Friday, September 17, 2021

THE ARTIST VANISHES (2021) - Review

The Artist Vanishes

The Artist Vanishes by Terry Westby-Nunn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I picked up The Artist Vanishes, my plan was to read the first few sentences and then add it to the bottom of my virtual stack. Instead I knew I had just discovered a treasure in this literary mystery thriller!

FIRST SENTENCE: "The wind blew last night, taking with it dead things, forgotten things, lost things."

THE STORY: 

THEN: Capetown artist Sophie Tugiers disappeared after one of her controversial installations, Bloodbath, was linked to a participant's brutal suicide. 

NOW: Several years later James Dempster, a film maker in a creative and alcoholic slump, discovers his apartment was once Sophie's home. His curiosity is aroused. What happened to Sophie? James' daughter encourages him to do some research hoping a new project will restart his life and career.

WHAT I THOUGHT: After that first sentence, I immediately started reading. The plot alone was interesting but the creation of the world of the book was even more fascinating. It's impressive how the author managed to touch on so many volatile issues without patronizing or preaching to the reader while writing about big pharmaceutical companies and animal testing, the responsibility of artists and how they are changed by fame and money, and the meaning of friendship.

Characters are distinctly drawn and memorable. The pacing moves the story along with surprises and rewards. It's a delight to read writing this beautiful.

Terry Westby-Nunn is also the author of The Sea of Wise Insects.

BOTTOM LINE: This is an amazing book. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

DISCLAIMER: Thank you to NetGalley / Penguin Books for the advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Wednesday, September 1, 2021

PANIC ATTACK (2021)

Panic AttackPanic Attack by Dennis Palumbo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
On sale: September 21, 2021

I love thrillers and the better written and circuitously plotted, the faster I consume the story. Suspending disbelief, sometimes I don't even attempt to solve the mystery. I'm just along for the ride and what a ride this book is! I actually tossed aside a literary novel that I've been reading for weeks and finished "Panic Attack" in a couple of days. At 1 o'clock in the morning.

FIRST SENTENCE: "On a bitterly cold afternoon in late October, I was one of twenty thousand witnesses to a murder."

THE STORY: In front of a football stadium filled with students and parents, the college mascot, dancing on the field, is struck down by a sniper. Pandemonium breaks out. While the authorities scramble to calm the public and find the shooter over the next few days, more deaths occur. Although the victims seem randomly chosen, Dr. Rinaldi suspects there is something that links them all together. Can he find the key to stop these dreadful attacks before it's too late?

WHAT I THOUGHT: This is the sixth entry in the Dr. Daniel Rinaldi series and I have read and reviewed them all. Author Dennis Palumbo hooked me by setting the stories in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where I lived for many years. His narrator, a psychologist who consults with the Police on difficult cases, is surrounded by interesting characters, who don't always behave normally, Dr. Rinaldi ends up in all kinds of trouble.With great dialogue, well-drawn characters, and sense of place, you won't have any trouble seeing this as a television series or movie.

For an earlier entry in the series I wrote that although there is the requisite violence and sex, Palumbo knows when to back off and let the reader's imagination take over. I'll have to change that to say violence and sex has been ratcheted up a bit. As a matter of fact the body count in "Panic Attack" is pretty high.

Luckily there are five other Dr. Rinaldi titles and, although you can read them as stand alones, reading them in order is much more fun. In order "Mirror Image"; "Fever Dream"; "Night Terrors"; "Phantom Limb"; "Head Wounds"; and "Panic Attack". Find them. Read them.

BOTTOM LINE: A solid entry in the series. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

DISCLAIMER: Thank you to NetGalley / Poison Pen Press for the advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2021

The Killing Kind (2021)

The Killing KindThe Killing Kind by Jane Casey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
On sale: September 21, 2021

Back in 2014 I read Jane Casey's first psychological thriller "The Burning", which kicked off a series featuring Detective Constable Maeve Kerrigan. It was such a great ride that I went on to read several more in the series. I'm a big fan of UK based mysteries (think Tara French, Paula Hawkins, Erin Kelly).

FIRST SENTENCE: "I think about death a lot; it's my job."

THE STORY: As a successful barrister, Ingrid Lewis had a comfortable life. That is, until a man named John Webster refused to stop following her. The strange part is that she had defended him against an unpleasant stalking case a few years back even though she wasn't convinced of his innocence. He was acquitted.

Now it appears he may be behind all sorts of random acts that have become more and more destructive and seemingly targeting Ingrid and everything that's important to her.

WHAT I THOUGHT: The first thing I notice when I start reading a new book is the style. Jane Casey's writing is intelligent and sharp. I was immediately drawn in and finished the book in two days.

Ingrid is a likeable character although she occasionally makes decisions in her personal life that are questionable and put her in harms way. Telling the story from her point of view allows the reader to get a sense of what a barrister is and does (the author's husband IS a barrister) compared to a lawyer. A few literary tricks flesh out the story.

I don't feel the ending quite lived up to the rest of the book although it was satisfactory. "The Killing Kind" would make a marvelous first entry in a new series. And the fantastic news is that the book is set for TV Adaptation by Sony's Eleventh Hour Films!

BOTTOM LINE: Don't hesitate to pick up "The Killing Kind" or any book with Jane Casey's name on it! Highly recommended. (And it has a great cover!)

DISCLAIMER: Thank you to NetGalley / Harper 360, Harper Collins for the advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Friday, August 13, 2021

THE SECRET STAIRCASE (2021)

The Secret Staircase (Victorian Village Mysteries, #3)

The Secret Staircase by Sheila Connolly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
On sale: August 24, 2021

What drew me to Sheila Connolly's newest entry in the Victorian Village Mysteries? Was it the title "The Secret Staircase" or the book cover featuring a turreted mansion? Having grown up addicted to Nancy Drew, it was probably a little of both.

FIRST SENTENCE: "I looked at the faces of the people around the large oval table in the dining room of the Asheboro Bed & Breakfast - the place I was calling home, at least temporarily."

THE STORY: Kate Hamilton has her heart set on restoring "The Barton Mansion" in a small town a short drive from Baltimore but a world away. The project is formidable and only part of an even bigger concept of recreating Asheboro as a Victorian Village to bring the town back to life.

Just as everything is starting to fall into place, a hidden staircase is discovered and at the bottom, a century old body. When another death occurs, Kate realizes there is something in the past that is still festering and dangerous.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Told in the first person, the reader is aware of Kate's hopes and fears for the project. It's interesting to follow her thoughts, decisions, and plans as she grapples with the complicated process of working on historic properties. I found the book slow-moving and repetitious at times as Kate vacillates. The mystery isn't particularly challenging and gets quickly tied up at the end by an unexpected discovery. (Please realize that I am NOT a cozy fan.)

BOTTOM LINE: This is the third and last entry in the Victorian Village Mysteries. Author Sheila Connolly died in April 2020; but she was a prolific writer of cozys and left many series including Orchard Mysteries, Museum Mysteries, County Cork Mysteries, and Relatively Dead Mysteries among others. A good solid read for lovers of history, Victoriana, restoration, and genealogy.

DISCLAIMER: Thank you NetGalley, and Minotaur Books for the advance copy for an honest review.

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Sunday, August 8, 2021

MURDER MOST FOWL (2021)

Murder Most Fowl (Meg Lanslow, #29)

Murder Most Fowl by Donna Andrews
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
On sale: August 3, 2021

In an amazing Shakespearean synchronicity, I read two books, back to back, featuring MacBeth. How often does that happen? And in case you were concerned, it's only bad luck to say the name of the Scottish Play in a theater.

"Murder Most Fowl", the 29th in the series, was actually my first Meg Lanslow. A friend, who is a true cozy aficionado, reviewed a couple other titles for my blog Book Keeping a while back.

THE FIRST LINE: "Mom?" I kept my eyes firmly closed and focused on breathing in and out in the slow, deliberate way that was supposed to make you feel better when you were stressed. One. . .two. . .

THE STORY: Meg's husband is directing a summer production of Macbeth. Rather than deal with the political nonsense at the local college, he brings the cast and crew to Caerphilly to rehearse lodging them in guest rooms and tents on their property complicating Meg's life. Random incidents and vandalism begin and ultimately a death. Could these acts have been caught on film? Caerphilly’s chief of police, with Meg's help, must uncover the same secrets the filmmaker did if they want to catch a killer.

WHAT I THOUGHT: With titles like "No Nest for the Wicked", "Owl Be Home for Christmas", "Toucan Keep a Secret", and "Gone Gull", you know what to expect in this series. Lots of quirky characters surrounding an amateur sleuth in a small town with lots of suspicious things going on. There will be a crime but nothing too disturbing. You can mostly tell the bad guys from the good guys who will ultimately win in the end. All this will be delivered with interesting information about the world and gentle humor. Donna Andrews has the cozy formula down cold and still delivers a fun puzzle for the reader to try to solve time after time.

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended for all cozy readers!

DISCLAIMER: Thank you to the author, NetGalley, and Minotaur Books for the advance copy for an honest review.

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Thursday, July 29, 2021

ALL'S WELL (2021)

All's Well

All's Well by Mona Awad
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
On sale: August 3, 2021

Why, yes, I do often judge a book by its cover, and Mona Awad's "All's Well" has a stunning one - a comedy mask decorated with a variety of colored pills. How could I not read a book concerning chronic illness and theatre?

FIRST SENTENCE: "I'm lying on the floor watching, against my will, a bad actress in a drug commercial tell me about her fake pain."

THE STORY: Miranda Fitch, a once promising young actress, has watched her enchanted life disappear after a fall from the stage. Now burdened with chronic pain, she is reduced to accepting a teaching position at a community college where theater is merely part of the English Department. Determined that "All's Well That Ends Well" will be the fall production, Miranda has to convince her mutinying students who expected to be performing The Scottish Play. How she does that, and all that follows, is fascinating, confusing, and disturbing but in a good way. Am I right?

WHAT I THOUGHT: Although referred to as funny, a dark comedy, it is also painful, a tragedy or perhaps somewhere in between. I was often amused and once brought to tears. Going on this journey with an unreliable narrator is disconcerting and disturbing but also exciting and fascinating. After a straightforward opening narrative, the plot blossoms into magical realism leaving the reader questioning what is real.

BOTTOM LINE: If you want to read something different, something unique; if you've felt alone suffering from chronic pain; if you love Shakespeare and theatre, this might be just the escape you are looking for.

DISCLAIMER: Thank you to the author, NetGalley, and Simon & Schuster for the review copy for an honest review.

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Saturday, July 10, 2021

FALLEN (2021)

Fallen (Kate Burkholder, #13)Fallen by Linda Castillo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

FIRST LINE: "She knew coming back after so many years would be difficult, especially when she'd left so much hurt behind when she departed."

With a dynamite opening, this 13th Amish mystery is off and running.

Rachael Schwartz left her tiny Ohio community, and her Amish faith a decade ago. Returning hoping to right a wrong, she is brutally murdered in her motel room. When Kate Burkholder, the Chief of Police in Painters Mill, recognizes Rachael the pain of it becomes personal. Kate herself had left the Amish community years earlier.

The first Kate Burkholder story I discovered was Her Last Breath #5 (Jul 17, 2015). Then I quickly devoured Sworn to Silence #1 (July 21, 2015) and Pray for Silence #2 (July 26, 2015). Then I stopped. I found the crimes against the Amish, especially the young women, too overwhelming. But because the series is so popular, I decided to try again. I'm glad I did. Although violence and death occurred in Outsider #12, there was more than enough life and happiness to balance the story. Fallen #13 reverts to the ugly violence and lives destroyed, but that didn't stop me from turning pages.

Linda Castillo can be counted on for a captivating plot and the reader is assured of a thrilling read. Although this is a series, the author provides more than enough repetition to remind the reader of the things they need to know. A few chapters labeled 2008 fill in the backstory proving more clues. And, as always, a highlight of the book is the translated Amish phrases and cultural details.

Thanks to the author, St. Martin's Press, and Net Galley for a copy in exchange for an honest review.

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