‘The Vines’ by Shelley Nolden is a twisted tale of greed, family arrogance, and terrible cruelty

The Vines by Shelley Nolden

In “The Vines,” debut author Shelley Nolden has created a story that is part fantasy, part historical fiction, part family drama, and part horror. The tale is centered around the Gettler family, whose roots are German, and a girl named Cora. The youngest son in the Gettler family is Finnegan, a landscape lighting artist who feels a bit like a failure given his family’s long lineage of doctors. His older brother, his father, his grandfather, and his great-grandfather all worked diligently to create cures for diseases that decimate populations. They did their work on an island In New York, North Brother Island, where a now-shuttered tuberculosis hospital stands. Through a series of flashbacks, we meet all those ancestors as they work to help patients as well as to find cures for diseases. Sounds noble, right?

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‘The Bone Maker’ by Sarah Beth Durst is a fantasy for those past their prime who still dream of being heroes

The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst

The heroes we see in movies and read about in books are usually striking young people in the prime of their lives. We don’t see what happens to those heroes after time passes and they get wrinkled and older with aches and pains like the rest of us. We especially don’t think about what might happen to those retired and all-but-forgotten heroes if there were a disaster and they were needed. Can middle-aged heroes save the day?

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‘Marriage Code’ by Brooke Burroughs is a romantic romp about love trumping diverse cultures

In “The Marriage Code” by Brooke Burroughs we meet Emma, a young twentysomething living in Seattle and working for a tech company. At the start of the story, she has just been blindsided by her boyfriend’s surprise proposal, in a crowded restaurant, completely embarrassing both of them when she says no. Things are awkward in their shared apartment after that, to say the least. We also meet Rishi, who is visiting Seattle from his home in India, where he works for the same company as Emma. Rishi is visiting but has been told that he will be given a project that will keep him in America for a while, which is perfect for his needs. Both are in for some surprises.

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‘The Girls I’ve Been’ by Tess Sharpe is a surprisingly touching YA story of friendship, love, a bank robbery and much more

The Girls I’ve Been

In “The Girls I’ve Been,” Tess Sharpe’s brilliant writing draws us into the lives of the three teens at the center of this young adult thriller. We meet them just as they are on the cusp of being held hostage at their local bank in rural California, and from the first chapter (the chapters are labeled with the time, and the amount of time that has elapsed since they were taken captive), we are mesmerized by Nora and her extraordinary narration of the events that are happening both in the present and also as she intersperses the present narration with snippets of her past that serve to explain who Nora is now.

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Andy Carpenter Strikes Again….and Again

“Silent Bite” is author David Rosenfelt’s twenty-second entry in the Andy Carpenter Mystery series, and it’s just as engaging and entertaining as the first twenty-one. I must admit that I’ve now read all twenty-two of them, and I still can’t help laughing out loud at the extraordinarily humorous phrases, sentences, and stories that grace virtually every page. As a matter of fact, LOL now has a home, and its name is Andy Carpenter. But the beauty of these novels lies in the simple realization that they’re both funny and suspenseful. And keeping readers in suspense while they laugh is, indeed, quite a feat.

In “Silent Bite,” attorney Andy’s client is Tony Birch, a former gang-banger who has served prison time because of a manslaughter charge of which he was wrongly accused and convicted. At his trial for that crime-that-wasn’t, two fellow gang members acted as eye-witnesses to his alleged crime, and their incriminating testimonies taken together were the coup-de-grace. Also during that trial, Tony had become so enraged at their fake testimony that he loudly threatened to kill one of them. Now, six years later, both of them have been murdered, and Tony is obviously the prime suspect even though he has straightened out his life in the intervening years and is now a respected small business owner. So Andy takes on his case, this time at the urging of one of his dear friends, Willie Miller, whom Andy had successfully defended in an earlier novel.

As always in these mysteries, Andy and his friends and crew are all sharp, tough, street-wise, and very funny. Each character continually either displays or is the object of Rosenfelt’s own unique sense of humor. Those characters, of course, include the ubiquitous canine pet/investigative assistants. One of them, for example, is the K9 partner of investigator Corey Douglas, whose team works for Andy. No spoilers here, so I won’t tell you the dog’s name, but here are a couple of hints: his initials are SG, and when he stretches (after a doggie-nap, for instance), he forms a virtual bridge over troubled waters.

So Andy and friends investigate; get themselves into all kinds of perilous, even life-threatening situations; patiently and doggedly (!) accumulate clues, and invariably take us on a roller-coaster ride of suspense and laughter. And even though every Andy Carpenter novel is a fascinating and complex mystery, there remains one thing we know for sure: when all is said and done, Andy Carpenter — and David Rosenfelt — will emerge as the winners every time.

‘Every Last Secret’ by A. R. Torre is a twisted tale of neighbors and infidelity

every last secret

The title of A. R. Torre’s new release, “Every Last Secret,” gives a hint of what is to come. Secrets, more secrets, and even a few left for the very last chapter. It’s about a golden couple, Cat and William, who are living a life that only the very top one percent live. Their gated mansion is on a gated street, filled with staff who cater to their every whim. Cat tells us how her life changed after marrying William when she relates how he wouldn’t let her carry a box of personal belongings into their new home. He instructed her that they had staff to do that. Continue reading

‘Spellbreaker’ by Charlie N. Holmberg is a delightful blend of mystery and fantasy with a touch of romance

I have to begin by admitting that historical novels featuring an alternate fantasy world usually are not my cup of tea. But this novel, an historical/fantasy/mystery with a soupçon of romance set in Victorian England, grabbed me from the start. The main character, Elsie Camden, is a wonderful, complex creation: someone who has lost her family, managed to leave the workhouse where orphans go, and hidden her ability to be a spell breaker in a world where women don’t get to be wizards unless they are aristocrats. Above all, Elsie is a really, really likable character, and her Robin Hood-like tendencies make her even more admirable.

The world in which Elsie lives is in some ways very much like England was; but with the addition of magic spells, somehow it seems even more “British,” in the sense that the aristocrats are still the upper class wealthy, but added to the mix are wizards who, after they complete their testing, may also be eligible for a title, thus transforming them into members of the upper class. Continue reading

‘Piece of My Heart’ is Mary Higgins Clark’s last book

“Piece of My Heart” starts with a bang. A missing child, a postponed wedding, and a convicted murderer accusing her father of falsifying a confession — all these throw Laurie Moran, whose investigative television show “Under Suspicion” delves into unsolved crimes, into a frenzy of work and fear.

In this last book by Mary Higgins Clark, who passed away ten months before its publication, cowriter Alafair Burke offers a lovely tribute to the prolific and venerable author. It’s just one tribute of many, for Higgins Clark is known not just for her superb mysteries and her wonderful ability to create memorable characters; she is also remembered and loved for her kindness and her determination to give each book her very best efforts, and to engage with her readers even past the point when she needed to do so for publicity’s sake. Continue reading

‘Christmas at the Island Hotel’ by Jenny Colgan brings readers back to the charming, isolated island of Mure

We get to spend the holidays at the charming island of Mure thanks to “Christmas at the Island Hotel” by Jenny Colgan. Colgan writes charming stories of people who are tired of huge, crowded, impersonal cities and long to escape to somewhere where the air is clean, the sky uncluttered by tall buildings, and the view peaceful and pastoral.

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‘The Truth Hurts’ by Rebecca Reid is a psychological thriller with a Hitchcock-ian ending

“The Truth Hurts” by Rebecca Reid is an apt title. In this novel, we learn the truth in clever dribs and drabs through the third person narration from the point of view of Poppy, the nanny who gets fired for sticking up for herself. Her narration is in the present, and we also hear from Caroline, who was Poppy’s employer once upon a time. She shares what happened before.

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‘Louisiana Lucky’ by Julie Pennell is more than a sweet lottery winners’ tale

It’s a story that’s been told before — people win the lottery and their lives change, and not necessarily for the better. But Julie Pennell’s “Louisiana Lucky” takes that story and really brings it home. She tells the story of three sisters who play the lottery for entertainment and actually win big. How the winning will affect their heretofore modest lifestyle and their relationships is the center of the story. What they learn at the end is what it really means to be lucky. (Spoiler alert: it may not be winning the lottery.)

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