Tag Archives: best authors

Cruel Summer

The Summer We Lost Her: A Novel by Tish Cohen (Gallery Books, $16.99, 352 pages)

Tish Cohen has knocked it out of the park with The Summer We Lost Her.

An aspiring Olympian and dreamer, Elise – who gets “oh, so close” to her dream after years of dedications and near misses – is confronted with the brutal realities of her future and past. She has decisions to make. Especially in light of the birth of her daughter, Gracie.

Elise’s lawyer husband, Matt – the dutiful father and conventionalist, must also reconcile his vision of reality and the myths that catch up with him regarding his past, and the grandfather he loves. When confronted with the presence of his first love, Cass, and the psychological connections of his past, he has decisions to make.

In Summer, Gracie disappears at a lake community in northern New York state. There is no greater evil than this, and there is no greater reckoning than what transpires in the face of such an event. And a reckoning there is. But as the story unfolds the humanity of the characters is revealed in such an understated way, it is hard to root for or against anyone. And so what hangs in the balance until the final pages of the story is totally satisfying.

The couple wrestles with the decision to sell their property near Lake Placid, New York, amidst the loss of their daughter. They must also deal with Elise’s quest for excellence, the appearance of Matt’s first love, revelations of Matt’s grandfather’s questionable practices, and the reappearance of Elise’s mercurial father.

It is no surprise that the rights to the tale have already been claimed for a TV mini-series.

The ending could go in multiple directions. Part of me says Cohen should have written a Great Expectations, with two different endings and let the reader decide. But, short of that, it is hard to find fault with this extremely satisfying novel.

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

This novel was released on June 4, 2019. A review copy was received from the publisher.

Tish Cohen’s excellent debut novel was The Truth About Delilah Blue (2010).

Dave Moyer is a public school superintendent in Illinois, and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel about baseball, Bob Dylan, and love.

Advance praise for The Summer We Lost Her (click on the image to see a larger version):

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Step into Christmas (and Murder)

deck the houndsDeck the Hounds: An Andy Carpenter Mystery by David Rosenfelt (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 336 pages)

In time for the holidays, Andy Carpenter finds himself caught up in a new dilemma.  One would think that after 17 prior novels, author David Rosenfelt might run out of tales – nope, not even close.  Rosenfelt draws in his reader with the signature dry humor his fans demand.

It’s a few weeks until Christmas, which means that wife Laurie and son Ricky are eager to cut and decorate a tree.  Andy isn’t ready for all the accompanying activity knowing it will last well into the New Year.  We know how that goes…

Andy finds himself caught up in the troubles of Don Carrigan, a homeless man whose dog, Zoey, ends up in a quarantine after biting an attacker.  Never fear, there are resources and deep pockets where Andy is concerned.  Faithful fans know that when there’s trouble, Andy is called on to don his lawyer persona and come to the rescue.

deck the hounds back

Author Rosenfelt can be counted on for a charming narrative from Andy as well as plenty of interactions with Marcus, Pete, Sam, Edna, et al.  Quotes from popular songs, TV shows and advertising keep the tale current.  It’s such a relief to escape into the mostly kind-hearted community in New Jersey where they reside.

Highly recommended.

murder at the mill

Murder at the Mill by M.B. Shaw: An Iris Gray Mystery (Minotaur Books, $27.99, 448 pages)

Next we leap across the Atlantic to Hampshire, England.  M.B. Shaw is a new author for this reviewer.  Murder at the Mill is the first in a new series featuring Iris Gray.  Iris is a well-regarded portraitist who is estranged from her failing playwright husband, Ian McBride.  She has fled London to a rental, Mill Cottage, located on the grounds of Mill House, a large manor with surrounding acreage.  Iris is hoping to sort out her current situation and find the courage to divorce Ian.

Dom Weatherby, a famous mystery writer, is the owner of Mill House, Mill Cottage and the land.  Ariadne, Dom’s wife, is the perfect hostess and wife.  The cast of characters gently and organically expands as the events of importance for each of them unfolds.  One event triggers the next and so on.  The key event is the Weatherby’s annual Christmas party.  Everyone is invited – the famous as well as the townspeople of the village of Hazelford, which is up the lane from the mill.

Of course there’s a murder, because the title guarantees it.  In some aspects Murder at Mill House resembles the game of Clue.  Author Shaw is a masterful writer.  She’s able to trick the reader into believing that you have it all figured out.  The whole is a most enjoyable read.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.  Deck the Hounds was published on October 16, 2018.  Murder at the Mill will be released on December 4, 2018.

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Home Field Advantage

home-field

Home Field: A Novel by Hannah Gersen (William Morrow Paperbacks, $14.99, 432 pages)

One of the joys of reviewing books is when one comes across a new book or writer that was not previously on the radar screen. That is what happened to me with Hannah Gersen’s novel Home Field. Plain and simple, Gersen delivers the goods.

Gersen tells a touching story of loss and redemption that engages and avoids sentimentality. Her ability to craft meaningful and natural dialogue among characters, which is difficult for many writers, is impressive.

In Home Field, Dean Renner is a revered small town football coach in rural Maryland. However, his personal life is not as orderly or successful as his disciplined routine as that of a head coach (amid the excitement of Friday night lights).

Dean’s wife Nicole, whose first husband died young, suffers from depression and ultimately commits suicide in the most unsettling of ways. His stepdaughter, Stephanie, wrestles with the loss of a father she never knew followed by her mother’s untimely death. Dean battles his own troubles as years of emotional isolation during his marriage took its toll. Was Nicole’s unhappiness due to Dean’s obsession with coaching, or did he absorb himself in coaching to fill the void that her mental illness created in his life? Or, is it just the way of things that the unscripted complexities of life do not lend themselves to executing a plan in the way that X’s and O’s on a chalkboard equal success on the field?

On top of it, Dean must play single father to his two boys, one of whom – Robbie, is a mystery to him. Robbie’s attraction to the theater and his extreme sensitivity are foreign to Dean’s practical, tactical approach to life. It is Robbie who holds the mirror up to the characters’ souls; it’s his actions that bring the events in the story to a head, and bring the hearts of the community together.

home-field-back-cover

Coach Renner appears to achieve some peace of mind as the story comes to a close. But, one question remains. He could not save his wife from herself. So while he works miracles with other people’s kids, can he save his own?

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Dave Moyer is a public school superintendent in Illinois, and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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Twentieth Century Fox

trouble-with-lexie-2

The Trouble with Lexie: A Novel by Jessica Anya Blau (Harper Perennial, $14.99, 336 pages)

We are launched into Lexie’s suddenly unhinged life at a scandalous moment, as she is discovered in the worst possible condition, in the most unthinkable place at precisely the wrong time. This contemporary, hilarious fourth novel from Jessica Anya Blau is addicting and fast-paced. After the ignominious opening scene, the story jumps back in time, where we learn Lexie’s history through artfully constructed scenes.

Lexie James is an alluring 33-year-old Health and Human Sexuality teacher at a prestigious U.S. private boarding school on the east coast. She has made something of herself, coming from a working class single mom and absentee father in California, to now being employed by the Ruxton Academy and engaged to marry a refined man. We admire her, all the while knowing that a train wreck of poor choices awaits.

Suspense builds. There are massive deceptions, forbidden fruits, and vivid characters, such as the ancient, potty-mouthed Dot. The metaphors are brilliant (“Lexie felt the pain so intensely she could almost see it as a physical thing: a vibrating sheet of silvery magneta that clanged against her cold skin like cold aluminum.”), the philosophy sweetly dispensed (“Yes. Love the people you love, be open to love, be good and do good.”), the similes memorable (“The sadness inside Lexie ran like a wash cycle: circling, swirling, rotating, swishing. It came straight out of her mouth, eyes, and nose, everything wet and running.”) and the wisdom simply put (“Maybe anxiety showed up only when your body needed to tell you something you hadn’t yet faced.”). The outcome proves Dot’s cautionary advice to Lexie: “…remember that the only life worth living is the one where there’s been numerous f*ckups.”

Well done, Ms. Blau!

Highly recommended.

Jennifer Dwight

A review copy was received from the publisher.

This book was released on June 28, 2016.

Jennifer Dwight is the author of The Tolling of Mercedes Bell: A Novel (She Writes Press).

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Rumor Control

The Rumor Barnes and Noble

The Rumor: A Novel by Elin Hilderbrand (Little, Brown and Company, $28.00, 384 pages)

“How do you know all this?”
“How does anyone know anything?” Rachel said. “I heard it on the street. People are talking.”

Oh, dear, you can feel trouble brewing! Grace, the avid gardener and her husband, Eddie, the relentless Realtor, are the parents of beautiful twins, Hope and Allegra. Madeline, the novelist and best friend of Grace, is desperately seeking an idea for her next novel. This mix becomes a recipe for, dare we say it, gossip.

A rumor surely must be the fastest mode for broadcasting information on Nantucket Island. Five main characters in The Rumor – Grace, Eddie, Hope, Madeline and the island herself, take turns sharing their points of view of the happenings from April through August. These year-round inhabitants have a culture all their own. The information spread among the tightly knit coterie moves like wildfire.

Summers on Nantucket Island are legendary, full of idyllic days spent frolicking on the pristine beaches and enjoying the party atmosphere encouraged by vacationers escaping city life. Author Elin Hilderbrand (The Matchmaker, Summerland, Silver Girl, The Island), herself a resident of the island, presents yet another peek into the lives of the rich and not-so-rich island dwellers. By page 200, The Rumor bursts into full-blown chaos taking on a life of its own. Connoisseurs of the “summer beach novel genre” will devour her latest offering.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

You can read a review of Summerland: A Novel by Elin Hilderbrand here:

https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2012/08/20/a-summer-place/

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Baltimore Blues

Hush Hush TM

Hush Hush: A Tess Monaghan Novel by Laura Lippman (William Morrow, $14.99, 303 pages)

Can an author maintain reader loyalty and enthusiasm for her work encompassing 12 volumes released over 18 years? Moreover, can that author thrill her readers with tales peppered with suspense and more than just a hint of anxiety? After all, mystery readers come to expect the challenge of a tale with danger lurking in each chapter. If not, why bother with mysteries at all?

Laura Lippman scores another success with her latest novel, an episode in the Tess Monaghan series. Lippman has made good use of her intimate knowledge of Baltimore. Each scene brings the reader into the physical locale and sweetens the experience with the unique attitude of its inhabitants. Her characters are certainly down-to-earth. There are no super hero, matinee idol types to coax the story into a bit of unrealistic passion.

The past murder of a child by its mother, money and that mother’s need to reconnect to the children she left behind form the basis of the tale. Lippman jumps right into the scene, literally, with the opening chapter laid out as the script for an on camera interview of Carolyn Sanders, a former summer day camp worker who was the last person to witness the murderer as she tried to pick up her older two children at the school where the camp was conducted.

After the set-up, loyal readers are treated to some catching up with the people in Tess’s life, like Aunt Kitty and retired Baltimore Police Department homicide detective Sandy Sanchez. Each of them has matured in their own way and this maturity provides the tale with continuity and commitment.

There are complex interwoven plot lines, a signature of Lippman’s writing style. Tess, herself the mom of a three-year-old toddle, has to reconcile loyalty to her old friend and mentor, Tyner Gray, with the distaste of providing security for his client, Melisandre Harris Dawes, the baby murderer who has returned to Baltimore. Of course, no Lippman novel would be complete without a basic misunderstanding, or two or three. This book has just the right amount.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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The Stranger You Know

The Stranger You Know Jane Casey

The Stranger You Know: A (Maeve Kerrigan) Novel by Jane Casey (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 384 pages)

It surprised him, but he didn’t mind that she was dead. He could look at her, really look at her, without being interrupted. Without being afraid that she would say something, or do something, that might hurt him.

The slightly off-kilter, macabre opening is a flashback to 1992. There’s no doubt; this is classic Jane Casey writing. Her measured tone keeps the reader riveted to the page while she spins a web of intrigue. The Stranger You Know is the fourth book of the Detective Inspector Maeve Kerrigan mystery series set in present-day London. Detective Inspector Josh Derwent, another ongoing character, is her partner on the police force. Derwent wins no personality contests but he is a good policeman. At least that’s what Maeve has come to believe.

This time around Maeve is called into a special group investigating two recent murders and one from 20 years ago that appears to be the first in a series. Perhaps the group has a serial killer to chase down. To make matters more complicated, Derwent is linked to the first murder.

The book reads like a diary from Maeve’s perspective. The sections are sequenced as days of a week beginning with Thursday and ending more than a week later. One additional flashback to 1992 well into the plot helps the reader put the crimes and characters into better perspective.

Author Casey is a master at weaving real clues with red herrings. Her readers will be satisfied with the quality of this tale. The lives of her characters are usually thrown open for examination, almost as in an autopsy. The Stranger You Know is true to form, a fine form.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher. This book will be released in a trade paper version on March 31, 2015.

The Stranger You Know (back cover)

Jane Casey is the author of The Burning, The Lost Girl, and The Reckoning.

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