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

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.

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

THE DRY (Aaron Falk #1)

5/5 Stars

  • Author: Jane Harper
  • Hardcover published by Flatiron Books, 326 pages
  • US publication date: January 10, 2017

I blame Aaron Falk. He just made me add a new shelf on Goodreads. Series. You see, I don’t like book series. With a few VERY exceptional characters preceding Aaron Falk (Harry Potter, Christian Grey, Edward Cullen, Kinsey Milhone) have I read an entire series. It’s just too much of a commitment and then I feel guilty if I miss a book in the series. I will not be missing any book that Aaron Falk is in. Ever. No way, no worries, mate.

I am so late to THE DRY party that I almost didn’t read it. Finally, feeling caught up and proud of myself for all my ARC reading, I picked up one of the few hardbacks I have actually bought and opened up.

“It wasn’t as though the farm hadn’t seen death before, and the blowflies didn’t discriminate. To them there was little difference between a carcass and a corpse.”
–Jane Harper, The Dry

What a terrific first sentence! Jane Harper, you hooked me at page 1, sentence one.

As a reader, I am immediately FEELING this dusty, angry, Australian farm town as it reels from one of the worst droughts in history. I could hear the flies buzzing, see the rabbits eating the last bits of vegetation and smell the despair of the townspeople as they try to hang on to their livelihoods without any rain. I have not experienced this type of magical transportation in a long time. It is perfectly intoxicating.

Stay with me, because that is just the setting of the book. Now, add a hardworking federal cop, Aaron Falk, who has relunctantly come back to his hometown for the funeral of his best friend. Aaron Falk is not a perfect hero, he has issues and secrets, but he tries to do right by his friends and he knows something is wrong here. Aaron’s childhood friend, Luke, has been accused of murdering his own family before turning the gun on himself. Aaron and Luke shared a secret many years ago which we learn of during the investigation of the family murder. Does this old secret have anything to do with Luke killing his family?

Aaron Falk is a tough nut to crack. The author shares just enough about him to make you want more. He is interesting, smart. A loner, a good guy, but what makes him tick? Oh, I’m a devoted fan. I will follow Aaron Falk through every one of his next books, even if there are fifty more to come.

Is this a character or plot driven mystery? BOTH! Plus, that Aussie setting! It is so real, you better keep your chapstick handy for the parched lips you develop while reading.

Sidenote: As I was reading THE DRY, Oregon’s beloved Columbia Gorge was on fire for weeks (still is). Portland was enveloped in smoke, ash and heat! So hard to breathe! My own atmospheric reality definitely contributed to the transforming ability the book had on me- haha. Not to diminish this captivating story in any way. It stands on it’s own, even if you read it at the North Pole!

AMAZON The Dry: A Novel

Author Amanda Robson talks OBSESSION with Jewels

Jewels:  Congratulations on your fabulous book dealing with disturbed, impetuous characters! It is my favorite read of the summer!

Amanda Robson:  Thank you for your very kind words. I was thrilled to read your review.

J:  OBSESSION goes deep into marital relationships as well as mental illnesses. How long did you research the various issues before starting to write? 

AR:  I have been listening to friend’s problems over the years and empathising. Also, a very close friend of mine has just retired as a Relate counsellor, so all in all it has been a long term observational interest rather than anything I had to research specifically.

J:    How long did it take to write the book?

AR:  I had been writing a piece of historical fiction for many years which took a lot of research and re- drafting. I just missed getting it published and was so disappointed. The idea of Obsession suddenly popped into my head and so I decided to go for it and change genre. Writing a psychological thriller came to me much more naturally than historical fiction.  Obsession only took me six months.

J:   I find it fascinating that you previously co-authored a medical book on cyanide poisoning. When did you realize you wanted to write fiction?

AR:   I wanted to write fiction from being a teenager. I always loved writing poetry too. But because of my early scientific career and bringing up my children, writing a novel never got a look in. A few pieces of poetry for private consumption was the best I could do. It wasn’t until my children were late teenagers that I really felt I had the time. When I saw their lives moving forwards and mine stagnating, I realized this was the time to take control and do what I had always wanted to do.  

J:  I read that you wanted to be an actress in another life. Who would you like to see act in the role of Carly if OBSESSION was made into a movie (fingers crossed!)?

AR:  I would love Scarlett Johansson to play Carly, as she is so interesting and versatile. Scarlett Johanssan has a very expressive face, which is exactly how I imagine Carly.  

J:   Yes! I 100% agree! Scarlett Johansson would be absolutely perfect as the gorgeous, blonde, funny and intense Carly!

J:  I saw that one of your favorite contemporary authors is Chimamanda Ngozi. I loved AMERICANAH! Which of her books is your favorite and why?

AR:  Americanah is my favourite too.  It is so sharply and evocatively written, and the main character is so well drawn. I think it is a book of importance, challenging the West’s attitudes to race in a very haunting way.  The way Ngozi describes in detail the thoughts and feelings of a few characters, so that I can imagine their situation, rather than being bulldozed by statistics, works for me in a very powerful way.   

J:  Were you influenced by any other current authors in the mystery/suspense/thriller genre?

AR:  Definitely. I loved Gone Girl and Girl on a Train. Didn’t everybody?

J:  Yes, I certainly did! Both books are in my TWISTER HALL OF FAME!

J:   Without spoiling the ending for readers, OBSESSION does have a quite shocking one. How many various endings did you imagine for the book? Or was it always going to be the final product?

AR:  I did have another ending. But I changed it so that the reader could have more empathy with one of the characters. Guess which one?

J:   Hahaha! Yes I think I know which character you mean. And the ending definitely works! It is realistic, plausible and shocking. The best kind of plot twist.

J:  Please tell me you are working on a new book! If so, can you say anything about it yet?

AR:  I have just finished the second edit of my next book Guilt. It is another domestic thriller, in which two sisters get into a bad situation with the same man.

J:  I can’t wait to read GUILT, Amanda! Thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule to visit with me. Congratulations on OBSESSION!

Available on Amazon Now! Obsession: The bestselling psychological thriller perfect for summer reading

amanda-robson-profile

Amanda Robson, author of OBSESSION. See my review of OBSESSION here.