Blue Monday by Nicci French

Blue Monday
by
Nicci French

Rating:

Before I tell you why I loved this terrific book, I want to give you a little background about the novel and the authors. Published in 2011 and set in London, Blue Monday is the first in a series of eight mystery thrillers featuring Frieda Klein, a highly regarded psychoanalyst who, in this story, becomes entangled in a kidnapping investigation. Nicci French is the pseudonym for married suspense writers, Nicci Gerrard and Sean French. Together they have written over twenty books. You can find out more about Nicci French and the Frieda Klein series here.

Blue Monday’s story begins with Alan Dekker, one of Klein’s patients, who is tormented by disturbing recurring dreams of a young boy. Dekker is desperate to have a son of his own and the boy in his dreams eerily resembles recently kidnapped five-year-old Matthew Faraday. What’s the connection?

“This is the place where you’re allowed to say anything. There are no limits,” she tells Dekker. But is that really the case? In no time, Frieda finds herself in the middle of the investigation, led by Chief Inspector Malcolm Karlsson. He wonders if Matthew’s disappearance is related to a similar kidnapping twenty years earlier. A concrete evidence detective, he must then rely on Klein’s unconventional methods, and giving into her ideas may take them down the wrong path.

Getting to know Klein is not an easy task. Only happy when in control, professionally and personally, she relies on long late-night walks through deserted London neighborhoods to clear her head. Readers get to know her as she manages relationships with several secondary characters, including Sandy, a new love interest who wants a bigger commitment.

One of the things I enjoyed about Blue Monday is that it is a character-driven mystery. The authors’ characters are both interesting and complex, with their own sets of problems. They give the reader plenty to think about as they come into contact with what I’ll call the authors’ mood influencers: the dark London streets, deserted neighborhoods, gray fog and mist, all connected by the various rivers that run into and through the River Thames. In addition, I especially liked reading about Klein’s apartment, a safe spot she fiercely protects against intrusion.

I won’t spoil the story by revealing the authors’ clever and changing plot development. Twists and turns to the very last pages make Blue Monday a highly entertaining book. Some hanging details and a whopper development at the finish set the scene for the next book, Tuesday’s Gone. I’m looking forward to working my way through this series.

I recommend Blue Monday to readers who enjoy interesting characters and the challenge of unraveling a smart mystery.

And what’s the meaning behind the book’s title, Blue Monday? It “is about beginnings but also about the difficulty of beginning, its pains and regrets and fears. It also happens to be the title of two (very different) great songs—by Fats Domino and New Order,” explain the authors. (Read the full interview at penguinrandomhouse.com.)

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Those Girls by Chevy Stevens

Those Girls
by
Chevy Stevens

Rating:

Three teenage girls are on the run when they leave their small town of Littlefield in western Canada to escape an abusive past and start new lives in Vancouver. Can they forget the violence they suffered?

In this fast-paced thriller, Dani, Courtney and Jess Campbell never stop running from what happened in Littlefield, and the horrors they meet when their truck breaks down in Cash Creek. Dani’s the leader, Courtney’s the pretty one and Jess has the brains to do great things. But they must all work together to survive.

The scars of their abuse take different forms, probably the most interesting part of the story, as the three girls try to build normal lives in Vancouver. It looks as if they may succeed until Courtney’s boyfriend turns out to be bad news and she decides the only way to get rid of the past is to confront it head on.

But new dangers await the girls, now women. It’s a race against time culminating in a shocking finish.

Themes of female empowerment run strong in this battle between good and evil, as well as the importance of family and friends, and readers will have no trouble deciding which side to take.

A note of caution: Those Girls contains many detailed violent scenes and readers may question how necessary these descriptions are. I think that, while some of the early events establish the author’s characters, later scenes seem over the top. In addition, readers will need to let go of reality during the final showdown between the women and their abusers. It’s better just to go along for the ride than say, “That would never happen!”

I recommend Those Girls, with this warning, to readers who enjoy thrillers and stories about women overcoming abuse.

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For more stories about female empowerment and overcoming abuse, check out this audio book review of Never Let You Go by Chevy Stevens, narrated by Rachel Fulginiti and Caitlin Davies.

Exposed by Lisa Scottoline

Exposed
by
Lisa Scottoline

Rating:

Simon Pensiera, one of the top sales reps from OpenSpace, the biggest office cubicle manufacturer in the area, has lost his job. After only one month of missing his quota, he’s sure he has been wrongly fired and that his termination is because of his young daughter’s leukemia and the high cost of treatments, including an upcoming bone marrow transplant. His boss, Todd Eddington, is worried about the insurance policy and tells him, “These expenses are going to kill us this quarter. It’s really too much. We can’t keep this up. They’re going to raise our rates.”

In comes Mary DiNunzio, Simon’s childhood friend from South Philly. She’s a lawyer now and has just made partner at Rosato & DiNunzio. There’s no question she’ll take the case, until Bennie Rosato tells her there’s a conflict of interest. OpenSpace is a subsidiary of their biggest client and Bennie isn’t about to jeopardize her relationship with Dumbarton Industries or Nate Lence, the company’s CEO and Bennie’s classmate from law school.

Pretty soon it’s Rosato versus DiNunzio and Mary must decide what to do. Her entire South Philly neighborhood, including a very sick little girl, is counting on her and she must find a way. And then, a shocking murder puts the wrong person in jail and Mary and her partner in danger. Can they solve the murder and fix things for Simon and his little girl, Rachel?

There are several subplots, including Mary’s relationship with the super-aggressive and take-no-prisoners Bennie, who used to be her boss. Both Mary and Bennie have significant others, which spices up the story a bit. Scottoline also describes Rachel’s illness, her treatments and preparation for a bone marrow transplant. Rachel is surrounded by a large, supportive family and neighborhood, which contributes to the author’s feel-good description of family and relationships. Much of the book is set at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and is a worthy shout-out to the great care she receives.

I had not read a Lisa Scottoline book until now. Scottoline has written twenty-nine novels and Exposed is the fifth book in Scottoline’s Rosato & DiNunzio series. The author provides plenty of back story and Exposed can be read as a standalone.

I went in with an open mind, however, I can’t say I enjoyed this book much. It was an easy read, but I found the plot far-fetched, a little boring and the characters stereotypical. In particular, Scottoline’s South Philly characters are over the top, especially her hard-of-hearing father whose dialogue is displayed in ALL CAPS. Scottoline also devotes the first half of the book to a dry legal debate about conflict of interest, so readers need to wait patiently for the action to begin.

In addition, editing mistakes, including repetitive phrases, dialogue and physically impossible descriptions, make me feel like this book was cranked out without much polish. I wish I could say I liked this book. I know the author has a huge fan base, but for me, Scottoline is a one and done.

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Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

 

Sharp Objects
by
Gillian Flynn

Rating:

Frank Curry, editor of Chicago’s Daily Post, thinks he’s doing a good thing by sending Camille Preaker to cover a murder investigation in her home town of Wind Gap, Missouri. Camille is just out of a stay in a psych ward and Curry thinks this assignment will get her back on track.

A nine-year-old girl has been murdered in Wind Gap and now a ten-year-old girl is missing. When the second girl’s body is discovered, details of the murder suggest a serial killer. Is the killer a stranger to the town or, more disturbingly, one of them?

Camille’s return to the small town is anything but a warm family reunion. It’s been eight years since she’s visited her mother, stepfather and younger half-sister, Amma. Readers quickly discover a strange and dysfunctional family dynamic. Adora Crellin is a controlling mother to thirteen-year-old Amma, a girl who wears pigtails at home, but runs wild in town. And Camille soon notices their mother’s obsession with Amma’s health, who often suffers from fevers and undetermined illnesses. She wonders if Amma is like their sickly and now dead sister, Marian, who died when Camille was thirteen. Marian’s death marks a dark turning point in the family’s history, a time when Camille turned to self-harm to cope.

Camille gathers information for a series of articles as local police and a special detective from Kansas City look for a suspect and motive. A romantic spark between Camille and the detective leads to shared information that may solve the crimes and put Camille back on track, or not. Several false leads initially distract Camille and police from finding the killer, but help the reader understand Wind Gap’s small-town culture.

To avoid spoilers, I’ll need to stop short of describing the rest of the story and leave the discoveries to the reader. I enjoyed Sharp Objects, a fast-paced suspenseful thriller. Published in 2006, it is Flynn’s debut novel and, while it is similar to Gone Girl (2012) in its darkness and unlikeable and twisted characters, plot and character are less developed. (Read my review of Gone Girl here.) Readers also need to let go of a need for realistic scenarios and accept the developments at the finish as part of the need to wrap things up.

In addition to a suspenseful story, Flynn draws attention to the devastating effects of mental illnesses, especially those that lead to cutting and other forms of self-harm. I recommend Sharp Objects to readers who enjoy dark suspenseful stories. Sharp Objects is now an HBO series. You can check it out here.

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The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

The Maltese Falcon
by
Dashiell Hammett

Rating:

I wasn’t sure how I felt about reading a hardboiled detective novel from the 1930s, even though I remember liking the Humphrey Bogart movie years ago. But one page in and I understood why Dashiell Hammett is considered a master of this genre. It’s a tightly written story about detective Sam Spade, three murders, a valuable falcon statue and an assortment of shrewd characters on both sides of the law.

The story begins when a beautiful and mysterious Miss Wonderly hires Spade and his partner Miles Archer to keep an eye on man she claims has run off with her teenage sister. Spade and Archer might not believe their new client, but they take the assignment and her retainer. When Archer and the man he’s following turn up dead, the first person the police suspect is Spade. That begins the reader’s view into the long-standing antagonistic relationship between Spade and the police, specifically Detective Polhaus and Lieutenant Dundy.

Written in the external third-person narrative, the reader gets no look into the characters’ thoughts and must decide their motives and truthfulness based entirely on their words and actions. There are plenty of shady characters to figure out, too. Spade quickly discovers Miss Wonderly is lying, that her real name is Brigid O’Shaughnessy and that she’s deeply mixed up in a scheme to get the priceless falcon. But the truth is also muddled up by others who want the bird, a bejeweled and fashionable Joel Cairo, a slick-talking Caspar Gutman and his bodyguard Wilmer.

Spade’s character is a fascinating mix between calculating, cutthroat, self-serving and occasionally soft-hearted, particularly around beautiful women. That makes for plenty of romantic tension between him and O’Shaughnessy, who is just as slick to manage. She says she’s hired him to help her get the statue, which she’s promised to Gutman. Whether it’s a square deal is for the reader to discover in a twisted and fast-moving plot with plenty of red herrings.

The only woman who has Spade figured out is his loyal secretary Effie Perine, who is willing to put up with a lot of guff because she genuinely likes him. The fondness is mutual, but seemingly platonic, with some teasing affection, and maybe that’s why it works.

The big showdown at the end between all the bird’s players is a section worthy of several re-reads, first to get the facts and later to enjoy the smart and manipulative negotiations between Spade and the rest. It’s never clear, until the final page, who has the upper hand.

Every word counts in this terrific story which is just over 200 pages and both easy and fun to read. I recommend The Maltese Falcon to readers of crime fiction and to all readers who are looking for a great story.

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Dry by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman

Dry
by
Neal Shusterman
Jarrod Shusterman

Rating:

For sixteen-year-old Alyssa and her family, the drought in southern California was nothing new. It meant conserving water, as in shorter showers and no watering the lawns. Life went on otherwise and no one was thinking disaster. No one except the McCrackens. But they were the strange, reclusive neighbors across the street who had taken their survivalist hobby to the extreme. No one to take seriously.

Now what the news channels had been calling a flow crisis is a sudden Tap-Out. No water. And in a matter of days, throughout the region, civilized communities become desperate rioting mobs, with no way to get out. When Alyssa and her younger brother, Garrett are separated from their parents, it’s up to the kids to survive on their own. But how and for how long? With a hurricane occupying the rest of the nation’s attention, does anyone outside of southern California know how bad it is?

It’s anything goes as friends and neighbors face the grim truth and Alyssa and Garrett must ask themselves how far they will go to survive, whom they will trust and just how much they will help others.

In Neal Shusterman’s brand new book (published 10/2/18), he teams with his son, Jarrod to write a fantastic Young Adult study of climate change and human behavior under extreme stress. They offer a mix of realistic characters with emerging traits of leadership and changing degrees of moral standards, selfishness and violence. Told in the present tense, in varying points of view, Dry is an intense, consuming story that will make readers ask themselves, “What would I do?”

I recommend Dry to readers who enjoy fast-paced action stories that look into how people react to threats and danger.

For another story about the effects of a drought on a town, check out:

The Dry by Jane Harper

And if you like apocalyptic/dystopian survival stories, you may also like:

Lord of the Flies by William Golding
The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

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Audiobook: Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter, narrated by Kathleen Early

Audiobook:
Pretty Girls
by
Karin Slaughter

Narrated by Kathleen Early

Rating:

Claire Scott’s older sister, Julia, vanished over twenty years ago. Her disappearance has been largely forgotten, except by her broken family. Pretty Girls is the story of how Claire, her sister, Lydia, and their parents have coped with losing Julia, who is now presumed dead.

Set in Atlanta, the story begins in the present and its main character is Claire, who is celebrating her first day without an ankle monitor, terms of an assault conviction. But Claire considers herself lucky, because Paul, her devoted and highly successful architect husband, supports her, two hundred percent. Tragedy strikes almost immediately, however, and Claire must think for herself to protect and save her family from a sinister and twisted rapist and murderer.

Claire soon discovers that one crime doesn’t mean it’s over and, as she digs, she learns about a sadistic series of crimes and a massive dark web network. Is Julia’s disappearance somehow connected to this current violence? Claire will need to take a hard look at all the people around her and decide whom she can trust. Pretty Girls is a suspense story, but it’s also a story about self-actualization, in which Claire, for the first time in her life, takes control and realizes her strength. In addition, Slaughter includes themes of family, broken relationships and closure to round out the story.

If you choose to read or listen to this dark thriller, be warned. The book includes many scenes of detailed graphic and extreme violence. If it were not for my interest in seeing Claire get revenge, I would have put it down. I felt the violence was over-the-top, and perhaps the audio version made it even more so. The narrator did a great job with voices, and in particular captured the manipulative tone of the killer’s both seductive and evil voices. But at times, she seemed a little too into the crime descriptions. Of course, she was just reading someone else’s words… The author’s surname should have been a warning to me! So that’s why it’s just a 3-bookmark rating for me.

With over thirty-five hundred reviews on Amazon, Pretty Girls has received an average 4-star rating. You can check out these reviews here and decide for yourself.

Karin Slaughter is an award-winning crime writer and has written eighteen novels. Pretty Girls is a New York Times bestseller. Her novels Cop Town, The Good Daughter, and Pieces of Her are all in development for film and television.


I read Pretty Girls as part of my library’s Summer Reading Challenge to listen to an audiobook from our system’s catalog.

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Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine

Stillhouse Lake
by
Rachel Caine

Rating:

Gina Royal’s problems are just beginning the day she discovers her husband is a serial murderer. It doesn’t matter that Mel Royal goes to prison and is awaiting execution. The internet haters are making her life miserable because they are certain she was an accomplice, despite a court acquittal. Gina does not want to wait to see if the threats are real.

So she grabs her two kids and runs, with new identities. And by using sophisticated internet tools, she is able to monitor the hate and stay hidden. The trolls are only a few steps behind, however, and that means picking up and changing names again and again. When they finally land at Stillhouse Lake, a former resort in Tennessee, they are Gwen, Lanny and Connor. At fourteen and eleven, Lanny and Connor are tired of being without friends, or roots. Can Gwen let down their guard, just a little?

Letting down their guard still means being on alert and staying sharp with target practice, however. Alarms, security cameras, internet traces and short-term phones are just some of the precautions Gwen takes. A new friendship may be just the thing to make their family feel grounded, something all three desperately need.

When a woman’s body floats to the surface of the lake, however, the murder is shockingly similar to Mel’s sadistic crimes. With Mel behind bars, Gwen becomes a person of interest. New friends and neighbors suddenly seem shady and Gwen can’t separate the good guys from the bad. Readers will watch her make both reckless and wrong decisions, putting herself and her kids in grave danger.

A wild chain of events leads Gwen to a big vigilante showdown, with plenty of twists and mind games. Caine finishes with a surprise cliff-hanger, however, an ending that I didn’t see coming. I didn’t know that Stillhouse Lake is the first in a three-book series and that answers await in the next two books, Killman Creek (2017) and Wolfhunter River (2019).

All in all, however, Stillhouse Lake is a fast-paced and entertaining thriller, with a good scare-factor and limited violence. The best part of the book is deciding whether the characters were good or bad. I got some of them wrong!


I read Stillhouse Lake as part of my library’s Summer Reading Challenge to read a book of my own choosing – the center square of my BINGO card!


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The Bone Curse by Carrie Rubin

The Bone Curse
by
Carrie Rubin

Rating:

Ben Oris doesn’t worry when he is cut by an ancient bone in the Catacombs of Paris. After all, he’s a third-year med student and he knows how to treat a little cut. But something is wrong when he returns to school to begin a rotation in internal medicine. The cut won’t heal and people close to him are getting sick. Has Ben picked up an unknown pathogen? Is there something evil at work? It’s a race against time for Ben and his best friend Laurette, who is sure Ben needs to see a Haitian Vodou priestess.

In The Bone Curse, Carrie Rubin pits science and medicine against the idea of an ancient Haitian curse in an exciting medical thriller that keeps the reader guessing through the final pages. Set in the sweltering heat of Philadelphia summer, the story focuses on three tense weeks during which Ben tries to balance a demanding schedule while friends and family fall like bowling pins. Can he trust Laurette’s mysterious Haitian relatives and contacts?

Rubin tells a great story and develops her characters well. Readers will cheer for Ben, who is charmingly human and chew their nails as he confronts formidable and frightening opponents.

There are many things to like about Rubin’s writing style. One is her humor and understanding of the human condition. What fun to see Ben navigate a complicated love life and looming disaster, yet take a moment, while maneuvering Philly streets, to enjoy his “Bumper-to-bumper, parallel-parking masterpiece.” In addition, readers will enjoy a look into med school politics as Ben fends off rivals and a demanding attending physician. Ben’s modern and realistic family situation rounds out his character, making him both likable and knowable.

Rubin also knows how to keep a story moving by building a fear of the unknown. Vodou curses, blood sacrifices, and strange ceremonies in dark smoky row-house rooms are the backdrops to wild confrontations between murky good and evil characters as Ben does his best to determine who’s on the good side.

The Bone Curse is the first in the Benjamin Oris series of medical thrillers and Rubin rewards her readers with a satisfying finish and promise of more thrills. In addition, hints of a developing relationship between Ben and Laurette will no doubt make Ben’s love life an enticing side-story.

Due out this month, I recommend The Bone Curse to readers who like thrilling books with otherworldly themes.

I received a copy of The Bone Curse from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Tell No One by Harlan Coben

Tell No One
by
Harlan Coben

Rating:

Dr. David Beck’s life fell apart eight years ago when his wife Elizabeth was taken by strangers. Even though a serial killer sits in prison, Beck can’t move on. He trudges through life and work as a pediatrician in a low-income New York neighborhood. The years have passed, but how can he let go of his best friend and sweetheart?

When Beck receives a computer message, he’s certain it’s from Elizabeth because it’s about something only she would know. But there’s a warning: “Tell no one.”

Readers are in for a wild ride as Beck tries to make sense of this message and later instructions. Set in New Jersey, New York and parts of Pennsylvania, the story revolves around Beck, his sister Linda and her partner, plus-size supermodel Shauna, as well as Elizabeth’s cop family. Added to the mix is the powerful billionaire, Griffin Scope, a third-generation rich guy. Scope is consumed by avenging the death of his golden-boy son Brandon and by preserving Brandon’s good-works charitable foundation, headed, coincidently, by Linda.

Several messages later, Beck is certain Elizabeth is still alive. He needs help and turns to Shauna. Shauna keeps him grounded, but events get out of hand when Beck becomes a wanted man for murder.

Coben leads the reader through the preliminaries, then adds a great variety of side characters, including my favorite, the conflicted Tyrese Barton and the unknowable bad guy Eric Wu, someone you don’t want to meet in an alley. Other characters with questionable morality, but a sliver of conscience make this story more than just a thriller, but an interesting character study.

In addition to an exciting plot, Coben’s writing style is full of dry humor as well as many laugh-out-loud moments, as Beck somehow escapes certain death, more than once.

Just as in an action movie, Tell No One is a terrific, fast-moving suspense, with twists and turns to the final page. I recommend this book to readers who enjoy reading about the battle between good and evil in a highly entertaining story.

And if you like watching action movies, Tell No One was adapted to the screen in the French film of the same name. Read all about it here.

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