All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage
The Hale farm in upstate New York fell on hard times and was abandoned following a tragic event. George Clare buys the farm and moves his young wife and daughter to the house from the city after getting a job at the local college. Less than a year later, Catherine Clare is murdered in her home, George the prime suspect, three-year-old Franny the only witness. As the Clare’s time leading up to the murder unfolds readers are given a glimpse into what appears to be the perfect life but what is actually a life filled with smoke and mirrors, lies and crime unnoticed of varying degrees. At the center of everything are the Clares and the three Hale boys whose lives become intertwined in many more ways than just living, at different times, in the same house. Chilling and eerie, this novel is not to be looked away from as this compelling story with its well-drawn, often toxic, characters, unfolds it its chilling but inevitable conclusions, all the while two characters, whose lives have been irrevocably altered by the actions of others manage to stay good, a beacon of hope for this otherwise lost and broken town and its people.
Work Like Any Other by Virginia Reeves
Roscoe Martin sees the future of Alabama, and America, as electricity; he is fascinated by the invisible power and plans to make a career of it. Until his wife Marie, a school teacher, inherits her father’s run-down farm, which, though in mid-1920, parts of Alabama have been electrified, has not yet been wired. Roscoe is resentful of having to give up his true love to run a failing farm, but feels that if he can bring electricity to the farm, all will be well. And sure enough, Roscoe, with the help of his farm hand Wilson, sets up poles, wiring and transformers, stealing electricity from nearby poles, and the farm turns around as does his marriage and family. Roscoe becomes a portrait of “pride goeth before the fall” when a young worker for the electric company stumbles onto the farm and is electrocuted by Roscoe’s illegal lines; Roscoe is arrested and convicted of manslaughter and grand larceny and Marie does not stand behind him, leaving him to face a twenty-year prison sentence without her support, without any news of their young son, nor the fate of Wilson who was also arrested with Roscoe. Roscoe accepts his fate, mostly mourning the loss of his family, dreaming of the day they will be reunited, and works to lay low during his incarceration, working in the dairy, as a dog handler (someone who helps guards track down escapees) and a librarian’s assistant in a place where the prisoners, and even most of the guards are unable to read. As Roscoe goes about his daily tasks, he wonders if what he gave up was worth the crime or the punishment and upon his release, he learns that sometimes forgiving is just as hard as being forgiven as he tries to rebuild the life he left, learning how easily some people will let others go if it is the only means of moving on for them. Roscoe electrifies the farm with hope: hope for the future of the farm and his family; he faces his prison term with hope: hope that his family is pining for him the way he is for them and finally he faces his release with hope that his sins will be forgiven and he can resume his life, a hope that never fades, even in the face of stark reality. This is a well-structured first novel that lets the reader see much of the story from different sides without revealing so much as to give away the future for Roscoe.
A Bed of Scorpions by Judith Flanders
Things in the London publishing world slow down a bit during the summer: it’s not quite time for the fall trade shows and many people “work from home” as often as possible. Editor Samantha Clair is glad for the downtime giving her a chance to spend more time with her new boyfriend Inspector Jake Field and grab lunch with her equally busy old boyfriend, gallery owner Aidan Merriam. Sam is looking forward to lunch with Aidan, surprised he hasn’t postponed it once again until she learns that Aidan’s partner has been found dead in their gallery, an apparent suicide. And of course, the police investigation is being led by Jake and Aidan’s longtime attorney is Sam’s mother Helena all of which begins to fill Sam’s schedule with unofficial interviews and some amateur sleuthing, much to Jake’s displeasure. As an editor, details are Sam’s business and the details of Frank’s death just aren’t adding up. In between preparing for a panel at a conference (Sam wasn’t paying attention on a meeting landing her a speaking role) and writing jacket copy and approving art for advertising sheets for the fall season of trade shows that a minute ago seemed so far away, Sam’s overactive imagination, full of twisty, turning, nefarious plots from the books she edits, begins to go to work, but this time she may be on the trail of a killer. Sam is a smart, sarcastic, sometimes sardonic character whose heart is always in the right place and a good foil for her no-nonsense mother, equally as smart, but a tad, erm, more respectable, perhaps. Together with an unwilling and unwitting Jake, the three make an unstoppable pair in this sophomore entry to a very funny new series.
The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
The four Plumb siblings have, for the most part, lived their lives with the expectation that upon the last child, Melody, reaching the age of forty, The Nest, will be divided among the four of them. Shortly before Melody’s fortieth birthday, three of the siblings learn that their mother, within her rights according to the terms of The Nest, has dipped into it to rescue the oldest sibling Leo after he’s in a horrific car accident involving a young waitress. Melody has always wanted the best for her family including her twin teenage daughters and the thought, as they approach college, which she may not be able to provide the best for them, not continue to keep up the lifestyle she and her family have grown accustomed to. Jack has been nursing his ailing antique business along, relying on the steady income of his husband Walker and the equity in their summer home. Now faced with the reality that The Nest will only provide for him about a quarter of what he expected, he finds himself making deals that deep down he knows are no good, but rationalizes as necessary for the sake of his marriage and lifestyle. Author Bea hadn’t necessarily been counting on the money, but her “Archie” stories (based on Leo) that were so popular years earlier seem to have dried up and may need to kick start her career. The three siblings put pressure on Leo to replace the money that his accident and subsequent rehab cost The Nest, all the while scheming to come up with ways to keep their extravagances and overspending from their respective spouses without missing a beat. Sweeney artfully takes these entitled, spoiled characters, who when we first meet them at the beginning of the novel have very few redeeming qualities, yet there is something likable about each one of them, even Leo, and readers will be enchanted from the first meetings until their final bows, somewhat better from the journey.