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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Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

Baby Teeth
by
Zoje Stage

Rating:  3.5 bookmarks

Here’s a psychological thriller that will make you very uncomfortable. What are Suzette and Alex to do when life with their demonic 7-year-old daughter gets dangerous? Try to understand? Rationalize? Maintain a normal façade? What’s their breaking point?

Hanna is an adorable little girl, on the surface. But she refuses to talk and plays her parents against each other. No school will have her, so Suzette has tabled her art career to home school Hanna while Alex builds his new Scandinavian design business in Pittsburgh. Mommy is the bad parent. Daddy can do no wrong. And when Daddy’s away, Hanna’s evil deeds become more and more alarming.

When Hanna finally speaks, it’s in the chilling voice of an alter ego.

Zoje Stage’s debut thriller poses an interesting dilemma and her characters shoulder additional complex problems. Suzette comes from an unhappy childhood and struggles with Crohn’s disease. Alex wants the perfect family and misses many signs that their life is in trouble. Hanna is, well, we don’t know. The reader can only try to understand her and see what happens.

In addition to the uncomfortable subjects, readers should brace themselves for graphic language and ideas. Stage’s rough descriptions and dialogue can be very jarring. I found some of this excessive and much of it did not seem to fit her characters, who are portrayed as smooth and sophisticated. Perhaps that’s the point however, their façade is nothing like who they really are.

Alex and Suzette ultimately seek professional help which gives the reader better insight into Hanna’s problem, or maybe it doesn’t.

Themes of unconditional love, marriage, family, careers, and self-preservation run through Baby Teeth, making it a relatable story for all readers.

This is the kind of book that demands you read it straight through. Stage has created a powerful momentum and I couldn’t rest until I finished.

I received an ARC of Baby Teeth from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. While there was a disclaimer at the beginning assuring readers that all formatting issues would be addressed, these jumps and other rough draft problems were more frequent than other ARCs and were a bit of a distraction.

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Book Talk – The Rooster Bar by John Grisham

Image: Pixabay

Welcome to a new and occasional feature on Book Club Mom called Book Talk, home to quick previews of new books that catch my eye.

Every Christmas my dad gives the women in our family a book. We each receive a different title, chosen specifically for us. I like this tradition. It reminds me of years ago when he used to pick out books for me and my siblings. This year I received The Rooster Bar by John Grisham.

Back in the 1990s, I tore through The Firm, The Pelican Brief and The Client. I wonder if he remembers this? These were excellent stories and the movies were also very entertaining. A few years ago I read The Racketeer and remembered why I liked John Grisham books.

So The Rooster Bar is waiting for me and I’ll get to it soon. Meantime, here’s a quick blurb from Amazon:

Mark, Todd, and Zola came to law school to change the world, to make it a better place. But now, as third-year students, these close friends realize they have been duped. They all borrowed heavily to attend a third-tier, for-profit law school so mediocre that its graduates rarely pass the bar exam, let alone get good jobs. And when they learn that their school is one of a chain owned by a shady New York hedge-fund operator who also happens to own a bank specializing in student loans, the three know they have been caught up in The Great Law School Scam.

But maybe there’s a way out. Maybe there’s a way to escape their crushing debt, expose the bank and the scam, and make a few bucks in the process. But to do so, they would first have to quit school. And leaving law school a few short months before graduation would be completely crazy, right?  Well, yes and no . . .

Pull up a stool, grab a cold one, and get ready to spend some time at The Rooster Bar.

John Grisham has written thirty-one novels, one nonfiction book, a story collection, and six novels for young readers. You can learn more about him at jgrisham.com.

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The Perfect Roommate by Minka Kent

The Perfect Roommate
by
Minka Kent

Rating:

Is there such a thing as a perfect college roommate? Lauren Wiedenfeld and Meadow Cupples are about to find out. Lauren’s been looking for someone to help with the rent and Meadow is desperate for a place to live. But the college seniors couldn’t be more different. Lauren is rich and beautiful and knows the ins and outs of the Meyer State College party scene. Meadow spends most of her time studying and working for the Sparkle Shine Cleaning Company. They could be good for each other, right?

But this isn’t a story about college friendships because something more sinister is going on. Should Meadow turn down Lauren’s invitations and resist her new friend’s efforts to make her over? For a girl with an unhappy past and no money, it’s too hard to say no. Soon Meadow is completely in the mix, with new clothes, new hair, new friends and lots of drama. Lauren seems to fight with her boyfriend Thayer, a lot. And their friend Tessa likes a guy who pays more attention to Meadow. A side story involving the pregnant wife of the hot English professor may help round out the story, or muddle it up.

Readers may sympathize at first with Meadow, the story’s narrator and underdog, but her motives become more ambiguous and her actions more reckless as the plot develops. A shocking campus murder brings everything to a head as the reader wonders who can be trusted.

The only way to know is to keep on reading this fast-paced and entertaining psychological drama. Plenty of twists and time-released developments guarantee surprises to the finish. It’s a quick, surface-read, and a fun way to spend part of your weekend. A few typos take a bit of the polish away, but the reader will quickly forgive at the next turn.

I recommend The Perfect Roommate to readers who enjoy fast-moving thrillers with two-sided characters and motives.

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The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

The Woman in Cabin 10
by Ruth Ware
Rating:

Lo Blacklock has a lot of troubles. Her London apartment has been burgled. She takes medication for anxiety, tends to drink too much and can’t seem to get a good night’s sleep.

Getting away on an exclusive luxury cruise may be the answer, but this trip is for her job as a travel journalist for Velocity magazine. Her boss Rowan can’t go and Lo is under pressure to do a good job.

This was my chance to show I could hack it – that I, like Rowan, could network and schmooze and get Velocity’s name in there with the high fliers.

There is a lot of hype about the Aurora and its maiden voyage to see the Northern Lights. The boat is small, but extravagantly decorated. Lo is part of a select group of passengers who will occupy ten cabins:  photographers, journalists, investors, and Lord Richard Bullmer, the ship’s super rich and powerful owner.

Lo isn’t off to a good start. She arrives sleep-deprived and hung over and has barely read her travel packet. And a bad argument with her boyfriend the night before has left their relationship on the rocks. Drinks before and during dinner don’t help, either. When Lo finally passes out in her cabin, she hopes for a long sleep and a fresh start in the morning.

Awakened by a scream and a splash, Lo is certain the woman in Cabin 10 has gone overboard. But no one believes her story. Was she too drunk to remember the events correctly? As the ship continues its journey, Lo tries desperately to uncover the truth, but the other passengers seem to have their own secrets and motives. With no one to trust, and no internet, Lo is alone with her fears. Oh, and by the way, Lo is claustrophobic. Not a good thing when you’re out on a boat.

The Woman in Cabin 10 is very readable suspenseful story. Ruth Ware throws plenty of red herrings into the mix and sets Lo up in many frightening situations that make the reader wonder, is it just Lo’s unreliable reasoning that makes them so scary? Certain discoveries fool the reader into thinking the mystery is solved, a technique I enjoy, only to lead Lo into what seems to be inescapable danger. The story finishes nicely, with satisfying explanations, including several unexpected tie-ups.

I recommend The Woman in Cabin 10 to readers who like to experience the danger of exciting stories from the safety of a comfortable chair. I particularly like the author’s use of an unreliable narrator. Watching flawed character make mistakes is very suspenseful.

I’m the kind of reader who likes to go along for the ride, letting the plot develop. What kind are you? Do you like to solve the mystery before its finish?

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