Book Review – MURDER AT BEECHWOOD by Alyssa Maxwell – Historical Fiction

Murder at Beechwood

For Newport, Rhode Island’s high society, the summer of 1896 brings lawn parties, sailboat races…and murder.

Having turned down the proposal of Derrick Andrews, Emma Cross has no imminent plans for matrimony—let alone motherhood. But when she discovers an infant left on her doorstep, she naturally takes the child into her care. Using her influence as a cousin to the Vanderbilts and a society page reporter for the Newport Observer, Emma launches a discreet search for the baby’s mother.

One of her first stops is a lawn party at Mrs. Caroline Astor’s Beechwood estate. But an idyllic summer’s day is soon clouded by tragedy. During a sailboat race, textile magnet Virgil Monroe falls overboard. There are prompt accusations of foul play—and even Derrick Andrews falls under suspicion. Deepening the intrigue, a telltale slip of lace may link the abandoned child to the drowned man. But as Emma navigates dark undercurrents of scandalous indiscretions and violent passions, she’ll need to watch her step to ensure that no one lowers the boom on her…

Published: May 26, 2015

Amazon / Amazon UK

 

My Review: ★ ★ ★ ★

Having grown up in Massachusetts, the Newport mansions were a kind of fantasy place, existing in our space but separate just the same. I toured through them all several times, imagining what life was like for those wealthy elite of the gilded age. This book uses that backdrop as a launching point. The famous Newport families of the late 1800s come to life on these pages, fictionalized, though still very much true to who they were.

As merely a poor relation of the Vanderbilts, I held no place among that hallowed number, but what good was it to hold the most extravagant ball of the summer unless representatives from every newspaper in town, not to mention those from New York, Boston, and Providence, were there to capture all the sumptuous details?

The setting is certainly the author’s strength. She clearly knows the history of this area, with its summer residents and extravagant parties. Even if you’ve never set foot in one of these mansions as a tourist, you’ll likely have a good sense of their opulence.

St on a low, rocky promontory on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, Gull Manor was a very New England sort of house, one that seemed almost to rise up from the boulders themselves and have been fashioned by the whim of rain, wind, and sea.

Emma is not the typical woman of her time, being more concerned with her independence than with marrying the right man. Her character is well developed and easy to like. This book is written in first person, so we spend all our time with Emma, and we see others through her eyes.

Frankly, that the woman addressed me at all left me flustered. Despite my Vanderbilt relatives, most of the older guard – especially those allied socially with Mrs. Astor – considered me only slightly above the status of servant.

The plot unfolds slowly. We follow the clues along with Emma, as her quest to find one answer only leaves her with more and more questions. At times the unraveling plot and its cast of characters feels a little too much like a soap opera, though I suppose that’s also true of the real-life families within those Newport mansions.

Coaxing information out of a tipsy widow might not have been my most honorable act, but when it came to investigating murder, no methods were off-limits.

I did not read the prior books in this series, and had no trouble following along with this story. It works well as a stand-alone. That being said, there are a whole lot of characters here. If you’re unfamiliar with the names of those early Newport families, you might have difficulty keeping up and should probably read the earlier books first.

*I received a free advanced copy from Kensington Books, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.*

 

Thanks for reading. :)

Book Review – SIGN by Lou Rera – Supernatural Thriller

sign-bookcover

Jim Thompson received a phone call from a dead man—a man he watched die one drunken, adulterous night while out of town on business.

Jim’s wife, Deirdre, doesn’t know his secret. Neither does Detective Frank Gibbons, who is hot on the case of the year-old crime. In this supernatural thriller, Jim’s past surfaces through his guilt and lies. As Detective Gibbons closes in on the truth, Jim and Deirdre must run from a malevolent stalker in this terrifying horror tale of deception and murder.

Published: July 8, 2014

Amazon / Amazon UK

 

My Review: ★ ★ ★

I’m a sucker for a supernatural thriller, heavy on the creepy atmosphere. This book absolutely delivers on that aspect. Lou Rera is a master at creating a setting reminiscent of a Twilight Zone episode. I loved the eeriness of the story. As the mood darkened, I ventured ahead with both trepidation and fascination. The scenes play out with a cinematic feel, and I felt like I was standing alongside the characters, seeing exactly what they saw.

The mist floated over the windshield like some silky shroud. She could have sworn she smelled flowers, the kind of flowers that overpowered visitors at a funeral home – the perfume of death.

Throughout this book, the reader, like the characters, is kept off balance. We’re shrouded in a dense fog of the unknown, left on our own to determine what, if anything, is real. While this held me riveted in the first half of the book, by the second half of the book this aspect became too convoluted. I needed some sort of foothold to keep me grounded in the story. We have a lot of back-and-forth in time, with scenes shifting constantly, which added to confusion.

Guilt is a mean emotion.

This book is heavy on symbolism. Again, this worked well for me in the first half, but, by the second half, I wanted to understand their meanings. Things such as the green needles and the man with a cane are never explained. This could have been a stylistic choice by the author, allowing readers to reach their own conclusions. For me, though, the sudden shift away from the things that played such a huge role in the story left me feeling cheated. I wanted the connection, so I could understand the pieces of the puzzle.

Her body had been sealed in a coffin of paranoia, and her paralysis was pushing her toward a Poe-like madness.

The plot has some loose ends, with minor aspects unresolved. And, unfortunately, the ending fell apart for me. This has to do with Marlene’s character, as well as some police involvement. I don’t want to give spoilers, so I’ll leave it at that.

People adapt. If something goes on long enough, it becomes normal.

Ultimately, the second half didn’t live up to the promise of the first half. That being said, Rera’s writing style easily pulled me right into the story and kept me turning pages. The issues that bothered me certainly won’t bother all readers. So, if you enjoy supernatural stories that make you question reality, give this book a try.

 

Thanks for reading. :)

Book Review – INDEPENDENCE DAY by Ben Coes – Political Suspense

Independence Day

Dewey Andreas, former Delta and newly recruited intelligence agent, is sidelined after screwing up his last two operations. Still drowning in grief after the tragic murder of his fiancé, Dewey has seemingly lost his focus, his edge, and the confidence of his superiors.

A high level Russian hacker, known only as Cloud, is believed to be routing large amounts of money to various Al Qaeda terror cells, and the mission is to capture and render harmless Cloud. At the same time, a back-up team is sent after the only known associate of Cloud, a ballerina believed to be his girlfriend. Unwilling to sit out the mission as ordered, Dewey defies his superiors, and goes rogue, surreptitiously following and tracking the two teams. What should be a pair of simple snatch and grab operations, goes horribly wrong–both teams are ambushed and wiped out. Only through the unexpected intervention of Dewey does the ballerina survive.

On the run, with no back-up, Cloud’s girlfriend reveals a shocking secret–a plot so audacious and deadly that their masterminds behind it would risk anything and kill anybody to prevent its exposure. It’s a plot that, in less than three days, will completely remake the world’s political landscape and put at risk every single person in the Western world. With only three days left, Dewey Andreas must unravel and stop this plot or see everything destroyed. A plot that goes live on July 4th–Independence Day.

Published: May 26, 2015

Amazon / Amazon UK

 

My Review: ★ ★ ★ ★

This is a powerful story about the hidden world of terrorism and government activities that we – mostly – never know about. The author clearly has a firm understanding of how government agencies operate. The hacking aspect of the plot is terrifying in its realism.

“You can kill me right now, we both know it,” said Cloud reassuringly. “This is not about being a man and who is tougher, Alexei. You are tougher. But where I am going, it requires something different. It requires hatred.”

The book starts out at a slower pace, gradually building until you can’t turn pages fast enough. Once all the pieces start fitting together, the possibilities and the action can truly leave you breathless.

A higher mission classification did not exist. It meant the achievement of the mission’s objective was paramount to U.S. national security.

So what kept this from being a 5 star read for me? At times, particularly throughout the first third of the book, it felt a little heavy on step-by-step narration. I felt like I was being led through dances steps, rather than being shown the dance. To be fair, this is a complicated plot requiring a lot of buildup and explanation.

A higher mission classification did not exist. It meant the achievement of the mission’s objective was paramount to U.S. national security.

The other problem came with character development. There are a whole lot of characters here, and consequently it’s difficult to get to know any of them. The main character got lost in the numbers. My favorite reads are character-driven fiction, and this is more plot-driven fiction, making this issue one of personal preference.

Overall, this is a thought-provoking read that might leave you wanting to run away to some far out, deserted spot in the world.

 

Thanks for reading. :)

Book Review – DISINTEGRATION: A Windy City Dark Mystery by Richard Thomas

Disintegration

In a brilliantly stylish breakthrough thriller for fans of Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho and Will Christopher Baer’s Kiss Me, Judas, here is the compelling tale of a man who has lost it all—and is now navigating a crooked, harrowing path to redemption.

Once a suburban husband and father, now the man has lost all sense of time. He retains only a few keepsakes of his former life: a handmade dining room table, an armoire and dresser from the bedroom, and a tape of the last message his wife ever left on their answering machine. These are memories of a man who no longer exists. Booze and an affair with a beautiful woman provide little relief, with the only meaning left in his life comes from his assignments. An envelope slipped under the door of his apartment with the name and address of an unpunished evildoer. The unspoken directive to kill. And every time he does, he marks the occasion with a memento: a tattoo. He has a lot of tattoos.

But into this unchanging existence seep unsettling questions. How much of what he feels and sees can he trust? How much is a lie designed to control him? He will risk his own life—and the lives of everyone around him—to find out.

Published: May 26, 2015

Amazon / Amazon UK

 

My Review: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

I finished Disintegration last night and I’m still shuddering from the after effects, unsure what to say about it all. So I’ll start with this: The writing is excellent.

The solitude compresses me, weighs me down, and in the middle of the night, my eyes shoot open, and I whisper names in the dark.

Written in first person, the experience is like being pulled into a twisted, psychotic, drug-addicted mind. This is exactly how it needs to be, because the main character is anything but normal. He is off balance and, consequently, so are we. Reading this book is a bit like being drugged. I was left teetering, wondering whether I’d crossed the line from reality into madness.

There are no mirrors in my apartment. I have forgotten my own face.

This book is not for the overly sensitive or squeamish reader. The content is raw and brutal, like an acid trip gone bad. And yet I wasn’t looking for an antidote. I was hooked, like an addict, ill at ease but oddly compelled to seek another fix.

Standing in the hot shower, my tears blend with the water, and I don’t know where I stop and the rest of the world begins.

Thanks for reading. :)

Book Review – BLOWN: Gregg Kaplan Thriller Series by Chuck Barrett

Blown

Gregg Kaplan is not an ordinary man, but a man with special skills, courtesy of the United States Government.

His assignment is to stay off the grid when he innocently stumbles into a blown witness protection detail in Little Rock, Arkansas. He simply could not walk away from the impending mayhem.

After the dust settles, a mortally wounded Deputy U.S. Marshal makes him promise to personally deliver the witness to a U.S. Marshals Service safe site.

Not just a promise, an oath. A pledge between ex-Army Delta Force comrades.
A trust that could not be broken—Once in, never out.

Kaplan soon suspects the witness he vowed to protect has secrets of his own; secrets that go beyond his testimony for the U.S. government. When he discovers the witness is being tracked, Kaplan teams with a WitSec Deputy U.S. Marshal assigned to recover the witness, but soon realizes some merciless people are dead set on preventing the witness from reaching the safe site.

But the witness has a hidden agenda of his own—One that could cost Kaplan his life.

Published: May 19, 2015

Amazon / Amazon UK

 

My Review: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

First, buy this book. But before you turn to the first page, find a comfortable spot. Settle in. Because once you start reading, you won’t want to stop.

Four hours. That was all the time he had to stalk his prey, kill his target, and leave the country.

Blown is nonstop action. We’re running, chasing, dodging bullets, throwing punches, dangling from cliffs, and burning from the heat of it all. We have twists that threaten to derail us. This book is pure adrenaline.

The explosion behind them created a plume of fire that rolled skyward into a glowing red mushroom cloud along the north bank of the Arkansas River.

The important thing, for me, is we aren’t given excess action at the expense of character development. Within all the chaos, we have people struggling. The emotional depth feels honest. I got to know the subtleties of the characters’ personalities.

Kaplan turned around in his seat and gave him a hard look. Even in the dark car, or maybe especially in the dark car, Kaplan’s eyes told Moss he meant business. It wasn’t evil he saw in the man’s eyes, but danger.

I loved Gregg Kaplan’s character. He is a superhero with his own moral compass. He is the ultimate badass.

Kaplan seized him by the nape of the neck and slammed his forehead into the table. Coffee splashed from the cups. Silverware rattled on the tabletop.

I also loved the way Barrett handled the content. Often, with thrillers of this nature, authors get caught up in their own research and feel the need to educate readers. Barrett gives his readers the important facts, then trusts that we’ll be able to keep up. I have no doubt that Barrett spent countless hours getting these details just right, but I never once felt that weight within his writing.

Kaplan didn’t want to answer questions. No one was supposed to know who he was, what he was, or that he was even here.

If you love breathless action, thrillers with depth, plots with unexpected twists, memorable characters, and great writing, then you’ll want to read this book.

 

Thanks for reading. :)

Book Review – CROW HOLLOW by Michael Wallace – Historical Suspense

Crow Hollow

In 1676, an unlikely pair—a young Puritan widow and an English spy—journeys across a land where greed and treachery abound.

Prudence Cotton has recently lost her husband and is desperate to find her daughter, captured by the Nipmuk tribe during King Philip’s war. She’s convinced her daughter is alive but cannot track her into the wilderness alone. Help arrives in the form of James Bailey, an agent of the crown sent to Boston to investigate the murder of Prudence’s husband and to covertly cause a disturbance that would give the king just cause to install royal governors. After his partner is murdered, James needs help too. He strikes a deal with Prudence, and together they traverse the forbidding New England landscape looking for clues. What they confront in the wilderness—and what they discover about each other—could forever change their allegiances and alter their destinies.

Published: June 1, 2015

Amazon / Amazon UK

 

My Review: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

This book is a dramatic, poignant look at Colonial life in early New England. I was completely enthralled from start to finish.

First, the author’s research is impeccable. He clearly knows his facts. I grew up in Massachusetts, where early English settlements and Puritan life is something of a backdrop to our existence. Rarely, though, did that history feel more alive than it did here. The author uses his knowledge and understanding of Puritan times to build a believable plot, played out by characters with emotional depth.

“There are no Christians in war.” Prudence blurted the words before she could reconsider. Horrified, she put her hand over her mouth. “Pray, pardon me. I shouldn’t have said that.”

The author’s handling of setting might be my favorite part of this book. Puritan New England was an unforgiving place, where people made a point of knowing their neighbors’ business. It was also a fearful place, with a vengeful God and untamed land full of warring Indians. The people, though, were often a study in contrasts. Being born into Puritanism did not erase all that makes us human. Michael Wallace captures all of this and brings it to life.

James kept his face blank. Peter was so sincere in his misguided faith, and it was a hard thing to purposefully manipulate a man to one’s own means. Especially when it might put him in danger. But that’s what it meant to serve the Crown. It justified hard measures.

The plot moves at a good pace, vacillating between James’s and Prudence’s points of view. We have suspense and intrigue, along with drama and a dash of romance. We’re taken into the heart of war, with Indians fighting to hold on to their land, religion, and lifestyle, while the English are determined to take it all away. Wallace shows us both sides with unflinching honesty.

“I can’t let it go. I feel as though I’m still there. A sound, a smell will spark my memories, like fire on dry tinder. Then suddenly I’m back in Winton. People burning in their homes. Women, children, screaming. The Indians have tied my husband up and are cutting his fingers, his nose, his ears, while he screams for help-“

Then we have the characters, who are, perhaps, the epitome of our early settlers. James is unquestionably loyal to England, though his patriotism is often challenged by what he sees and feels within New England. Prudence is English, but knows only Puritan life. Her loyalties are divided between her home country and her heritage. She is conflicted not only by this, but also by the harsh religion that often dictates a behavior opposite that of which she feels.

“I was born in Boston,” she said, “and have never been to England, so I don’t know. But it does seem to me that the English arrive in the New World – how shall I voice it? – cynical and hardened. And yet overconfident at the same time. They’ve never seen a gale howling off the Atlantic, capsizing boats and washing away coastal villages. They’ve never set off for the next town not knowing if they would be attacked by wolves or murdered by angry natives. They don’t live on the edge of an unknown wilderness.”

Michael Wallace’s attention to detail and his storytelling ability combine here to bring us an unforgettable journey.

 

Thanks for reading. :)

Vampires, Ghosts, and Murder! CHASING MIDNIGHT by Ranae Glass

Chasing-Midnight-Tour-Banner

Title: Chasing Midnight
Series: Dark of Night, Book 2
Author: Ranae Glass
Published: April 21st, 2015
Publisher: Crimson Tree Publishing
Genre: NA Paranormal Romance
Content Warning: Violence and adult language
Recommended Age: 18+

Chasing-Midnight Isabel Stone’s life is far from normal. She’s a girl with problems—vampire problems to be specific and, now, she also has one ticked-off specter on her hands. Approached by a childhood friend and medium, Isabel agrees to look into the murder of a local girl, only to wind up inhabited by the solitary witness—a centuries-old ghost who is all too happy to piggyback along in Isabel’s body, and she’s not leaving until the culprit is behind bars.

With the help of her partner, Shane, and her crazy family, Isabel struggles to get to the truth, unmask a killer, and deal with her growing feelings for not one, but two, of the sexy, undead men vying for her heart. Just when things are finally falling into place, a huge revelation takes her out of the frying pan… and straight into the fire.

Amazon / Barnes and Noble / Goodreads

 

Excerpt from Chasing Midnight by Ranae Glass:

I ducked behind the brick wall just before a beer bottle whizzed past my head, exploding into shards of brown glass behind me.

“You have got to be kidding me,” I yelled, and peeked over the wall. He was running. I caught sight of him just as he rounded the far corner of the alley. “Get back here, Gallas!”

I didn’t think he would actually take me seriously enough to listen, so I was stunned at his decision to take off rather than stand his ground and fight. I was maybe 130 lbs. soaking wet, and a head shorter than him to boot. Maybe my reputation was finally preceding me. I smirked at the idea as I bolted over the top of my cover, chasing after him.

At the end of the alley there was a tall barbed wire topped fence. The sound of my boot heels hitting the pavement echoed down the dark street. He must have looked up and saw the fence because he turned, bursting through the back door of the antique shop at the end of the alley. I cussed and backtracked. Thank God I was familiar enough with these back streets to know where most of the entrances would exit. Running to the front I arrived at the glass picture window just as Dave Gallas, parole violator and accused hit and run driver, threw himself into the window from the inside, breaking through in a shower of clear glass. I shrieked and collapsed downward, instinctively covering my head with my arms. He leapt over me and kept running.

Aside from a few small scratches, I didn’t feel any severe pain from more wounds. I wasn’t planning for Gallas to be so lucky. Out of breath and patience I stood, watching him run into the night. Not human, I realized. Besides the idiocy of crashing through a plate glass window and taking off without hesitation or harm—which any meth head could manage—his gait gave him away. It looked almost fluid, as if at any moment he’d lean forward and run like an animal on all four limbs.

With a sigh that contained more than a little satisfaction, I drew the small silver whistle from under my red t-shirt, stuffed it between my lips and blew. Instantly Gallas clutched his hands to his ears and pitched to the side, falling into the middle of the street. I kept blowing as I jogged up to him.

Just as I reached him, I heard some commotion and turned my head to see that we were less than a block from Xavier’s seedy club, the Painted Lady. The bouncer at the door was mimicking Gallas’ stop, drop, and roll impression. Two men who were probably vampires rushed out of the club. Of course. It might not affect them the same way, but with their superior hearing, they could at least hear the dog whistle. I stopped blowing as they helped the burly Were to his feet. He pointed to where I stood over Gallas. Shit. I was about to have company. With fangs.

 

Interview with Isabel Stone from Chasing Midnight:

What are your three most treasured material possessions?

My dad’s old, orange recliner, my black Doc Martin’s, and my “there’s a chance this is vodka” coffee mug.

What scares you the most and why?

Having to rely on other people. I find that, good intentions aside, people have a tendency to let you down when you need them most.

Do you believe in destiny?

No, but I believe in density, does that count?

If you won a paid vacation anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Italy. I was supposed to go there on my honeymoon, but I cashed in the tickets. I should have just gone anyway.

What is your favorite rainy day activity?

Watching TV or reading a good book.

Do you prefer cats or dogs?

Dogs. And there’s an inside joke to that, but I’m not going to tell you.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?

I would really like spider sense. Like, some kind of internal warning when the shit is about to hit the fan. That’d be very useful.

What personality traits do you most admire in others?

Honestly, kindness, courage. In that order.

Some people believe we can tell a lot about a person by the books on their shelves. Share 3 titles from your bookshelf and tell us what you think they say about you.

The Art of War, well, that’s pretty self explanatory. The Histories by Herod and The Complete Works of Shakespeare. I love a good tragedy.

If your life had a theme song, what would it be? Please share a bit of the lyrics and what they mean to you.

It’s The End of The World by REM. Because it’s always the end of the world, but I feel fine.


About the Author:

Ranae-Glass Ranae Glass writes New Adult Paranormal Romance. A Southern girl at heart, Ranae loves feeding people, gardening, and sweet tea. She hails from Oklahoma and lives with her family out West where she spins tales of vampires, werewolves, and other things that go bump in the night. You won’t find any ‘vegetarian’ monsters here, her books are best served bloody and are not for the faint of heart. Ranae is the author of the Dark of Night novels from Crimson Tree Publishing.

Facebook | Twitter | GoodReads | Website

 

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Crimson Tree Publishing Links:
(an adult division of Clean Teen)

Website | Facebook | Twitter

 

Giveaway Details:

There is a tour wide giveaway. Prizes include the following:

• A bookmark swag pack and winner’s choice of any Crimson Tree or Clean Teen Publishing eBook, and a $15 Amazon Gift Card.

Giveaway is International.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

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Release Day! ELI’S COMING – Chasing The Night

Eli's Coming Banner 2

I am super excited to announce that it’s release day for my new book! Eli’s Coming is now available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and will soon be available on other venues as well. I’m working on the audiobook, and hope to have that out by the end of summer. If you’ve somehow managed to miss my constant and probably annoying blather about this book (I’m excited!), here’s a look:

ebook Eli’s dark legacy holds murder as his rite of passage. They say his ability is a gift. He calls it a curse. A life of violence and heartache leaves him with nothing left to fight for.

Or so he thinks.

Amanda steals his heart, but love makes him vulnerable. He must give her up or accept who he is and fight.

Will he risk stepping into the darkness that could consume him?

Kindle / Kindle UK / Print / Barnes and Noble

 

I looked for a longer excerpt to share with you today. With this book, though, I’m finding it a challenge to pull out excerpts that don’t give too much away. I want Eli to surprise readers as much as he surprised me along the way. So here’s a teaser. I hope it entices you to read more:

The emotions – his own, the woman’s, his father’s – tangled into an unrecognizable mass. Eli tasted the lust almost as if it was his own. Drake spotted that confusion in Eli’s eyes. The now-dead woman toppled to the floor. Drake grinned, feeding off his confusion. But the woman’s death snapped the emotions back into place. Her energy faded and Eli pounced on the one emotion he understood: Anger.

“You don’t have it in you,” Drake said in that moment when Eli reached for him.

 

Eli’s Coming is the first book in the Chasing The Night series. I had no intention of creating another series, but Eli had other ideas entirely. The characters in my head dictate and I am only the messenger. He says this is the start of something. Who am I to argue? :)

 

He’s dark.
He’s dangerous.
ELI’S COMING
You better run!

Book Review: MANANA by William Hjortsberg

Manana

All Tod remembers when he wakes up next to a dead prostitute is that he had his first shot of heroin the night before. He and his wife, Linda, were partying with their new neighbors, a trio of parole violators who fled to Mexico after robbing a Beverly Hills jewelry store. Now the place is empty, stripped clean except for Tod’s hunting knife, which is covered in blood. Did he kill the woman, or was he left behind as the fall guy? Convinced that his junkie friends abducted Linda to keep her from talking to the police, Tod buys a gun and prepares himself to do whatever it takes to get his wife back before he makes a run for the border.

By turns chilling and humorous, Mañana marks the return of a stylish thriller writer as he shines a light on 1960s counterculture and the dark recesses of the human mind and heart.

Published: May 12, 2015

Amazon / Amazon UK

 

My Review: ★ ★

I have mixed feelings on this book. I enjoyed the author’s style. His phrasing immediately drew me into the story.

My own nightmare began late in the morning of Holy Thursday when I woke up soaked in blood.

For me, the strongest aspect of this story is setting. The author puts us right with the characters, sparking all our senses so that we feel as if we’re there in Mexico with them.

Then there’s the not-so-good stuff, which mostly overshadows the positives. There is very little character development here. The story is written in first person, from Tod’s perspective, yet virtually the only things we learn about him are that he likes to travel and get high. We’re given flashbacks of the couple’s past together, which is the only way we learn anything about their relationship and history.

We feared open shutters might betray our hazy asylum to the festive world outside and kept the private party to ourselves, manic, bottled-up, claustrophobic, a sextet of neurotics pretending to have fun, going through the motions, sleepwalkers on a treadmill.

The plot doesn’t go anywhere until past the halfway point. The first half of the book is Tod bumbling his way through Mexico in search of his wife, but keeping himself too stoned to reasonably function. When the plot finally does pick up speed and become interesting, something happens with Tod’s wife that I just couldn’t reconcile with the image portrayed of her in the first half of the story.

The sixties counterculture was about a lot more than marijuana and acid trips, yet none of this is ever referenced. We don’t learn about the couple’s experiences in San Francisco, who they mingled with or how they felt about the social and political aspects. We don’t know their political leanings. I have to assume Tod is a draft dodger, but there are no war references at all so my assumption is based solely on the fact that he doesn’t appear to be a Vietnam veteran.

This book is set in one of my favorite eras to read about, and perhaps the lack of detail colors my opinion. In the end, there is very little substance to cling to. It’s one of those books I could have put down without ever finishing.

 

Thanks for reading. :)

Book Review: BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT by Neal Griffin – Suspense

Benefit of the Doubt

Benefit of the Doubt is a gripping thriller that exposes the dark underbelly of policing in small-town America, where local police departments now deal with big-city crimes and corruption.

Ben Sawyer was a big-city cop, until he nearly killed a helpless suspect in public. Now a detective in the tiny Wisconsin town where he and his wife grew up, Ben suspects that higher-ups are taking payoffs from local drug lords.

Before long, Ben is off the force. His wife is accused of murder. His only ally is another outcast, a Latina rookie cop. Worse, a killer has escaped from jail with vengeance on his mind, and Newburg–and Ben Sawyer–in his sights.

Published: May 12, 2015

Amazon / Amazon UK

 

My Review: ★ ★ ★ ★

This is a crime novel written by a man who has experienced the inner workings of our justice system. I expected realism, and Neal Griffin delivered that aspect extremely well.

The book starts out a little slow. The author introduces several characters consecutively, giving us background into their lives and setting the stage for what’s to come. While this reads fine, it doesn’t necessarily blend well right from the start. The content also feels a little dragged out. The pace picks up considerably at about the midway point. From there, the action keeps a compelling pace.

He’d learned the hard way that prison didn’t end when a man walked out. It lingered and gnawed, holding on to the mind.

I thought the plot was somewhat predictable in its direction. That being said, the twists did still hold my attention and keep me wondering.

My favorite aspects of this book were the characters and dialogue. Griffin captures the way people speak to one another, the way we hear but don’t necessarily listen, particularly to those we’re closest to. Each character has a unique voice. Conversations feel natural, rather than something necessary to move the plot forward. This is also true of the characters’ relationships. The interactions feel genuine. We follow Ben and Alex through major upheaval, and we watch as their relationship sits on the edge of ruin. This unfolding was almost more interesting to me than the intricate crime needing to be solved.

Ben shook his head. “That’s pretty disappointing coming from a hard-nosed cop like you. I thought we agreed to root out evil and fight for justice, apple pie, and all that good stuff?”

A word of caution to the more squeamish readers: This book contains a few scenes with graphic violence. Griffin handles this well. Nothing feels over-the-top. This isn’t gratuitous violence used just to make readers cringe. It’s honest and realistic, but something to be aware of if you’re bothered by graphic scenes.

“Alex and I both grew up here. We know this town. Here, we’re connected. In Oakland, I felt like a mercenary or something. Cops need to be invested, otherwise we’re just hired guns and it’s easy to lose perspective.”

Overall, this is an excellent debut by a man who knows his crime business inside and out. I’m looking forward to many more to come.

 

Thanks for reading. :)