Book Review: THIRTEEN, what happens when a killer hides on the jury

Eddie Flynn #4
Steve Cavanagh


Up and coming movie star Robert “Bobby” Solomon has been accused of murder, and his lawyer, Rudy Carp, convinced Eddie Flynn that Bobby was innocent. Unable to walk away, Eddie joined the defense team. Unbeknownst to him, the real killer, Joshua Kane, was feet away in the jury box willing to do anything to make sure the jury convicted Bobby for his crimes. When Kane realizes what a keen adversary Flynn represents, the moralistic lawyer becomes another of his targets.

Thirteen, told in alternating points of view from Eddie Flynn and Kane, was one of those thrillers that I couldn’t put down. I liked that the action took place during the trial, and the true identity of the killer kept me guessing. A parallel plot about crooked police officers also hooked me. Also, precis of each juror in the form of reports by the juror consultant were interspersed throughout the book which entertained and intrigued me. By the end of the book, my expectations had been completely subverted.

I wish that some of the characters, such as Bobby, had been more developed, and that some, like Rudy, had acted more consistently. Also, the actions of the FBI and the extent of their cooperation with Flynn and his investigation team seemed far-fetched. Finally, I didn’t always like the writing style. I found some of the dialogue, especially between Flynn and his estranged wife, awkward, and Cavanagh tends to overuse short incomplete descriptive sentences for effect. Only after I was quite into the book did I realize this was part of a series. I don’t think it’s at all necessary to read the other books to appreciate Thirteen.

Fans of thrillers, courtroom dramas, and mysteries, though, will, I’m sure, like me, devour this book despite its minor flaws—and probably never think about juries the same way again!

Thank you to NetGalley and Flatiron Books for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: THINGS YOU SAVE IN A FIRE, an uplifting and entertaining romance

Happy Publication Day to Things You Save in a Fire!

Austin firefighter Cassie Hanwell can outperform her colleagues physically and mentally, and she’s tapped for a leadership track until one disastrous evening derails her career. Cassie moves from her progressive fire department to a small, Massachusetts station where her male colleagues are resentful of the changes the first female hire will bring to the department.

Cassie moves in with her estranged mother who requested her help due to health problems. Her mother, Diana, left Austin for another man on Cassie’s sixteenth birthday, and since then, Cassie has been angry and resentful. Diana and her next-door neighbor, Josie, a crochet club of two, are highlights of the book injecting both wisdom, compassion, and humor.

I was first attracted to this book because I loved the title, Things You Save in the Fire, and the description appealed to me. After reading just a few pages, I realized this was a book I would never normally read. Rather than “women’s literature,” I would position this more firmly centered in the romance genre. What happens is fairly obvious from the beginning, but how it will happen is not at all clear, and that question made me invested in the book in ways that surprised me. I really wanted to know how Cassie navigated her new life in Massachusetts and achieved the ending she wanted (even if she didn’t know she wanted it), and that kept me reading compulsively.

Threading through the plot is theme of forgiveness and connection, and while I value both and laud their inclusion in the book, I did feel that the message was overlaid in a too obvious way and would have been more successful if integrated in a subtle manner. Additionally, though the characters certainly endured obstacles and setbacks, overall things worked out easily for them, which gave the book a whiff of a too-good-to-be-true fairy tale.

While I didn’t always like the writing style of Things You Save in a Fire, I still found it thoroughly and unexpectedly entertaining and heartwarming. Readers who want a quick, uplifting stultifying romance should turn to this book.

Thanks to St. Martin’s Press for an advance reading copy of this book!


National Geographic Readers: Elephants
Avery Elizabeth Hurt

Happy World Elephant Day! 🐘 These majestic herbivores develop strong social ties within their matriarchal social groups. Not only are they one of the world’s largest land mammals, they are also one of the most intelligent, able to use tools and solve problems. They can communicate with each other from up to two miles apart, and they show empathy, even mourning their dead. Sadly, elephant populations are under extreme threat primarily due to habit loss and poaching.

Today, I thought I’d read National Geographic Readers: Elephants to honor these animals. Geared toward ages two to five, this is one of National Geographic’s “You Read, I Read” series. One page is designed for a parent or guardian to read aloud with a challenging world highlighted while the facing page is designed for the child to read and repeats the highlighted word. Each of the brief chapters concludes with a different interactive activity to reinforce comprehension and retention.

This volume about elephants included a lot of information on their body parts, like their trunks and ears, their families, their needs, such as diet, sleep, and water, and their habitat. The text is engaging and age appropriate with the help of an older reader, and the numerous color photographs are phenomenal. The book mentions the declining elephant population and that organizations are trying to help but doesn’t provide details. National Geographic Readers: Elephants is a wonderful introduction to the natural history of elephants for young readers, and the illustrations will absolutely delight them.

If you want to see amazing pictures of elephants and learn how to help, please visit these excellent organizations:

Book Review: MY LOVELY WIFE, a couple who murders together stays together

My Lovely Wife
Samantha Downing

In My Lovely Wife, a couple happily married for fifteen years with two teenage children decide to enliven their relationship by embarking on a shared hobby—murder. When I first saw the book, I couldn’t imagine how Downing would be able to sustain this idea throughout the story. At first, I wasn’t going to read it, but I saw it on so many most anticipated lists that I got it from the library.

The husband, who remains enchanted by his wife, Millicent, narrates the book beginning with his search for their next victim. His story is less about the murders than it is about their unintended effects on the couple’s relationship, children, and community as well as their efforts to remain out of the crosshairs of the police. Once a body is found, an ambitious local reporter attaches himself to the story, and there is some humor in his depiction as well as that of the self-appointed true crime experts at the country club where the narrator works.

I thought this was an inventive story and though certain aspects were unbelievable. I predicted a few plot twists but was surprised by others., I was also drawn in enough to root for the narrator and hope he could escape arrest (though that was slightly horrifying to think about). I was also intrigued by Trista, a complicated secondary character. However, I didn’t always like the writing style. At times, details were repeated at the beginning and end of a paragraph in a distracting way. Also, the author more than once used the construction “XYZ happened, right up until it didn’t.” Because it’s to me a memorable phrasing, reading it multiple times pulled me away from the narrative to think about the writing.

Aa I was almost finished with the book, I couldn’t imagine how Downing would conclude the story, and I anticipated an unsatisfactory ending. I was delightfully surprised by the finale which to me was completely satisfying and also very harrowing. I think fans of Peter Swenson and Shari Lapena will love this book.

Book Review: THE WOLF WANTS IN, a tragic mystery layered with the devastation of the opiod epidemic

The Wolf Wants In
Laura McHugh

Happy publication day to The Wolf Wants In by Laura McHugh.

In this book, the Keller family–the mother, a survivor of domestic abuse, and two sisters, Sadie and Becca–cannot believe their brother, Shane, died of a heart attack at only thirty-six. Besides a bad back from a lifetime of hard labor, Shane never exhibited any health problems. Sadie also thought Shane’s widow. Crystle, showed too little grief, grandstanding at the funeral while disposing of all of Shane’s possessions only days later. But Detective Lacey Kendrick of small Blackwater, Kansas, already disinclined to investigate a closed case, became overwhelmed when bones were found in the wood that might belong to Macey Calhoun, a child who went missing several months earlier, presumed kidnapped by her father.

Without police support, Sadie pursued her inquiry, finding out that Shane had a life he never shared with his family, one that might provide unwelcome answers. At the same time, Sadie reached out to Macey’s mother, Hannah, who had been an acquaintance when both of their daughters attended the same preschool years earlier.

Henley Pettit’s story begins four months before Shane’s death. Just graduated from high school, her paramount goal is leaving Blackwater. Henley, Crystle’s cousin, has long been oppressed by her family’s criminal legacy. With her last name and prominent Pettit features, everyone in town associates her with her uncle’s drug dealing. As Henley tries to escape, her ties to her family–to her uncles and their illegal activities, to her mother and her drug addiction, and to Jason Sullivan, scion of the wealthiest family in town–prevent her from making the break she is desperate for.

Sadie, unable to let go of her quest for truth, and Henley, unable to leave, both find themselves in life-threatening situations that they can survive by their wits and courage alone.

The Wolf Wants In offers an engrossing and well-written saga of the dark side of a small midwestern town, shows the impact of the opioid crisis on one community, and rolls back the facade of a wealthy family to show the disfunction underneath. Having two timelines heightened the tension which reached a crescendo as they converged, while the ending was satisfying.
I found the characters interesting for the most part, particularly Henley, who had to take over adult duties since her mother was incapable, but still had an underlying naivete that at times endangered her. A social worker, Sadie was compassionate and determined, but she sometimes made very poor decisions, such as going to a bar to talk to Hannah, an addict, about a very important development in her daughter’s case. Shane, though only appearing in flashbacks in Sadie’s timeline, was a sympathetic character who possibly engaged in dastardly deeds–I would have been happy to have seen more of him in the novel. Other characters were less developed, such as Sadie’s grieving mother, or more stereotypical, such as Henley’s big, tough, drug-dealing uncles.

Interestingly, the wolf is also a metaphor in McHugh’s previous book, The Weight of Blood. In that book, the wolf represented an external danger. In this novel, the wolf is already inside the gates, an internal threat that is even harder to detect.

Fans of literary thrillers will definitely want to put The Wolf Wants In on their to-read list. At times tragic, at times eye-opening, it’s a gripping mystery that offers more insight than a standard procedural.

Thanks to NetGalley and Spiegel & Grau, a division of Random House, for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.