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Friday, March 16, 2018


4 stars out of 5

There was a little girl who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead;
When she was good, she was very, very good,
And when she was bad she was horrid.

-Mother Goose Nursery Rhyme

It's hard to believe there's a more horrid girl than Elizabeth Stash (a.k.a. Betty). She's paranoid, narcisstic, psychopathic, sociopathic, and oh yes, a murderer.

So what's not to love? Nothing, if you ask her. In her view, she's perfect - and perfectly willing to blame everyone else in the world when things don't go her way. 

From the time her younger "Beloved" sister Gloria was born, you see, Betty was deprived of her rightful first-born status by a mother who clearly loved baby sister best. And from there, it's downhill all the way. Not only did near-angel Gloria steal Betty's mother, she stole her best friend Alice and Henry, the love of her life. To add insult to injury, Henry, married sister Gloria; but as it turns out, that wasn't the mother of all snubs. No, that happened when the girls' mother died, leaving the family home, dubbed Pipits, to Gloria and Henry. And now Betty - who believes in her heart of evil hearts that the house should be hers - sets out to set things right.

The entire book is narrated by Betty, thus exposing her ever-more-delusional plans and plots  to first, get the property back, and later, to get revenge on everyone she's convinced has wronged her. Emphasis on everyone; in addition to Gloria, Henry and Alice, there's her art gallery owner husband Bert, cantankerous downstairs neighbors at her London apartment building, Gloria's elderly cleaning lady; the list goes on and on and on. 

I'll stop here and say if you don't enjoy watching an already demented mind become more sinister by the day, this probably isn't your cup of tea. Plenty happens, but it's always shaded by Betty's twisted perspective, which is enhanced by copious amounts of gin and a few tranquilizers. As a student of psychology, I found the story riveting right up to the end; but that, alas, is where my enthusiasm ends. I rather felt as if I'd just been dashed in the face with a bucket of cold water - it's that abrupt. All I'll say further is that if it's closure you want, you'll be disappointed (I'll acknowledge, though, that in many ways, it's appropriate given the rest of the story).

All in all, its quite an interesting and different tale. Many thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Beloveds by Maureen Lindley (Gallery Books, April 2018); 336 pp.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


4 stars out of 5

Postpartum psychosis left Maggie Ippoliti without her precious baby daughter, Anna (her nefarious ex-husband Florian obtained custody and kept the girl away from Maggie for 17 years). Now that Maggie has found some semblance of happiness with her doctor-husband Noah and stepson Caleb, Anna appears out of nowhere, wanting, it appears, to make up for lost time. Needless to say, Maggie is overwhelmed, overjoyed and desperate to please the girl - and delighted that she gets a ton of support from Noah and Caleb.

Ah, but it wouldn't be a story if everything went smoothly from there on. No, things soon begin happening that mess with Maggie's already messed-up head; her obsession with keeping her long-lost daughter satisfied (and literally close to her broken mommy heart) renders her oblivious to anyone else's concerns. Then, the unthinkable happens; Anna is murdered - and the person charged with the crime is none other than Noah. Devastated, Maggie kicks Noah to the curb and continues to care for Caleb, with only her long-time friend Kathy and Anna to lean on.

A major focus is on Noah's subsequent trial and the outcome thereof; chapters switch from Maggie and Noah's life before and after Anna arrived on the scene, sprinkling clues as to what really happened. The trial part is for the most part interesting, but mostly because I'm a fan of courtroom proceedings. This one, though, just kept plodding along, going not much of anywhere, and I lost more than a modicum of interest throughout much of the middle portion of the book.

Once the jury rendered its verdict (you really didn't think I'd reveal that, did you?), the action begins to heat up - almost too fast (think of a big pot of beef stew coming to a boil so quickly that you never got to savor the aroma of simmering). The final section brings twists and revelations almost like slings and arrows. And the ending? Way too neatly tied up to be believable, especially given Maggie's thoughts and actions earlier in the book (but then I admit to being a cynic when it comes to seriously damaged relationships that suddenly transform into all's right with the world).

Don't get me wrong - it all makes for an enjoyable book that I recommend - but as a whole it fell short of a 5-star rating for me. Thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley, for providing the opportunity to read an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

After Anna by Lisa Scottoline (St. Martin's Press, April 2018); 400 pp.

Sunday, March 11, 2018


4 stars out of 5

Rose Denton is having a tough go of it. She and her 20-year husband are just going through the motions at this point - barely - and their 18-year-old daughter Olivia has evolved into a surly witch with a capital B. Rose's job as a high-end IT system saleswoman is getting harder by the day, and she's getting signals from her boss that improvement is in order stat (or else). And when she goes off on what should be a routine overnight business trip, she wakes up behind the wheel of her car in a remote field. If that weren't bad enough, there's blood on the windshield and hood; but Rose isn't seriously injured, and there's no body - human or animal - anywhere around.

Panicking, and endlessly speculating about what might have happened, Rose returns home, surreptitiously spit-shines the car and starts watching the news to see if anyone has turned up dead. In her spare time, she tries to avoid fighting with her husband and daughter, whose good-for-nothing boyfriend has gone missing. Olivia is nearly hysterical, and it doesn't help that his most recent activity was a fight with Rose.

Other strange things begin to happen, such as a possible break-in at Rose's home and personal items that mysteriously disappear and reappear. Along the way, readers learn that there's more to Rose than meets the eye; apparently, she's been keeping a deep, dark secret from her past that involves three childhood friends (one of whom died years ago and another who spent the past two decades in jail).

Weird things keep happening to Rose, to the point where she suspects everybody from her husband Dan to Olivia's boyfriend. But wait, could what happened years ago be connected to what's happening to her now? The conclusion, complete with a bit of a cliffhanger, is exciting, though I can't say it was particularly surprising. All in all, it's a good, solid effort, and I thank the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read and review an advance copy.

Last Night by Kerry Wilkinson (Bookouture, March 2018); 364 pp.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018


5 stars out of 5

Once I started this book, except for refilling my beer glass, grabbing a quick sandwich and catching a few zzzzs, I didn't put it down. Yes, folks, I loved it - and I heartily thank the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read and review it.

The story opens in 1950 at Idlewild Hall in Vermont, a boarding school for girls who just don't fit in anywhere else. Four of the school's incorrigibles become unlikely roommates, and they band together to try and make their lives less miserable and deal with rumors that the school is haunted by a mysterious woman named Mary Hand. Then, one of the four leaves for an unexpected weekend visit with relatives and is never seen again. 

Now it's 2014, when the long-abandoned school buildings and property are purchased by a buyer who plans to restore the place to its former glory and reopen it as a school. Local freelance writer Fiona Sheridan decides to do a story on the property. Fiona's interest, though, goes beyond the typical historical approach; 20 years ago, her older sister Deb was murdered - her body dumped in a field near the school. Deb's boyfriend was convicted and has been in jail ever since, but Fiona always suspected he might be innocent. Fiona's boyfriend, local cop Jamie, is less than enthusiastic about digging up old bones (so to speak); but her father, a well-known but mostly retired journalist, stands behind her.

As the story progresses, flashback chapters offer details of what was going on in 1950 from the perspective of each of the four roommates, while "here and now" chapters outline Fiona's efforts to gather information for her story. But the more she learns, the more she's sure she still needs to learn - and the more she meets resistance from people who would go to extreme lengths to ensure that what happened in the past stays in the past. Interesting connections turn up, including a tie-in with the Holocaust, and there are more than a few twists (some surprising, others not so much) along the way as well.

Definitely a winner for me - highly recommended!

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James (Berkley, March 2018); 334 pp.

Sunday, March 4, 2018


5 stars out of 5

At-home DNA test kits seem to be all the rage now - I admit to being tempted by them myself (and will buy one if the cost drops about half). For the most part, the results reveal ethnic background and/or health risks based on heredity. But if you could take a DNA test that would put you together with "the one" - your absolute soul mate with whom you have a forever-and-ever love bond - would you sign up? At my age, and nearly 56 years of marriage to the same guy, I daresay there isn't much point. But what If you're single, or already have found the person you believe to be your one and only? And more to the point, what would you do if you learn that your predestined mate isn't the one you're with?

Ah, the plot starts out thick, and trust me, it thickens from that point on. Readers are introduced to five people from different walks of life who accepted the challenge, available from a wildly successful company that researched and developed the process. Mandy, Christopher, Jade, Nick and Ellie- all have been notified that a "Match" has been found. And - for better or worse - each has paid for the opportunity to connect with that perfect person.

Chapters show the progress of each of the five matches from beginning to end as well as what's happening around them. Nick, for instance, is happily engaged to Sally. Ellie lives the life of a self-made and wildly successful, but lonely, entrepreneur; Christopher has a secret life that he's not eager to share with anyone else - until, perhaps, he meets his "match."

And so it goes, with each chapter revealing more details and adding complexity (and sometimes nail-biting action) to each person's story - and yes, there are some big surprises along the way. Once I reached the halfway point, quite honestly, I didn't want to put the book down. Yes, I suppose some of the outcomes stretch believability boundaries a bit, but on the other hand, when I really think about it, as comedian Judy Tenuta says, it could happen.

Perhaps more than anything, though, this is an insightful look into human behavior - a realization that what we do in one situation can impact, often irrevocably, what happens in another. Whether intentional or not, the book also touches on the moral and ethical ramifications of DNA testing, particularly as it becomes more detailed - and more readily available. Is there really such a thing as too much information?

In the end, it's a "Wow!" from me. Many thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

The One by John Marrs (Hanover Square Press, February 2018); 416 pp.)

Saturday, March 3, 2018


5 stars out of 5

After seeing trailers for the just-released motion picture starring Jennifer Lawrence and Joel Edgerton and learning that it's based on a book of the same name, my husband decided to give the book - the first in a trilogy - a try. Then he told me it was very, very good.

Whether or not we watch movie remains to be seen (pun intended), but I knew I wanted to read the book first. I also knew it's close to 600 pages - not easy to fit into a stack of advance-copy books I've agreed to read and review. But make time I did, and I'm ever so glad. It's one of the best spy thrillers I've read in a very long time.

At first blush, the story seemed reminiscent of the TV show "The Americans" starring Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys; spies and counterspies, each trying to recruit others while remaining "black" (i.e., undetected and unidentified). Main characters Nathaniel Nash is a young CIA officer, assigned as the handler of a top-level Russian undercover U.S. spy; Dominika Egorova is a wounded (both physically and mentally) former Russian ballerina who stays on her toes under the watchful eye of her powerful uncle. But when her uncle sends her to "Sparrow School" - euphemism for a place females learn the art of seduction for the purpose of recruiting spies for the Russian government, her love of her home country under the dastardly Vladimir Putin and his loyal minions turns sour. 

Needless to say, Nate and Dominika are brought together to serve cross purposes; he to recruit her, she to recruit him. And needless to say, it doesn't quite work out that way. It does, though, make for an intricately woven, hard-to-put-down story interlaced with tricks of the spy trade, twists and surprises - none of which, alas, I can describe without spoiling the book for other readers. 

I can, however, is highly recommend this book - and I do. Outstanding!

Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews (Scribner, June 2013); 577 pp.

Saturday, February 24, 2018


4 stars out of 5

Despite having a backlog of books to read and review, I accepted the author's offer to tackle this book - mostly because a) it sounded interesting and b) I'm always on the lookout for a new series to follow. This one is the second in the series - the first is Cold Comfort, released last year. I didn't read that one, and while I always recommend starting any series at the beginning, I didn't feel at a disadvantage here.

Hartbourne Metro Police rookie detective Bridgette Cash has been given an assignment to investigate the disappearance of fellow police officer John Tyson, last seen working for the police in Sanbury, a couple of hours away. The job is considered a bit of a respite for Bridgette, who apparently narrowly missed being killed off in the first book. But early on, she runs afoul of the Sanbury police when she tries to defend (and befriend) Hughie, a mentally challenged man, when officers use excessive force to get him to the police station. The police chief further resents Bridgette's intrusion on the gone-missing Hartbourne officer (that's putting it mildly; he sticks his foot in her way  - and often in his own mouth - every time they meet and is a totally unlikable person. For the record, just about every person she meets in this town seems to be a jerk, a lecher, or worse).

Meanwhile, the town itself is in the midst of building a high-stakes ski resort that's expected to be a big boost to the economy. As she begins her investigation (trying to work around the local police), Bridgette manages to get on the bad side of one of the project's big investors, making her stay - and progress toward finding the missing officer - even more difficult. Complicating things still more is the threat of a huge snowstorm that could bring everything, most notably Bridgette's investigation, to a halt for several days.

It doesn't take long, though, for her to conclude that officer Tyson was murdered. But just like the woman Hughie is accused of murdering years ago, there's no body to be found. Bridgette finds who she hopes is a friend in a local man who was close to Tyson, and together with him and Hughie, she tries to get to the bottom of things without landing in jail or the hospital. And as she discusses progress with her chief back in Hartbourne, she gets even more distressing news: It's likely that one of her co-workers had a hand in her near-murder. But who?

As is typical in books like this, the heroine - Bridgette - comes off as super-human at times (reminding me a bit of Nora Roberts' Lt. Eve Dallas, who somehow survives injuries that would put any other woman down for the count). And I must point out that the characters here use each other's names in their conversations way, way more than "normal" people do, nearly driving me buggy at times. Still, it's a solid plot, and while the ending isn't a cliffhanger, it does leave open the door for the next installment (reportedly Cold Hard Cash). 

I'll be waiting!

Cold Trail by Trevor Douglas (independently published, January 2018); 323 pp.