Jesse Jameson Williams’ daughter and his lawyer inform Morgan, imprisoned for a crime her boyfriend committed, that his will states that she must restore the banner by Anna Dale, who won the right to create it for the Edenton post office in a nationwide art contest. To cut her prison time, she must learn the restoration process and complete the project within a limited time for his namesake gallery to open and his daughter to keep her family home. Morgan is stymied by the challenge, the time limit, the working relations with his daughter and colleagues, and the oddities she discovers in the mural itself. Told through alternating chapters, from Morgan’s in the present and Anna’s in the 1940s, pieces slowly come together to explain the oddities and the reason Morgan was chosen by the artist. Chamberlain’s ability to evoke emotion abounds in this heart-rending novel of artistic creativity, secrets held close, and the prejudices that run rampant in small towns. Her work continues to impress as she branches out again into historical ficiton set in her adopted state of NC. I received a digital copy of this wonderful story by one of my favorite authors from the publisher St. Martin’s Press through NetGalley.
Pop star Moira takes advantage of the frenzy of another flu epidemic to escape her controlling father and reinvent herself as an everyday working girl about to get married. Her wedding planner Krista somehow gets hooked into babysitting Sunny, the daughter of Moira’s work colleague Rob. When Sunny goes missing, Moira and Krista follow Rob into the wastelands, through communes, and around police cordons to find her, Rob knowing that he must confess the truth about Sunny’s mother. Chen builds a credible post-apocalyptic world with a divided US population of those who continue to follow laws in hopes of normalization and those who no longer believe in them after the global flu pandemic. His characters are unique and interesting if not necessarily endearing, and even secondary characters (including the fiancee and his family) maintain their integrity and presence. Dear Readers who love character-driven sci-fi will appreciate Chen’s style. I was fortunate to receive a digital copy of this story by one of my favorite authors from the publisher Mira Books through NetGalley.
The stories get better as you go deeper into this collection. The graphic depictions of sex and violence are just enough to give Dear Readers with active imaginations speculative ammo for tremors and terrors. Run, don’t walk, through these stories. Something always goes awry in the everyday worlds of Jack Rollins. A woman seeking sexual release exacts supernatural revenge on the shady service professional she hired for this purpose. An elderly couple become fungi. The ghost ship’s captain shows a very human sense of integrity. A young man cheating on his boyfriend discovers that not all legendary villains are fiction. A family man finds what appears to be evidence of a serial killer in the garage of their newly acquired home. Oh, and the lost god Mammon trips lightly through many of these tales—don’t turn around; keep running. Jack’s work is unique and his style feels personal, almost as though the characters are sharing too much, which works into a creepy crawly feeling under your skin. The only thing that popped me out of his stories is the common description of any man as tall, strong, and muscular. There are no wimps in Jack’s worlds. Despite that niggle, his work is solid and entertaining. I highly recommend this collection; really, anything by him. He’s so open and frank that his introductions to each story are nearly stories themselves; I thought the first one was the story!
The FBI visits Mrs. Ford, a middle-aged widow in a tony coastal neighborhood, to question her connection to a Chaldean gun-runner who happened to have her name and address on his person. Their story began with two young women—troubled Annie and her straight-laced friend Susan—working in a Detroit discotheque as cocktail waitresses in the late 70s. Naivete inadvertently placed them amidst the territory negotiations between the Chaldeans and the Italian brothers who owned the discotheque. Royce brilliantly juxtaposed their young lives upon the questionable atmosphere of the discotheque and the shady men who ran it and frequented it, the flashbacks graphically detailed and relevant to Mrs. Ford’s current incarnation as the widow of Jack Ford. I graciously received this intriguing thriller from the publisher Post Hill Press through NetGalley for an honest review.
In the second novel in this delightful cozy mystery series, Belinda allows herself to be talked into caring for wolves in a preserve. On her first day, she discovers one of the employees dead in an enclosure, enhancing her fears and doubts about the assignment. As the bodies fall, suspicions shift, and Belinda finds herself endangered by her own species. Gilbert deftly works into the mystery a little flirting, a little romantic possibility, a little sibling repartee, and humor galore. I received this fun story from the publisher Lyrical Press through NetGalley.
Betsy’s sister, the good sister, her parents’ favorite, died last year, and her mother has spiraled down into a deep depression, refusing help and alienating Betsy and her father. They struggle along until a revelation rips into the family. Rouda carefully extracts truth from underneath appearances and flays expectations. Fans of Liane Moriarty and Diane Chamberlain will appreciate this story and Rouda’s style. I was fortunate to receive a copy of this wonderful story from Graydon House through NetGalley.
Lottie investigates death and dead things after her mother’s death. Her father allows her scientific endeavor, but her strong-willed aunt thwarts her. Written in prose verse, this story flows in fits and starts, sort of like grief itself, giving the reader a sense of Lottie’s emotional state. The writing is beautiful, the story unique, the format intriguing. I confess that seeing the “n” word threw me, but it’s in context, and no matter how you feel about it, it is part of history, so that denying it is indeed whitewashing history. I was fortunate to receive this lovely, melancholy story from the publisher Text Publishing through NetGalley.
The ghost is in a purgatorial state, believing that if he can just remember, he can move on. The fortune teller, his companion in spirit—literally—assists him in filling in his memory. As the story progresses forward and backward throughout his life, Dear Reader meets the ghost’s family, connections that come and go in his mind, bringing emotions forth that yet again obscure memories. Reference to the ghost as the hanged man portends his metaphysical status, and the conclusion is satisfying in its complete lack of resolution potential, possibly the best ending in fiction. It’s a beautiful thing when an author leads the way to the only inevitable conclusion through a pathway that could only have happened that way, maintaining the integrity of the characters’ personalities. Banks at last evokes compassion for a man who had few redeeming qualities in life, an impressive feat. I received this excellent story of beautiful writing from the publisher Amberjack Publishing through NetGalley.
Children made up a rhyme about the serial killer The Whisper Man. Though he’s in prison, a young boy’s abduction matches his MO. Young Jake Kennedy, whose father moved them into a new house after his wife’s death, has begun hearing whispers outside his window. Detective Amanda Beck joins original detective on The Whisper Man’s case, Pete Willis. The two storylines come together, but not seamlessly. The supernatural element in Jake’s storyline is not fully explored and somewhat confuses the issue. It feels like a crime thriller trying to be a paranormal horror. All in all, it’s still a good story. I was fortunate to receive this suspenseful tale from the publisher Celadon Books through NetGalley.
In the first of a new series, exotic pet-sitter extraordinaire Belinda Blake moves into a carriage house in Greenwich, Connecticut, meets the owners’ charming son, and discovers a body in the garden. As she wrangles the python in her care, she cannot resist involving herself in the murder investigation, with revolving suspects and potential danger everywhere. Gilbert imbues humor throughout the tale as Belinda alternately falls for and suspects the charming son, cares for pets the way she takes care of herself—sufficiently to survive, with mishaps, and keeps falling into the middle of the police investigation. This looks like a fun series to begin! I was fortunate to receive this lovely story from Lyrical Underground through NetGalley.