My Opinion of THE THERAPIST and OZARK. Plus having fun with covers.

I hope you’re all staying either cool or dry.

This week, a branch fell on the power line in front of our house, caused a spark, and started a fire. Since we have already been traumatized by the Holiday Farm Fire up here in the McKenzie River Valley, this one was particularly scary as the wind was blowing and it could have been another horrific event.

But the fire happened at the end of work day. Men and women stopped on the way, popped out of their vehicles with shovels, rakes, and fire extinguishers, and kept the fire under control until the fire department arrived. If the flames had traveled up just one fir tree (called torching), it would have been all over.

After the fire was out and we were all in a little shock, we hung out with our neighbors by the side of the road and talked about how lucky we were to live in this beautiful place and with these amazing folks who had averted a catastrophe. I’m grateful every day.

All I have to say is “Who needs to read or watch thrillers?”

Well, obviously I do.

by B. A. Paris; narrated by Olivia Dowd

AVAILABLE NOW IN PRINT AND EBOOK; AUDIBLE VERSION AVAILABLE JULY 13, 2021

A Claustrophobic Tale of Suspense & Secrets

Alice and Leo move into a new home in London that feels perfect as part of a gated community of twelve homes situated in a circle that encloses a small park.

But we all know what happens when something seems perfect.

In this case, Alice discovers a woman was murdered in the house and the woman’s husband, suspected of the murder, committed suicide. Did Leo know about this before he bought the house? And why are the women of the circle acting so squirrely? Alice also discovers the murdered woman’s name is Nina, something that adds to her distress as it is the name of her sister who died in an accident. The suspense builds when one of her neighbors becomes so nasty that Alice is almost shunned and wants to leave. Everyone has secrets and won’t talk about the murder. She’s also warned by an elderly couple to “trust no one.” When a PI shows up on her doorstep, saying he’s investigating the murder, she’s relieved to find someone who will talk about the murder with her. But didn’t the husband kill his wife? The PI says no. The community however is divided. That means the killer is still free. Alice soon suspects everyone of the murder including Leo.

I LOVED the narrator Olivia Dowd. This was a great example of how a narrator can make a slow-starting story fascinating. This novel is a slow burn that keeps you in the head of Alice and shows how terrifying it is for her as Leo is often away for business. I loved the secrecy of the neighbors and how they have so much trouble dealing with the murder being talked about again. The circle was a perfect setting that causes a claustrophobic feel and gives Alice a caged feeling.

Sometimes Alice seems dimwitted and repeatedly says “something was off,” but that’s because she’s not assertive and is surrounding by people who aren’t forthcoming. The suspense is slow to build but I think that’s because the setup takes a while and the story is told by Alice who is confused and terrified as she tries to identify the killer.

And the ending! I thought I knew who the killer was, but how he got away with it was terrific and terrifying. B.A. Paris writes so well that my few issues with the story should not keep people from reading or listening to THE THERAPIST. I highly recommend the audio book.

Thank you to #NetGalley #BAParis and #McMillanAudio for offering this free audiobook for an

B A Paris is the internationally bestselling author of Behind Closed Doors, The Breakdown, Bring Me Back and The Dilemma. Having sold over one million copies in the UK alone, she is a New York Times bestseller as well as Sunday Times bestseller and a number one bestseller on Amazon and iBooks. Her books have been translated into 40 languages. Having lived in France for many years, she and her husband recently moved back to the UK.
Her fifth novel The Therapist is out in April 2021 honest review.

I LOVE COVERS!

Are you like me? Sometimes I look at covers just for the art work. For my Femmes-Noir Thrillers, I had ideas for the covers, but it takes an artist to really bring them to life. Covers are either representational, thematic, or sensory, in that one of the viewer’s senses is triggered.

And, yes, sometimes covers seem to have nothing to do with the novel but are eye-catching.

Here are the U.S. and British cover for THE THERAPIST. Interesting, don’t you think? I wonder what was going on in the head of both cover artists. Which one do you like best and why?

The US cover is dark and representational of the victim. The British cover is sensory where the rose has been snapped off and dies. You can almost smell the dead rose. And red is naturally aligned with blood. Both use similar typography to give cohesiveness to the author’s work.

I decided to look at a few more of the author’s novels in the US (left) and British editions (right). Interesting how the Brits offer much more colorful covers. The typography, however, is similar and echoes the author’s other novels, or brand as the industry likes to call it.

I’m inclined to go for the cover with color.

Do you choose a book for the cover? The cover first draws me to the book, but I read the back jacket, inside flap, and the first chapter before I decide. I’m more speculative about the blurbs from other famous authors as some of the books I’ve read come nowhere near their profuse accolades.

Anyone? What do you look at and do before you buy a book?


OZARK

Streaming series on Netflix. Three seasons with the final season coming … sometime.

What was wrong with us? When Ozark first came out, Dan and I watched the first two episodes and stopped watching. Maybe it was our mood or the pace of the setup or we found something else to watch. Who knows? We came back to it a month ago and … wham! We were hooked.

IMHO this is one of the best scripted, acted, developed, paced, and filmed streaming series we’ve seen in … probably since THE WIRE. Or the more recently BETTER CALL SAUL. (Yes, we think BCS is better than BREAKING BAD.)

We finally watched the last episode of season 3 and talk about blowing our minds. This series only has one season left (don’t know when that will happen), but I’m glad for that. Some shows run far too long and this one? Well, I honestly don’t know how they could drag it on for more than four seasons.

Wondering what all the hype is about? First of all, it takes place in the Ozarks, a steamy pot of crooked law enforcement, money laundering, class factions, and secrets. Have I mentioned a Mexican drug cartel? And a field of opium? Or how about children who know what their parents do, as in laundering money for the drug cartel?

That’s right. It’s actually a family drama. (Only half kidding.)

For those who have watched all three seasons and are itching for season 4 (14 episodes in two parts), check this out from DIGITAL SPY. Spoiler Alert! If you haven’t watched OZARK, don’t go to this link.

MY REVIEW IN BULLET POINTS

  • Laura Linney! She deserves multiple Emmys for her portrayal of Wendy Byrde the matriarch.
  • The plot twists can cause neck spasms. The ending of Season 3! Wasn’t expecting that!
  • Let’s hear it for the writers! Yes, those underrated people who make or break the series.
  • The class warfare. Understandably, the country folk are not inclined to like these city folk coming in and taking over. Who are smarter? I’ve gone from hating Darlene to rooting for her. She’s tough, rough, and takes no prisoners. Phenomenal acting by Lisa Emery.
  • Fabulous rolls for women. One of the few programs that have a multitude of strong women.
  • A misstep: the silly therapist. Wrong tone for the program. Some may enjoy it for the comic relief, but it took me out of the story.
  • Crazy excitement for Season 4. I want to know if this series will be a true neo-noir or not. Wonder what I mean by that? So far, it fits a neo-noir framework, but it all depends on the ending. If the Byrdes go belly up, it’s neo-noir. If they end up in Australia, happy as a clan, nope, not neo-noir. I expect it will be somewhere in the middle.
  • Fully fleshed out characters, even minor ones. Bravo to the creators.
  • And I love the graphics at the beginning of each episode. The O of Ozark is divided into four sections and each has a symbol that has to do with that episode. We love pausing at the O and trying to figure out what each symbol means before the episode starts. Here, for example, is Episode 1’s graphic O. This one is pretty easy, but they get harder. Click HERE for more OZARK graphics.


 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. Please “like” this post and follow my blog. I won’t swamp you. In the future, I will be adding unusual and what I consider interesting details to the review.

Have a great week!

 

Valerie J. Brooks

I’m the author of the psychological femme-noir thrillers Revenge in 3 Parts the first in the Angeline Porter Trilogy and Tainted Times 2 the second in the trilogy. I live in the McKenzie River Valley of Oregon with my husband Dan and our Havanese pooch Stevie Nicks.

CLICK HERE to sign up for my newsletter and keep up to date on my reviews, publications, and behind-the-scene stories of interest–like how I work with a cover artist, how I get my info about the FBI, what I’m going to do for the next novel, photos of my research, and some of my tricks and secrets for plotting twists and suspense. I’ll be launching a number of new projects soon that I’m sure you’ll want to know about.

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How Did I Miss This Author?

Hi everyone!

Hoping you’re all snuggled down in your home and taking advantage of this time to read or listen to great books. I just finished a novel I think you’ll like. It’s definitely an escape! Here’s the review I posted on Amazon and Goodreads. Enjoy!

I inhaled BURIED by Lynda La Plante. Yet as I did, something felt familiar. That’s when I checked out the author’s bio.

I should have known. PRIME SUSPECT remains one of my favorite series, and Jane Tennison is my all-time favorite DC. La Plante wrote the original script for the Prime Suspect and has written over 170 hours of international television. Embarrassingly, I am a newbie to her novels.

BURIED

Yes, I’m in my bathrobe

But not anymore. (Three are downloaded to my Audible library.)

Buried has everything I love in a crime thriller. Just as the promo states, “Buried has everything Lynda La Plante fans love—brilliant detective work, vicious criminals, strong characters and a dash of humor.”

But many novels have those yet don’t come alive or are satisfying. Why does this novel come alive? Because the author excels in setting scenes and putting me in her character’s shoes.

For example, I get a good dose of her new DC Jack Warr’s inner workings with this:

“The road he came in on had brought him past a yacht club, brimming with blazered gents and Pimm’s-supping ladies all showing off their knees regardless of the fact that it was cloudy with a stiff breeze. … (the description continues, almost in a lulling fashion) … Jack took in the stunning scenery, the calm, quiet feel, and the crisp clean air. ‘I’d be bored shitless within minutes,’ he thought to himself.”

Besides the bit of humor at the end of the paragraph, you learn a lot about this guy. All of this comes from the author’s ability to fully see the scene in her mind’s eye. Like a movie or a TV series, we get to be that character.

STEVIE

My helpmate & editor Stevie Nicks

DC Jack Warr and his wife Maggie are new characters in a new series. I’m ecstatic to get in on a new La Plante series. Jack Warr depends on Maggie to shore up his lack of engagement in and enthusiasm for his new job. He fights his own character traits, and we find out why by the end of the novel when he becomes fully enmeshed in his case. What a fascinating new character.

But he’s not the only character who sucked me into the story. Wow, the “widows.” I love them! These women from previous novels, movies, and series are tough as nails and brilliant. (I wish there was a way to see that 1983 series Widows here in the States; the US movie just didn’t do it for me.) But maybe in the future. I’m just sorry I had to engage with the widows this far along.

From the setup of the Rose Garden Cottage fire to the tie-in with the 1995 train robbery, I was glued to each page and stayed up way too late at night, plus stole any moment to read a scene or two. Luckily, I didn’t burn dinner.

I don’t rehash plots in my reviews and I try not to give any spoilers, but let’s just say I rooted for the anti-heroes. Enough said.

Five stars. A must-read. Thanks to BookishFirst for the ARC.

This Noir Will Haunt You.

Santa Fe Noir

The Sangre de Christo mountains loom blood red above the city.

La Llorona, the killing ghost of Hispanic legend, haunts the arroyos.

The “Land of Enchantment” becomes the “Land of Entrapment.”

Santa Fe Noir, edited by Ariel Gore, is perhaps one of my favorite noir collections from prolific Akashic Books. Noir is my favorite genre as it is honest in its depiction of the underrepresented and in telling stories that don’t glorify a culture of power. When I read noir, I expect a story of the underprivileged and displaced fighting against a power structure that’s impossible to conquer. As Ariel Gore says in her introduction, “Noir affirms our experience: Humans aren’t ethical. The good guys don’t win.”

The conquerors wrote the history of this area of New Mexico. Noir corrects those histories. Santa Fe might draw the mystics and new-age practitioners. It might scream health and vitality and beauty. But for those who have had their land, their culture, their very existence violently stolen from them, their stories are quite different. As Gore also states, “… noir speaks to the human consequences of external control and economic exploitation.” You find this is true in many of the classic noirs like the film Chinatown.

Here’s the other reason I love this anthology. In it, I found riveting voices, vivid descriptions of an unfamiliar dusty land, and characters who crept into my dreams.

In the first noir tale, “The Sandbox Story,” Candace Walsh captures the voice of a tough-talking therapist whose fixation on sex, the platypus, and a client lands her in trouble. Walsh vividly paints the conflicting elements of this Eldorado area. “Mountain ranges hug the town; some round like bellies and breasts, others crepuscular, jagged.” I held my breath, waiting for the story’s twist and the repercussions for this obsessed therapist. Both came with a bang.

Another favorite, Byron F. Aspaas’ “Táehii’ nii: Red Running into the Water” sucked me in with a lonely voice, a stranger with turquoise eyes, sex, murder, love, and anguish. It had it all. A native Dine’é man out of place in New York pines for love and his home on Pacheco Street. But his past there makes that a murderous impossibility.

In “The Night of the Flood,” author Ana June tells a tale of acid, lightning, fire, and rain. Katrina’s been at the blackjack table going on thirty-six hours. Her Aunt Mimi is dead and has left her something. She thinks she’ll be rich. She tells us about the summer she spent with her aunt at her “hippie, armpit-smelling house.” I knew then that this “inheritance” would not go well for her. What an understatement. While on an acid trip, she meets La Llorona, the legendary ghost who killed her children. As Katrina’s sister told her, “Don’t f_ _ _ with La Llorona, or she’ll f_ _ _ you right back.” Katrina should have listened. But then again, it was already too late.

One more favorite and this from Ariel Gore. Gore is one of my favorite writers. In “Nightshade,” Juliet, a murderer, is let out of prison to work on a farm. She falls for Molly who sells her prize tomatoes at the farmers market. Juliet speculates on prison life and the pagan women’s circle where she tried visualization. But her regard for all things “magic” is cynical. Her lust for Molly increases with Molly’s flirting. But Juliet begins to question why she, a murderer, is let out of prison on work detail at a farm when she never took part in the prison gardening program. By this time her tension matches mine.

I highly recommend this anthology. There’s a noir for every taste. Just don’t eat the tomatoes.

Thanks to Akashic Books for the advanced reader copy.


For those of you who love the behind-the-scene ways of the writer, check out my other blog GOBSMACKED WRITER. In the next week, I will be posting an inside look at how I choose and review books, where I start, what I look for, why I love it, and photos of my notes about the book along with marked-up pages. I also have other reviews on GOBSMACKED WRITER, some written before I started this blog.

Hope you join me! Val

A Page Turner & a Gender Bender Partnership

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Let’s start with what I loved.

I will support almost any book—fiction or non—that shows the real face of child trafficking. In The Janes, Luna creates a story that kept me reading. I wanted to know how Alice Vega, a PI and bounty hunter, and Max Caplan, a former police officer, find the killers of two young women and save four others who have been abducted and used in a sex ring. The story about the trafficking kept me rooting for Vega and Cap to destroy these sexual predators.

Most fascinating to me is the role reversal Luna uses with her two main characters. 

Vega is so male-like, she not only carries a gun, but she also carries bolt cutters to mangle the perps. She has no problem with laying out guys much bigger than she is almost to the point of being a cliche action figure. Vega wants to save these girls and will do whatever it takes. She’s as hard-boiled as they come.

Cap, on the other hand, has a daughter at home whom he projects on the girls he’s trying to save. He’s so afraid for his daughter as a dad that he often loses his temper and ability to function rationally. He’s emotional and caring. Cap always lets Vega take the lead. He sees her idyllically, and it’s obvious he not only cares for her but has the hots for her too.

I liked their interaction most of all. Sometimes fraught, sometimes sweet and humorous, as long as you don’t have a problem as I did with Vega, you’ll love this novel.

Now to Vega. As much as I love a strong, capable woman who fights for justice, something about her is off. Readers are told she has intuition, which is shown a few times but only to move a plot point, such as finding something important behind a painting. But what’s missing here is a backstory about how this woman became so violent. Right now, she’s a little two dimensional. I care for when I walk in Cap’s shoes. I see how he sees her. But that’s not enough. 

Disclaimer: perhaps her backstory is told in the first Alice Vega novel Two Girls Down, which I have not read.

The story not only mixes sex trafficking with illegal immigration and a Mexican cartel, but it also takes on police corruption. I loved the depth of the situation, all the obstacles Vega and Cap have to overcome and even the unlawful actions they use to save these girls. As we know, the police are often blind to their own. Plus, they are understaffed. That’s why the San Diego Police Department hired Vega and Cap for this case.

The bottom line here—I like this partnership and how the plot goes forward. It’s tense and compelling (although over-written at times) and gives us a true sense of what happens to these young girls and how the abductors treat them as property. There is, of course, several twists I didn’t see coming, including the ending.

I hope I find out more about what made Vega the way she is. I might give the next Alice Vega novel five stars next time.

Thank you to @DoubledayBooks and Bookish First for an advance reader copy.

Behind Every Lie by Christina McDonald

Behind Every Lie

Christina McDonald follows up her novel The Night Olivia Fell with the suspenseful Behind Every Lie and proves that she can dig deep into the human psyche and give us another emotionally charged story about family secrets, lies, and survival.

In one of the alternating points of view, we witness a terrifying mother’s experience—the loss of a child. While the two mothers chat downstairs, one of their daughters plunges from a second-story window to her death. To give more away would demand spoilers, and I won’t do that to readers.

But the novel doesn’t begin there. At the start of the story, one of the narrators, Kat, awakens after being hit by lightning. She is covered in blood and believes she killed her mother.

How those two threads weave together is the strength of this novel. McDonald takes us in and out of possibilities leading up to a conclusion that makes perfect sense and will be guessed by a few devout “thriller” readers.

The story shows us how one decision can carry through many lifetimes, decisions that seemed right and necessary at the time, and even seemed the only way out for these two women. I felt the emotional impact of what faced these women and can relate to the choices they made. The tension builds as the decisions lead to even more danger. Not all is what it seems.

The novel is well-plotted and twisty, and in Hitchcockian style, we know more than Eva does from Kat’s storyline, giving us an inside track to what Eva is up against.

View More: http://portraitsbyjustyna.pass.us/legg

I love how McDonald uses the Japanese repair method of kintsugi, the act of repairing broken pottery with gold lacquer. Kintsugi shows off the scars of the mended broken pieces instead of trying to hide them, a wonderful way of making an analogy to Eva’s many physical scars and her broken psyche.

I gave this novel four stars because, although McDonald can write some beautiful and appropriate descriptions for the tone of the scenes, she also creates analogies that stop me from reading. They can be awkward and melodramatic, and because I can’t quote from and an advanced reader copy, I can’t give you examples. Also, she doesn’t need to tell us how a character feels after showing us with body language and dialogue. This may sound picky, but I wish she’d trust the reader more with this.

Thank you to Net Galley and Simon & Schuster for the opportunity to read and review this advanced copy of Behind Every Lie.