Mesmerizing, heart-breaking first book in reverse order trilogy

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The Darkness by Ragnar Jonasson

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdottir is being forced into a slightly earlier retirement, being replaced by a younger person.  She dreads her future although she has met a very nice man who she thinks might be an answer to her loneliness.  Before she cleans out her desk at the police station, she’s been given an opportunity to look into a cold case of her choice.  She knows immediately which case it will be.  A young Russian women who was trying to find asylum in Iceland was found dead and her death was deemed a suicide. However, Hulda knows that the officer who investigated this case didn’t always do a very thorough job and she has a feeling that there was more to this case than he found.

I was so very impressed with this book and can’t wait to read everything else this author has written.  His characterization of Hulda is excellent and very detailed.  This woman has had a successful career as a police officer but hasn’t always been accepted by the men in the department.  She’s determined to end her career on a high note by solving this cold case but as each day approaches her retirement, errors are made and her situation deteriorates.  She begins to pin her hopes on the man she has recently met and envisions a happier future.  I loved Hulda and felt complete empathy for her.  Secrets in her past are alluded to, which when revealed are absolutely heartbreaking.  Also the story of this Russian immigrant is so timely and tragic.

This is the first book in the Hidden Iceland Trilogy.  The series is being told in reverse order so the next book will be set 25 years prior to this book.  It’s an unusual format for a trilogy and I think I may have preferred reading Hulda’s story in chronological order since now I know how her story ends.  But this first book is so brilliantly written that I know I will be anxiously awaiting the next one.  This author is one who isn’t afraid of taking risks and definitely knows how to write Nordic Noir.  The book is mesmerizing and heart breaking and the ending will chill you to the bone.

Most highly recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

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Entertaining, thought-provoking spy novel

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Transcription by Kate Atkinson

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

It’s 1940 and Juliette Armstrong has been recruited to work for M15.  She’s 18 years old and quite naïve.  She’s been given the tedious job of transcribing recordings of meetings of British Fascist sympathizers.  But she’s soon pulled even deeper into this frightening espionage world.  When the war is over, Juliette believes the past is behind her.  But she learns that there are still consequences that need to be dealt with.

There are sometimes light hearted moments in this novel that are deceiving because this is quite a deep, thought-provoking work.  While I very much enjoyed Juliette’s witty remarks, there are layers and layers to explore in this book.  I feel like starting the book from the beginning again and dissecting it, scene by scene, which is not something I’ve ever enjoyed doing.   The fragility of loyalty, how thin the line can be between “them” and “us”, how contradictory our inner beliefs can be and how history can be re-shaped in its telling are all explored.

On the negative side, I did get bogged down some with all of the boring transcriptions but I don’t really see how the author could have gotten around those.  Also, while most of the book is very realistic and believable, there were some scenes toward the end that were a bit far-fetched.

Overall, this is was a very interesting and enjoyable read.  Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

A “Stepford Wife” society

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Vox by Christina Dalcher

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

There have been some rather extreme changes made here in the United States.  Women must wear a bracelet-type counter that allows them only 100 words a day.  If they go over their quota, they receive a horrendous electrical shock.  Even the written word or sign language is punishable.  Women can no longer hold jobs and girls are not being taught how to read or write but only are taught how to cook and sew.  Dr. Jean McClellan is the narrator of this book.  She’s a mother of four and the wife of a man who she believes is too passive about the whole issue.  She regrets not taking action before this all started.  She no longer has a voice with which to fight.

Before all of these changes, Jean was a cognitive linguist working on a cure for aphasia, the loss of the ability to understand or express speech caused by brain damage.  All of her research stopped when women’s rights were taken away.  But now the President’s brother is suffering from brain damage and Jean is asked to resume her work.

The only fault I had with this book is that at times it felt too much like “The Handmaid’s Tale”.  There are so many similar restrictions.  But I felt that the writer does a very good job in telling this story and Jean is a very believable narrator.  The added interest comes from Sonia, Jean’s 6-year-old daughter, who doesn’t remember what it’s like to be able to speak freely.  There’s one terribly frightening scene involving Sonia that really made the whole book seem so real and possible.  It’s one thing to have your own rights taken away but entirely another when it involves your innocent child.  The way the schools were now teaching young girls was so tragic.

Interesting story told in a realistic manner.  Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

 

 

Quite entertaining

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Lies by T.M. Logan

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

When Joe Lynch unsuspectingly follows his wife’s car one day at the bequest of his small son who wants to “surprise” mommy, he sets off a series of terrible events.  He’s now being framed for a murder that he believes never even happened.  Just when you think things can’t get worse, they do and the noose keeps getting tighter and tighter around Joe’s neck.

This is quite an addictive book and I really cared for Joe and his plight.  He’s such a good guy, good father and good husband that the course of events seemed so very unfair.  Social media and technology play a heavy hand in this suspenseful thriller.  It was quite scary to see how easier this app or that app can be downloaded onto your phone and your privacy is completely gone.  How realistic the tale was, I’m not sure but it was certainly a fun ride.  And I never saw the end coming.  Not only was this a fast thriller but it also touched on the fragility of our relationships with others and how destructive lies can be.

Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

 

Can always count on this author for an interesting read

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The Disappearing by Lori Roy

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Lane Fielding has returned home after twenty years to once again live with her parents.  She never wanted to return but her divorce was a hard one and she’s back with her two daughters, Annalee and Talley.  She’s not welcome in town since her father has for many years been suspected of abusing, and possibly killing, young boys at a nearby reform school.  Lane has her own mystery of what happened to her when she disappeared at the age of 13 years old that still follows her around.  Now another young blond girl has disappeared and the reporters are back in town.  The past will soon touch Lane’s fragile family in an even more frightening way.

I’ve read all of Lori Roy’s books and they never disappoint.  The author is very good at bringing her damaged characters to life and keeping her readers hooked.  This is a slow moving book, sometimes I thought it was a bit too slow but then it would pick up again.  I loved Lane and admired her efforts to be a good mother to the often difficult Annalee and the young vulnerable Talley.  Lane had a hard upbringing and she vowed to do better by her daughters.  She and her twisted family and their battle with their demons makes for an interesting story.  The past is never too far from the present.  This novel is apparently based on the real-life tragedy at the Arthur Dozier School for Boys in Florida.

Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

Very impressive debut novel

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The Moment Before Drowning by James Brydon

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Capitaine Jacques le Garrec has returned to Paris in disgrace.  He was a hero in the French Resistance but now is facing charges of a terrible crime that occurred in Algiers, where he was working in the Army Intelligence Service.  While he’s waiting trial, he’s asked to investigate the unsolved murder of a local teenage girl.  The French town where this murder took place has a history of German occupation that has left its impact on the residents.  As le Garrec looks into the murder, his memories of what happened in Algiers often collides with the investigation.

I’m very impressed by this author’s debut novel.  It’s a short novel but Mr. Brydon packs in so much emotion, suspense, tension and heartbreak.  This story literally took my breath away and has left me shaken.  Be forewarned that this book is not for the faint hearted.  It’s a brutally violent book with graphic descriptions of horrendous torture.  Capitaine le Garrec is a broken man, torn apart by his work in Algiers.  The moral dilemma he’s faced with is a tragic one.   There was never a moment in this book that I wasn’t completely engrossed.  The ending was pure perfection.  This book will haunt me for some time to come.  This author is one to be reckoned with and I hope his next literary work will be published soon.

Most highly recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

 

 

Believable? Not really – but who cares!

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Bring Me Back by B.A. Paris

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

When the love of Finn’s life Layla disappears at a service station, he’s a suspect but is soon cleared though he hasn’t told the police the whole story.  His grief is shared by Layla’s sister Ellen and it brings them together.  Ten years after Layla’s disappearance, Finn and Ellen are engaged to be married.  But now signs start appearing that Layla may still be alive and not too happy about the upcoming wedding.

I really could not put this book down!  I enjoyed this author’s two previous books and this was no exception.  The author really knows how to ramp up tension.  It’s a short book and just flew by.  I never expected quality literature when I chose this one but Ms. Paris’ books are fun and entertaining and that’s all I ask for in a light thriller like this one.

Recommended for when you want a fun, fast read.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

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A master short-story author

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Night-Gaunts and Other Tales of Suspense by Joyce Carol Oates

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star review

The first story, “The Woman in the Window”, opens with a naked woman sitting in a window waiting for her married lover.  Is there still love in her heart for this man or has it turned to hatred?  Have her feelings for her remained the same?

In “The Long-Legged Girl”, a woman has decided to play Russian roulette with poisoned tea with her husband’s beautiful dance student.

“Sign of the Beast” is a disturbing tale of a young boy who Sunday School teacher shows him unwanted attention.

In “Walking Wounded”, a man working on a well-known author’s posthumous work keeps finding erotic references that seem to reflect what’s happening in his own life.

The title story, “Night-Gaunts”, explores the damnation of heredity is such a frightening way.

If I had to pick a favorite out of all of these unique stories, it would be “The Experimental Subject”.  This is a nightmarish story about a lab technician who lures a naïve, unattractive young woman to be the unknowing recipient of a chimpanzee’s sperm in the hopes that she will give birth to the first “Humanzee”.

I have never been disappointed by the work of Joyce Carol Oates and she certainly doesn’t let her readers down with this selection of short stories.  They are some of the most unusual, creative, horrific stories I’ve ever read.  If you like your stories all neatly tied up at the end, these won’t be your cup of tea.  Most of the stories leave the reader hanging but I actually enjoy wondering what happened and letting my imagination fill in the blanks.  This is an excellent selection of horror tales from an author who just keeps improving.

Most highly recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

 

A fun read until the end

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A Noise Downstairs by Linwood Barclay

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star rating

When Paul Davis discovers a friend of his trying to dispose of two dead women, his life is never the same again.  He’s struggling to recover from PTSD as a result of almost losing his life.  He’s depressed and having nightmares.  He decides that it might help him if he were to write the whole story down so his wife buys him an antique typewriter to work on.  But that doesn’t help his sleep much as he hears what appears to be the typewriter typing away by itself every night.  Is this the same typewriter that the killer made his victims type their apologies on before he killed them?  Are the victims trying to reach Paul?

This is the first book that I’ve read by this author.  I’ve heard quite a lot of good things about Mr. Barclay’s work so I was very pleased to get a copy of this book.  I thought it was such an interesting premise and I became engrossed in it.  Paul is just an everyday kind of guy who gets caught up in such a mess.  I cared about him and felt such sympathy for him.  I figured out what was happening quite early but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book.  What did detract from my enjoyment was the ending.  It didn’t sit right with me at all and just about ruined the whole book for me.    To the author’s credit, he did include a lot of twists and turns and kept the suspense level up there.  But I don’t know that I’ll be too quick to choose another book by this author.  Maybe I just expected more from what I’ve heard of his work.  The book was a fun read until the end.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

 

A purely malevolent tale

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The Garden of Blue Roses by Michael Barsa

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Milo and his sister Klara have received the news that their parents have died in a car crash.  Their father was a highly acclaimed horror fiction author.  The car crash may or may not have been an accident.  Milo continues to work on his model Greek warships, while his sister Klara turns her attentions to redoing the grounds of their home.  She hires a gardener named Henri.  Milo feels he knows this gardener and then realizes that the gardener reminds him of one of his father’s fictional psychotic characters. Are his father’s fictional creations now coming to life?

This book is chock full of unreliable characters and you never know who or what to believe.  This is one very dysfunctional family for sure. The author has done a fine job of creating a haunting, unstable atmosphere that keeps the readers on their toes.  While there’s a lot of dark humor in the book, I found it at times to be quite frightening and spooky and I don’t frighten or spook easily!  One of the blurbs described the book as malevolent and that’s exactly how I felt about it.  The story’s malevolence seemed to leap off the page and surround me with its evil.  This book and its characters grabbed ahold of me and wouldn’t let go.  A shiver just went up my spine just thinking about it.

Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.