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Reviews of what you should be reading next.

SAWBONES by Ed Kurtz


“I was to make myself a killer.” In 1865, a man calling himself Septimus Whitehall slashed, shot, and burned his way from New York to California in a frenzy of violence. This is his own story, told in his own words.
Seven names were on the doctor’s list. Seven men and women scattered all over the United States and its western territories. Seven souls judged guilty by a mysterious man with no past apart from the loss for which his enemies are blamed. The War Between the States is over, but Septimus Whitehall intends to wage a bloody war of his own and he is willing to cut down almost anyone who stands in his way. From New York City and Boston on the cusp of the Gilded Age to the war-ravaged ruins of Alabama and Arkansas, through the mythic American West and beyond, Whitehall will practice his violent vocation until everyone on that list meets the Sawbones.

Thanks to NetGalley and Crossroad Press for this review copy!

SAWBONES is quite the unusual read. The author creates a sympathetic character in Septimus Whitehall as he travels from New York City to the Dakota Territory, seeking to murder those who are on his “list” of victims. Whitehall is avenging the death of his only love by taking the lives of those who were involved in her death, either directly or indirectly. There is wonderful detail in the author’s descriptions of Five Points in the 1800’s, as well as the Civil War, and the unsettled West. As I read, I felt as if I were there, seeing, hearing and smelling the same things Septimus was.

Another curious and fascinating thing about SAWBONES is the author’s use of language. I consider myself to be quite familiar with the English language; yet there were many words that I needed to look up. As I read the definitions I felt as if I had struck gold. I became familiar with words such as effigial, pantophagy, and raillery. As I’ve said before, any book that makes me look up definitions is always a winner.

Septimus is at times a complete gentleman and then a murderer. He stalks his prey yet remains courteous to others. He is clearly an intelligent man with deep emotions but with a singular goal; eliminate those on his macabre list. During his journey he encounters many roadblocks, skirting his own death all the while. He is a solitary man with one purpose in life, and it is easy to cheer him on as he searches for his victims.

This is definitely a violent and gory read, but the balance of gore and period detail are perfectly blended. As I kept reading, I wondered when the book would draw to a close – it is actually quite long. However, the author kept me interested by throwing in some action just as the book bordered on dull/too much description. That being said, I totally loved SAWBONES. It’s a quirky, intelligent read that will stay with you long after you are done reading. I would love to see a sequel to see what Septimus is up to now.

You can get your copy here.

LAST RITES by Todd Harra

The Untold Story of American Funeral and Mourning Traditions

Why do we embalm the deceased? Why are funerals so expensive? Is there a reason coffins are shaped the way they are? When—and why—did we start viewing the deceased? Ceremonies for honoring the departed are crucial parts of our lives, but few people know where our traditional practices come from—and what they reveal about our history, culture, and beliefs about death. In Last Rites, author Todd Harra takes you on a fascinating exploration of American funeral practices—examining where they came from, what they mean, and how they are still evolving.
Our conventions around death, burial, and remembrance have undergone many great transitions—sometimes due to technology, respect for tradition, shifting sensibilities, or even to thwart grave robbers. Here you’ll explore:
• Influences for American rituals—from medieval Europe, the Roman Empire, and even ancient Egypt
• When mourning fell out of fashion—and how George Washington’s passing brought it back
• Abraham Lincoln’s landmark funeral and its widespread impact
• Flowers, liquor, mourning gifts, and caskets—the reasons behind our grieving customs
• Unknown soldiers—how warfare influenced funeral and bereavement practices … and vice versa
• How growing populations, religion, inventions, and media have changed and continue to shape our traditions
• The future of our death rites—mushroom suits, green burial, body donation, flameless cremation, home funerals, and more
The rich story of the American funeral is one of constant evolution. Whether you’re planning a funeral service or are simply intrigued by the meaning behind American burial practices, Last Rites is an informative and compelling exploration of the history—and future—of the ceremonies we use to say farewell to those who have departed this world.
The rich story of the American funeral is one of constant evolution. Whether you’re planning a funeral service or are simply intrigued by the meaning behind American burial practices, Last Rites is an informative and compelling exploration of the history—and future—of the ceremonies we use to say farewell to those who have departed this world.



Thanks to NetGalley and Sounds True publishing for giving me this ARC to review!

Todd Harra is an excellent writer and extremely knowledgeable about the funeral industry. LAST RITES is not his first book; he has written multiple books about the funeral business and (interestingly enough) some mystery books with an undertaker as the main character. I’ll be checking those out quite soon! You can find the first book on Amazon.

I have always been fascinated about death and funerals – when I was in high school, I was early accepted to the McCallister Academy of Mortuary Science.  The only thing that stopped me from attending was an interaction between me and a funeral director (who was the only woman in my town to own her own business) I approached her for some information and offered to work there, like an externship. I would set up the rooms, clean, etc., and possibly watch an embalming or two just to see what the business was really like. She was quite rude and told me not to bother going to school, since I didn’t have “family in the business” I would never make it. She went on to say that no one would hire me because I was an outsider, not part of a funerary family. I was young and I took her words to heart and chose a different career path. It’s ironic that now, most funeral homes are owned by a corporate entity and employ staff with all kinds of backgrounds…family “in the business” is no longer an issue.

So, back to LAST RITES. The author takes us through the history of everything funerary, from early funeral customs during Egyptian times to the present as well as embalming, mourning customs, burial procedures (especially interesting is the “alarms” that bodies were buried with, in case the person inside the coffin was not truly dead (!), the evolution of hearses, and superstitions surrounding death and dying. There is enough substance for both serious students and curious laypeople to enjoy. There is the occasional yucky detail but not enough to make the book a struggle to read.

The author made this book very information-dense; it can be overwhelming if you choose to read it over the course of a few hours. I preferred to limit my intake to 30-45 minutes, as it helped me to really absorb the details and/or look up more information on a subject that I wanted to learn more about. There are footnotes at the end of every chapter, which helped me to gain a new level of understanding to what was written in the body of the book.

What I liked most about LAST RITES is that there were enough nuggets there to complement the knowledge I had already. The author gives a lot of detail and examples to make the book a multi-layered approach towards death customs and the like.  At times it did read like a textbook, but the information needed to be written in such a way to include the level of detail I mentioned above. The author’s style makes it easy to read, which is a blessing considering the ultra-serious subject matter.  The United States perpetuates the avoidance of death and dying, which is a shame considering everyone must deal with it eventually. Perhaps LAST RITES will help shed some light on the history of this long-standing profession and help people make informed end-of-life decisions.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book! You can pick up your copy here.

PERFUME by Megan Volpert

Thanks to NetGalley and Bloomsbury Academic for this review copy! This book is part of the Object Lessons series, which is a series of short, beautifully designed books about the hidden lives of ordinary things.

Our sense of smell is crucial to our survival. We can smell fear, disease, food. Fragrance is also entertainment. We can smell an expensive bottle of perfume at a high-end department store. Perhaps it reminds us of our favorite aunt. A memory in a bottle is a powerful thing.
Megan Volpert’s Perfume carefully balances the artistry with the science of perfume. The science takes us into the neurology of scent receptors, how taste is mostly smell, the biology of illnesses that impact scent sense, and the chemistry of making and copying perfume. The artistry of perfume involves the five scent families and symbolism, subjectivity in perfume preference, perfume marketing strategies, iconic scents and perfumers, why the industry is so secretive, and Volpert’s own experiments with making perfume.
Object Lessons is published in partnership with an essay series in The Atlantic.

I have never read any of the Object Lessons books, and I was curious to see what PERFUME held for me. Volpert is a good writer, but she jumps around from subject to subject and it is a bit disconcerting. However, she knows her stuff and each chapter is part autobiographical, part science of smell. There are 8 chapters, with titles such as Time, Science, Technology, and Performance. I ended up ignoring the titles, since each chapter contained a multitude of information, not necessarily matching up with the name the chapter was given.

As I constantly mention, each book that spurs me to Google something I’ve read is always satisfying.  I looked up vetiver, Giorgio Beverly Hills (which I subsequently bought), Germaine Cellier, Bang by Marc Jacobs, the Monell Center in Philadelphia, and the ship of Theseus. Each search entertained and educated, and I grew more satisfied with each Google.

If you are looking for a book with detailed descriptions on how to create a scent, you may not be entirely happy with this book. But you will learn a bit about creation, top and bottom notes, names of ingredients that go into a scent, and the gestalt of 80’s perfume (I felt so nostalgic as I read and recalled that decade, my favorite).

One of the scientific paragraphs that grabbed my attention was the following, taken from the chapter Time, discussing perfume formulas:

Perhaps a formula has 50 elements and the lab tech not only doles out all 50 with exactitude, but also the variations the master perfumer has requested to contemplate, such as a set of 10 options where one molecule is increased by a quarter of a percent each time and a second set of five options for each of those ten where the ratio of two other molecules is reduced proportionally alongside the quarter-percent increase of the other. And all the results may smell like garbage.

I had no idea of the depth of work required to create a fragrance, much less the tweaking that is sometimes done, such as CK One evolving into the variation of other CK perfumes. CK One was truly the scent of a generation, and the author handles this little tidbit with aplomb.

Overall, I was happy with this little book. As I read it, I absorbed its contents without knowing that I would think of this book again and again. After a few days separation I realized that I enjoyed it more than I originally thought. Once you get into the flow of the author’s quirky prose, the contents flow smoothly by until you reach the end, and are left wanting more. I do recommend PERFUME as a quick, enjoyable read. Volpert manages to bring literature, philosophy, and science together, culminating in a compact masterpiece. 

You can pick up your copy here.

SPARE PARTS by Paul Craddock

Paul Craddock’s Spare Parts offers an original look at the history of medicine itself through the rich, compelling, and delightfully macabre story of transplant surgery from ancient times to the present day.

How did an architect help pioneer blood transfusion in the 1660’s?
Why did eighteenth-century dentists buy the live teeth of poor children?
And what role did a sausage skin and an enamel bath play in making kidney transplants a reality?

We think of transplant surgery as one of the medical wonders of the modern world. But transplant surgery is as ancient as the pyramids, with a history more surprising than we might expect. Paul Craddock takes us on a journey – from sixteenth-century skin grafting to contemporary stem cell transplants – uncovering stories of operations performed by unexpected people in unexpected places. Bringing together philosophy, science and cultural history, Spare Parts explores how transplant surgery constantly tested the boundaries between human, animal, and machine, and continues to do so today.
Witty, entertaining, and illuminating, Spare Parts shows us that the history – and future – of transplant surgery is tied up with questions about not only who we are, but also what we are, and what we might become.

Thanks to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for this ARC! The subtitle of this book is: The Story of Medicine through the History of Transplant Surgery.  There is minimal gore (there are a few exceptions) and a great deal of history. The first chapter starts in the 1500’s and starts out with “Skin” and ends in the 1960’s with “Organs” and “Transplant Future”.  The book also includes illustrations that add another dimension to the written word.

I always love when a book piques my interest so much that I Google the subject to learn more. SPARE PARTS does just that. One of the more…interesting… items was an old YouTube video of disembodied parts living outside the body of deceased dogs. The film was made in 1940 and is found under the title of “Experiments in the Revival of Organisms”.  The highlight (?) of this film is a disembodied dog head reacting to stimuli as it is kept “alive” by an artificial heart and lungs. Not for the faint of heart.

I was totally unaware of the history behind transplants, so reading this book was quite intriguing. Apparently tooth transplants were all the rage in the late 1600’s, with poor children selling their teeth to be transplanted into the mouths of the wealthy. It was poignant to think that the only items of value that those poor children had were their teeth. The book makes note that they were quite eager to sell their dentition in order to make money so they could eat.  I am not sure how satisfying meals were, having to consume their food with minimal or no teeth in their mouth.

The book also discusses blood transfusions between humans and animals, and kidney/heart/organ transplants. There is a great deal of history along with the author’s thoughts on the subjects. SPARE PARTS is written well, in a way that a reader with no medical background will understand. Those with a medical background will enjoy it as well, as the history aspect may add another layer to their knowledge.

I enjoyed reading SPARE PARTS so much, as it taught me more of the historical aspect of transplants and how the practice has evolved over the years. It is always amazing to read about how physicians practiced hundred of years ago, and what they thought about the workings of the human body.

If you are interested in learning more about the unusual history of transplant surgery I definitely recommend this book. Well written and quite interesting!

You can pick up your copy here.

Rare Birds by Natalie Scott

 

 

The ultimate lockdown reading, Rare Birds creatively tells the story of Holloway Prison’s first 100 years through the re-imagined voices of prisoners, staff and others connected to its history. Meticulously researched, the collection brings to life well-known voices such as Ruth Ellis, Sylvia Pankhurst and Edith Thompson, plus a host of lesser-known names, to tell Holloway’s rich and gripping story.

 

 

Thanks to the author for this review copy!

Prison walls seem to talk in RARE BIRDS, a book of poetry about those sentenced to time inside the notorious Holloway Prison. A multitude of characters share their laments with a chorus of voices. These voices come from suffragettes and thieves, pickpockets and murderers, and the author makes nearly all of them sound sympathetic. Some voices are particularly poignant, like the 10 year old pickpocket who marvels at being taught to write his name for the first time (pg.33), or the woman staring through the “hope-sized window” contemplating freedom (pg. 62).

Reading these poems about women fighting hard for the right to vote made me realize how far we have come, for this book brings to life their difficult journey. These voices deserved to be heard in their time, and Scott memorializes their struggle in an imaginative and touching way.

The author truly captures the essence of the prison and its inhabitants in her poems. It is as if she was intimately acquainted with each prisoner and gathered her poem from conversations with each one. Scott did comprehensive work with original documents (you can see which ones, along with a bibliography at the end of the book) to bring the inmates to life. Despite their criminal background (and it’s true some are worse than others) they are all painted in a sympathetic light, as I mentioned before. It is easy to hope that freedom comes quickly for them – even the ones on Death Row. There is a section of poems (pp.124-133) that come from the voices of the executioner, his wife,  a prison officer, a juror, and finally the doomed prisoner herself, Ruth Ellis, who died by hanging on July 13th, 1955. Each voice is different, yet they all contribute to the bigger picture – a prisoner on Death Row who is about to hang. (Ellis was the last woman executed in the United Kingdom; you can read about her here.)

RARE BIRDS is just that – a book of ethereal yet grounded poetry that forces you to think about the prison system and those caught in it. Some are unjustly imprisoned, while others commit unspeakable acts. Whatever the crime, Holloway Prison enveloped its inhabitants in cold bricks and mortar. Scott uses her words here to uncage these birds and immortalize them forever.

You can pick up your copy here. 

 

Murder on Pleasant Avenue by Victoria Thompson

 

When Gino Donatelli is accused of a brutal murder, beloved sleuths Sarah and Frank Malloy have to catch a killer who is out to destroy their innocent friend’s life in the latest installment of the national bestselling Gaslight mysteries.

A victim is found, brutally murdered and the police are certain they’ve caught the killer. Their only suspect: Gino Donatelli.

Frank and Sarah know Gino is innocent but the police have a one-track mind. Once Frank struck it rich and left their ranks taking Gino with him, there has been a simmering resentment in the department. And now, someone has pulled out all the stops to make it look like Gino is the only one who could have committed the crime.

With the clock ticking and evidence mounting against their friend, Sarah and Frank will try to unravel a treacherous plot before Gino is sent up the river for good.

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

Once again Sarah and Frank get mixed up in a murder case; in this one Gino is accused of killing a member of the Black Hand and they must clear his name. We see a lot of Maeve in this story, especially in the interactions with Gino. I enjoyed reading their dialogue and loved to picture them flirting with each other. I also got a kick out of Maeve sitting forlornly at her typewriter, practicing her typing while wishing all the while for an interruption.

One thing you can always count on is getting some history while hearing of Sarah and Frank’s adventures. The setting for this story is Italian Harlem, and the author paints a wonderful picture of how the inhabitants lived (and died). This is one of my favorite aspects of the Gaslight Mysteries: Thompson always makes me feel like I have been taken back in time and am living right alongside all her characters. One point of interest is that the author doesn’t censor the seedier parts of the period. We get to see the homeless, we hear about abortions, and we get to experience tenement life. Thompson does her best to make nearly everyone sympathetic, so this makes the story friendlier, and the book very readable as well.

Speaking of characters, some new ones are introduced in this book. We meet Teo, Gino’s sister-in-law, as well as the rest of Gino’s family. One of the funnier sequences in the book is when Maeve needs to go to Gino’s house; her family misunderstands her reason and want to get her out of the house. Thank goodness Maeve is able to straighten everyone out!

I was unable to figure out who dunnit, and that was a plus. It can get frustrating when you know who the bad guys are before the main characters do. My guess was between two characters, and I was surprised to finally learn who it was. As always, the story gets tied up neatly, with the last page a portent of what is to come in the next installment. I enjoyed this book very much and am looking forward to her next one. You can pick up your copy here. 

Masked Prey by John Sandford

Lucas Davenport investigates a vitriolic blog that seems to be targeting the children of U.S. politicians in the latest thriller by #1 New York Times-bestselling author John Sandford.

The daughter of a U.S. Senator is monitoring her social media presence when she finds a picture of herself on a strange blog. And there are other pictures . . . of the children of other influential Washington politicians, walking or standing outside their schools, each identified by name. Surrounding the photos are texts of vicious political rants from a motley variety of radical groups.

It’s obviously alarming–is there an unstable extremist tracking the loved ones of powerful politicians with deadly intent? But when the FBI is called in, there isn’t much the feds can do. The anonymous photographer can’t be pinned down to one location or IP address, and more importantly, at least to the paper-processing bureaucrats, no crime has actually been committed. With nowhere else to turn, influential Senators decide to call in someone who can operate outside the FBI’s constraints: Lucas Davenport.

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this review copy!

Lots of politicking and Nazi alt-right groups in this Davenport outing. Lucas is still smarting from the bullet he took a few months ago, so when he gets a call from Washington demanding his presence, he is not all that eager to go. What he finds when he gets there is a twisted plot that takes nearly the entire book to resolve.

In the meantime, we have favorite characters Bob and Rae, lots of dialogue which moves the book along, and more information about alt-right groups that you never wanted to know. The book shifts back and forth between multiple subplots, which makes the book a bit draggy in places. Towards the end the action ramps up so that the pages are turning a lot quicker.

Bob and Rae are solid as usual, cracking wise and kicking ass. The scenes in which they help Davenport are some of the most entertaining ones in the book. However, it seems that Lucas was affected by the shooting in which he was wounded, and it shows. He is more thoughtful and less raw. He’s not happy about dealing with the Washington crowd, but handles it with diplomatic aplomb. Is this the start of an older, wiser Lucas Davenport? According to Goodreads at the time of this writing, MASKED PREY was a solid 4 stars. I’m not sure why this book didn’t get that fifth star, unless it was the “new” Lucas.

I enjoyed the book well enough, but I’m going to give it four stars as well. There was a bit too much politics. 20% into the book, when Davenport meets alt-right expert Charles Lang and his assistant Stephen Gibson, Lang reminded me a tiny bit of Hannibal Lecter, but without the shock factor and the gore. Lang seemed to thrive on information, and he was hungry for some all throughout the book. I found those interactions a bit creepy. Now that I think about it, both Lang and Gibson did need to be in the book under the guise of plot thickening, but I still don’t like Lang.

Davenport fans should enjoy this albeit a bit mildly. Hardcore readers will gobble this up and look for more, while first time readers may find it a bit dry. I fall between those groups…that said there is nothing like a good Prey novel to while away the hours. MASKED PREY filled a few hours for me, and I enjoyed it more than mildly….yet not 5 stars worth.

You can pick up your copy here.

Soup To Nuts by Judith Deborah

What do you do when your best friend marries someone who isn’t you?

Romy Belkin—28, unrepentant English major, a Michelangelo in the kitchen—is the culinary genius behind viral YouTube channel A Dash of Paprika. Its star is the fabulous Pia Zimble, Romy’s dearest friend. But one day, a fan of the show materializes—a man Romy has to admit is perfect for Pia—and sweeps her friend out of their kitchen and into a whole new life.

Bereft but trying not to be, Romy throws herself into navigating her new landscape. But the stakes of her explorations are higher than she thinks. If she’s not careful, Romy could lose herself along the way—as well as the chance to love and be loved by a soulmate of her own.

A witty and warm-hearted comic love story, Soup to Nuts is a novel about deep and enduring friendship, love in its many varieties, and truly spectacular food.

 

Thanks to the author for this review copy!

SOUP TO NUTS is a sweet romantic comedy about Pia and Romy, two besties who work on a food blog together, happily ever after clearly in sight…. until Pia finds the love of her life. Romy needs to learn to live her life without being joined at the hip with Pia.

Told in Romy’s voice, SOUP TO NUTS takes us through Romy’s journey post-Pia. At first, she is in a type of mourning, as she misses Pia and also laments her own lack of male prospects. A friend of hers helps Romy find some blind dates that are fun, but short-lived. No one is clicking for her, and she keeps looking, even though there already is someone in her life that would be perfect for her. Will Romy realize this in time and open her heart, before he finds someone else?

The author hits the perfect blend of romantic and comedy – not too heavy on either side, which is perfect for me. Both Pia and Romy are developed well, and I was able to feel their emotions clearly, whether it was raucous girl fun or a quick flare of anger. The descriptions of Romy’s relatives, especially her mother, are to die for. The author creates the perfect Jewish mother with both love and laughter.

“What on earth are you doing with that silly man?” Ma asked. 

“You mean Chip?” said Romy.

“Chip,” Ma said scornfully. “Chip Scott. Never trust a man with two first names.”

“You’re prejudiced. If his name was Chip Rabinowitz, you’d be calling the caterers.”

At times the dialogue is laugh-out-loud funny, other times it turns poignant. I truly felt as if I knew the girls well, and thus became invested in their future. Romy is a cook, and so the book is filled with descriptions of food, sumptuous and hunger-inducing. She turns to her kitchen in times of need, so there is a lot of cooking after Pia gets married and moves out. Her recipes are therapeutic, and we get to experience them one ingredient at a time. The author is skilled at creating images while stimulating the senses, and this is part of what makes SOUP TO NUTS so enthralling. There is so much delight in this little book that you must experience it for yourself. You will fall in love with these characters during the short period you are with them. Hurry – you can pick up your copy here.

Killer Soul Mate by Anne Rothman-Hicks and Kenneth Hicks

Jane Larson is back, and trouble abounds on New York’s Upper East Side!

A new client, Jasmine, hires Jane to undo the terms of a matrimonial agreement with her ex-husband, the owner of a prosperous hedge fund who does not like to lose. At the same time, Jane’s landlord is working to evict her from the storefront law office where her mother had practiced for many years, and Jane is forced to fight to save her mother’s legacy. However, it seems there is no way she can win.

All too soon, the bodies begin to pile up and Jane has to figure out who is responsible before she becomes one of the victims. Meanwhile, a guy named Gary is trying to worm his way into her life, and, even though she thinks he is much too young for he, she starts to fall for him. The problem is that he has a habit of showing up where the murders occur. Can she trust him?

Thanks to the authors for this review copy!

Jane Larson is feeling tired and old. To make matters worse, she is served with papers declaring to evict her from her storefront law office. There is also a younger man named Gary flirting with her at the local Y; Jane keeps telling him to scram. And the current case she is working on is a matrimonial one with ironclad clauses, enough to keep her busy. Her client Jasmine is making sure Jane gets paid top dollar – something she is not used to with her regular clients. Suddenly Gary appears in her office bearing papers discussing legal action against him. Jane just doubled her client load, even if the second client is flirty Gary.

More cases come to Jane quickly, and soon she is super busy. Suddenly Jasmine’s ex-husband’s lawyer Kevin is found dead, and his daughter claims foul play. Jane is drawn into a murder investigation, and that is where things really take off. Flirty Gary seems to always be in the middle of things, whether it’s on the same subway train as Jane, or a bar when Jane and Jasmine are hanging out. What is his deal? And who killed Kevin?

This is Jane Larson’s fourth mystery; she was the main character in WEAVE A MURDEROUS WEB, among others, a few years ago. She is still the same feisty woman that we know and love, however, she is slightly softer and more emotional in this book. I liked how the authors gave her more dimensions here.

There are many characters in KILLER SOUL MATE but they are easy to keep track of, and the twisty plot will keep you turning the pages. Towards the end the action ramps up to tie the loose ends together; once the book ends you will wish it didn’t. I hope the 5th installment of Jane’s adventures comes soon, as this one was fantastic reading.

I loved this book! The authors have a great style of writing that draws you into the story quickly, and they make you truly care about Jane and her clients. The dialogue is captivating, and the character development is thorough; I could picture each one in my head as I raced through the book. I was very invested in Jane and the other characters and was super curious to see how each subplot would be resolved.  I especially enjoyed that the romance between Gary and Jane was kept light; there is nothing that bogs down a good murder mystery than a heavy romance. Kudos to the authors!

Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

The Argument by Victoria Jenkins

It happens to every mother. One day, the daughter whose whole world you once were, becomes someone you barely know. And you don’t know the secrets she’s hiding…

One hot summer night, 15-year-old Olivia comes home late from a party she was strictly forbidden from going to, and she and her mother, Hannah, start arguing. Soon Olivia speaks the words that every parent has heard from their teenage child:

‘I hate you. You’ve ruined my life. And I’m never speaking to you again.’

Olivia has never been an easy child, a sharp contrast to her easy-going, happy-go-lucky little sister. But Hannah thinks Olivia’s outburst is the end of a normal family argument. In fact, it’s only the beginning of a nightmare…

After one day of silence, Hannah thinks Olivia is taking a teenage sulk too far. After two days, she starts to feel anxious that something more serious could be going on. After a week, when her daughter still hasn’t spoken, Hannah knows that Olivia is hiding a bigger darkness – something that could threaten to tear their precious family apart…

The Argument is an unputdownable psychological thriller that asks how far we can push our families before they finally break. Perfect for fans of Gillian Flynn, The Woman in the Window, and The Silent Patient.

Thanks to NetGalley for this reviewer’s copy!

The premise of THE ARGUMENT is simple – teenage girl goes out to a party, parents disapprove, teenager tells parents she hates them and refuses to talk to them any more. If it only were that innocent!

Hannah is the stodgy, no-fun mother of Olivia and Rosie. Olivia is a normal 15-year-old testing the boundaries of parental control. Rosie is still young and is the favored child, much to Olivia’s chagrin. Everyone appears to be a reliable narrator so far, despite the titular argument.  The book flows along with minimal ups and downs until about 60% gone – then the first twist is uncovered and Hannah becomes a sympathetic character while Olivia becomes a selfish, annoying little girl, still believing that if her parents didn’t treat her the way they did, she would not have had to sneak out to that party. Soon after that, the second twist happens – hold onto your book, because it’s a doozy! My sympathies changed ever so slightly towards Olivia at this point, despite the fact that she was still a selfish teenager. At this point, I was not putting the book down until it was finished; it was that good! Then the author drops another twist into the mix, making Hannah even more sympathetic.

Hold those emotions close, though, as from here on in they will be changing and spinning out of control. By the end of the book every character but one is deserving of pity, more or less. Each character (except Rosie, who is quite the innocent throughout) has their demons and their false beliefs. One is a narcissist, another is a control freak, and the other is selfish. Actually, they are all selfish and broken in their own way.

THE ARGUMENT is an unputdownable psychological thriller that starts slow, but ends with multiple jaw-dropping twists. The author is adept at creating simmering tension that boils over midway through the book – and the ending will have you shaking your head at Hannah’s final words. I look forward to reading more of the author’s work. You can pick up your copy here.

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