Monday, September 9, 2019

The Body in Griffith Park by Jennifer Kincheloe: Reading Room Review

Reading a book in the Anna Blanc series by Jennifer Kincheloe is jumping into an exciting adventure with a lively, enthusiastic main character. It is rather like having a conversation with the author, because she, too, is an person full of enthusiasm, and it spills over to her creation of Anna. The phrase "never a dull moment" was invented for this series, and with the third installment of The Body in Griffith Park, Jennifer Kincheloe has established that the Anna Blanc series is one of the best new mystery/crime series readers will enjoy. I'm especially fond of the historical connections in the series, with the setting in the first years of the 20th Century, and Anna being a police matron in the Los Angles Police Department, where women are extremely limited to their involvement in actual crimes and investigations. Well, that is unless you're Anna Blanc whose fiancé Joe Singer is a detective in the department, a source for Anna intruding in places she doesn't belong, according to the LAPD and society. Her passion for crime solving is one not easily deterred. And, with the character modeled after a real female pioneer in the LAPD and the author meticulously researching the time period and activity of crime then, the authenticity of the series is a given. Of course, it is Kincheloe's outstanding storytelling skills that makes the stories irresistible. 

1908 in Los Angles sees our disowned heiress and now hard-working police matron Anna Blanc madly in love with Detective Joe Singer but resisting his proposals that they should marry as soon as possible. Anna likes her freedom, and she doesn't quite trust any man to not want to limit it. She's also wondering who keeps sending her flowers that, having familiarized herself with the "language of flowers", she interprets as friendly but not too friendly. She knows it's not Joe because he would never do anything to bring attention to their relationship at the police station, where fraternizing with one another could get one or both of them fired. Another reason he's pushing for marriage.

The action of the story has three events that will expand and come together happening very quickly into the story line. Anna and Joe try go to a romantic, hidden spot in Griffith Park to finally express their passion for one another, but instead they find a dead body. As thrilled as Anna is to be on the scene of a crime in its initial stages, she does feel cheated that she and Joe once again must settle for a lingering kiss before she has to leave. So, the murder of a young man has occurred and will be pivotal to the plot. Next, Anna meets the man who has been sending her flowers, with Joe bopping the man in the nose after following her to the meeting. It's then that Ann learns the man's identity as her half-brother Georges Devereaux, and she discovers that her father had kept a French lover for years while married to Anna's mother. The third bit of action that comes into play is the arrival of a young girl named Matilda Nilsson, who reports that she has been dishonored by a man while living at the Jonquil Apartments run by a Mrs. Rosenberg. 

Coming to terms with having a brother, a brother who is rich from Anna's father, unofficially investigating a murder, and trying to save young girls from being "spoiled" at the mercy of needing a place to live will be a full plate for Anna Blanc. There are no simple explanations or answers to any of it, and when Anna and Joe have different theories on the person responsible for the tangled web of lies, deceit, and murder, that difference will threaten to end their love affair before the affair part can even get going. There are so many dramatic and often comical situations in which Anna and Joe find themselves, usually at the instigation of Anna, that readers will fly through the pages in pursuit with them. The historical details of the story are fascinating, and the crimes themselves are taken from actual cases. I'm betting that readers will be surprised by certain details, such as someone having their own rail car to attach to a train when they travel. 

The characters are absolutely ones that the reader will want to know more about, and the author obliges the reader in this. Anna's family tree is certainly filled out in this story, and her father shows up in the story, too. He's still an unforgiving twit, but Anna no longer kowtows to his wishes or his shaming of her. Anna's brother, Georges, and her true love, Joe, will butt heads, but Kincheloe shows us the different kinds of love that a person needs in life through this. The police station crew and the girls and women coming through the station are all of great interest, too, and Kincheloe is a master at showing the glimpses that tell the most about these characters. Of course, it all comes back to Anna and the breath of fresh air this character is in crime fiction. Her love of hats and crime and Joe and protecting those who need it make her a formidable force, and her feisty, fearless nature makes every adventure with her thrilling.

The Body in Griffith Park is the continuation of a story of which I just can't get enough. I think readers will love it for so many reasons, and I am looking forward to #4 in the series with great anticipation of reading pleasure.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

The Hidden Things by Jamie Mason: Reading Room Review

Originality is something that readers crave but don't often get. That doesn't mean that great reads don't exist without being considered original.  But, when I refer to originality, it is a reference to something unique, a story based on an idea other writers wish they'd thought of, a smack your head moment of creative recognition. Jamie Mason in The Hidden Things has achieved the pinnacle of uniqueness, starting with a brilliant idea and developing it into a story full of unexpected twists and consequences. The characters are some of the most interesting and distinctive you're likely to encounter, and they will all surprise you in some way. No one will surprise you more than fourteen-year-old Carly Liddell, smart and capable beyond her years. At the center of the tale is a painting, a 400-year-old painting, that has had an unusual journey since its theft as a part of the art heist of  paintings from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. All the stolen paintings disappeared, and the fear is they will never resurface. But, in an extraordinary set of circumstances in a most ordinary setting, the most popular of online activity reveals one of the treasures. Social media meets ancient art in an explosion of secrets unearthed.

Carly Liddell doesn't notice the boy following her until she's on her doorstep ready to let herself in with her key. She attempts to slip inside her house and shut the door on him, but he pushes his way in, and a struggle ensues, one that doesn't go the way the intruder intends. An interior camera in Carly's hallway records an unbelievable maneuvering by Carly in which she frees herself from the boy and knocks him out with a boot kick to his jaw. However, by the time Carly runs to her neighbor's house and the police arrive, the intruder has fled the scene. The police use the video from the exterior and interior security cameras to post online and find their suspect. 

But, while celebrating Carly's narrow escape, she and her mother, Donna, realize that Carly's stepfather hadn't informed them of the interior camera in the foyer. The stepfather, John Cooper, has some explaining to do, and, yet, that's the least of his worries. The video of Carly's ninja capabilities has gone viral on YouTube, with people all over the country interested to see how this young teenager defeated her attacker. John's got a big problem with the popularity of the video because his painting that his wife had insisted on hanging in that hallway has a corner of it visible to viewers, and that painting is a 400-year-old stolen masterpiece worth millions. There are people who are looking for it and for John, and his new life and safety zone is in danger of becoming a minefield of danger if the wrong people see the video.

John has created his new identity carefully, and his wife and stepdaughter are clueless about the painting and his part in an art deal gone terribly wrong four years ago. People died because of the painting, and people have been waiting for some flicker of John, or Jonathan, to show. And, show it does through that small corner of a painting from a video inside an ordinary house in an ordinary neighborhood. First, John hears from a man whose homelessness has kept him drifting in and out of John's life for a handout, a man who knows way too much about John's previous life. Then, two other people, who have a vested interest in the painting and a sour taste from past dealings with John, show up in town. The man and woman both want the painting, and while their motivations are different, it's the personal stake that drives them. As John becomes more and more nervous about being discovered and held accountable for his past actions, Carly becomes more aware that her stepfather harbors some serious secrets. And, Carly also becomes cognizant of a strength inside her that started with an innate ability to save herself.  John and Carly engage in a cat-and-mouse game of high stakes and potentially deadly outcomes. Who ends up with the painting will bring both closure and new beginnings.

The Hidden Things is the first book I've read by Jamie Mason, but I already have a past book of hers in my TBR lineup, Three Graves Full, and I'm looking forward to her next one. Mason's writing is a smooth flow of building suspense, with sentence structure I appreciate as a former English teacher. Sentence structure can be an art form, a mixture of complex and simple sentences that move a story forward in its natural state. No awkwardness here. The dialogue does its job, too, revealing character and story. As I've already mentioned, this author's character development and creation of interesting characters is a large part of this reader's enjoyment of this book. I can't wait to read other books by Jamie Mason to see what captivating characters appear. I purposefully didn't describe all of the characters in this story because I wanted readers to come to three other of the major players in the story with the same delight and discovery as I did. As the story is told from the characters' different points of view, a complete picture is formed by the end, with each character building on knowledge as the reader does. With The Hidden Things, I think Mason has established herself as an awards contender and go-to author for thrilling reads.

I received a copy of this book from the author, and this review is an honest description and reaction to this amazing read. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Someone We Know by Shari Lapena: Reading Room Review

Shari Lapena is one of those authors who is consistently adept at creating suspenseful, thrilling stories for readers. No writer is better at dealing with the secrets people keep from one another--from their husband, from their wives, from their children, from their parents, from their neighbors, from their co-workers. Secrets have a way of compounding into more secrets and lies, and Lapena may have just given us her most layered set of secrets yet in Someone We Know. And, if you love twists like I love twists in a story, you will be delighted that this book will make you hang on to your seat as you take one hairpin turn after another. The brutal murder of a young, attractive wife from an upstate New York, middle-class neighborhood presents a closed room like scenario, with one neighbor and then another becoming a suspect. With all those secrets behind closed doors, whose secret is the one that leads that person to commit murder.

Olivia Sharpe is worried that her sixteen-year-old son Raleigh is too unfocused in his life and getting lazy, but when she discovers that he's been busier than she thought, she yearns for the problem of laziness. After seeing some damning text messages on Raleigh's phone, Olivia listens to him confess to breaking into houses in the neighborhood and hacking into the residents' computers. Filled with guilt over what her son has done, but not wanting him to suffer legal repercussions, Olivia writes anonymous letters of apology to the two residents where Raleigh says he broke in. She drops them into the mail slots of the houses before without telling her husband Paul that she wrote them and delivered them. In one of the two houses, a woman named Carmine lives by herself, and Carmine is most upset and determined to let the entire neighborhood know that there is a housebreaker among them. Olivia fears that Raleigh will be found out with Carmine's gossip, but then another neighborhood matter eclipses Raleigh's misadventures. A young wife, whose husband had reported her missing, is found brutally murdered and stuffed into the trunk of her car in a lake.

Thus begins an intriguing parade of neighbors who fall into the suspect pool, beginning with the dead woman's husband, Robert Pierce. His wife Amanda and he didn't have the closest of relationships, and Amanda was not reticent about seeking comfort elsewhere. Although Robert reported her missing when she didn't return from her supposed weekend with an out-of-town girl friend, his lies and omissions will come back to haunt him. The police detectives, Webb and Moen, leave no stone unturned in their investigation to find who killed Amanda Pierce and sent her to a watery grave. But, even these skilled detectives will change their minds several times as to who the murderer is and why. Before the final reveal, suspicions about infidelity and murder will wreak havoc in more than one marriage. 

The story is told from multiple points of view, with the different neighbors adding their voices to the narrative, but it's not an omniscient telling. Lapena truncated the characters thoughts before anything revelatory could occur, until the very end when the secrets were all out and the characters' thoughts were completely accessible. The suspense builds with each character's newfound connection to the murder victim, but the reader is still guessing what those connections mean for the resolution of the story. I'd like to say that I figured it out before it became obvious, but although the killer's guilt did cross my mind at one point, and my reasoning was right about why, I had thoughts of others' guilt, too, leading me to different conclusions.  It's what makes reading a twisty book so much fun, the many possibilities. Shari Lapena is brilliant in writing domestic suspense or just suspense. Her pace is pitch perfect, and her characters are an excellent blend of likeable ones and repugnant ones. In Someone We Know, there are characters that could go either way, too, as they struggle with moral dilemmas of their own making. There are a good number of characters to keep up with in the book, but the continuity of interaction among them makes it easy to remember them and keep them straight. 

From chilling prologue to chilling reveal, Someone We Know is a book readers will not want to close until the last intriguing sentence, a mystery from beginning to end, and then some.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

New Reads for September

When I took a look at the new reads for September on my 2019 New Books list, I was a bit overwhelmed by the number of books I had added, and I don't include all books, just the ones I will choose from for my reading.  I think I'm going to have to adjust my expectations for September, unless I learn to read faster.  However daunting the number of new books is, it's great news for readers, as there will be something for everyone.  I've included a couple of non-mystery/crime by favorite authors, too.  So here's a list, not a complete list, but one from which readers should be able to find plenty of great stories to welcome in the coming days of fall.

Sept. 3rd

The Long Call (Two Rivers #1) by Ann Cleeves
Iced in Paradise (Leilani Santiago Hawai'i Mystery #1) by Naomi Hirahara)
The Great Shelby Holmes and the Haunted Hound (Young Adult, Book #4) by Elizabeth Eulberg
This Tender Land: A Novel by William Kent Krueger
Word to the Wise (Library Lover's Mystery #  ) by Jenn McKinlay
The Institute by Stephen King

Sept. 10th

Fatal Cajun Festival (Cajun Country #5) by Ellen Byron
Judge Thee Not (Quaker Midwife #5) by Edith Maxwell
The House of Hallowed Ground (Misty Dawn #1) by Nancy Cole Silverman
The Testaments (sequel to The Handmaiden) by Margaret Atwood

Sept. 17th

On My Life by Angela Clarke
Gallows Court by Martin Edwards
The Stranger Inside: A Novel by Lisa Unger
A Cruel Deception (Bess Crawford #  ) by Charles Todd
Elevator Pitch by Linwood Barclay
Murder on the Chopping Block (Red Carpet #7) by Shawn Reilly Simmons
Heaven, My Home (A Highway 59 Mystery) by Attica Locke

Sept. 24th

Murder in the First Edition (Bookstore Mystery #3) by Lauren Elliott
The Dutch House: A Novel by Ann Patchett
The Last Séance: Tales of the Supernatural by Agatha Christie
The Skeleton Stuffs a Stocking (Family Skeleton #6) by Leigh Perry


Image result for the long call by ann cleeves  Image result for the great shelby holmes and the haunted hound  Image result for word to the wise jenn mckinlay

                                   Image result for fatal cajun festival

Image result for judge thee not by edith maxwell  Image result for the house of hallowed ground by nancy cole silverman  Image result for a cruel deception charles todd

                                   Image result for the stranger inside lisa unger

Image result for elevator pitch by linwood barclay  Image result for the dutch house by ann patchett  Image result for the last seance agatha christie

                                    Image result for the skeleton stuffs a stocking

Image result for iced in paradise  Image result for the testaments margaret atwood  Image result for on my life by angela clarke

                                   Image result for this tender land by william kent krueger

Image result for the institute stephen king  Image result for murder on the chopping block by shawn reilly simmons  Image result for heaven my home attica locke