Monthly Archives: November 2015

Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

I really loved this book! Black-Eyed Susans is one of those books that takes place in the the past and in the present and I couldn’t wait to see what happened in each time period.  Usually there’s one story-line that I’m more interested in,  but Julia Heaberlin  makes the each time period section in this novel as compelling as the other.  While on the face of it,  this is a serial killer book,  there is very little about the killing and much more about the characters and the aftermath of the crime.   I would say this was a creepy, psychological book as opposed to some the the gruesome serial killer mysteries that I have read of late.

Sixteen -year old Tessie Cartwright is a happy teenage track star, in Fort Worth, Texas, when she is kidnapped.  Nearly 30 hours later she is found, barely alive, in a ditch,  in a field of black-eyed Susans.  Based on 16-year old Tessie’s testimony, Terrell Goodwin is convicted and put on death row.  Now,  20 years later and Tessa is a mother, with a teenage daughter.  The man convicted of the Black Eyed Susan killings is about to be put to death.  The only problem  is, Tessa isn’t so sure now that the right killer is behind bars.  Scared that the real serial killer may be free and that an innocent man might die, Tessa undergoes hypnosis with a psychiatrist  to try to remember what really happened 20 years ago.

Little by little, Heaberlin reveals facts to the reader, like Tessa discovering the memories buried in her mind with the help of the hypnosis.  This novel is filled with hidden facts: Who is terrorizing Tessa?  If Terrell didn’t kill the girls who did? Where did Lydia, Tessie’s friend disappear to after the trial? All of these questions and more keep your mind whirling until the very end.  Some have compared Heaberlin’s work to Gillian Flynn, saying both published impressive early works that were pretty much overlooked until current popular works called attention to their early projects.  If you enjoyed Black-Eyed Susans check out Heaberlin’s previous book Playing Dead.



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Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams

Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams

Beatriz Williams’ books-they are, in a word, riveting!  I love the time period, the elegant settings, the well-crafted story.   It was truly a good day when Along the Infinite Sea arrived in the new books box at the Library!

I met the Schuyler sisters in The Secret Life of Violet Grant, and then got to know them better in Tiny Little Thing.  Along the Infinite Sea gives us the third sister-Pepper.  Pepper is single, carrying the child of a famous, married politician, and has just fixed up an old Mercedes Benz to sell, thinking the profits will take care of her and her baby.  Annabelle Dommerich buys the car, and takes in Pepper.  The story that unfolds surrounds the secrets of the car’s past, and why its possession is so important to Annabelle.

Williams alternates between Pepper’s quagmire in the 1960s and Annabelle’s original introduction to the car during the 1930s,  unfolding the story from alternating points of view.  Much as I find Pepper to be a crackerjack, I really enjoyed Annabelle’s story and her love triangle, finding it richer, more captivating, and evocative of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale.  

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The Killing Lessons by Saul Black

I was somewhat conflicted about what to write about Saul Black’s The Killing Lessons.  On the one hand, I really liked the book, it was heart-pounding, agonizingly suspenseful, and very compelling.  On the other hand,  it  also describes in great detail, the darkest most  gruesome violence, inflicted mostly upon women,  by two men psychologically twisted beyond repair. In order to balance this misogyny,  Black utilizes  three strong female characters which appear later in the book.  This is the first suspense/thriller novel for  Saul Black, who is the pseudonym for Glen Duncan, who has written many novels with more of a supernatural slant.

The book opens with a very domestic scene,  which quickly explodes into violence as the two main deviants, apparently at random,  choose an isolated Colorado  home to break into and kill the mother and her son inside.  However, the daughter Nell, escapes, and runs for her life through the snow covered woods behind her once safe home.  The story then  shifts from the cold snow covered woods of Colorado,  to San Francisco,  where Valarie Hart, 38-year old detective,  has been obsessively working  the seven previous murders that these criminals  have committed,  at the expense of everything and everyone else in her life.  We are also introduced to Claudia, who is abducted and locked in a basement cage.  Claudia refuses to give in to her fear even as she knows what may very well be in store for her.  She is determined to so whatever she can to change her fate.  The three main women characters race to  resolve their scenarios-Valarie, to find the killers, Claudia to escape certain death and Nell to survive and escape the alpha killer returning to tie up loose ends.

Should you read this book?  I wanted to read this book because quite a few of my favorite authors, Lee Child, Lisa Gardner, Lisa Unger, and Jeffery Deaver gave it positive reviews.  It was also the first in a potential series and I always find that interesting.  However, I have found of late, that the serial killer genre continues to get darker and darker-The Killing Lessons being an example of this escalation.   That being said, the book has good characterizations (if you like the dark side of things), dialogue , pacing and of course lots of compulsive suspense.  If serial killers don’t give you nightmares, then this one can teach you a lesson or two.

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Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica is Pretty Good

Pretty Baby

Venturing outside my usual genres, I picked up Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica.  This is her second book, and her third will come out in May of 2016.    Worth the adventure.  Here is the story:  Heidi and Chris and their tween daughter Zoe live in downtown Chicago.  Heidi works at a literacy non-profit. Her husband Chris is a fairly successful business man with lots of travel and a few temptations, and Zoe, quintessentially moody, is their 12-year-old only child.  Heidi sees Willow, a homeless teen with a young baby, looking tired, hungry and ragged near the train.  A chance second meeting gives Heidi opportunity to follow the instinct she had at first; Heidi decides to buy dinner for Willow and her baby.  As her social worker genes get stronger, she soon buys diapers and other necessities for the baby, and eventually invites them to come home and stay with her family.  Chris and Zoe are not thrilled.  What unfolds in a seriously page turning way, is Willow’s story of how she ended up on the streets of Chicago with a four-month old baby, and why Heidi is so eager to help her.

Pretty Baby has some good twists and turns and plays on stereotypes to keep the reader questioning motives.  What is underneath was not what I expected. What made this read engaging for me was that the circumstances are in many respects everyday realities.  If they aren’t our particular reality, we all know someone … we juggle work and family, we pass homeless teens-some of us ignore them, some of us give them money, maybe some of us are tempted to take them home, give them a shower and a hot meal, and think that our efforts can fix what ever it is that landed them on the streets in the first place.  A teen with a baby pulls even more at the heart-strings. Our friends battle cancer, we hold the desire to make more, have more, and seek praise. We adore our children even when they challenge us.  It can be satisfying to armchair quarterback these predicaments via fiction and that is what makes Pretty Baby work.

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A Window Opens by Elizabeth Egan

Here is a snazzy debut novel from Elizabeth Egan, books editor at Glamour.  It opens with Alice, trendy mother of three, part time books editor at Yes Magazine, best friend to local indie book store owner, thinking she needs to find a more lucrative job since her husband has just come home without his.  She accepts a job with Scroll, a company planning to open a string of electronic bookstores.  They are very enticing-very comfortable furniture and refreshments, books to browse and then purchase electronically.  It seems like a best of both worlds compromise for the lovers of paper books and the convenience of e-books.  A Window Opens is a clever look at the world of publishing, and the dynamic between tradition and change.  I found it well written and very engaging, one part Devil Wears Prada, one part Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore.  If you are looking for a smart and entertaining read, request A Window Opens.

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Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

Two sisters, two tragedies, almost two decades apart-all make for a suspense-filled tale.  Karin Slaughter has published many mystery/crime books most notably her Will Trent series, however, Pretty Girls is a stand alone story that ostensibly revolves around two sisters, Claire and Lydia and a decades old tragedy.  Claire is  married to a wealthy business man and Lydia is a single parent of a teenage daughter.  The two sisters haven’t spoken in 18 years and the reason for the split isn’t revealed until later in the book.  Besides Claire and Lydia’s personal split, their family was also fractured by the disappearance of  of their oldest sister Julia, 20 years earlier-their father never gave up trying to look  for Julia until the day he killed himself.

The book starts out with a jolt, when Claire’s husband Paul is killed in a robbery gone wrong.  Claire is just returning from Paul’s funeral when she is met at her house by the police and FBI because someone has broken into her house and one of the staff catering the after funeral service was attacked. It is unclear what the intruders were after but, Claire is is disquieted. Not long after the attempted break-in, Claire discovers horrific videos on Paul’s computer  that she can’t believe are real.   This is only the beginning  of a story that will link a current murder of  a middle aged businessman with the 20-year old disappearance of a teenage girl and in the process uncover long lost truths about the past events and reunite a family broken by lies and deception.

This is a suspense filled, hard to put down book, with strong characters and enough twists to keep you turning the pages.  However, I must warn you that there is some fairly graphic violence surrounding the major crime involved.  So, if you are faint of heart or simply just don’t like this type of violence you may not want to read this book. Whether or not you choose to read Pretty Girls,  I  would encourage you to at least try Karin Slaughter’s Will Trent series which begins with Triptych.


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See Me


Nicholas Sparks’ latest bestseller, See Me, is worth seeing!  Most of these kinds of books need no advertising.  They are like chain restaurants when traveling; you know what to expect.  Sparks fans just read them as they hit the stands, regardless of plot.  Or so I thought…as I dished about my recent escape into the tangled world of Maria and Colin to my bookie friends, most said, “I don’t read him any more, his books are too sad.”  I too have fallen into that category in the past, tired of crying my way through an implausible but fitting ending.  I am here to say NOT SO in See Me.  There IS the classic romantic duo, so in touch with how they feel about each other (classic Nicholas Sparks) and a thriller thrown in.  Even when I identified the villains, I was still tearing through to the end, eager for the wrap up.

The story in brief:  Maria is a young lawyer in a firm with some sexual harassment problems.  Colin is a super fit bartender, cage fighter, and college student studying to become a third grade teacher. (Really Nicholas??)  He has some anger management issues and a parole officer.  They meet, fall in love, do some paddle-boarding, and then a case from Maria’s past begins to haunt her. Or is it one of the partners at the firm exacting some revenge?  In an interview I read with the author, Sparks says thrillers are his favorite genre to read.  Looks like he has picked up some useful tips and is embracing the thriller without ceding his romance writing expertise.

If you need a palette cleanser between some literary fiction and some non-fiction, or you find yourself unable to sleep at 3 a.m., try See Me.

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