Monthly Archives: August 2020

THE RETURN

PUBLISHER’S BLURB – excerpt

An edgy and haunting debut novel about a group of friends who reunite after one of them has returned from a mysterious two-year disappearance. Julie is missing, and the missing don’t often return.

Everyone has seen a gaggle of girlfriends. A clique formed at an early age traveling through life attached to one another like an extra appendage. The Return features four girlfriends, now in their late twenties and separated by geography but never by bond: Julie, Elise, Molly and Mae. This  foursome has always been bifurcated by personality. Julie and Elise; Molly and Mae.

Julie gets the harebrained idea to go backpacking, alone and inexperienced, in the Acadia National Park and soon learns she’s bit off more than she can chew. She becomes lost and after a futile search by rescue teams is declared dead a year later. Her memorial service brings the three remaining members of the clique together. Elise can’t bring herself to believe Julie is dead. Julie has always pulled a disappearing act only to reappear when she feels like it. Molly and Mae mourn Julie’s death while Elise holds out hope she will see Julie again.

Two years to the day she disappeared, Julie is found sitting on her front porch. She is wearing the clothes she disappeared in and claiming to have no memory of the events of the past two years. Mae, the wealthiest of the group, arranges a get-away to a remote and bizarrely designed hotel to welcome Julie back into the fold and reunite the clique.

The trio gathers in the hotel awaiting Julie’s arrival and speculate if she has changed over the past two years. Suddenly there is a loud knock on the door. The beautiful Julie is now standing before them emaciated. Her skin hangs slack and waxy. Her teeth, once perfect, are now chipped and discolored. Her once beautiful green eyes appear jaundiced. Her lush curly hair is now thin, stringy and greasy. When she speaks, her breath smells like roadkill. The four girls head down to the hotel restaurant acting as if she hasn’t changed. It’s just a little lost memory, they say. Julie smiles and acts as though she doesn’t see the side glances and the behind-her-back murmurs. Even when the life-long advocate for a vegetarian lifestyle, stuns the others when she order a rare steak and eats with her hands, they say nothing.

The next morning, the old Julie with the bouncy curls and fashion model skin arrives for breakfast. And still no one asks what is going on with her. And she offers no explanation. The days pass. The atmosphere in the hotel is changing. The staff acts spooked. There are sounds in the walls. The thermostat in Elise’s room seems possessed always resetting itself to freezing. Some days Julie appears bedraggled. Oher days she seems infused with instant health. Still no one mentions it.

And quoting Forrest Gump. That’s all I got to say about that.

What I liked:

  • A debut author with a novel approach to an age-old theme of spooky hotels and strange happenings.
  • The behind the scenes descriptions of the hotel evoked intense sensations. I had a physical reaction, my stomach turned over, as we entered each hotel room and learned of its decor.
  • Julie’s physical changes were striking without being overly graphic.
  • The characters were genuine. I hated them. Can’t think of a time I could stand a bunch of loud, hard-drinking, entitled girls acting like the world owned them a favor while at the same time being needy, in-secure and desperate for friendship.
  • Although the first half of the book was so boring with repetitive groveling dialogue, I did find myself very engaged as the tension rose. The author has great promise and I would be interested in her next book.

What I didn’t like:

  • All the baggage each girl was carrying around inside and hearing about it over and over and over. There never was any growth in their characters. They were stuck in a time warp of their youth.
  • The second half of the story was super-charged and just as you expected a super nova ending, it ended like a slow leaky tire leaving the reader wondering -what just happened?

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THE BRUTAL TELLING: Inspector Gamache Series #5


Still Life paperback book cover.jpgFifteen years ago, Louise Penny published Still Life, the first book in a new cozy murder mystery series. Still Life introduced readers to a mystical Québec village called Three Pines and to a cast of quirky characters. Each book can be read independently and enjoyed but to fully understand the main characters, I encourage reading the series in order.

THE BRUTAL TELLING: Inspector Gamache Series #5

It’s midnight. Olivier Brulé leaves The Bistro, but instead of turning toward home, he slips up the hill turning onto a hidden trail leading deep into the forest. He spots a faint light in the distance. He has arrived, as he does every two weeks in the dark of night, with a load of groceries, at the Hermit’s hidden cabin.

“They sipped Orange Pekoe tea. A treat, Olivier knew, reserved for the Hermit’s honored guest. His only guest.”  After sharing a familiar and terrifying story together, Olivier heads home with an object the Hermit has given him to cover the cost of the supplies. He has been careful, as always to avoid detection. He doesn’t want anyone, especially Gabri, to know about the Hermit.

Early the next morning the phone rings at Olivier’s home. A passerby has spotted a body on the floor in the Bistro!

Mon Dieu, Olivier, the man’s been murdered!
But who is he?, Gabri whispered.

It was the Hermit. Dead. Murdered. In the bistro.
I don’t know, said Olivier.

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his team, once again, arrive in Three Pines. Who was this stranger? Where did he come from? How did he get in the Bistro? Everyone hopes the murderer is also someone unknown; it is unthinkable that someone in this tight-nit village is capable of such violence.

The townsfolk wonder about the newcomers that have purchased an old rundown estate overlooking the village. Their plans to create an upscale resort has upset the village and threatens the future of the Bistro and Gabri’s Bed and Breakfast. The discovery of the body in Olivier’s Bistro only intensifies the unrest and distrust. It is obvious the murder occurred elsewhere and someone deliberately staged the body.

The resort’s groundskeeper, clearing overgrown horse paths, leads to the discovery of the Hermit’s cabin and the bloody scene of the crime. What they find inside the cabin is even more baffling than the murder and again raises questions about Olivier’s honesty and character. Could this beloved resident of Three Pines have a dark side? Gamache struggles to separate his deep feelings for Olivier with his uncanny ability to recognize when someone is not telling the truth or withholding information. He so very much wants to exonerate Olivier but every new clue in someway implicates him.

The atmosphere of Brutal Telling has a markedly different feel than previous books in the series. There’s the usual engaging dialogue tucked here and there but we begin to realize we don’t know our lovable characters as well as we thought. It is as though, the author, allows us to learn everyone’s inner thoughts. Sometimes, it doesn’t reflect the happy-go-lucky exterior we have come to know and love. Other times we see that the characters we thought were curmudgeons are really caring and thoughtful people. Could a Saint also be a Sinner?  You will be forced to reflect on those times when you have done or said something you would rather the world didn’t know about.

The ending will shock you. Major hint. Read the next book, Bury Your Dead.

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A Solitude of Wolverines: a suspense fiction

Don’t go down to the woods tonight–who knows what you will find?
Something might be stalking you, and crawl right up behind
You might feel a cold, cold breath on your pretty neck
You’ll say that you ain’t scared… you’ll turn around to check…
Your eyes go wide, your knees go weak, you won’t know what to do
Don’t go down to the woods tonight–I wouldn’t if I were you!

–  performed by The Hellblinki Sextet

Fans of Nevada Barr and her hard-core National Park Ranger Anna Pigeon meet Alice Henderson’s “badass” wildlife biologist named Alex Carter. Like Nevada Barr, herself a former Park Ranger, Alice Henderson, an author of a science fiction series and suspense novels, is an experienced wildlife researcher. Her previous works include the dystopian series, The Skyfire Saga.

A Solitude of Wolverines (October 27, 2020) is her first book in a new suspense series and is set in Montana, high up in the Rocky Mountain wilderness. Alex Carter, an audacious female wildlife biologist, faces head-on, all types of wild creatures and dangers- wild, exotic, and human.

We meet Alex struggling with why she made the concession to put her boyfriend’s needs above her own  and move to the big city. Brad’s high-flying big city career has made him a demanding narcissist. Alex pines for a return to her life working in nature. Her achievements in conservation in the city haven’t met all her needs. While Alex is dealing with her failing relationship, she attends a conservation award ceremony and is nearly killed by a rabid anti-conservationist shooter. Rattled to her core, she jumps at the chance to leave the city to takeover a wolverine study in the Rocky Mountains wilderness of Montana.

The book excels in revealing Alex’s affinity for the natural world. As a woodsy woman, I found myself sharing time with Alex to the whispering wind in the trees, the sounds of creatures carrying on their daily lives, the joy of discovery of what lies just over the hill or a spotlighted wildflower captured in a sudden moment of shifting sunlight.  I also remember, like Alex, the unnatural sounds of impending danger, a sound out of synchrony with the normal harmony of the wilderness – a low threatening snort, the slithering in the grass too close for comfort, or the sense of being observed or stalked.

Most of the residents of the fictional town of Bitterroot, like other cloistered towns, disdain outlanders.  The recent creation of the Land Trust for Wildlife Conservation has everyone’s dander up. The land, the site of an abandoned large-scale ski resort, had been openly used by the locals to graze livestock and hunt game. The land is now off-limits. The ban is observed by some and abused by others.

After settling into the old ski lodge, Alex takes a deep breath and looks out the bedroom window reflecting on her trip to town the day before. She had used the old truck to pick up supplies in town and had been nearly forced off the road by a reckless driver. She became startled by finding a man placing a note under the windshield wipers of the truck. Now what?

You are not welcome here.
Leave while you can.

Our girl hitches up her gear and heads out to set up camera traps looking for wolverines. She will not be scared from her completing her mission. She is grateful for her childhood trips with her mother learning wilderness survival skills. And it won’t hurt that she has martial arts training.

As you head out into the mountainous wilderness with her, don’t lose track of your will to live. Forget your phone. There is no service. When you find yourself in danger, it is just you against  the unknown. And there are plenty of those things that go bump in the night.

I rated the book a solid 4 stars. The information about wolverines and information about endangered species was fascinating and informative. The suspense scenes were captivating. The exacting descriptions of her equipment and research skills was very interesting. I was pleased to see that our new heroine could take on the big guys – go girl!  The book wasn’t perfect. As a first book in a series, it felt mired down at times establishing the character. And let’s just say, her boy friend, Brad seemed distracting and unnecessary and phone calls to her best friend interrupted the tension from time to time.  Looking forward to the next book!

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