REVIEW: THE GATES OF EVANGELINE By Hester Young

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Published Sept 2015 By G.P. Putnam Sons

Goodreads Blurb

From a unique new talent comes a fast-paced debut, introducing a heroine whose dark visions bring to light secrets that will heal or destroy those around her . . .When New York journalist and recently bereaved mother Charlotte “Charlie” Cates begins to experience vivid dreams about children she’s sure that she’s lost her mind. Yet these are not the nightmares of a grieving parent, she soon realizes. They are messages and warnings that will help Charlie and the children she sees, if only she can make sense of them. The Gates of Evangeline is a Southern Gothic mystery debut that combines literary suspense and romance with a mystical twist

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The above blurb is an edited version of the one found on Goodreads and I urge you to stick with this version. This is a book I went into pretty blind after my friend Annie at The Misstery highly recommended it. When she said it was an atmospheric southern novel with an amazing mystery that’s pretty much all I needed to hear!

The beginning of the story was, for me, a pretty slow burn set up of the rest of the book, but that’s not a negative at all as I found it quite interesting.  We meet Charlie who’s struggling to put her life back together following the sudden death of her young son. I really felt for her and thought the author did a great job weaving in the details of Charlie’s day to day fight to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  I felt a connection with her character fairly quickly which is so important to me if I’m going to stay engaged with a story and want to keep turning the pages. Soon, Charlie begins having dreams, very particular ones, that involve children. These dreams eventually lead her to Louisiana where the plot really takes off.

The remainder of the novel centers on a sprawling mystery that had its beginnings 30 years ago when 3 year old Gabriel Deveau vanished without a trace from his locked bedroom in the Evangeline estate. There are so many threads to this mystery, several key players who may or may not be involved but all of whom have a stake in the outcome in one way or another.  I have to say, the setting of a gothic southern estate in the swampy town of Evangeline was perfect and contributed to the claustrophobic feel of the story.

 Needless to say, Charlie becomes entangled in the story of Gabriel’s disappearance (among other things) and along the way finds herself questioning if she can trust the alliances she has made. Through the peeling back of the layers of this mystery we get to know Charlie better and while, on the one hand, I really liked her and felt she was there for the right reasons, there were also many times her character came across as very judgmental of southern people. Some of the off handed comments she made about townspeople and Noah were patronizing and made her seem as if she thought she was better than them. This bothered me because it didn’t seem to be congruent with what we knew of her character before she went to Louisiana.

 Other than the character inconsistency, I have to say I really enjoyed this book.  I love that the author told the story in a linear format. There was no jumping back and forth of timeframes or narrators and I’m finding that I really prefer this method of storytelling. In my opinion, it keeps the story flowing which keeps the pace quick. I was also completely on board with the use of premonitions as well as the web like mystery that kept me guessing until the final pages.  Just when I thought I had it figured out, the author dropped a bomb or added another detail which caused me to constantly change my mind…I LOVE it when that happens! If you like well plotted mysteries with a little something different thrown in, I would highly recommend grabbing a copy of this book.  The second book in the series, The Shimmering Road,  was just published Feb 9 and it’s at the top of my TBR so the good news is..there’s more to come.

4/5 Stars

Many thanks G.P. Putnam’s Sons via Netgalley and Hester Young for my copy. I’m happy to provide an honest review.

REVIEW: OUT OF BOUNDS By Val McDermid

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From Goodreads

When a teenage joyrider crashes a stolen car and ends up in a coma, a routine DNA test reveals a connection to an unsolved murder from twenty-two years before. Finding the answer to the cold case should be straightforward. But it’s as twisted as the DNA helix itself.

Meanwhile, Karen finds herself irresistibly drawn to another mystery that she has no business investigating, a mystery that has its roots in a terrorist bombing two decades ago. And again, she finds that nothing is as it seems.

******

There are actually two unsolved murder cases and one suspicious death case happening in this tightly plotted novel by Val McDermid. Past and present collide for Detective Chief Inspector Karen Pirie, head of Police Scotland’s Historic Cases Unit, as she attempts to solve the puzzle of how the DNA of a 17 year old teenage boy involved in a car crash could be connected to a 22 year old unsolved murder. Sound intriguing? It certainly had my attention.

That case alone was enough to pique my interest but then Karen also finds herself being pulled into another mystery- the supposed suicide of Gabriel Abbott. Karen finds herself wondering about his death which occurred 20 years after his mother and 3 others were murdered by what was believed to be a terrorist bombing of their small jet plane. Could the deaths somehow be connected although they’re separated by a 20 year time gap? No one else seems to question Gabriel’s death as it’s been ruled a suicide. Karen, however, is not one to turn her head away when there’s the possibility of several suspicious deaths being somehow connected.

This is my first Val McDermid novel…I know where have I been?….and I have to talk about Karen Pirie for a minute. This character has quickly become one of my favorites in crime fiction. Stepping into this series at this point (this is book 4) I didn’t know anything about Karen or her life before but Val McDermid has done an outstanding job weaving Karen’s previous life into this story, so for those of us new to the series, I still felt like I understood her and had a handle on what led her to her current state of being. You see, Karen is still grieving the loss of Phil, her partner on the force and the love of her life and I felt for her, especially as she wondered the streets at night in an attempt to make herself tired. I felt her sadness as well as her strength and determination to keep going. I liked her banter with Jason, who wasn’t the sharpest tack in the toolbox, but was fiercely loyal and devoted to her. I liked her witty nickname for her boss. And I liked the compassion she showed to the Syrian refuges she befriended on her nightly excursions in the dark. This in itself was an interesting subplot. Not only did Karen feel real to me, I also felt like other characters – Jason, Jimmy, River, Giorsal, even the swarmy Alan Noble – were real people and that is because of the superb characterization and writing on the part of the author. For me, one of the best compliments I can give is to say the characters felt like real people.  That, and the fact that I couldn’t figure out this intricately plotted puzzle!

This story moved at light-speed for me until about the last 20 percent at which point I felt it started to drag somewhat. I’m not sure if it was the tying up of all the threads and loose ends, the details, etc but I felt different about the last part. Not to say I wasn’t happy with how it all came to pass, I was, I just felt that it got somewhat bogged down at the end. As I said, I didn’t have it figured out so that was a surefire plus in my book. I will most definitely be picking up the next Karen Pirie book as she is a character I’m happy to keep following wherever she goes! If you enjoy crime fiction with realistic characters this is one you’ll want to grab tomorrow when it’s released.  Even if you’re new to the series this is one in which you can jump right in and feel rest assured you won’t be lost.

4/5 Stars

**Many thanks to Netgalley and Grove Atlantic for providing me this copy in exchange for an honest review.**

REVIEW: THE 4TH MAN By Lisa Gardner

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From Goodreads

To be published Jan 3, 2017 by Dutton

A young woman is found strangled in the stairwell of a college library, only her sneakers missing. With no physical evidence, no signs of sexual assault, and no witnesses, all the police have to go on are the three men who were in the library with her: her boyfriend and two campus security guards . . . all of whom have secrets, none of whom can be proven guilty.

Five years later, ex-FBI profiler Pierce Quincy and his wife, former police officer Rainie Conner, agree to consult on the still-unsolved case, delving into deep background to comb for any clue that will lead to the woman’s murderer. But with no leads and the case colder than the body, will they be able to build a case against one of the three suspects, or is there a fourth man out there? And if the killer has eluded the police this long, how far will he go to ensure justice is never served?

With Gardner’s singular ability to delve into the minds of criminals and law enforcement alike, The 4th Man is a shocking look at the reasons for taking a life . . . and just how far profilers need to go to learn them.

******

Detective Sergent D D Warren is back in this intriguing, no frills short story by Lisa Gardner.  This time D D is working a ten year old cold case and she’s joined by FBI profiler Pierce Quincy and his partner/wife Rainie Connor. The victim, college student Jaylin Banks, was last seen studying by herself in the computer lab at the campus library. According to her boyfriend, James Duchovny, a local thug who was known for hard partying and violence toward women, he was with her at the library but got tired of waiting, left and arranged to meet her at a local bar when she finished. A short time later, she was found dead in a back stairwell of the library.

I have to say, when I requested this on Netgalley, I didn’t realize it was a short story. I saw it was a new release by one of my very favorite authors and hit request. It really doesn’t matter what Lisa writes, I’ll read it. I have read EVERY book she’s written to date and I can’t say that about any other author out there! So for D D Warren to be working with my old favorite, profiler Pierce Quincey, well that’s just a real treat. And in this instance, the blurb above is accurate and telling. There are several suspects, suspicious timelines , no evidence left at the scene, and a contained, secure murder location as everyone entering the library had to do so with an ID. As Pierce Quincy puts it…“this is the classic closed-room murder.”  In my opinion, no one writes about crime and law enforcement like Lisa Gardner and this short story proves it. Not only is this a mysterious ‘whodunit,’ it’s a ‘whydunit’ and I didn’t have either figured out!

If you love mysteries and crime thrillers and haven’t yet read Lisa Gardner, you really are missing out on fantastic writing, intricate plots, and characters you’ll love. If you’re hesitant about starting a new series, I should note that although I’ve read all her books, I didn’t always read them in order as far as the series go and this worked out fine for me. This short story will be released Jan 3, 2017 and is a prelude to her upcoming full length novel Right Behind You, featuring Pierce Quincy and Rainie Connor as they travel to the wilds of Oregon to catch a killer.

4/5 Stars

THROWBACK THURSDAY:THE STRANGER ON THE TRAIN By Abbie Taylor

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I’m really liking the idea of continuing on with this Throwback Thursday theme every week. I like that these older books are usually much easier than new releases to get a hold of at libraries and elsewhere. My pick this week is:

 

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Published May 27th, 2014 by Atria Books

My Rating: 4 Stars

From Goodreads

Your baby has been stolen by a stranger. The police won’t listen. What would you do?

Abbie Taylor shows remarkable flair in this involving and intriguing debut novel.
A young mother’s nightmare comes true… the tube doors close with her baby still on the train. Struggling as a single mother, Emma sometimes wishes that her thirteen-month-old son Ritchie would just disappear. But when, one quiet Sunday evening, Ritchie is abducted by a stranger on the London Underground, Emma is thrown into a situation worse than she could have ever imagined.
But why don’t the police seem to fully believe her story? Why would they think that she would want to hurt her own baby?
If Emma wants Richie back, it looks like she’ll have to find him herself. With the help of a stranger called Rafe, the one person who seems to believe her, she goes in search of her son. And she is determined to get him back… no matter what it takes. 

If you like psychological thrillers and mysteries I really think you’ll enjoy this book. The writing is great and there’s a pervasive feeling of dread throughout as you’re  not quite sure who’s telling the truth and how it all plays out.

Has anyone read this one? Feel free to share your thoughts and your own Throwback recommendation in the comment section:)

REVIEW: TALL OAKS By Chris Whitaker

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For fans of Twin Peaks and The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair, this brilliant debut is dark yet hilarious, suspenseful and sad.

Everyone has a secret in Tall Oaks . . .

When three-year-old Harry goes missing, the whole of America turns its attention to one small town.

Everyone is eager to help. Everyone is a suspect.

 

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Sometimes when a blurb says “Everyone is a suspect” I tend to think that’s highly unlikely and there often ends up being only about two suspects. In the case of Tall Oaks, the wonderful debut novel by Chris Whitaker, just about everyone actually is a suspect and that’s just how I like my mysteries! Time to put on my biggest detective hat and figure out what happened to three-year-old Harry…and what’s Jared..and Henrietta.. and Jerry (just to name a few) hiding? See…secrets.

The book is set in a small California town where everyone knows everyone and a crime like the kidnapping of a small child had previously been unheard of. Needless to say, the close knit town is rocked when three year old Harry is taken from his bed one night. His mother, Jessica, a single mom whose no good husband Michael had left her and Harry, is home at the time and what she sees on the baby monitor when Harry goes missing has left her a terrified, unstable basket case.   Luckily, she has the support of Jim who’s not only the dogged police detective working tirelessly to find Harry, he’s also a friend from high school who, perhaps, would like to be more than friends.

The plot weaves between the downward spiral of Jessica, her hunt for Harry, and the happenings between many others in the small town. We meet Manny, a high schooler who, along with his friend Abe, wants to be the “gangsters” in town and plays the part accordingly with his language ,outfits and “shakedowns” of places like Pizza Hut. Too funny! I have to say, Manny steals the show in this book.  He’s not your typical teenager by any means, I mean his language is atrocious (i.e. liberal use of the F word) and his goals include being a gangster, but Manny makes no excuses for himself, he loves his mom and his little sister and he’d do anything for them. And then he meets Furat and young love is in store for Manny:)

I’d love to go on and on about all the wonderful unique characters in this book but in the interests of keeping this review manageable I’ll give you a condensed lowdown. There’s Jerry who’s got a soul crushing mother and life, Henrietta, who’s married to Roger and let’s just say there’s something quite off about that marriage, Jared, the newcomer to town who’s definitely running from something…and that’s just a few of the characters you’ll get to know and question! I have to mention another of my very favorite characters…French John. He’s a baker in town and friends with Manny’s mom and I thought his character was extremely witty and funny. See, that’s the thing about this book. You would think that an author writing a  mystery novel about a missing child couldn’t also write characters who were quirky, funny, and endearing and I admit to being skeptical about it myself but Chris Whitaker has done just that and done it in a way that’s true to the story. This book really is a ‘whodunit’ that’s at times sad, funny, and endearing.

As you can see, I really enjoyed this story. If there’s one critique I have it’s that within the chapters , perspectives change abruptly from one person to another with only a small space break and at first I had a hard time keeping the differing perspectives straight as there’s many characters and storylines introduced but after the first several chapters when we’ve met all the characters  and gotten a feel for their storylines, I followed everything perfectly fine and didn’t notice the quick shifts anymore. As far as what happened to Harry, I thought I had put all my detective skills to use on this one and had it all figured out but it turns out I’m not as good as I thought I was at being a detective.  Well done Chris Whitaker!

4.5/5 Stars

**Many thanks to Chris Whitaker,  Twenty7 Books, and Netgalley for providing me a copy of this fantastic debut novel**

***This book is currently only available to purchase in the US through Amazon third party sellers. Let’s hope US rights get sold quickly so others here can enjoy this story!!***

STANDALONE SUNDAY: THE GOOD HOUSE by Ann Leary

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Standalone Sunday is a feature created by Megan at  Bookslayerreads where each Sunday you can feature a standalone book (not part of a series) that you loved or would recommend! There’s so much focus on books that are part of a series… she thought it’d be nice to focus on some standalone novels, too!

Feel free to join in on this weekly feature by creating your own Standalone Sunday post! Be sure to check out Megan’s very creative blog and leave a link in her Standalone Sunday comments section so she can add your blog to the list

My Standalone Pick is:

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My Rating: 4. Stars

From Goodreads

A funny, poignant and revealing novel that’s become a huge word-of-mouth hit in the US.

How do you prove you’re not an alcoholic?

Hildy Good has reached that dangerous time in a woman’s life – middle-aged and divorced, she is an oddity in her small but privileged town. But Hildy isn’t one for self-pity and instead meets the world with a wry smile, a dark wit and a glass or two of Pinot Noir. When her two earnest grown-up children stage ‘an intervention’ and pack Hildy off to an addiction centre, she thinks all this fuss is ridiculous. After all, why shouldn’t Hildy enjoy a drink now and then?

But as the story progresses, we start to see another side to Hildy Good, and to her life’s greatest passion – the lies and self deceptions needed to support her drinking, and the damage she causes to those she loves. When a cluster of secrets become dangerously entwined, the reckless behaviour of one threatens to expose the other, with devastating consequences

I just read this book in the spring and there’s so many reasons I loved it but one of the biggest is Hildy.  Her character is funny, witty and very charming,  yet while getting to know her and being privy to her slow unraveling, you begin to feel that Hildy’s life is a train that’s quite possibly nearing the point of derailment. And here’s what that blurb above is missing…this story has a fantastic mystery at it’s heart, one I couldn’t figure out until the author skillfully revealed the answer. Although the story centers on Hildy, there’s a great cast of supporting characters that will intrigue you and keep you turning the pages until you find out how they all intertwine…cue the derailment image!

THE BIRD TRIBUNAL by Agnes Ravatn; translated by Rosie Hedger

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FROM GOODREADS

Two people in exile. Two secrets. As the past tightens its grip, there may be no escape… TV presenter Allis Hagtorn leaves her partner and her job to take voluntary exile in a remote house on an isolated fjord. But her new job as housekeeper and gardener is not all that it seems, and her silent, surly employer, 44-year-old Sigurd Bagge, is not the old man she expected. As they await the return of his wife from her travels, their silent, uneasy encounters develop into a chilling, obsessive relationship, and it becomes clear that atonement for past sins may not be enough… Haunting, consuming and powerful, The Bird Tribunal is a taut, exquisitely written psychological thriller that builds to a shocking, dramatic crescendo that will leave you breathless. 

 

******

Continuing my current reading pattern of eye catching black, gray and red covers is The Bird Tribunal. A disturbingly eerie story of two strangers brought together under suspicious circumstances. When the story begins we are introduced to Allis as she arrives at the remote, isolated home of Sigurd Bagge, her new employer. She seems to have abruptly left behind her previous life to take the job as Bagge’s gardener and housekeeper. Many questions surround Allis…but two of the biggest are what is she running from and why?…is she mentally unstable or just a little quirky? I have to say, I found Allis to be surprisingly witty and sarcastic at times and at other times I thought she definitely had a screw loose.

As for Bagge, he appears to be in hiding but from what? And why? We are led to believe that he needs Allis only temporarily until his wife returns; however , he never really says where she went or when she’ll return. Combine the secrets between these two with their escalating attraction to each other, add in the isolated, confining setting and you’ve got a page-turning novel that begs the questions…What is going on with these two and how will it all end?  

I found myself completely drawn into this story, sometimes thinking poor Allis, she’s in over her head with Bagge and then after a few pages thinking poor Bagge, he doesn’t know what’s in store for him if Allis turns out to be completely off her rocker. For me, this is what makes this book a true page-turner –  the inability to decipher who I could trust and the constant sense of below the surface menace that surrounded these characters. You just know something’s bound to go very wrong for one or both of these two! I did wonder if the book would feel complete with only 185 pages but that actually seemed to be the perfect length to tell this story.   If you like to be immersed in an eerie setting where you never quite know who’s telling the truth or what’s going to happen next you’ll want to read this book.

4/5 Stars

*** Many thanks to Karen Sullivan at Orenda books for rushing this to my kindle on      Thursday as well as sending me a print copy to share with my book club***

***I also want to note that Rosie Hedger did an outstanding job translating, none of the strange was missing in this story!***

RECOMMENDATION: BEFORE THE FALL by Noah Hawley

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FROM GOODREADS

On a foggy summer night, eleven people–ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter–depart Martha’s Vineyard headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the passengers disappear into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs–the painter–and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of a wealthy and powerful media mogul’s family.

With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the tragedy and the backstories of the passengers and crew members–including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot–the mystery surrounding the crash heightens. As the passengers’ intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy: Was it merely dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating storm of media outrage and accusations–all while the reader draws closer and closer to uncovering the truth.

This was an excellent summer read for me so if you’re looking for a great weekend book pick give this one a try. It grabs you immediately and throws you smack into the action and you won’t be able to flip the pages fast enough to find out what happened…Before the Fall.

4/5Stars

REVIEW: DARK MATTER by Blake Crouch

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Goodreads Blurb

“Are you happy with your life?” Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious. Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits. Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.” 

Oh this book! I’m not even including all of the Goodread’s blurb on this one because what you read above is all you need and should know before jumping into this unique crazy story. This book recommendation came to me by way of a very trusted fellow book reviewer who knows what I typically like to read and said to me “I recently read a fantastic book but it’s science fiction so I don’t know if you’d like it.But it’s also a love story.” I agreed it might not be my typical reading choice but this book was popping up on all the must-read lists and, honestly, the ‘it’s a love story’ teaser had me intrigued.

Jason Dessen is a typical guy living a regular life as a college professor with his wife and son. When he goes out one evening to meet an old friend for a drink, his life takes a dramatic turn when he’s abducted on the way home. This set up was reminescent to me of some of Dean Koontz’s earlier books as far as your average everyday person’s life being unexpectedly turned upside down and they must risk death, violence, etc trying to get back to their life before. Jason wants nothing more than to get back to his wife and son but his world, when he wakes up, is quite literally not the same. Here’s where some interesting words come into play that might turn a lot of people off…quantum physics, alternate universe, post-apocalyptic…I could go on but you get the idea. All of those are part of this story but only add to the exciting premise; you don’t have to understand any of it to immerse yourself in Jason’s journey . In fact, when I stopped trying to wrap my head around quantum physics and just went with it, my enjoyment of the story increased.

Jason gets into some pretty harrowing situations trying to get back to his wife and son that were quite action filled and nail-biting. Post-apocolypic Chicago was, for me, so descriptive that I could picture everything as if I was right there. That’s just excellent storytelling. The only issue I had came toward the very end where things seemed to get really over the top and seemed to interrupt the flow of action for me.  So, don’t read too much about this book before starting it, just know this…it really is a love story.

4/5 Stars