “see” who she is, her mystery-quotient is diminished significantly and she just appears more desperate instead of cunning. Dr. Shields as “The Great and Powerful Oz”.

Although I do like how readers are not sure about whether or not to trust Thomas – without spoiling anything – I can say that the authors could have used his character to much better advantage, especially at the end.

Self-preservation is a powerful motivator, more reliably so than money or empathy or love.

The best parts of An Anonymous Girl are the opening and closing chapters. And although the middle is necessary for the plot and all the pertinent details, I felt best served by the first and last.

I have The Wife Between Us by these same authors as a TBR waiting on my bookshelf, but after reading An Anonymous Girl, that book can wait a while longer.

Greer & Sarah

Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen are the co-authors of the blockbuster New York Times bestseller, THE WIFE BETWEEN US, as well as just-released, AN ANONYMOUS GIRL.

-Bio adapted from Goodreads

Hunting Annabelle

⇒A thriller that tests what you do when you can’t trust your own mind, or heart, or anyone and anything else…⇐

**Many thanks to NetGalley, MIRA Books, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Author: Wendy Heard

(3.96 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Mystery / Psychological Thriller

Format: Kindle

Published December 18, 2018, by MIRA

Pages: 304 (Kindle)

#HuntingAnnabelle


I know what happened. Whether anyone believes me or not, I know.


This book won me over because of two words: Unreliable Narrator! I have read plenty of books where the narrator is untrustworthy, clinically mad, or is operating under certain delusions that cause readers to question the veracity of their storytelling. Since I’ve read so many, you’d think I wouldn’t get excited about one more. Well, you’d be wrong.

Hunting Annabelle is different. It grabbed my interest immediately. Yes, Sean Suh is a shady lead character with a dark and dangerous past (that is craftily revealed over time throughout the book), but he’s still an intriguing young man whose magnetic personality pulls in close to everything he does. He’s unique in his appearance (partially shaved head, goth-dark clothing, and black jelly bracelets crawling up his arms), but he’s also still vulnerable in so many ways. It’s easy for readers to care for him and stand in his corner even though – with every added chapter – Sean shows us all the reasons why we shouldn’t put any faith in him. At all. But before I get too far ahead of myself, here’s the Goodreads blurb…

Sean Suh is done with killing. After serving three years in a psychiatric prison, he’s determined to stay away from temptation. But he can’t resist Annabelle—beautiful, confident, incandescent Annabelle—who alone can see past the monster to the man inside. The man he’s desperately trying to be.  
Then Annabelle disappears.
Sean is sure she’s been kidnapped—he witnessed her being taken firsthand—but the police are convinced that Sean himself is at the center of this crime. And he must admit, his illness has caused him to “lose time” before. What if there’s more to what happened than he’s able to remember?
Though haunted by the fear that it might be better for Annabelle if he never finds her, Sean can’t bring himself to let go of her without a fight. To save her, he’ll have to do more than confront his own demons… He’ll have to let them loose.


What I have can’t be treated. It’s just what I am. I am a predator.

On the surface, Sean is just a man in love trying to solve a mystery about an enigmatic, beautiful young woman he meets. But the story’s undercurrent involves so much more.

There’s the overbearing mother who resents Sean and his sketchy past and seems to think that the perfect combination of medication will cure a multitude of sins. And then there are the skeptical police officers who have made Sean their number one suspect in Annabelle’s disappearance, even though he’s the one that reported it. Finally, Annabelle’s own eccentric grab-bag of acquaintances and relatives lead Sean through some of the most harrowing experiences along his covert amateur investigation, only adding more layers of unpredictability to this already dubious tale. Could Sean, the corrupt ex-con end up being the only true hero in this book?

I have no plan. I’m no hero. I suppose every villain is the hero of his own story.

Wendy Heard tells Sean’s story at a steady pace. There are very few slow sections, which I greatly appreciate. Sean’s prescription drug-addled personality and his sketchy past are revealed in bits and pieces, not just regurgitated in one anticlimactic fact-finding paragraph, which readers have been made the victims of far too many times in the past in mysteries and thrillers.

And now we come full circle back to the number one reason why I enjoyed this book so much – Sean is a perfect unreliable narrator. Any time you read a book written in the first person, you have to ask yourself – even subconsciously – how much do I trust the person who is telling me this story? Well, in this case, you know you’re not supposed to trust Sean. He’s a predator, a bad dude struggling to be good, but not really making it 100% of the time. You know that you should keep him and his “truth”at arm’s length, but he just keeps pulling you back in until, eventually, you just end up buying what he’s selling. Lock, stock, and barrel.

Maybe I was confused about more things than I’d been willing to admit. Maybe I’m crazier than I want to believe.

Read this book for the magnetism of Sean’s mercurial personality and for his unique way of seeing people through synesthesia (a psychological condition through which you can see other people’s auras). Read it for the twisty parts, that don’t all bunch up at the end of the book. And read it to find out who the monsters really are.

Listen to an excerpt of Hunting Annabelle HERE  (Courtesy of Soundcloud)

And if you end up reading and enjoying Hunting Annabelle, look forward to Heard’s next release – as yet untitled – in December 2019 that will feature a female protagonist who is “scrappy, a hopeless smartass, and is covered in tattoos. More importantly, she’s kind, strong, and warm.” – Wendy Heard.


Wendy Heard

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Wendy Heard was born in San Francisco and has lived most of her life in Los Angeles. When not writing, she can be found hiking the Griffith Park trails, taking the Metro and then questioning this decision, and haunting local bookstores.