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

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 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

5 Perfect Podcasts to Binge this Weekend

  • Up and Vanished
  • S-Town 
  • Sincerely, X
  • My Favorite Murder
  • Sworn
  • Bonus Podcast:  What Should I Read Next?

Sometimes my eyes need a break from reading! But, chores and driving are absolutely too boring without a juicy book or podcast in my ears. These are my favorites!

UP AND VANISHED just finished its first season and oh my gosh! If you are even mildly interested in true crime/mystery and you aren’t familiar with this one, you’re in for a treat! Payne Lindsay, an everyday guy from Georgia, decides to launch an investigation into the disappearance of beauty queen and high school teacher, Tara Grinstead. Tara has been missing over 11 years and the case is freezing cold by the time Payne begins to look into the story in his Grandma’s hometown. TALK ABOUT PLOT TWISTS! Payne is a very RELIABLE narrator and the events unfold almost real time.  Not a spoiler (HUGE NATIONAL NEWS ATTENTION was given) to say Payne and his novice crew end up solving the case with the killer(s) arrested and awaiting trial at this moment. Start at the very beginning with Episode 1 to literally watch (listen to) the growing pains Payne experiences going from small time film maker to national crime solving hero. Fascinating.

S-TOWN The second season of the original SERIAL podcast, this season is completely different. Please tell me you already listened to Serial, the grandaddy of all podcasts? If not, that’s your first assignment. S- Town, I believe, started out to be on a similarly arced season with a murder to solve in S-town, Alabama. But (major plot twist) this story ends up being something completely different! I can’t give away anymore than that, it is a journey that you will not believe, won’t stop thinking about, and can’t stop talking about. I listened to it months ago and I still am blown away by the philosophical implications it raises about our country. Bookish hint: Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance.

SINCERELY, X is a new podcast done by TED and Audible. It has quickly become my favorite in only four short (30-ish) minute episodes. The series features talks from speakers whose identities are hidden. Holy smokes, these stories will cut straight through to your heart and brain–so compelling! In Episode 2, entitled Pepper Spray, a woman describes what happened when she snapped one day in a retail store.  If you have ever dealt with anxiety issues, you will feel every ounce of her experience. Each stand-alone episode is presented by a victim or a perpetrator or an entrepreneur or an activist or an empath, or….

MY FAVORITE MURDER the app blurb reads: “Lifelong fans of true crime stories Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark tell each other their favorite tales of murder and hear hometown crime stories from friends and fans.” SO. DRY.  Actually, these two women are both hilarious working Hollywood types (google them). They’re not for everyone, they’re racy, candid and love to curse. They don’t make the murders funny, (no victim shaming ever) but they don’t hesitate to go the extra mile and comment on every aspect of the case they are featuring. I love Karen and Georgia!

SWORN is a spin-off from the UP AND VANISHED series. Listen to Up and Vanished first. Then when you are trying to shake off the withdrawals, turn on SWORN. By this time you’ll love Philip Holloway like he’s your own personal defense attorney and you’ll feel right at home on SWORN. As of right now, there are only three short episodes about The Lake Oconee Murders from Florida. It is going to be another captivating podcast.

WHAT SHOULD I READ NEXT? If you read or blog or blog about reading, you probably know of Anne Bogel. She’s the charming person behind the very popular Modern Mrs. Darcy blog. Each week, Anne interviews a reader and finds out their tastes in books. Then, she makes recommendations about what to read next. I have learned about so many different wonderful books from this show, it’s a no-miss podcast for me. Plus, Anne Bogel has a beautiful voice to die-for!

What podcasts do you love? What am I missing out on? Let me know!

 

 

 

IN A DARK, DARK WOOD

4/5 Stars

  • Author: Ruth Ware
  • Published August 4th 2015 by Simon & Schuster Audio
  • Audio book narrated by Imogen Church
  • 9 hrs and 34 mins

There have been many reviews for the regular book version of IN A DARK, DARK WOOD by Ruth Ware, but my review is for the audio version. I have had the actual book for awhile now and for some reason, every time I picked it up I just could not stay with it due to my unfortunately short attention span. As happens so many times, a beautifully made audio version of the same book will quickly suck me in, even if I just read the same words myself and they seemed so uninteresting in my own head. The fabulous Imogen Church is the narrator, she is wonderful and a one-woman show, acting out all the roles with authentically nuanced personality traits. I had previously enjoyed her narrations of Alex Marwood’s THE KILLER NEXT DOOR and all the BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY books by Helen Fielding. Ms. Church is also reading Ruth Ware’s next two books and I will definitely be listening.

I LOVE listening to this book. For me, the audio version is much more entertaining and suspenseful than reading it with my own eyeballs. So, maybe, Reese Witherspoon will take it up the next step and the movie version will be even better!!? (fingers crossed!). The story revolves around six frenemies tucked away for a “hen party” in a cottage in a dark wood far away from civilization. I guarantee that you have never been to a bachelorette party like this. The creepy location, the sarcastic barbs the “friends” hurl on each other, the drug use, the Ouji board playing, and last, but not least, clay pigeon shooting as the main activity, all work together to create plenty of foreshadowing of the murder we know is going to happen. But, which of the friends is the killer? And who gets killed? The book is written in a first person POV by Nora who has unfortunately suffered a terrible head trauma and is, therefore, a most unreliable narrator (yippeeeee, I love unreliable narrators!).

The story pays homage to the Agatha Christie “locked room” murder motif, one of many a mystery lover’s favorite plot devices. You will figure out the ending way before the main character does (sadly, no plot twist), but it is still a really well written psychological mystery and an excellent debut for Ruth Ware. THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10 is wildly popular and that’s always a plus for a new author, to be on the upward trajectory. I’m hearing great things about her third book, THE LYING GAME, to be published July 25, 2017.

click here to get your Audio version! In a Dark, Dark Wood

ARE YOU SLEEPING

4/5 Stars

  • Kindle Edition, 320 pages Hardcover 336 pages
  • Author: Kathleen Barber35660402
  • Publication: August 1st 2017 by Gallery Books

Josie’s father was murdered by a teenage neighbor ten years ago, when she was still a girl. The killer was sent to prison and Josie’s family fell apart. Her mother, an emotional wreck, up and left Josie and her twin sister, Lanie, to join a cult in Northern California. She never saw or spoke to her daughters again. Josie and Lanie, the twins, are left to live their teenage years with their Aunt Amelia and cousin Ellen. Lanie was the single eyewitness to the murder, the reason the killer was caught and sentenced to life. She was also the more rebellious of the two girls and she ends up on a dangerous path of truancy, drugs and law-breaking. In a fit of anger, she yells at Josie to just go away and leave her alone.

Josie did go away. She changed her last name. She backpacked the world and met a wonderful guy, Caleb. They settled in Brooklyn and she never explained her horrific family history or even that she had a twin sister. It was all too painful for her and she wanted to keep Caleb free from the drama of her past.

Along comes the 21st century journalistic phenomenon: the true crime podcast. And guess what crime Poppy Parnell, the perky blogger, wants to dig up and examine with a fine tooth comb? Yep, the murder of Josie’s dad. Josie is absolutely terror-stricken to hear people on the subway and in grocery stores discussing the podcast, her personal life horror show openly tweeted about by complete strangers. It seems like everyone is obsessed with “Reconsidered” the podcast. Was the wrong man convicted? There are witnesses that place the teenage killer at a park miles away from the crime. He didn’t have a weapon.

When Josie’s mother hangs herself during the height of the podcast mania, Josie finds herself having to face all the lies she has told Caleb and all the details of her past. She must reconnect with her twin sister, Lanie, and ask her once and for all about the night of the murder. Was Lanie honest about that night?

The story is fast-moving and suspenseful. I love the podcast element to this book (Ask me about UP AND VANISHED, please!). There is a whole sub-theme about public shaming on social media. I wish the plot had been a bit twistier and darker. It’s borderline, dare I say it… Predictable. You will figure out “whodunnit” before the big reveal,  but it is not boring. The characters are very real and fleshed out. I absolutely love Josie’s cousin, Ellen, she is hilarious.

ARE YOU SLEEPING reminds me very much of THE LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE and RECONSTRUCTING AMELIA. If you liked those books, you will love this one, too.

click on any image above for AMAZON U.S.

THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS

 3/5 Stars

  • Published July 11th 2017 by Scribner
  • Author: Michael Robotham

Let’s just put it out there: this is no Tana French or Paula Hawkins psychological thriller.  Sorry. Keeping’ it real. Waaah waah.

Never mind the claims invariably to head the jacket reviews, there is NOT a Gone Girl ending twist in THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS.  However, this book is one heck of a suspenseful page turner (and how about that book cover? LOVE). I read it so fast, my husband couldn’t believe it when I said I was done.  The chapters are very short and are told from the different characters’ POV. I think just under 4 hours of reading an entire novel is indeed a record for me.

The main characters, Meghan and Agatha, are not necessarily likable, but very interesting. I want to know more about them! Sadly, there isn’t much psychological speculation delved into in the book.  Most of the story is written in first person dialogue and the dialogue is written so realistically, you will find yourself hooked from the first page.

If you, like millions of readers, including myself, adored The Girl on the Train, you will pick up on the same atmospheric feel with THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS.  I love that British vibe! There is a lot of train riding, a little obsessive spying done by Agatha (perfect name), and teapots and biscuits are frequently mentioned throughout the book.

If I could presume to subtitle this book, it would be more aptly called Girl On the Train-Lite. It is the perfect book to carry down to the pool and read quickly even if you are frequently interrupted or distracted by your kids, you will have no trouble jumping right back into the plot.

The most interesting part of this story is truly the character of Agatha. She is somewhat of a deliciously unreliable narrator on her chapters (the chapters go back and forth between Meghan and Agatha), you are never quite sure if she telling us the truth.  I wavered between sympathy, disgust, and sadness for her character.  I do so wish there were more layers to the characters and the plot, that would definitely have earned a four star from me.

This book has a publication date for July 11, 2017.  If you are looking for a light suspenseful story, this is perfect.
Available now Amazon U.S.   >      The Secrets She Keeps: A Novel