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.

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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.

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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.

I KILLED ZOE SPANOS: Kit Frick’s Highly Anticipated Novel Is Set To Blow YA Mystery Readers’ Minds

YA books have become some of the best-written novels, bar none.
I want to include a few YA thrillers on my review blog and that means I will feature other reviewers who have my respect and do their homework. Oh, and know how to write! Ludwig’s reviews are some of the best. Besides, I like hanging with my fellow tea drinkers.

The Rise and Rebellion of Women Noir Writers

“In noir, women’s place until fairly recently has been limited to two: muse, sexual object. The particular strength of the female noir vision isn’t a recognizable style but rather a defiantly female, indeed feminist, perspective.”—Joyce Carol Oates, introduction, Cutting Edge

Cutting Edge

Cutting Edge: New Stories of Mystery and Crime by Women Writers

Joyce Carol Oates, Editor  Akashic Books, Publisher

A review by Valerie J. Brooks, author of Revenge in 3 Parts

Women writers of crime, mystery, and noir have been kicking their male counterparts in the keister lately. Evidence of this is Akashic Books’ outstanding new anthology Cutting Edge. In the world of noir, Akashic wears the publishing crown of noir, from novels to over 100 noir anthologies set in cities around the world.

In this new anthology, authors Aimee Bender, Steph Cha, S.J. Rosen, Edwidge Danticat, and twelve others prove that women have the cutting edge over their male counterparts. Joyce Carol Oates who Akashic calls “a queen of the noir genre” puts her keen, dark eye to stories that skewer the gendered status quo of “femme-fatale.” No longer do women lure hapless men to their demise. Instead, these writers of femmes-noir, a subcategory of contemporary neo-noir, have a little fun at the expense of a crumbling patriarchal society.

The modern female noir and crime story covers a lot of ground. These stories with their strong sense of place and atmosphere kept me up late into the night and gave me thrills and chills.

Take for example my favorite story in the anthology, Aimee Bender’s “Firetown.” An erotic contemporary story is set in a Los Angles that is “crackling” after eleven months of wildfires. This story has the appeal of classic noir with its repartee and humor, its PI and beautiful client.

But the PI is female, owns an apricot-colored chair, and drinks whiskey, rocks, “to maintain image”; the beautiful client vapes and owns a cat; and other characters develop Etsy sites and drink pale ale. Never far away, however, are the fires, a physical and existential threat.

Another favorite is Bernice L. McFadden’s “OBF, Inc,” a terrifying contemporary tale set in office spaces that could be in any city. This is alternative current history where Black Lives Matter is a terrorist group and blacks are only allowed typewriters and analog phones. By the end of the story, you’ll learn what OBF stands for and why racism still burns hot in our current culture.

Whatever your taste in dark tales, you’ll find delicious ones in Cutting Edge. Steph Cha’s “Thief” is more crime than noir and Elizabeth McCracken’s “An Early Specimen” is more horror than crime. Justice, a favorite theme of mine, finds its way into Shelia Kohler’s “Miss Martin,” another story that raises the current curtain on dark days.

Round out this anthology with a Joyce Carol Oates story and Margaret Atwood poetry, and you have a gift to reread and read out loud. The cynical voices, themes, exemplary language, even the settings defy categories and would be comfortable in either literary or genre. To be scared, stimulated, transfixed, and entertained should be the motive of any writing. Cutting Edge is perfect reading for those with a taste for the nocturnal.

Authors included in the anthology:

Livia Llewellyn, S.J. Rozan, Lisa Lim, Lucy Taylor, Edwidge Danticat, Jennifer Morales, Elizabeth McCracken, Bernice L. McFadden, Aimee Bender, Steph Cha, S.A. Solomon, Cassandra Khaw, Valerie Martin, Sheila Kohler, Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates

#noirfiction #cuttingedge #psychological #suspense #thriller #books #gifts

Val’s Review of Attica Locke’s HEAVEN, MY HOME

I can’t let Ludwig have all the fun reviewing crime and thrillers. Here’s my review of a book I highly recommend.

Attica Locke creates stories rich in setting and character and entwined with history. (Bluebird, Bluebird) The plot of her latest, HEAVEN, MY HOME, is not only intense but complex and multilayered. Levi, the nine-year-old son of an Aryan Brotherhood leader, goes missing. Texas Ranger Darren Matthews is assigned to find him. As crime novels go, that would be ordinary, except Matthews is black and must follow the law even when faced with legal and moral issues. One of the settings he’s called to, Hopetown, was created after the civil war for freed slaves. Now white supremacists live there too, making a living off people who are nostalgic for anti-bellum Texas.

Matthews comes into the assignment with personal problems, including a mother who doesn’t have his best interests at heart, a vulnerable marriage, and a past investigation that haunts him. As a character, he’s so fully fleshed out that I feel as if I know him, making his story the kind I yearn for as a reader.

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I won’t go into any more plot details as other reviews have covered those. I do enjoy how Locke interweaves Texas history in the novel, plus pulls us into a world in 2016 that is more conflicted than it was a few decades ago. Like a Pandora’s Box of Bigots, the racists have become emboldened and don’t fear the law. Levi the nine-year-old is a bad actor, but questions arise for Matthews as well as the reader as Matthews must put aside his feelings and search for the boy. Should Levi be held to same standards as his racists’ relations? Is his hate conditioning or something more rooted in his genetic make-up?

Locke leans heavily on the idea of forgiveness. Should we always try to forgive, or are there times we cannot afford to forgive?

I’m always drawn to crime and thrillers that ask big, bold, and uneasy questions like these. Early in the novel, Matthews says:

“Maybe the rules had to be different. Maybe justice was no more a fixed concept than love was, and the poets and bluesmen knew the rules better than we did.”

Maybe so. Think about that for a minute before you dive into the novel because once you do, you’ll be too swept up in not only what happens, but what choices the characters must make. Walk in their boots. Experience a time of both past and present, times that make moral and legal choices so difficult.

Bloody Creek Murder, A Winston Radhauser Mystery 6, Susan Clayton-Goldner

Another great novel I have to read! Now on my TBR pile. A great way to spend the summer–reading!

Jeannie Zelos Book Reviews

Bloody Creek Murder, A Winston Radhauser Mystery 6, Susan Clayton-Goldner

Bloody Creek Murder: A Winston Radhauser Mystery: #6 by [Clayton-Goldner, Susan]

General Fiction (Adult), Mystery and thrillers.

Well, by now Radhauser is feeling a bit like an old friend. I know if ever I had need of the police I want someone like him on the case. He’s moral, dedicated but not one of those folk who want to find someone to blame, anyone will do, for him it needs to be the right person.
This book shows too well the pressures the police often face by the media to find a culprit, but like Radhauser I feel finding the actual person who did the crime is important, not just someone to keep the police looking good in the eyes of the media. In this day though, when appearance is all, when money, elections, voting and popularity are so important its simple to be sucked in and take the easy route…

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