RUST & STARDUST

FIVE SHATTERING STARS

  • Author: T. Greenwood
  • Publication date: August 7, 2018

I love great literature that moves you. You know? I mean, isn’t that why we read? I want to be moved to cry, moved to think, moved to care. 2018 has been a banner year for the psychological suspense novel and now we have a crowning jewel of a book that crosses all the genres.

Rust & Stardust is unusual. If you’ve read any reviews, you’ve heard already this a sad story. Yes, it is absolutely heartbreaking. I can’t even describe how much your soul will ache. BUT it’s also suspenseful, historically relevant and fascinating. Rust & Stardust is not a true-crime book in the traditional sense. This crime of a young girl’s kidnapping in 1948 was headline making at the time and was the inspiration for Nabokov’s Lolita. (A fact that nauseates me. Remind me to check how many stars I gave that classic tale.)

I had a vague familiarity with Sally Horner’s name, but that’s all I knew when I began downloadreading. I resisted every impulse to google, and I’m pleased to announce that in this case, I did abstain. I had no idea how the story would end and the suspense propelled me forward like a slingshot. I rarely put this book down. Sally crawled into my heart and I felt like I understood her. I cared about her—what’s going on, is she going to escape now? I was thinking about Sally constantly. And it’s been a long time since I had a book do that to me. Thank you, T. Greenwood, for this passionate reading experience!

I would describe this book as a cross between The Grapes of Wrath and THE CHANGELING movie starring Angelina Jolie. I know the time periods are a little off between these beautiful works of art, but the important thing IS the time period. It’s the omnipresent lens that we view the story through and acts as much a pivotal character as anything else in the novel. There was a pervasive, deep societal innocence back then. Way before child molesters, mass shootings, and sex traffickers became our daily news. Sally was purely an innocent child, but also her mother, friends, teachers, even the police pushed back their doubts. “This could not be what it looked like.” “This does not happen in America”. In small ways, they all unknowingly contributed to the crime as much as Frank LaSalle, the deviant, corrupted everything he touched.

Rust & Stardust has all the atmospheric setting and attention to detail that Steinbeck, himself, was able to conjure on the page as the Okies trudged through the dust to California. Between the short, beautifully written chapters, Sally’s abduction unfolds as seen by all the different characters involved. While you are very fearful for poor Sally, it is her family’s story of guilt, bitterness and loss that will shatter your heart.

FIVE STARS. I HIGHLY recommend Rust & Stardust. You will be hooked after the first few pages. I promise. Yes, there are some triggers for sensitive readers. However, Greenwood tackles the subject matter in such a consciously delicate manner that the story of Sally’s life comes across as nothing less than poignant, authentic and human. And SERIOUSLY!! Don’t google until you finish the book!!!!

SYNOPSIS

Camden, NJ, 1948.

When 11 year-old Sally Horner steals a notebook from the local Woolworth’s, she has no way of knowing that 52 year-old Frank LaSalle, fresh out of prison, is watching her, preparing to make his move. Accosting her outside the store, Frank convinces Sally that he’s an FBI agent who can have her arrested in a minute—unless she does as he says. 

This chilling novel traces the next two harrowing years as Frank mentally and physically assaults Sally while the two of them travel westward from Camden to San Jose, forever altering not only her life, but the lives of her family, friends, and those she meets along the way.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

T. Greenwood grew up in rural Vermont. She began writing stories at seven years old and wrote her first “novel” at nine on her dad’s giant blue electric typewriter. Bodiesofwater1121

Since then, she has published twelve novels. She has received grants from the Sherwood Anderson Foundation, the Christopher Isherwood Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Maryland State Arts Council. She has won three San Diego Book Awards. Five of her novels have been BookSense76/IndieBound picks. BODIES OF WATER was finalist for a Lambda Foundation award. Her twelfth novel, RUST & STARDUST, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in August 2018.

She teaches creative writing for San Diego Writer’s Ink and online for The Writer’s Center. She and her husband, Patrick, live in San Diego, CA with their two daughters during the school year and spend their summers at her family’s camp on Newark Pond in Vermont.

 

15 TWISTIEST NOVELS OF 2018

2018 is a banner blue-ribbon kind of year for the psychological suspense novel! I have repeatedly been blown away by the outstanding books released this year. It is only July and look at this long list! Just click the title link for my review.

TAKE IMMEDIATE SHELTER: My 2018 Twistalicious Faves (so far…)

Lying in Wait is possibly…the best of the best. Liz Nugent is my new obsession. An Irish writer that may take her place beside my queen, Gillian Flynn, on the dark throne of twisted fiction.

Something in the Water is my surprise favorite! Sometimes when an actress or someone NOT in the writing profession throws their hat in the ring with their own novel -I confess to reading it just to see if it’s a train wreck. No ma’am. Catherine Steadman is a pro.

Believe Me is another surprise, only because I was making a snap judgement based on his previous novel which featured an outrageous plot. Believe Me is still out there, but J.P. Delaney cloaks it in a dark, seductive writing style and sells it big time. A deliciously unreliable narrator playing cat and mouse with her untrustworthy lover.

The Death of Mrs. Westaway came as a big relief! Ruth Ware is one of the very best literary-style writers working today, yet I was unable to rate any of her previous books very high. They always seem to miss the mark for me. This gothic mystery featuring an old-fashioned mistaken identity plot is right on target.

You Were Made for This tells the story of a young couple in love and so happily raising their new baby. NOT REALLY… I LIED… Nothing is what it seems at first glance in this contemporary, addictive page-turner! A stunning novel by Michelle Sacks.

The Perfect Nanny is a deep character analysis of a seemingly ordinary woman that commits the ultimate betrayal. Truly spine-tingling reading from French bestselling author, Leila Slimani.

Tangerine is a delectable treat! It’s a female take on The Talented Mr. Ripley and set in the dreamy Moroccan desert. A story of obsessive friendship between two women. Oh, yes, and a murder. An impressive debut novel by Christine Mangan.

The Wife is a perfect blend of police procedural and courtroom drama resting on a perfectly unreliable narrator’s shoulders. Alafair Burke, attorney and writer, is an exceptional author–I’m thrilled to have found her!

All the Beautiful Lies is Peter Swanson’s latest novel of strong and twisted characters. Taboo-crossing, tantalizing and sensational. You can never go wrong with Swanson.

The Flight Attendant grabbed me from the beginning with a binge-drinking, self-loathing main character who finds herself waking up with a dead guy in her bed. Chris Bohjalian has created an old-fashioned thriller featuring a messed-up heroine with a heart of gold.

Force of Nature from Jane Harper features one of the most memorable leading men in recent fiction, Aaron Falk. This time he leaves the Australian desert for the outback wilderness to hunt down a missing executive. Another atmospheric winner from Harper.

The Wife Between Us was the first book I got absolutely delirious over this year. The best quality lies in the ingenious way it’s structured, so innovative! The very definition of a TWIST!

The Chalk Man is a playful, scary novel with a Stranger Things cast of little friends pedaling their bikes into places they shouldn’t. C.J. Tudor is one of my fave new authors to watch.

The Last Time I Lied is campy, great fun. I almost felt like I was with the Scooby-doo gang helping to solve a murder mystery. Riley Sager has a fixation on 80’s horror films that shows in his fabulous novels.

Let Me Lie is the latest offering from the tornado goddess herself, Clare Mackintosh. A wonderful writer, Mackintosh can a spin a twisty mystery like no one else. This one had me second and third guessing all the way!

Now, please enjoy your twisted novels….. Let me know what you think!

ALL THE BEAUTIFUL LIES

FOUR STARS

  • Author: Peter Swanson
  • Publication date: April 3, 2018

I have a very smart friend that works as a literacy coach for elementary school teachers. Her advice for young students just learning how to tell someone else about a book? Three simple phrases.

SOMEBODY WANTED__________.
BUT____________.
SO_____________.

Is that genius or what? I love it. So short and simple, I’m using it now (thanks Jenny!).  No spoilers here, of course!

SOMEBODY WANTED:  to engage in taboo relationships. Taboo? Yes,  vast age differences and the fact that the characters romantically involved are sometimes related! As in step parent/step child. Ick. Ick. Ick. There is also a clear cut case of a “Mrs. Robinson” carrying on with a teenage boy. As usual, Swanson has come up with some dark characters living blissfully in their own corrupted world.

BUT:   when conforming type people have suspicions about these unusual relationships, they tend to interfere.

SO:   the rational world interferes with the corrupted world, the unbalanced characters become completely unhinged while protecting their own sweet spot and well, WORLDS COLLIDE!!!

There you have it, people. An elementary synopsis of a complicated, layered plot!

And, just a few more words, if I may: This is a compulsive, addictable read. Swanson just keeps getting darker and more forbidden with his plots, next thing you know he’ll turn into Gillian Flynn (Haaaa, just kidding, there is no one else residing at the level of our lovely dark goddess, but Liz Nugent is inching up there).

As usual, Swanson writes in a delicious film noir style. This story is set on the coast of Maine with all the foreshadowing and dangerous mood that accompanies the angry sea. Swanson’s books are clever puzzles with messy edges. At the heart of his novels lies the most basic of human urges: greed. Sometimes the main character is all about the money, money, money.  Here, the main characters are driven by sex, not money. And, if you know Swanson, you know this isn’t going to be everyday lust, he has to pull down that murky shade and create an illicit, creepy scenario.

I wish I could give 5 stars, but I can’t only because the ending was a bit predictable to me. I’m starting to see a plot pattern in his novels. However, I still love this one!!

This is Swanson’s fourth novel and he is extremely consistent in the psychological thriller genre. He is my definite go-to author. This book reminds me of his first hit, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart, mainly due to the slightly clueless, lovable protagonist.

All the women in this novel are strong and richly defined, definitely Swanson’s strength. I highly recommend… with reservations for the sensitive reader.

TANGERINE

4.25 STARS

  • Author: Christine Mangan
  • Publication date: March 27, 2018

 

What is it about obsessive friendships between women?  I’m always drawn to books that feature this type of female-frenemy-relationship. I think there is so much more that can be added to the plot than just the usual he/she torrid love/hate affair that dominate this genre’s selections.

Tangerine is truly my idea of a dreamy, escapist novel. It is first and foremost a character analysis of two women that meet at a high-brow East Coast university as roommates. Lucy and Alice each depict two distinctive and contrasting personalities. One is meek, timid, hand-wringing. The other is brazen, steely, opportunistic. Mixed and stirred like an ice cold martini, the result is pure toxic poison with only one dreaded outcome.

Tangerine takes place mostly in Tangier, Morocco, during a political uprising in the 1950’s. One year after university, the women meet in the exotic desert setting of Tangier. The word “atmospheric” is thrown around to describe a lot of fiction these days, but in this case, atmospheric is more than an accurate label.

Christine Mangan is a lovely, old-fashioned writer. She’s a new author and I’m not exaggerating to say that Tangerine will remind you of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Mangan doesn’t linger on descriptions, but the reader is always very aware of the setting and mood and it feels authentic.

The book’s cover is sheer perfection for this novel that reads like film noir. A kind of combo of stories, The Talented Mr. Ripley and Single White Female come to mind, but it still feels fresh and original.

It is light on action and I feel I should warn you, some readers will find this style of storytelling a bit repetitive. However, I adore the slow burn and did find it suspenseful with tension growing throughout. It is a book for fans of Unraveling Oliver.

A quiet, fascinating portrayal of the complicated connection between sociopath and victim.

BONUS ALERT! The audiobook is exceptionally well done. Lucy sounds exactly like Scarlett Johansson (but it’s not her, I did check). However, the real ScarJo is already cast to play Lucy in the upcoming film production. Perfect choice!

BELIEVE ME

FOUR STARS
  • Author: J.P. Delaney
  • Publication date: July 24, 2018
I felt the author’s previous book, The Girl Before, was well written; but, for an architectural mystery based on minimalism, it was a big ole mess –structurally speaking, of course.😊

I really like BELIEVE ME. I was absolutely crazy about the first 2/3 of this addictive story. The plot had me second guessing my way through. Sadly, the last 1/3 just went so overboard it got ridiculous. I have a hard time understanding why the author (actual name: Tony Strong) wants to throw in everything he knows about his subject. It’s too much. He overshot that line of believability and my five star rating dropped to a four.

This novel is mostly set in the theater world and our main character, Claire, is a young actress trying to make a living in NYC and eager to do anything to pay her rent. I think Claire is one of my most favorite unreliable narrators in recent memory. She’s not a drunk or a sociopath or is she? We never know because she is ALWAYS acting. How CLEVER is that?

The performance aspect of her personality is a refreshingly innovative way to style an unreliable narrator! Hmmmm. Talk about “method actor method actor method actor”.

Some scenes come alive in Claire’s head in the form of an actual written play. At first this can be confusing, but you’ll catch on quickly. When she gets into serious trouble by being accused of murder, the real fun begins! This is a cat and mouse game with lots of twists.

BELIEVE ME is sophisticated, slick, beautifully written. It’s a dark and addictive book, just know an over the top ending is waiting for you!

Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to read this book before publication on July 24, 2018. All opinions are mine.

SOMETHING IN THE WATER

FIVE STARS

  • Author: Catherine Steadman
  • Publication Date: June 5, 2018

 

For domestic suspense fun, it doesn’t get much better than this! SOMETHING IN THE WATER is Numero Uno on the NYT bestseller list this week, a Reese’s bookclub selection and the movie rights have long been snatched up!

All that buzzy attention heaped on one lil ole debut novel can make some of us (okay…..me😂)a tad skeptical. No need to worry. You are in expert hands with Catherine Steadman. Maybe you live on a deserted island and haven’t heard, but Steadman is a fabulous, gorgeous actress working in the U.K. She, most notably, was a cast member of Britain‘s Downton Abbey. She can also write like the pros, if not better. What the heck? So much talent in one person! Quit your day job or not, Ms. Steadman, you are a superstar either way!

There are tons of summaries out there. Please don’t read them. Listen, I accidentally read the “spoilest spoilers” EVER in the New York Times and Kirkus Reviews. Geez. Don’t look for more about the story. I would have enjoyed it so much more if I didn’t already know what the something in the water was! Take my word for it.

The pacing is brisk, the narrator is unreliable (BUT NOT A DRUNK!) and the story translates quite believably as a realistic situation. You guys know how much I abhor the hand-wringing heroine. But here, our protagonist is VERY pro-action. True, she doesn’t always make the best decisions (omg!), but she tries her best and I, for one, felt a weird kind of kinship with our main character.

It’s my favorite kind of suspense-building story. One bad decision leads to another, leads to one more and so on…..It’s the ultimate “what would you do” situational structure. Steadman writes in a slick, sophisticated manner. I’m completely infatuated with her wit and style.

If you enjoyed The Girl on the Train, The Woman in Cabin 10, or The Flight Attendant you will love Something in the Water.

The audiobook is stellar! Steadman acts as her own icy, sexy narrator and you will quickly understand why she is such a wonderful actress! Highly recommend! I am so excited to discover this new, gifted author. Looking forward to her career in this difficult-to-write genre

YOU WERE MADE FOR THIS

4.5 STARS

  • Author: Michelle Sacks
  • US Publication date: June 19, 2018

When Sam inherits a cottage in the Sweden countryside, he and his wife, Merry, pack up their hectic lives in NYC and begin a brand new life in an cold, isolated country with their infant baby.

In Sweden, they are the very picture of domestic contentment. Merry gardens and bakes with a fervor that would put Martha Stewart to shame. Sam begins working at his dream career as a film documentarian. Their adorable baby is a fat little cherub, at the family’s center of adoration and devotion.

Sounds so beautiful and la-dee-da perfect. However, after this setup, we are in for a shock as Merry and Sam take turns narrating their own short chapters. Buckle up. What you are about to learn becomes more alarming with each page. (This may be a good time to warn you there are definite triggers throughout for a sensitive reader.) Dark, twisted, painfully disturbing.

Just as we are learning about Sam and Merry’s shaky foundation, Merry’s best friend from childhood arrives for a visit with the young family in Sweden. Her name is Frank (Frances) and she knows Merry better than anyone else in the world. She immediately sees right through Merry’s phony happy homemaker act. At this point, Frank joins in the narration with her own chapters and we start to see that Frank has her own ugly secrets. These three characters are positively nasty and the perfect storm is set into motion. AS THE UNRELENTING SUSPENSE BEGINS, YOU CANNOT TURN YOUR EYES AWAY FROM THE PAGE. I LOVE IT!

Michelle Sacks has written an almost perfect psychological thriller. She writes in a fluid, spare manner- the kind of dialogue without quotation marks, yet it is absolutely cloaked in a haunting, dread-filled mood. Sacks is an intelligent writer and I have great appreciation for her sophisticated style. You know how I love to go deep in these sicko character profiles, and Sacks boldly goes to the deepest corruptions possible. And she doesn’t even blink.

If what I’ve told you hasn’t scared you away– then you, my friend, are in for a treat!!! Highly recommended for lovers of books like The Perfect Nanny, Unraveling Oliver, The Visitors and White Bodies.

YOU WERE MADE FOR THIS hits the shelves June 19, 2018. Thanks so much to Little, Brown Publishers for my gorgeous copy! All opinions are my own.