THE LIFE WE BURY

5 out of 5 stars!

  • Author: Allen Eskens
  • Published Oct. 14, 2014 by Seventh Street Books
  • Audio book 8 hrs, 24 mins

This book has been in my Audible wish list for at least three years. From the summary, it looks like a book I would enjoy: mystery, suspense, rave reviews. The only thing holding me back was the Vietnam War veteran as a character. How ridiculously picky is that? I was secretly afraid it would be too graphic in retelling old war stories. And it was a bit graphic, but thankfully very brief. As it turns out, Carl Iverson the paroled convict and war veteran, is a major reason this book is so lovable!

Amazon summary:

College student Joe Talbert has the modest goal of completing a writing assignment for an English class. His task is to interview a stranger and write a brief biography of the person. With deadlines looming, Joe heads to a nearby nursing home to find a willing subject. There he meets Carl Iverson, and soon nothing in Joe’s life is ever the same.

Carl is a dying Vietnam veteran–and a convicted murderer. With only a few months to live, he has been medically paroled to a nursing home, after spending thirty years in prison for the crimes of rape and murder.

As Joe writes about Carl’s life, especially Carl’s valor in Vietnam, he cannot reconcile the heroism of the soldier with the despicable acts of the convict. Joe, along with his skeptical female neighbor, throws himself into uncovering the truth, but he is hamstrung in his efforts by having to deal with his dangerously dysfunctional mother, the guilt of leaving his autistic brother vulnerable, and a haunting childhood memory. 

Thread by thread, Joe unravels the tapestry of Carl’s conviction. But as he and Lila dig deeper into the circumstances of the crime, the stakes grow higher. Will Joe discover the truth before it’s too late to escape the fallout?

My Read:

The heart tugging, suspenseful book centers around Joe, a street-smart college student. He has had to struggle for everything in his life. He never knew his dad, his mom is a raging alcoholic and his almost grown brother, Jeremy, is a perpetual seven year old due to his autism issues.

Our guy, Joe, literally stumbles onto a mystery while writing a biography essay on a nursing home resident, Carl Iverson.  If solved, the mystery may exonerate Carl of crimes that sent him to prison for 30 years. Carl doesn’t particularly care if he is exonerated or not, which makes the mystery even more compelling. Joe, however, does care. That is the kind of guy he is. Principled, caring, compassionate. And tough as nails.

Allen Eskens is a first rate storyteller and a natural born writer! The story flows effortlessly from Carl’s life story to Joe’s back story. They seem to not have anything in common with each other, but as they talk, their stories become intertwined. The ending is a little bit of a twist and 100% reader satisfying.

I can’t tell you how engrossed and invested I was while listening. I could not stop listening and the book made packing up for a big family move almost bearable! There was just enough of everything I love in a good story: mystery, suspense, likable (lovable) protagonists, real emotions and struggles, and a rewarding ending! I also adored the Minnesota setting, the cold, snowy weather provides the perfect tone to the story.

This book won all kinds of awards as a debut novel for Eskens. Deservedly so. You will not regret listening or reading this one! The audio book is narrated by one of the best actors I’ve heard, his name is Zach Villa. I felt he perfectly captured the voice of Joe and Carl. Not an easy task, considering the age and life differences of the two characters. If you like audio books, I highly recommend this one! If not, you must read it!!

Lucky for all readers, there are three more books in this Eskens series. They are touted as standalone books, but most of my Goodreads friends say the back stories are so interesting that you will want to read all of the books. That’s enough for me, I already borrowed the next audiobook from the handy dandy Overdrive app (free!!!) and started listening to THE GUISE OF ANOTHER.

Sadly, we are still packing and moving, but thank God for writers like Eskens for making it less painful. Available on Amazon. The Life We Bury

Author Biography

Allen Eskens grew up in the wooded hills of Missouri and, after high school, migrated north to pursue his education. He acquired a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of Minnesota, and a Juris Doctorate from Hamline University School of Law. 71QbS7Yf0TL._SY200_He honed his creative writing skills in the M.F.A. program at Minnesota State University and took classes at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival and the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis.

THE HEAVENS MAY FALL is Allen’s third novel and it features three characters from his bestselling, book-club favorite THE LIFE WE BURY. THE HEAVENS MAY FALL explores a riveting murder case told from two opposing perspectives. Detective Max Rupert and attorney, Boady Sanden’s friendship is being pushed to the breaking point. Max is convinced that Jennavieve Pruitt was killed by her husband, Ben. Boady is equally convinced that Ben, his client, is innocent. As the case unfolds, the two are forced to confront their own personal demons. The truth about the stunning death of Jennavieve Pruitt remains a mystery until the very end.

THE LIFE WE BURY, Allen’s debut offering, was named the Best Debut Novel of 2014 at the Left Coast Crime Conference, winning the Rosebud Award. The Life We Bury was named a finalist for the Edgar Award, the Thriller Award and the Anthony Award for Best First Novel. It was also named a finalist for the Barry Award for Best Paperback Original novel and the Minnesota Book Award for Best Genre Fiction.

THE GUISE OF ANOTHER, Allen’s follow-up novel, tells the story of Max Rupert (one of the secondary characters from The Life We Bury) and his brother Alexander. Both are detectives with the Minneapolis Police Department and both get pulled into a dangerous cat-and-mouse hunt for the truth about a dead man with a secret past.

 

AWARD RECOGNITION FOR THE LIFE WE BURY:

WINNER! Left Coast Crime Rosebud Award, BEST DEBUT MYSTERY
WINNER! Barry Award, BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL
WINNER! Silver Falchion Award, BEST FIRST NOVEL: traditional
2015 Edgar® Award Finalist, BEST FIRST NOVEL
Minnesota Book Award Finalist, BEST GENRE NOVEL
Anthony Award Finalist, BEST FIRST NOVEL
ITW Thriller Awards Finalist, BEST FIRST NOVEL

MysteryPeople 2014 BEST DEBUT NOVEL
Suspense Magazine BEST BOOKS OF 2014/DEBUT AUTHOR

PRAISE FOR THE LIFE WE BURY:

“Thriller fans should keep their eyes on Eskens; he’s a comer.” —BOOKLIST

THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS

4 out of 5 stars

  • Author: Victoria Namkung
  • Publication date: November 7, 2017
  • By Griffith Moon

Goodreads Summary:

At Windemere School for Girls, one of America’s elite private schools, Dr. Gregory Copeland is the beloved chair of the English Department. A married father with a penchant for romantic poetry—and impressionable teenage girls—he operates in plain sight for years, until one of his former students goes public with allegations of inappropriate conduct. With the help of an investigative journalist, and two additional Windemere alumnae who had relationships with Copeland as students, the unlikely quartet unites to take him down.

Set in modern-day Los Angeles, These Violent Delights is a literary exploration of the unyielding pressures and vulnerabilities that so many women and girls experience, and analyzes the ways in which our institutions and families fail to protect or defend us. A suspenseful and nuanced story told from multiple points of view, the novel examines themes of sexuality, trauma, revenge, and the American myth of liberty and justice for all.

My Thoughts:

At first, I was not sure how to judge this book as a reader. It is well written, packs a Unknownpowerful message and it held my attention, even though it has a distinct non-fiction feel. So, four stars it is!  Plus, that gorgeous cover.

Chosen for its beautiful cover and title, I mistakenly assumed the book was a light mystery or domestic type thriller. It’s not.  Note to self: start reading summaries carefully.  I am really glad I continued reading, it was compelling and informative.

Here comes the dreaded “however”… reading this book feels exactly like watching a one hour episode of Law and Order. Da dum.

With spot-on relevancy to current events (#MeToo), I was expecting a great deal from this book. The story of different women that come forward, years later, to accuse a former high school teacher of horrible things was sadly dry, simply because of the way it was presented. We hear their stories in long rambling paragraphs of newspaper articles, letters, court testimony or social media posts.

We follow this story through all the different stages from initial public accusation, investigations and finally, the trial. Remember my Law and Order reference?
The book makes a strong statement for women and children’s rights and offers solutions to issues schools face when dealing with accusations against teachers. The author is deeply entrenched and knowledgeable with the American culture of rape and makes so many compelling arguments.
“Don’t you find it interesting that these types of crimes against women- whether it’s violence, sexual assault, rape- are the only kinds we force the victim to make a case about their own innocence before even investigating?”

I found it difficult to really connect to the protagonists in this story, much as I admired them for their courage. I was interested and cared about the characters. I just wanted to know them on a different level than as a victim.

The book is categorized in General or Women’s fiction. This is a difficult subject to serve as a thesis in a work of fiction. I think the author did a fantastic job of researching the facts and giving all the statistics involved in sexual abuse. It is insightful, valuable and educational for parents and older teens to read. I am so grateful for the opportunity to learn more about what we can do to prevent more women from having to remain silent.

Sadly, the problem lies in the fact that this is so relevant and the stories are so real that this short book reads more like non-fiction. And I want more story.

About Victoria Namkung (from her website)

For nearly 20 years, Victoria Namkung has been a Los Angeles-based author,  journalist, essayist, and cultural commentator. Her writing has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, NBC NewsVICE, Washington Post, USA TodayInStyle, and Los Angeles magazine, among other publications. As a speaker and panelist, she’s appeared at the AAAS Conference, Mixed Remixed, and the Asian American Journalists Association.Unknown-1

After receiving a master’s from UCLA, she taught courses on gender, immigration, and writing at UCSB, UCLA, and 826LA, respectively. Her research on Asian American males and import car culture in southern California was published as a chapter in the award-winning collection, Asian American Youth (Routledge), and was taught at esteemed universities such as Cornell University and Oberlin College.

The daughter of a Dublin-born Jewish mother and Korean father, Victoria was raised in Irvine, California and maintains dual citizenship in Ireland. Her debut novel, The Things We Tell Ourselves (Standard Time Press), was published in 2015. Victoria’s second novel, These Violent Delights (Griffith Moon), will be published in November 2017.

Many thanks to the wonderful folks at NetGalley for allowing me to read and honestly review this book.

THE LAST MRS. PARRISH

4 / 5 Stars

  • Hardcover, 400 pages
  • Published October 17th 2017 by Harper
  • Author: Liv Constantine

This is a fantastic book with only three characters. Husband, wife, and home-wrecker. It’s no spoiler to tell you that Amber Patterson is the home wrecker and a self-avowed woman on a mission. Motivated mostly by her wish to be tremendously wealthy, Amber is determined to OUTRIGHT steal Jackson Parrish away from his sweet, beautiful wife, Daphne. What ensues is unbelievably fun to read about. Deliciously wicked.Unknown-1

First, what I love about this book:

The story is entertaining and addictive! I couldn’t put it down.
The writing is effortless, easy and flows at a naturally fast pace.
The structure of the book is perfect. The first third is Amber’s POV, the second is Daphne’s and the third part is a bit of a combination conclusion. (I enjoyed Daphne’s section so much more than Amber’s!)

And, the best part, THE LAST MRS. PARRISH has one of the most satisfying endings to a story I’ve read in a long time!

What I don’t like:

This book is too long. Even though it reads fast for a 400 page book, there is too much fat. Where are those editors when you need one? For the first half of the book, we get an up close, continuous description of how the “one percent” lives and that starts to get tiring.

Ok, we get it, Jackson Parrish is super duper rich and buys very expensive clothes, shoes, and jewelry for Mrs. Parrish. If you’re into designer brand names, etc. you will enjoy reading about the trappings and joys of wealth. And that’s not a bad thing! But, if you tire of this part, persevere until the second half where the plot really picks up.

Aside from not really feeling a connection to the characters, there is also not any suspense in this book. There is a mild twist, but you will probably not be that surprised.

All of these negatives are only because my expectations were that this would be a “twisted, psychological thriller”. I mean, it says it right there on the book jacket.

It’s my opinion that this book is mis-categorized. I would call it women’s fiction (I hate “chick-lit”). It is VERY light on the psychological suspense and there is not a thriller vibe or shocking mystery to solve.

Overall, this is a very fun book to read , most people will love it and I’m betting it is going to be very popular.

The strange thing is….it is almost the exact same plot line from THE WIFE BETWEEN US by Greer Hendricks, which is the book I read just before this one. Caaaarazzzzy.

In contrast, THE WIFE BETWEEN US is a much darker, tighter, twisted story and I did give it all the stars.  That book doesn’t come out until January 2018. I will post a review closer to publication.

THE LAST MRS. PARRISH is scheduled for US publication today, October 17. It has a gorgeous cover and I want to thank the lovely Chelsea Humphrey from http://www.thesuspenseisthrillingme.com for gifting it to me as part of a giveaway.

 

Available today on Amazon! The Last Mrs. Parrish: A Novel

THE AUTHORS

Unknown-2Liv Constantine is the pen name of sisters Lynne Constantine and Valerie Constantine. Separated by three states, they spend hours plotting via skype and burning up each other’s emails. They attribute their ability to concoct dark story lines to the hours they spent listening to tales handed down by their Greek grandmother. THE LAST MRS. PARRISH is their debut thriller.

-As shown on  their Goodreads profile.

LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE

4 out of 5 stars

  • Author: Celeste Ng
  • Published Sept. 12, 2017 by Penguin Audio
  • Narrated by Jennifer Lim

The whole time I was listening to this book, I couldn’t shake the feeling of deja vu. It finally dawned on me that Little Fires Everywhere inexplicably reminded me of a childhood favorite book called The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright. It’s a really old book, but let me tell you, when I was ten years old, I was obsessed with it!

Both books feature families of four rambunctious kids and Celeste Ng writes in a confident, animated manner that is reminiscent of Elizabeth Enright’s style. The books each have more of an infectious, rather than addictive quality. It is so fun to be in the middle of these families and root for one character and then feel sympathy for another.

Although this is only Ng’s second book, she has an established formula and successfully works it again. Instead of starting out with a death as she did in Everything I Never Told You, this time Ng starts out with the mystery of who set the house afire and works back telling the story of tangled adult relationships and secret lives of teenagers. Also, as in her first book, there are hints of simmering racism in the comfortable suburban utopia that is Shaker Heights, Ohio.

As I sit here dissecting the various themes of Little Fires Everywhere (and there are many!), the one that stands out the most to me is motherhood. What does it mean to be a mother? How much can we control the direction of our children’s lives? What rights, privileges, assumptions do we make about our kids? Finally, do we actually OWN the child that is borne to us? Ng expertly explores all the complicated angles of mother and child relationships.

I had been anxiously waiting for this book since the day I finished Ng’s first one. I embraced that first book and held onto it, pushing it onto friends, even into hands of complete strangers. It struck me as absolutely insightful and I adore that TWIST ending! Everything I Never Told You is a proud and worthy addition to my Twister Hall of Fame.

However, I just don’t get that overwhelming feeling of LOVE for this book. Ng is a carefully organized, brilliant writer and sometimes as a reader, I start to feel used, taken advantage of by the author. Ng is not exactly preachy, but every minor character, every little event in the story is absolutely overly constructed, placed to maximum effect. And that gets a bit tiresome, it’s like Ng is telling me how to feel and I don’t like that. These are all small grievances, but it does keep me from giving it a five star rating.

The audiobook performance by Jennifer Lim is one of the best I have ever heard and I listen to countless books on audio! I highly recommend the audiobook, I think Ng’s writing is well suited to this mode.

Little Fires Everywhere AMAZON

AND THEN THERE WERE NONE

5/5 Stars

  • Author: Agatha Christie
  • Paperback, 300 pages
  •  Published March 29th 2011 by HarperCollins Publishers (first published November 6th 1939)

I’m a confirmed puzzle lover. Crosswords, sudoko, Scrabble, Clue, card games. I love them all. Puzzle love extends to my go-to lit genre. The way an author crafts a mystery with a surprise yet plausible ending is the best in my book (pun, intended). There is so much fun to be had in gathering clues and solving the puzzle the author has created.

That is all the more reason the confession I have to make is deeply shameful. This is the first Agatha Christie book I have ever read in my life.

I know. I know. Go ahead and scorn me. I’ve scorned myself for years over this glaring omission in my library of loves.

I did try. Given I was about thirteen at the time, it was nothing more than an ambitious plan to read Murder on the Orient Express after seeing the movie. I got no further than the first chapter, struggling with the formal prose.

The distaste stayed in my mind far longer than necessary and despite laboring over classical literature for years in college, I still lingered with my teenage opinion that Agatha Christie is just “too hard to read.”

BULLOCKS! (Excuse my English, but I’m feeling very British now.) As an adult reader, I still found the first 50 pages somewhat disorienting and slow to get started. After the story is set up and you settle into the quaint writing style, the pages fly and the spooky story is completely captivating.

There are ten characters, of course, and they are all summoned by an unknown host to holiday on a small island. As the story unfolds, we see that each of the guests harbor a deep, dark guilty secret. This cast of quirky endearing characters is part of the story’s charm.

The tale is told from an omniscient narrator. We get to know the characters from the outwardly image they present to the world. But, more importantly we are able to examine their deep-seated fears, panicky thoughts, and stubborn egos as their tender souls are laid wide open for the reader to examine.

The Ten Little Soldiers nursery rhyme is prominently displayed both in the novel and in the vacation house the guests are secluded in. The tension ratchets up quickly. We all know what is coming. Murder. One by one. There are no outsiders on the island. Therefore, the murderer must be one of the ten.  A metaphorical time bomb starts ticking with the first murder because you know it is only a matter of time until everyone is dead. The dread and fear is palpable throughout the novel.

The mystery seems absolutely impossible to solve as you read. After some of the crazy mysteries I’ve read over the years, I was all over the place trying to solve it. I had to keep reminding myself, this is not the best selling mystery in the world for nothing! There is no supernatural element here, it is not a dream, not a joke.

It is a brilliantly constructed puzzle with one equally brilliant answer.

Agatha Christie is a master puzzle crafter. The Best. Regarding the writing process for this novel, Dame Christie states, “…the person who was really pleased with it was myself, for I knew better than any critic how difficult it had been.”

She knew she was a genius. Love it.

Amazon has a great deal! And Then There Were None

THE PASSENGER

4/5 stars

  • Author: Lisa Lutz
  • Published on 3.1.2016
  • Simon & Schuster

Looking for a ride? Take your seat on THE PASSENGER. Clear your schedule for the next two days and settle in for a twisted adventure on the run!

Our feisty girl, Tanya (not her real name), has just walked in on her dead husband. It seems he took an accidental fall down the stairs. Instead of calling 911, she packs a bag, clears out a bank account and takes off. WHAT A PROMISING PREMISE! I was hooked after that first short chapter. This is an extremely addictive story and I’m so happy to tell you guys about it.

I love stories where the protagonist is on the run or they have to disappear a la witness protection program. It gets my adrenaline going and I get to learn all kinds of cool and perhaps useful stuff. Who knows when I will need to pick a lock, buy a car on the fly, or dye my hair in a diner restroom? You never know when this knowledge will come in handy. It is just like I always say…..Books make you smart!

I consider THE PASSENGER to be an especially good “on the run” book because:

a. Our protagonist is FEMALE!
b. She is likable, but not perfect.
c. Plot twists abound! Literally around every corner.
d. Nice psychological study of our girl on the run.
e. Fast-paced, easy to read, clear consice writing.
f. Burning mystery for the reader to solve.
g. A few fun red herrings.
h. Mystery is solved in a believable, realistic (AND SATISFYING!) manner.
i. A handbook on what not to do if you ever just want to disappear!

I found this story really compelling and was immediately captivated with it. I am so glad I picked it up from my adorable used bookstore. I had tried the audio version last year when it first came out and was really turned off by the narrator’s voice.

Man, I hate when the audio turns you off of an otherwise great book. If that happened to you, try reading the book in that old-school paper way that our ancestors invented.

The Passenger   AMAZON Link

ARTEMIS

2/5 stars

  • Author: Andy Weir
  • Publication date: 11.14.2017

Apologies in advance. You’re not gonna like what I have to say.

This is not the review I was expecting to write, but this is not the book I was expecting to read.

Andy Weir has successfully taken the one element I didn’t like in THE MARTIAN and expanded on that until ARTEMIS is almost a chore to read. Major disappointment.

Remember our hero, Mark, in The Martian? His jokey, sarcastic personality started to grate on my nerves towards the end of the book. It’s like he never quit with the relentless joking. Staring death in the face? Make a joke. Starving to death? Play some funny music. Ok, we get it! Mark is all about the comic relief. Why does it have to be so overdone and heavy-handed? I still enjoyed the book for all the old-school science fiction fun.

HOWEVER, after cutting Weir some slack for his forced characterizations in The Martian, I am not so ready to do the same with Artemis.

Guess what? Jazz, our female protagonist in Artemis, has almost the exact same personality as Mark from The Martian. Ugggggghhhhh. And that goofy, insulting character is even more annoying in a grown woman. Is that sexist? I hope not. I don’t mean it to be.

Oh, and by the way, Jazz is the town tramp (with a heart of gold) because of her reputation for sleeping with so many guys. Hysterical.

The book starts out very fun to read. I really enjoyed reading how the city of Artemis came to be established on the moon. I loved reading about the actualities of lunar living with 1/6 of the gravity. I liked learning about the moon’s surface, dust and atmosphere. There just wasn’t enough of the moon facts for me.

Also, I’m beginning to question Andy Weir’s imagination for the future. The moon inhabitants walk around and do all their business transactions on small computers that they carry. They pay for items and surf the internet on these “gizmos” as they are called. FASCINATING STUFF right here.

What there is plenty of:
Welding. Yes, welding. More than I ever want to know about welding.
Stupid middle-school humor that the very smart adults all seem to love.
Forced, unnatural dialogue.
Convoluted, crazy plot that never really makes sense.
Integral characters that are unexplained, because of one-note superficial writing.

After the first third of the book, I had to push through to finish it. Especially the middle part with all the welding. Take my advice and skim skim skim through the welding. The very end ramps up with some excitement, but not enough to make up of for the rest. Sad.

I would have liked more moonwalking, less welding. More thinking, less insulting. More imagination, less joking. More sci-fi, less lame comedy.

Amazon link Artemis: A Novel