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.

 

 

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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.

 

The buzz this book is getting is deserved!

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Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier

Book Review – 4 out of 5 star rating

Georgina Shaw (Geo) has made quite a success of her life.  She’s an executive in a Seattle pharmaceutical company and is engaged to marry the rich CEO of the company.  All of that falls apart when she’s arrested for a murder that was committed fourteen years ago.  Her best friend Angela Wong disappeared then when she and Geo were 16 years old and now her mutilated body has been found.  Also arrested for the murder is Geo’s boyfriend at that time, Calvin James.  Calvin is also accused of three other murders.  On the case is Det. Kaiser Brody, who has loved Geo since high school.  When new bodies turn up, murdered in the same way as Calvin’s prior murders, the past explodes for them all.

This book has certainly been all the buzz around the thriller world and it turned out to be quite an entertaining read.  It’s well constructed and very realistic.  I thought the author’s description of prison life was excellent.  I felt like I was there with Geo and the dangers of her life there sent chills down my spine.  I’ve always been attracted to books dealing with obsession and Geo’s obsession with Calvin and what it led to was done to perfection.  The author is adroit at knowing when to drop shockers on her readers.  While I only give 5 stars to books that have had a deep impact on my life and not to thrillers, this is quite an excellent thriller.  Snagged me from the first page.

Recommended.

I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads giveaway and am under no obligation to write a review.  I found it quite charming that the publisher included an actual jar with some conversation hearts with sayings from the book.  Enjoyed the book and the hearts!

Jo Nesbo takes on The Bard

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Macbeth by Jo Nesbo

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star rating

This is the re-telling of Macbeth, which Jo Nesbo has chosen to set in the 1970’s.  The police department in a drug-infested industrial town is determined to bring up standards and make the place a decent one for its citizens.  The new Chief of Police, Duncan, is determined to bring the reign of one of the leading drug lords, Hecate, to an end.  Hecate has plans of his own.  He intends to manipulate Macbeth, who is head of SWAT and who has a checkered past and isn’t entirely stable.  Goaded on by his love, Lady, Macbeth begins a violent course that spirals ever downwards.

I’m not really fond of re-tellings since I’ve always felt that if the book has withstood the test of time, the original author did a wonderful job and why try to top it.  But the Shakepeare series has been interesting, possibly because Shakespeare isn’t always an easy read and it’s been fun to see what today’s authors decide to do with his tales.  Nesbo has certainly nailed the main theme of Macbeth in that he shows how destructive ambition can be when not held in reign.  Violence begets violence and the book is full of double dealing and horrific acts.  Macbeth will stop at nothing to accomplish what he believes he wants.

I grabbed this book when I first saw it because I love Nesbo’s Harry Hole series.  Nesbo has created such a sympathetic protagonist in Harry Hole that I couldn’t wait to see what he would do with Macbeth.  While I thought he did an excellent job of fleshing out the Shakespearean characters, I found it really hard to have any sympathy for Macbeth himself, while I do remember having sympathy for Shakespeare’s Macbeth.  And I would think if you’re writing a tragedy, it’s only tragic for the main character if you care about him/her.  And I felt that suspense was missing, but I’m sure that’s because I knew the story well and there were no surprises.

These retellings are hard to review because you can’t help but compare them to the original.  And because of that, I can only give this 3 stars.  I think if the names had been different from the Shakespearian tale and I didn’t know it was a re-telling, I would have appreciated it more.   The descent of Macbeth into madness was done very well and it was fun coming across memorable parts of Shakespeare.  While I can’t say that I loved it, I’m glad to have experienced a different take on Macbeth.

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

 

Suspenseful, addictive book

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The New Neighbors by Simon Lelic

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Jack isn’t too thrilled when he first sees the house but his girlfriend loves it so he wants to love it, too.  They get a great deal on it so they go ahead with the purchase and move in.  The house is packed with all of the prior owners’ belongings and they decide to go through each thing to see if there’s anything of value or interest before beginning to decorate.  When Jack makes some disturbing finds in the attic, he decides to hide it from Syd.  Syd has had a very hard life and he wants her to be happy in this new house.  He keeps the strange noises he’s been hearing to himself, too.  Meanwhile, Syd is becoming involved in the troubled life of the young girl next door.

I chose this book because the blurbs said that it was inspired by the author’s love of Alfred Hitchcock and Stephen King.  The book starts off like a Stephen King book, although the main character, Jack, swears that this isn’t a Stephen King story.  The author appears to be heading in a certain direction but there’s a point where the plot shifts, more towards an Alfred Hitchcock plot.  The author talks a bit about the shift at the end of the book.  I felt that the plot became a bit unbelievable at that point but I was so invested with the story and characters by then that it still was enjoyable.  So if you can suspend your disbelief and go with the flow, it’s an enjoyable read.

Like Stephen King, this author writes in a down-to-earth, realistic manner and his characters just leap off the page.  I quickly came to care about Jack and Syd and the anxiety for their situation just grew with each page.   Syd’s past life is just horrendous and I so very much wanted to see her life improve. This is a suspenseful, addictive book and I intend to find more of this author’s work.

Recommended.

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

 

Extraordinary character study

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The Waters & the Wild by DeSales Harrison

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

One of Daniel Abend’s therapy patients commits suicide.  She was an addict and was depressed so he thought he understood what had happened.  But when he starts to receive mysterious packages and letters, he starts to think there may have more to her death than he first thought.  The letters and packages take a more sinister turn when they lead him to believe that his teenage daughter is in danger.  Whomever is sending Daniel these notes seems to know a lot about his past, which causes Daniel to visit his past mistakes in life.

Writing the above blurb outlining the basic plot of this book makes it sound like an ordinary thriller.  Yes, there’s plenty of suspense, but it’s so much more than that.  It’s an extraordinary, multi-layered look at the life of a man whose sorrows and regrets run deep.  The writing is so luscious, I couldn’t get enough of it.  The author chose to tell the story through a confession written to a priest, which added another layer of intrigue.  It’s a dark, tragic tale and one I’ll never forget.  This is an intense literary work of art and completely took my breath away.  Kudos to the author on his debut novel.  If it doesn’t receive many awards, I’ll be very surprised.

Most highly recommended.

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

Compelling, complex ghost story

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The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Idlewild Hall is a very gloomy place, haunted by the ghosts of young Mary Hand and her baby.  It’s a school for girls, those girls who no one wants, those broken girls.  It’s 1950 and one of the girls from a close knit group has gone missing.  Not much effort is made by the police to find her.  But her friends are sure they know what happened to her.

Jump to 2014, when journalist Fiona Sheridan is still battling the demons set loose by her sister’s death twenty years ago.  The man who did it is in prison but Fiona can’t help but believe there were things about her sister’s death that have never come to light and she compulsively continues to look into it.  When she learns that Idlewild Hall is going to be renovated, she knows she must find out why.

This is a compelling, complex ghost story.  The ghost of Mary Hand is quite malicious and often sent chills up my spine.  But this book is much more than a mere ghost story, spellbinding as it is.  It’s also a complex crime story of two separate crimes, a heart wrenching romance between two very likeable characters and a coming of age story of young girls who have known much hardship in their young lives.  This is a well-written novel and the tragedies of each of these girls is handled sensitively.   I was completely memorized by this book and thought the author pulled it all together at the end just beautifully.  It was such a sad story and one that I will long remember.

Recommended.

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