Monthly Archives: March 2020

AN UNWANTED GUEST

Gwen has never been so frightened in her life . . .
Is someone else dead?
She wonders if soon there will be no one left at all.
She wants to live, but she hopes that if she has to die, she isn’t the last one.

Outside Mitchell Inn, high up a remote mountain road in the N.Y. Catskills, the blizzard is intensifying. Snow pelts the windows like bullets and the wind howls angrily. Inside, the fireplace crackles and snaps throwing welcoming heat around the lobby. The weekend is about to begin and the mystery awaits.

The family-owned upscale  hotel normally fills all twelves rooms on a winter weekend. This weekend, the forecast of a snowstorm brought cancellations. Just as well, as non-resident staff are unavailable. James, the owner and the house chef, and his son, Bradley are not worried. There are only six reservations and everything has been prepared in advance.

As the Friday afternoon light begins to fade, the sounds of tires crunching on fallen snow fills the parking lot. The guests are looking forward to a respite from their hectic lives totally disconnected from clamor of city life. Mitchell Inn advertises they are completely off grid. Other than electricity and a single landline, guests will find no internet or cell service.

Our cast of  quirky Agatha Christie-lite characters arrive, stomping off snow in the entrance way and shivering from the arctic cold. Ian and Lauren, a newly dating couple hope for privacy to deepen their relationship. They bring with them Gwen and Riley, old college friends, rescued from their disabled vehicle on the trip up the mountain. Gwen, living with the stain of a bad decision from long ago hopes to help Riley suffering from PTSD after years as a war correspondent in Afghanistan. David, a criminal defense attorney, needs the quiet solitude to recharge his mental batteries. Beverly, a middle-aged housewife, has booked a quiet get-away hoping to recharge her failing marriage. Her husband, Henry, reluctantly has agreed to come with her. Candice is looking for a quiet place to put the finishing touches on her debut fiction novel. The wealthy Matthew and his fiance Dana, take a needed break from planning their high society wedding.

The guests arrive for Friday’s evening meal, each surreptitiously scanning the room, checking each other out as they gathered. The stunningly beautiful Dana, now shed of her winter cloaks, strode elegantly into the room flashing the fist-sized diamond on her left hand. The men sat taller and the women groaned. After dinner and cocktails, everyone headed to their rooms feeling safe and comfortable as the raging storm outside screamed and threw its fists at the windows.

The peace and calm inside ended early Saturday morning with the sound of a hysterical scream.The beautiful Dana was discovered bloody and broken at the bottom of the first floor stairs. Was it a terrible accident or was she murdered? As the crowd gathered around her dead body, each reeling at the discovery, Mitchell Inn went dark from downed power and telephone lines.

With her death, the game is afoot. Upon closer examination it was determined she was murdered! The perfect weekend has ended as they stand in the dark, the temperature in the Inn falling rapidly without a functioning furnace. The atmosphere darkens hour by hour as they realize they have no way to notify the authorities. Some one is a murderer in their group! Accusations fly, more bodies are found, and each person reveals their true self under pressure.

What? Did you expect me to tell you what happens next? Nada gonna happen. This short novel is the perfect anecdote to stave off the anxiety of staying confined in your home during this nation wide crisis. Not exactly a cozy mystery offering on par with Ruth Rendell or Agatha Christie but none-the-less entertaining. Having been born and raised around winter blizzards, I can still hear the wind howling and the bite of snow on my face. Thought the setting heightened the stories tension well.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the advanced reader copy in exchange for my review and opinion.

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THE END OF THE WORLD RUNNING CLUB

A personal mea culpa is owed Edleweiss and Sourcebooks
for taking so long to review this ARC.

It’s hard being a human. Most of the time we’re just blind idiots seeking joy in a world full of fear and pain. We have no idea what we’re doing, and on the rare occasions when we get things right, we’re just lucky.
-Ed Hill (End of the World Running Club)

Edgar Hill is a self-centered egotist overweight slob uninterested in exercise and more interested in a cold brew. He prefers time away from his family and the drudgery of home life with squawking children and the admonitions of his exhausted wife. He loves his family; just doesn’t see the point in investing his time with them. He doesn’t seem to find the point of anything, actually.

His heavy drinking has obscured what has been happening in the news so when the world ends, he is caught flat footed. There had been rumors in the news that something bad might happened; no one, most certainly Ed, took it seriously. When it happened, asteroids destroyed most of the UK, leaving the landscape resembling the craters of the moon.

We’re idiots. Creatures of denial who have learned not to be afraid of our closets. We need to see the monster in the room before we scream. The monster burst in on Sunday. . . All I know is that the end – in the end – came from the skies.

Ed, his wife and two children were miraculously rescued and join survivors, under the control of what remained of the military, at the site of a former military base. One day, while a handful of people, including Ed, were out scavenging for food and supplies, helicopters evacuated the refugee camp to another site nearly 500 miles away.

And just like that, Ed finds himself alone with a half dozen strangers. With nothing. With no idea what to do next. All realizing they have been abandoned.

Ed’s journey to find his family is the crux of the story. This once degenerate husband and father finds it took the world coming to an end to make him see himself in the eyes of his family. The story progresses slowly, often sprinkled with heart-rendering descriptions of tragedy witnessed along the long road back to his family.

There are moments of humor and levity that provide relief from the harsh conditions and anxiety of survival.  I, like others who reviewed the book, found that the title didn’t exact match the dialogue.  Ed’s running didn’t occur until roughly two-thirds of the way through the book. Just why a character that finds physical exercise and running in particular offensive, is an interesting twist. Ed never learns to love running but he discovers what Maslow defines as self-actualization, the desire to become everything that one is capable of becoming.

A good read during these uncertain times.

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WHO DID YOU TELL?

I smell him first, or rather the aftershave he used to wear. A ’90s vintage scent – masculine and woody. I spin round, but no one’s there. . .
Then I see him, sprinting toward the sea, the furry flaps of his trapper hat flying in the breeze. . . Simon.

Who Did You Tell?, the second published novel from author, Leslie Kara, returns the reader to the British seaside village of Flinstead-on-Sea. Her first published novel, The Rumor, examined the dangers of malicious gossip.

Who Did You Tell? is the story of a struggling alcoholic recently released from rehab with nowhere to go but to move in with her mother. Mom has let her know that this is it – fail this time and you are truly on your own. Astrid hoped leaving her old life behind, telling no one where she was going, and moving to Flinstead where she is unknown, would provide the base from which to rebuild her life. A name change from Hiliary helps with anonymity.

To her credit, she dutifully, but reluctantly, attends weekly meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. Astrid is not ready to open her sordid story to these strangers. Long years of drugs and booze have left Astrid filled with paranoia and guilt leftover from hazy memories and big gaps of her life lost in long periods of blackouts. She has a very dark secret – she believes she is responsible for the death of her one true love, Simon. Simon and Astrid had a codependent relationship centered on getting high and socially unacceptable methods of funding their needs. After breaking up with Astrid, Simon entered rehab and began a sober life.  A serendipitous meeting with Astrid found Simon falling off the wagon, and shortly after, committing suicide.

In time, still finding it difficult to curb the allure of alcohol to self-medicate, Astrid makes a good friend from AA, finds a new love interest, and begins to believe that she just might be on the road to a better life. Until.  She begins to smell Simon’s uncommon aftershave in strange places and gets that eerie feeling that she is being watched.

“I don’t want to look over my shoulder because that feels like giving in to the fear. . . I force myself to turn round just long enough to see there’s no one there. . .”

She’s scared. . . For a second I think sensed me. She stops dead in her tracks and spins round. . .  [I pretend.] My forefinger curls, then squeezes. The bullet hits it target. . . Not yet. The game’s only just begun.

Who Did You Tell? is a mixed tale. Addiction and its perpetual grip on lives and the importance of friendship and family in helping hold steady against the strong pull of addiction. A mysterious stalking stranger insidiously begins a campaign to destroy Astrid’s new life by first messing mentally with her mind before hoping to end it all with her tragic death. Astrid struggles with questions – What did I do?  How was I found in Flinstead? Who did I tell?

The strongest theme, in my opinion, was Astrid’s battle with her demons. The mysterious stranger was effective at obfuscating the reason for stalking Astrid and was entertaining. Her romance and potential future with Josh wasn’t my favorite part of the book; didn’t feel right and possibly was included as a false flag as the potential stalker. I settled on rating the book at 4 stars because of the example of Astrid’s life as an addict. Enjoyed the book and look forward to any future fiction from this author.

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