NetGalley Top Reviewer

NetGalley Top Reviewer
NetGalley Top Reviewer

Friday, January 29, 2016

Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben

2.5 out of 5 stars -- "The dead always stayed dead."

Maya Stern, ex helicopter pilot, now retired Army Captain, returns home after a disastrous ending to her tour of duty in Iraq.  Shrouded in scandal, she rejoins her husband, Joe, and her 2-year-old daughter, Lily. Though suffering from PTSD, and haunted by her memories, she is trying to find her way back to civilian life. The novel opens with Maya burying Joe -- who was shot dead in a park close to their home.

Now a single mother and widow, she has to work so Joe's wealthy family provides a nanny for Lily. While reviewing the film of the nanny cam a friend gave her, Maya sees something unbelievable -- her dead husband playing with Lily in their living room. Could he still be alive? And if so, why? Where is he? That's when things really start to happen.

Without any spoilers, the rest of the narrative puts Maya into investigative mode trying to tie events from the past to the present situation This is standard Coben fare and fans who enjoy his domestic thrillers will likely find this one full of the action and twists that are his trademark.

I've read all of Coben's standalone suspense novels but did not care for this particular story as much. After talking with a friend about this one, I believe I am indeed jaded by having read so many twisty thrillers with endings that seem to come out of nowhere.

Thank you to Penguin Random House and NetGalley for providing me with an e-book ARC to review.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Crow Girl by Erik Axl Sund

"It starts with just one body – tortured, mummified and then discarded.

Its discovery reveals a nightmare world of hidden lives. Of lost identities, secret rituals and brutal exploitation, where nobody can be trusted.

This is the darkest, most complex case the police have ever seen.

This is the world of the Crow Girl."

3.0 out of 5 stars -- A confusing and very disturbing hot mess of a book that deals with sexual abuse of children (pedophilia), torture, mutilation and other acts of depravity. In addition, the fact that one of the main characters appears to suffer from the very rare phenomenon of multiple personality disorder (dissociative identity disorder) makes the narrative difficult to follow.

Whew! I would say that it took me way too long to read this novel -- probably as long as it took for Detective Superintendent Jeanette Kihlberg and her partner to bring some resolution to the complex case after the mummified body of an immigrant child is found dumped by a train stop. Jeanette seeks out a psychologist, Sofia Zetterlund, to help make sense of these bodies of mutilated children when others are found. What heinous creature could do this to children?

Set in Sweden, and with a huge cast of characters (including the other personalities), the story was extremely detailed and grisly -- it required a lot of energy and focus for me to keep everything straight. Each chapter bounces from character to character and to different places and time periods. I prefer a more linear narrative, and I definitely had a hard time staying with this book.
No spoilers, but, finally there was resolution of sorts as I reached the end of this intense story. Absorbing the impact of statistics of the high incidence of pedophiles in Sweden (and other societies as well) and revelations of the horrible damage that this type of abuse causes made for several sleepless nights. Ultimately this was a novel of revenge and hate -- but even payback does not undo the simple truth: lives ruined beyond repair.

I wonder if there will be more books to follow that feature Jeanette and/or Sofia as it seemed like their story was not finished. I do think this book was too long at 768 pages and hope any follow up is shorter and tighter.

Thank you to Edelweiss and the publisher for providing the e-book ARC to review. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

She's Not There by Joy Fielding

3.5 out of 5 stars -- "And guilt and blame are two very powerful weapons. Weapons of intimate destruction."

Imagine every parent's worst nightmare -- your 2-year old daughter is kidnapped from a hotel room while you're out enjoying dinner with friends at a luxury resort in Mexico celebrating your wedding anniversary! That's the tragedy that Carol Shipley and her husband, Hunter, faced 15 years ago. No trace of Samantha was ever found. Everyone constantly reminds Carole that she should never have left her children alone in a hotel room. She knows that, but blames Hunter for talking her into it.

Flash forward to the ringing of a telephone and a voice on the other end -- it's a girl claiming to be that missing daughter. Carole so wants this to be true, an answer to her hopes and prayers. Carole and her daughter, Michelle, travel to Calgary but the girl doesn't show. But then arrives on their doorstep in San Diego. Is this really Samantha?

This was a very fast read but populated with several characters that I found so annoying that it was distracting. The mother was a mess, not that it would be unusual since she lost her daughter, but the rest of the family -- Michelle, mother Mary, brother Steve, and Hunter -- were also not exactly the kind of people I'd be able to tolerate as friends even if given lots of latitude for their personal anguish. The only thing that saved this book was that I wanted to get to the end to see if the girl was indeed Samantha and to find out what happened in the hotel. I hoped there would be a satisfactory conclusion. Most of it I had guess and anyone who reads this type of book would as well.

Overall, I enjoyed the quick read in a single sitting. I wish I had developed more empathy for Carole, but I never connected with her. I like strong female protagonists vs those who do a lot of angsting and sobbing. The relationship between Carole and everyone else in her family was completely dysfunctional and they all need more than a few sessions with a therapist to fix all that is wrong. I don't even want to think about the pain a parent would experience in this sort of situation, so I gave her some leeway with her reactions and behavior, but some of her choices defied credibility and a reader will need to suspend a bit of disbelief about some of what happened.

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine for the e-book ARC to review.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Ashes to Dust by Yrsa Sigurdardottir (#3)

Ashes to Dust: A Thriller (Thora Gudmundsdottir #3) 

4.0 out of 5 stars -- Some mistakes can have lifelong consequences.

This third book in the series has the lawyer Thora trying to clear Markus, a man accused of multiple murder when bodies are found in the basement of his childhood home. The house was covered with ash and lava after a 1973 eruption of a volcano in his village and is just now being excavated when this grisly discovery is made.

A very complex case involving events of the past, as well as crimes in the present, and many characters makes this quite an interesting read. Thora doggedly follows the leads she is able to uncover from information that is very difficult for her to get as most of the people involved are either long dead or incapacitated. Bella, the difficult office secretary who is usually a thorn in Thora's side, has more of a role in this book than does Thora's love interest, Matthew, who is still trying to decide about moving to Iceland.

Even though I guessed some of what probably happened in the Icelandic village where the bodies were discovered, there was a huge surprise twist at the end that I did not see coming. I like the writing style and the description of the methodical way that Thora investigates. Her personal life is part of the story, but most of the narrative is focused on the case and the clues. In addition, I've learned quite a bit about the country of Iceland and the people who call it home.

I've only one more to read to be caught up with the entire series, and though I have read it out of order, I've thoroughly enjoyed each book.


Monday, January 4, 2016

The Silence of the Sea by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

4.0 out of 5 stars -- Complex and intense mystery, the latest in the Thóra Gudmundsdóttir series (#6).

The chilling opening of this suspense novel by the "Queen of Nordic Noir" quickly sets the mood for this well plotted tale. A luxury yacht that is supposed to have 7 persons on board crashes into the pier in Reykjavik Harbor. A family of four (husband, wife and twin daughters) and 3 crew are missing from the yacht. There is no evidence of foul play and no clues as to what might have happened. Thóra Gudmundsdóttir gets involved when the parents of the missing husband (who have been keeping the youngest daughter while the rest of the family was on the cruise) ask her to help them sort out the life insurance. Thóra needs to prove that the missing husband and wife are dead in order for them to collect the money.

This is a very complicated mystery and the narration shifts in time and person from the point of view of what is occurring on the yacht out in the ocean and Thóra's investigation back in Reykjavik . It is methodical and slow in some parts, but the reader is guessing wildly as to what happened on the yacht and why there is no one on board as the clues come to light. The revelations at the very end are surprising and very satisfying. No spoilers!

I love this series. I'm waiting for #3 and #4 so that I can be up-to-date having just finished this one, the most recent. I like the main character a lot and the writing style. There wasn't much of Matthew Reich in this book, and that's fine by me. I'm looking forward to reading #7 whenever it's written.

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for the e-book ARC to review. 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

My Soul to Take by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Bernard Scudder (Translator), Anna Yates (Translator)

4.0 out of 5 stars -- A chilling and absorbing read -- Nordic noir.

The second book in this series featuring the lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdóttir and her lover, Matthew Reich, is just as absorbing and interesting as the first. The setting is modern day Iceland, almost a character in itself, with its uniqueness and history. In this mystery, Thora is asked to represent the owner of a New Age spa and resort who wants to sue the previous owners who he claims misrepresented the old farmstead and sold him a haunted property. Although Thora doesn't hold with the supernatural, she goes to stay at the health resort in Snaefellsnes and is immediately drawn into an different sort of investigation there when the owner, Jonas, is accused of the murder of the architect who was working for him after her mutilated body is found on the beach nearby. As Thora starts digging into the case, she unearths some photos and information about the brothers, their wives and children who had lived on and owned the farmstead property many years ago. Then a second person is murdered. Thora and Matthew must figure out why these two were killed and who committed the crimes.

With a huge cast of characters and with the Icelandic names, it can be a feat just to keep everyone straight! But alternate point of view narration provides some clues that there is much more going on here than first thought. The mystery is well-plotted and complex with mutiple red herrings and I was glad not to be able to be sure that my guesses were correct until the final few chapters. I like the personality and character of Thóra Gudmundsdóttir -- divorced mother of two, about to be a grandmother. She's snarky and intense, definitely not damaged, and has a good sense of humor. I enjoy all the details about Iceland and its culture and landscape. I like the writing style and the translation flows nicely as well.

This is the third book by this author that I've read (#1, #2 and #5) and I have plans to read #3 and #4 as soon as I can get hold of copies. I really like this series. I guess you could say I'm hooked on crime fiction and the unusual setting.

Please send me any recommendations of other authors/series of this type and unique settings. 

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Bernard Scudder (Translator)

4.0 out of 5 stars -- "An Icelandic novel of secret symbols, medieval witchcraft, and modern murder."

A student from Germany who is working on his master's degree in Iceland is found dead in a Reykjavik university printer alcove. He is carved with strange symbols and his eyes have been removed. The boy, Harald Guntlieb, had an unusual passion and a curious set of friends. One of them is quickly arrested for the murder. Harald's wealthy parents don't believe that the person arrested actually committed the crime and engage Thóra Guðmundsdóttir to assist a family friend, Matthew Reich, with a deeper investigation. Harald's obsession is focused on witch hunts -- torture and execution -- and a particular manuscript, THE WITCHES' HAMMER. The novel is full of many interesting historical details of significant people and events during the 1500s and the conversion to Lutheranism.

I read some of the previous reviews here on Goodreads and I must say that I disagree about Thora. I quite like her and found her normalcy a refreshing change from the "damaged" female protagonist often seen in current crime and suspense thriller novels. I thought she was an interesting character with quirks and flaws as she is struggling to work and be a single mother to a 6 year old daughter and a 16 year old son after a divorce. I liked the sparring between her and Matthew and didn't mind the developing romance even during the midst of some of the gruesomeness of the case. I am enjoying learning more about Iceland even as I struggle to pronounce the names. The translation seems quite well done and I like the writing style. I did not guess the identity of the killer until late in the book.

Back in November of 2014, I read the 5th book in this series (SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME) and lamented that I was not familiar with Thóra Guðmundsdóttir's backstory and that I wanted to start the series from the beginning. Well, finally got this debut from the library and am looking forward to reading more about this female lawyer and Icelandic crime fiction. I have the second novel in the series to start next!

The Darkest Secret by Alex Marwood

4.0 out of 5 stars -- "Some truths will shatter worlds. Some secrets are best kept, though the keeping can eat you up."

In this psychological thriller, the first book I've read by Alex Marwood, the characters are easy to loathe and the alternating points of view with multiple narrators and the back and forth from present day to the weekend in 2004, make it a bit hard to get into at first. But stick with it -- what a great hodgepodge of immorality and dysfunction!

The novel starts with a press release -- a three year old girl, Coco Jackson, daughter of the super wealthy Sean Jackson and his current second wife Claire, also a twin to Ruby, is missing from the family's vacation home in Bournemouth while on a holiday weekend in August, 2004. No trace of Coco is ever found.

Fast-forward to present day and the death of Sean Jackson (in a hotel with poppers and handcuffed to the bed though on his 4th wife) and preparation for the funeral and a reunion of sorts with the Jackson Associates -- a group of friends who were there on the holiday in 2004. One of Sean's daughters, Mila, is entreated to take Ruby along with her to the funeral. The revelations are dangled bit by bit as the truth about that fateful weekend comes via the various narrators and climaxes on the very last pages of the novel in a gripping conclusion that, though somewhat predictable, is very satisfying.

The Jackson family tree consists of 5 daughters -- 2 with his first wife, twins with the second, and a 5th with his last and 4th wife. The Jackson Associates include friends from Sean's university days and their spouses. Keeping everyone straight is a bit hard at first, but the well written novel allows for great characterization that is quite a study in personality disorders and relationships. The reader comes to know some of them better than others and the narrative reminds us that perception becomes truth -- we cannot know that which is kept from us and our feelings and actions rely on what we believe.

I enjoyed reading this and will definitely be looking for the other two books published by this author. It definitely would make a great book club read and ranks up there with many other recent, popular psychological thrillers. I'm sure there will be the inevitable comparisons, but this work stands on its own as a cautionary tale. And yes, there is definitely evil in the world, and there will always be those who justify their actions to preserve ego and to get what is wanted.