Book Review: 19 SOULS by J.D. Allen

Little girls never forget their butterflies-in-the-gut first crush. Sophie Ever’s crush turned into a lifelong obsession fueled by the dangerous voice in her head, driving her to do whatever it takes to get her man to love her back. J.D. Allen’s first book in a new series 19 Souls (Midnight Ink) brings us face to face with a woman on the edge of sanity who tricks Private Investigator Jim Bean into locating the object of her desire, Dan Hodge, who’s gone off the grid in hopes she never finds him.

The book opens with tension and continues to build it even though we are immediately aware of who the villain is. The noir style and Las Vegas setting give the book a distinct hard-boiled feeling, and the voice in Sophie’s head doubles down on the deviant femme fatale trope. Allen does an excellent job with dialogue, description, and making Sophie fallible enough that we can’t completely hate her.

As Bean tracks her movement through a trail of dead bodies we readers get up close and personal with her inner critic, almost rooting for Sophie just to spite the psychopath in her head. The story oscillates between Bean and Sophie perfectly, giving the reader opportunity to learn more about both characters without it seeming like an information dump.

Fans of female antagonists will devour this mystery, as Allen found the recipe for creating a villain both vicious and vulnerable. The body count clicks higher without gratuitous gore, making for a great guilty pleasure weekend read.

Allen is a graduate of Ohio State University where she earned a degree in forensic anthropology and a creative writing minor. 19 Souls is her first full-length mystery.

Book Review: THE GIRL IN THE ICE by Robert Bryndza


Review by Holly Chaille

By Robert Bryndza

A cold night, fog in the air, and moonlight casting unreliable shadows. She’s upset to the point of wandering so far no one will hear her cry for help. This is the kind of prologue with layers of description that create an atmosphere so tense I was instantly transported to the setting of the crime. Even knowing something terrible was gaining on her, I couldn’t look away. And I didn’t until the last page of this sprint-paced story, which lands perfectly at an ending that satisfies the whodunit faithful.

A British crime mystery that hit several bestseller lists, Robert Bryndza’s The Girl in the Ice introduces a strong female protagonist in Detective Erika Foster. A woman with very recent demons still haunting her, Erika expects to be on desk duty for the foreseeable future. But an old friend, feeling she needs to get back in the game, calls her into a high profile murder investigation of a young socialite whose influential parents seem hell-bent on preventing Foster from solving the case.

Navigating her new team—not all of whom are thrilled to bring her on—adds tension to an already stressed out Foster, whose disdain for authority and fragile psyche take a few chapters to figure out.  As protagonists go, she’s well-written and believable, giving the reader more than enough personality to connect with.

With the body count rising Detective Foster challenges those around her to dig deeper to find the common denominator. But the closer she gets the more pressure she gets from her higher-ups to reroute her investigation away from the socialite’s famous family. Foster is abruptly removed from the case and, as strong women are wont to do, seizes the opportunity to go even harder toward her goal.  She’s a brilliant, fearless strategist with no apologies for her direct approach, and this is why the series has sold millions of copies.

The dialogue is the strongest aspect of the story, giving the minor characters dimension and depth. Bryndza threads the kind of nuance throughout the dialogue that makes everyone seem like a viable suspect. Fans of Elizabeth George and Ruth Rendell will appreciate the uncompromising style and British elegance of his writing and character building.

Though this was Bryndza’s first in the Erika Foster series he’s just released number six so fans are advised to select a good bottle of red and hunker down with a stack of these page-turning thrillers and get to know Detective Erika Foster.

Book Review: LOOK FOR ME by Lisa Gardner

In Gardner’s latest book in the Sergeant D.D. Warren series, readers return to the Boston streets as Warren again teams with Flora Dane, a former victim of a violent crime (Find Her), to track down a killer. An entire family has been murdered except the oldest daughter, Roxy. She’s missing, as are the family’s two dogs. Warren naturally pings her as suspect number one and drives the police procedural side of the book in that direction. Dane, a vigilante who understands survival instincts, uses her skills to help other survivors get back to living. She believes Roxy’s hiding from the real killer and her first person narrative takes us along as she tracks the girl.

Finding her will either mean a killer is caught, or the last living family member’s life is saved. With her familiar storytelling style Gardner tacks between Ward’s investigation into the life of her suspect, and Flora, whose dead set on finding Roxy alive and safe.

With Gardner’s hefty bibliography fans expect the twists and turns she routinely carves into her writing and Look for Me provides them in spades. Although some are predictable red herrings and dead ends, she doesn’t fail to pull the rug out from under readers and keep them guessing until the last possible moment.

In another of Gardner’s signature moves, Look for Me creates the opportunity for readers to find themselves in a moral dilemma as she zooms in on the over-crowded foster care system and the nightmares formed in a foster home packed with more than one troubled kid. Something bad is bound to happen. But could it have been prevented? And, who’s really at fault here?
Gardner’s characters are each carrying heavy baggage, and it’s their flawed natures, their need to rescue, to retaliate and to rectify that makes them dangerously unpredictable. Some characters linger with readers after the story is over. These characters haunt. Gardner’s fan base has come to expect each new book will have characters who are simultaneously victims and victimizers, and story lines that shine a light into the dark places of those characters.

The layering of subplot seamlessly stiches in hot-button topics like domestic violence and bullying, while deftly pulling back the camera before we start to suspect a sermon on morality is coming soon. Fans will recognize the strong female protagonists, the survivors and the moral struggles, and they won’t be disappointed in this fast-paced and literally right out of the headlines read.

Gardner’s respect for the suspense genre is evident throughout, and in particular in the continued unreliability of two of her ongoing character, D.D. and Flora. An author who consistently touches on topics close to her heart, Gardner’s knack for penning a taught thriller brings issues to the page that many readers can empathize with. The pacing and voice Gardner employs keeps the story vibrating with excitement, and the change in POV guarantees the reader won’t get bored or mired in one perspective.

With a passion for research and her own experience volunteering with an agency serving at-risk and special needs kids, Gardner easily articulates the sad truths of our failing foster care system. But while social issues are ever-present she still keeps the reader turning page after page to get to the final answer.

Crime Scene Sunroom

Crime Scene Sunroom

by Pollinator of Peace

I’m going to tell you now that I did it. I killed those plants. But I really had no idea I was doing it at the time. You’d think that, as a master gardener, I might know better than to water plants that are hibernating in the sunroom, which reached a high temp over the polar vortex week of 20 degrees.

But the master gardener training doesn’t have a module on thinking clearly when you’re snowed in with a kid, a bunch of pets and woefully low supply of dark chocolate and good beer.

So on a trip through the sunroom to take the dog out for a pee, or rather, stand outside with her, repeatedly coaxing to no avail, I noticed that a couple of my wintering geraniums were dry enough to have pulled in from the pots. A quick glance around alarmed me. The purple oxalis I’ve loved and nurtured for years had fainted. The herbs were so parched I swallowed reflexively.

Filling a watering can with water I carefully drizzled water into the pots, which steamed from the cold. This, my gardening accomplices, should have warned me.

The next morning I found every plant I’d watered dead. Really dead. And then it occurred to me. I filled those tiny gorgeous plant cells with water that froze inside them. I scoured my books for resuscitation instructions but the prognosis is bleak.
So, in memory of my jade and oxalis I am sharing my confession. Maybe I’ve prevented another death by sharing my story.
If you’ve committed a plant crime, please join me in the confessional.