A Gathering of Secrets (Kate Burkholder #10) by Linda Castillo (5 out of 5)

•July 14, 2018 • Leave a Comment

This is Linda Castillo’s 10th Kate Burkholder book. I hadn’t even heard of Linda Castillo until I started working at Barbara’s. My previous decade-long book gig was at a corporation that found its bread, butter, and mayonnaise in a Paula Deen cookbook, Bible happy, Joyce Meyer loving clientele. AKA The South. They leaned on The New York Times quite a bit as well, come to think of it. New, debut authors and their works were not fostered in those walls. As a result, I spent many years discovering NYT authors, genre mysteries, and paperback Victorian romances. When in Alabama, read Alabaman (????). Starting at Barbara’s was a huge shock! Here was a family owned business where you could read whatever you liked, write reviews and feature them on a permanent fixture, and actually recommend them to customers! What a new concept for Corporate Bookstore Girl! One of the first books I came upon was the paperback of the first book in this series, Sworn To Silence. My best way of describing it was to tell the customers that it was a realistic mystery series set in Amish country. Not a cutesy pie series, but one marked with a tough, formerly Amish, female cop who knows the often secreted warts in the Amish community that sadly, often end, in tragedy. I would still describe it that way, although Burkholder and her partner John Tomasetti have both mellowed somewhat. Still a great series. The latest installment is no slouch in the whodunit department.

Kate Burkholder’s newest case is a true tragedy. 18-year old Daniel Gingerich is a well-liked young man in the community. Burkholder is called in to investigate a historic barn burning down in the middle of the night. Inside the barn is the body of the young man. Subsequent investigations show that the fire was set, and not only that, but it appears that it was rigged so he was trapped against his will. Kate, being a former Amish herself, is deeply troubled that someone sent this young man to his death. The investigation wields a path of revelations that point fingers in multiple directions, and the reveal that Daniel was not the saint most thought of him. The themes of sexual assault, the conspiracy of silence that blankets the Amish community, friendship and the paths it takes us down, and the dynamics of the mother-daughter relationship are paramount in this story. I liked what I always like, and that is the realistic chief of police Burkholder. But there’s the added bonus of new themes addressed in this book, the supporting cast, and more Tomasetti! It’s a heartbreaking story on many fronts, but the end makes sense and doesn’t wuss out. Linda Castillo writes novels that pull no punches, break hearts, but end up with a lot of heart. A surefire (puns not intended, I promise!) winner.

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The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager (5 out of 5)

•July 10, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Wow. I talk about sophomore jinx with books all the time (or as I know it, Paula Hawkins Syndrome). Thankfully, NOT the case with Riley Sager. I had an advance copy of “Final Girls”, his first book, that someone sent me a copy of back in late 2016. I didn’t get around to reading it until 2017, months before my gallbladder operation and when I was sicker than crap and needed something really different to take my mind off of it. Done! “Final Girls” accomplished that. This time around, the health is restored but I am swamped and buried in books, between my job, my blog, and the one I am writing. I wanted to wait to read it until right before it was released, because I wanted the experience of reading it to be fresh for when I begin recommending it to customers. I tore through it in a few days, and I loved it. It is currently out and available for purchase at your local bookstore.

Camp Nightingale…and one incident there…decades ago…has haunted rising artist Emma. It’s also the driving force behind the paintings that are winning her acclaim. At her debut opening, the former owner of the camp surprises her by being in attendance and buying a painting. She also proposes a meeting, which Emma stalls on, but ultimately ends up going to. Frannie, the owner and well-known socialite, tells Emma it’s been too long that the camp has been closed, and not only is she reopening it, but she wants Emma to come and stay, and teach painting classes to the young kids who come. Emma has every reason to tell this woman to buzz off. Emma was at the camp when her three best girl friends went missing, never to be found. After a fruitless search, the girls are presumed dead and the camp is shuttered- supposedly forever. But nothing, kids, is forever. Emma goes on with her life, going to therapy and reliving what happened and what she could have gone differently, but NEVER forgetting. Despite rampant misgivings, Emma decides to go back to the camp. Of course, our girl has secrets herself, and so, it seems, does everyone at Camp Nightingale. A lot of the same people who were at the camp years ago when the tragedy happened are back, and things start happening again. She’s accused of all sorts of things, and does herself no favors when requesting the same cabin she had back when everything happened. She is-again- bunking with three girls who become friendly with her. Emma’s agenda includes finding out what happened to her friends all those years ago. Weird shit has been going on, but even Emma can’t believe it when the new girls disappear into the woods one night. She blames herself…as do the cops, most of the camp staff, etc. Emma does the unthinkable and goes off on her own to try to solve the mysteries of what happened to both sets of girls. My jaw dropped open at the end. Wow. Just wow. Definitely spooky and not at all contrived. If you want to give yourself a fright while not stretching the boundaries of believability, this is a great place to begin. “The Last Time I Lied” is out now, brought to us by Dutton, a subsidiary of Penguin Random House.

Once Upon A Book Club: The Reluctant Fortune Teller by Keziah Frost (5 out of 5)

•July 6, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Keziah came in earlier in the year and dropped off a galley of her book to me. She mentioned, at that time, that she was open to doing book clubs. I was also, at that time, trying to resuscitate the Literature Bandits, after last year’s disappointing turnouts. Thankfully, the Lit Bandits have a strong and loyal following these days, and after I picked what turned out to be three bleak books in a row, I dug out her book(too many books!) and decided it would be June’s pick. For the first time since I started the Bandits, it was a unanimous vote. We all loved the book! It’s out now in paperback in your local bookstore, so go pick up a copy!

Norbert is a 73-year old widower living with his chihuahua who is barely making it on his social security check every month. His friends in “Carlotta’s Club”- three strong-willed, stubborn, and quirky seniors who meet monthly and always have time for high tea and drama- cook up a plan to teach Norbert how to read cards for people. They- or I should say, a feisty Carlotta- are stunned when his natural abilities to read people make the fortune telling a natural fit. Norbert has a few unpleasant encounters (what was with that private investigator Reggie DiLeo? I wanted to smack him into next year) but things take a scary turn when Carlotta’s depressed granddaughter Summer disappears after Norbert gives her a legit reading. Carlotta is not a happy camper, and poor Norbert is guilt-stricken and doubts his gifts are bringing peace to others. What happens next? Pick up a copy and find out. I have to tell you, it was so nice to read a “good feel” book for a change. I enjoyed it immensely, and you will, too. Keziah came to the book club and we had a delightful time. I would definitely recommend it as a vacation and feel good book.

A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising by Raymond A. Villareal (3.5 out of 5)

•June 29, 2018 • Leave a Comment

The body of a young woman disappears from a morgue in Nogales, Arizona. I should say, the body walks out of the morgue. The CDC investigator called in to investigate quickly determines that an incurable virus that solidifies the blood in many, is rampant. Some people die of this, yet others live, prosper, and turn into some life form that strongly resembles a vampire. The book alternates between viewpoints of the CDC lady, a Jesuit priest, politicians, hungry newspaper journalists, and town outsiders. It starts out promising, and I enjoyed it on a level very similar to when I read Max Brooks’ “World War Z”. It was not as awesome as that book, only because the POV’s of the characters narrating all started to blend together in similarity by the end of the book. It was, however, wickedly funny and accurate in its portrayal of politicians and today’s social media platforms in telling and blowing out of proportion the current news platforms. Throw in some suspected vampirism and boom! Gold. It was a great distraction for our second hottest weekend of the summer a few weekends ago (I’m way behind in my blogging). Overall? An enjoyable read.

Heartland by Sarah Smarsh (5 out of 5)

•June 27, 2018 • Leave a Comment

This was in a bunch of galleys that Wendy sent me. I’m not sure if it was stuff I asked for, or that she thought I would enjoy. She’s onto me, so either is possible! It’s been awhile since I read a book that was part memoir, part sociology, and all heart. It was a hard book to read. Understand that I say that because it is no easy feat trying to write about the class divide in this country; it may be even harder to read about it. Smarsh is achingly honest about the subject matter. Sarah Smarsh grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, into a family of wheat farmers and laborers fighting for their survival every day. Sarah’s family moved more than 20 times in a decade. None of it was “moving up”, either. The family fought hard as he’ll, and still are barely making it. Her experiences firsthand growing up in Kansas, her reliving the time period of the botched experiment known as “Reaganomics”, the variety of jobs that she tagged along with to learn the meaning of hard work, and her observations at the toll the class divide in this country took not only on her family, make her a uniquely prescient authority. This is a book that will open up previously closed up thought channels, and it should! The struggle of her family to survive in the middle of America’s heartland, juxtaposed with Sarah’s own observations about the misbegotten notion that people making less are less, is a painful lesson to read about. Imagine how it was for the author knowing/seeing/living that. Unbelievable. Yet she did the next best thing- she wrote a heartrending treatise on the state of things. And it should be on every school’s required reading. And yours, as well.

The book is being released on September 18, 2018. The folks at Scribner (Simon & Schuster) are publishing this. I thank Wendy for sending it into me. Do yourself and your country a favor, and read it.

Waiting To Derail: Ryan Adams & Whiskeytown, Alt-Country’s Brilliant Wreck by Thomas O’Keefe and Joe Oestreich (3 out of 5)

•June 26, 2018 • Leave a Comment

In terms of full disclosure, I confess–I LOVE Ryan Adams. Whiskeytown was my first introduction to his genius. At the time, a soundtrack over and over again through ten years of endless drinking and one guy. Then he went solo (Ryan and the guy) and I’m still a fan years later. I think he’s a genius. Of course, the minute I found out about this book, I had to read it.

This charts O’Keefe’s career as road manager and eventually manager for Whiskeytown. Whiskeytown, as a band, made it 6 years and released 3 albums. Ryan and Caitlin, fiddle player and vocalist, were the only constants through multiple lineup changes (you almost need a scorecard to keep track of it). Ryan Adams, as many know, went on and continues with a successful solo career to this day. I knew going into this that many a memoir have been written by band managers and other insiders. I had hoped this would be a little more in-depth about the songs and Adams’ own writing processes in the band. No one can really get 100% inside someone’s head, but if you play your chords right, you can get close enough in your time with an artist to get a feel for them. Reading O’Keefe’s vision of things (as a mostly sober man around a man and band known for their excesses), I felt for him as a man on the outside looking in. He spends some of the book saying that very thing, in fact. I also felt that he did the very best trying to make heads and tails out of what was often an experiment in patience. I read a book by Van Halen’s former band manager a few months back, and the sentiments were similar in many regards. However, Van Halen didn’t cancel their shows often; maybe two over their entire time with their manager. Not the case with Ryan Adams and Whiskeytown. Quite a bit of the book is about the cancellations of shows; so much, in fact, that I am surprised a drinking game hasn’t been invented around that part of the Whiskeytown story. O’Keefe spends much of his time trying to keep a lid on an openly unraveling Adams, and repair damage brought to the band’s reputation with the missed shows, the drunken on stage hijinks, and the band personnel changes. I really enjoyed the hijinks, I’m not going to lie. I was quite entertained; I am, I admit, immature in this regard. I also really enjoyed the background info on the alt-country scene at the time Whiskeytown was on the scene. It did move me to write down a few bands that I need to check in on, or bring back to my listening milieu. I also enjoyed learning a lot about the other members of Whiskeytown. When you have a man as talented as Ryan Adams, you find it easy to lose sight of the other talented people around. It’s just the nature of rock n’ roll. Or alt-country. Adams’ determination to not be labelled as anything makes itself known multiple times throughout the book, and that restless nature keeps poking its head out, so it should surprise no fan of his that it also becomes a supporting character in the book. I guess as an aspiring writer, I yearned for more about the writing process, the songs, etc, and O’Keefe did what he could, but those areas are eclipsed by whatever mood Adams was in on that particular day. I have no doubt that O’Keefe tells the truth here, but the end result to me felt more like a tour diary than it did about the inner workings of the band. Having said that, it was an enjoyable and often humorous look at a brief meteor on the alt-country radar in the mid-90’s. Any fan of Ryan Adams should read this book, but it would not surprise me if reading this just amps up the desire for a more comprehensive look at the genius known as Ryan Adams. It did for me.

Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott (4 Out of 5)

•June 20, 2018 • Leave a Comment

This one comes out July 17, 2018. I haven’t read Megan Abbott in awhile, but I liked the one before this a lot. I got this as an advance from the generous folks over at Little Brown. Definitely in the psychological thriller category. And it is really, really disturbing on several levels.

Kit Owens was friends with the mysterious Diane Fleming all through high school. Diane sparks the fire of scientifical knowledge in Kit, and despite their estrangement into adulthood (after Diane confides something VERY disturbing to Kit), that passion stays with her and she follows it into a promising career in science. Kit is up for a prestigious position in Dr. Severin’s lab, but her hopes quickly take a dive when she finds out her long-lost former friend (and now a scientific wonder in her own right) Diane is ALSO up for the same job. Diane comes in to work with Kit and her team in the meantime, and she seems to believe none of that bad juju happened with her and Kit decades ago. Except…well, it did. A very strange game of cat and mouse ensues, and people on the team start dying. An accident happens and Kit is forced to take advantage of Diane’s far generous offer to help her out of a tight spot. Is Diane legit? Is she cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs? Is she setting Kit up to take the fall, or is Kit the one starting to lose her marbles? I had NO IDEA what was happening here, even as it was happening. And I do not say that in a bad way, either. I was gobsmacked the last half of the book. It is a hell of a book. Give it a shot when it comes out in July.