Book Review: The Whisper Man

Frank Carter, known as The Whisper Man, was a serial killer captured and imprisoned for luring children out of their homes by whispering to them through windows and doors. He became a legend in his small town and sowed fear into the hearts of Featherbank’s residents.

Fast forward to today: Tom Kennedy moves with his son, Jake, to Featherbank after the sudden death of his wife. A fresh start on a new life is just what they need. All seems to be moving along as planned until a young boy in Jake’s class disappears, reigniting old stories and unearthing buried fears about old Frank Carter’s crimes. Detectives Amanda Beck and Pete Willis are determined to find the missing child before it’s too late. 

Of course, then Jake starts acting funny, and then he starts hearing whispers… 

If you leave a door half-open, soon you’ll hear the whispers spoken.
If you play outside alone, soon you won’t be going home.
If your window’s left unlatched, you’ll hear him tapping at the glass.
If you’re lonely, sad, and blue, the Whisper Man will come for you.

Atmospheric, tense, and utterly gripping, The Whisper Man was a fun ride. It wasn’t so creepy that I couldn’t read it at night (I’m looking at you, Winter People), but it so well-paced and anxiety-ridden that I really needed to finish it as soon as possible so I could rest my mind. Super fun! I’m really looking forward to Alex North’s next book, The Shadows

Book Review: Mr. Nobody

A man washes up on a British beach having no idea who he is, where he came from, or where he’s going. The press (and medical professionals) call him Mr. Nobody. Dr. Emma Lewis, a neuropsychiatrist, is asked to assess him, and she has a keen sense to know what might be wrong. 

While Mr. Nobody is advertised as a thriller, it doesn’t unfold in an edge-of-your-seat way. There is a steady transmission of fragmented information about both Dr. Lewis and Mr. Nobody, and, as the reader, you’re constantly trying to figure out why and how these two people are connected. That in itself is a mystery.

It isn’t a nail-biter, but it’s still an interesting medical (and criminal) journey that’s good enough to take you away from the present time.

I prefer Catherine Steadman’s other book, Something in the Water, over Mr. Nobody, but I liked this new one enough that I’ll read the third book she writes. I appreciate her prose. As an actress, Catherine Steadman understands how to keep an audience’s attention, whether it’s on film or on the page. 

Even though Mr. Nobody wasn’t gripping minute-to-minute, it still kept my attention and provided a satisfying end.

Book Review: The House We Grew Up In

I was already a fan of Lisa Jewell’s work, specifically of The Family Upstairs, and I devoured her latest book with the same fervor. 

The Birds live in a picturesque Cotswolds village. There are six of them: married couple Lorelei and Colin and their four children – Meg, Beth, and twins Rory and Rhys. Everything about the kids’ childhood feels perfect. Lorelei goes out of her way to make every day extra special, especially on holidays. She loves her family and lives in the moment at all times. 

Yet, it’s on an Easter weekend when tragedy hits the Birds, and everything upends. What unfolds is a family drama about how each person manages him or herself amid devastation. Coping skills aren’t cookie-cutter. Everyone hurts and loves in a different way. 

This isn’t a thriller in the traditional sense, but The House We Grew Up In has the pacing required for a steady pageturner. I listened to the audiobook version and finished it in a matter of days. Admittedly, some of the bigger plot points hit very close to home, so I was drawn to the story even more than I thought I’d be. 

Beautifully written, perfectly paced, with a satisfying end. Highly recommend. 

Book Review: Kindred

Having read some of Octavia Butler’s work before, I knew reading Kindred was going to be an emotional journey. It did not disappoint.

Dana is a young, African American woman in 1976 California. She and her husband, Kevin, a white man, are in the process of moving into their new home when Dana suffers a dizzy spell and is suddenly time-traveled to pre-Civil War Maryland – to the exact plantation where she knows her ancestors lived. Moments after arriving, she saves a young, white boy, Rufus, from drowning, an event she later determines was the catalyst for her time travel. It’s this relationship with Rufus that keeps her going back and forth in time. Eventually, Kevin is pulled through the tether too, an experience that gives him a new perspective on American history. 

I’m not sure anyone can get excited about reading a book where a modern African American woman travels back in time to the Antebellum South, but not all reading should be for fun. Sometimes it’s good to read a book, even if it’s fiction, to deepen your understanding of our human experience. Even the ugly parts.

Book Review: The Family Upstairs

Libby Jones is a young London woman who knows she’s adopted. She’s fine with this, though she’s always been curious about her origins and biological family. When an inheritance for a large home in Chelsea falls in her lap upon her 25th birthday, the details of her birth family begin to unfurl. She has no idea what to do with the things she learns.

The story is told from three perspectives, the first and most obvious being Libby’s. The two other voices are a homeless street performer (with her two children) who plays the fiddle for coins on the Côte d’Azur, and a man who tells his story in the first person as if he’s writing a letter.

We knew these three people are connected, but we need to reach the length of the book to put all the pieces together.

And wow. What a story – suspense at every turn, an ever-growing list of nagging questions, and the sort of chapter endings that do not allow you to stop reading, or in my case, stop listening. I finished it in three days because I had to know who Libby really was and how this man and woman were connected to her.

The Family Upstairs is as much of a family saga as it is a mystery. There is death and intrigue, lost love and relational turmoil. The story is full of twists and turns, and even when the three main characters finally collide, there are still truths to unearth.

This was my first introduction to Lisa Jewell’s work, and I’m already into Then She Was Gone. I listened to The Family Upstairs on Audible, and I’m glad I did because I’ll surely listen to it again.

Book Review: Rebecca

Teaching English at our co-op has reignited my interest in the classics, and one glaring void on my shelf was Rebecca. The 1938 Gothic novel was written by Daphne de Maurier, and since its first publication, Rebecca has never gone out of publication.

The only thing I knew about Rebecca prior to reading it was that Rebecca is the deceased wife and the narrator is the new wife. I also knew it was set in England, but beyond that, it was a classic mystery I knew little about.

To my utter delight, the opening scenes occur in Monte Carlo, Monaco, and I had no problem visualizing it. The unnamed narrator is a lady’s helper on vacation when she meets Maxim de Winter, a recent rich widower. After only two weeks of courtship, Maxim asks the young woman to marry him, and she agrees. Readers quickly jump from the Mediterranean to Cornwall – specifically, Manderley, de Winter’s magnificent estate.

Our young bride struggles to settle into her new life as Lady of the House. She’s intimidated by Ms. Danvers, the sharp, cross housekeeper, and she’s reminded almost constantly of her husband’s previous wife, Rebecca. Her presence is still felt in the house, despite the fact that she’s been dead nearly a year. Details of Rebecca’s death are scarcely discussed.

The new Mrs. de Winter tries to make her husband happy, but after a massive failure on her part to surprise him (and guests) with her costume for a “Fancy Dress Ball” at Manderley, secrets quickly unravel and the young bride realizes that she knows very little about Maxim, and even much less about Rebecca.

When a sunken boat is discovered in the bay and subsequently raised, the new Mrs. de Winter must decide what to do about all the other surprises that come up with the boat – including a body.

I absolutely adored this novel, though I fully recognize that its magic is not just in the plot. The narrative is dreamy and romantic, utterly fluid and delightful. Manderley is its own magical character, as Daphne de Maurier draws the reader to the magnificent property and inside the looming house. (A quick Google search revealed it was based on a real estate – Menabilly.) I was tempted to not like the narrator because there were so many red flags to not marry this man, but considering the time and women’s roles in the 1930s and 40s, perhaps you can’t blame her.

The end of the book brings the story full-circle, a feature I love in a novel because it shows the writer had a plan, a clear direction. When it begins, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again,” you can’t possibly know how the story will end.

And then when it ends, you can’t help but smile as all the pieces fall into place.

Book Review: The Lying Game

Already on a Ruth Ware roll, I decided to finish all five of her books and read The Lying Game. Without a doubt, this one was my favorite.

Isa is on maternity leave with her new daughter, Freya, when she receives an urgent text from one of her best friends from high school: “I need you.”

It’s from Kate, and the other two friends, Fatima and Thea, received the same text. The four were at boarding school together, and their friendship sealed a bond that no one could break. If any of them needed anything, at any time, all she needed to do was say the word. They all replied to Kate’s text with the same: “I’m coming.”

The three women, along with baby Freya, take the train to Salten, the coastal town on the English Channel where they met 15 years prior as schoolgirls. They aren’t sure what Kate needs, but they know fairly well what it may pertain to. The four women share many secrets between them, including one big frightening lie that must be kept hidden at all costs.

The Lying Game is pitch-perfect with its pacing, a steady current of unraveling details that lead to more nail-biting questions. I was utterly captivated by every word, and I even thought I had the mystery worked out a couple of times (but I was wrong on both accounts).

Isa is a delightful narrator, one whose voice is familiar to me as a mother and a deeply loyal friend. To what lengths would I go to help my best girlfriends? How far would I go?

Pretty far.

On top of the characters and plot, the setting is a scene-stealer. Having been to the English coast, I can clearly picture this sleepy, seaside down with its menacing tide and salty air. I have always loved mysteries that unfold by the water. The ocean is a mystery all its own.

The Lying Game tops my list of Ware’s books, followed by The Turn of the Key. Midway through I considered that this book would make an outstanding film. I still believe that. Hurry – someone buy the rights and make it!

Book Review: Three novels by Ruth Ware

I didn’t immediately jump on the Ruth Ware bandwagon after reading In a Dark, Dark Wood back in 2016. I liked the book just fine, but I wasn’t feeling the immediate pull to read everything from the author.

Three years later, I decided to give it all a go, starting with Ware’s fifth novel, The Turn of the Key, which was published this summer. This one does a stellar job of using setting as a character since the story takes place in an old Victorian home that’s been internally updated to be a smart house. You get old haunting vibes with the knowledge that anyone could be watching you via cameras.

Rowan Caine answers an ad for a nanny at Heatherbrae House in the Scottish Highlands, but what she doesn’t realize is that she’s walking straight into a nightmare. A child is going to die (not a spoiler) and she’s going to prison for murder (also not a spoiler).

The story is told in epistolary form (via letters from Rowan to her lawyer), which can get tedious at times, but it’s still a clever way to tell a story when it’s almost entirely in flashbacks. The narrative is highly suspenseful throughout and even creepy at times. It’s definitely my favorite of Ruth Ware’s books.


I was so pleased with The Turn of the Key that I immediately went on to The Death of Mrs. Westaway, Ware’s fourth novel.

Harriet Westaway, “Hal”, lives modestly in Brighton as a tarot reader on a pier. One day she receives a letter informing her that she is the chosen recipient of a substantial inheritance by her grandmother in Cornwall. That would be great news if Hal’s grandparents hadn’t already died years ago.

However, since she’s desperate for money (to pay off loan sharks) and tired of living pound to pound, she decides to attend the funeral to see if she can get away with accepting the inheritance without anyone being wise to her scheme. Of course, it’s not going to be easy.

The Death of Mrs. Westaway is less suspenseful than The Turn of the Key, but it still kept my interest because I wanted to untangle the knot. Each member of the Westaway family had a secret to keep, and it was a fun ride with Hal to see where each puzzle piece fit.

This book was advertised as an “unputdownable thriller,” but I challenge the “thriller” part. I did get through it quickly because I wanted to know how Hal was related to everyone – or if she even was related to them at all.


Since I was on a roll with Ruth Ware books, I finally picked up her second one, The Woman in Cabin 10, which was published in 2016.

The story begins with a burglary. Lo Blacklock is a travel journalist (dream job!) and had the unfortunate experience of a traumatic break-in. To escape the fear she feels at home, Lo leaps at the chance to take part in a luxury press tour on a Scandanavian cruise. One night on the water, she sees what she believes is a woman being tossed overboard to her death. Lo cannot let this go, despite a full search aboard the ship and everyone reassuring her that she didn’t see anything.

A few things: The initial burglary put Lo in a state of constant anxiety, so her narration was irritating to the point that I didn’t want to hear any more in her voice by the middle of the book.

Secondly, the pacing seemed to drag. I understand the need to create claustrophobia on a small cruise liner, to agitate the reader so he/she *feels* the tension, but I became too frustrated with the slow pacing (combined with the tight living quarters and Lo’s anxiety) that I could not finish the book.

That’s right. I didn’t finish it.

Of course, I wanted to know how it ended, so I read a summary online and immediately felt relieved that I didn’t suffer the rest of the book for that storyline. The Woman in Cabin 10 has been my least favorite Ruth Ware book thus far. I don’t recommend it.

I’ll give The Lying Game a go soon. Then, I’ll be up to speed.

Book review: Behind Her Eyes

I love a story with a good twist. Better yet, I love a story with several good twists. I enjoy the shock and surprise of learning I was completely wrong.

Behind Her Eyes presents two narrators – Adele, the pretty yet fragile wife of a local psychiatrist, and Louise, a single mom and the psychiatrist’s secretary. David, the psychiatrist, is the third person in the triad, but we don’t have a POV from him.

Here’s the catch – the Louise and David had a clumsy kiss in a bar prior to her starting the job, before they knew they’d be working together. So, when Louise and Adele meet and strike up a friendship, there’s already a secret in play. It’s a big mess, but that isn’t the point. There is something else going on in the story that looms larger than their little white lies.

The quick pacing kept me enthralled, particularly because more lies lead to more secrets and you know it’s all going to come to light eventually. The question is WHEN and HOW, so I kept going.

Then there’s this other plot point that starts to creep in, one that involves lucid dreaming, and I started to feel like I was reading The Anatomy of Stars, which I didn’t enjoy. Finally, in the last couple of chapters, the purpose of the lucid dreaming is revealed.

To be honest, I enjoyed this book tremendously – until its finale. I don’t want to spoil it, but the ending seemed directly lifted from a 2005 film. (Click here if you want to know what movie I’m referring to, and if you’ve seen it, you’ll be spoiled.) In fact, my brain went right there: Oh, this is exactly like that movie... So, that left me unimpressed. (Granted, if you haven’t seen the movie, it won’t matter and you’ll probably get a good kick out of the end. 🙂 )

Book review: We Need to Talk About Kevin

I’ve had this book on my shelf for a while, and when a BookTuber I follow selected it as the January pick for her online book club, I thought I’d read along.

Full disclosureWe Need to Talk About Kevin is disturbing, and it will not leave you with warm fuzzies of any kind.

The novel unfolds through letters from Eva to her husband, Franklin, so we approach the story entirely from her point of view. Right away I wasn’t a fan of the epistolary format, and the first 50 pages were slower than I’d prefer.

However, there is a threshold somewhere around the 50-page mark that shifts the pacing dramatically. It took me weeks to crawl there, but once I crossed over, I couldn’t put down the book and ended up finishing it in a weekend.

It isn’t a spoiler to tell you about Kevin. From the start, he is a different sort of child. He’s curt and ominous as if there was a dark streak in him from birth. That’s why, when, at 15 years old, Kevin murdered a handful of classmates, a cafeteria worker, and a teacher, and subsequently lands in jail, you aren’t surprised. You knew it was coming, and it was only a matter of knowing how you wound up there.

The letters from Eva to Franklin are heart-wrenching, particularly because Eva knew there was something off in her son. Franklin, less so. As their disenchanted lives unfold in the suburbs, Eva becomes increasingly worried about Kevin, and he is well aware of her concerns. Kevin enjoys and exploits them.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is… unnerving. It is not a beach read or a cozy mystery. It is troubling and shocking and terrifically sad. And yet, it is so well done that Lionel Shriver must have dug deep into the dark minds of young murderers in order to write one so perfectly. Winner of the Orange Prize and numerous other accolades, Shriver is an impeccable writer and storyteller.

That being said, don’t expect a happy ending.

Book review: I Found You

I’m not sure if double or triple timelines is a trend that authors are choosing independently or if literary agents and editors are pushing for it. Either way, I keep choosing these books. I don’t mind necessarily, but it’s a format that I’ll soon need a break from.

I Found You takes place primarily in a seaside town in England called Ridinghouse Bay. Cynical single mom Alice wakes up one morning to find a man sitting on the beach outside her house. She approaches him only to find out he has no idea who he is or what he’s doing on the beach. Instead of leaving him there, she welcomes him back to her house for a shower, a hot meal, and eventually, a short-term place to stay until his memory returns.

A second part of the book takes place in London and focuses on Lily, a newlywed whose husband would normally go to work and come home like clockwork. When he doesn’t come home one day and cannot be reached on his cell phone, Lily calls the police and thus begins a missing person search. Matters aren’t helped when Lily realizes she knows little to nothing about the man she met and married in a whirlwind romance.

A third narrative takes place as well, but this time it’s in the past (1993) and follows Gray and Kirsty Ross, a brother and sister on summer vacation with their parents in Ridinghouse Bay. All was well and good until a charming young man, Mark, starts paying too much attention to Kirsty, and Gray doesn’t trust a single thing the local boy says.

I Found You is a true mystery in that the first overarching question readers have is if the man on the beach is Lily’s missing husband. The second question is how Gray and Mark from 1993 fit into the future narrative. The answers come at the beginning of the third act (last third of the book), and then the question becomes, “How will this all turn out?”

I wasn’t blown away by I Found You in the way I was with Sometimes I Lie, which remains one of my favorites, but it was still a good read and one that kept my interest until the end. It reminded me of a Liane Moriarity book, so if that’s your type of fiction, give it a go.

Favorite books I read in 2018

In 2017, I settled into a genre that doesn’t seem to be waning. I’ve always enjoyed a good whodunit, but that’s morphed into thrillers and mysteries that do a good job of hijacking my brain. The best books are the ones with top-notch character development, a plot you can’t dissect, and pacing so swift that you can’t look away for a moment without wondering what might happen next.

Not all of my favorites from 2018 are thrillers, but most of them are. (Keep in mind these aren’t necessarily books that debuted in 2018.)


The Secrets She Keeps follows two storylines – Agatha is a pregnant thirty-something who works at a dreadful grocery store. She longs to have her ex-boyfriend back in the fold of their impending family. Life is pretty miserable. Meg, on the other hand, is a pregnant mommy blogger who enjoys a happy, public life married to a handsome sportscaster. Agatha’s life is notably less desirable than Meg’s, and after watching the pregnant blogger shop in the store where she works, a plan starts to form. Obviously, Agatha is jealous of Meg, and it’s this emotional drug that keeps her watching and waiting. When their stories finally align, the pacing and tension is everything you need it to be.


As soon as I finished Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, I knew it was going to be a 2018 favorite. Additionally, I recommend you listen to this book instead of read it because the narration by Cathleen McCarron is an absolute delight.

Eleanor Oliphant is a special lady. Thirty years old and full of quirks, she is likely somewhere on the autism spectrum, though fully capable of living an independent life. Her mother is a constant nag, and her co-worker Raymond provides a lovely contrast to Eleanor’s cut-and-dry lifestyle. Unfortunately, something bad exists in Eleanor’s history, an event we don’t yet understand. However, as memories unfold, the tragedy comes to light, and Eleanor’s life will never be the same.

The book is a perfect mixture of serious and funny. There are laugh-out-loud moments followed by pure heartache. Gail Honeyman deserves all the applause.


If you’ve asked me for a book recommendation in 2018, it’s likely I told you to read Sometimes I Lie. Hoo-boy, it was good.

Told through three timelines – Now, Before, and Then – we learn about Amber Reynolds’ life. During Now, she’s in a coma. Before puts the pieces together of how she wound up in that coma. Then includes passages from a diary written by a young girl in 1991 and 1992.

Lest you think three timelines is hard to keep track of, no worries. The story is impeccably written, an admirable feat for Alice Feeney, as Sometimes I Lie is her debut novel. If you love fiction at all, read this one.


If you asked me for a book recommendation in 2018, it’s also likely that I told you to read Homegoing, which is not a thriller. It begins in 18th Century Ghana, where two half sisters, Effia and Esi, don’t know the other exists. Effia is married off to a wealthy and influential Englishman who oversees the British slave trade headquartered on the Gold Coast. Esi, the daughter of a tribal warrior, is sold into slavery and is kept in the dungeon of the same castle where her half-sister lives. She eventually passes through the Door of No Return to board a boat headed for America.

Thus begins a 300-year journey that follows the descendants of Effia (in Africa) and Esi (in America). It is exhaustive, emotional, and absolutely necessary to read if you have any interest in trying to understand the African American story. I was shocked to learn that Yaa Gyasi did not win the Pulitzer for Homegoing, but I was pleased to know she was at least in the running. Before my boys graduate high school, they will read this book.


My final favorite book I read in 2018 is The Word is Murder, which I love even more whenever I think of it. Anthony Horowitz was given the go-ahead by the Conan Doyle Estate to write two Sherlock Holmes novels, so he was well-equipped to craft The Word is Murder.

To explain this book well takes more than a paragraph, so I encourage you to click on the link above or do your own research if you want to know more. Essentially, Horowitz writes himself into the book as the narrator and main character. He’s an established novelist, doing just fine, when ex-detective Daniel Hawthorne (the obsessive, sharp Sherlock character) asks for his help to document a murder investigation. After some hesitation, Horowitz morphs into the Watson role, and the pair investigate the murder of Diana Cowper, a woman who walks into a funeral parlor one afternoon to prepay for her future services and is found murdered in her apartment later the same day.

If you have any interest in Sherlock Holmes at all – the TV series or the original works – The Word is Murder is a must-read.


And since I also appreciate knowing what books people DON’T recommend, I suggest you pass on The Last Mrs. Parrish, The Anatomy of Dreams, There Will Be Stars, and possibly Witch Elm, which currently remains unfinished because it is dreadfully slow.

Book review: The Last Mrs. Parrish

The quickest way to describe this book to you is to reference “Single White Female” and point to that level of crazy jealousy. That is Amber. She wants Daphne Parrish’s socialite, wealthy life so badly that she’ll go to any length necessary to have it. She’ll wiggle her way into Daphne’s good graces, charm her children, and keep her distance – albeit publicly – from her husband, Jackson. This is all part of the plan, after all. Get in, settle down, and eventually replace Daphne altogether.

That is, if everything goes according to plan. (Spoiler: Things don’t always go according to plan.)

I’ll admit that I almost didn’t read this one on account of being on Reese’s Book Club list. I’m not sure why that was a near-deterrent, but it was. Now that I’ve read it, I could’ve skipped it. Amber is a whiny character who needed a good slap every day. I cringed at every scene with her because she was that obnoxious. Even with a good twist at the end, I didn’t fully connect with the characters and felt like they could’ve been named anything and lived out their lives anywhere. So, perhaps it’s a pass for you.

Book review: The Ruin

Twenty years ago the body of Hilaria Blake was found in her home. An apparent overdose left her two children – Jack and Maude – orphaned. It was the sort of case that didn’t feel quite right, but when the most obvious conclusion is all you have, that’s what you go with. At least, that’s what Detective Cormac Reilly believed at the time.

Fast forward 20 years and Jack Blake’s body has been found in the river Corrib in Ireland. The police are quick to rule it a suicide, a truth girlfriend Aisling Conroy cannot seem to grasp. When sister Maude shows up to investigate her brother’s death on her own, the heat turns up in Galway.

Recently transferred from Dublin to Galway, Detective Reilly finds himself unearthing Hilaria Blake’s overdose case while grappling with her son’s supposed suicide. Things don’t align. Something doesn’t sit well. There is another link to the story which he resolves to uncover.

The Ruin moves at a swift pace, which I always appreciate. Sometimes I like to dwell in details, but when it comes to thrillers I want to run to the end. I want to untangle the knot as quickly as possible, as long as the author gets her words in. The Ruin impressed me because this is a debut novel. McTiernan was a lawyer in her former life and only jumped into fiction because she loved crime thrillers so much. So yeah, I enjoyed this mystery a great deal, and it was recommended to me since I’m a fan of Tana French, another Irish author.

However, I will tell you that The Ruin is a quicker and more interesting read than Witch Elm, French’s latest, which is currently sitting aside unfinished because the pacing is so darn slow.

Book review: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark

I’m late on this review, but it is not a reflection on its quality. I listened to it on audiobook this summer while training for a race, so I had plenty of time to dive into the details of the Golden State Killer, also known at the EAR (East Area Rapist).

If this title and author is unfamiliar to you, it’s important to know right off that Michelle McNamara passed away before she could see her book in print. She’d been following the case, and subsequently writing about it with the intention of getting her work published, when she reached an untimely death in April 2016 at age 46. It was her husband, Patton Oswalt, who worked with his wife’s research partner to see this book finished.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark chases down every lead suspected to be connected to a violent predator who committed upwards of 50 sexual assaults and at least ten murders. For a decade this person eluded detectives in Northern California, and eventually the case ran dry. The Golden State Killer has been the focus of myriad stories and articles, but no one could every piece it all together in a way that fleshed out a real person.

McNamara was hyper-focused on the case. It kept her up at night and occupied her mind at the most inopportune times, such as when she was walking the red carpet with her Hollywood husband. Essentially, she was obsessed with it, but perhaps that worked to her credit. After all, she honed in on a few details that eventually led to the arrest of a suspect.

It would be irritating to read this book without the events that unfolded in the spring of 2018. A man was arrested. More information came to light. It’s just a shame McNamara wasn’t alive to see it for herself.

Book review: The Lady in the Tower

One of my favorite historians is Alison Weir. Not only is she thorough and detailed, but she writes in a way that feels like you’re reading fiction. She’s an effective storyteller, and it just so happens that the story she’s telling is true.

My interest in Anne Boleyn is not new, but it was made stronger after visiting Hever Castle in October. I wanted to dive into her family’s history even more after that visit, to read new (to me) details about Anne’s final days and flesh out her life as much as possible.

The Lady in the Tower did that, and more. I knew Thomas Cromwell was already at the core of her downfall, but I did not realize the degree to which he attacked her from all angles. What a wretch he was! I also did not realize that much of our recorded history from that time is credited to letters written by Eustace Chapuys, Roman Ambassador to England under Charles V. He was a meticulous writer, and much about Anne’s Tudor experience is known because of him.

I don’t expect anyone to pick up this book on my recommendation unless there’s already an interest in the British monarchy, specifically the Tudor period. However, if that’s your jam, you’d do well to read anything by Alison Weir, including The Lady in the Tower.

Book review: Burntown

Burntown has been on my TBR (To Be Read) list since I heard about it. Already a big fan of The Winter People and The Night Sister, I knew Burntown would be worth the wait. I wasn’t wrong.

There is something that happens in a Jennifer McMahon book that I’ve yet to see replicated as well in others. She manages to marry mystery/thriller with the slightest paranormal in a way that seems totally natural. I’m not a fan of paranormal as a genre, but when it comes to McMahon, I’m all in.

Burntown begins with a scene from the past – a young boy watches while his mother is murdered. 

Then we jump forward. All grown up, Miles Sandeski has a family of his own. He makes things, builds things with his hands, including a machine based on Edison’s design to reach beyond the veil between life and death. Somehow, the machine works and he can hear his mother’s voice, which tells him her murderer – a man named Snake Eyes – is not gone. In fact, he’s watching Miles, waiting for another opportunity. The family is not safe, and then a flood sweeps in, washing away the Sandeski’s home. Miles and son Errol are gone. Miles’s wife survives for a short time, but then, it’s only their daughter, Eva. 

In an attempt to live some version of a cursed life in Burntown, the underbelly of Ashford, Vermont, Eva changes her name to Necco and lives in a car with her boyfriend. The murderer is now after her. The cycle continues. 

Though the main character is Necco, we also hear from two other women – Theo and Pru, who each have their own journey that intertwines with Necco’s. When these three finally team up, the pacing of the story quickens towards a resolution.

The Winter People continues to be my favorite of McMahon’s so far, but Burntown is special in a way that leaves me – if I’m being honest – a little jealous. McMahon is darn good. She knows how to craft a creepy story that’s totally bizarre and equally believable. Once the ball was rolling, I was locked in. We knew Snake Eyes was going to resurface. We knew the Edison machine was going to be important. We knew that Necco was going to succeed. BUT HOW? How does it all come together? 

You have to read Burntown to find out. 

Book review: Frankenstein

One of the perks of developing my own English class for our co-op is selecting works I love and think are important for young people to read. Out of 15 students, more than half dreaded reading Frankenstein. A few were neutral, which left a few who were actually eager to dive in and see what this novel was all about. I’m happy to report that I welcomed a group of converts into the Pro-Frankenstein Club. (Not everyone loved it, but many did!)

For the sole purpose of encouraging non-students to read Frankenstein, I decided to offer a short book review here. 

Often labeled the first work of Science Fiction, Frankenstein is a frame story that begins with letters from a ship captain, Robert Walton, to his sister, Margaret. Walton is terrifically lonely on his expedition to the Arctic and has no one (his equal) to share in the adventure. Just when he thinks he’ll be alone forever, a downtrodden man near death is found floating on an iceberg. Pulled aboard, Walton learns the man’s name: Victor Frankenstein. Once he’s strong enough, Victor tells Walton his tale.

Enter Frame Story Level I: Victor grew up in a perfect family, loving and generous. He had an interest in science, and though it wasn’t necessarily shepherded well by his parents, it wasn’t squashed either. During his teen years, he explored different areas of science, incorporated philosophy, and began to question what he may be capable of. One night, when he was 15 years old, he watched a storm brewing and saw lightning strike a tree and enflame it. This gave him a curious idea involving electricity.

Years later, his curious idea morphed into the desire to create a new species. Thus became the monster, but upon seeing what he’d created, Victor abandoned the creature and ran away in fear. Chaos ensues.

It’s important to know that readers experience a few more layers of storytelling, hearing more than just Victor’s side. Though the language isn’t modern, and it can be exhaustive at times, the themes and ideas explored in Frankenstein are well-worth the wrestling. Whether or not Mary Shelley knew of her own genius, I’m not sure, but she presents several important questions to readers that still apply today:
1) When does life begin?
2) What is our responsibility toward life?
3) What are the dangers of blind ambition?
4) How far should we go scientifically when lives are at stake?

If reading Frankenstein is too daunting, I highly encourage you to listen to Audible’s version narrated by Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley from Downton Abbey, the Beast from Beauty and Beast). You will not be disappointed. 

Book review: Magpie Murders

My experience with The Word is Murder was so delightful that I immediately investigated other Anthony Horowitz novels and selected a New York Times bestseller, Magpie Murders, to read next. As I hoped, it too was outstanding and I may have a new favorite author.

Magpie Murders is a double puzzle set up like a frame story (a story within a story). In the beginning, we hear from Susan Ryeland, a book editor who’s just been given novelist Alan Conway’s latest thriller. She has been editing Conway’s books for years, and though she doesn’t care for him much as a person, she enjoys editing his work because he is the best whodunit mystery writer of the time. He has mastered the cozy murder mystery in small English villages, an equation that people continue to love (myself included). His fictional detective, Atticus Pünd, is beloved by readers everywhere. So, Susan introduces readers to Conway’s latest novel with a slight warning, and we dive into Conway’s work. In other words, we step into the frame story. 

There’s been a double murder at Pye Hall – first the housekeeper, then the master of the house. Atticus Pünd must untie all the strings to determine who is guilty. Conway’s novel follows a classic Agatha Christie model – a collection of interconnected characters, each with a sliver of a motive. The entire first half of the book is Conway’s novel.

However, just as Pünd has solved the mystery, the book ends unfinished. The last chapter is missing, and that’s when we snap back to Susan, the editor, who’s just been told that Alan Conway, the writer, is dead.

Thus begins the second murder to solve. Not only is Susan frazzled by not knowing who killed the fictional housekeeper and master of the house at Pye Hall, now she has to figure out what to do regarding her client’s untimely death. Susan uses what she’s learned from a career of editing murder mysteries to solve the crime of who killed Alan Conway and figure out what happened to his last chapter.

To be honest, Magpie Murders was a slow start, but that’s only because I didn’t fully appreciate what was going on. From the book summaries I’d read, I didn’t grasp the frame story aspect, so when we skip from Susan’s point of view to the various characters in Conway’s novel, I had to work a little harder to stay focused.

However, once the mystery was fully underway, I was hooked. It was brilliant, and once again Anthony Horowitz wowed me. 

If you are a fan of British mysteries, Agatha Christie, and the classic whodunit, you’ll love Magpie Murders

Book review: The Word is Murder

If you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes, whether the original Doyle stories or the Benedict Cumberbatch show, then The Word is Murder is for you. 

Reading a brief summary doesn’t do the story justice, particularly when you have to start with the fact that Anthony Horowitz, the author, is also the narrator and main character. Horowitz is already an establish crime thriller novelist in real life, but with this book, he writes himself into the story as a proverbial Watson when a fictional Sherlock-type comes knocking at his door. 

One morning, Diana Cowper, mother to a famous British actor, walks into a funeral parlor and prepays for her own service. That afternoon, she’s found dead in her home from an apparent murder.

To crack the case, ex-detective Daniel Hawthorne (the obsessive, crazy-smart Sherlock type) enlists the help of Anthony to document the investigation for the sole purpose of writing a book about it. After a series of “thanks, but no thanks,” Anthony eventually bends to the will of the persistent detective and the pair goes off to figure out who murdered Diana. 

Not only is the plot clever and classically Sherlock, but it also has the sort of twists and turns that make for a good crime thriller. I listened to it in a matter of days because I couldn’t wait to find out what happened to Diana. Also, I so enjoyed the banter between Hawthorne and Horowitz, as it is pitch-perfect to Holmes and Watson. 

Now I need to go back and read the rest of Horowitz’s work since I learned that he was commissioned by the Conan Doyle Estate to write two Sherlock Holmes novels – The House of Silk, which was mentioned in The Word is Murder, and Moriarty. He was also commissioned by the Ian Flemming folks to write a James Bond novel. All of the personal references in The Word is Murder are true – his achievements with Foyle’s War and the Alex Rider series, as well as his contributions to TV and film.

What’s fictional, however, is the murder of Diana and Daniel Hawthorne as the investigator. But from the way it’s written, you surely wouldn’t know it.  

Book Review: Lying in Wait

Since I have another half marathon coming up – in a few days, no less – I’ve kept on with audiobooks. Music does not do for me what a good book will, and that is to keep me moving forward, no matter how fast or how slow.

I selected Lying in Wait because Audible recommended it to me based on previous books I enjoyed. Clearly, I have a pattern. 

Lying in Wait, set in 1980s Dublin, begins with an abrupt, impassioned murder and subsequent burial in haste. That someone has been murdered is not in question. Rather, what led to the murder and what happens after the fact is the real story.

The narrative unfolds from three perspectives:
Lydia Fitzsimons, the reclusive woman who administers the final blow to Annie Doyle, the poor girl who died. Lydia’s husband, Andrew, tried to kill her, but he was unsuccessful. (He was successful in burying her though.)
Laurence Fitzsimons, Lydia and Andrew’s son, a spoiled, obese and bullied young man whose troubles started at birth
Karen Doyle, Annie’s sister, an unsuspecting beauty who refuses to let go of the mystery behind her sister’s disappearance

The perfect marriage of these three points of view kept my attention 100 percent of the time. The dramatic pauses, the woven storylines, the absurdity of Lydia’s psychosis – it was captivating! This isn’t a story of whodunit. We, the reader, already know this. What we learn is WHY it happened and WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT. 

Lying in Wait is a rich psychological thriller that kept my attention until the last word. 

And even then, I was stunned. Super well done.