Book Review: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

As a lifelong lover of “Clue” (both the movie and the board game) and, more recently, a big fan of Knives Out, I was surprised I’d never heard of a little 1978 Newbery Medal winner called The Westing Game. I downloaded it on my Kindle and couldn’t stop reading until the end.

The Westing Game follows a colorful cast of characters, all of whom live in a beautiful apartment complex overlooking Lake Michigan, called Sunset Towers. The building overlooks the mansion of a self-made millionaire named Sam Westing. When Westing is (supposedly) found dead at the beginning of the book, the 16 tenants of Sunset Towers are surprised to learn they’ve been named as his heirs. Westing’s will arranges the heirs into 8 teams of 2 who receive $10K cash and a nonsensical set of clues to a mystery they must solve. Whoever solves the mystery first inherits Westing’s entire $200 million fortune and all his assets, including his company.

The heirs competing to solve the clues are a diverse cast of characters ranging in different age groups, ethnicities, income levels and personalities. I found the scenes with the unintentionally bigoted Grace Wexler–a ’70s era “Karen”, if you will–partnered with the cynical Chinese restaurant owner, Mr. Hoo, particularly amusing. There’s also an endearing pair of Greek teen brothers, one in a wheelchair with a sort of palsy; a funny old doorman, a motherly dressmaker, a prestigious Black female judge, two young sisters who are polar opposites, among others. At the heart of the book was how each character started out flawed but changed for the better as a result of their partnership with the other heirs and the experience of the Westing Game. Watching so many unique personalities bouncing off each other was also highly entertaining.

If I have one complaint about the book, it’s the ending. Everything wrapped up too neatly and a the perfect happily-ever-after for every single character didn’t feel realistic or consistent with the overall quirky, at times shadowy, nature of the story. I was let down by the conclusion, but enjoyed the reading experience overall.

Book Review: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Title: Where the Crawdads Sing
Author: Delia Owens
Genre: Adult Fiction, Women’s Fiction
Page Count: 379 pages
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Release Date: August 14, 2018

Publisher’s Summary: For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.

Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.

My Thoughts: I haven’t read regular adult fiction (as opposed to YA or MG) probably since I was in high school—ironically—so I can’t say what really compelled me to download this book, other than the fact I kept seeing it everywhere, and I was in a brooding mood seeking a more serious read. Where the Crawdads Sing is the story of Kya, the “Marsh Girl” who lives alone in the marshes of North Carolina. The author’s expertise on birds and wildlife really shines through this well-written coming-of-age novel, wherein the marsh itself takes on a character of its own. We oscillate between time periods, from Kya’s childhood and coming-of-age, her lovers and losses, and a murder mystery the narrative is leading up to. The third act admittedly dropped me a little by unexpectedly turning into a court drama—I thought I was reading something like Sue Monk Kidd and then it turned into To Kill A Mockingbird—but I appreciate the versatility of the novel. That kept it from becoming one-note.

I really liked Kya and her story. And I’ll confess, the ending put a big, fat Cheshire cat-like smile on my face. I recommend this book to fans of lyrical adult contemporary fiction, environmentalism, and women’s fiction.

Editor’s Review: Foretold (Book 3 of the Near Deaths Series) by Holly M. Campbell

foretold

*Full disclosure: I was the editor of this novel for 48fourteen Publishing.

Foretold (48fourteen, 2018) by Holly M. Campbell is the third – and final? – book in the Near Deaths Series. As a mega-fan of Mrs. Campbell’s previous works, including Foreshadowed (Book 1), Forewarned (Book 2), and Without Curtains, I was beyond honored to be approached by 48fourteen Publishing to edit her newest novel.

Foretold is every bit as compelling, gripping, and heart-stopping as its predecessors. The story of the teen mind-reader, Hope; her death-seeing boyfriend, Lance; and their quest to uncover the identity of a serial rapist/murderer in their small western town comes to its apex in this grand finale to complete the trilogy. Just like the first two books, the story is equal parts teen paranormal romance and murder mystery/suspense. Even the supernatural elements feel believable and realistic, keeping me on the edge of my seat as if it could all truly be happening.

The narrative takes a somewhat heavier turn as Hope grapples with guilt and grief after a sudden and devastating turn of events at the end of Book 2 (no spoilers! My lips – er, fingers – are sealed). Yet, the plot manages to stay fast-paced and unputdownable, aided along especially by intriguing characters from previous books who return with larger roles, the emergence of important new characters, and even one particular character turnaround that nearly stole the show for me. The banding together of the psychic Near Deaths vigilantes and Hope’s final battle against the villain in the third act of this book blew me away. Make no mistake, this is a masterful series executed by a master writer.

Punchy, suspenseful, heartfelt, dangerous, and at times humorous while deliciously dark, Foretold was the perfect ending to Campbell’s memorable and highly recommended paranormal suspense trilogy.

Book Review: A Study in Scarlet (Sherlock Holmes #1) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

astudyI had attempted to read the Sherlock Holmes mysteries by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as a younger person, but usually the old-fashioned prose threw me off, and I had difficulty following it. Recently, I had the pleasure of coming across a free LibriVox recording of the audiobook (the version I listened to is here: https://librivox.org/a-study-in-scarlet-version-6-by-sir-arthur-conan-doyle/), which I very much enjoyed.

The book, narrated by Dr. Watson, begins with Dr. Watson’s account of how he first meets Sherlock Holmes through a mutual acquaintance while seeking a housemate to share the cost of rent. At once, he deduces Holmes to be a peculiar, eccentric, but pleasant man. After they move in together, Watson learns of Holmes’ unique business as a consulting detective. When an American is found murdered in London, and then the American’s assistant is murdered as well, Watson recounts Holmes’ journey to uncovering the murderer.

Part II was my favorite, however. We depart from London and visit the pioneering American southwest with a new set of characters, including the murderer. The story becomes a romantic western tragedy against a stunningly-described, desolate desert backdrop, sympathetic protagonists, and the (no doubt controversial, yet awful) villains of the story, Brigham Young and the Mormons. The story of John Ferrier and his adoptive daughter Lucy, and the love of Lucy’s life, a “gentile” hunter called Jefferson Hope, pulls at the heartstrings. When the story is through, I didn’t blame the murderer one bit for his actions! I was not expecting the perpetrator to be such a sympathetic protagonist with a cause.

I enjoyed this mystery and look forward to listening to more of Sherlock Holmes’ and Dr. Watson’s classic adventures.

Book Review: Forewarned (Book 2 of the Near Deaths Series) by Holly M. Campbell

I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

I have been waiting over a year for this novel. I could say that it delivered, it didn’t disappoint, that it was even better than Book 1, Foreshadowed – but those would be understatements. To put it simply, this book floored me. Holly M. Campbell is a talented YA paranormal/suspense writer whose career is going places. This is the third book I’ve read by her. Her writing is professional, consistent, and totally compelling. If you’re going to pick up any of her books, make sure you don’t have other plans for the day, because I guarantee you won’t be putting it down till you’re done.

Forewarned (48fourteen Publishing, 2016) picks up seventeen-year-old mind reader Hope Murdoch’s story within a few weeks of where Book 1 left off. Hope and her death-seeing boyfriend, Lance, have thwarted a serial rapist/murderer and rescued their friend from a horrific fate. Doing so has changed Hope’s future…but this time, her predicted death is even worse. The mystery of the sociopath’s identity drove me insane with burning curiosity throughout the book as the teens secretly conspire to cipher who he is. Though Hope and Lance have every intention of continuing to combine their psychic gifts to prevent more kidnappings and deaths, Hope comes to learn that it’s not so simple, that not every death can be avoided and, sometimes, by changing one outcome, worse outcomes may unintentionally result for others .

Making matters more  challenging are Hope’s parents, who’ve understandably grounded her and don’t trust Lance, an unhelpful detective and skeptical school newspaper reporter, the painful return of Lance’s ex-girlfriend, and the fact that even the potential victims whom Hope tries to warn don’t believe her – or don’t want to. While the book started out with plenty of laughs from Hope’s trademark sarcasm, it definitely took a turn for the darker, creepier…until twisting into an unexpected ending that totally tore my heart out.

Reading this book reminded me so much of my high school summers curled on the basement couch watching “Twin Peaks” (Frost/Lynch, 1990)  reruns with my big brother. Between the murder mystery of a beautiful high school girl, Hope’s creepy David Lynch-like dreams about Death and her Spirit Guide, and the spooky mood, “Twin Peaks” fans, plus readers of teen suspense will adore this book. The paranormal aspects of the story are so natural and realistic, I almost forgot I was reading a paranormal book. I give Book 2 of the Near Deaths Series five enthusiastic stars. My only plea is that we don’t have to wait a whole year again for the third and final volume! 🙂

Book Review: Without Curtains by Holly M. Campbell

Without Curtains (2015) is the second book by Holly M. Campbell I’ve had the pleasure of reading. After thoroughly enjoying her debut, Foreshadowed, I was more than eager to get my hands on her newest release… and it did not disappoint! I inhaled this novel in a single day, because I was simply unable to set down my Kindle until every last unbelievably tantalizing mystery had been resolved.

Eighteen-year-old Rebecca is about to graduate high school when she receives the news: her estranged father has passed away. Mostly driven by an unexpected phone call from her big brother’s old childhood buddy, Troy, Rebecca decides to attend the funeral, even though she’s maintained no relationship with her dad over the years. And her big brother Jackson is clearly uneasy about returning her to her childhood home… where their mother was brutally murdered.

As aforementioned, I COULD NOT STOP reading this book. I had to know everything. There was so much to discover about every character, like Rebecca’s older sisters Linda and Marie, the charming Troy, and the interesting residents of the little farming town of Clayton Creek. What unfolds is not only a young woman’s journey to find closure and forgiveness with her very complex father after his death, not to mention a complicated but caring romance between her and Troy… but, mostly, a vengeful quest to uncover the “Shadow” entity that’s been stalking her, maybe even solving a fourteen-year-old murder mystery in the process. Together with Troy, Becca becomes intent upon finishing the work she learns her father had started, to find her mother’s assaulter and killer… which may also lead her to discovering who and what has been haunting her bedroom window and tormenting her with nightmares since childhood. I liked that the character of Troy was a psych major, and thus helped explain pertinent things to Becca (and the reader), such as dream interpretation and repressed memories. The murder mystery especially kept me swiping the e-pages, but I was also fascinated by Becca’s broken yet loving dysfunctional family as they coped with their father’s death, each in his or her own way.

If you like New Adult/Teen thrillers, nail-biting suspense, intriguing mystery, gentle romance, stories about families and realistic fiction, I enthusiastically suggest picking up Without Curtains. It actually reads a lot like a Sarah Dessen novel – Sarah Dessen, plus creepy murderer/stalker mystery- yes! Don’t hesitate; this is one great read.

Book Review: Foreshadowed (Book 1 of the Near Deaths Series) by Holly M. Campbell

Foreshadowed is the latest 48fourteen novel by new author Holly M. Campbell, and is the best teen paranormal thriller I’ve read in a long time. It’s well-written, equally dark as it is funny, with a truly brilliant premise and a unique and interesting narrator.

The story centers around Hope, a high school junior who can read minds. This aspect of the story is well-done; the reader quickly understands both the downside and perks of Hope’s ability, and can empathize with her being considered a social outcast as such. However, Hope soon learns she’s not alone in the realm of paranormal abilities when she meets Lance, a new classmate with the ability to see how a person will die when he looks them in the eye. Since Hope can read minds, she sees her death in Lance’s thoughts when they meet. Eventually, the two will team together to try and stop her death – and the deaths of others.

Isn’t that such a freakin’ cool premise?! I think it’s brilliant. And the story delivers. I love Hope and Lance; they are both parts realistic and unusual, darkly funny and their banter felt natural. Even the secondary characters are complex, believable, and interesting to read about – especially Bryce, Hope’s shallow but caring next-door neighbor.

If you like teen paranormal thrillers with a dark edge, murder mysteries, and suspenseful books that are seamless and effortless to keep reading without putting down, I can’t recommend Foreshadowed enough. Congratulations to Campbell on her debut, and I eagerly await the next book in the Near Deaths series.