Refraction by Terry Geo

5 stars

A paperback copy of the book Refraction by Terry Geo.
Refraction by Terry Geo

Based on the reviews and the Twitter hype, I had high expectations going into this book. In fact, I was so excited about it, I bought the e-version and the paperback  so I would have my choice of formats when I was ready to enjoy.  Refraction did not disappoint!

With a lot of build up and a clear turning point for the action, Refraction feels like two different  books in the most amazing way. Geo takes his time setting up the adventure, planting little seeds and letting you get to know each of the characters who will go on an action-packed, head-spinning ride in the second half of the book. 

From there, we encounter a unique world where reality and dreams collide in unpredictable and unexpected ways. 

It is truly difficult to pick out what I enjoyed most about this book. From the London setting, the truly imaginative plot, the fun pop culture references, to the diverse cast of likable characters, there is so much to love and enjoy.

I read The Cracked Reflection, Geo’s introductory novella, first. After reading Refraction, I want to go back and reread it to see if it changes how I interpreted Maria’s story.

My review of The Cracked Reflection is available here.

Both books are available on Amazon and Terry Geo’s Refracted World website.

The Mother by J.E. Clarkson

4 stars

The cigarette smoking detective Kate Monroe is back on the scene, investigating a serial killer in this sequel to The Lamb. The book takes us right back to Barnsworth, where Monroe and Halifax are pulled back in with fresh murders, one of which might be the new girlfriend of Monroe’s ex-husband.

The Mother: A Detective Kate Monroe Crime Thriller displayed on an iPad.
The Mother by J.E. Clarkson

I adored that Clarkson included a glossary of characters in the front of the book. As someone who has read several books since reading the first installment in this series, I appreciated the refresher on the cast of characters. I was also glad to get an answer to a major item that the first book left unresolved.

Clarkson’s distinctive writing style is present in this fast-moving tale, which can be consumed in a single sitting or savored at a slower pace. Again, I was able to add a few new British colloquialisms to my vocabulary, which is always fun.

Reading this respectable follow-up to The Lamb reinforced my love for J.E. Clarkson as an author and for Kate Monroe as a character. I continue to be a dedicated Clarkson fan and intend to keep auto-buying all of her new releases.

My review of The Lamb: https://bookpicksandpics.com/2021/12/11/the-lamb-by-j-e-clarkson/

To read my reviews of all of J.E. Clarkson’s books, browse her category on my blog.

Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney

4 stars

In a last-ditch effort to save their marriage, Adam and Amelia Wright go on a free weekend getaway to a renovated chapel in a remote area of Scotland. Shortly after the Wrights arrive, strange things start happening at the cottage. 

This atmospheric thriller with touches of horror is my first Alice Feeney read. I quite enjoyed her writing style. Short chapters – alternating mostly between Adam and Amelia’s points of view and interspersed with anniversary letters written to Adam – really keep the story moving.

Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney

Although the book paints a depressing portrait of marriage, it is cleverly written and has several funny quips. One of Adam’s lines that made me laugh was, “There are forests less shady than my wife.”

The story focused on a small set of characters, and I appreciate it when an author can keep a story interesting with fewer than a handful of characters. As a word lover, I also enjoyed that she included a word of the year, many of which were new to me. 

I did guess many of the twists in the book, but for the most part, I didn’t guess them until a few pages before the author was ready to reveal them to the reader.

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys: twisty thrillers, stories where the setting can be considered its own character, or books where some of the main characters are writers.

The Other Passenger by Louise Candlish

4 out of 5 stars

A paperback of The Other Passenger by Louise Candlish on a gray blanket with silver stars. A cloth tapestry bookmark is placed in the book.
The Other Passenger by
Louise Candlish

James “Jamie” Buckby and Clare, his wealthy partner of 10 years, start hanging out with a younger couple Kit Roper and his girlfriend, Melia. Kit and Jamie commute back and forth from work together on the ferry, and Clare and Melia know each other from working at the same real estate firm. 

On one of their last commutes home before the Christmas holiday, Jamie and Kit get in a heated argument. Kit doesn’t make it on the boat the next day. Police question Jamie as the last person who saw Kit before his disappearance, suggesting that an anonymous passenger tipped them off about the fight. 

Set in London, this commuter thriller starts slowly, takes several turns round the bend, and picks up speed as we reach our final destination. Although there were some expected tropes in this character driven crime drama, there were a few twists that I didn’t see coming. Generational divides and economic differences play an interesting role in the conflict. Envy over youth and money shape the choices that the characters make.

The writing is compelling and features the atmospheric language I’ve come to associate with Candlish. I like how Candlish subtly used song titles and bits of lyrics to help set the mood, and in some cases, foreshadow events to come. 

The book also weaves in some commentary on technology, noting that “privacy [is] a setting now, not a human right.” Jamie also makes an astute observation about smart phones: “What power these things have, as if words lit on a screen are more significant than those produced by the human voice.”

Overall, I thought The Other Passenger was worth the read. I will be adding Candlish to my list of must read authors.

My review of Louise Candlish’s newest book, The Heights, can be found here.

The Kill Switch by J.E. Clarkson

4 out of 5 stars

Clarkson keeps the adrenaline pumping in The Kill Switch, the third installment in her dystopian, techno-thriller series. The short, action-filled chapters keep the suspense high as the nameless main character known only as The Cleaner and her allies continue to fight against the evils of Stella and Nemo & Co. 

The Kill Switch by J.E. Clarkson

Leaping in where The Ghost Society ends, the book revisits some familiar themes and scenes present in the first book, while adding a political element reaching the highest levels of power. We also get a teaser for the fourth book with references to a parcel of documents labeled Dark Cygnet.

In addition to the fast pacing and endless curves, I enjoy the observations like, “They say you don’t hear the bullet that kills you,” which are present in Clarkson’s writing. Her astute metaphors also keep me engaged. One example: “I felt a bit like I was taking a slow walk into hell and the soles of my feet were beginning to burn.”

These books are definitely written to be read in order, not as interchangeable stand-alones. So, if this review sounds intriguing, and you haven’t read the first book in the Nemo and Co. series yet, do yourself a favor and download it today. You will quickly start to see why Clarkson has her own category on this blog.

As for me, I will be devouring The Dark Cygnet Files, the next in the series, as soon as I can.

Clarkson’s books are available on Amazon.

The Ghost Society by J.E. Clarkson

The Ghost Society

The Ghost Society is the second installment in J.E. Clarkson’s Nemo & Co dystopian techno-thriller series.

Like the first book, The Ghost Society is told from the perspective of a woman known only as The Cleaner. The Ghost Society reveals more about The Cleaner, introduces us to a few new characters, and resurfaces a few others who are pivotal to the story. 

Like its predecessor, what this book lacks in attention to minor editing details, it more than makes up for in plot. This book is genuinely exciting, and a little terrifying, to read. Just when you think you know what is happening, Clarkson tosses in another curveball, and suddenly you are boomerang-ing in another direction. 

“Extraordinary people are sometimes worth extraordinary compromises.”

J.E. Clarkson

I liked that this book added romantic love into the mix of human emotions it explores. As one character observes, “Extraordinary people are sometimes worth extraordinary compromises.”

Love and the compromises we make are just two things in this journey that are infinitely more complicated than they seem on the surface. 

I’m definitely sticking with this series, which has two more books – The Kill Switch and The Dark Cygnet –  to see where it takes us next.

Read my review of The Vanishing Office.

The Vanishing Office by J.E. Clarkson

The Vanishing Office by J.E. Clarkson

The Vanishing Office is the second book I’ve read by Clarkson. The first was The Lamb, a murder mystery. 

While The Vanishing Office, a dystopian thriller, is quite different from The Lamb in terms of genre, subject matter, and tone, Clarkson’s distinctive voice and intriguing writing style are still there.

In The Vanishing Office, an unnamed female protagonist is hired as a cleaner for Nemo and Company, where she receives assignments by text, doesn’t know any of her co-workers, and her work is shrouded in secrecy for unclear reasons. 

I thought I would hate the concept of a story being told from the point of view of a nameless lead character, but it actually worked really well. It forces the reader to almost assume the identity of The Cleaner and feel her emotions as she tries to understand what is happening around her and decipher what is real and what isn’t. 

The reader could really feel her struggle and relate to her realization that “sometimes it’s a good idea not to argue too hard with them. As long as you know what’s going on in your head, that’s all that matters.”

One of the scariest elements of the book is that, with a society that revolves around alternate facts and an isolating, impersonal work environment, there are points where it is easy to forget it is supposed to be dystopian. 

The one drawback to the book is that there are a few typos and formatting issues. Personally, these didn’t take away from the reading experience or the overall message.

I’ve already downloaded and started reading The Ghost Society, the second installment in the Nemo & Co series. To read my review of The Ghost Society, visit this link.

The Vanishing Office is available on Amazon in several formats.

Crickets by Lee Chappel

4 out of 5 stars

An ipad displaying the cover of the book Crickets. The ipad is laying on a black and white plaid blanket.

After reporting a rape, Kara Peterson leaves her hometown of Paige, Ohio, and never looks back. However, when her father dies unexpectedly 10 years later, she returns home and is confronted with fresh taunts and memories she wanted to leave behind.

This is a suspenseful page-turner – I read it all in a day because I couldn’t wait to find out who or what was haunting Kara. From panic attacks to seeking comfort from her childhood best friend, Brent, the author does a good job capturing the dizzying mix of emotions Kara feels being back home for a funeral.

As someone who grew up in a small town, the sense of place the book establishes is on point. I could really relate to the scenes where Kara had to make small talk with former acquaintances.

I wasn’t completely shocked by the ending, but there was enough mystery to hold my attention and make me see if my late building suspicions were correct.

In my opinion, this book is a hidden gem that I’d recommend to anyone looking for a good mystery/suspense story.

Thank you to the publisher, Bleau Press, for providing a free e-review copy. All opinions are my own.

The e-book, paperback, and hardcover editions of Crickets are available on Amazon.

What hidden gems have you read this year?

Walking on Thin Ice by Robert Burns

An ipad mini displaying the cover of "Walking on Thin Ice" by Robert Burns. The device is laying on a black and white plaid blanket.

Walking on Thin Ice centers on Rachel Drucker, a rookie traffic reporter trying to get her big break by investigating the unsolved kidnapping and presumed murder of Julia Brown. The case is significant to Rachel because it was a case that her detective father was never able to solve and it plagued him up until his death.

The book opens with a scene from the day little Julia was kidnapped and I was immediately hooked. I wanted to know what happened to her. 

I connected with Rachel’s drive and passion. Her voice and personality were well developed. Burns writes the scenes between Rachel and her father in a way that the reader is able to feel her emotions. His deft use of pacing helps convey Rachel’s mental state at various points in the story.

I also appreciated the awake/asleep story structure used throughout most of the book. Using lucid dreaming to solve a cold case is a unique twist in a classic murder mystery/thriller story that I haven’t encountered before. It worked for me. We have all been in Rachel’s shoes, trying to decipher what is real after a particularly vivid dream. 

This mystery/thriller kept me guessing until the very end. This is a great debut book and I hope we will see more novels from Burns.

Walking on Thin Ice is available on Amazon in digital and paperback formats.

Note: I was a beta reader for an earlier draft of this book.

The Heights by Louise Candlish

I have such mixed feelings about this slow-burning thriller about obsessive, all-consuming hate and the quest for revenge.  

I’ll start with the best parts. The writing is impeccable. The descriptions really paint a picture of the setting without being overly ornate. The dialogue was well done, as was the pacing. Even though some parts are slower than others, I was never bored nor sure of what was coming next. I also appreciated how the story was woven together, starting with Ellen’s perspective, switching to Vic’s, and interspersing snippets from Ellen’s book.

The characters are what didn’t work as well for me. All of the characters either came across as unreliable or one-dimensional. Ellen’s portrayal was the most challenging for me. As a mother myself, I wanted so much to be able to relate to Ellen, but from the start, something seemed off about her. Vic’s chapters do add insight, but I never could connect with her. I think it was because I never could quite envision her as a loving mother to Lucas and Freya, even before the events that take place that destroy her.

Overall, I would recommend this book and this author. I have wanted to read one of Candlish’s books for some time now and, for the most part, the writing and storytelling lived up to the hype.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing a free e-ARC in exchange for my honest review.