A Town Called Solace #marylawson @knopfCA @JanBelisle @absltmom

Jan’s Review

In small town Solace, Ontario, in the 1970’s, eight-year-old Clara keeps a daily vigil at the window as she awaits her missing sister Rose’s return. Her neighbor, Mrs. Orchard (Elizabeth) is in the hospital and Clara’s job is to take care of her cat, Moses. Her suspicions are on high alert when she sees a man move into Elizabeth’s home.

Told through three points of view, I listened to this on audio and was moved by the excellent performances by the three narrators. As Elizabeth lays in her hospital bed, she sifts through her memories, “talking” to her dead husband Charles about their life together and the little neighbor boy, Liam, who had a difficult home life, and was once such an important part of her life. She hints at a devastating event from the past, one she feels she must atone for before she dies.

Clara’s spunk and curiosity was delightful, and even though her worries are more than she should bear at such a young age, she provides much needed lightness and humor to the story. The relationship she strikes up with Liam as she continues to care for Moses, was endearing. In the background, always, is the mystery of Rose’s disappearance.

Liam is now 36, newly divorced, and had just quit his accountant job in the big city. He’s unhappy, unmoored, and at a crossroads in his life when he arrives in Solace to live in the house Elizabeth left him. As he was so very young when he lived across the street from Elizabeth, he has little memory of her and is unsure why she left him her house. I loved watching his transformation as he embeds himself in the life of the town.

I did want a bit more, which I suppose is better than wanting less. I wanted to hear from Liam’s mother, even if it had just been one chapter, and I wanted to know more about Rose. But those are minor complaints. The author beautifully captures small town life and the characters who inhabit the town. This is a quiet, lovely, and poignant look at lives that eventually intertwine in unexpected ways. Beautifully told, this is a deceptively simple story of flawed people (aren’t we all?) who live with regrets, and have known grief, but also joy. Solace is not just a town in Ontario, it’s what we can offer one another if we open our hearts. Highly recommended, this is a story that will touch your heart.

Marialyce’s Review

Offering solace…..how many places or people offer you solace. Maybe it’s a walk in the woods, a day at the beach, or just sitting in your yard listening to the sounds of life. Perhaps it is a person who makes you feel whole, a person who makes you feel relaxed and make the trials of today leave you for just a bit of time.

There is not much solace in a family living in the town of Solace. Their oldest daughter, Rose has gone missing and everyone is fearful and her younger sister, Clara, keeps a watchful eye for her return. Then in moves Liam Kane into the house next door. Liam is a quiet man, unemployed, sort of shiftless, and Clara’s senses are on high alert. This house belongs to Clara’s great elderly friend, Mrs. Orchard, and Clara has agreed to take care of her cat, Moses. Mrs. Orchard is in the hospital so Clara is very attuned to what is going on next door.

As the story progresses, we learn more about Liam and Mrs. Orchard and a former loving relationship they once had.(although Liam doesn’t remember) It is a tender story as Mrs. Orchard destined to remain childless forms a parental type relationship with Liam. She is so drawn to him, a little boy who seems to not be able to find his way in a house full of sisters and a mother at the end of her rope. When Mrs. Orchard makes a snap decision about Liam; their lives will change and the solace they found in one another will end.

Clara is the joining thread that keeps the modern-day story going as she tries to form a friendship with Liam and pray for the return of her sister. Clara does find solace in Liam’s company and he is hers, and yet he is a drifter and his footing is always shaky.

How Liam comes to stay in Mrs. Orchard’s house forms a tender link in the tale. The one drawback I found in the telling was that there was so much untold. It’s always hard to determine a point of view from characters (Liam’s mother for example who doesn’t contribute her feelings). All in all, though, the writing in lovely portraying that love comes in various forms and can wrap you in a veil of happiness, of contentment and yes, solace as well. Life can and does go on in a circular manner often leading one to a starting place to a road walked into adulthood.

Jan and I enjoyed this story which we listened to. The audio book was done so well it made the listening journey a pleasure and delight. Definitely recommend this book for a trip down a lane many of us have traveled.

Unmasked: My Life Solving America’s Cold Cases @PaulHoles @CeladonBooks @JanBelisle @absltmom

Jan’s Review

True crime is having a moment, but I’ve been a true crime fan since my teenage years. My interest is not in rubbernecking or a voyeuristic desire to peek into other people’s misery. I don’t think it is for anyone who works in the field, or for those who read about it. It’s driven by empathy for the victims, a desire for justice, and how that justice came about. It’s delving into the psychology of a person who is far removed from what we think of as being human, and the investigative techniques used in solving the mystery. This book delivers all that and more.

Many people live with the pain and horror of not only losing a loved one to murder, but of knowing the killer is still out there. Cases grow cold, and law enforcement agencies are overwhelmed. Luckily, there are people like Paul Holes who never give up.

Many of us know Paul Holes as the investigator who was instrumental in catching the elusive Golden State killer (GSK), AKA ‘Night Stalker’ and ‘East Area Rapist (EAR)’, the monster who raped, terrorized, and murdered throughout the state of California between 1974 and 1986.  Paul also worked with Michelle McNamara, who wrote the book, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark (also excellent). It took more than 20 years, but just days from his retirement, the monster was caught using DNA technology. It was fascinating to read how it all came together. Despite having read McNamara’s book and watching the documentary I learned new things.

Paul’s career and successes reach far beyond the most well-known cases, bringing some measure of peace and resolution to many families. He obtained a college degree in biochemistry and began his career in a crime lab, but ultimately his career path led him to work on the investigative side of things. He blew the dust off of old case files and worked to solve them, often in his free time.  The EAR (GSK) in particular became an obsession. His talent, keen insight, and background in science was invaluable.

This well-written book is part true-crime, and part memoir. Paul details some of the cases he has worked on. No one LIKES to read grisly details of crimes, knowing they were real people who lived and whose lives were cut short, but I did like hearing how he and the other investigators work a case, the methods they use, as well as the science behind it, both behavioral and hard science. Paul details how DNA is a game changer and, from his explanations, it is clearly not as simple as it sounds, or as clear cut as it is depicted on TV. Paul makes a complicated subject easy to understand.

Paul doesn’t shy away from the toll his career has taken on his mental health and his relationships. To cope, he exercises, spends time outdoors, and enjoys an occasional bourbon. Still, he suffers from nightmares and the occasional panic attack. He lifts the veil and tells it like it is. The job is not as romanticized as we see on TV. It is not easy to immerse oneself daily into depravity, but we, as a society, owe him and others in the field a debt of gratitude for their dogged determination to let no case go unsolved, and no murderer go unpunished.

The most touching moment in the book was when a woman who was a victim of the GSK called Paul to ask if the news of his arrest was true. She cried tears of relief after spending 40 years living in terror that he would come back for her. It must be moments like these that make it all worthwhile.

Paul retired in 2018, but as he is still a relatively young man, he continues to use his investigative skills throughout the country, and he co-hosts the excellent podcast, The Murder Squad, with Billy Jensen, an investigative reporter.  His goal continues to be solving cold cases, not exploiting victims. One of the things I admire the most about Paul Holes, is the utmost respect and empathy he has for victims and their loved ones.

* Published 4/26/2022 by Celedon books
* this was buddy read with Marialyce and Dorie. Do check out their reviews!
* I received a digital copy for review vis NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

Marialyce’s Review

Many thanks to Celadon Books for sending me an advanced copy of this story.

Obsession is considered a word that has many bad connotations, and yet many people carry out behavior that is obsessive. For Paul Holes finding cold case murderers is his obsession. It takes over everything in his life, his marriage, his children, his very soul. And yet, he can’t stop searching, researching and giving families some closure and perhaps peace. It is through this obsession that Paul Holes exists and determines the fate of his life.

He is haunted by the images he has seen and yet he is able to place them into compartments in his mind and ever endeavors to find the Golden Gate Killer, a vile man who proceeds from raping, terrorizing and tying up his victims to murder. Paul spent twenty years of his life searching for this predator. He became well known not only for finding GGK, but also for solving the case of Laci Petersen Jaycee Dugard, and the Pittsburgh killers. He has spent a lifetime chasing evil and because of his utter commitment has lost many of the delights of family and friends. However, Paul is a man on a mission to right the wrongs of men who take a sadistic, psychopathic road to destruction. Paul is often sought out for his expertise in this field and has become a person to go to when many are stumped by the rigors of a case. Using the more modern techniques of DNA, he is dogged in his pursuit leaving no stone unturned, no clue unnoticed.

This is a terrifying book, one that some will find hard to read, but without the determination and the strength of Paul Holes, these killers would have lived free in a world they had taken from their victims. It certainly was not a pleasant life, but as Paul’s obsession grew, he lost what is part of being happy, a home, a family, and perhaps pieces of his own life. This story is often gruesome, but then again, the manner in which lives were taken as they were, fills the reader with shock and horror. If not for Paul staying on target and getting the job done, the peace he gave the families was something they might never have had without him.

The book moves at an incredible pace, not a moment do you feel bored or anxious for the book to end. It is an incredible tribute not only to Paul but also to the men and women of law enforcement who endeavored to keep us safe from the predators that walk among us. I know that Paul is courageous with a tenacity that few have experienced, and I am grateful to him and others that endanger themselves in order to ferret out the truth.

Throughout my reading, I often wondered what about the victims who survived, the families confronted with the heinous way in which their loved ones perished? Would they ever be able to move ahead, putting one foot in front of another, feel happiness? My hope is that with Paul’s work, these folks were able to grab at a slice of peace and contented that these monsters had been caught and will never see beyond the bars of prison.

Definitely recommend this book to those who like an excellent nonfiction that will keep you wondering the why and how of human deviant psyche. The writing was tight, full of empathy, and kept me interested from page one to the end.

This was a book read by Dorie, Jan, and I and we had our reactions to the catastrophe and harm, misery and suffering that was inflicted by these monsters.
This book will be published on April 26, 2022. Don’t miss it if you love true crime stories.
Joseph James DeAngelo
Laci and Scott Peterson
Jacycee Dugard held for 18 years

Laptop from Hell: Hunter Biden, Big Tech, and the Dirty Secrets the President Tried to Hide @mirandadevine @PostHillPress @absltmom

exaggerations, and outright lies about his accomplishments. He lied about nonexistent academic awards and scholarships. He plagiarized speeches willy-nilly, and in one infamous case, appropriated the personal life story of British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock, pretending that he, too, was descended from coal miners and was the first in his family to get a college degree “in a thousand generations.”

My review

****Caution​​​ This book contains much sexual content, drug use, smoking, and​ language that will offend many.

I am so many emotions rolling through me after reading The Laptop From Hell. It is truly a revelation as to how dirty, devious, callous, and pernicious politics and politicians are. There is no doubt and believe me there has been for some time no doubt that we are on our own in this country. If we are looking for politicians or the government to save us, we are walking along with this laptop’s revelation to hell.

I did feel sorrow for Hunter Biden, as he always seemed to be striving for his father’s attention. There is no doubt that Hunter, a man gifted with good looks and a last name that opened doors to various and nefarious operations (with a nod from his famous father and uncle) used it to the full extent. For money making, with not a thought to its legality was the name of the game, and Hunter salivated with greed. Hunter was a drug addict and a sex addict. His behavior was governed by the need to control and he sold himself and his father to the highest bidder. Referred to as “The Big Guy” in many instances, there certainly leaves little doubt as to the big guy’s identity. The drugs, the call girls, the thousands of dollars spent in the best and fanciest hotels around the world where he partied, smoked crack, and videotaped himself having sex. He had a revolving door policy with rehabilitation facilities that cost a small fortune each time.

His name is associated with debauchery, and when he left his wife for the arms of his sister-in-law, who he also videoed having sex with him, he had fallen through the gates of hell. Hunter lacked any kind of code but he was smart and could sniff a deal that would benefit himself and his family. (If one remembers his sister-in-law had lost Biden’s son Beau to cancer.) Avarice ran through this family and no amount of money seemed to be ample for them.

It’s a lifestyle few of us would aspire to, one where supposedly family is important especially when it can garner more and more. Take and take and take some more was the motto.

Of course, all of this, the finding of the things on this laptop was pretty much concealed from the American people. Hunter had left the laptop to be repaired and after numerous phone calls that were unanswered and an unpaid bill, the laptop belonged to the owner of the repair shop. When he found the contents, after thinking about it, he alerted the FBI. The poor man after it was revealed he was in possession of this incriminating device was threatened with death, and had to close up shop and leave town.

So why weren’t the American people made aware of this? Well, it was election time and the excuses rolled out as to what it was with a Russian conspiracy plot leading the pact. Both Facebook and Twitter shut down any discussion of its contents and the only news medium that seemed to be on it was the Post. So, in essence, once again, we were kept in the dark and not allowed to know about what it contained. Some maintained this was an act of election interference.

Would it have changed the face of the election? Perhaps, but ultimately, the lies told to us by the man we chose to lead us, certainly brought on many feelings of anger, disappointment, and sadness in this reader. Power, money, prestige, and privilege led to avarice and greed on a scale one could hardly believe.

The ultimate saddest thing is we have been let down by a man we put our faith and trust in. It is often said that politics is a dirty business. This was beyond dirty this was filthy politics.

Ocean State #stewartonan @dreamscapemedia@absltmom

When I was in eight grade my sister helped kill another girl. She was in love, my mother said, like it was an excuse. She didn’t know what she was doing… I didn’t know what my mother meant, but I do now.

My review

One has to know the mind of a teen in order to have written this story. The people within the pages are those that explore relationships, those of mothers and daughters, those of sisters, those of friends, and tragically those that involve love and its lack of relationships that provides the continuum of this tale.

At the beginning, we learn of a young teenager being murdered, and as the story progresses, we learn of the circumstances, the background of the families, and the area in which they live. It is a story of rich versus poor, the have versus the have nots, jealousy and the repercussions of what can and does happen when that tug between the emotions boils up under the surface and comes to fruition.

The story is mainly about four girls. We learn early that Angel is the murderer, Carol is Angel’s mother, and Birdy the murdered victim. Marie is the youngest of Angel’s sister and from her we get a retrospective on the before and after effects of this murder. Carol is divorced and we don’t hear much of her former husband although he is present after the homicide.

Both Birdy and Angel love the same boy, Myles and while Myles encourages both girls, the intensity of their jealousy and eventually hatred of one another build up to the point of the murder of Birdy and Angel being arrested. If you know the psyche of teenage girls, you recognize the seizing desire and turmoil rolling over the girls.

This is also a story about the search for love, for acceptance, for the ability of knowing when someone is being used. Will the young Birdy be held responsible, and the social communications that may be the final stone in Angel’s grave be the key to Birdy’s obsession? We all remember those emotions that as teens we were ill equipped to control. The lack of parental oversight often lends to problems and exacerbates it.

This was certainly an intense story that flows together to a momentous conclusion in which it seems as if no one wins.

Thank you to Stewart O’Nan, Dreamscape Media, and NetGalley for the audio book of this story due out on March 15, 2022

The Night Shift #alexfinlay @MinotarBooks@JanBelisle @absltmom #dorieschultz

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”

Jan’s review

Two crimes, fifteen years apart. 

NYE, 1999, with fears of Y2K looming, there’s a gruesome murder of  4 teenage employees  at a Blockbuster Video store, along with the manager. There is one lone survivor. A suspect is identified, but he is released and never seen again.

15 years later, another mass killing, this time at an ice cream parlor. Four teens are dead, and once again there is a lone survivor.

In both murders, the killer whispers: “Goodnight, pretty girl.” Hardly a coincidence. 

The story is told from 3 POV: Public defender Chris, the brother of the original suspect, Ella, the survivor of the Blockbuster tragedy who is now a therapist, and Sarah Keller, the FBI agent who is investigating the cases.

How these characters intersect with one another makes for a fast-paced story, one where the pages practically turned themselves. The short chapters helped build momentum and the story line hooked me immediately.  The murders happen off the page, so sensitive readers need not worry.

Be aware this is one where it’s best  to not question things too deeply and just go along for the wild ride. I got a little lost a few times, but the author expertly wove the different threads together in a compelling way. Even if you guess the culprit, as my reading buddy Marialyce did, there are still surprises in store. There were coincidences to accept, a few threads left unanswered and the ending was OTT. Yet, we both thoroughly enjoyed it!

I’m not sure why the author chose to make agent Keller 8 ½ months pregnant – with twins. Nurse Jan turned a skeptical eye, not buying it. While it’s possible to carry twins to 40 weeks, it’s rare, and the mother-to-be can barely walk across the room, let alone perform the badass feats Sarah Keller did.  But she’s such a likable character, along with her Husband of the Year, Bob, that I overlooked it

Anyone who follows my reviews knows I have a low tolerance for implausibility, so the fact that I enjoyed this one is a compliment to the author.  It was a fun ride and I was entertained from the first page to the last.  I had both the e-book and the audio, and ended up preferring the audio. The narration was perfect and I raced through it in 24 hrs. I can’t wait to see what this author does next.

Marialyce’s review

Totally worth the read!

“All these years, he was a monster in plain sight”

This was at totally enjoyable thriller and one that had me turning the pages quickly seeing if I could figure out who was the killer. It was propulsive and the short chapters made it more so.

A terrible occurrence in Linden New Jersey, in 1999, begins our story and the author takes us into the killings of young girls working in a Blockbuster store. There was one survivor and with the suspect on the run, we have no conclusion to this heinous killing of three young girls.

We jump to the present, fifteen years from the original killings. This time the murders take place in an ice cream store, with once again a lone survivor. The parallels are undeniable and the non-apprehended suspect of the first murders is once again a suspect as a repeat killer.

The author introduces the characters of the past as well as the intermingling of the characters of an FBI agent, the brother of the suspect, and the girl who survived the current murders. This was a very clever technique of joining the old with the new and created a wonderful game of clue that kept on changing the players.

There is a lot going on as the reader’s eyes are focused on one person after another. Along with that, there is the meetings of the families, the people who lost children, the father of the suspect, and the lives that were tragically upended because of the craze of the killer.

I enjoyed this story read with my friend, Jan. We were looking for a well-done thriller and in this story our hopes were recognized. Definitely one I recommend and am glad Alex Finlay has written another book that maintained my interest from start to finish.

Thank you to Alex Findlay, Minotaur Books and NetGalley for this riveting story, published on March 1, 2022

And as a guest reviewer, here is Dorie’s review:

Dorie’s review

I think I feel a bit differently about this book than some other reviews that I’ve read. For me I felt as though the first half of the book was much more slowly paced than his last novel. In Every Last Fear, the beginning started with a bang and just kept building. For me, this one was a bit of a slower start.

Mr. Finlay’s strengths are many; I love the time and place where this novel was set. The beginning brings a sense of deja vu for anyone old enough to remember the fear of Y2K and how the world was going to literally shut down, computers wouldn’t know how to update, etc etc. It really was quite a fierce buildup TO AN ABSOLUTELY NON-EVENT!!!!

The author is very clever at bringing in twists at a consistent pace while saving the most surprises for later in the book. His writing is excellent and there was no problem with the two timelines, I thought they were clearly defined and easy to separate.

I loved that he chose some really intelligent, hard working and industrious women to advance the plot and be involved in the investigation. HIS CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT IS VERY GOOD!!

BRIEF HIGHLIGHT OF THE PLOT: In 1999, New Year’s Eve, there is a murder in Linden, New Jersey, a town not used to a lot of violence. Four teenagers were brutally attacked at the local Blockbuster Video, only one survived.

Now about 15 years later, there is another tragic murder. Same town, this time at the Dairy Creamery. Teenagers are brutally murdered with again a lone survivor. This one also took place during THE NIGHT SHIFT!!

Because the crimes are very similar, both involved teenagers in the same town, there seems there must be a connection right? Why this town? Why always teenagers? Why now, 15 years later??

The novel is told from two perspectives. FBI agent Keller and public defender Chris. They will investigate the possible connection and of course, try to find out WHO THE KILLER, OR KILLERS ARE!!!!!!

Vince Whittaker was arrested for the Blockbuster murder but set free on bail, never to be seen again!!

In the present Jesse Duvall is the survivor of the ice cream parlor massacre. She won’t talk to the police. She requests someone that has gone through a similar experience. She wants to speak to Ella, a therapist now, who was the survivor of the Blockbuster attack.

The second half of the book was more enjoyable and exciting for me. I felt that the pace picked up, I got to know the characters better and things started to come together.

In this novel there are some unanswered questions and coincidences that were a little hard to believe. I also had a hard time picturing Agent Keller, 8 ½ months pregnant with twins doing some of the things that she did!!

All in all this was a great thriller, well written that I can definitely recommend and I look forward to Mr. Finlay’s next novel!!

I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher through Edelweiss. It was a pleasure to read and review this title.

Mala’s Cat: A Memoir of Survival in World War II #malakacenberg @pegasusbooks @absltmom

My review

Mala Szorer had a wonderful family whom she loved and cherished. However, the dark clouds of war were coming to Tarnogrod, a small village in Poland. Mala and her family were Jewish and as the Nazis began to infiltrate the area, her town was turned into a ghetto. Brave Mala would slip out of the ghetto to find food for the people, removing her yellow star, knowing full well what this meant should she be questioned. One day while outside the ghetto, she sees the Nazi rounding up the ghetto, and also receives a letter from her sister warning her not to return to the village. As poor Mala witnesses this horrific event, this longs to be with her beloved family, but holds back. Is it possible that Elohim had other divine plans for her?

Mala escapes to the forest where she hides and is accompanied by a stray cat, named Malah, who stays with Mala on her perilous journey through the Nazis and townspeople who were also against the Jews. Malah becomes a wonderful companion to Mala and provides moments of solace when she most needs it. Many times, it seems like Malah would appear when danger was near almost as if she was a talisman for Mala. Knowing her family had all been exterminated, Mala goes forward aided by an amazing amount of courage, much intelligence and sense, and the ability to pass as a Christian. She was constantly on the run, constantly on guard to what she said, who she might befriend her, and the daily dangers of finding food and places where she might attain a night’s rest.

For six years, Mala kept on against all the evil and adversity one could possibly think. This is a true memoir that reflects what a spirit and a true belief in the almighty makes one capable of survival of a hellish nature. It’s amazing that this young girl only about thirteen when this started managed to be alive. Mala learned to rely on herself and of course the instinctual Malah. She is an example to all that although times may be horrendous, the human spirit is strong and life can and does go on.

At the end of these travails, Mala does connect with some relatives, but of course they never made up for the loss of her parents and siblings. Mala eventually winds up in London and does meets a young man who she eventually marries. She and her husband had five children. Strangely, at the time of her marriage, Malah mysteriously disappears and Mala would never see her again. Malah was indeed a guardian angel who was her guide and her divine shield.

O Lord, God, Master of the Universe, Thou by whose will and intelligence this universe was created, heed Thou my earnest prayer. It seemed that the Lord God did indeed hear Mala’s prayer.

My first audiobook was a winner. It was narrated by Kristin Atherton who did a wonderful job.

The War That Saved My Life @kimbbbradley #dialpress @absltmom

“It had been awful, but I hadn’t quit. I had persisted. In battle I had won.”

My review

This was a lovely story that is perfect for those in middle school as they can learn about parental abuse and the notion that being handicapped made one the product of the devil. When one wonders how a war could save lives in the case of Ava, a handicapped young girl and her brother Jamie, meeting their caregiver and recognizing the good of an adult is the telling concept.

“And even if it felt like Mam hated me, she had to love me, didn’t she? She had to love me, because she was my mam, and Susan was just somebody who got stuck taking care of Jamie and me because of the war.”

Poor Ava, mistreated horribly by her mother because of a club foot and because her mother was a horrible person, steals away with her brother, Jamie when he is called upon to leave London as the war had started and children were leaving for the countryside where it was believed they would be safe. They come in contact with a woman name Susan and through her Ava learns of the goodness of people and how it feels to be loved and cared for. Susan on her part didn’t at first care for the fact these two urchins wound up in her care, but care she did and eventually she, too, realizes what her life has been missing, the love of another.

“I don’t want to just survive”

It’s a wonderful story appropriate for children who are at the middle school level and a fine way to learn of an actual event that occurred during the onset of World War 2. Love does not need to be parental in order for it to be love. It can come from unexpected sources especially for children who never knew the warmth of that emotion.

“One step, I thought. One step at a time.”

The author, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The Deepest of Secrets (Rockton#7) @KelleyArmstrong @MinotaurBooks @absltmom

“That’s the true reveal in Rockton. Not discovering someone lied about their background or committed a crime in their past. It’s finding out they aren’t the person you thought they were, their underlying character hidden behind a false front.”

My review

I have always been a fan of the series that takes place in the imaginary town of Rockton. It’s been a fascinating story of a place set up to safely secure people of somewhat nefarious backgrounds. Detective Casey Duncan and her boyfriend, Sheriff Eric Dalton, have had their hands full with the people who populate the town as well as the committee that sends these people to the town.

This time out, the town finds themselves under a bit of a siege since a secret has come out about one of their population. It threatens to destroy both Casey, Eric and the town they have worked so hard to defend and keep together. Because of this secret, people are turning on one another and so afraid they will be the next target of the person who has revealed the original secret. Everyone in this enclave has secrets, devastating ones, that not only could wreck themselves but also destroy the town.

To add to all of this, some townsfolk decide not to follow one of the cardinal rules of the town. That is to never go into the forest alone. Of course, rules are meant to be broken, and when some people do just that the devastation to them is catastrophic. The committee raises its untrustworthy head and makes a decision that devastates Casey and Eric. It becomes crystal clear the the revealer of secrets is the one who has murder on their mind.

I enjoyed the story once again, but felt it was overly long and drawn out. It just didn’t match the suspense of the previous editions. I am hoping Kelley Armstrong continues to take us on the adventure she started when we first traveled to that far away Yukon location.

Thank you to Kelley Armstrong, Minotaur Books, and NetGalley for a copy of this continuing story which published on February 15, 2022.

Kelley Armstrong

The Overnight Guest @hgundenkauf #parkrow @absltmom

“His shadow crawled across the wall. He was getting closer. “Come on,” he called out. “Did you really think I would let you leave? You know better than that. You belong to me.”

My review

I love stories that have a background of a snowstorm howling in the wind, so when this book started with a little girl being found on the doorstep of a true crime writer, it had all the makings of a story I would love. Wylie Lark is stunned to find her solitude interrupted by the appearance of this child who wouldn’t speak, but needed to be inside because of the bitter cold.

As if this was not offsetting enough, the house that Wylie was in had been the scene of a grisly murder of two adults and a missing child. Originally suspicion fell onto the son of the murdered couple, but later that evidence whittled away.

The three story lines in the book, initially threw me off, but as the author, Heather Gundenkauf, wove the pieces together, she created a well-done thriller with just the right amount of secrets, lies, and atmosphere.

We learn of a horrific killing, of a daughter escaping and a friend who was staying overnight missing, all of which happened in the past. The daughter Josie, was left alive but was able to flee with the murderer is hot pursuit.

The years go by and still no person has been brought to trial. Years later, we are introduced to Wylie, a true crime writer, who has rented the very same place where the murders had occurred. It’s a stormy night filled with ice and snow and in this isolated place Wylie finds a child, silent and fearful, who Wylie tries to help. There had been an accident so Wylie ventured out to find if anyone was hurt and finds who she assumes is the child’s mother badly hurt. She helps her as best she can, and decides to go back to the house to try and get help. When Wylie returns, the woman is gone and the story veers to the dangerous world that Wylie finds herself entrenched in.

I enjoyed this story and was particularly moved by the haunting atmosphere the author created. While one might have guessed some concepts, many were shed by revelations that indeed created the twists and turns of the tale.

Thank you to Heather Gundenkaug, Park Row, and NetGalley for a copy of this thriller which has already published on January 25, 2022

I Must Betray You @RutaSeptyes @penguinrandom @JanBelisle @absltmom

“An old woman is fast asleep when she hears a knock at the door.
Who is it? she whispers, terrified.
It is death, the voice answers.
Oh, good. I thought it might be
the Securitate.

Jan’s review

To quote the author:

“ …when adversity is drawn out of the shadows and recognized, we endure that human beings living under oppression – past and present – know they are not forgotten. Together we can shine a light in dark corners of the past. Together, we can give history a voice.”

The author hopes through the reading of her book, readers will be inspired to research the fall of communism in Europe and the incredible fortitude and bravery of the Romanian people. This fictional story is based on a time in our recent past when the people of Romania lived under the brutal Ceausescu regime.  The author paints a vivid picture of what life was like, and although the people endured much deprivation, the worst was the atmosphere of fear and suspicion thrust upon them when the regime forced citizens to become informers. No one was above suspicion, not even family and close friends. 

In this fictional story, seventeen-year-old Cristian is forced to become an informer when he is found with an illegal American dollar bill. We see Cristian’s mental anguish as he navigates this new secret life, and the effect on his relationships and sense of self. The choice before him:  betray everyone he knows or do what he can to undermine the regime. His first-person narrative is interspersed with reports on him from the Securitate, the secret police of Romania.  

Despite the regime’s efforts, contraband made its way into Romania in the form of magazines, books, and movies, which exposed the young people to a world beyond their borders and gave them a hint of what it was like to be free. Cristian was also exposed to the ways of the West through his mother’s work cleaning for an American diplomat. In 1989, when they heard the news that communist countries around them had fallen, it was a spark of hope, and the beginnings of what would be a bloody revolution. History tells us that the regime fell, but the price was high. The epilogue takes place 20 years later, when Cristian is able to access the historical archives and discovers some shocking truths. It was a tense and sobering end to the book.

This is teen historical fiction, but I very much enjoyed it, despite it not being my preferred genre. This was an exception. The chapters are short, and the plot fast-moving, especially in the last half. I enjoyed hearing the story from the perspective of a teenager on the cusp of adulthood. His relationships with his family, especially his much beloved grandfather, were endearing. He has the typical teenage concerns overshadowed by this brutal life. This would be an excellent book in a school curriculum or for parents to read and discuss along with their teen, as a starting point to learn more.

I applaud the author shedding a light on this dark time in history. In the author notes, she highlights the amount of research she did to ensure her story was historically accurate. I’m old enough to remember the fall of the Berlin Wall and Communism and recall the Romanian uprising in the news. In 2019, my husband and I also had the opportunity to visit a Communist museum in a former Eastern Bloc nation, a memorial in the actual building where atrocities took place. Included were video recordings of those imprisoned, interrogated, or tortured. It was a devastating experience, but one we were glad to experience. History that is forgotten is doomed to be repeated. 

The deep desire to be a free people is built into the human spirit. In 1989 the Romanian citizens rose up against a totalitarian government. Although the circumstances aren’t the same, we are currently watching the events play out on our TV screens as average Ukrainian citizens rise up against the Soviet invaders, using all means at their disposal to defend their right to be free. 

*This was a buddy read with my friend Marialyce, be sure to read her review to see what she thought!

While his people starved and froze, this is where he and his family lived
indoor pool
Gold bathroom

Marialyce’s Review

Looking back on history is as the author says a way to both remember and learn, to try and stop atrocities, to be aware that things can happen under the cloak of suspicion, fear, and the manipulations of the press, the new sources, and the population. Romanians living in the country while it was still under Communist rule, know exactly what a terror filled life produces.

If communism is Paradise, why do we need barriers, walls, and laws to keep people from escaping?

Ruta Sepetys takes us there in the year 1989, and introduces us to a young man, Cristian Florescu. Only seventeen, he and his family have lived under the terrible dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu, a ruthless man who has dominated his nation through force, fear, starvation, and deprivation. He has closed off the country and turned the secret police into weapons, threatening the populace, inducing people through fear to spy on one another. Neighbor turns on neighbor, children against family, and even husband against wife. Cristian has a dream but he realizes that Romania is a dreamless country, but his beloved grandfather inspires him. But the police engineer a way to drawn Cristian into the maw and by blackmailing him, Christian becomes what he hates. The stakes are high and Cristian finds himself caught in a web of who do you trust?

He wants to be free; others want to be free and as news trickles around Europe about other Communist satellites breaking free, he has hope. As revolution approaches, Cristian wants to save those around him especially a girl he has fallen in love with. However, revelations are about to come as he and thousands of other rises up against the totalitarians they have been ruled by. It’s a bloody battle, many in fact, but freedom is within their grasp.

“The State controls the amount of food we eat, our electricity, our transportation, the information we receive.”

This is a YA book that packs a punch. Ruta Sepetys creates an atmosphere of fear, suspicion, want, and loss. She vividly portrays what it was like living under a despot and the Communist way of life. She effectively points out how the elites lived magnificent lives while the commoners suffered and struggled. It is a story our young people should acquaint themselves with, especially those who think communism is the way to govern.

Jan and I were quite moved by this story, and enjoyed our few hours spent reading it. It’s short but definitely manages to make one aware that what was in the past can happen again if we are not vigilant citizens.

Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife, Elena, were convicted of genocide as it was believed that 60,000 people met their deaths under his vile rule. He and his wife were executed and were put to death by a firing squad in 1989.

Elena and Nicolae Ceausescu
Christmas Day Revolution
One of their homes