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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Book Review: The Last Flight by Julie Clark

The Last Flight
by
Julie Clark

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Claire Cook wants out of her marriage to Rory Cook, a wealthy and influential Senate hopeful. After ten years, she’s tired of her endless obligations to the Cook Family Foundation, but mostly she’s had it with Rory’s hot temper and increasingly violent abuse. She plans an elaborate escape, with help from her friend, Petra, whose family is in the Russian mob. But a last-minute change in her work itinerary (orchestrated by her controlling husband) has her headed to Puerto Rico instead of Detroit. That’s bad, because Claire’s new identity, plus a lot of cash, are waiting for her at the Detroit hotel’s reception desk, where Rory is now headed instead.

At the airport, she meets Eva, who coincidentally, although headed back to her home in California, is desperate to escape her past. The two women trade plane tickets and identities and head to new gates. In a tragic development, the plane to Puerto Rico crashes, with no survivors. It’s possible, however, that Eva did not board the flight. Meanwhile, Claire lands in in San Francisco and, with nowhere else to go and only a few hundred dollars, heads to Eva’s house to start a new life.

This clever premise of this debut thriller caught my interest right away and I was eager to learn more about Eva and why she wanted to flee her life. In alternating chapters, Clark fills in the details of Eva’s past, with a lead-up to meeting Claire at the airport. In the other chapters, readers see how Claire manages at Eva’s house in Berkeley, a close walk from campus.

Readers get to know both women and learn of their intense need for friendship and belonging. Claire’s mother and sister died in a car crash and Eva, whose mother was a drug addict, grew up in an orphanage and various foster homes. Eva has led a secretive and solitary life and Claire, with no one to turn to, has suffered abuse in silence.

The tension in the story is driven by the dangerous life Eva longed to escape from as well as an emerging whistle-blower from Rory’s past, a threat to his campaign. In addition, as investigators piece together the events of the crash, Rory suspects Claire was not on the plane. Several unforeseen twists help explain the coincidence of Claire’s and Eva’s meeting as well as important relationships in Eva’s life.

It all comes together at the end, with a surprise explanation in the story’s epilogue.

I enjoyed reading this fast-paced thriller, although I recommend it with the standard suspension of disbelief as well as a willingness to accept that all males are evil. It would have been nice if a couple of the men in these women’s lives were decent people. A few plot holes and unresolved issues also left me a little unsatisfied. But, The Last Flight was a fun read and an nice escape and I would be interested in reading more by Julie Clark.

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Book review: Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier

Jar of Hearts
by
Jennifer Hillier

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Geo Shaw, Angela Wong and Kaiser Brody are inseparable high school friends until Calvin James approaches them at the 7-Eleven near school. Calvin is older and a little bit dangerous and what’s better is that he’s chosen Geo over Angela. Tired of playing second to her friend, she’s not about to let him go. Meanwhile, all Kaiser can do is watch as the girl he loves falls for the wrong guy.

But Calvin is more than a little bit dangerous. He’s controlling and abusive and Geo falls blindly into the dynamic. And when Angela confronts her friend, Geo denies the abuse. After a drunken high school party, Geo tries to keep everyone friendly, but Calvin’s darker side emerges. And the next morning, Angela goes missing. Calvin and Geo keep quiet because they know the terrible truth about what happened. Calvin quickly disappears. Geo goes to college, gets and MBA and redefines herself as a corporate executive. Fourteen years later, she’s a vice president at Shipp Pharmaceuticals and engaged to the CEO.

Then Angela’s remains are uncovered. Detective Kaiser Brody links Calvin and Geo to Angela’s death and breaks the Sweetbay Strangler case wide open, identifying Calvin as the serial killer who has terrorized Seattle. Calvin is sentenced to life in prison and Geo gets five years for her role in Angela’s death. Kaiser’s feelings for Geo are just as strong and he’s determined to keep an eye on her while she’s in prison, especially after Calvin slips Geo a mysterious note in the courtroom.

The rest of the story covers Geo’s prison term, the time after her release and character backstories. In addition, readers learn important details about the night Angela died. A wild and surprising conclusion explains why Geo and Calvin acted the way they did.

Jar of Hearts really grew on me after I finished reading it and especially after my mystery book club Zoom yesterday. Afterwards, I started to think more about the characters and their motivations. Geo, Calvin and Kaiser all crave love and this story is about their quests to obtain it. I like how they all have that in common to different degrees, but you may be shocked when you learn more about them. In addition, Geo and Calvin are survivors and will do whatever it takes. Kaiser is willing to overlook Geo’s past if it gives him a chance with her. And a surprise character makes the relationships even more complicated, giving readers a lot to think about.

Jar of Hearts was published in 2018 and won the 2019 International Thriller Writers Award for Best Hardcover Novel. The title refers to Christina Peri’s debut single of the same name in 2010. In it, Peri sings angrily about a love interest who wants to get back together. You can watch the video here.

I recommend Jar of Hearts to readers who like psychological thrillers and suspense novels.

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Book Review: Looker by Laura Sims

Looker by Laura Sims

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Here’s a fast, psychological thriller about a woman’s obsession with her neighbor, a beautiful and famous actress. The story is set in an unnamed urban neighborhood (Brooklyn?) and is narrated by the woman. It begins just as her marriage has ended, marking the onset of her psychological decline. Years of unsuccessful fertility treatments have left her feeling like a failure and she obsesses with her actress neighbor’s perfect life: a successful career, three beautiful children, and a gorgeous husband.

At first, she takes comfort in watching the actress walk by, with her baby or off for a jog. She notes everything about her beauty, clothes and healthy glow. At night, she peers in the actress family’s window, noting the seemingly effortless life inside. When that’s not enough, she fills her spare room with discarded items the actress has left at the curb.

She tells herself it’s all okay, that her life is under control. And she even starts to like the cat her husband left, his cat, she notes. Her job as a poetry professor seems to be okay too, but she soon falls into a relationship that will put her career in jeopardy. At this point, the narrator begins to step in and out of reality and makes rash and reckless decisions, many times after a lot of beer or wine.

Readers are certain of a train wreck, but the suspense is in not knowing how it will happen. A neighborhood party marks one of the last stops before the crash.

I tore through Looker, not just to see what happens. Readers also get a good look into an unraveling mind, which is not just a series of irrational and bad decisions. The author shows the narrator’s fragile and desperate efforts to be acknowledged as a human, and not judged because she can’t get pregnant. As the narrator looks inside the actress’s window she thinks, “Let me in. I too, am cherished and kept.”

I enjoyed reading this quick story about envy and jealousy and recommend it to readers who like psychological novels. I’ll be looking out for more books by Laura Sims.

Laura Sims is an American novelist and poet. She is a professor of creative writing, literature and composition at New York University.

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Note: created with block editor – finding my way!

On YouTube today – books coming up and what I’ve been doing

Hi Everyone – I’m back on YouTube today talking about what I’ll be reading soon and what I’ve been doing. I hope you’ll pop over and see me!

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Audiobook Review: Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes

Hidden Bodies
by
Caroline Kepnes

Narrated by Santino Fontana

Rating:

I just finished listening to Hidden Bodies, the sequel to You by Caroline Kepnes (read my review of You here). It’s the continuation of Joe Goldberg’s twisted serial-killing narration as he leaves the New York bookstore he manages and heads out to Los Angeles. Joe is on a revenge search for the new girl in his life, Amy who has taken off with rare books from the bookstore.

As is expected, Joe is full of sarcasm with a huge chip on his shoulder. But in some ways, he’s like everyone else, searching for love. The problem is, he just can’t let things go. In addition, Joe still has problems on the East coast. His biggest mistake is the DNA he left at Peach Salinger’s family mansion. In addition, the wrongly convicted therapist in jail for killing Beck has a team working on a reversal and cops are sniffing around.

Out in California, Joe gets mixed up in several situations, and the killing continues, but then he meets Love Quinn and falls in love. But Love’s twin, Forty is a big problem. He’s a wannabe script writer and drug addict with a sharp instinct for taking advantage.

Joe’s life on the West coast is a running commentary on the shallowness of the place and the stupidity of everyone he meets. His disdain for consumer culture, social media and false conversations contributes to the pent-up anger that propels him into murder. Joe’s intense rants are what makes this story so appealing. Yes, he’s a serial killer, but he has a point. And, buried deep in Joe’s anger is a someone soft and, can I say lovable? Well not in real life, but in a story, yes.

I especially enjoyed listening to Hidden Bodies because the narrator, Santino Fontana, is fantastic as Joe. Fontana also narrates You, but I read the print copy, so hadn’t experienced how much he nails Joe’s personality. Having the story in your ears like that is an intense listen. I don’t think Hidden Bodies is quite as good as You. Sequels are always hard. And if you’re thinking of reading or listening to it, be warned, it’s what I call a little racy! But I recommend both You and Hidden Bodies for readers who like twisted stories about complicated characters.

If you’d like to read more about Hidden Bodies, check out these other bloggers’ reviews.

GritLitGirls Book Review Nook
Reens Reads and Writes
What Jess Reads

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Audiobook Review: The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian

The Guest Room
by
Chris Bohjalian

Rating:

Kristin Chapman has agreed to let her husband, Richard host a bachelor party for his younger brother, Philip. She’s sure there will be hired entertainment, but she trusts Richard, even though Philip and his friends are a bit on the wild side. After all, Richard and Kristin are settled, in the prime of their lives and enjoying the comforts of wealth and success. Philip is a managing partner of a New York investment banking firm, Kristin is a respected high school teacher and they live with their young daughter in an upscale neighborhood in Westchester.

But wild is not the word. Before long, the burly and intimidating bodyguards who accompanied the “dancers” are dead and the girls, Sonja and Alexandra, have fled the house, leaving Richard, Philip and the rest of the guys in a wrecked house with the two dead men.

When morning comes, Richard begins to grasp how much trouble he’s in. Shame and horror fill him when Kristin learns of her husband’s transgressions and their young daughter is exposed to a sordid and dangerous world.

The repercussions of these events are endless. The story explodes on the internet, news reporters hound him and friends keep their distance. Richard is put on leave at work, Kristin shuns him and their daughter worries her parents will divorce. And it’s soon revealed that the Russian girls, possibly underage, had been kidnapped and were brought to New York as sex workers. Richard also faces lawsuits and a blackmail scheme, but the worst is the damage to his family. Or maybe the worst is that Richard is haunted by his encounter with Alexandra.

As detectives chase down the Russians behind the girls’ kidnappers, as well as the girls, Richard, now understands Alexandra and Sonja’s situation, tries to do what’s right and fix his marriage, leading to the inevitable confrontation between the story’s players. Throughout the story, both Richard and Kristin, whose voice is strong in the story, struggle with their decisions as they face their losses.

I enjoyed the audiobook version of The Guest Room, narrated by Grace Experience and Mozhan Marno, who switch between Alexandra’s story and the third person voices in the alternate chapters. I was especially drawn into the story by Experience, the voice of Alexandra. Through the author’s story and Experience’s voice, the audiobook provides a sobering look into brutal sex trafficking crimes. Marno has great range and deftly manages the other characters’ personalities, with subtle changes in her voice. Through both voices, I felt I knew the characters well.

I also enjoyed the author’s smart descriptions of the Chapman’s home and their lives. The fact that many of their things are ruined is a great reflection on how their lives may also be wrecked. Bohjalian is also great at presenting different points of view and showing his characters’ weaknesses. I felt the dread of each of the characters, even the ones I didn’t like.

I listened to The Guest Room during my many walks this week and recommend it to listeners who like stories with characters who make bad decisions.

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BC Mom’s Author Update: Kevin Brennan announces publication of new political thriller: Eternity Began Tomorrow

Welcome to Book Club Mom’s Author Update. Open to all authors who want to share news with readers. I recently caught up with Kevin Brennan, who has news about his new political thriller, Eternity Began Tomorrow. Here’s what Kevin has to say:


After taking three years away from indie publishing to query agents on some literary fiction I had in my vault, I decided to write a new novel for the indie market. With climate change in the news nearly every day, and Greta Thunberg storming the nation, a political thriller surrounding the climate-change debate and our current political condition is the result: Eternity Began Tomorrow.

Here’s the jacket blurb:

When Molly “Blazes” Bolan, a young hotshot reporter for an online news outlet, is assigned the biggest story of her career, she’s eager to run with it. Her subject, John Truthing, has built a cultish organization called “Eternity Began Tomorrow” to fight climate change, and it’s starting to snowball big time. As Blazes digs in, she’s both impressed and disturbed by Truthing, a charismatic eco-warrior with revolutionary ideas. Disturbed because his followers are mainly millennials, all hooked on a drug called Chillax and so devoted they would jump off a cliff if he asked it of them. Fact by fact, Blazes uncovers the truth about Chillax, the truth about its maker, Lebensraum Enterprises of Liechtenstein, and the truth about Truthing himself. And just as Molly’s own brother, Rory, gets recruited into the group, Truthing announces his run for president in 2020 as an independent. Blazes knows that the final story in her EBT series could destroy his movement, but she’s torn. The cause is worthy. The stakes are high. And the election of 2020 could decide the fate of life on earth. If Trump wins reelection, it’s all over.

A provocative exploration of society, politics, and human nature in an era of conflict and mistrust, Eternity Began Tomorrow shows us that the truth is never easy to confront and the political is always personal.

One awesome benefit of being an indie author is that we can write and publish our books in a super-timely manner, so EBT, as I like to call it, is actually set in today’s world, i.e., right now. It starts in October 2019 and takes us through the summer of 2020, when—as you might predict—all hell is likely to break loose.

I don’t expect the events in EBT to actually take place, but the book offers plenty of food for thought in this crazy political climate. The world is getting hotter, and so is our own national scene.

Eternity Began Tomorrow is an Amazon exclusive, available right now as an eBook, for $0.99, with a paperback to come in 2020. Check it out here.

In addition to Eternity Began Tomorrow, Kevin is the author of five previous books: Parts Unknown, Yesterday Road, Occasional Soulmates, Town Father, and Fascination. Learn more here.

Be sure to check out Kevin’s WordPress blog, What the Hell. You can also find him on Facebook @kevinbrennanbooks, on Twitter @kevinbrennan520 and on Goodreads.


For information about Book Club Mom’s Author Update,
email bvitelli2009@gmail.com.

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The Passengers by John Marrs

The Passengers
by
John Marrs

Rating:

When eight self-driving cars suddenly change course, counter to their pre-programmed destinations, their passengers don’t know what to think. Soon, they are told that “it is highly likely” they will be dead in two and a half hours: their cars are set to meet in a fiery crash.

What to do? They have no control. No steering wheels, no brakes. They can’t open the windows or doors and their Internet has been hacked. Cell service is out and their only communication is with the hacker.

Meanwhile, Claire Arden has been called for jury duty, of sorts. She’s the only civilian member of the Vehicle Inquest Jury, formed to decide who’s at fault in a fatal crash involving driverless cars. “Either man or machine is to blame, and you will decide,” she is told. As the debate unfolds, the jury is suddenly alerted to the situation on the roads, which has gone wild, first on social media and quickly picked up by all news organizations. Camera feeds from each car reveal the hostages inside, and their images are plastered for the world to see, and comment on, of course. And it isn’t long until the jury is charged with a new task, an impossible decision.

Set in London, sometime in the near future, citizens are living in the time of a Road Revolution, in which there will be a ban on non-autonomous vehicles within ten years. But there is something more sinister going on, slowly revealed as the story develops.

In addition to his commentary on social media and the overreaching role of government (for this is a dystopian story), Marrs covers many themes, including religion, racism, mental health, sexuality, marriage and parenthood.

Although far-fetched and a little preachy, I enjoyed the original and modern premise of The Passengers. Marrs writes a fast-paced story, matching the frantic efforts to avert disaster. There are many shocks and several interesting sub-plots, including a possible romance, which kept me interested in the story’s outcome. Characters are slightly one-dimensional and stereotypical, however, and Marrs seems to include one from every category. The finish is wild and implausible, but maybe that’s part of the genre. All-in-all, I enjoyed reading The Passengers, which is an easy read and escape when the rest of your life is busy.

While I thought it was a pretty good read, lots of book bloggers loved The Passengers, so be sure to also check out these selected reviews.

The BiblioSanctum
Book Reviews | Jack’s Bedtime Reading
Dee’s Rad Reads and Reviews
Diary of a Book Fiend
Stephen Writes

Have you read The Passengers? Leave a comment and tell me what you thought.

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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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