On YouTube: Video Review of Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

Hi Everyone,

I’m trying something new and sharing this video review of Miracle Creek by Angie Kim.

If you prefer old school, you can read my review here.

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Book Review: Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby

Razorblade Tears
by
S.A. Cosby

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

I know to be wary about books that get a lot of hype, but I fell for it this time. When I saw the critical acclaim from The New York Times, NPR, The Washington Post and many others, naming Razorblade Tears one of the best books of 2021, I wanted to read it.

In the beginning, I thought I was part of that cheering crowd, but I soon changed my mind. Here’s the premise of the book:

Ike Randolph and Buddy Lee Jenkins are two ex-cons whose gay sons, Isiah and Derek (married to each other) were gunned down outside a wine shop in Richmond, Virginia. When Buddy Lee suggests they combine forces to avenge their sons’ deaths, Ike agrees.

Ike, a successful Black business owner, has kept a clean record in the fifteen years he’s been out of prison for manslaughter. And he’s kept his violent temper at bay. He needs to, especially now that he and his wife have custody of three-year-old, Arianna, Isiah and Derek’s daughter. Buddy Lee, who is white, is a career con man and an alcoholic, living in a dilapidated trailer. On top of their grief, they have many regrets about shunning their sons for their homosexuality. Now they have a chance to make things a little better.

They soon learn that Ike’s son, Isiah, a journalist, was about to expose a scandalous relationship between a woman named Tangerine and an unnamed powerful man she’d met. On the other side, this powerful person has hired a hit man and his violent gang to find Tangerine and kill her before the story gets out.

Over a period of several days, Ike and Buddy Lee chase the killers and the killers chase them. And there are many violent casualties along the way, described in graphic detail. Between the violence, they move towards friendship as they joke around and share their struggles about accepting their sons. Ike also sets Buddy Lee straight on a number of racial assumptions. I thought these were good ways to bring out the subtleties of racism, one of the better parts of the book.

I was interested in the premise, but honestly, the rest of the book just isn’t that good, with all kinds of weird metaphors and choppy sentences. Razorblade Tears is described as noir fiction, and as a reader you have to accept the violence as part of the genre, but I found the characters to be stereotypical and the fight scenes hard to follow. In addition, to say you must suspend all disbelief is a huge understatement.

In the end, I felt manipulated by the hype and in the heavy-handed message about race, gender, sexuality, and a host of other social issues. I felt this could have been a much better book if the author had focused more on the characters and had chosen one or two issues.

Other WordPress bloggers have written mixed reviews. You can check them out here.

Books with Chai
The Lesser Joke
The BiblioSanctum

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What’s That Book? Surreality by Ben Trube

I’d like to welcome Kathleen Le Dain as a contributor to What’s That Book.

Hi Everyone! Today I’d like to welcome Berthold Gambrel, today’s contributor to What’s That Book. Thank you, Berthold!

TitleSurreality

Author: Ben Trube

Genre: Mystery / Science Fiction       

Rating: 4 out of 5.

What’s it about? Detective Daniel Keenan is assigned to investigate the virtual murder of the co-founder of a massively multi-player online game, Surreality. Although the crime takes place in cyber-space, it has real-world ramifications. As Keenan pursues the culprit, things begin to escalate in deadly ways. To make matters worse, aspects of Keenan’s own past continue to haunt him as he furiously works to solve the case.

I love how the book mixes tropes of an old-fashioned noir mystery with modern day technology like computer games. Keenan and his partner Caliente are likable characters, and in a book like this, where there is a whole secondary “virtual” world in which much of the action takes place, it’s important that the reader has relatable characters to keep them grounded.

There are a number of minor characters in the book who help to fill in the details of the world of Surreality and explain how the online game was created. As in any good noir detective story, there’s intrigue, backstabbing, and even a bit of romance. In the notes, the author mentions how the book was influenced by Isaac Asimov’s classic novel The Caves of Steel in terms of mixing mystery and science-fiction, and I would say that the comparison is definitely a good one. Anyone who enjoys sci-fi or detective stories should give this a read.

How did you hear about it? I follow the author’s blog and discovered the book there. Also, although we have never met, the author and I both live in Columbus, Ohio, which is also where Surreality is set, so that made me even more interested in it.

Closing comments: I’ve read this book four times, and I think it holds up very well even knowing how it will turn out. It’s not just about how the plot unfolds. The real fun of the book is in the characters and setting.

Contributor: Berthold Gambrel is a blogger and author. You can read his blog at https://ruinedchapel.com


Have you read something good?  Want to talk about it? Consider being a contributor to What’s That Book.

Email Book Club Mom at bvitelli2009@gmail.com for information.

Book Review: Date with Death by Julia Chapman

Date with Death
by
Julia Chapman

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

If you’re looking for a cozy mystery to read during the holidays, take a look at Date with Death by Julia Chapman. Set in England in the Yorkshire Dales, it’s the first in the Dales Detective series in which the author introduces Samson O’Brien, Delilah Metcalf and a host of characters who live in the small town/village of Bruncliffe. Bruncliffe is the type of place where everyone knows everyone’s business, and has strong opinions about all things, giving the setting a colorful backdrop.

The story opens with Richard Hargreaves’ murder on the tracks of the local train station as well as Samson’s return to Bruncliffe after a fourteen-year absence. There’s a lot of beef between Samson and the people in town as well as a mystery behind why he’s back from a top detective position in London. Samson’s boss has advised him to lie low until gross misconduct charges against him have been settled.

Romantic tension develops right away between Samson and Delilah when Samson sets up the Dales Detective Agency downstairs from Delilah’s business, the struggling Dales Dating Agency. Richard’s mother soon hires Samson to investigate her son’s murder, whose death has been declared a suicide. She’s certain Richard didn’t kill himself, that he was on the upswing after a tough divorce and happy over a love prospect he connected with through Delilah’s dating agency.

To Delilah’s horror, more of her clients meet mysterious deaths and it’s a race against time to clear the connection and keep others safe. Not surprisingly, Delilah helps Samson with his investigation.

Readers meet many of the town’s residents, including Delilah’s family and get to know their back stories and quirky characteristics. Some act suspiciously, suggesting a possible connection to the murders and the mystery of who is the killer takes many twists before the finish.

Many relationship questions remain at the end, including the simmering interest between Samson and Delilah and readers will need to dig into the next ones to see where they lead.

I enjoyed this story, though cozy mysteries are not my favorite genre. My mystery group thought it was great, however, so take that as a recommendation too. Although close to 400 pages, it was a fast read and entertaining to read during the hectic holiday times.

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Book review: Defending Jacob by William Landay

Defending Jacob
by
William Landay

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

First Assistant District Attorney Andy Barber is the first in his office to hear about a murder in the woods outside their suburban Massachusetts town’s middle school. When he arrives at the scene, he learns that eighth grader Ben Rifkin has been stabbed to death. Andy leads the preliminary investigation, even though there is a potential conflict of interest: Ben was a classmate of his son, Jacob. Police interviews with classmates and Facebook comments on a memorial page suggest that Ben had been bullying Jacob and that Jacob was preparing to defend himself. Damning evidence quickly puts Jacob at the scene, police charge him with murder and Andy steps down from the case.

Jacob swears he’s innocent and Andy believes him. Readers, however, must form their own opinions about Jacob. The author makes it tough to decide because Jacob is hard to know. He’s a typical teenager, closed and sarcastic. And he has only a few friends in his circle, friends who now keep their distance.

As Jacob’s lawyer prepares for trial, Andy and his wife, Laurie face the impossible problem of seeing the evidence yet wanting to believe their son. During this time, Andy reveals shocking information about his own past that may point to a pattern of crimes. Their lawyer suggests genetic and psychological testing and he and Laurie worry that Jacob has received the “murder gene.” The disturbing results call their parenting skills and decisions into question: are they bad parents because they put Jacob in daycare as a baby? Were they wrong to think he had outgrown his toddler aggression? Hadn’t he?

On the last day of the trial, readers may think it will all be over when the jury returns with its verdict, but twists and turns lead to a surprising finish. In the end, Andy may never be sure of Jacob’s guilt or innocence. Readers may feel the same way.

Published in 2012, Defending Jacob explores themes of marriage, parenting, bullying and nature vs nurture. Lesser themes include politics in the district attorney’s office and the false feeling of security in an affluent suburban town. I enjoyed this story, despite it being a little dated. This is my second time reading it and my only negative comment would be that Jacob seemed older, not like a fourteen-year-old boy. The story has been modernized and is now a TV miniseries starring Chris Evans, Michelle Dockery and Jaeden Martell.

Defending Jacob is a good choice for a book club. I recommend it to readers who like mysteries and character studies.

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Book Review: And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

And Then There Were None
by
Agatha Christie

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Ten strangers are invited to visit a luxurious private island off the coast of Devon, England. People are talking about who the mysterious new owner of Soldier Island might be. The curious guests don’t care. Their invitations suggest a vague connection to a person named Owen and they all accept. When they arrive, there is no host, just a message to settle in.

After dinner, a shocking and eerie recording charges each with separate murders. “Prisoners at the bar,” the voice asks, “have you anything to say in your defence?” Although never officially charged with the murders, it’s a new kind of justice on Soldier Island and it turns out that each guest has something to hide:

Something went terribly wrong for one of Dr. Edward Armstrong’s patients. The butler and cook, Mr. and Mrs. Rogers, must explain how a woman under their care died. Spinster Emily Brent must account for the death of a young woman. Former detective William Blore lied under oath, and the defendant died. For Vera Claythorne it’s the drowning death of a young boy. Captain Philip Lombard once left twenty-one East African tribesmen without food or water. General John Macarthur sent one of his men to certain death. Anthony Marston’s drunken driving took the lives of two young people. And Justice Lawrence Wargrave abused his influence in court, sending the defendant to his death.

As a storm rages, one by one, the guests die, just like in the children’s nursery rhyme, “Ten Little Soldiers.” They soon understand they are isolated and their supply boat won’t return for days. What to do?

This is my second Agatha Christie mystery and it’s perfectly constructed. Every clue means something (even the red herring!) and the eventual explanation is clever and satisfying. Just like when you meet a stranger, you have to go through the process of learning about the person and understanding his or her motives. Because they each have something to hide, you can’t know for sure if this one has a good reason for having a weapon or if that one has a good explanation for what went wrong in the past. And as the numbers dwindle, their strategies change. Is staying together as a group a good idea? Is it best to lock yourself in your room?

In a twisted form of vigilante justice, the killer makes his/her guests pay for crimes that were untouchable by the law. How they react and how they justify their actions is just as interesting as the mystery itself.

I enjoyed And Then There Were None, but I’m taking off a star because of the occasional racist commentary, which I also noticed in The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Can you go back and change the way a classic and famous book is written? I don’t think so, but this story did undergo a couple title changes. You can read my review of The Mysterious Affair at Styles and find links about the subject here.

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Book Review: The Pocket Wife by Susan Crawford

The Pocket Wife
by
Susan Crawford

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Dana Catrell isn’t sure what happened at Celia Steinhauser’s house that afternoon. The only thing she knows is that her neighbor is dead. As she tries to piece together the events, Dana vaguely remembers an argument after a lot of drinks at Celia’s house. That and a picture on Celia’s phone of Dana’s husband, Peter and another woman. Alcohol isn’t the only reason Dana can’t remember, however. She’s on a manic bipolar disorder climb and headed for a crash.

Detective Jack Moss gives the Steinhauser case his full attention, as always. Now it’s a nice distraction from his ruined life at home. Under pressure from the prosecutor’s office, Jack has to solve the case quickly and everything else will have to wait. Moss interviews neighbors as well as Dana, Peter, Celia’s husband, Ronald. Is Dana’s account reliable? Is Peter having an affair? Does Ronald’s alibi check out? In addition to these questions, when forensic evidence points in a new direction, Moss may have to consider an alarming alternative.

Set in Paterson, New Jersey, outside of New York, this debut thriller/mystery looks inside the mind of a woman who struggles to separate the truth from a confusion of thoughts and images. Her manic self becomes obsessed with finding Celia’s phone and the picture of Peter and another woman. If Dana can find that picture, she’ll still have a grip on her life.

I enjoyed this suspenseful story, told in third person, but from both Dana and Jack’s points of view. The author uses Dana’s unreliable memories to drive the story and I was fascinated by Dana’s ability to grasp at pieces of truth, despite her mental illness. That made me want her to prove herself innocent, despite incriminating facts. Readers will feel the stress of Dana’s confusion and watch her approach the brink.

If you’re from New Jersey, you may wonder why the book is set in Paterson, a dangerously violent city, not really a nice suburban town. I’m not sure why. The story does include a violent murder, but the author’s description of the town and the neighborhood where the Catrells and the Steinhausers live don’t seem to fit the actual town. The author also uses a lot of rain to add mood to the story. I thought it was a little overdone, as if the sun never comes out in New Jersey! These are small comments, however, because I felt the story and the suspense of Dana’s eventual collapse were very engaging. I think the story’s strongest parts were the looks inside Dana’s mind.

I recommend The Pocket Wife to readers who like suspense and mystery and are looking for a quick read.

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Book Review: The Address by Fiona Davis

The Address
by
Fiona Davis

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’ve always enjoyed reading stories set in New York and have been meaning to read The Address for a long time. In this 2017 novel by Fiona Davis, Sara Smythe and Bailey Camden live in New York, one hundred years apart. They are connected in indeterminate ways to the 1885 murder of the fictional architect Theodore Camden. Set in 1884 and 1984, their narratives revolve around the famous Dakota, an apartment building in New York.

The Dakota is a real place. Located on the northwest corner of 72nd Street and Central Park West on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, its tenants include famous musicians, artists and actors. It’s also where John Lennon was murdered in 1980. When it first opened in 1884, the Dakota was actually in a remote part of NYC, if you can believe it. Designed to attract the newly wealthy, the building opened its doors to a full staff and plenty of luxuries.

Sara’s story begins in 1884 when Theodore Camden recruits her from the London Langham Hotel to become the first managerette (how do you like that job title?) of the Dakota. Unmarried and in her thirties, Sara works as the head housekeeper. She’s ready for a change, however and drawn to Theodore’s charms, despite the fact that he’s married with three young children. In a bold decision, Sara quits her job and crosses the Atlantic to start a new life during New York’s gilded age. She lives at the Dakota and confidently manages a large staff of housekeepers, porters, maintenance crew and the tenants’ maids. Unable to resist their mutual attractions, Theo and Sara begin an affair that leads to Theo’s ultimate death and the end of Sara’s career.

Jumping to 1984, interior designer Bailey Camden must rebuild her life after a struggle with drugs and alcohol. Out of rehab and jobless, she visits her wealthy cousin Melinda Camden, who lives at the Dakota, in the same apartment where Theo was murdered. Bailey’s family connection to the wealthy Camdens began when her grandfather became Theodore Camden’s ward. Melinda will soon inherit trust money, but Bailey, whose family has learned to live without, will not. In a gesture of seemingly good will, Melinda hires Bailey to redesign her apartment and agrees to let her live there until she gets on her feet. When Bailey discovers personal items belonging to Sara and Theo’s family, she will soon learn more about the affair and just how she fits into the Camden lineage.

I enjoyed this novel which is part mystery and part historical fiction. Davis explores the messy themes of money, class, inheritance and family and entertains the reader with images of New York’s upper and working classes and the city’s development and its varied architecture. In addition, a special appearance by investigative journalist Nellie Bly provides an up-close look at the horrors of Blackwell Island’s Insane Asylum. I recommend The Address to fans of New York stories as well as readers who like historical fiction, interesting characters and themes of money and class.

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Book Review: The Lying Room by Nicci French

The Lying Room
by
Nicci French

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

When Neve Connolly’s phone pings during a family breakfast, she drops everything and goes to Saul Stevenson’s pied-à-terre. At forty-five, she’s deeply embedded in what’s become a drudgery of marriage and children. Her affair with Saul makes her feel young again.

When Neve arrives, she finds Saul dead on the living room floor, brutally murdered. Terrified their affair will be found out, she scours the apartment and removes all evidence that she had ever been there. After hours of careful cleaning, Neve returns home, anxious to resume a normal life. But she can’t shake the feeling that she’s forgotten something and it begins to torment her.

Saul was her boss. His company, Redfern Publishing, has just taken over Sans Serif, a small printing company that Neve and her friends started after college. Now all of Redfern is shocked at Saul’s death. His assistant seems to know all and Detective Chief Inspector Alastair Hitching is on the scene, asking questions and taking DNA samples.

As the story develops, readers learn that Neve and her husband, Fletcher have been struggling. Neve is the main breadwinner and Fletcher, an illustrator, can’t find work and battles depression. Their two young boys need attention and their moody daughter, Mabel may or may not go off to college.

Neve and her Sans Serif friends move in a unit and know each other’s business. Tamsin’s marriage is over. Renata drinks too much and Gary’s bitterness over the merger has changed him. At the center is Neve, the friend everyone thinks has it all together. During the investigation, she continues to play this role, but she’s cracking underneath. Hitching’s relentless questions and shocking revelations at home force Neve into a manic overdrive. A days-long party at their house with awkward overnight guests provides a look at how the characters interact with each other and the secrets they keep.

I enjoyed reading The Lying Room, a standalone book set in London. It’s much different from the other book I read by Nicci French (Blue Monday, the first in the Freida Klein series.). At first, I thought I was reading a thriller but the more I got into it I felt like it was more of a classic mystery. Scenes at the Connolly house remind me of other mysteries in which clues and motives emerge. And while the story begins with the tension of a thriller, it becomes much lighter as we learn about the characters and their lives. In addition, many references to cooking up sophisticated meals during the chaos of Neve’s nightmare give it a cozy feel. Although I enjoyed getting to know all the characters, I didn’t like all of them, but that’s okay.

Themes of marriage, friendship and motherhood play strongly in the story. The authors (yes that’s plural – it’s a husband-wife team) finish up with an exciting confrontation and a satisfying tie-up. I recommend The Lying Room to readers who enjoy lighter suspenseful mysteries.

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Books set in Australia

Wow, I hadn’t realized until recently just how many books I’ve read that are set in Australia! Here’s what I’ve read. Can you add to this list?

Alone – Lost Overboard in the Indian Ocean – Brett Archibald

The Dry by Jane Harper

Force of Nature by Jane Harper

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

The Lost Man by Jane Harper

The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth

The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty


Check out these lists for additional books set in Australia:

Goodreads – Best Books Set in Australia

Tale_Away – Books Set In Australia: Australian Novels

Crime Reads – 10 Essential Australian Novels


For even more, visit my post More books set in Australia here.

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