The Ultimate Revenge Novel and A Madhouse Gothic Thriller!

Fall is a fabulous time to snuggle down with your favorite blanket, furry sidekick, and frothy beverage. I happen to like my red velvet chair, my Havanese pooch Stevie Nicks, and a mug of hot matcha. I’m close to finishing my third novel 1 LAST BETRAYAL in the Angeline Porter Trilogy. Authors juggle many hats. Mine include teacher (of noir writing and plot twist classes and workshops), promoter (social media, newsletters, emails, author events–finally!. and advertisements), writing activist (networking, active member of four writing organizations, taking desperate phone calls, consultations about writing issues), and writer (watching webinars to increase my writing knowledge, working with my writing group affectionately known as the LitChix, writing and rewriting my novels and articles).

Of course, my favorite hat is writer. That’s why I started this gig. I’m loving the next novel and am writing a few of the last chapters. How do I take a break? Watching movies and streaming series of psychological thrillers, suspense, and crime, with an occasional documentary.

The latest series I recommend are on Hulu:

“Only Murders in the Building” Comedy, Mystery

The British Series: “DCI Banks” Crime, Drama

The Australian Series: “City Homicide” Crime, Drama

The French/Swedish Series: “Midnight Sun” Thriller, Drama, Crime

I stay up about two hours after my husband goes to bed. When he goes to bed, he kisses me and says, “Enjoy your sex and death.”

I wonder sometimes if he ever worries when I pick up a knife or research poisons.

Oh, heck, it’s good to keep him on his toes.

Remember—Loving someone means never having to say, “Put down that meat cleaver.”

If you like dark humor, follow me on my FB author page. I often post dark humorous memes. For example, followers loved this one!


THE COLLECTIVE by Alison Gaylin

A Harrowing, Addictive, and Twisty Revenge Tale I Could Not Put Down

In Alison Gaylin’s thriller or what I call femme-noir, the author introduces us to Camille Gardner. Camille is still grieving the death of her fourteen-year-old daughter Emily who died five years before. The young man responsible for Emily’s death wins a humanitarian award, and at the ceremony, Camille loses it. She publicly accuses the Harris boy of Emily’s death. Camille is dragged out, and her breakdown makes the news and social media.

Enter—The Collective, a group on the dark web run by someone known only by her screen name .001. The Collective is known as Ağlayan Kaya, the weeping stone, and allows only women who have lost a loved one at the hands of another. Its mission is to exact justice on those rich enough or high enough in society to escape punishment. Camille is pulled into the group and to say anything more about the plot would spoil this harrowing, modern tale.

This is a revenge tale for the internet age. The Collective sets itself apart from other revenge tales because it starts with a sympathetic premise—justice—and follows a sympathetic main character. Wouldn’t we all like to see people who are guilty of crimes and who escaped their fate punished for their bad deeds, especially when it concerns the death of a child. Unfortunately, money can buy a lot of justice in our system, but revenge, or vigilante justice, can also be blind and, in this instance, dangerous.

Camille finds out just how dangerous. I could not stop reading as Camille discovers there is no pulling out or quitting the group. She also can trust no one. I could not put this book down. And to say the end was unpredictable or a surprise is an understatement. I actually gasped!

Besides a phenomenal, thought-provoking story, the writing is crisp, the concept stellar, the atmosphere spooky, and the characters fully fleshed out. I ached for Camille and understood her rage. I thought the ending was well earned and fell more into the noir category than thriller.

Thanks to #NetGalley, #AlisonGaylin, and #WilliamMorrow for this advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.  


NANNY NEEDED by Georgina Cross

Rebecca in an NYC Penthouse with Conditions

Twenty-six-year-old Sarah Larsen is in debt. She cared for her ill Aunt Clara, and now Sarah is hounded by bill collectors for all the medical and hospital costs. She feels guilty that Jonathan her partner helps her. They both work at the same restaurant, but what they make doesn’t touch the debt. Poor Sarah doesn’t know what to do until she finds a job posted in her building.

“Nanny needed. Discretion is of the utmost importance. Special conditions apply.”

How hard can a nanny job be? With a nanny job during the day and restaurant work at night, her financial woes could be over. All seems too good to be true when she answers the ad and is hired by the Bird family who live in a glamorous NYC penthouse. She immediately connects with Mrs. Bird. Even though the family seems eccentric, she’s happy, although Patty, the four-year-old she’ll soon be nanny for, is sick and Sarah spends most of her time with Mrs. Bird.

As the days go by and little Patty isn’t getting better, Sarah finds out that the former nannies left under mysterious circumstances. When she learns the Birds’ twenty-year, mind-blowing secret, she doesn’t go back out of fear. Unfortunately, she signed a contract, not only an NDA, but one that locks her into the job. She’s dragged back to the penthouse.

I won’t say more about the plot, only that it’s an over-the-top, melodramatic, Gothic page turner. Set aside any thoughts about believability because you have entered the Crazy Zone. The novel feels Gothic like reading Rebecca, the penthouse like a huge English estate. The twists and turns kept me on edge, and I kept wondering how this young woman was ever going to get out of this nightmare! I guessed one major twist near the end, but not the forehead-smacking ending.

Georgina Cross captures an almost timeless feel, and it felt great to let go, to let the crazy take over and not care if it made sense or was believable. It’s just fun sometimes to let go.

Thanks to #NetGalley #GeorginaCross and #Ballantine


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 lovely, light-filled holiday season!

 

Valerie J. Brooks

I’m the author of the psychological femmes 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.

Also, follow me on social media. I love my friends and fans!

FACEBOOK INSTAGRAM PINTEREST LINKEDIN GOBSMACKED WRITER

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

IMG_9870

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.