Book Review: Sadie by Courtney Summers

Sadie
by
Courtney Summers

Sadie Hunter is nineteen and missing. She left the Sparkling River Estates trailer park in Cold Creek, Colorado and the only clue is an abandoned car found in Fairfield. Where is she? On a revenge trip, hunting for the person who killed her thirteen-year-old sister, Mattie.

When podcast producer West McCray and his boss learn of Sadie’s disappearance, they know they have a story to tell and create a serial podcast called “The Girls.” While McCray conducts interviews and follows leads, Sadie follows her own leads, desperate to catch up and kill the man responsible.

Sadie alternates between a script of McCray’s podcast and Sadie’s personal narrative of her search for justice. In telling, she reveals painful details about her alcoholic and drug-addicted mother, Claire, who hooks up with a string of move-in boyfriends. She ignores Sadie, who develops a paralyzing stutter, and favors little Mattie. When Claire abandons her daughters, young Mattie is nearly crushed, and Sadie steps in. Determined to give Mattie a decent upbringing, Sadie drops out of high school to be around for her little sister. The sisters are close because, besides May Beth Foster, their surrogate grandmother and manager of the trailer park, they’re all they have. But by the time Mattie is thirteen, she’s resentful and rebellious, sure she can handle herself.

Sadie had done her best, but she was just a girl too. Now she wonders what more she could have done to protect her sister.

In her search, Sadie makes risky connections, but she’s ready for anything, with a switchblade in her pocket, vowing to carve her name into the killer’s soul. She’s not afraid and reasons,

…here’s the thing I tell myself to dull the sharp edges of everything that’s surely left to come: The worst has already happened.

She meets and befriends others, seeking information, but also getting a taste of the privileged life in Montgomery, Colorado. Sadie has only known hardship and neglect and at one point when she connects with a boy her age, she wonders,

why can’t I let myself be worth a moment’s tenderness?

Sadie’s narrative and the podcast reveal details about the sisters and advance at a similar pace, but from different angles, until they nearly intersect in Fairfield. By this point, the reader has the full dark story of the sisters’ childhood and Mattie’s death.

I enjoyed reading this fast-paced mystery. At times I wanted to pull Sadie out of the story and give her a good home and at other times I was right there with her, chasing after her sister’s killer. Sadie’s story is dark and heavy, but full of tender and raw feelings. Readers will be surprised and maybe unhappy with the story’s finish, best left alone in reviews. I was a little disappointed, yet I find myself thinking about Sadie days after I’ve finished, always a good sign of a book.

Sadie is the 2019 Edgar Award for Best Young Adult, which honors the best in mystery fiction, nonfiction and television.

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Book Review: Force of Nature by Jane Harper

Force of Nature
by
Jane Harper

Force of Nature is the corporate teambuilding retreat you never want to go on. When five women from BaileyTennants accounting firm begin a four-day excursion in the Australian Bushland and only four return, police and rescue workers begin an urgent search. Mirror Falls is a dangerous place, with dense growth, confusing trails and no cell signal.

The four women who emerge from the forest are hungry, dehydrated and bruised and none of them can explain what happened to their colleague Alice Russell.

To make matters worse, Alice is lost in the same area where a young woman went missing twenty-five years earlier. Sarah Sondenberg was never found, but three other women were killed around the same time and a man named Martin Kovac went to jail for the murders. Does Martin’s son, Samuel have anything to do with Alice’s disappearance?

Federal Agent Aaron Falk and his partner Carmen Cooper are especially interested in finding Alice. She’s their inside contact at BaileyTennants, under suspicion for money laundering. Falk and Carmen are trying to acquire documents to implicate Chairwoman Jill Bailey (one of the women) and her CEO brother, Daniel Bailey who was in a different group on the same trip.

Alternating chapters describe the events during the hike and the search. Jill is in her fiftes and out of her element, but remains the boss of the group.  Alice is an aggressive corporate climber in her forties, selfish and cruel, especially to Lauren Shaw who was her classmate in school. Lauren is more tentative and self-conscious and often the perfect prey for Alice. Bree and Bethany are twenty-something twins, though very different in appearance and attitude. Their twin relationship has been fractured and this dynamic plays nicely into the plot. I especially enjoyed seeing how the five women interact when things go bad and they have to make decisions and ration food and water.

There are several subplots that figure in well with the story. Falk is still coming to terms with his father’s death, though it’s been seven years, and the search at Mirror Falls brings back memories of the hikes he refused to go on with his dad. We see into Jill’s conscience and learn of her reluctance to get into the family business. Alice and Lauren’s history involves some cruel hazing and now their daughters are vulnerable teenagers. In addition, tension between Bree and Bethany affects several events on the excursion. Will the sisters reunite or turn against each other instead?

A few red herrings point the reader the other way while the plot continues to develop. They all lead to a big scene full of raw feelings and shocking reactions.

I enjoyed reading Force of Nature. It’s a fast read with interesting characters. Harper uses one of my favorite story-telling elements by including nature’s power to drive the characters and plot. I also like how she draws parallels between seemingly different characters and their situations. And the whole story revolves around parent/child relationships over two generations, always a relevant theme and one I like to read about.

I recommend Force of Nature to readers who like mysteries and suspense set in dangerous and intimidating surroundings. Force of Nature is the second book the Aaron Falk series, after The Dry (read my review here), but it can be read as a standalone.

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Book Review: Outsider by Linda Castillo

Outsider
by
Linda Castillo

Rating:

Gina Colorosa is a cop on the run. She’s mixed up in something bad at the Columbus Division of Police and now there’s no turning back. With nowhere else to go, she points her car to Painters Mill, Ohio, hoping her former friend, Kate Burkholder, now the Chief of Police, will forget the past. Gina gets close, but her car crashes in a blizzard and in the morning, she’s discovered by Adam Lengacher, an Amish widower with three young children.

Gina is injured and bears a weapon, but Adam doesn’t question taking her in. “You don’t leave anyone, including an outsider, to the elements, especially if they’re hurt,” he explains.

Now Kate must confront a close friendship that went bad and ended abruptly. Once best friends and roommates, Gina and Kate attended the police academy together. And Kate can’t forget that Gina took her in when she had nowhere to go, after “leaving the fold” of her Amish family and community.

Gina stays at the Lengacher’s home, under Kate’s supervision, until the weather breaks and Kate and her boyfriend, John Tomasetti, who is with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, decide what to do. Kate tries to get a read on her wild, tough-talking and elusive friend while Tomasetti makes some calls to Columbus. It seems safe at the cozy Lengacher home, where Gina learns about the Amish way of life, but everyone knows it’s just a matter of time until Gina’s dangerous pursuers find her, putting Adam and his kids at great risk. Kate senses that Gina isn’t giving her the whole story and events from their past suggest Gina has broken many police rules.

Outsider is the twelfth book in Linda Castillo’s Kate Burkholder series and is told in both Kate’s voice and a third-person narrative of the events in Columbus and the women’s backstories. The author gives readers a look into the Amish way of life and how the Amish and “English” outsiders interact as their lives inevitably overlap. Kate is a bridge between both lives, understanding her childhood friend Adam as well as the outside world. Several moral questions come up and are resolved in interesting ways.

I enjoyed Outsider, although I haven’t read the other Kate Burkholder books. References to her Amish family make me want to go back and catch up on these relationships. I thought the author did a nice job portraying Amish life and includes many Pennsylvania Dutch phrases that enhance the story. There is a big contrast between these Amish chapters and Gina’s life as a cop in Columbus and at times the transition seems jarring. But the story moves at a good pace with a few twists and a satisfying conclusion.

I was attracted to Outsider because of the title and cover. I had an idea of who the woman on the cover represented, but was disappointed that it never became obvious and in fact, I was definitely wrong about my idea. Is this Kate from years ago contemplating her life outside the community? Has she already been shut out? I couldn’t figure it out and felt a little misled.

All-in-all, I enjoyed the book and think readers who like police detective stories and enjoy learning about the Amish would like the series. The author explains plenty from previous books so Outsider also works as a standalone.

Outsider will be released on July 7, 2020. I received a copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Book Review: The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

The Mysterious Affair at Styles
by
Agatha Christie

Rating:

I’d known about Agatha Christie’s books, but I’d never read one until I picked up The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Published in 1920, it is Christie’s debut detective novel and is set in England, outside London. Christie introduces her now well-known character, Hercule Poirot, a Belgian refugee and “one of the most celebrated members of the Belgian police.” Poirot became a long-running character in Christie’s writings and appeared in thirty-three novels, two plays and more than fifty short stories.

In this story, Poirot investigates the poisoning death of Mrs. Emily Inglethorp at the family estate, Styles Court in Essex. Emily’s two stepsons and others at Styles are convinced that Alfred Inglethorp, their mother’s new and much younger husband, is the killer. And he has a  motive, they believe: Emily’s fortune. As a favor to his friend Hastings, also a guest at Styles and narrator of this story, Poirot investigates Emily’s death. Hastings is recovering from war wounds thanks to John’s hospitality and has always wanted to be a detective. He happily becomes Poirot’s eager assistant.

In a thorough and sometimes indirect and mysterious style, Poirot interviews family members and guests including stepsons John and Lawrence Cavendish; John’s wife, Mary; Emily’s loyal friend, Evie Howard; and Emily’s protégé, Cynthia Murdoch. Maids and gardeners also share important clues and Christie includes helpful floorplans to explain the layout of the house, crucial to understanding the events of Emily’s death.

One of the major issues is Emily’s will. There have been many versions and a last-minute revision. No one is sure what changes have been made and a lot is at stake. John and Lawrence, country squires, have no real source of income and they also fall under suspicion. Another fact to sort out is the strychnine that killed Emily. How was she poisoned and who acquired the strychnine? There are several possibilities. A curious side character is Dr. Bauerstein, who happens to be a poison expert. He’s staying in the village while recovering from a nervous breakdown.

Hastings may be Poirot’s helper, but Poirot likes to keep his ideas close to the vest, leaving Hastings, and the reader, in the dark for periods of time. He gets it all right, of course, in genius style because he quietly notices details and considers possibilities others have discarded. Poirot’s methods are amusing to witness because they show how people become frustrated when they don’t get immediate answers.

I enjoyed reading this mystery, which is not solved until the final pages, but which Poirot fully explains to his naïve assistant.

I must mention, however, several racist characterizations in the book, something Christie has been criticized for and which are completely unnecessary to the storyline. Although I’m unsure of when this happened, the Anti-Defamation League complained about Christie and American publishers were allowed to remove offensive descriptions from some of her books. There are several articles about Christie’s depictions.

ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes and Reviews, May 14, 2018: “The erasure of race in Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None by Blake Allmendinger”

The New Yorker, August 16, 2010: “Queen of Crime – How Agatha Christie created the modern murder mystery” by Joan Acocella

Canadian Jewish News, January 23, 2020: “Was Agatha Christie an Anti-Semite?” by Michael Taube

So although The Mysterious Affair at Styles is a clever story and marks the introduction of Poirot’s character, these comments took away from my reading experience.

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Book Review: The Tenant by Katrine Engberg

The Tenant
by
Katrine Engberg

Rating:

If you like mysteries and police procedurals, here’s Katrine Engberg’s debut novel set in Copenhagen, Denmark. The Tenant is the first in a new series.

Esther DeLaurenti is a retired professor of literature and has settled back onto the third floor of the building she owns, ready to write her first mystery. But fiction and real life cross a dangerous intersection when one of Esther’s tenants, 21-year-old Julie Stender, is murdered on the first floor. As investigators uncover crime scene clues, Esther is shocked to discover that the murder closely mirrors the plot in her manuscript, including the violent killer’s chilling message.

Jeppe Kørner is the lead police investigator and joins up with his partner, Annette Werner. Under pressure to solve the crime quickly, they enlist their team of detectives to find Julie’s killer. Like all mysteries, the investigators have their own pasts that influence how they do their jobs. Kørner is newly-divorced, battling back pain and emerging from a depressive episode. He clashes with his partner and her irritating ways. And the dynamics among team members suggest grudges and hidden agendas. But the investigation continues, raising questions about the men in Julie’s life, including Kristoffer Gravgaard, Esther’s awkward friend and a new love interest, the “Mysterious Mr. Mox.” Equally strange is Julie’s father, whose alarming reactions raise warning flags and of particular interest is a suspicious dinner party held at Esther’s apartment earlier that year.

Some of the story takes place at the Royal Danish Theatre, where Kristoffer works as a dresser and Kørner had once trained as a performer, a dream career given up for more practical police work. The author knows this world well—she is a former dancer and choreographer in television and theater.

A second dramatic murder is no doubt related, placing additional pressure on Kørner, just as his personal life gets reckless. When the killer begins an online dialogue with Esther, Kørner takes steps to protect her, but will that be enough?

Many of Enberg’s characters struggle with the shame of loss and abandonment as they work to own painful and spiteful decisions of their pasts. These struggles, including Enberg’s, muddy up the investigation and keep the reader from figuring things out too soon.

I enjoyed this story, although it was a little slow getting started and the various subplots were complicated at times. I also liked reading about the different sections of Copenhagen, its historic buildings and the Danish way of life. Now that the author has established the main characters, I look forward to the second book in the series.

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What’s That Book? A Prisoner of Birth by Jeffrey Archer

TitleA Prisoner of Birth

Author:  Jeffrey Archer

Genre:  Fiction, it’s categorized as a legal thriller but this is definitely NOT like John Grisham.

Rating:

What’s it about?  A young man and his fiancée and her brother are out to dinner one night when a group of upper class guys start harassing the fiancée. The couple and the brother try to leave bu tend up cornered by the group of guys in a back alley. Despite all attempts to avoid a fight, the brother ends up murdered. The young man is convicted of the crime and the upper class guys go free (despite a clear cover up involving many people). The novel follows the young man into prison where he makes important connections and the efforts of his (very beginner) lawyer to clear his name.

How did you hear about it?  Having been a fan of Archer’s work in the past, I was thrilled to snag this as a used hardback copy at the local library’s annual book sale.

Closing comments:  Wow! Just wow. This is an amazing and clever reimagining of The Count of Monte Cristo. Unlike the original, this book (despite its length) never has a dull moment. Although you can kind of guess what might be coming next (especially if you’ve read The Count of Monte Cristo), Archer’s storytelling skills add an unexpected twist. Above all, you can’t help but cheer on the protagonist.

Contributor:  Tammie Painter – I turn wickedly strong tea into imaginative fiction – You can read about my adventures over at TammiePainter.com/blog


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.

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Happy New Year!

Hi Everyone and Happy New Year!

I’ve had fun seeing what all the book bloggers read in 2019 and now it’s time to begin again! I’m not doing any reading challenges this year, but I always like to have a short-term plan for what I’m going to read.

So here’s what’s in store for January:

I just started A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. It’s on loan from the library on my Kindle and due soon, so that’s first. OMG I am tearing through it. I’m already sure I will give it a good review!


Next up is The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. I’m reading it for my mystery book club at work. We decided to return to one of the first of the genre and this one goes way back. The Moonstone was first published in 1868!


I got two books for Christmas and I can’t wait to start them. I’ve been talking about reading a Howard Hughes biography and this one is Howard Hughes – the Untold Story by Petter Harry Brown and Pat H. Broeske.


I also got You by Caroline Kepnes. If you don’t know about this book, it’s also a series on Netflix and Season 2 just started. I’m going to read this first, watch Season 1, then move on to either the sequel called Hidden Bodies or watch Season 2 first. Can’t decide!


I hope you have some fun things and some good books lined up for 2020. What’s the first book you will read?

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Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Where the Crawdads Sing
by
Delia Owens

Rating:

Kya Clark is six years old when her mother walks out of the shack they call home. The falling-down structure is hidden in the marshes of North Carolina, outside the fictional coastal town of Barkley Cove, a place where racial tension and small-town prejudices are firmly in place. The shack is the only place the Clark family knows, where her father’s abusive rages have terrified Kya, her mother and her siblings. Soon her older siblings run, leaving only Kya and her father, who provides her with nothing but fear. And then one day it’s just Kya, known in town and shunned as the wild Marsh Girl.

The story begins in 1952 and jumps to 1969, when a young man named Chase Andrews has died. In alternating chapters, readers learn Kya’s story of survival and how she becomes part of the investigation into Chase’s death.

Kya may be a “marsh girl,” but she has extraordinary talents that enable her to devise ways to survive and battle her loneliness, trying to understand why everyone has left her. Fearful of other people, she learns how to live as one of nature’s creatures, reaching out to just a few trusted souls who help her.

Then one day, she meets a boy, Tate Walker, who shyly leaves her presents, and a tentative friendship begins. “She’d never had a friend, but she could feel the use of it, the pull.” Their relationship grows and changes with them, opening her eyes to a larger world. But time and outside pressure soon bring disappointment and loss, leaving Kya alone once again.

I don’t want to give away too much, because the joy of this fantastic story is in reading it first-hand. I have always loved books that include nature as a character, with themes of its strong influence on human behavior. Delia Owens, with her unique background as an award-winning wildlife scientist, has created a beautiful coming-of-age story in which nature’s beauty and harsh instincts play a major role. I read this book non-stop over the course of three days, not because I wanted to get through it, but because I was so invested in Kya’s world.

If you’re looking for a high-quality read to fit it before the end of the year, I highly recommend Where the Crawdads Sing. It measures up to all the hype and the hundreds of thousands of positive reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

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Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben

Fool Me Once
by
Harlan Coben

Rating:

Here’s a fast and easy-to-read mystery/thriller about a tough-acting female veteran who is battling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from tours in the Middle East and is caught in a twisted story of power, corruption and murder.

As an army helicopter pilot in Iraq, Maya Stern Burkett always made smart, calculated decisions, until one went horribly bad. Now she’s back in New York, trying to keep it together, but she has a lot of problems. Her sister, Claire is dead and she’s just buried her husband, Joe, the victim of a Central Park shooting. On top of that, debilitating nightmares about her final mission wreak havoc on her mental state. Maya’s only comfort is her two-year-old daughter, Lily.

As Joe’s widow in the ultra-wealthy and powerful Burkett family, Maya’s position has changed. She hadn’t questioned their involvement in Burkett family controlling decisions, including hiring Isabella as a nanny. But her suspicions rise when a disturbing image appears on the nanny cam.

Police are also investigating the murders and wonder if they are connected, while Maya digs in rogue style, always packing a concealed weapon. This mystery is full of slowly revealed secrets, some from happenings at Joe’s elite Main Line prep school outside of Philadelphia. It’s not sorted out until a showdown in the final pages, keeping true to the genre.

While Fool Me Once is not a heavy read, Coben explores serious issues, including the jarring difference between serving in the military and returning home to a normal life. He raises questions about how best to treat PTSD and other mental illnesses, noting that these are not things a person can just “shake off.” In addition, through Maya’s character, a serious gun-lover, he explores the hotly-debated subject of Second Amendment rights.

Coben introduces many suspicious side characters to the story, making it hard to guess where the plot will go. I like this technique because it gives the reader a lot to think about. Coben’s books are normally set in the New York and New Jersey and, having grown up in that area, I enjoy the references to towns and places I know. He also throws little nuggets of local knowledge into his stories, like where the good malls are, and I like this humor.

I thought Fool Me Once was entertaining, but in the end, just okay, due to many unbelievable plot developments. The movie is also in the works, starring Julia Roberts. I would recommend it as a good book to read on an airplane or on vacation or as a light read when you’re curled up on a couch. This is my fourth standalone Coben book. He also writes the Myron and Mickey Bolitar series, which I have not read. I still enjoy Coben as an author and will likely read more.

Have you read any books by Harlan Coben? Have you read his series? Leave a comment and check out these Harlan Coben reviews:

Caught
Run Away
Tell No One

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Who’s That Indie Author? Wendy L. Koenig

Author name:  Wendy L. Koenig

Genre:  Science Fiction, Young Adult Children’s, Fantasy Romance, Mystery

Books:  Sentient, Insurrection, One to Lose, The Last Griffin, Birthright, Boo and Oscar in the Fantastic Fudge Fiasco, Boo and Oscar in the Terrible Trouble on the Tobique, Frozen Fire, Under Twin Suns

What’s your story and how did you become a writer?  I was born in Colorado, but raised on a small homestead in Illinois. I served in the USAF right out of high school. After my stint in the military was finished, I returned home and had a horse stable. My first piece to be printed was a short children’s fiction, “Jet’s Stormy Adventure,” serialized in The Illinois Horse Network. It was a natural fit, given my business. Later, I attended University of Iowa’s famed workshops and writing programs. Since that time, I have authored and co-authored numerous books. Several of my novels and short stories have won international awards and have appeared in multiple venues. I write because I want to read the story.

How do you balance your work with other demands?  I’m stubborn.

Name one of the happiest moments in your life:  Seeing a fan show his friends my signature on his book

What’s your approach to writing? Are you a “pantser” or a planner?  Pantser until the main skeleton is written, then a planner for the subplots.

Could you write in a café with people around?  Often do.

Have you ever written dialogue in a second language? If so, how did you do it?  I don’t. My husband is French Canadian. He translated my two French children’s books.

What’s your favorite book and what are you reading now?  Favorite book of all time is Dreamsnake by Vonda McIntyre. Reading a Jack Reacher now.

What’s your favorite way to read a book: hardcover, paperback, eReader?  Hardcover

Do you think print books will always be around?  Absolutely. It’s a comfort thing. You just don’t get that from an eBook.

Would you ever read a book on your phone?  I have.

What’s your go-to device? iPhone, Android or something else?  Android

How long could you go without checking your phone?  I actually don’t text much, so probably a while.

Do you listen to audiobooks? If you do, what do you do while you’re listening?  I listen while I drive.

Do you like using social media to promote yourself and your book? If so, what’s your favorite platform?  Facebook and Instagram.

Website and social media links:
Website:  wendylkoenig.com
Facebook:  @WendyLKoenig
Twitter:  @wlkoenig
Pinterest: pinterest.ca/wlkoenig

Awards/special recognition: Under Twin Suns – 2nd place Novel Abilene Writer’s guild International Competition 2005, 2nd Honorable Mention Novel Chapter CNW/FFWA International Writing Competition 2005

Searching for Sardan – 1st place Short fiction Abilene writers’ guild International Competition 2005

Sentient (Spinning the Tides) – 2nd Honorable Mention Sci-Fi/Horror Frontiers in Writing International Competition 2007

“I Will Remember You” (poem) – America’s Best Emerging Poets 2018


Are you an indie author?  Do you want to build your indie author network? Get your name out on Who’s That Indie Author!

Email bvitelli2009@gmail.com for a bio template and other details.