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September 12, 2020

4 Thrillers for the Cooler Weather

by MK French

With the cooler temperatures are you looking for more dark and gritty reads? Thrillers can be perfect for this time of year when all you want to do is curl up next to the fire with a blanket and a book you can't put down.
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Don't Look for Me by Wendy Walker

Don't Look for Me
September 2020; St. Martin's Press; 978-1250198709
audio, ebook, print (352 pages); psychological thriller
When Molly's car is found abandoned, her phone left behind, a note written in a shaky hand, and a hotel room booked, it seems like a situation where she walked away from the fractured family that was barely holding together. A possible sighting brings her daughter Nicole back to the site of her disappearance, insisting on finding out the truth about her mother.

The Clarke family is a wealthy one in upstate New York, but it doesn't stop them from having tragedy prior to Molly's disappearance. The death of her youngest daughter led to the fracturing of the rest of them. Molly was desperate to hang onto the two children she had left, her husband started taking off, her son Evan left for college and ignored her visits, and her daughter Nicole blew off her senior year of high school to drink and pick up random men to try to fill the hole that grief carved into her. The heart of this novel is Molly and Nicole, and the two and a half weeks since the disappearance.

Grief is a powerful thing, and there are lies aplenty in the small town where Molly ran out of gas. It's difficult to tell who is the bad guy when they all have ulterior motives and no one wants to tell Nicole the truth. She tries her best to dig through the area in spite of this, and it's a testament of love to her mother and the family she used to have before her younger sister's death. Nicole is determined to discover the truth, no matter what; her brother and father are pretty much background noise against the happenings in this small town. I felt really bad for both Molly and Nicole, caught up in a plot much bigger than they possibly could have been aware of. There are quite a few secrets revealed over the course of the novel, and the very end of it packs still more. The entire novel is tightly plotted and emotionally driven, right until the very last page.

Buy Don't Look for Me at Amazon

Rico Stays by Ed Duncan

Rico Stays
May 2020; Indie; 978-8643634027
audio, ebook, print (189 pages); organized crime

Rico Sanders protected his girlfriend from a mob boss’ nephew, leaving bodies in his wake. Wounded, he went to ground after leaving the hospital. He stayed at Paul Elliott’s cabin, but Paul’s girlfriend hadn’t forgotten about his violent past or Paul’s fascination with Rico. Either way, killers were still after Rico. It was only a matter of time.

This is the third in a series featuring Rico, following Pigeon Blood Red (read my review) and The Last Straw (read my review). Even so, each novel is essentially standalone, so you don’t have to read the prior ones to understand this one. Rico is a Chicago enforcer that doesn’t mind violence as long as it adheres to his personal code of ethics. Summaries of the interactions between Rico and Paul from the prior novels are summarized in conversation, so you get a feel for why Paul would help Rico hideout while he recovers from gunshot wounds.

Mob dynamics are definitely at play throughout this novel, as the nephew and brother of one of the dead men are interested in getting even with Rico. There are complicated mob ties involved, as well as a thread where Paul and his girlfriend are conflicted regarding Paul’s help and fascination. Evelyn and Jean finally meet in this novel and discuss the ways they are troubled by their boyfriends. It’s definitely fascinating to see the parallels between the two couples, and how their lives are the same and different. There’s a lot of action in this novel as well, right up until the very end. Rico isn’t exactly likable and certainly isn’t an emotional guy, but he definitely gets the job done and respects the efforts and emotions of others. In that respect, he’s very much the antihero of this tale.

Buy Rico Stays at Amazon

Sister Dear by Hannah Mary McKinnon

Sister Dear
May 2020; MIRA; 978-0778309550
audio, ebook, print (368 pages); domestic thriller
Eleanor Hardwicke found out just before her beloved father died that he wasn't her biological father. With strained relationships with her mother and perfect older sister, she sought out her biological father, hoping to have a connection. He had chosen his wife and other daughter and wanted nothing to do with Eleanor. This half-sister has the perfect life, the one that Eleanor always wanted to live.

Sister Dear is exactly the embodiment of "be careful what you wish for." I felt so bad for Eleanor, who constantly felt less than while growing up. Her mother is cold and demeaning toward her, and her older sister Amy is self-involved in her own life. Neither even bother to attend the funeral or comfort Eleanor in her grief. She is struggling financially, doesn't have any friends to turn to, binge eats to try to swallow her emotional pain, and doesn't have a love life. Even when there are positive things going for her, she doubts their sincerity and feels like an impostor when she gets any praise. In short, she is the everywoman with very little going for her at the start of the novel, hit with the loss of her father and the callous disregard of her mother. Getting summarily dismissed by the biological father she never knew about is another loss, and one that gives her incredible gut-wrenching pain.

Meeting the half-sister by accident seems to start Eleanor's life going into a positive direction, and it was all kinds of wonderful to see how she started on a path that was better for her. But... Honestly, we wouldn't have a novel if this was the end of the story, and we wouldn't have conflict if things remained good for her. It's beyond the struggle to tell Victoria the truth of their relationship or how Eleanor knew that Victoria existed, and at the very end my jaw literally dropped in shock. It's such a wonderfully surprising and icky ending, the rug felt pulled out from under me. This is a family drama and one that will make you treasure the family you have, flaws and all.

Buy Sister Dear at Amazon

Alpha Omega by Nicholas Bowling

Alpha Omega
July 2020; Titan Books; 978-1789093810
audio, ebook, print (416 pages); technothriller

A human skull was found on the grounds of the NutriStart Skill Academy, and a virus has broken out on campus. With a catastrophic failure of school security, teacher Tom Rosen is looking for answers. Former student Gabriel Becker might be able to help, but he is drawn into the virtual world of the game “Alpha Omega,” and might not be able to leave it.

This book is billed as “Stranger Things meets Black Mirror and Ready Player One.” That tells you right there a lot of the elements that we’re going to see in this book, and it’s a wild kind of ride. This is a highly technical world, where everyone has a personal administrative device (PAD) and schools are tightly structured, work is sent in electronically to the teacher to be graded even though he’s in the same room, and flights of fancy or distraction are belittled because it won’t help any of the students reach certifications in their desired fields. Schools have all gone corporate, and a lot of businesses have significant presences In World, or controls a good amount of the day to day social structures. Big businesses even have influence over museums and all information flow.

Gabriel starts off as a pretty unlikable character for me. He berates and belittles his mother, who is legally blind and often taken advantage of. He was expelled from school because he crashed the network by uploading porn and violent content, posts to Meninist boards, and is the kind of incel that eventually goes on shooting sprees because they feel that their privileged lives aren't privileged enough. I'm more interested in Tom's aspect of the story, mostly because the students at the school are falling ill in drastic and odd ways, they are taken out of the school and effectively erased from the database while parents are paid off so the children are forgotten. School staff in fact tells Tom that they'll "manage the narrative" and care more that he's not teaching classes (never mind that he doesn't actually have to be in the room) when looking for the missing students. As with any conspiracy, the administration doesn't take to this kindly. I can't say that I find any of the characters likable, but they're fascinating in the way a car wreck can be.

As the book (and the week) progresses, things get more and more deranged on campus. It's clear as things go on that the very commercialization of schools has led to each child being treated like a product and test subject. Gabriel is sucked into the Alpha Omega world so that he loses track of reality. This is part of their design, and all of it feels like a scathing commentary on humanity and the digital world encroaching on the real one. People are not and should not be commodities, and shouldn't have their rights summarily taken away for the sake of a corporation's bottom line. Overall, it's a great topic of discussion for readers to ponder.

Buy Alpha Omega at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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