Another Debut Mystery

The LoopThe Loop by Nicholas Holloway
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Synopsis: “In the heart of the Sierra Nevada mountains, a freezing snowdrift blankets the June Lake Loop. For months, aspiring novelist Gallagher Finch has not written a single word. To pass the time awaiting inspiration, Gal satiates his boredom with Adderall, Evan Williams, and one call girl too many. On the eve of his twenty-sixth birthday, he indulges in all three…

And when he awakens, he discovers a bloody secret tangled in his bedsheets.

Still grieving from a tragic murder in the family thirteen years earlier, Gal wonders if old enemies are drawing near once again. He begins to process his nightmares, anxiety, and fear the only way he knows how – he writes. Quickly realizing his own story could be the best-seller he has been dying to publish, Gal weaves together the truth of who killed Daphne Castro, but in the process, he discovers the story that could launch his career may very well be his own deadly ending.

Family becomes foe, dark secrets resurface, and blood can be found on more than one pair of hands.”

Nicholas Holloway’s The Loop is a clever roller coaster of a book. I found this story to have strong characterization, an ideal setting, lots of unexpected twists, and a sense of word play I haven’t seen much of lately. I wasn’t sure I liked this book when I finished it, but upon reflection, I know that I did, and I liked it a lot.

We meet the Finch family in the midst of their newest crisis (and this family has had several). The siblings have survived a troubled history and now each have a collection of secrets themselves. Holloway has done a fantastic job breathing lives into each of this characters, no matter how broken.

The setting of this book is beautiful; almost a character in its own right. Such beauty hiding so much pain and danger. Northern California is a beautiful place, and the author clearly knows the region and loves it. The lakes make a nice contrast to the terrible things that are occurring throughout the area.

There were many twists and turns in this story. I rarely settled into a suspect before there was another plot twist. The layers uncovered on each page remind us all that there are shades of gray and good and bad in everyone. Anyone could be the guilty party. And the motive was always shifting.

There was a playful note throughout this book. Each chapter was given a colorful title. I thought the playful-ness may be too gimmicky, but I found myself appreciating it and at some times, even loving it. The over-arching color theme connected the threads within each chapter.

The penultimate chapter of this book almost lost me, but after having sat with the conclusion of this story for a couple of days, I have found I appreciate it even more. It was a logical twist, necessary for the ultimate conclusion.

This book appears to be a debut, but I have seen rumors of both a sequel to this one and a new stand alone by this author. I look forward to reading both.
I received a free review copy of this book from Book Sirens and am leaving this review voluntarily.

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Locked Door Mystery

Ever ToldEver Told by Benjamin Bremasi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Synopsis: “When New Hampshire detective Jill Jennson is called to the scene of a double homicide that took place during a wealthy family’s annual vacation, she immediately realizes that this case will be unlike any other. The victims were brutally killed in their locked bedroom with seemingly no way for the killer to enter or leave undetected. The list of suspects is endless. And the possible motives are even more disturbing.
As the case evolves, the investigation becomes even more complex as secrets are revealed and betrayals come to light. Aided by her partner Caiden and her bedridden father Tony, Jill continues to unearth clue after clue as she desperately tries to solve the mystery and identify the killer. But the more she digs, the more she comes to realize that someone is out to get her as well. Is her unknown assailant connected to the investigation, or does the answer lie much closer to home? Once she discovers that the case may even have personal connections to a horrific event in her own sordid past, Jill will stop at nothing to complete the puzzle and finally put to rest the multiple acts of deception that have all converged into one unforgettable nightmare.”

Ever Told is a debut novel that tried to do a lot of things in fewer than 200 pages. Many aspects of this book fell short of ideal for me, but twist at the end and the promising story-telling made me more of a fan than not.

A locked door mystery set in one of my favorite locations. Locked door mysteries seem to be less popular at the moment, but they are classic for a reason. Limiting the number of characters allows the author and the reader to get to know the characters and their secrets better. This book started to do much of this. Each of the characters had a secret, some of which were juicy. But the characterization available for more than half a dozen characters, in 200 pages is not great. While I have never been there, I thoroughly enjoy books set in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. This one is set in New Hampshire and, unfortunately, did not take great advantage of the beautiful setting.

A novel that feels like a cozy mystery, even though the sleuths are professional police officers. A debut novel. A cozy mystery typically has an amateur sleuth, is set in a small community, and has limited violence and sex. This book ticked all of these boxes, except the police were the sleuths. This was not a police procedural and there was little mention of the forensic professionals I would have expected from a more official investigation.

This story is told in back and forth story lines. We see the family before and after the murder in alternating chapters (for the most part). I found this handled very well. The parts that take place immediately before the murders each add a new piece of the puzzle and throw further suspicion on different characters. After the murders, the investigation and the side stories were engaging.

The ending offers a twist that I suspected and discarded early, but upon reflection, makes perfect sense.

While I thought there were some imperfections in this book, I would be interested in reading future titles by this author.

Thank you to BookSirens and the publisher for an e-copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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Medical Thriller

CODE BLUE: The Other End of the StethoscopeCODE BLUE: The Other End of the Stethoscope by Debra Blaine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Synopsis: “CODE BLUE follows Dr. Tobi Lister, a physician trapped in a wildly dysfunctional system and entangled in deadly intrigue. It is becoming obvious that something strange is happening at her clinic, but she has enough to deal with just trying to practice medicine, now that patients have become “customers” and the medical field is dictated by entrepreneurs whose sole objective is profit. And now suddenly, after nearly two decades, the man who broke her heart has resurfaced, but Tobi is determined to ignore his desperate attempts to communicate. She has no idea he is trying to warn her about a vicious Russian hacking scheme that is making billions of dollars murdering patients. But if he can’t get through to her soon, Tobi will be next.

This medical thriller emphasizes the loss of humanity felt by both physicians and patients now that medicine has become a consumer-driven industry.”

Dr. Blaine has penned a scary medical thriller that captures our current time and attitudes toward the medical profession.

I found Code Blue to be engaging and accessible. The story moved along at a comfortable pace with challenges popping up around every corner. The opportunity for medical jargon was eschewed for more everyday language.

Code Blue follows two distinct story lines: an urgent care doctor and an investigation into a cybercriminal ring. The two pieces merge logically and make a cohesive, engaging thriller.

Dr. Tobi’s scenes can get a little preachy, but it left no doubt that that patients need to be patients and not customers. The scenes in the clinic, between the doctor and her patients, were entertaining and often enlightening. In an era where we believe we are the most important person in any situation and we know everything, doctors have a lot with which to compete.

The cybercrime circle had several POVs which removed much of the mystery from this story, but increased the suspense as we learn more about their motives, operations, and lack of values.

Running between these two stories, is an old flame who draws the two sides together for the explosive climax. While this character was a little too good to be true, he was entertaining and I am ok with a perfect character from time to time in my fiction.

There was a lot going on in this book, besides the medical profession, we touched on some ecological conservation, corruption in Washington, the danger of on-line medical records, and the Jewish religion. Much of this added to characterization for me and I could imagine having a glass of wine and an interesting conversation with Tobi.

I had some minor quibbles with the book: characters named Tobi and Tony can be confusing, the situation with her brother bothered me a bit, and sometimes I was annoyed by the repetitive preaching. But overall, I enjoyed the time I spent with this novel and would read more by this author.

I would recommend this book to people who like thrillers and are interested in America’s current health care situation.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for a free e-copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

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An Earlier Book by Jeff Bond

The Winner MakerThe Winner Maker by Jeff Bond
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From the Publisher: “Bob Fiske — the 74-year-old dinosaur who’s taught Honors English and coached varsity football for five decades — is missing.

To his Winners, class favorites Fiske designated over the years for their potential to “Live Big,” it’s heartbreaking. Fiske did more than inspire with soaring oratory; he supported their ambitions into adulthood. Four of his brightest former stars reunite to find him, putting high-octane careers on hold, slipping police barricades, racing into the wilds of Northern Michigan for clues about the fate of their legendary mentor.

Others don’t see a legend. They see an elitist whose time has passed.

When a current student — female — disappears just hours into the Winners’ search amid rumors of inappropriate meetings, the Great Man’s reputation is a shambles.

Feints, betrayal, explosive secrets from their own pasts: as facts emerge, each Winner must decide how far they’ll go for Fiske. Can the truth redeem him? Or has this cult of hyper-achievement spawned a thing so vile none of their lives will survive intact?”

I devoured this book in a single afternoon.

This book reminded me of the movie The Breakfast Club, but 10 years later. We have the jock, the Homecoming Queen, the nerd, and the mute one all brought together to search for one man who is missing and may be a criminal.

This group was not linked by detention, but maybe the opposite: an elite group of students tapped to be Winners by the teacher/coach. When he goes missing, they all come back to help find him and hopefully clear his name of wrongdoing.

I enjoyed the story. I did not think it fit neatly into one specific genre box, but chose to read it as it sounded mysterious. It could also be a contemporary story, a thriller, or a comment on society. The characters and their relationships played a strong role in the story, thus allowing it to cross many of the genre lines. There was friendship, marriage and parenting issues, unrequited love, loyalty, elitism, high school drama and much more included in these pages.

Unlike Bond’s other work (Blackquest 40), which I read earlier this year, this one was a slower story. There was time to get to know a little more about the characters and to ferret out what happened in the past and why it was germane to the mystery at hand.

I would not hesitate to recommend this book to others and will watch for future titles by this author.

Thank you to the author for a free copy in exchange for my honest thoughts about this book.

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A Legal Thriller

Law and AddictionLaw and Addiction by Mike Papantonio
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From the publisher: “One week before Jake Rutledge is scheduled to graduate from law school, he receives the devastating news of the death of his fraternal twin, Blake. What makes this death even more terrible for Jake is that his brother died of a drug overdose. Until hearing of his death, Jake had no idea his brother was even using drugs.

When Jake returns home to Oakley, West Virginia, he takes a hard look at the circumstances of his brother’s death. In the five years Jake has been away for his schooling, his hometown has drastically changed. Because of the opioid epidemic, and the blight it has brought, many now call Oakley Zombieland. Jake can see how his town’s demise parallels his brother’s.

Undeterred, the newly minted lawyer takes on the entrenched powers by filing two lawsuits. Jake quickly learns what happens when you upset a hornet’s nest. The young attorney might be wet behind the ears, but is sure there is no lawyer that could help him more than Nick Deke Deketomis and his law firm of Bergman/Deketomis. Deke is a legendary lawyer. When he was Jake’s age he was making his name fighting Big Tobacco. Against all odds, Jake gets Nick and his firm to sign on to his case before it’s too late.”

This is a timely legal thriller. Our country is facing a crisis in the our communities as we deal every day with new opiod overdoses. The cost is more than we should be willing to accept.

I had some complaints about this book, but after closing it, I realized my complaints were perhaps petty, but also a good strategy to sharing the more important message of this story.

We are given a perfect hero. He has had some challenges in his life, but he is a crusader and he’s smart and kind and able to get things done. He interacts with other perfect people who cherish their wives, work upstream, but still have plenty of money to fly around on private jets. Some of this was hard to swallow in the moment. However, what this group of really good people set out to accomplish and the battle they have on their hands may require really good people.

What Papantonio does very well in this novel is to shine a light and humanize the opiod crisis. We go into West Virginia and see all of the different mechanisms at work. As readers, we get to see the desolation and heartache the influx of drugs have caused. We get a taste of addicts, people in recovery, drug mules, and people who take advantage of the situation financially.

There was a lot of sitting around and discussing next steps as our dream team of lawyers plotted their next moves, but this never felt unneccessary or repetitive. During the course of the story there was also love, friendship, humor, grittiness, twists and turns.

The author is clearly well-versed in this type of law and in this growing crisis. This is a book people should read to help understand why the opiod crisis is not going away and why each of us should care.

I want to thank NetGalley, the publisher and the author for allowing me to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

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A Halloween Cozy

Burned to a Crisp (Gingerbread Hag Mystery #1)Burned to a Crisp by K.A. Miltimore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From the publisher: “Hedy Leckenmaul runs a strange little bakery in the sleepy town of Enumclaw, Washington. Her bakery may be bizarre but it is the non-human guests who stay at her home, along with her resident ghost, and her menagerie of talking animals that truly is strange. Hedy hosts a waystation for supernatural travelers and while hosting two such travelers, the town is rocked by an arsonist who is kidnapping women, and pitting the residents of Enumclaw against each other. Hedy and her friends must solve the mystery when one of their own vanishes, leaving them racing to find out who is behind it all before it is too late.”

I read this during the spring, but I saved my review until October. While reading this paranormal, cozy mystery, I found myself constantly thinking what a great Halloween read it would be. I may try to fit the second book from this series into my own autumn reading plan.

Paranormal anything is not my usual cup of tea, but in my quest to try on a variety of different mysteries this year, it is only natural that I would want to explore places I would not usually go. I am glad I ventured down this path, and relieved to find it was not as uncomfortable as I would have thought.

Hedy runs a bakery and occasionally has special visitors stay with her in a bed and breakfast. Her special visitors are interesting characters. There are also talking animals and a ghost in Hedy’s home. While hosting two of these visitors, a strange series of crimes occurs in her small town, and one of her guests could very easily be the perpetrator.

I enjoyed the setting of this book. Having lived for several years in the Pacific Northwest, I am familiar with Enumclaw and found the visit back there (through my reading) refreshing. Enumclaw is a smaller community and would certainly be both a good place for hiding some unusual business and a place that would be devastated and quick to respond to these crimes.

The fairy tales Hedy shares with Mel were interesting and kept me engaged. As did the stories from both of the guests and the history of the items Hedy keeps in her bakery. While this was a short-ish book, there were a lot of different story lines and they were well-maintained and kept together nicely.

At the end of the day, this was a cozy mystery with some paranormal aspects and a fun read! Like I said, I may fit the next one in this month, but as it is a Christmas story, maybe I will hold on and read it after Thanksgiving.

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Blackquest 40 by Jeff Bond

Blackquest 40Blackquest 40 by Jeff Bond
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Description:

Her company’s top engineer at just twenty-seven, Deb has blocked off her day for the one project she truly cares about: the launch of Carebnb, an app that finds spare beds for the homeless. When she’s told all employees must drop everything for some busywork exercise called Blackquest 40, it’s an easy no.

Trouble is, her bosses aren’t really asking.

Blackquest 40 is the mother of all corporate trainings. A near-impossible project to be completed in forty straight hours. No phones. No internet. Sleeping on cots. Nobody in, nobody out. Deb finds the whole setup creepy and authoritarian. When a Carebnb issue necessitates her leaving the office, she heads for the door. What’s the worst that could happen?

Armed commandos, HVAC-duct chases, a catastrophic master plan that gets darker by the hour Blackquest 40 is a fresh take on the Die Hard formula, layering smart-drones and a modern heroine onto the classic action tale.

Stand down, Bruce. Deb’s got this.

I enjoyed this fast-paced thriller.

I took a little while to get into this one and had a hard time suspending my disbelief about many things, but once I let go, I found myself engrossed in the nightmarish scene Deb has found herself.

I thought the pacing was excellent, the tech talk unpretentious and interesting, and the story, while a bit far-fetched at time, engrossing.

Throughout this novel, there were many twists and turns and Bond managed to keep the turns tight. I never felt bogged down in details or the slow middle that can often happen in thrillers. Each chapter offered a new danger.

There was a bit of tech talk. I am not a tech-y person in general, but I found the jargon interesting. And, of course, I liked Deb’s side projects and found the things she could make fascinating.

The storyline felt fresh. Sure there may be a little 80s Cold War vibe happening, but for the most part, I didn’t feel like I had read this story before.

It appears this is Mr. Bond’s second novel; I will be seeking out his earlier work, as well as watching for new titles.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for my free ebook ARC.

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