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Category: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense

Review: Exquisite Corpse by Penelope Bagieu

[ 4 ] June 28, 2015

exquisite corpse book coverReviewed by Nina Longfield

Exquisite Corpse by Penelope Bagieu is a difficult novel to place. Chic lit, crime fiction, suspense, comedic, graphic (as in novel); it fits so many slots along the bookstore shelves. Exquisite Corpse, at first, appears simply written and modestly illustrated. That is just the veneer to set up the main character Zoe. As Zoe mixes with and grows to know famous author Thomas Rocher, the story deepens and nothing is simple.

Exquisite Corpse is set in Paris. Zoe is a disgruntled product representative; she is more or less a model at trade shows or, as Zoe puts it “booth babe”. She is in a poor relationship with a man who barely talks to her. It is during a lunch break away from her most recent product show that Zoe accidentally meets world famous author Thomas Rocher. He is a recluse and a puzzle. This is where Zoe’s life changes.

Zoe is not a character I’m generally drawn to. At the beginning of Exquisite Corpse, Zoe appears superficial. She just accepts life as it is and doesn’t appear involved in her own life, yet she complains about her circumstances. It is a co-worker who tells Zoe to do something about her situation if she is not happy or shut up. This is the kick-in-the-butt that Zoe evidently needs though the result possibly is not what one would expect. Zoe insinuates herself into author Thomas Rocher’s life then things change. This relationship is odd from the beginning. Zoe admittedly has never read a book or even been into a bookstore. Rocher is happy with Zoe’s ignorance of his fame. As their relationship progresses, they live together in Rocher’s Paris apartment out of sight of public eyes. Things become more complicated when Rocher’s editor, and wife in separation, Agathe shows up.

I wanted to read Penelope Bagieu’s Exquisite Corpse as soon as I looked at the first few pages. Bagieu’s illustrations and narration drew me straight into the novel. The story and tension build quickly. With increasing discord, Zoe grows and changes. As Zoe’s character transforms, she becomes much more likeable. At the same time, Rocher grows more ominous. The novel’s ending is a bit unexpected, yet befitting of this tale. I greatly enjoyed Exquisite Corpse and will look for more books by Penelope Bagieu.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by First Second. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Dry Bones by Craig Johnson

[ 3 ] June 27, 2015

dry bones book coverReviewed by Caleb Shadis

Dry Bones is the 11th book in the Longmire mystery series. This is the first I’ve read and there is even a TV series (which I hadn’t heard of but would like to watch!). The good news is that even though there are 10 preceding books, they don’t need to be read to enjoy this one. However, I hope to find the time and start at the beginning now!

In this book, dry bones refer to a recently discovered dinosaur. More specifically, one of the largest and most intact Tyrannosaurus Rex found to date. The problem, of course, is that everyone seems to think they have a claim on the beast which causes a lot of trouble. On top of that, the owner of the ranch where the T-Rex was found is himself found floating facedown in in a reservoir.

At first it looks like the old man just had a heart attack, but the timing is pretty suspect so foul play isn’t ruled out. The old man was part of the Indian Nation and his family has a claim on the T-Rex. The paleontologist who found the T-Rex, the museum owner who financed the dig, and an acting assistant district attorney who wants to make a name for himself all push to have a claim as well.

Sheriff Longmire finds himself in the middle of the circus just wishing it would all go away. On top of that it appears something from his past might have cropped up causing a family tragedy. So while dealing with a loss, he has to play games with the AADA and a paranoid scientist who fears government intervention, and when shots are fired, he just gets really mad.

The story in Dry Bones was good, most of the characters were likable, and all felt believable. Dog might have been my second favorite character after Standing Bear. It was an easy read, it had tension but it wasn’t graphic; it felt more like a western. A modern western with Longmire as a bit of an old fashioned sheriff. I think the series is definitely worth a read and I plan on reading more when I get my hands on the books!

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Caleb is a software engineer and amateur woodworker living in southern Minnesota. He has more hobbies than he has time or money for, and enjoys his quiet time reading.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Viking. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: They Call Me Crazy by Kelly Stone Gamble

[ 6 ] June 18, 2015

they call me crazy book coverReviewed by Amanda Farmer

They Call Me Crazy is a debut novel by Kelly Stone Gamble and I was pleasantly surprised after reading it. The story grips the reader and takes you on a journey through what really happened the night Roland Adams died. It opens up with Cass Adams, Roland’s wife, burying him in his garden in the rain. The story takes place in Deacon, Kansas and everyone in the small town knows that Cass is crazy–it runs in her family after all. As the sheriff looks into Roland’s murder, it is evident that everyone in the town has secrets and they don’t stay buried just like Roland’s body didn’t.

They Call Me Crazy is told from many different character viewpoints and it works for the story. We get to hear from everyone and it quickly becomes obvious that Roland wasn’t that great of a guy after all and Cass truly put up with a lot during their marriage. Everyone has to decipher the clues and the only one who really knows what happened that night is Roland and he, of course, isn’t talking.

I loved hearing from the different characters especially Cass, Babe, Clay, and a crispy ghost. I didn’t care for Maryanne at all, but that was her character–I don’t think she was supposed to be liked. This story is full of fun and quirky characters and I loved how they each get their own chapters to tell the story. Cass was not afraid to let others know her mind, even when it got her in trouble. And she might have been a little crazy–she does talk to ghosts after all. To find out what happened to dear Roland, you will just have to read the story.

They Call Me Crazy was well written and grabbed my attention from the first chapter. I would have read it in one setting if it had not been for work. It flowed well and I had to know what was going to happen next. I hated to leave Deacon, Kansas. I look forward to seeing what Gamble comes up with next. I highly recommend this book to those looking for something different to read.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Amanda loves spending time at home with her husband and their dog, Oreo. She loves reading, playing puzzle games, beading and watching movies. When she’s not reading, she’s working on her Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Kelly Stone Gamble. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: The Stranger by Harlan Coben

[ 5 ] June 11, 2015

the stranger book coverReviewed by Melanie Kline

You are approached by a stranger – it can happen anywhere, any time – and suddenly life as you know it is no longer the same. The words he whispers into your ear – brief and to the point – somehow hit a nerve, ring true and bring life to a screeching halt. You don’t know how he knows this information – or why he has chosen to share it now – but you do know that nothing will ever be the same for you again. Welcome to The Stranger, a psychological thriller of unimaginable secrets, twist and turns, and edge of your seat thrills.

When Adam Price is approached by the stranger, his life, his family and everything relating to his wife, Corrine, is turned upside down. He doesn’t want to believe what he has learned although the information won’t quit nagging at him until he finally confronts her about it. When she refuses to discuss it and subsequently turns up missing, Adam has no choice but to begin to believe the information. He questions the stranger’s motives in telling him what could in effect be the end of his marriage and family. As Adam continues to investigate in order to find Corrine, the plot deepens. The intrigue of the book kept this reader wanting more.

The Stranger is an extremely fast paced book with multiple families all on the edge of falling apart due to the stranger’s appearance and whisper of information that at least one family member wants kept quiet. The story is an extreme page turner and will keep you up late into the night. I was always looking for just one more page, just one more chapter.

I highly recommend The Stranger to any Harlan Coben fans, mystery lovers or anyone looking for a good read in general. If I had to find one fault with the book it would be that I wish that it had been longer and dealt with the way that Adam found Corrine differently. The Stranger is definitely one of the best works I have read in quite some time and I look forward to Mr. Coben’s next novel with baited breath.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Dutton. 

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Review: Dying Wish by James Raven

[ 3 ] June 9, 2015

dying wish book coverReviewed by Nina Longfield 

A book signing seems an improbable location to spark an investigation that in turn ignites a firestorm of revelations, unearths serial murder, and uncovers heinous secrets, but that is how Dying Wish begins. Set in the south English countryside of the New Forest, James Raven’s latest novel is full of quaint destinations and quirky characters. Yet the forest holds the dark secrets of certain unknown individuals who frequent the supposedly tranquil location.

Nature author Grant Mason is signing books at a village bookshop when pain strikes. A heart attack. His dying wish leads Mason’s assistant to seek Detective Chief Inspector Jeff Temple’s advice. Temple agrees to look into Mason’s strange final request and visits Mason’s home in the New Forest. When Temple is attacked, an investigation begins bringing in Temple’s Hampshire Major Investigations Team. Further examination of Mason’s home explains the man’s desperate final request. If Temple hadn’t known it before, the case at the New Forest shows Temple that people are not always who they appear to be.

This is the second James Raven novel I have read featuring DCI Jeff Temple. Temple continues to intrigue me. He is a complex and well-rounded narrator. Temple has past pains and can be fallible at times, which makes him relatable, but he is also grounded and open to others around him making him likeable. The infrequent sidebar expositions tend to distract the reader momentarily from the main action of the ongoing story, but this also shows how DCI Temple’s mind is always working at many different angles. He is consciously aware of his digressions and pushes himself back to focusing on the task at hand.

I purposefully take my time reading. I want to savor the words and lose myself in the plot getting to know the characters. That went out the window with James Raven’s Dying Wish. I couldn’t put the novel down. I read it in a day. Yet I also savored the story and lost myself within it. I fell right into the rhythm of Dying Wish. The mystery was solid. The crimes were gruesome, yet I continued reading because I wanted to know the who, how, what, why, and when of the story. As I guessed ahead, I wanted to know if I was correct or why not. I wanted to get to the end of the novel to know the mystery yet I enjoyed the story and did not want it to end so quickly. All in all, I found Dying Wish an immersive story that captured and held my attention throughout.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.

Review copy was provided by James Raven.

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Review: A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

[ 4 ] June 4, 2015

head full of ghosts book coverReviewed by Nina Longfield

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay is a disturbing tour de force. This is the story of the Barrett family in northern Massachusetts. The Barretts are suffering from a malady of personal misfortune. John Barrett lost his long-time job and isn’t successful in new employment endeavors. John and his wife, Sarah, are experiencing difficulties in their marriage. There is the financial mishaps creating tension, but greater than that is the declining emotional and physical health of their family.

The Barrett’s oldest daughter, Marjorie, is the subject of the family’s emotional devastation. Marjorie is sullen and withdrawn; a seemingly normal teenager until her moods turn excessively darker. She admits to hearing voices. She is seen as a threat to the family’s wellbeing and especially a menace to the security of her younger sister Merry (Meredith). Eight-year-old Merry doesn’t understand what her older sister is dealing with but she knows things have changed, as they no longer make up stories as they used to. Marjorie’s stories are now dark and scary.

As the atmosphere in the Barrett household grows bleaker, John turns away from medicine and looks to religion to return his family to normal. This creates greater friction throughout the family unit. Impending financial ruin forces the Barretts to open their house to a reality television production that follows Marjorie’s increasing madness and approaching exorcism.

Tremblay has a way of building tension using the most common of daily chores and occurrences. Even though the narration’s current situation is safe, Tremblay creates anticipation filled with dread for what is coming. I felt like I was always trying to peek around a corner to catch a glimpse of what might be there.

A Head Full of Ghosts has two narrators. Merry Barrett is a young woman living a quiet inconspicuous life. It is fifteen years after events within the Barrett household and Merry is telling her childhood story to best-selling author Rachel Neville. The second narrator is Merry at eight years old as she lives the day-to-day horror that her family is experiencing. Both narrators, the adult and the child, are somewhat unreliable. The child tells the story from what she sees and experiences; she admits to embellishing some events in attempts for attention. She is only eight. The adult Merry seems to have something to hide. There is a sense that she is carrying too much guilt for what transpired fifteen years ago. It takes time for her story to come out leaving Rachel Neville and the reader stunned.

I finished Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts a few days ago and it is still sitting in my forethoughts. I suppose you can say the story is haunting me. I’m contemplating this novel. Tremblay’s writing is authentic. The story mesmerizing. The narrator, both child and adult, is likeable and easily forgiven for admitted exaggeration. A Head Full of Ghosts was difficult to put down and is not easy to let go after reaching the end. Descriptions of A Head Full of Ghosts suggested it is a thriller full of drama, suspense, and horror, yet this novel incorporates so much more.

In the end, Paul Tremblay has created a heart-wrenching tale that seems all too relevant in today’s world. It is a testament to the extremes one is driven to when hope is elusive. A Head Full of Ghosts has a solid and satisfying ending, yet it also leaves lurking consideration as I ponder other paths the Barrett family could have taken.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by William Morrow. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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