Category Archives: 1st novel

Kristen Lepionka — Last Place You Look

Why is it that every book I read lately has an alcoholic protagonist? The characters in this book are defined well, but I was aggravated by PI Roxane Weary and her drinking, which led her into trouble. She jumped to conclusions, made stupid decisions, and treated everyone around her with anger and disdain—even friends and family. The story was good, but could have been written without an unlikable main character.

J.S. James — River Run

Oregon’s Willamette River is such a strong presence in this novel that it almost becomes the main character. Sheriff’s Deputy Delia Chavez is obsessed with fear of the river, which took her baby brother away from her when she was five years old. But murders are happening on the river, and she has to deal with it to solve them.

As a character, Delia is messed up and angry, but I liked her. The author does a good job of giving insights into both good and bad actors in the story. A good plot kept my attention through to the end.

Elizabeth Haynes — Into the Darkest Corner

(spoilers included)

I almost abandoned this novel after the first few chapters because it bounced around too much in time and POV. First there was part of a trial (2005), then a murder scene (2001), a scene with Cathie, the protagonist, at work (2007), Catherine, an earlier version of Cathie, out drinking with friends (2003), and finally it gets into the rhythm of skipping back and forth between 2007 and 2003. At this point, I started to get hooked.

The personalities of Cathie and Catherine are entirely different. Catherine (2003) loves to party, drinks too much, sleeps around. Cathie (2007) suffers from severe OCD and PTSD. Catherine hooks up with sexy, mysterious Lee, who becomes more and more controlling and abusive. Cathie starts a cautious friendship with her neighbor Stuart, a psychologist who is unbelievably understanding of her weird behavior.

There is no mystery. The trial at the beginning tells us that Lee is the bad guy in the story. It’s obvious that Catherine and Cathie are the same person. It’s also fairly obvious that Lee probably murdered the woman at the beginning of the story (2001). At first, I thought the trial (2005) was for the murder.

But this is a well-written psychological suspense/thriller. It kept me reading throughout to find out what happens next. Haynes follows Catherine/Cathie’s personality changes in detail—Catherine’s downhill slide as her relationship with Lee becomes more controlling and abusive, and Cathie’s climb back to normality as she struggles to overcome her anxiety and OCD.

I would recommend the book to anyone who likes dark stories.

Chris Hammer — Scrublands

Excellent writing.

The author takes us into Riversend, a small dying settlement in Australia’s interior, in the middle of a summer drought. The river running through the town has dried into cracked earth. You can feel the heat and see it rising off the baked land.

A priest shot five men in front of the church and was killed by the local policeman. Martin Scarsden’s editor at the newspaper sends him to visit Riversend a year after the shooting to write a piece about how the locals are coping with the tragedy. At first, Martin is a typical newsman interviewing residents—outside looking in. The town is full of secrets and rumors, which cause Martin to write articles for his paper with incorrect facts, gaining enemies. As he gets to know them, people ask why a priest that many admired and loved did such a terrible act. Martin’s curiosity and desire to find the truth have him looking for the answer. This is the central question in the story.

Hammer’s characters are varied and complicated, not always who or what they appear to be at first meeting. He even gives us insight into the dead priest.

The plot is complicated, with many twists and turns. It kept my interest from beginning to end.

Haylen Beck — Here and Gone

Here and Gone kept me on the edge of my seat throughout the whole book. What would you do if a sheriff in the middle of nowhere pulled you over with a trumped-up charge and took your children away? Then he claims there were no children in your car. No one believes you—state police, FBI, media all think you have killed your children.

Unlike many of today’s thrillers that are filled with violence and farfetched scenarios, this is an intense, believable psychological thriller.

Gytha Lodge — She Lies in Wait

Seven teenagers go camping and only six return. A massive search doesn’t turn up Aurora, at fourteen, the youngest of the group. Thirty years later, her body is found in a hollow beneath a tree along with remnants of a stash of drugs.

The timeline alternates between current and the night of the murder. Point-of-view shifts between cops and campers, both present and thirty years prior. The author does a good job of switching time and POV, and I didn’t find it confusing.

Lodge paints good pictures of each of her many characters—four police and the six campers (seven with Aurora)—each character unique. She even adds a couple of extras into the mix. It may be a little overload on character development.

She keeps us guessing about the murderer, but I did have an idea of who it was early in the story. The plot could be a little slow for some readers, but I found the details of police procedural interesting.

A good first novel. I look forward to the next book in the series with DCI Jonah Sheens.

Dana Ridenour — Behind the Mask

The story follows a growing friendship between two women—Lexie, an FBI agent on her first undercover assignment, and Savannah, a young, naïve animal-rights activist. As the tagline on the back cover says, “You build relationships to betray relationships.” But is Lexie ready to betray her newfound friend to her bosses at the FBI?

Amazon lists this novel as a (Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Mystery > Cozy > Animals), but there is no mystery to solve and it doesn’t even come close to what I consider a cozy. Thriller & suspense—maybe. More of a crime novel. It’s also listed a women’s fiction, which is probably closer. Not that it matters; it was a good read.

C.J. Tudor — The Chalk Man

This thriller/murder mystery jumps between 2016 and 1986. In 2016, Ed Adams is a small town school teacher haunted by events from 30 years past. In 1986, Eddie and his group of 12-year-old friends’ lives were interrupted by a terrible accident at the fair, two unsolved murders, a suicide, and a beating that left a man in an almost vegetative state.

Eddie’s father always told him “Never assume, Eddie. Question everything. Always look beyond the obvious.” But the whole town has made assumptions about what happened in 1986. When bad things start happening again in 2016, people once more make assumptions.

The Chalk Man, Tudor’s first novel, has an intriguing plot, great characters (young, middle-aged, and old), a setting that makes you feel you are there, and twists and turns that keep you hooked.

Excellent writing!

Catherine Steadman — Something in the Water

This is a different book, but I like different. It starts at the end with protagonist Erin digging a grave to bury her husband. Then the story goes back to tell us how she got there. But the ending isn’t quite what it seems in that first chapter.

I enjoyed the progression of the events in Erin’s mind in this psychological thriller. She is a bright young upper middle class women getting married to the man she loves, creating a documentary, living what seems to be the almost perfect life. But she is also self-centered, naïve, greedy, and blind to the flaws of people she likes or loves. Although she worries too much at times and plans her steps to accomplish her goal, she doesn’t always look at the possibilities of what might happen as she proceeds.

To me the premise of this book is: “What would you do if you found an illegal treasure that appears to be untraceable?”

Erin irritated me at times, but I found her story intriguing. A good read, good first novel.

Anne Corlett — The Space Between the Stars

Humans have expanded throughout the galaxy before a virus wipes out nearly all the population on every planet. Jamie Allenby wakes up alone on a remote planet she escaped to when her marriage was failing and she wanted “some space.” Zero point zero zero zero one percent survival rate, she had heard before her planet fell to the virus. After three days alone she finds two other people. They are rescued by two others in a small spacecraft looking for fuel. Their little band of survivors gathers two more as they bounce from planet to planet toward Earth.

This is not hard science fiction. I would call it “literary” or maybe “psychological” — a study in human behavior. Jamie isn’t sure what she’s searching for, maybe home. The small group includes an ex-priest, a prostitute, an ex-scientist who believes God has caused the apocalypse in order to start over, a young man with autism, the spaceship captain, and his engineer.

Corlette, with her first novel, has written an intriguing story that covers many issues that are relevant today, in the past, or our future.

This one kept me awake until 3AM to finish it. I look forward to more from Anne Corlette.