Playing With Fire by Mary Burton – #BookReview – Women’s Crime Fiction

Playing With Fire by Mary Burton

Book Blurb:

Playing with Fire by Mary BurtonAn unsolved mystery ignites a deadly game of chess in this scorching thriller from New York Times bestselling author Mary Burton.

A year after the infamous arsonist Nero was found dead in one of his latest fires, journalist Darcy Sampson receives a tip that the body found at the scene wasn’t Nero at all. Determined to solve the case, Darcy heads to her small hometown in Virginia to track Michael Gannon, an arsonist investigator who refuses to believe that Nero is dead.

But when a new series of fires in the area have a remarkable resemblance to the arsonist’s previous work, Darcy and Gannon are in a race against time to put a stop to Nero once and for all.

But Nero is ready and waiting for them, and he intends on teaching both Gannon and Darcy one last, fatal lesson.

His Review:

A firebug is terrorizing the Washington, D.C. area. Michael Gannon is an investigator whose primary mission is to apprehend the perpetrator. This particular criminal flaunts his crimes and leaves a matchbook with a very unique logo to flaunt his abilities.

Playing With Fire by Mary BurtonNine fires and twelve people died later, the man is identified only by the name “Nero”. The entire D. C. metropolitan area is paralyzed with fear. He always seems to be one step ahead of the investigators. However, in one of the fire scenes, a man found in a fetal position with evidence of the accelerants used on many of the fires leads the coroner to surmise the firebug has been caught in one of his own fires. The fires in the DC area suddenly stop.

Sometimes the worst enemy for investigators and law enforcement are the news people who try to scoop or break the story. The issue with the current string of arsons is a reporter who discloses confidential investigation information to help spark interest in his bylines. The arsonist realizes that the investigation may be getting too close and stops to let the dust clear.

Darcy Sampson is a reporter who decides to leave the DC area and go back to her hometown. Michael Gannon has retired and chooses her hometown as the place he will settle down in retirement. They meet at the strange scene of a fire in her hometown. Gannon’s abrasive demeanor instantly ignites a love/hate relationship.

CE WilliamsNero, the arsonist, misses the fires and the competition between him and Gannon. He happens to choose the same small town for his next fire. The competition is on for another incredible run. Gannon soon realizes that “Nero” the arsonist is certainly not dead. Can the newspaper reporter and Gannon become successful in stopping the arsonist? Fortunes and large properties hang in the balance. This is a fast-paced and gripping novel. Recommended! 4.5 stars – CE Williams

We received a complimentary review copy of this book from the author and publisher through NetGalley that in no way influenced this review. These are his honest opinions.

Rosepoint Publishing: Four point Five Stars 4 1/2 stars

Book Details:

Genre: Women’s New Adult & College Fiction, Women’s Psychological Fiction, Women’s Crime Fiction
Publisher: HQ Digital
ASIN: B09W8QYG7C
Print Length: 205 pages
Publication Date: May 6, 2022
Source: Publisher and NetGalley
Title Link: Playing With Fire [Amazon.com.uk]

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Mary Burton - authorThe Author: Mary Burton loves writing suspense, researching law enforcement and forensic procedures, morning walks, baking, books, and tiny dachshunds. She also enjoys hunting down serial killers, which she does in her New York Times and USA Today bestselling novels of suspense and romance. Library Journal has compared her work to that of Lisa Jackson and Lisa Gardner, and Fresh Fiction likened her writing to that of James Patterson.

Mary is routinely featured among the top twenty writers in Amazon’s Author Rankings for romantic suspense, and her recent novel The Last Move claimed the number ten fiction slot in the Kindle eBooks Store.

Research is a favorite part of Mary’s day. She never tires of learning more about police work, evidence collection and analysis. She’s known for taking a hands-on approach, whether it means interviews with professionals in the field, forensic seminars or lessons at the firing range.

A Richmond native, Mary has lived there for most of her life. She is a graduate of Virginia’s Hollins University and worked in marketing before she began writing full time. Her first book was published in 2000 and she’s now the author of thirty-four published novels, five novellas and four works of contemporary women’s fiction written as Mary Ellen Taylor.

A member of International Thriller Writers, Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, Novelists, Inc., and Romance Writers of America, Mary is known for creating multiple suspense stories connected by characters, such as her recent The Forgotten Files novels. Her new book, Her Last Word, and The Last Move, break that mold.

When not traveling for research or visiting with readers at bookstores, book festivals and conferences, Mary remains very much a homebody. She and her husband spend time alternately enjoying and lamenting their empty nest and spoiling their four-legged babies Buddy, Bella and Tiki.

©2022 CE Williams – V Williams V Williams

Have a great weekend!

Darkest Fear by Harlan Coben – #Audiobook Review – #TBT

Darkest Fear by Harlan Coben

Darkest Fear by Harlan Coben

Book Blurb:

In Darkest Fear, Myron Bolitar faces the most emotionally shattering case of his career. And it all begins when Myron’s ex-girlfriend tells him he is a father – of a dying 13-year-old boy….

Myron’s sports agency is struggling. Now more than ever, Myron needs to keep his eye on the ball, sign up some big-name clients, and turn away from the amateur detective work that is taking precious time away from the agency.  

But life is not going according to plan. Myron’s father, recently recovered from a heart attack, is facing his own mortality – and forcing Myron to face it, too. Then comes another surprise. Emily Downing, Myron’s college sweetheart, reappears in his life with devastating news: Her 13-year-old son, Jeremy, is gravely ill and can be saved only by a bone-marrow transplant – from a donor who has vanished without a trace. And before Myron can absorb this revelation, Emily hits him with an even bigger shocker: Jeremy is Myron’s son, conceived the night before Emily’s wedding to another man.

Staggered by the news, Myron plunges into a search for the missing donor. But for Myron, finding the only person in the world who can save a boy’s life means cracking open a mystery as dark as it is heartbreaking – a mystery that involves a broken family, a brutal kidnapping spree, and a cat-and-mouse game between an ambitious reporter and the FBI. 

Somewhere in the sordid mess is the man who once signed his name to a bone-marrow donor’s registry, then disappeared. And as doubts emerge about Jeremy’s true paternity, a child vanishes, igniting a chain reaction of truth and revelation that will change everyone’s life forever.

At once a riveting mystery and a spellbinding journey into the secrets that haunt families, lovers, and friends, Darkest Fear proves once again that Harlan Coben is a master storyteller like no other – and one of the most original talents in suspense fiction today. 

My Review:

Whoa, another series into Book 7 but my first. Yes, I’ve done it again and this is a series in which growth and change continue so this should probably not be read as a standalone, although it does sneak in some backstory.

Myron Bolitar has a struggling sports agency, so this series usually has a totally different focus.  He does, however, do some amateur detective work but that’s not the reason Emily Downing comes calling.

Darkest Fear by Harlan CobenEmily is a former college sweetheart. She informs him that her thirteen-year-old son is seriously ill and will die unless she can track down the possible donor, already identified, but missing. She’s frantic. Oh, and by the way, Myron is the father.

Apparently falling to pattern but with a much darker vibe than in previous series entries, Myron begins the search that quickly becomes complicated and you know will get more so.

There is a very rich, powerful family and it doesn’t take long before even the FBI is involved. Myron has quite the sarcastic wit and sense of humor, not tempered in the least by sidekick Win. To add to the mix, a new romantic interest in his life, which, of course, you gotta have in any detective series.

The storyline is hampered somewhat by a slow and convoluted start. Depending on how quick or how deep I’m hooked and also my multi-tasking, I’m apt to listen with half an ear if not thoroughly engaged. This one takes quite a while, introducing characters, then twists and turns and can switch from serious to wisecracking in the blink of an eye.

There are a few of the old tropes thrown in for good measure along with quotables:

“His blond locks had been parted with the precision of old ladies dividing up a lunch check.”

Now that’s funny! I must admit to enjoying some witty barbs. If you’re a Coben fan, you’ll no doubt enjoy this dark departure from the usual in the series—or not—but the sense of humor is still there.

I previously listened to Tell No One, not part of this series, and really enjoyed it. A copy of this audiobook was supplied also by my favorite well-stocked local library, this one narrated by Jonathan Marosz. These are my honest thoughts.

Book Details:

Genre: Mysteries, Suspense, Suspense Thrillers
Publisher: Random House Audio
ASIN: B000OYAJBC
Listening Length: 7 hrs 40 mins
Narrator: Jonathan Marosz
Publication Date: April 21, 2006
Source: Local Library (Audiobook Selections)
Title Link: Darkest Fear [Amazon]

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Rosepoint Publishing:  Four Stars 4 stars

 

Harlan Coben - authorThe Author: With over 70 million books in print worldwide, Harlan Coben is the #1 New York Times author of thirty one novels including RUN AWAY, FOOL ME ONCE, TELL NO ONE, NO SECOND CHANCE and the renowned Myron Bolitar series. His books are published in 43 languages around the globe.

Harlan is the creator and executive producer for the Netflix television dramas SAFE starring Michael C. Hall, Audrey Fleurot and Amanda Abbington, and THE FIVE starring Tom Cullen and OT Fagbenle. He is currently filming THE STRANGER, based on his novel, for Netflix starring Richard Armitage, Siobhan Finneran, Jennifer Saunders and Stephen Rea. Harlan was also showrunner and executive producer for two French TV mini-series, UNE CHANCE DE TROP (NO SECOND CHANCE) with Alexandra Lamy and JUST UN REGARD (JUST ONE LOOK) with Virginie Ledoyen. KEINE ZWEIT CHANCE, also based on Harlan’s novel, aired in Germany on Sat1.

Harlan’s novel TELL NO ONE (NE LE DIS A PERSONNE) was turned into the renowned French film, directed by Guillaume Canet and starring Francois Cluzet. The movie was the top box office foreign-language film of the year in USA, won the Lumiere (French Golden Globe) for best picture and was nominated for nine Cesars (French Oscar) and won four, including best actor, best director and best music. The movie with subtitles is now available on Netflix, Amazon Prime and DVD/Blu-Ray.

Winner of the Edgar Award, Shamus Award and Anthony Award – the first author to win all three – international bestselling author Harlan Coben’s critically-acclaimed novels have been called “ingenious” (New York Times), “poignant and insightful” (Los Angeles Times), “consistently entertaining” (Houston Chronicle), “superb” (Chicago Tribune) and “must reading” (Philadelphia Inquirer).

[truncated—please see the author page for his full bio]

Harlan was born in Newark, New Jersey. He still lives in New Jersey with his wife, Anne Armstrong-Coben MD, a pediatrician, and their four children.

©2022 V Williams V Williams

#throwbackthursday

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah – #Audiobook Review – #TBT

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

 

(Amazon) Editors Pick Best Literature & Fiction 

Rosepoint Publishing:  Five stars 5 stars

Book Blurb:

Texas, 1921. A time of abundance. The Great War is over, the bounty of the land is plentiful, and America is on the brink of a new and optimistic era. But for Elsa Wolcott, deemed too old to marry in a time when marriage is a woman’s only option, the future seems bleak. Until the night she meets Rafe Martinelli and decides to change the direction of her life. With her reputation in ruin, there is only one respectable choice: marriage to a man she barely knows.

By 1934, the world has changed; millions are out of work and drought has devastated the Great Plains. Farmers are fighting to keep their land and their livelihoods as crops fail and water dries up and the earth cracks open. Dust storms roll relentlessly across the plains. Everything on the Martinelli farm is dying, including Elsa’s tenuous marriage; each day is a desperate battle against nature and a fight to keep her children alive.

In this uncertain and perilous time, Elsa—like so many of her neighbors—must make an agonizing choice: fight for the land she loves or leave it behind and go west, to California, in search of a better life for her family.

The Four Winds is a rich, sweeping novel that stunningly brings to life the Great Depression and the people who lived through it—the harsh realities that divided us as a nation and the enduring battle between the haves and the have-nots. A testament to hope, resilience, and the strength of the human spirit to survive adversity, The Four Winds is an indelible portrait of America and the American dream, as seen through the eyes of one indomitable woman whose courage and sacrifice will come to define a generation.

“My land tells its story if you listen. The story of our family.”

My Review:

Elsa Martinelli got sick when she was a teenager and though she survived, the family kept her at arm’s length and isolated until too late for marriage, she is overwhelmed and succumbs to the attention of the first man to notice her, the son of landowners, a Texas farmer.

Her urban family, wealthy and more worried about appearances than the love of their daughter, dumps her at the porch of the boy’s family. Rafe’s family has no alternative other than to take her in and teach her about the farm where she must learn to (gasp!) work. But they are good people, as we used to say “the salt of the earth.” Rafe does what he must with a shot-gun marriage and gives up his dreams of college.

The Four Winds by Kristin HannahThere is much to learn on the farm and the years pass, now with two children, and a tenuous marriage, but his parents come to embrace Elsa as the daughter they never had and love their grandchildren. When the drought hits and hits hard several years after the Great Depression started, the struggle to make severe changes in an effort to survive wears on all of them.

Rafe’s parents are determined to stay on their land, but Rafe is ready to head west. When their son confronts a devastating lung disease born of the Dust Bowl situation, Rafe has enough and he leaves them all in the dead of night. Elsa makes the difficult decision to head west, alone, with her two children hopefully to save her son.

But the harrowing drive alone to California is just the beginning of more years of extreme poverty, struggle, and the overwhelming competition for manual labor work with the many thousands who’ve also left their own Dust Bowl states to find a better life. It’s not.

My father’s family were among those who left for California (from Missouri) in 1938 and lumped in with the cruel denigration of “Okies” (Oklahoma). The staggering numbers of the destitute overwhelm the state and the farmers quickly take advantage of the infinite labor pool setting outrageously low levels of pay for back-breaking work sun-up to sun-down.

Emigrant camps blossom the length of every fertile valley with crops to tend including cotton, which when ready to pick is cruelly heavy with thorns as well as cotton bolls. The author paints a grim picture of the unsanitary conditions of tent and cardboard camps, lacking any potable water and tied to the “company store” where more money is deducted from paltry wages.

There are themes of love—the love given to each other in extreme situations—family, the love of a mother for her children, hopeless conditions, and those who overcome and who don’t. It’s not that hard to imagine the same can happen to anyone. The haves and have-nots and those who take advantage of the victims.

“Doom and gloom and agony on me” says the little ditty riddled throughout the old “HeeHaw” variety show. But can there be any light at the end of the tunnel?

The author does an amazing job of describing the devastation wreaked by the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, the thousands of migrants that choked California’s economy, services, and infrastructure. The characters are so well fleshed you can smell them, see the cardboard in their shoes, and wonder how much longer they can live on stone soup, their ribs prominent.

In the end, this is not a totally depressive narrative but one of triumph over all the odds and ultimately the indomitable spirit of human nature.

Book Details:

Genre: Literary Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
ASIN: B0882VNQKS
Listening Length: 15 hrs 2 mins
Narrator: Julia Whelan
Publication Date: February 2, 2021
Source: Local Library (Audiobook Selections)
Title Link: The Four Winds [Amazon]
 

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Kristin Hannah - authorThe Author: Kristin Hannah is the award-winning and bestselling author of more than 20 novels including the international blockbuster, The Nightingale, which was named Goodreads Best Historical fiction novel for 2015 and won the coveted People’s Choice award for best fiction in the same year. It was also named a Best Book of the Year by Amazon, iTunes, Buzzfeed, the Wall Street Journal, Paste, and The Week. In 2018, The Great Alone became an instant New York Times #1 bestseller and was named the Best Historical Novel of the Year by Goodreads.

The Four Winds was published in February of 2021 and immediately hit #1 on the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Indie bookstore’s bestseller lists. Additionally, it was selected as a book club pick by the both Today Show and The Book Of the Month club.

The Nightingale is currently in production at Tri Star, with Dakota and Elle Fanning set to star. Tri Star has also optioned The Great Alone and it is in development. Firefly Lane, her novel about two best friends, was the #1 Netflix show around the world, in the week it came out. The popular tv show stars Katherine Heigl and Sarah Chalke and Season Two is currently being filmed.

www.kristinhannah.com

©2022 V Williams V Williams

Book hangover

To Die but Once: A Maisie Dobbs Novel by Jacqueline Winspear – #Audiobook Review

To Die but Once by Jacqueline Winspear
(Amazon) Editors Pick Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense 

Book Blurb:

Spring 1940. With Britons facing what has become known as “the Bore War” – nothing much seems to have happened yet – Maisie Dobbs is asked to investigate the disappearance of a local lad, a young apprentice craftsman working on a “hush-hush” government contract. As Maisie’s inquiry reveals a possible link to the London underworld, another mother is worried about a missing son – but this time the boy in question is one beloved by Maisie.

My Review:

Book fourteen in this series and my first, so I came in listening to the audiobook as a standalone and had no problem keeping up. There are sufficient backstory tidbits along the way to provide fleshing and an appreciation for her character.

To Die but Once by Jacqueline WinspearMaisie Dobbs was a nurse in WWI and subsequently trained to be a psychologist and investigator following that war. This story takes place in 1940 with Great Britain once again at war with Germany and several subplots tied to and underlying the main focus.

First, Maisie is hired to investigate the disappearance of a young boy, Joseph Combes, who succeeded in finding work for a company with a government contract. Set in the background are Dunkirk and the pending possible invasion.

Also in the background is a family drama (her own possible adoption of a young girl) and the spy hiding in plain sight.

A low-key start to the audiobook gradually begins pulling plot threads together until they weave interchangeably throughout the narrative. While the beginning is rather slow moving, the well-plotted novel hooks the reader into the discovery of the dark side of war, those who would reap huge monetary rewards from the military conflict. So sad, but so true of every war, unfortunately, that impacts many more lives over those in the actual conflict.

The personal losses stemming from the battles do not go unnoticed either and there are emotional scenes regarding the population and their individual handling of grave circumstances. The author movingly incorporates her own experiences as she describes the desolation and sacrifices.

A great historical novel along with the mystery was well drawn and satisfying in the conclusion. I was engaged and entertained and can recommend to any who enjoys detective stories (even with a slow build-up) authentically mixed with history.

Book Details:

Genre: Traditional Detective Mysteries, Historical Mysteries, Women Sleuth Mysteries
Publisher:  HarperAudio
ASIN: B077NHKTP6
Listening Length: 10 hrs 29 mins
Narrator: Orlagh Cassidy
Publication Date: March 27, 2018
Source: Local Library (Audiobook Selections)
Title Link: To Die but Once [Amazon] 

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Rosepoint Publishing:  Four point Five Stars 4 1/2 stars

 

Jacqueline Winspear - authorThe Author: Jacqueline Winspear is the creator of the New York Times and National Bestselling series featuring psychologist and investigator, Maisie Dobbs. Her first novel – Maisie Dobbs – received numerous awards nominations, including the Edgar Award for Best Novel and the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. It was a New York Times Notable Book and a Publisher’s Weekly Top Ten Pick.“ Jacqueline’s “standalone” novel set in WW1, The Care and Management of Lies, was a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize in 2015. In 2019 The American Agent, her 16th novel, was published, along with a non-fiction book based upon the Maisie Dobbs’ series, What Would Maisie Do? Originally from the UK, Jacqueline now lives in northern California.

 

Orlagh Cassidy - narratorThe Narrator: Orlagh is an American actress, both parents from Dublin, Ireland. She works in Theatre, Television and Film and has recorded numerous award winning audiobooks and commercials. She can be seen in ‘St. Vincent’ with Bill Murray as well many guest starring roles on ‘Homeland’, ‘Billions’, ‘Good Wife’, ‘Elementary’ and ‘The Mysteries Of Laura’. She has worked in New York theatre at MTC, The Public Theatre, MCC, Origin Theatre Company and The Irish Rep where she received a Drama Desk nomination for the role of ‘Mamie’ in the ‘The Field’ in 2007. She is a recipient of The Princess Grace Foundation Award and has a BFA from SUNY Purchase.

©2022 V Williams V Williams

#throwbackthursday

The Silent Sisters (Charles Jenkins Book 3) by Robert Dugoni – #BookReview – International Mystery and Crime

“When you can have everything, you appreciate nothing.”

Book Blurb:

The Silent Sisters by Robert DugoniAfter a harrowing escape from Russian agents on his last mission, Charles Jenkins thinks he’s finally done with the spy game. But then the final two of the seven sisters—American assets who have been deep undercover in Russia for decades—cut off all communication with their handlers. Are they in hiding after detecting surveillance? Or have they turned and become double agents? It’s Jenkins’s duty to find out, but he’s been added to a Russian kill list. It will require all of Jenkins’s knowledge of spycraft—and an array of disguises—to return to the country undetected.

But plans go awry his first night in Moscow when Jenkins gets involved in an altercation that ends in the death of the son of one of Russia’s most powerful organized crime leaders. Pursued by mafia henchmen, Russian agents, and a particularly dogged Moscow police detective, Jenkins is determined to track down the final two sisters and get them to America—or die trying. As various forces close in, Jenkins fears this time he might’ve pushed his luck too far. 

My Review:

The first of my 2-22-22 reviews, don’t you know I’m a Dugoni fan having read a number of his Tracy Crosswhite series, and this, the last in his Charles Jenkins trilogy. Once again the aging ex-CIA agent is being sent back to Russia to safely extricate two remaining of the “silent sisters.”

The Silent Sisters by Robert DugoniThese missions are not getting any easier for Charles, a 6’5” black man who would probably stand out most anywhere but in Russia will require a number of ingenious disguises. He’s good at this even at 64 (65?) years—has done it before—most recently Paulina, and that’s casually mentioned in this episode.

Jenkins quickly moves the first to safety but then runs into a bit of trouble with the second. His own doing and what kinda nudged me off five stars this time, that I couldn’t believe with his track record he’d have made such a thoughtless mistake. Of course, that sets off the other well-plotted multi-antagonists as if it isn’t bad enough to anger the Russian counterintelligence.

As always, however, I enjoy getting a front row seat to the area, in this case Moscow, off the beaten path, a tour no tourist would ever get. Dugoni’s characters—yah gotta love’em. The engaging and effective women or men meant to love, you love; the antagonists meant to loathe are truly disgusting and all are well-developed.

The fast-paced series MOVES! Between flipping between mafioso, Russian intelligence, and spies, the plot never waivers or slows. Your heart sinks or soars with the twists and turns, charismatic characters to root for, and the prose thought provoking.

“…love is not about who you can live with, but about who you cannot live without.”

Always satisfying, the conclusion eases the amped tension. You could actually read this as a standalone, but for more insight into the main characters, I also recommend both The Eighth Sister and The Last Agent.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the author and publisher through @NetGalley that in no way influenced this review. These are my honest thoughts.

Rosepoint Rating: Four point Five Stars 4 1/2 stars

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Book Details:

Genre: International Mystery & Crime, Espionage Thrillers
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
ISBN: ‎1542008344
ASIN: B08WLVP716
Print Length: 399 pages
Publication Date: February 22, 2022
Source: Publisher and NetGalley
Title Link(s): The Silent Sisters

Amazon   |   Barnes & Noble

Robert Dugoni - authorThe Author: Robert Dugoni is the critically acclaimed New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and #1 Amazon bestselling author of the Tracy Crosswhite police series set in Seattle, which has sold more than 8 million books worldwide. He is also the author of The Charles Jenkins espionage series, the David Sloane legal thriller series, and several stand-alone novels including The 7th Canon, Damage Control, and the literary novels, The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell – Suspense Magazine’s 2018 Book of the Year, for which Dugoni’s narration won an AudioFile Earphones Award and the critically acclaimed, The World Played Chess; as well as the nonfiction exposé The Cyanide Canary, a Washington Post Best Book of the Year. Several of his novels have been optioned for movies and television series. Dugoni is the recipient of the Nancy Pearl Award for Fiction and a three-time winner of the Friends of Mystery Spotted Owl Award for best novel set in the Pacific Northwest. He has also been a finalist for many other awards including the International Thriller Award, the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction, the Silver Falchion Award for mystery, and the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award.

Robert Dugoni’s books are sold in more than twenty-five countries and have been translated into more than thirty languages.

Visit his website at http://www.robertdugoni.com, and follow him on twitter @robertdugoni and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/AuthorRobertDugoni

©2022 V Williams

First book of 2022
First book of 2022

Big Lies in a Small Town: A Novel by Diane Chamberlain – #Audiobook Review – #TBT

Big Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain

Rosepoint Publishing:  Five Stars 5 stars

Book Blurb:

North Carolina, 2018:

Morgan Christopher’s life has been derailed. Taking the fall for a crime she did not commit, her dream of a career in art is put on hold – until a mysterious visitor makes her an offer that will get her released from prison immediately. Her assignment: restore an old post office mural in a sleepy Southern town. Morgan knows nothing about art restoration, but desperate to be free, she accepts. What she finds under the layers of grime is a painting that tells the story of madness, violence, and a conspiracy of small town secrets.

North Carolina, 1940:

Anna Dale, an artist from New Jersey, wins a national contest to paint a mural for the post office in Edenton, North Carolina. Alone in the world and in great need of work, she accepts. But what she doesn’t expect is to find herself immersed in a town where prejudices run deep, where people are hiding secrets behind closed doors, and where the price of being different might just end in murder.

What happened to Anna Dale? Are the clues hidden in the decrepit mural? Can Morgan overcome her own demons to discover what exists beneath the layers of lies?

A Macmillan Audio production from St. Martin’s Press.

My Review:

WOW!

Just… WOW!

I listened to approximately 45 audiobooks in 2021 (four per month) and if I’d finished this one in time, it would definitely have been included in my favorites list for the year—audiobook or print.

Big Lies in a Small Town by Diane ChamberlainTold from two POVs, in 2018, Morgan Christopher and 1940 Anna Dale. Morgan is sprung from the North Carolina Correctional Facility on a conditional release—the promise to restore a mural that was to have been installed in the Edenton Post Office in 1940. Anna Dale, an artist from New Jersey won a national contest out from under the town artist—considered the shoo-in. From New Jersey! An abomination! What did she know about the south or the town that the mural was to represent? The south is an alien world to Anna and Edenton not exactly thrilled to welcome a northerner.

Morgan’s benefactor, however, is a famous artist, Jesse Jameson, who dedicated himself to young artists with a history. Morgan knew his work and seriously loved it. She dabbled—loved painting—but restoring a mural was something she knew NOTHING about.

Jesse was within months of completing and opening an art gallery at the time of his passing and Morgan’s time frame was two months but when she initially saw the mural, very old, flaking, dusty; she thought impossible.

Completing the mural will keep her out of prison AND she’ll be paid for her work. It’s seriously important. She finds an ally in the project manager and though he’s not an artist can provide some basic start-up instruction in art restoration.

We begin to get filtered narration by Anna, an enormously engaging and sympathetic character, young and naïve, definitely out of her element but very serious about providing the town with the best representation of the area she can. Then as the mural is gradually restored, painstakingly inch by inch, Morgan begins to uncover some disturbing and bizarre inclusions into an otherwise masterful mural. What happened to Anna? Did she go mad?

Anna’s story is mesmerizing, one you can’t tear yourself away from. I loved her philosophy, her openness, and the two boys she took in to help with the work on the mural; especially Jesse. He’s an enigma, a brilliant natural artist, obviously enormously talented. Coming from a “colored” family, however, holds no hope of an artistic career. His family needs his help on the farm and only his aunt encourages and supports his work with Anna. It’s 1940; in the south. And Anna is a white northerner.

What happens next is shocking. A quick intake of breath, a sharp refusal that this is how Anna’s story will end. What happens to Jesse? The mural?

Undeniably the greatest hold is Anna’s story. But Morgan keeps digging and now her heart and soul are in uncovering Anna’s story along with restoration of the mural.

The characters are extremely well developed, the heart goes out to Anna and Jesse, truly the force in this amazing narrative. Storytelling at its finest! From heart-thudding moments to anger, revulsion, and back again to tearful hope. Totally invested in Anna, Jesse, and to a lesser extent Morgan.

Themes of poverty, racism, violence, and rape. Easy to switch back and forth between the POVs, each advancing the tension, the questions swirling maddingly around the mind. How can this be resolved? Or CAN it?

And the conclusion: beautiful.

I read five final nominees in the Goodreads Choice Awards for 2020 and this was not even listed. If I have a problem with a book, I check to see if or why I’m off base in my assessment, pursuing both low and high reviews. It looks as if I’m in agreement with most reviews this time. So, what happened?

This is a truly immersive read from beginning to amazing end. Strong, individual and believable characters. The mural, during the restoration process, took shape and color in my mind becoming both awesomely jaw-dropping and then bewildering, confusing.

Brilliant! Did you read or listen to the audiobook? What was your reaction?

Book Details:

Genre: Family Life Fiction, Psychological Thrillers, Historical Thrillers
Publisher:  Macmillan Audio
ASIN: B07T8C3RT3
Listening Length: 13 hrs 19 mins
Narrator: Susan Bennett
Publication Date: January 14, 2020
Source: Local Library (Audiobook Selections)
Title Link: Big Lies in a Small Town [Amazon]

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Diane Chamberlain - authorThe Author: Diane Chamberlain is the New York Times, USA Today and (London) Sunday Times best-selling author of 27 novels. The daughter of a school principal who supplied her with a new book almost daily, Diane quickly learned the emotional power of story. Although she wrote many small “books” as a child, she didn’t seriously turn to writing fiction until her early thirties when she was waiting for a delayed doctor’s appointment with nothing more than a pad, a pen, and an idea. She was instantly hooked.

Diane was born and raised in Plainfield, New Jersey and lived for many years in both San Diego and northern Virginia. She received her master’s degree in clinical social work from San Diego State University. Prior to her writing career, she was a hospital social worker in both San Diego and Washington, D.C, and a psychotherapist in private practice in Alexandria, Virginia, working primarily with adolescents.

More than two decades ago, Diane was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, which changed the way she works: She wrote two novels using voice recognition software before new medication allowed her to get back to typing. She feels fortunate that her arthritis is not more severe and that she’s able to enjoy everyday activities as well as keep up with a busy travel schedule.

Diane lives in North Carolina with her significant other, photographer John Pagliuca, and their odd but lovable Shetland Sheepdog, Cole.

Please visit Diane’s website at http://www.dianechamberlain.com for her event schedule and for more information on her newest novel, Big Lies in a Small Town, as well as a complete list of her books.

Susan Bennett- narratorThe Narrator:  [NOTE: I think this is the correct Susan Bennett. If it is not, please let me know and I’ll correct immediately.] Susan Alice Bennett is an American voice actress and a former backup singer for Roy Orbison and Burt Bacharach. She is best known as the female American voice of Apple’s Siri personal assistant, since the service was introduced on the iPhone 4S on October 4, 2011. Wikipedia

©2021 V Williams

happy thursday!

The Last House on the Street: A Novel by Diane Chamberlain –#BookReview – Women’s Historical Fiction

Rosepoint Rating: Five Stars 5 stars 

Book Blurb:

1965

The Last House on the Street by Diane ChamberlainGrowing up in the well-to-do town of Round Hill, North Carolina, Ellie Hockley was raised to be a certain type of proper Southern lady. Enrolled in college and all but engaged to a bank manager, Ellie isn’t as committed to her expected future as her family believes. She’s chosen to spend her summer break as a volunteer helping to register black voters. But as Ellie follows her ideals fighting for the civil rights of the marginalized, her scandalized parents scorn her efforts, and her neighbors reveal their prejudices. And when she loses her heart to a fellow volunteer, Ellie discovers the frightening true nature of the people living in Round Hill.

2010

Architect Kayla Carter and her husband designed a beautiful house for themselves in Round Hill’s new development, Shadow Ridge Estates. It was supposed to be a home where they could raise their three-year-old daughter and grow old together. Instead, it’s the place where Kayla’s husband died in an accident—a fact known to a mysterious woman who warns Kayla against moving in. The woods and lake behind the property are reputed to be haunted, and the new home has been targeted by vandals leaving threatening notes. And Kayla’s neighbor Ellie Hockley is harboring long buried secrets about the dark history of the land where her house was built.

Two women. Two stories. Both on a collision course with the truth–no matter what that truth may bring to light–in Diane Chamberlain’s riveting, powerful novel about the search for justice.

My Review:

I am still gasping, trying to calm the emotions this novel rammed home. So much going on in my country, still shaking my head at the ignorance, wallowing in our own problems of 1965—the CE trying to graduate prior to being drafted (and sure to be sent to ‘Nam if he was). But my operation took him out of school and changed the trajectory of our lives; our upheaval cocooned in California was far from the events of the south. We only got a small taste of what that meant (and was appalled) when he was sent by the Navy to Pensacola, Florida for training in ’66.

This narrative divides into a dual timeline: 1965 and 2010. In 1965, Ellie, an idealistic, privileged white coed full of righteous indignation defied her family, her boyfriend, and her town by joining a Civil Rights crusade called SCOPE (Summer Community Organization and Political Education Project) volunteering to spend the summer living with Black host families so the members could contact one on one local families to educate them on the importance of registering to vote. Something long awaited, their right to vote, hanging on President Lyndon B Johnson’s signing of the Voting Rights Act.

The mission is dangerous; seriously dangerous.

“I wasn’t just moving from one town to another. I was moving from one world to another…”

The Last House on the Street by Diane ChamberlainIn 2010, Kayla has just lost her husband in a house they designed together on an exclusive end lot surrounded by trees. It’s ready for her and her small daughter to move in. She should be excited. The home is gorgeous, the first in newly created Shadow Ridge Estates, Round Hill NC, only a much older home on the same lane the owner having refused to sell to the developer. She views her new home with dread but has no alternative but to occupy.

It’s not long before she is confronted with shocking circumstances, innuendo, gossip regarding the lot, dark history of the area. Then she meets Ellie, now 65 living temporarily in the old home up the street who is caring for a terminally ill brother and elderly mother. She isn’t happy being back after living in San Francisco for decades.

The author alternates between first person accounts of the experiences of Ellie working to gain registered voters and that of the more contemporary Kayla trying to make sense of what is happening with her new home. The accounts as related by Ellie brings to life the circumstances of those she encounters, the friendships, social injustice, racial prejudice, and eventually forbidden love. Unthinkable then, interracial relationship. The reader is fed small impressions and stories regarding Ellie’s motivations.

Prejudices, suspicions, terrorist activities by the KKK spreading hate. The atmosphere is alive with tension, static, dread. A horrible time in our history.

The 1965 accounts are electric, pervasive, and lead the frank, mind-blowing plot. Gradually, the two main characters stories merge, peeling away minute reveals, building tension, heartbreak, fear. The descriptions of the window dominated house clashes wildly with the dark, invasive moss-covered forest surrounding it.

The storytelling is immersive, impactful, tragic. It’s a tough read and one that will play over again in your mind for some time to come. I highly recommend this novel, now on pre-order, and will be looking for other books by this author. I’m hooked.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the author and publisher through @NetGalley that in no way influenced this review. These are my honest thoughts.

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Book Details:

Genre: Women’s Historical Fiction, Mothers & Children Fiction, Family Life Fiction
Publisher: St Martin’s Press
ISBN: ‎1250283175
ASIN: B092T7TFP2
Print Length: 346 pages
Publication Date: January 11, 2022
Source: Publisher and NetGalley

Title Link(s):

Amazon   |   Barnes & Noble  |  Kobo

Diane Chamberlain-authorThe Author: Diane Chamberlain is the New York Times, USA Today and (London) Sunday Times best-selling author of 27 novels. The daughter of a school principal who supplied her with a new book almost daily, Diane quickly learned the emotional power of story. Although she wrote many small “books” as a child, she didn’t seriously turn to writing fiction until her early thirties when she was waiting for a delayed doctor’s appointment with nothing more than a pad, a pen, and an idea. She was instantly hooked.

Diane was born and raised in Plainfield, New Jersey and lived for many years in both San Diego and northern Virginia. She received her master’s degree in clinical social work from San Diego State University. Prior to her writing career, she was a hospital social worker in both San Diego and Washington, D.C, and a psychotherapist in private practice in Alexandria, Virginia, working primarily with adolescents.

More than two decades ago, Diane was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, which changed the way she works: She wrote two novels using voice recognition software before new medication allowed her to get back to typing. She feels fortunate that her arthritis is not more severe and that she’s able to enjoy everyday activities as well as keep up with a busy travel schedule.

Diane lives in North Carolina with her significant other, photographer John Pagliuca, and their odd but lovable Shetland Sheepdog, Cole.

Please visit Diane’s website at http://www.dianechamberlain.com for her event schedule and for more information on her newest novel, Big Lies in a Small Town, as well as a complete list of her books.

©2021 V Williams – V Williams

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