A Thousand Steps

A Thousand Steps
A Thousand Steps by T. Jefferson Parker

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Hard Cash Valley-by Brian Panowich- Feature and Review


 Return to McFalls County and Bull Mountain in Hard Cash Valley, where Brian Panowich weaves another masterful tale of Southern Noir.

Dane Kirby is a broken man and no stranger to tragedy. As a life-long resident and ex-arson investigator for McFalls County, Dane has lived his life in one of the most chaotic and crime-ridden regions of the south. When he gets called in to consult on a brutal murder in a Jacksonville, Florida, motel room, he and his FBI counterpart, Special Agent Roselita Velasquez, begin an investigation that leads them back to the criminal circles of his own backyard.

Arnie Blackwell’s murder in Jacksonville is only the beginning – and Dane and Roselita seem to be one step behind. For someone is hacking a bloody trail throughout the Southeast looking for Arnie’s younger brother, a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome who possesses an unusual skill with numbers that could make a lot of money and that has already gotten a lot of people killed―and has even more of the deadliest people alive willing to do anything it takes to exploit him.

As Dane joins in the hunt to find the boy, it swiftly becomes a race against the clock that has Dane entangled in a web of secrets involving everyone from the Filipino Mafia to distrusting federal agents to some of hardest southern outlaws he’s ever known.



Hard Cash Valley (Bull Mountain, #3)Hard Cash Valley by Brian Panowich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hard Cash Valley by Brian Panowich is a 2020 Minotaur publication.

Gripping Southern Noir!

In his third novel, Panowich moves his southern saga forward with a new cast of characters, introducing Dane Kirby-a part-time fire investigator who has been tapped to consult with the GBI on a case that involves a missing boy on the autism spectrum.

Dane is also trying to help his old friend, Ned, who has been accused of murder, on top of keeping a terrible secret from those closest to him.

Once again, the rural locations, the shocking criminal underground, rooted in greed, and a haunted main character that pulls the reader’s emotions in all directions, makes this a riveting, unputdownable crime drama.

This another impressive effort by Panowich!



Brian is a Georgia based author who has topped the best thriller list on Apple iBooks, was placed in the top twenty best books on Amazon, went on to win the International Thriller Writers Award for Best First Novel, as well as the Southern Book Prize for Best Mystery. He has also been nominated for the Barry Award, the Anthony Award, The Georgia Townsend Book Prize, and was a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize. His first novel, BULL MOUNTAIN was also selected for the coveted BOOKS ALL GEORGIANS SHOULD READ list by the Georgia Center of the Book, and has been the recipient of several foreign press awards. Brian's sophomore novel, LIKE LIONS, earned him The Georgia Author of the Year Award for best Mystery, and his latest, HARD CASH VALLEY was released in April of 2020 to critical and commercial acclaim.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Finding Freedom by Erin French- Feature and Review



From Erin French, owner and chef of the critically acclaimed The Lost Kitchen, a TIME world dining destination, a life-affirming memoir about survival, renewal, and finding a community to lift her up

Long before The Lost Kitchen became a world dining destination with every seating filled the day the reservation book opens each spring, Erin French was a girl roaming barefoot on a 25-acre farm, a teenager falling in love with food while working the line at her dad's diner and a young woman finding her calling as a professional chef at her tiny restaurant tucked into a 19th century mill. This singular memoir--a classic American story--invites readers to Erin's corner of her beloved Maine to share the real person behind the "girl from Freedom" fairytale, and the not-so-picture-perfect struggles that have taken every ounce of her strength to overcome, and that make Erin's life triumphant.

In Finding Freedom, Erin opens up to the challenges, stumbles, and victories that have led her to the exact place she was ever meant to be, telling stories of multiple rock-bottoms, of darkness and anxiety, of survival as a jobless single mother, of pills that promised release but delivered addiction, of a man who seemed to offer salvation but in the end ripped away her very sense of self. And of the beautiful son who was her guiding light as she slowly rebuilt her personal and culinary life around the solace she found in food--as a source of comfort, a sense of place, as a way of bringing goodness into the world. Erin's experiences with deep loss and abiding hope, told with both honesty and humor, will resonate with women everywhere who are determined to find their voices, create community, grow stronger and discover their best-selves despite seemingly impossible odds. Set against the backdrop of rural Maine and its lushly intense, bountiful seasons, Erin reveals the passion and courage needed to invent oneself anew, and the poignant, timeless connections between food and generosity, renewal and freedom.






It was ten past three in the afternoon, the time of day I looked forward to the most. This was the hour each afternoon that offered a bit of much-needed semipeacefulness in the kitchen at my father’s diner. It was the time of day when, for a split second, I could finally take a break. Over the past four hours I had flipped at least two dozen burgers, fried an equal number of clam baskets, plated a dozen meatloaf specials, and made a few BLTs, ham Italians, and egg salad sandwiches in between.

After the frenetic lunch rush ended, the grill was finally empty, the Fryolators idled hot and peaceful, and the ticket bar sat quiet and vacant of orders. Here it was, my chance to sit down, grab a quick bite, or take my first pee in five hours. But it was also the only moment quiet enough in the kitchen to get ahead with prep for home fries and bacon for tomorrow morning’s crushing breakfast service. The ten-pound bag of pork on the counter was glaring at me impatiently. I pulled a fistful of the fatty strips from the huge bag and laid them one by one into four long rows on the giant griddle that sat center stage on the old diner line. I fried each length until it was just barely brown and stacked it between layers of brown paper towels to absorb the warm fat, then laid out four more rows again, then again, and again, and again. Every day it felt like an endless task, the sputtering grease pelting my wrists with tiny burns. I couldn’t help cringing, even though I was well used to it by now. And then there was the smell of rendered pork fat that came with it. It seemed to permeate every strand of hair, every thread of clothing, every pore: I flat-out reeked of bacon. God, I couldn’t wait for a long hot shower, but that was easily seven hours away. I had more pork to fry and home fries to dice, and then a full fucking dinner service ahead of me.

After the last batch was tucked between paper towels, I twisted each of the four knobs on the griddle to the right and killed the ignition to the pilot lights below. I grabbed the grill scraper and, using it like a squeegee, began to move the puddles of hot grease down the perimeter of the grill, guiding the smoking liquid to the stainless-steel trap in the lower left corner below. Finally a clean grill, a still-empty ticket board, and a moment to sit. Yes! I walked over to the soft-serve ice cream machine that was tucked in the front of the kitchen and pulled on the lever, letting the soft and creamy vanilla squiggles twist their way into the sugared wafer cone in my hand. It took a lot of practice to twist a good-looking cone, but I was a pro by now, after all these years. And then you needed to know the difference between a small, a medium, and a large. It was important; it mattered. Believe me, I got bitched at more than once by my dad for making cones “too big.”

“Why don’t you just give the fucking place away?!” he’d yell. “How many times do I have to tell you?! Three twists around for a small, four for a medium, and five for a large. What do you want me to do?! Work for nothing?! One, two, three! That’s three twists for a small! Four for a medium, and five for a large! Get it?!” His anger seemed so wild, so unnecessary, but not out of character. His lack of patience with me had become old news.

Meanwhile, my younger sister, Nina, had been dishing out parfaits and banana boats to her stoned friends through the dairy-bar window every day after school and ruining cases of whipped-cream canisters by doing whippets, yielding him net nothing. She was younger, so maybe he went easier. Or maybe he was worn out by his disappointment in me.

Finally I took a perch out back of the restaurant for my afternoon pause. Sitting on an overturned milk crate, I propped my feet on an empty plastic bread rack and lapped up the cold, delicious, and perfect small one-two-three vanilla cone. I was far enough away from the kitchen to catch a breath, but close enough, still in earshot, to hear the ding of the call bell on the cook’s counter should an order come in from the dining room.

* * *

I remember the first day I ever set foot into the diner. I was just five. En route to kindergarten one morning, my mom veered our old Volvo off our normal path to school. We bounced over a few potholes in the wide dirt parking lot before coming to a stop in front of the little diner we had passed many times before, perched on top of Knox Ridge. RIDGETOP RESTAURANT read the prominent sign on the front gable. BEST MEALS FOR MILES in dull brown and yellow paint.

“What are we doing here?” I asked my mother from the backseat, puzzled by the unexpected stop.

“We’re going to visit Dad before school. This is where he works now. This is our restaurant. We bought it!” It was genuine excitement. My sister and I were speechless for a split second. Our eyes widened, and we squealed with delight. “What? We own a restaurant?!” It was as though we both simultaneously pictured all the free burgers, fries, milkshakes, and soft-serve ice cream our bellies could hold. We jumped out of the car and raced for the front door, trying to fling it open in our joy, but the big plate-glass door was heavier than expected, and it opened far more slowly than the speed of our pounding heartbeats. A string of bells tied to the handle clanged gently as we pulled it open with all our might, announcing to everyone that we had arrived. Inside we paused in amazement, taking in our new surroundings: before us was a long row of faux-wooden booths. The tabletops were adorned with paper place mats and simple tableware, red plastic ketchup bottles, pink packets of sugar, and stacks of assorted tiny jam cups. The smells of fried onions and bacon filled our nostrils. To our right was a tall breakfast counter, lined with wooden stools and topped by glass containers stuffed full of baked goods. A few patrons sat at the counter, quietly sipping their coffee from shiny brown mugs and sucking on cigarettes. They noticed us for only a split second before going back to their plates of hash and eggs. I remember marveling at the thin plumes of smoke wafting from their lips and ashtrays, up toward the asbestos drop ceiling yellowed with nicotine stains, the pattern mimicking the shape of the breakfast counter below, representing years of loyal regular patrons.

We were greeted by a kind waitress wearing stonewashed jeans, a soft purple T-shirt, white leather high-top sneakers, and a frilly black apron. She had thick curly brown hair that stood tall and firm (Aqua Net, to be sure), her eyelashes were caked with blue mascara, and she had a Bic pen tucked behind her ear, her hairspray-drenched locks helping to keep it firmly in place.

“Hi there. I’m Viola. You must be Jeff’s girls,” she said in a bubbly voice as she bounded toward us. But before we could even respond with a nod, our attention was diverted by the familiar voice of our grandmother from behind the breakfast counter. There she was, her soft and sweet face coming into view through the haze of smoke.

“Girls!” she exclaimed with a chuckle as she motioned for us to join her behind the counter. We ran to her, eyes still wide, our backpacks swinging behind us. We each received big hugs and a warm kiss on the head.

“Let’s get you two a doughnut and a glass of milk,” she said as she whisked us away into the back. We pushed through the swinging wood door into the kitchen, and there he was—our dad. He was standing in front of a giant stainless griddle, a white apron around his waist, a large spatula in his hand, effortlessly flipping oversize golden pancakes high in the air, all the while whistling happy tunes through his teeth. Each cake he flipped made a hiss! and splat! as its uncooked side hit the hot grill. I liked it. He glanced over at my sister and me, and we were staring at him in honest amazement, our jaws slightly agape. We were mesmerized by the sight of this man, our father—there was something about him we didn’t quite recognize. His smile was so big that his blue eyes were squinted small enough so you almost couldn’t tell what color they were. His dark blond sideburns stretched with his face, and his mustache twitched as he bared his big white smile, still whistling through his teeth. In this very moment his immense joy was overwhelming and obvious. It was rare, and strange, to see him like this—happy, whole. Look at me! Loving life! he said, without actually saying a word. It warmed me inside. “I didn’t know Dad knew how to cook,” Nina said without blinking, without moving or taking her eyes off him, her eyes large like a little fawn’s.

Farther down the vast line I could see my grandfather, fiddling away with something in a large Fryolator. His black-rimmed reading glasses were smudged with grease and had slid down to the very tip of his nose, where they miraculously managed to stop and stay. He was whistling loudly too, with joy. His tune would mingle with my father’s from the grill to the fryer, and back and forth again. From the hot oil we watched him pull one, two, three—six—piping-hot doughnuts and place them on a parchment-lined plate that my grandmother was patiently holding beside him. He turned in our direction, his white apron splattered with egg and batter, adjusted his glasses, and blew Nina and me a kiss, before dropping more raw dough into the hot fryer and resuming his joyful tune.

Gram stood before us now with the plate of freshly fried doughnuts. We each grabbed one and bit in. Steam rose from our mouths. The warmth, the crunch on the outside that yielded to the softness inside, the delicate hints of nutmeg and vanilla, and the subtle sugary sweetness. It was the best thing I had ever tasted in my entire life. We cooled our mouths with swigs of fresh cold milk in between. We were all so happy in this moment. It was poetic and romantic. What is this magical place?! I thought as I took my second bite.

This is our restaurant,” my dad said out loud, glowing. And I was in love.

* * *

I was twelve years old when my dad first pulled me onto the line. I remember the Sunday morning clearly. I woke early, filled with butterflies and excitement that I was going to work at the diner for the very first time. I jumped into the passenger seat of my mom’s car and honked the horn impatiently.

“Come on, Mom!” I yelled from the side window.

“All right, all right!” she yelled back as she made her way through the front door. She got into the driver’s seat and turned on the ignition. “I can’t wait for you to get a driver’s license,” she said, tired and slightly annoyed.

“Mom, I’m twelve. I’m saving for a bike.” I rolled my eyes.

I had stepped in all those years ago to help my dad out at the diner, mostly because I needed the cash to buy that bike, then eventually to fill the tank of my Volkswagen Rabbit, or to buy Janet Jackson cassettes. I worked my way up the rungs of the line and learned every basic kitchen skill a cook would need to know: How to cook a burger a nice pink medium-rare. How to cook eggs—hard, sunny, over easy, scrambled, poached, and boiled. How to roast a chicken and extract every bit of meat from the carcass (we always saved and dried the wishbones—for wishes, of course, which Nina and I would duel over). How to perfectly bread and fry clams, scallops, shrimp, and fish. How to balance the ratios of mayo, vinegar, salt, and butter. I learned about timing and multitasking—minding the grill with a half-dozen burgers (in an array of different cooked temperatures) or composing chicken and egg salad sandwiches while warming stews in the microwave and monitoring the fry basket, just to name a few of the varied and simultaneous tasks I was charged with. Left alone in the kitchen without my dad to answer my many questions, I was learning how to use my intuition, to rely on it. To taste and test and figure out what seemed just right. All those years of experimenting—out of necessity—had started shaping me as a cook.

* * *

Now, nine years later, I was holding my own on the line, though not without its own sacrifices, evidenced by my quick ice cream break before returning to another twelve-plus-hour-long shift. The cone was melting fast in the summer heat. I couldn’t keep up with the vanilla custard dripping down my hand and onto my very pregnant belly. I was twenty-one years old; single, nine months pregnant, and fighting through a sixteen-hour workday. I was tired, uncomfortable, and particularly angry with my father, who had left me in charge of his diner while he was off manning a blooming-onion booth at a nearby county fair for Labor Day weekend. There was too much money he’d miss out on by not going—every year he’d sell through hundreds of pounds of fried onions and come home with garbage bags filled with cash—but to me it still made no sense. “What if I go into labor?” I asked him. “I don’t care,” he had told me with the most sincere lack of concern over the phone earlier that day. “Lock the fucking door if it comes down to it.” My pregnancy was not only a major inconvenience to him, since I would need time off from work at the diner to have my baby, but a genuine embarrassment. “Do you see the problem I’ve got on my hands here?” he snapped at the Sysco salesman one afternoon, pointing squarely at me and my belly as I worked in the corner salad station. The disdain was no different from what he once showed toward the female kittens on our farm. They were useless creatures—it was just a matter of time before they got knocked up, forsaking their mousing duties and creating more mouths to feed.

I wanted to lock the door, go home, take a bath and a nap. But I didn’t. I finished my cone, washed up, and went back to the kitchen. There was more work to be done for the following day, and with the baby due any moment, it was best to get ahead on prep. There were home fries to be made. And bacon.



Freedom, Maine, population 719, was the town you passed through when you were going somewhere bigger. A little town of nothing, a rural mix of farmland and thick woods. It didn’t offer a lot—a church, a small general store with a couple of gas pumps, a sleepy post office that was open for only a few hours a day. At the center of town was an old shingled mill, sitting vacant and crumbling, overlooking the Sandy Stream. This mill was long ago the backbone for the town, harvesting power from the stream to grind grains like flour and corn. Eventually it would transform into a saw- and wood-turning mill, putting out lumber and shingles and handles for shovels and screwdrivers. The work of the mill came to a quiet halt in the sixties. It sat for the years that followed, the water rushing past it and flowing over the falls, forgetting it. It slowly faded and became the heap of crumbling wood and granite that I knew it to be in my childhood.

My sister and I would parade past the old mill every Fourth of July in our retired dance recital costumes from the year before, and attend Sunday school just up the hill at the Congregational church each week. We ice-fished each winter and skated along the clear ice of Freedom Pond, which fed into the Sandy Stream, running past the mill and washing bits of it away. The sad and neglected structure listed dangerously to one side, its rusted metal roof warped from the many years it had been forgotten. It appeared as if it could collapse with a single gust of wind. The only souls foolish enough to explore its rotting interior were a few of the local teenage boys who would mark the walls with their graffiti and piss, or throw rocks through the few panes of glass that remained in the dark holes that used to house windows. To me the building represented everything I thought Freedom was: If you stay here, you will rot. Freedom didn’t lend a lot of promise. We were raised with unspoken reminders: If you wanted to be something or do something with your life, then you had to go somewhere else; you couldn’t live out dreams in Freedom. You couldn’t be successful in Waldo County; there was no good life to be found in Freedom. The mill whispered a ghostly reminder of what would happen if you stayed—You’ll just end up like me, a crumbling junkyard that nobody cares about. If you were born in Freedom, you would most likely die in Freedom, and whatever you did in between wouldn’t matter all that much.

Copyright © 2021 by Erin French


  Finding Freedom: A Cook's Story; Remaking a Life from ScratchFinding Freedom: A Cook's Story; Remaking a Life from Scratch by Erin French
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Finding Freedom: A Cook’s Story; Remaking a life from Scratch by Erin French is a 2021 Celadon Books publication.

An inspiring story of success!

In this memoir, Erin French shares her life journey in an honest, emotionally raw voice. Her upbringing, her family dynamics, her first marriage, her lonely and extremely difficult battle with depression and substance abuse, hitting rock bottom and clawing her way back up to become a successful restaurant owner is often harrowing to read about, but rewarding in the end.

The Lost Kitchen is located in Freedom, Maine, which makes the title of the book a nice play on words. Freedom is a tiny little town, but the restaurant is known as a ‘dining destination’. Erin, and her restaurant, have been noticed and featured in the NYT and Martha Stewart Living, and Erin has shared her story on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and more.

Her journey to this point has been fraught with many roadblocks, mistakes, and challenges, but Erin dug deep to find the tenacity to turn her life around and the courage to grab her dream and make it come true.

Anytime I see someone work their up from rock bottom, having lost virtually everything, to reclaim their lives again, I find much hope and inspiration in their determination to fight back.

From a personal standpoint, Erin didn’t exactly make a good first impression. She got off on my bad side almost immediately by offending my religious beliefs. Although I bristled, I was able to shake it off and read the book with an open mind and by using my critical thinking cap.

I am glad I stayed with the book. Erin's battles with depression is especially grim, and her pain, literally jumps off the page. My heart went out to her, but I was also impressed by her strength and her love for her son, which inspired her fight to win.

It is good to see someone pull themselves back from the brink to find professional victory, and personal stability as well.

I’m happy Erin's talents are being recognized and sincerely hope she continues to enjoy much success and prosperity.

While I live a long way from Maine, I'll keep an eye out for more great reviews and features about Erin and her The Lost Kitchen.




Erin French is the owner and chef of The Lost Kitchen, a 40-seat restaurant in Freedom, Maine, that was recently named one TIME Magazine's World's Greatest Places and one of "12 Restaurants Worth Traveling Across the World to Experience" by Bloomberg. A born-and-raised native of Maine, she learned early the simple pleasures of thoughtful food and the importance of gathering for a meal. Her love of sharing Maine and its delicious heritage with curious dinner guests and new friends alike has garnered attention in outlets such as The New York Times (her piece was one of the ten most read articles in the food section the year it was published), Martha Stewart Living, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and Food & Wine. She has been invited to share her story on NPR's All Things Considered, The Chew, CBS This Morning, and The Today Show. Erin was featured in a short film made by Tastemade in partnership with L. L. Bean, which won a James Beard Award, and The Lost Kitchen Cookbook has been named one of the best cookbooks by The Washington Post, Vogue.com, and Remodelista and was nominated for a James Beard Foundation Award.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Piece of my Heart by Mary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke- Feature and Review


 In the latest thrilling collaboration from #1 New York Times bestselling author and “Queen of Suspense” Mary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke, television producer Laurie Moran must solve the kidnapping of her fiancée’s nephew—just days before her wedding.

Television producer Laurie Moran and her fiancée, Alex Buckley, the former host of her investigative television show, are just days away from their mid-summer wedding, when things take a dark turn. Alex’s seven-year-old nephew, Johnny, vanishes from the beach. A search party begins and witnesses recall Johnny playing in the water and collecting shells behind the beach shack, but no one remembers seeing him after the morning. As the sun sets, Johnny’s skim board washes up to shore, and everyone realizes that he could be anywhere, even under water.

A ticking clock, a sinister stalker, and fresh romance combine in this exhilarating follow up to the bestselling You Don’t Own Me—another riveting page-turner from the “Queen of Suspense” Mary Higgins Clark and her dazzling partner-in-crime Alafair Burke.



Piece of My HeartPiece of My Heart by Mary Higgins Clark
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Piece of my Heart by Mary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke is a 2021 Simon & Schuster publication.

The bittersweet conclusion of the ‘Under Suspicion’ series.

It is time for the long- awaited nuptials for Laurie and Alex- but before they can exchange vows, Alex’s nephew goes missing. As the puzzle deepens, lives are put on hold, and a child’s life is at stake.

Knowing this is the last book in the series makes it a little special. It is different from the standpoint that Laurie’s show is not in the forefront, as in the past. However, a cold case is still inserted into the plot via an old case of Laurie’s father, which could be connected to the current day kidnapping.

This is fast-paced installment that kept me on my toes. I never would have worked out whodunit or why, and fell right into the trap set for me.

Although I hate to see the series conclude- having hoped Alafair Burke might consider taking reigns- I think the series ended on a high note.



A graduate of Stanford Law School and a former prosecutor, Alafair is now a professor at Hofstra Law School, where she teaches criminal law and procedure. She lives in New York City and East Hampton with her husband and two beloved dogs.

Learn more about Alafair at www.alafairburke.com. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram if you're prepared for a healthy dose of dog photos along with your book news.

The #1 New York Times bestselling author Mary Higgins Clark has written thirty-eight suspense novels, four collections of short stories, a his­torical novel, a memoir, and two children’s books. With bestselling author Alafair Burke she wrote the Under Suspicion series. With her daughter Carol Higgins Clark, she has coauthored five more suspense novels.

Clark’s books have sold more than 100 million copies in the United States alone. Her books are beloved around the world and made her an international bestseller many times over.

Friday, January 22, 2021

FLASHBACK FRIDAY: The Secret She Keeps by Michael Robotham- Feature and Review


In the bestselling tradition of The Girl on the Train and In a Dark, Dark Wood, from the internationally bestselling author whom Stephen King called “an absolute master” of the psychological thriller, comes a riveting suspense novel about the unlikely friendship between two pregnant women that asks: how far would you go to create the perfect family?

Agatha is pregnant and works part-time stocking shelves at a grocery store in a ritzy London suburb, counting down the days until her baby is due. As the hours of her shifts creep by in increasing discomfort, the one thing she looks forward to at work is catching a glimpse of Meghan, the effortlessly chic customer whose elegant lifestyle dazzles her. Meghan has it all: two perfect children, a handsome husband, a happy marriage, a stylish group of friends, and she writes perfectly droll confessional posts on her popular parenting blog—posts that Agatha reads with devotion each night as she waits for her absent boyfriend, the father of her baby, to maybe return her calls.

When Agatha learns that Meghan is pregnant again, and that their due dates fall within the same month, she finally musters up the courage to speak to her, thrilled that they now have the ordeal of childbearing in common. Little does Meghan know that the mundane exchange she has with a grocery store employee during a hurried afternoon shopping trip is about to change the course of her not-so-perfect life forever…

With its brilliant rendering of the secrets some women hold close and a shocking act that cannot be undone, The Secrets She Keeps delivers a dark and twisted page-turner that is absolutely impossible to put down.



The Secrets She KeepsThe Secrets She Keeps by Michael Robotham
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Secrets She Keeps by Michael Robotham is a 2017 Scribner publication.

Whew! Now that was intense!!

Agatha, a store clerk, and Meghan, a stay at home mom/blogger with a seemingly idyllic life, two women who are vastly different in class and style, find a common ground when their lives casually intersect.

Meghan meets Agatha in the market she shops in, striking up a conversation over their pregnancies. However, what you see on the surface of their lives is not always the same as what lies beneath- and that’s putting it mildly!!

When this book first started getting a little buzz, I knew I wanted to check it out for myself. I also saw that it was compared to Ruth Ware’s novel and to…. Yep- one of “The Girl” books. So, I tried to tamp down on my enthusiasm just a bit, worried I would be disappointed.

Well, I wasn’t at all disappointed. This is a well constructed thriller, that not only kept the suspense level at a maximum peak, but was an intelligent, clever, and distinct novel. I admit, it did make me squirm a little at times, though. I had a terrible feeling of foreboding right off, and as I went deeper into the story, that feeling of dread became almost unbearable.

The characters are spectacularly flawed, morally questionable on several levels, and so you may or may not feel sympathy towards them, but there are innocent victims at stake, so I was very concerned for the welfare of some of these people.

"We need the darkness to appreciate the light, and the bumps along the road to stop us from falling asleep at the wheel.”

While there is the clear sense of danger coming, there are multi-layers of suspense. Both Meghan and Agatha have backed themselves into a corner which adds another rich layer of stress to the story, giving it an unrelentingly tense atmosphere!

The final showdown is absolutely breathtaking, and the ending is utterly chilling!

This book definitely lived up to the hype!! The writing is superb, with well drawn characters, and perfect pacing.

If you enjoy domestic and psychological thrillers, you do not want to miss this one!!





Michael Robotham is a former investigative journalist whose psychological thrillers have been translated into 23 languages. in 2015 he won the prestigious UK Gold Dagger for his novel LIFE OR DEATH, which was also shortlisted for the 2016 Edgar Allan Poe Award for best novel. Michael has twice won a Ned Kelly Award for Australia's best crime novel for LOST in 2015 and SHATTER in 2008. He has also twice been shortlisted for the CWA UK Steel Dagger in 2007 for THE NIGHT FERRY and 2008 with SHATTER. 

Michael lives in Sydney with his wife and three daughters.
His website is: www.michaelrobotham.com

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The Notting Hill Mystery by Charles Warren Adams- Feature and Review


 The Notting Hill Mystery has been widely described as the first detective novel. The story is told by the insurance investigator Ralph Henderson, who is building a case against the sinister Baron R___, suspected of murdering his wife in order to claim her life insurance. Henderson descends into a maze of intrigue, including a diabolical mesmerist, kidnapping by gypsies, slow-poisoners, a rich uncle's will and three murders.Presented in the form of diary entries, family letters, chemical analysis reports, interviews with witnesses and a crime scene map, the novel displays innovative techniques that would not become common features of detective fiction until the 1920s. This novel launched the British Library Crime Classics series in 2012, and is now reissued with a striking new cover design.



The Notting Hill MysteryThe Notting Hill Mystery by Charles Warren Adams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Notting Hill Mystery by Charles Warren Adams is a 2015 British Crime Library publication. (Originally published in 1862)

Groundbreaking British Mystery!

Ralph Henderson is an insurance investigator who carefully lays out a solid case of insurance fraud and murder. Much like a police detective would, he uses good old -fashioned shoe leather to conduct interviews and gather evidence. Then, he presents his case in writing, almost like a lawyer would do to convince a jury-who, in this case, happens to be you- the reader!

The details are fascinating, if a bit melodramatic. The Baron R is the prime suspect and poisoning appears to be his modus operandi… that and his talents as Mesmerist. There are a few surprising twists before all is said and done, keeping things interesting- if a bit far-fetched.

The modern reader would probably pan this book today. Some un-PC threads, (a kidnapping by a band of ‘Gypsies’), and implausible plot devices, although popular at the time the book was written, might turn some readers off today.

Other than that, what makes this book stand out, like the synopsis states, is that it is believed to be the first full length detective novel. The book could also technically pass as an inverted mystery, as it is clear right from the get-go who the murderer is. The reader remains interested because they want to see how the murderers were committed. I think this book does set a standard for the future of mystery novels and for that reason, I think mystery lovers might find this book of interest.

It is also Henderson’s presentation of the facts that kept me invested in the story. It would have been nice to see him return in subsequent installments, to see his character fleshed out a bit, because he is quite good at his job. I found myself wondering about his looks, his private life, etc.

This one is worth checking out for its historical value and contribution to crime fiction. The British Crime Library has a nice selection of these classic mysteries available in digital format. I’m looking forward to exploring more of them this year!
3.5 stars

*Just to be clear, the publishing date is for the release in digital format. The book was not written in present day, but set in the 1800s. This is NOT historical fiction as I have seen some categorize it as such.



Charles Warren Adams (1833-1903) was an English lawyer, publisher and anti-vivisectionist, now known from documentary evidence to have been the author of The Notting Hill Mystery. This is usually taken to be the first full-length detective novel in English.

Born in 1833, he was the son of children's author Charlotte Adams, and the younger half-brother of clergymen and authors William Adams and Henry Cadwallader Adams. As a lawyer, Adams was involved in the bailout of the publishing firm Saunders, Otley & Co., which published his crime novel Velvet Lawn (1864) and detective novel The Notting Hill Mystery (1865) under the pseudonym Charles Felix. He died in 1903.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

The Perfect Guests by Emma Rous- Feature and Review


 The USA Today bestselling author of The Au Pair returns with another delicious, twisty novel--about a grand estate with many secrets, an orphan caught in a web of lies, and a young woman playing a sinister game.

1988. Beth Soames is fourteen years old when her aunt takes her to stay at Raven Hall, a rambling manor in the isolated East Anglian fens. The Averells, the family who lives there, are warm and welcoming, and Beth becomes fast friends with their daughter, Nina. At times, Beth even feels like she's truly part of the family...until they ask her to help them with a harmless game--and nothing is ever the same.

2019. Sadie Langton is an actress struggling to make ends meet when she lands a well-paying gig to pretend to be a guest at a weekend party. She is sent a suitcase of clothing, a dossier outlining the role she is to play, and instructions. It's strange, but she needs the money, and when she sees the stunning manor she'll be staying at, she figures she's got nothing to lose.

In person, Raven Hall is even grander than she'd imagined--even with damage from a fire decades before--but the walls seem to have eyes. As day turns to night, Sadie starts to feel that there's something off about the glamorous guests who arrive, and as the party begins, it becomes chillingly apparent their unseen host is playing games with everyone...including her.



The Perfect GuestsThe Perfect Guests by Emma Rous
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Perfect Guests by Emma Rous is a 2021 Berkley publication.

Just go with it!

I loved the Au Pair, so naturally, I was very curious to see what Emma Rous would present us with next.

1988- Raven Hall

Fourteen-year-old Beth, an orphan, is brought, by her aunt, to live with the Averell’s and their daughter, Nina, who is the same age, but is never allowed to leave home. Beth desperately wants to please her new foster parents, which means getting along with Nina, which is easier said than done, sometimes. As time passes, in a slow dawning horror, Beth realizes she has been brought to Raven Hall for another reason altogether…

Fast forward to 2019-

Sadie is an actress who has been offered a part in a Murder Mystery weekend at Raven Hall. It’s a plumb opportunity and she desperately needs the money. Things get off to an interesting start, but things rapidly go awry as shocking secrets rise to the surface, turning this into a party Sadie will never forget…

This is a well-plotted, supremely addictive psychological thriller. The downside, for some, might be the necessity to suspend belief at times, and the slightly uneven pacing. The dual timeline does require some deeper focus, but I thought the story had imagination, and a bit of originality, too. The atmosphere crackles with tension and challenges the reader with a complex puzzle that piece by piece weaves a tale of secrets and sinister machinations.

Overall, while her sophomore effort isn’t quite at strong as her debut- it’s pretty darned close! Definitely an author I’m exited about!!



Emma grew up in England, Indonesia, Kuwait, Portugal and Fiji, and from a young age she had two ambitions: to write stories, and to look after animals. She studied veterinary medicine and zoology at the University of Cambridge, then worked as a small animal veterinary surgeon for eighteen years before starting to write fiction. Emma lives near Cambridge in England with her husband and three sons, and her rescue dog and cat.

The Au Pair was her first novel, published in eleven countries in ten languages. The Perfect Guests is her second novel, out in January 2021.

Website: emmarous.com
Facebook: EmmaRousAuthor
Instagram: emmarousauthor