The Poison Garden by A.J. Banner

A BarksBeachesBooks Review

Who is really the crazy one in the latest psychological thriller from A.J. Banner, The Poison Garden? Because I’ll be honest, it could have been any of them from the first page. The opening page brings us to Elise Watters running for her life with a quick, pulse raising one-and-a-half-page prologue. And then we are purposely disoriented, being thrown back to the “before” of the chase with a calm ferry ride back to her island home after attending business on the mainland.

Elise has an interesting life though it seems she tried to make it as dull and peaceful as possible. No drama, just simple things that make her happy – a beautiful home surrounded by beautiful gardens, running an herbal boutique. But she did just lose her mother. She just got married. She just started working full time in the herbal shop inherited from her late mother. She also just came home early to catch her husband in the middle of an affair…among other things.

On top of that, she’s unearthing secrets as quickly as you’ll flip the pages of this book. And, she’s sleep-walking?! Not entirely strange in and of itself, but the activities she’s enjoying while doing so are a little suspect.

The duality of all these characters is incredible. There is the crazy woman that her husband was caught with (what exactly is she involved in?). Her neighbor is one of her good friends, but also a grieving schemer. Her ex-husband is around every corner because he’s the island’s go-to Mr. Fix IT…or he’s stalking her. Small island; hard to tell. And then there is Elise’s husband himself, good looking, patient favorite Dr. Kieran Lund. He seems like a good guy who made a mistake. He does everything to make it up to Elise-and I mean everything. They go through a lot in such a short time and he really is holding Elise upright. But it’s either him who’s crazy or Elise. It can’t be both…right?

A.J. Banner does such a great job of misdirection in The Poison Garden that you really won’t know what’s what and who’s after who until the very end. I LOVED the ending. Oh my gosh, just such a good twist! (Let’s be honest, twistS.) I highly recommend this fast paced, psychological thriller with a poisonous touch-it’s just up my alley!

And now, a comprehensive list of people I suspected throughout the book: Everyone.

Enjoy!

TH1RT3EN by Steve Cavanaugh

A BarksBeachesBooks Review

This book was incredible. It was so good in fact that I was sneaking reading in during any possible breaks in work that I could. Shhh, don’t tell on me.

A couple of things about this book:

1) I was about 75% done with the book when I found out that it was the fourth book in the Eddie Flynn series by Steve Cavanaugh.

2) You do not need to read the others to pick this up and know what’s going on. I was immediately sucked in and had a very hard time putting this book down until I was finished reading it.

3) TH1Rt3EN was so good that I immediately called a local book store and had them hold all the other books in the series they had available and am having my sister pick them up as I type this.

4) Mr. Cavanaugh’s writing style reminds me a lot of The Collector Series by Dot Hutchison. They should collaborate and/or create a serial killer writing prodigy child together.

TH1RT3EN alternates between the point of view of the serial killer Joshua Kane and the up-and-coming lawyer and ex-con man Eddie Flynn. Both characters have very different and very entrancing styles of narrative which was a huge plus for me. Kane’s narrative is that of the highly intelligent, narcissistic, and even entitled and cocky serial killer that he is. On the other hand, Flynn is not your typical lawyer. While he is educated and has a law degree, he speaks like a New Yorker. You know the type – that Brooklyn accent? That was how I automatically read Eddie. The dialogue is even written that way. He is a gritty ex-con, now on the good side of the law and using his old tricks to his advantage.

While reading this book I kept thinking it would be so easy to tell who Kane was on the jury since that part is explicitly on the cover. However, Cavanaugh did an excellent job directing you toward the “culprit” and the doing a complete 180. I did not see that reveal coming, and then on top of that there is another twist that I really enjoyed. Without giving away too much, it had to do with the identity of one of the officers. This may or may not be me intentionally leading you in one direction so as not to give it away much in the same way Cavanaugh did to me. (I am.)

This was easily one of my favorite books of the year, and I cannot wait to get the others in the series and race through those as well. That’s another thing about Cavanaugh’s style: the writing is so well done that I flew through the pages trying to figure out Kane’s game and how it would end. Now that it’s over I wish I wish it hadn’t ended. Isn’t that how it always goes?

The Two Lila Bennetts by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke

 Synopsis

Lila Bennett is a big-time criminal defense attorney whose bad choices have split her life in two – literally. In one reality she is kidnapped and held captive to be tortured with her past mistakes and come to terms with the wrongs she’s committed and lives she’s ruined. In the other reality, she is free. She escaped her captor and is living in fear as she watches the choices she’s made come crashing down around her.

Review

The Two Lila Bennetts is the story of what happens when you make certain choices. In one instance, Lila can choose whether she goes out and “celebrates” after winning a big case. She can go, which will lead her down one road. Or she can pass on the outing and head home, which will lead to consequences of its own. This is the story of the series of events followed by each choice. One choice leads to Lila’s capture. She is held captive in a small cement room, starved and tortured by her past. She does not know the man who is keeping her (alive, for now) but he sure does know all about Lila. He is making her relive her worst moments and watch from her cell as the world investigates her disappearance, alternately blaming the people closest to her, victims from her past cases, and even herself.

The other choice leads to Lila escaping her captor and being free to roam while her world comes crashing down. In both realities her choices are coming back to confront her. Past relationships, cases gone wrong, her marriage. Every choice she has ever made has led her to this point, and what she chooses to do now is life or death.

I really enjoyed this book which is obvious in that I was reading it on work breaks and doctor’s appointments to see what happens next. I was slightly disappointed in the ending(s) though. While they were satisfactory enough, I would have liked to know why or how her life was split into two, literally. I think a couple of things were left out that would have made the book a five-star book for me. Those things are spoilers so do not read the spoilers if you do not want me to spoil the story. Also, please don’t take this to mean the book isn’t worth reading because it is definitely worth it. It will likely be even more enjoyable to people that don’t poke holes in sci-fi theories such as the alternate realty aspect of this book.

*SPOILERS*

Please stop reading if you do not want spoilers.

Spoilers below.

Last chance to avoid spoilers.

Okay here we go with the spoilers.

At the end of the book, Lila is fighting off her captor in one reality and fighting for her marriage and relationships in the other. She sees what happens in the “free” reality, where she gets to make the choices she always knew she should be making: not defending guilty murderers, not cheating on her husband, etc. The captive reality is what happened when she made one last bad choice that landed her directly in the path of her kidnapper.

What I would have liked to know (since she lives in both versions of her realities) is why she gets to live in both? If her one good choice that led to her being free while her life was torn apart which in turn makes her start making good decisions and thus live, why not kill her off in the other? If she is literally two people in the book, why not kill off her bad side? That’s it. That’s the sci-fi of it that is driving me crazy. If she was literally two people, it seems that one of her should have been killed because how can there really be two Lila Bennetts? How are people not going to notice that? Especially because in the end of both situations Lila does make the same decision: to right her wrongs and be a better person. (Which is why I think it may only be “literally” two lives until Lila takes off her virtual reality goggles.) And yes, alternate realities/universes – I know, I know. Like I said, I poke holes in sci-fi.

On A Quiet Street by J.L. Doucette

Synopsis

Stacy Hart has the perfect life: a great job, a perfect fiancé, a beautiful house. Then, Stacy is murdered. But if her life was so perfect then why was she murdered? Detective Beau Antelope is teaming up with Dr. Pepper Hunt to find out why.

Review

Let me just say first, I loved Detective Antelope’s character. He is a Native American officer who left the reserve to pursue the thing he is best at: solving murders. In this book, he teams up with Dr. Pepper Hunt (from the first book, Last Seen) but he does most of the talking. The narrative of this book is different from the first. In Last Seen, Dr Hunt is the lead character. In this sequel, there are a lot of alternating points of view, but Detective Antelope is the main character. He refers often but also superficially to his ancestry as a reason for his moods and behavior. He is a serious but respectful cop with a dry sense of humor. He also seems real – not an over the top action-movie cop, but one who is instead uses his brain. (and when he hits a dead end he does what any smart person would do-he asks a woman!)

Detective Antelope is the leading character in On A Quiet Street. He is pursuing several people of interest in the murder of Stacy Hart. First, Jack Swailes. He was Stacy’s contractor for home improvement, and per her fiancé he was also interested in Stacy as a love interest. That brings us to Connor Collins, Stacy’s hot shot Assistant District Attorney fiancé. As we all know from every true crime documentary ever, the significant other is usually the killer. Of course, Dr. Hunt is also helping – she is brought on a psychological expert with the police department. She is also the therapist for the third person of interest, Max Hunt, Stacy’s brother.

These are just a few of the POVs we see throughout the book, which seems overwhelming until you start reading and realize that they are perfect for this slow burn of a murder mystery. On A Quiet Street builds very slowly, bringing more and more people into the case, some from over 15 years before. The alternating POVs are short spurts of chapters which make for a relatively quick read.

There a few loose ends which I believe are Easter eggs for the third book. For example (not a spoiler but interesting), we are told that Val Campion (Jack Swailes’ uncle) has a rather sordid history that he doesn’t want anyone looking into but at the same time he owns all the seedy joints in town. As you can see there is a lot going on in this book.

Then ending is wrapped up both satisfactorily and unsatisfactorily in my opinion. Of course, we get our final showdown with the killer, but it seemed a little unrealistic to me in how the killer revealed his/herself. BUT, a major theme in this book is sociopathic and narcissistic behavior so it could be completely accurate. (Maybe I just like a lot more drama?) On the other hand, a lot of the loose ends are tied up very nicely which I like. Then there are the ones that were not, which is characteristic of a series. So, I do believe there will be more books…thus more murder and blood for us thriller lovers!

Huge thank you to BookSparks and J.L. Doucette for my free copy to review and share!

The Chestnut Man by Soren Sveistrup

My overall impression with this book can be summed up in this one word: WOW. I haven’t been this impressed with a book in a long time. That’s not to say I don’t like what I’ve been reading but this was just SO GOOD. I couldn’t put it down. I started it on a Saturday evening after finishing up a RomCom and I read until I couldn’t keep my eyes open, passed out, picked it up first thing in the morning and read for a few more hours until I finished.

The Chestnut Man is the story of a serial killer who leaves little chestnut men made of chestnuts and matchsticks at the crime scenes. On the case are Detective Thulin, who is on her last week in the Major Crime Division, and Detective Hess who has been transferred to Major Crimes due to behavior issues at Europol. The pair is put together to solve the case of a woman who was murdered. On the chestnut man they find at the scene is the finger print of a missing, presumed dead girl from almost exactly a year before. From there the book heats up as the detectives try to anticipate The Chestnut Man’s next move when he always seems to be one step ahead.

The links between the victims are very interesting on top of the fact that the crimes are linked back to missing girl case with the fingerprint on the chestnut man. The detectives have an good chemistry as well even though they are constantly butting heads. There is drama and bumps in the road every time Thulin and Hess make any sort of progress. The Chestnut Man was one of those stories where there are lots of surprises and twists and (at least for me) none of them were seen coming. I was so excited by how good it was and still am and I just can’t say enough good things about it. I also can’t say a lot of things in general without ruining it because it was such an intricate story with so much going on-which is frustrating because all I want to do is talk The Chestnut Man.

The following could be interpreted as a spoiler even though it’s just my recommendations, so be warned. This book reminded me of The Snowman by Jo Nesbo and The Summer Children by Dot Hutchison, both of which I would recommend as well. Full disclosure: I’m basing my recommendation of The Snowman on the movie version as I haven’t gotten to the book yet – but the book is always better so you can’t go wrong. Anyway, definitely read The Chestnut Man. It’s going to be a movie, I know it already.

The Chestnut Man by Soren Sveistrup