Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Spring Mysteries, Suspense Novels, and Thrillers


Spring in Chicago this year has felt like whiplash as it took us from days of sun and temps in the eighties last week to this week with a touch of snow, lower temperatures, and rain. Those ups and downs are similar to the twists and turns found in mysteries, suspense novels, and thrillers. Rainy weather calls for time inside reading. After washing the lawn furniture, cleaning the grill, and sweeping out the garage, we need books that grab us and pull us in from the first page. Mysteries, suspense novels, and thrillers do just that. Here are some delicious, newly published titles along with one that came out last year. Hard Rain and Symphony of Secrets are out today and With My Little Eye publishes next Tuesday.

*Don’t Know Tough by Eli Cranor is Friday Night Lights meets Ron Rash in a rural Arkansas suspense thriller portraying high school football star Billy Lowe, an angry kid who’s constantly terrorized by his mother’s boyfriend. When Billy snaps on the field, his new, born-again Christian, fresh-from-California, coach thinks he can save Billy. When the boyfriend is found murdered in the Lowe’s trailer, Billy is the prime suspect and the town’s playoff hopes may be over. This stellar Edgar-nominated debut is tough and tender. CC/GS/GPR, BC (2022)

+Hard Rain by Samantha Jayne Allen

is a stand-alone mystery, the second in the Annie McIntyre series focusing on Annie’s new career as a private investigator when she returns to her small Texas town after college. A horrific flood destroys several homes where low-income families live. Annie’s high school classmate Bethany survived the flood after a man in a tree pulled her to safety. She fears he may have died but wants to find him to thank him so she hires Annie. Annie’s search leads her to discover a body in a car in the river and that leads to a connection to Bethany’s church. Samantha Jayne Allen has proven that she can capture rural Texas and is a master of propulsive action. Reading Pay Dirt Road, Allen’s first in the series, a book shortlisted for the Hammett Prize, will offer insight into Annie, but this sharp, twisty, suspense thriller is stellar on its own. CC

*I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai takes Podcaster Bodie Kane back to the 1990s murder of Thalia, her boarding school roommate. Bodie returns to campus to teach students how to create podcasts and one pupil finds information that could free the man convicted of the crime. Makkai’s brilliant use of a list to highlight the seemingly endless sexual assaults of young girls is reminiscent of the best work by Julie Otsuka. I couldn’t stop thinking about Brett Cavanaugh and others as I read. Makkai is one of the best authors writing today. Perfect for book clubs. GPR/CC/SN, BC

+The Only Survivors by Megan Miranda,

Ten years ago they were the nine survivors of a deadly crash killing several of their high school classmates and two teachers. They gather every year on the anniversary of the accident in a cottage on the Outer Banks. One of them died by suicide on an anniversary and Cassidy has cut herself off from them until she receives a text with the obituary of another survivor so she joins the others at the cottage. They’re down to seven when another disappears. With flashbacks to the aftermath of the wreck and multiple twists and turns, this builds to a strong climax. Megan Miranda never disappoints. CC/GS

+Reef Road by Deborah Goodrich Royce showcases Royce’s ability to infuse a story with twists that grab the reader. The plot hinges on the unsolved murder of a 12-year-old girl in 1948, but the action takes place at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 when two unreliable narrators, a wife whose family has disappeared and a writer, meet. The writer befriends the wife and then stalks and spies on her. This taut, haunting thriller is both elegant and creepy. Royce is becoming a uniquely talented master of the unexpected. CC

+Symphony of Secrets by Brendan Slocumb

Slocumb follows his blockbuster The Violin Conspiracy with a tale weaving classical music and prejudice against Black scholars in the field. Frederic Delaney is Bern Hendrick’s favorite composer. Bern has devoted most of his academic career in musicology to studying Delaney’s masterpieces. The last of Delaney’s operas has been lost for decades so when the Delaney Foundation, the organization that funded Hendrick’s schooling, offers Bern the chance to work on the newly discovered lost opera manuscript, he's ecstatic. He brings in his friend Eboni, a computer analyst who’s worked on other operas, and together they find evidence of a Black woman who lived with Delaney who might have written some of his work. A clever mystery. CC/GS/SN

+With My Little Eye by Joshilyn Jackson

is the suspense-filled tale of Meribel Mills, a former sitcom celebrity being stalked by “Marker Man” who sends her creepy, threatening letters using scented markers. She and Honor, her twelve-year-old neurodivergent daughter, escape LA for Atlanta. Could the stalker be her ex-husband, her new boyfriend, her helpful neighbor, or someone else? Jackson’s foray into suspense produces anxiety-inducing moments and memorable characters. Honor is a fabulous, multi-dimensional charmer. Kudos to Jackson for including her in this fast-paced drama. CC/GS (Publication date: April 25.)

F.Y.I.: A reader noticed that several of these authors have appeared at the Harbor Springs Festival of the Book. Five of them are Festival alums. I first encountered Samantha Jayne Allen, Megan Miranda, and Deborah Goodrich Royce at the festival. Joshilyn Jackson and Rebecca Makkai, whose books I’d previously read and loved, have also appeared at the festival. It's a great place to hear both new authors and those you already love. This year’s festival is September 22-24. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Because I Loved You by Donnaldson Brown

Because I Loved You by Donnaldson Brown is a unique, character-driven saga that readers will love. I adore books by authors who are so in love with their characters that they allow them to make mistakes, fail miserably, love wildly, and suffer the consequences.  In 1972, sixteen-year-old aspiring artist Leni O’Hare’s French war bride mother tries to sell Leni’s beloved horse and her cherished older brother dies at football practice leaving her bereft and vulnerable. Leni falls for her brother’s friend, the math and physics genius Caleb McGrath, the son of a wealthy rancher who can't understand Caleb’s desire to go to college. Both Caleb and Leni are products of the remote East Texas landscape where they live and they both care more about horses than people until they find each other. Caleb’s bad-boy older brother Hank helps Leni when she feels that she must leave town and disappear so Caleb will accept a scholarship at Princeton without her holding him back. 

Caleb and Leni meet by chance in the 1980s in New York City where Leni engages in the guerilla art scene and Caleb manages finances for a real estate investment firm and is engaged. Despite their circumstances, they fall in love again until Leni’s fears intervene. Their final meeting comes in 2016 when their earlier mistakes no longer matter and a revealed secret offers hope.

That Brown was once a screenwriter shows in her cinematic word pictures that create vistas allowing the reader to see and feel the remote Texas land and its “pink sunset, stretched thin like taffy across the entire sky.” Brown doesn't simply describe Leni, Caleb, and their families; she produces them out of thin air and the reader sees them as if they were on the big screen. If you love the way Kent Haruf, Leif Enger, and Larry Watson evoke family, small towns, place, and nature, you’re sure to enjoy Because I Loved You.

Summing it Up: Read Because I Loved You for its wonderful, flawed characters, and for its evocation of East Texas that makes you certain you’ve been there. Enjoy the bonus of Brown’s descriptions of Caleb and Leni’s horses and their importance in their lives. Devour it to experience their passionate romance. Select Because I Loved You for your book club because you'll want to talk with others about how hard it can be for damaged souls to risk loving fully and about the importance of becoming who you're meant to be.

Rating: 5 Stars 

Publication Date: April 4, 2023

Category: Fiction, Five Stars, Grandma’s Pot Roast, Pigeon Pie (Historical Fiction),  Book Club

Author Website: https://www.donnaldsonbrown.com/ 

Podcast Interview with the Author: https://www.npr.org/podcasts/504991626/a-novel-idea 

Read an Excerpt: https://bloomsite.wordpress.com/2022/11/01/an-excerpt-from-donnaldson-browns-debut-novel-because-i-loved-you/ 

What Others are Saying:

Kirkus Reviews: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/donnaldson-brown/because-i-loved-you/ 

"Cal and Leni first fall in love with horses, then with each other, a love that not even Donnaldson Brown’s beautifully rendered East Texas landscapes can contain. Because they’ve other loves, too, mathematics for Cal, art for Leni, which conflict with the expectations of their families and their town. There are other secrets, too, one of them buried so deep under their family trees that perhaps it should remain, but it can’t, not if Leni is to be free. Because I Loved You is deeply affecting, swooningly romantic, hard as diamonds, too: dreams don’t always add up, and trouble can sometimes be our friend.” 

        —Bill Roorbach, author of Lucky Turtle, Life Among Giants, andThe Remedy for Love 

“Equal parts Kent Haruf and Elizabeth Wetmore, Because I Loved You  embodies all of the expansiveness and intimacy of a contemporary Western page-turner, and more. Starting in a small town in East Texas and traveling to the East Coast, this vivid, riveting narrative will transport you and break your heart at same time. Readers will love Donnaldson Brown’s stunning debut.”

        —S. Kirk Walsh, author of The Elephant of Belfast