Is There Such a Thing as a Perfect Secret?

A Review of THE PERFECT SECRET by Steena Holmes by Valerie J. Brooks

Starla Bishop has trouble staying out of jail. Her poor mother tries to remind Starla of why she lands there every time. Somehow her habit of conning people overtakes her common sense.

But now she wants to turn her life around. She has a job, a real job. She’s met a man who is interested in her. She’s finally feeling valued. This time she has a real chance.

Or does she?

Stevie and I love a good thriller

Steena Holmes latest psychological suspense novel The Perfect Secret twists and turns, rises and drops like a roller coaster. I can’t give too much away as I don’t do spoilers, but you can count on being upset or frustrated when someone or something interrupts your reading time.

Before you dive back into the U.S. reopening and summer calling you to the great outdoors, give yourself a treat, cuddle up with your favorite blanket, settle in with your favorite snack, and read The Perfect Secret. But buckle up for a crazy ride. 

Does Starla really believe she’s met the man who proclaims he loves her and is her fairy god-father? Who in this story is really in love with whom? What is going on in that shed? Can you really trust a car salesman—or his ex-wife who is married to her research of plants and is Starla’s boss? Pay close attention readers. The game gets very complicated. What’s right under your nose or feet isn’t what you think it is.


Steena Holmes

With 2 million copies of her titles sold world wide, Steena Holmes was named in the Top 20 Women Authors to read in 2015 by Good Housekeeping. She continues to write books that deal with issues that touch parents heart, whether it is through her contemporary fiction or psychological suspense novels.

To find out more about her books and her love for traveling, you can visit her website at http://www.steenaholmes.com


Valerie J. Brooks

I’m the author of the psychological femme-noir thriller Revenge in 3 Parts the first in the Angeline Porter Trilogy. The second in the trilogy Tainted Times 2 will be available Sept. 1, 2020. 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!

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We Should All Resist the Trap of the “Dead Girl Industrial Complex”

These Women Ivy Pochoda

I’m a big fan of Ivy Pochoda. Part of my fangirl heart-thumps come from her NOT focusing on the serial killer. Instead, she brings us the world of the women affected by the killer. I cheer that she doesn’t prioritize the experience of the aggressor. In fact, in her latest novel that I review, we don’t need to know much about him as he’s fairly ordinary and uninteresting, as many of them are.

After my review, I’ve given a link to an interview with Pochoda. Leah Carroll states in the Refinery29 interview:

… (Pochoda) amplifies and interweaves the voices of those who are too often silenced, thereby offering a nuanced, impactful portrait of the effects of violence on a community of women.

Fetishizing killers has caused a serious disassociation in how we read and write. Many of the women authors who are writing thrillers now have taken the approach of focusing on the families affected by the killer.

In fact, over a year ago, I stopped listening to the podcast MY FAVORITE MURDER. At first, I listened to it with the idea that the podcasters, two women comedians, had found a new way of bringing our attention to crimes that had been committed. But after a while, I began to feel sickened that I was laughing at how these stories were presented. What about the victims? Was there anything funny about them or their families or the sickos who were doing the murders? I’d been caught up in the antics and the funny storytelling when in fact, these were real stories about real people who had had their lives upended and had to deal with traumatic loss.

So I salute Ivy Pochoda. It’s always a risk to write against the cultural tide, but she triumphs in her new novel.

My Review

Ivy Pochoda’s THESE WOMEN is an inspired novel and one of my favorites of the year so far–and for a very good and unexpected reason. This psychological thriller doesn’t focus on who the serial killer is or why he does what he does.

Instead, the suspense is built around five black and Latina women, most of them sex workers, living in the same area as sex workers who were killed in the 90s. The killer was never found. Now women are being killed again in the same manner–slit throat and thrown from a car. The story follows these five women’s intertwined lives in their neighborhood in south L.A. 

snuggled up reading on my Kindle

‘Feelia opens the novel in 1999 and pulls you into her world with tough talk and street wisdom. She’s in the hospital because she forgot her own advice. When you work the streets, you’ve got to be “diligent.” The beep-beep-beep of the hospital machines sound in the background as she tells us about the hard game on the streets where she hangs with her 5th of Hennessy and pack of Pall Malls. How she didn’t pay attention that day when she was smoking and staring up at the trees that were dancing like a couple of drunk girls at a party—sway, sway, sway—and was talked into a car by a slick man who cut her throat and tossed her aside like garbage.

When Dorian’s story starts, it’s 2014. Young girls gather at her fish shack, spouting profanity and taunting her. Dorian lost her daughter Lecia to the killer years ago and has lapses, sometimes thinking she recognizes Lecia hanging with these girls. Sometimes she has heartbreaking visits from Lecia. Kathy, another sex worker, frequents the fish shack and seems unsatisfied with everything Dorian tries to do for her. Dorian is not only tries to save her fish shack, she also tries to save Julianna, who looks like Dorian’s dead daughter and who becomes a major target of the serial killer.

Ivy Pochoda

Ivy Pochoda adeptly creates a noir atmosphere throughout the novel with fires in the hills filling the air with smoke. Dead hummingbirds are left at Dorian’s doorstep. Green parrots fly by and roost in the palms. NPR follows the news of a young black man shot by police at point-blank range. Class issues arise when Dorian loses a catering job because she won’t use the back door of an upscale house, and the wife notices that Dorian knows her husband. No one in authority cares about sex workers dying, and Dorian continues over fifteen years to plague the authorities to find out who killed her daughter.

As their stories overlap and collide, we’re drawn inevitably to the shocking identity of the serial killer–shocking from the women’s viewpoint.

Even the arrest of the killer disturbs the neighborhood, and even though justice is served, peace is not around the corner. I bought a copy of this beautiful, haunting novel so that I can reread it.

THESE WOMEN, I hope, should become a classic.

Thank you for the ARC. #TheseWomen #NetGalley #HarperCollins

Rating: 5 out of 5.

INTERVIEW: “How Ivy Pochoda Resisted The Trap Of The ‘Dead Girl Industrial Complex'” by Leah Carrol for Refinery29

CLICK ON THIS LINK TO READ: “These Women TV Series Based On Book In Works From Handmaid’s Tale Creator Bruce Miller & MGM/UA TV”

Other books by Ivy Pochoda


I’m the author of the psychological femme-noir thriller Revenge in 3 Parts the first in the Angeline Porter Trilogy. The second in the trilogy Tainted Times 2 will be available Sept. 1, 2020. 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. Thank you to everyone who joins me on this journey!

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

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.