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.

 

Interesting premise

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The Real Michael Swann by Bryan Reardon

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Michael Swann, who is in New York City, is talking to his wife Julia on his cell phone.  The phone call goes dead and Julia learns that a bomb has gone off.  Julia rushes out to the car and tries desperately to get into the city to find Michael but is stopped by police barricades.  She keeps trying to text and call Robert but there’s no response.  Then developments are revealed by the news media that prove devastating to Julia.

I thought this was a particularly interesting premise.  As always, I don’t like to give away too much of the plot and leave it to the author to tell his story so I can’t explain why the premise is an unusual one since the publisher isn’t mentioning it in their blurb about the book.   Leave it to say there is more involved than a wife trying to find her husband during a possible terrorist attack.  While I did figure out quite early what was happening, it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book at all.  At the heart of the book is the love story of Michael and Julia.  As Julia tries to find Michael or at least get some news about him, she relives their life together.  It’s a beautifully and realistically told story.  There’s a point more than half way into the book where it becomes very suspenseful.  I wouldn’t consider this one a thriller overall but more of a character study.  I liked the author’s book, “Finding Jake”, and his newest effort didn’t disappoint.  The story pulled me in and I became invested in the characters’ plight.

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.

 

Captivating novel about friendship

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The French Girl by Lexie Elliott

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Do we ever know our friends?  Kate Channing isn’t sure.  A decade ago, she had spent a week with her friends in a French farmhouse.  Severine is a French girl who lives next door.  The case of her disappearance remains unsolved.  But now the case has been reopened because Severine’s body has been found in the well at the farmhouse.  Kate and her friends are pulled back into the memories of what happened in France and the deceptions that have been kept secret since then.

Kate Channing isn’t the usual “girl in distress” type that predominates today’s suspense novels.  She’s a smart lady who is doing her best to go it on her own as head of her legal recruitment company.  I liked and admired her and emphasized with her stress of dredging up past memories with all its accusations and questioning of her friends.  Could one of them have killed Severine?  Why would they have wanted to?  There are no great twists or surprises here, just good narration and fleshing out of characters.   I found the book to be addictive and kept wanting to read just a little more.  If I had had the time to just sit down for a few hours, I would have flown through this one.

A captivating novel about friendship.  Recommended.

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

The devastating effects of a rape accusation

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Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

James has it all.  He’s married to lovely Sophie, he has two beautiful children and he’s a successful member of parliament.  He’s handsome and could have any woman he wants, even if Sophie weren’t the love of his life, which she is, so why would he commit rape?  Yet he stands accused and faces a trial that could destroy his family, reputation and career.

Kate is the lawyer who is prosecuting the case against James.  She’s sure that he’s guilty and she’s determined to prove it to the jury.  But this case is turning into one that she may not be strong enough to endure as it has dredged up old memories that still haunt her.

At the beginning of this book, I thought, OK, here’s another book about a possibly philandering husband, same old, same old.  But it turned into something much deeper.  The author did an excellent job in describing how hard it was for the woman accusing James of rape to testify at the trial – or is she just a woman scorned? – and the difficulty of finding justice in such a case.  How can a jury decide who is telling the truth when it’s really one person’s word against the other’s?  Is it really all down to how well either attorney presents his/her case?

The author also presented Sophie’s situation very well.  She loves her husband and wants desperately to believe him.  But hearing the testimony at trial and reading the papers where their marriage and life together is being scrutinized just tears her apart and causes confusion and distance in their marriage.  Even the strongest marriages could be strained to the breaking point under such an accusation.

A well-thought-out, heartfelt novel which I recommend.

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