BOOK REVIEW: American Mother by Gregg Olsen

Title: American Mother: The True Story of a Troubled Family, Motherhood, and the Cyanide Murders that Shook the World

Author: Gregg Olsen

Audiobook Length: 14 hours and 7 minutes. Book length: 496 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime

Read Start Date: November 10, 2022

Read Finish Date: November 14, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: At 5.02 pm on June 5, 1986, an emergency call came into the local sheriff’s office in the small town of Auburn, Washington State. A distressed housewife, Stella Nickell, said her husband Bruce was having a seizure. Officers rushed to the Nickell’s mobile home, to find Stella standing frozen at the door… Bruce was on the floor fighting for his life.  
 
As Stella became the beneficiary of over $175,000 in a life insurance pay-out, forensics discovered that Bruce had consumed painkillers laced with cyanide.
 
A week later, fifteen-year-old Hayley was getting ready for another school day. Her mom, Sue, called out ‘I love you’ before heading into the bathroom and moments later collapsed on the floor. Sue never regained consciousness, and the autopsy revealed she had been poisoned by cyanide tainted headache pills. Just like Bruce.
 
While a daughter grieved the sudden and devastating loss of her mother, a young woman, Cindy, was thinking about her own mom Stella. She thought about the years of neglect and abuse, the tangled web of secrets Stella had shared with her, and Cindy contemplated turning her mom into the FBI…
 
Gripping and heart-breaking, Gregg Olsen uncovers the shocking true story of a troubled family. He delves into a complex mother-daughter relationship rooted in mistrust and deception, and the journey of the sweet curly-haired little girl from Oregon whose fierce ambition to live the American Dream led her to make the ultimate betrayal.    
 
Originally published as Bitter Almonds. Revised and updated edition.

My Review: I received this book as an audiobook and ebook from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. With respect to the different formats:

Audiobook: The audiobook was great. I also really liked the interview with the author that was included in the end.

Ebook: The ebook was also great. It was easy to read and it was organized well.

With respect to the story itself, American Mother is the true crime story of a woman, Stella Nickell, who murdered her husband Bruce by giving him Excedrin capsules filled with cyanide. The medical examiner initially stated that the cause of death was emphysema. Stella was free and clear of the murder — that is — until she became greedy. You see, if the death was accidental, then Stella would get a bigger payout from the life insurance.

Sickly inspired by the “tylenol murders”, which was a series of poisoning deaths resulting from drug tampering in the Chicago metropolitan area in 1982, Stella formulated a plan: she would contaminate Excedrin bottles with cyanide filled capsules and put them on the shelves at drug stores. Then, when someone else took them and died, it would be seen as another “drug tampering” case, and Bruce’s death would be ruled an accident. This plot is sick and twisted, and Stella almost got away with it. Who would think that someone would be so callous as to murder complete strangers to cover up the murder of her husband?

A short while after Stella put the bottles on the shelves, a woman named Sue took those cyanide pills and died. This time the medical examiner found the cyanide in her system. After Sue’s death hit the news, Stella started calling authorities stating her belief that her husband had also taken contaminated pills. It was found to be true.

Essentially, what it boils down to, is that Stella murdered Sue so that Bruce’s death would be ruled an accident and Stella could get more money. What a heartless piece of garbage!

Gregg Olsen tells the story of not only the murder and the victim, Sue, but also the background on the Nickell family. While I’m not a big fan of focusing on the killer (because the focus should be on the victim instead), it was important to see Stella’s family dynamics, as there was some speculation, although never proven, that Stella’s daughter was in on the plot as well.

I really like how Olsen told the story — it wasn’t dry like some true crime books, and it held my interest. There was some repetition of the facts when Olsen wrote about the trial (and honestly this was my least favorite part), but on the other hand it really drove home the point that Stella was a heartless monster who killed 2 people for the money.

If you like true crime, I would definitely recommend this book.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW: The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

Title: The Woman in the Window

Author: A.J. Finn

Book Length: 427 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Thriller, Mystery, Suspense, Crime

Read Start Date: October 30, 2022

Read Finish Date: November 7, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Anna Fox lives alone, a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother and their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems.

My Review: Anna Fox, a child psychologist, is bound to her home after a traumatic event left her with agoraphobia. We don’t find out what this traumatic event is until nearly the end of the book, so I won’t spoil it here. To fill her days, Anna drinks, mixing the alcohol with prescription medication, and watches her neighbors. For the first 115 pages of the book we learn about Anna — her (bad) habits, mostly. How she likes to watch old movies, play on-line chess, and dispense advice to other agoraphobes in an online chatroom. She has a cat, named Punch, and is separated from her husband and daughter. Anna speaks to them on the phone a few times, but hasn’t seen either of them for what seems like a long time.

Although I never felt like this was overkill per se, I feel basically nothing happened in these 115 pages and it probably could have been shortened. We get a lot of conversations between her and the online people, a lot of quotes from her black and white movies. Unnecessary fillers perhaps?

Anyway, at some point the neighbor, Ethan Russel, and then shortly thereafter, Jane Russel (Ethan’s mother), comes over and they have a night of fun. Drinking wine, playing chess, just chatting. Anna is concerned because Alistair Russel can be violent sometimes, and controlling — or so says Jane. Anna has never met him before, so all she has is Jane’s word for it. Other than this unexpected visit, everything seems a bit mundane, I guess maybe that is how it feels for Anna too.

Finally, on page 115, the thrills begin. Anna hears a scream coming from the Russel’s house. Anna immediately calls Ethan, who tearfully tells Anna that “he just lost his temper.” Anna is convinced that Alistair hurt Jane.

The next evening, Anna is drinking and watching TV as usual, when she turns her attention to the Russel house. While Anna is listening to the TV in the background (the quotes from the movie are interspersed with the narrative, which honestly was distracting), Anna sees Jane shouting at someone, and then:

Once more Jane enters the frame–but walking slowly, strangely. Staggering. A dark patch of crimson has stained the top of her blouse; even as I watch, it spreads to her stomach. Her hands scrabble at her chest. Something slender and silver has lodged there, like a hilt.”

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn, page 144

Anna phones the police and the gaslighting begins. Anna was so drunk when she made the police call, she was slurring her words. Almost unintelligibly. No one believes that she saw someone get murdered, mainly because the woman she thought was Jane Russell, was in fact, not. She was someone using Jane’s name. Who was this woman? Does she even exist? Or could mixing the pills and alcohol have given her a hallucination?

Overall, I liked the story. I found it intense at times and I did not see the ending coming. I found myself getting annoyed that no one believed Anna — I found her to be a very sympathetic character and though I couldn’t relate to her completely (as I’m not in her circumstances), I could relate to the gaslighting, the not being taken seriously. I think most women can.

It was easy to read and I got through the 400+ pages in about a week (around 50 pages per day). I only gave it four stars, however, because at times it dragged on. I felt there were too many movies quotes, too many days that were the same; there was a lot of repetition. Despite that, if you haven’t read it already (it’s been out since 2018) I would recommend it.

SIDE NOTE: I was wondering why this book wasn’t listed as “women’s fiction”, but then I just read on Goodreads that the author is actually a man! That answers that! I had just assumed that the author was a women. I’m not sure why I thought that honestly…I guess because the main character is a woman? It doesn’t change my opinion of the book at all, I just found it interesting and though I’d share.

BOOK REVIEW: My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Title: My Sister, The Serial Killer

Author: Oyinkan Braithwaite

Book Length: 223 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Thriller, Mystery, Crime, Contemporary

Read Start Date: October 19, 2022

Read Finish Date: October 22, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: When Korede’s dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what’s expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach. This’ll be the third boyfriend Ayoola’s dispatched in, quote, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede’s long been in love with him, and isn’t prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other…

My Sister, the Serial Killer is a blackly comic novel about how blood is thicker – and more difficult to get out of the carpet – than water…

My Review: As of writing this review, this book has a 3.7 rating on Goodreads, which I find to be a little unfair. I really liked this book for several reasons. First, I found it to be an interesting premise. Korede and Ayoola are sisters who grew up with an abusive father, that is, until he died. I never figured out whether the father just up and had a heart attack, or if the sisters had something to do with it. I would have liked to see more clarity about this topic.

Secondly, I liked that this book was easy to read. I finished it in only 3 days.

The book starts with a murder — Ayoola’s third murder to be precise. The man she killed had been her boyfriend, and she claims he attacked her. But then, why was the knife (their father’s knife) protruding from his back? Why has Ayoola done this before? Could it really be that ALL the times she has killed was always done in self defense, or could she be, as Korede thinks, a serial killer?

In darkly comedic fashion, we are with the sisters as they clean the scene, wrap the body, and carry him down in the elevator to Korede’s car. They dump him unceremoniously into the river and go on with their daily lives. Ayoola is immediately ready to get back to normal, and Korede has to reel in Ayoola’s Instagram posts which might seem in poor taste to some, and to others suspicious. Neither sister seems emotionally stable, some might even call them sociopaths.

This book is as much about Ayoola being a serial killer as it is about the complicated relationship between the sisters. Korede is extremely jealous of Ayoola because of her beauty and success with men, due to a sense of familial obligation instilled in her by their mother, continues to cover up Ayoola’s crimes. Korede, though the elder sibling, has always lived in Ayoola’s shadow. “I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I realized that Ayoola was beautiful and I was…not. But what I do know is that I was aware of my own inadequacies long before.” Korede is self-deprecating and very hard on herself — which I don’t feel is warranted. She is smart and a hard worker, having been recent promoted to head nurse at the hospital where she works. Yes, she might not be as alluringly seductive as her sister, but well, her sister clearly has some fatal flaws.

When Ayoola catches the attention of Tade, a doctor whom Korede is in love with, it is unclear for most of the book what Korede will do. Will she tell on Ayoola? Will she allow things to progress and see what happens? What will come first, family or what is morally right? I won’t spoil the ending, but I think that it is true to Korede and I wasn’t surprised.

BOOK REVIEW: The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

Title: The Lost Apothecary

Author: Sarah Penner

Book Length: 316 pages

Rating:  3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery, Thriller, Contemporary, Crime

Read Start Date: September 30, 2022

Read Finish Date: October 18, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads:  A female apothecary secretly dispenses poisons to liberate women from the men who have wronged them – setting three lives across centuries on a dangerous collision course.

Rule #1: The poison must never be used to harm another woman.
Rule #2: The names of the murderer and her victim must be recorded in the apothecary’s register.

One cold February evening in 1791, at the back of a dark London alley in a hidden apothecary shop, Nella awaits her newest customer. Once a respected healer, Nella now uses her knowledge for a darker purpose – selling well-disguised poisons to desperate women who would kill to be free of the men in their lives. But when her new patron turns out to be a precocious twelve-year-old named Eliza Fanning, an unexpected friendship sets in motion a string of events that jeopardizes Nella’s world and threatens to expose the many women whose names are written in her register.

In present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, reeling from the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. When she finds an old apothecary vial near the river Thames, she can’t resist investigating, only to realize she’s found a link to the unsolved “apothecary murders” that haunted London over two centuries ago. As she deepens her search, Caroline’s life collides with Nella’s and Eliza’s in a stunning twist of fate – and not everyone will survive.

My Review: As of writing this post, this book has a 3.76 rating on Goodreads, which isn’t stellar for a mainstream, popular book. 37% gave the book 4 stars, while 27% gave the book 3 stars. I read this book about a year ago as an audiobook, and I remember liking it more than I did when I read it in paperback. I had given it 4 star last year, but after rereading the book, I’m switching to 3 stars. Maybe thinking it was better was due to my delirium of being a new mom and never sleeping. Anyway, I liked the story of Eliza and Nella more than Caroline. In fact, Caroline’s story really annoyed me to the point where I was rolling my eyes frequently.

I think the issue is that I just didn’t like Caroline as a character. I didn’t relate to her one bit. Caroline began the application process to attend graduate school at the University of Cambridge, as was her dream. Her then boyfriend, James, had been “adamantly against the idea” because he had plans to propose to her. The second he did “Cambridge could have fallen of the map, for all I cared–Cambridge and advanced degrees and every novel ever written by Charles Dickens. From the moment I wrapped my arms around James’ neck at the end of that pier and whispered yes, my identity as an aspiring historian rusted away, replaced with my identity as his soon-to-be-wife.” Then she takes a stable, secure job at her parent’s farm, while James steadily rises the corporate accounting ladder.

Because I guess America doesn’t offer masters degrees in history?

Regardless, even if the University she wanted to attend was in Australia, I’m still wondering, why the hell couldn’t she have gone and done her masters and still been a wife? Especially since kids were far off in the distance. “Though I’d wanted kids early in our marriage, James didn’t want to deal with the stress of long hours and a young family. And so just as he had climbed the corporate ladder every day for a decade, so too did I put that little pink pill on the tip of my tongue and think to myself, Someday.” I mean, 10 years is a long time to wait for “someday”. So Caroline puts her academic, career, AND family dreams on hold for a decade? Ummm, no thank you. There would have definitely been a Me shaped hole in the wall long before it got to the 10 year mark.

Also, from everything the book tells us of James, he doesn’t seem like he would be spending all that much time with the kids anyway…so not sure why they couldn’t have had kids early on in the marriage, since Caroline would have been the primary care giver (and since she wasn’t going back to school).

But okay, whatever, they waited 10 years. And now that they are trying for a baby, Caroline finds out he’s cheating, because, wait for it, he’s bored with his predictable, stable, and secure life. Eye roll. And then he tries to gaslight Caroline into believing that it was all HER fault! I can’t even with this guy. He’s such a piece of garbage (there are other supporting examples in the book of this) that I can’t believe Caroline didn’t notice the stench until she caught him cheating.

In all honesty, I’m not ever sure the Caroline story was really required because we learned everything that Caroline did from the Nella and Eliza storyline’s anyway.

Nella and Eliza on the other hand have stories that are much more interesting and include thrill, murder, intrigue, etc. Nella’s mother was an apothecary who dispensed remedies for women. When Nella’s mother died, Nella became romantically involved with a man. “In the weeks to follow, we fell terribly, wonderfully in love. My sea of grief grew shallower; I could breath again, and I could envision the future–a future with Frederick. I couldn’t have known that mere months after falling in love with him, I would dispense a fatal dose of rat poison to kill him. The first betrayal. The first victim. The beginning of a stained legacy.”

While I found Nella and Eliza’s story to be more interesting (I am also a big lover of the horror and true crime genres) Nella is, for all intents and purposes, a serial killer, and therefore while seemingly sympathetic, when you look deeper into her character, she is also a little dark. I mean, she’s literally been the reason why countless people are dead. And she doesn’t seem to care — or rather — she is glad that they are dead because they deserved it for being adulterous or lecherous or whatever else they did to affront the women in their lives. So in short, none of the characters are particularly relatable. I can understand wanting to harm someone who has betrayed you, but actually doing the harm is a whole different ball game.

I know that I’ve rambled a bit in this review, and I hope that I’ve made sense. Would I recommend this book? Yes…but there are other ones which I would pick up first.

BOOK REVIEW: Local Woman Missing by Mary Kubica

54737068Title: Local Woman Missing

Author: Mary Kubica

Audiobook Length: 11 hours and 40 minutes

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller, Suspense, Crime, Contemporary

Read Start Date: August 30, 2022 

Read Finish Date: September 2, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Shelby Tebow is the first to go missing. Not long after, Meredith Dickey and her six-year-old daughter, Delilah, vanish just blocks away from where Shelby was last seen, striking fear into their once-peaceful community. Are these incidents connected? After an elusive search that yields more questions than answers, the case eventually goes cold.

Now, 11 years later, Delilah shockingly returns. Everyone wants to know what happened to her, but no one is prepared for what they’ll find….

In this smart and chilling thriller, master of suspense and New York Times best-selling author Mary Kubica takes domestic secrets to a whole new level, showing that some people will stop at nothing to keep the truth buried.

My Review: I really struggled between giving this book 3 or 4 stars, but landed on 3 stars. This book is essentially about two women and a 6 year old girl who goes missing in the same town 11 years ago. The story is told by 3 separate POVs, some in the present and some 11 years in the past.

Essentially, the plot of the book is as follows: One woman (Shelby) is found dead, buried in a shallow grave — her husband is sent to prison for her murder. The other woman, Meredith, is found dead in a motel — death by apparent suicide — her 6 year old daughter is missing, and has been for the last 11 years. Meredith left a note saying that her daughter was “safe” and not to bother looking. The daughter, Delilah, is found in the opening scene of the book (after she escapes her captors), but her brother Leo soon suspects that the girl calling herself Delilah is not actually his sister.

I read some Goodreads reviews that said that they didn’t like the way the sentences were written. They were really short — however, this did not come across in the audiobook, so perhaps audiobook in this instance should be the preferred medium. For me, this was an easy listen and one that could be done while doing chores etc.

I liked the suspense of finding out what really happened — this was building through out the entire book. I was entertained and generally liked the book until I got to the end. I was disappointed as to how it all turned out. There was a lot of potential for this to be better than it was — the ending just was not plausible and there seems to be a lot of convenient police incompetence, which would not normally happen. I feel like so many things went wrong just for the sake of the story.

If you want to read this book, please do not read on.

SPOILER ALERT:

I need to give away key elements of the plot to fully state my feelings on why I gave this book 3 instead of 4 stars.

We are told that Leo and his dad always believed that Meredith killed herself after giving away Delilah to some unknown person. Say what now? Does that make sense to anyone? But ok. So they believe this hogwash, which means that they basically have believed the whole 11 years that Delilah is safe and happy living with some kind family.

Did the police really believe that Meredith would go to a motel, kill herself, but before doing that “hide” her daughter somewhere? Essentially give the child away to someone else?  Why would she do that? Meredith was happy in her career, her marriage, her life. The dad was a good guy, husband and father. It just really makes no freaking sense whatsoever. And who would she stash the daughter with? Wouldn’t there be a list of trusted friends?

If there was an Amber Alert out for the girl, how would no one recognize her? How would she be living a good life elsewhere without coming into contact with someone, anyone? A 6 year old girl is old enough to know who her parents are — she is old enough to tell someone. How anyone could have thought she was anything but kidnapped and hidden is ludicrous. And if she was kidnapped, then of course Meredith was murdered. Duh. Also, can’t pathologists figure out it wasn’t suicide by the angle of the wounds? Like, if Meredith was stabbed in the stomach, the angle of the wound would be different than if she stabbed herself in the stomach. Right? Sigh.

Then there is the issue of the girl being found. So Delilah escapes, and the cops take a DNA sample. Turns out, it is not the right girl, but the family keeps on thinking it is Delilah because one detective with a crush of the dad tells him that the DNA results are positive so that he won’t be sad anymore. Uh, what? No one else at the police department checked the file? Was this detective actively lying to everyone? Did she honestly think no one would find out?

By this point in the book, we have almost reached the culmination of the storyline 11 years in the past.

We find out that Shelby was a victim of a hit and run accident (Bea (Kate’s partner) was driving drunk with Meredith in the passenger seat). To hide the crime, Bea and Meredith bury the body in a shallow grave, and then Meredith comes back later to cover her with a blanket. There are so many problems with this. The police eventually arrest Shelby’s husband for the murder (I guess based upon the theory he beat her up or something), but like, hello, how is this even possible? She was HIT BY A CAR! Did the pathologist miss this fact? How did the police think the husband had killed her? And what about the blanket? Couldn’t they tell with forensics that the blanket was placed later — didn’t they look at video surveillance at shops to see who had purchased the blanket? Are the police in this town just crazy incompetent?

I mean these crimes did not take place in 1940 — DNA existed. I watch enough true crime to know that there is ALWAYS DNA left at the scene of the crime. I mean, come on. Was NO DNA testing done on Shelby’s body? And if not, why not? Did Shelby’s husband have an incompetent lawyer also?

The ending is probably the most farfetched, but I won’t spoil that for you. I could go on, but I won’t. I think you get the idea.

As I said above, I would recommend this book as a beach read or something you can listen to while multitasking. As long as you don’t think too much about the plot holes, it’s actually rather enjoyable.

BOOK REVIEW: The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny

2277378Title: The Cruelest Month

Author: Louise Penny

Book Length: 310 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Thriller, Mystery, Crime,

Read Start Date: June 27, 2022

Read Finish Date: July 31, 2022

Number in Book Series: 3

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Welcome to Three Pines, where the cruelest month is about to deliver on its threat.

It’s spring in the tiny, forgotten village; buds are on the trees and the first flowers are struggling through the newly thawed earth. But not everything is meant to return to life. . .

When some villagers decide to celebrate Easter with a séance at the Old Hadley House, they are hoping to rid the town of its evil—until one of their party dies of fright. Was this a natural death, or was the victim somehow helped along?

Brilliant, compassionate Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec is called to investigate, in a case that will force him to face his own ghosts as well as those of a seemingly idyllic town where relationships are far more dangerous than they seem.

My Review: In this third installment of the Armand Gamache series we are back in Three Pines again. For such a small town, there is certainly a huge crime rate! The whole cast of characters is back and we get to learn more about their characters.

For example, Clara Marrow is an aspiring up and coming artist, having been recently discovered (in the second book). She is working on a masterpiece to be shown at a gallery and everyone loves it. It is truly fantastic. In a bout of jealousy, her husband Peter tells her the colors are off, and Clara obsesses over what needs to change. I was pretty annoyed at Peter for this — the painting was wonderful and didn’t need any changing, but he was such a jerk and basically sabotaged Clara’s success. Peter is also an artist and relished the spotlight, which has now has shifted to his wife. I spent most of the book really disliking Peter as a character — this feeling was only slightly changed when Peter redeems himself at the end.

We also learn more about the Arnot case and why Gamache took on his superiors. Essentially, Arnot was commanding his officers to not only look the other way in Native Canadian’s murders and other crimes i.e., they do not try to solve the cases, but eventually the police start committing the murders themselves. Gamache discovers this horrendous corruption and brings down Arnot and the other perpetrators. There are still some officers loyal to Arnot and they are trying to bring down Gamache — little does Gamache know that some of the people closest to him are the ones trying to take him down. The conspiracy is mounting, false stories are beginning to hit the newspapers and Gamache is trying to avoid them while solving the murder in Three Pines.

Along with our old friends from books past, we meet several new characters. Among these is Madeleine, who has moved in with her old school pal Hazel and Hazel’s daughter, Sophie. Madeleine’s boyfriend Monsieur Beliveau, and also Odile and her boyfriend Gilles.

I really love how rich, deep and complex these characters and their backgrounds are. These people feel very real to me and it is one of the reasons why I love this series so much.

Speaking of the murder, Gabri and Olivier decide to have a séance at their bistro on Good Friday led by a Wiccan, Jeanne, who has been lured to the town by an ad sent to her by the killer stating that the town is home to spiritual power. The séance does not go well (there are no spirits because the psychic Jeanne says that the village is “too happy”) and the participants decide to have another one at the Old Hadley place. In case you don’t remember, the Old Hadley place was the scene of the murder in the first book, was the home of the murderer in the second book, and in general the people of Three Pines think the house is evil or houses evil / is haunted. So, of course, what better place to hold a séance?

It seems fit then that the place where the villagers direct their negative energy has killed one of their own — newcomer Madeleine dies of fright during the séance, scared to death by the house itself. It is soon discovered that she was given a diet drug known to cause fatal heart attacks. Enter Gamache and his team to try to solve the case. Who wanted Madeleine dead? Everyone seems to love her — both women and men alike.

The dynamics on the team are, as always, interesting. We have Beauvoire, who most certainly loves Gamache like a son loves a father. Nichol, who everyone loves to hate is back again. I can’t figure out whether she is on Gamache’s side or not — this is still a mystery. Although she is loathsome character to be sure, her background is just as deep as the other characters in this book. Lacoste and Lemieux are also back again — and Lemieux is definitely a hidden fly in the ointment.

Can I say again how much I love Penny’s world building?

I am starting to see a pattern here — by the third book it is pretty clear that one of the new characters has committed the murder. Each has a motive, but which one did the deed?

You should definitely read to find out!

Other Books in this Series:

Book #1: A Still Life is the first book in the series where we are introduced to Armand Gamache and the village of Three Pines.

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: The discovery of a dead body in the woods on Thanksgiving Weekend brings Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his colleagues from the Surete du Quebec to a small village in the Eastern Townships. Gamache cannot understand why anyone would want to deliberately kill well-loved artist Jane Neal, especially any of the residents of Three Pines – a place so free from crime it doesn’t even have its own police force.

But Gamache knows that evil is lurking somewhere behind the white picket fences and that, if he watches closely enough, Three Pines will start to give up its dark secrets…

You can find my review of Still Life here.

Book #2: A Fatal Grace is the second book in the series.

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Welcome to winter in Three Pines, a picturesque village in Quebec, where the villagers are preparing for a traditional country Christmas, and someone is preparing for murder.

No one liked CC de Poitiers. Not her quiet husband, not her spineless lover, not her pathetic daughter—and certainly none of the residents of Three Pines. CC de Poitiers managed to alienate everyone, right up until the moment of her death.

When Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, of the Sûreté du Québec, is called to investigate, he quickly realizes he’s dealing with someone quite extraordinary. CC de Poitiers was electrocuted in the middle of a frozen lake, in front of the entire village, as she watched the annual curling tournament. And yet no one saw anything. Who could have been insane enough to try such a macabre method of murder—or brilliant enough to succeed?

With his trademark compassion and courage, Gamache digs beneath the idyllic surface of village life to find the dangerous secrets long buried there. For a Quebec winter is not only staggeringly beautiful but deadly, and the people of Three Pines know better than to reveal too much of themselves. But other dangers are becoming clear to Gamache. As a bitter wind blows into the village, something even more chilling is coming for Gamache himself. 

You can find my review of A Fatal Grace here.

BOOK REVIEW: The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont

57693165._SY475_Title: The Christie Affair

Author: Nina de Gramont

Audiobook Length: 10 hours and 23 minutes

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery, Thriller, Crime

Read Start Date: June 24, 2022

Read Finish Date: July 1, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads:Why would the world’s most famous mystery writer disappear for eleven days? What makes a woman desperate enough to destroy another woman’s marriage? How deeply can a person crave revenge?

In 1925, Miss Nan O’Dea infiltrated the wealthy, rarefied world of author Agatha Christie and her husband, Archie. In every way, she became a part of their life––first, both Christies. Then, just Archie. Soon, Nan became Archie’s mistress, luring him away from his devoted wife, desperate to marry him. Nan’s plot didn’t begin the day she met Archie and Agatha.

It began decades before, in Ireland, when Nan was a young girl. She and the man she loved were a star-crossed couple who were destined to be together––until the Great War, a pandemic, and shameful secrets tore them apart. Then acts of unspeakable cruelty kept them separated.

What drives someone to murder? What will someone do in the name of love? What kind of crime can someone never forgive? Nina de Gramont’s brilliant, unforgettable novel explores these questions and more.

My Review: Why does this book have only 3.75 stars on Goodreads (as of the date of this post)? This book made me feel so many things! Nina de Gramont flawlessly blends fact with fiction to the point where I don’t know what she made up! It could all be plausible from the time period.

The book is told in the first person by the character Nan O’Dea, who is having an affair with the husband of Agatha Christie. When Agatha finds out about the affair, she disappears, igniting a countrywide search. Nan takes a vacation to keep herself out of the spotlight. While staying at a hotel, there are two suspicious deaths.

The book switches between present day (during the period of Agatha’s disappearance) and the past, when Nan was a young girl in a star-crossed love affair with an Irish boy. I love the twist in the end where everything comes together. I was not expecting it at all!

SPOILER ALERT:

To really give a proper review, I have to reveal spoilers. In the storyline taking place in the past, Nan becomes pregnant and is sent to an Irish convent by her boyfriend’s parents (without his knowledge–he was deathly ill at the time). She is forced to give her baby up for adoption to an Englishman, and when she finds out that her baby is gone, she nearly kills the nun responsible. I had so many feelings about this scene. Firstly, I know it was common practice “back in the day” that unmarried women could not keep their babies because it was “shameful” to have babies out of wedlock, but WTF. That’s seriously f***ed up. I could not imagine having my baby taken away from me, and was disappointed that the vindictive nun, who gave away the baby out of spite (she was angry with Nan), was not murdered right then and there! Godly my a**!

Secondly, there was a priest at the convent who was raping a pregnant woman. What a total POS! These people are supposed to be Godly, but they are not better than sick and twisted criminals! It is because of people like this, the ones supposed to be representatives of God on Earth, that spoils religion and everything it stands for. Hypocrites the lot of them!

So anyway, rant over.

I haven’t really read any Agatha Christie books (I have been meaning too), but I suspect this book is written in the style of Christie. So if you are a fan of her books, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one as well.

I really liked this book and I would say that this should be on your must read lists for 2022.

BOOK REVIEW: No Lawyers in Heaven by Henry Milner

56033836._SY475_Title: No Lawyers in Heaven: A Life Defending Serious Crime

Author: Henry Milner

Audiobook Length:  6 hours and 43 minutes

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime, Autobiography, Memoir

Read Start Date: August 13, 2022

Read Finish Date: August 17, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Netgally (link to Goodreads): The life of a criminal defence lawyer is shrouded in mystery. Outsiders might wonder about how to deal with potentially dangerous clients; what happens behind the scenes when building a defence; and, that age-old moral dilemma, how a lawyer can defend someone they think is guilty. But what is life really like for those tasked with representing the shadowy underbelly of society?

For over forty years, criminal defence solicitor Henry Milner has been the go-to lawyer for some of Britain’s most notorious criminals including Kenneth Noye and the Brink’s-Mat robbers, Freddie Foreman, John ‘Goldfinger’ Palmer and the gang behind the Millennium Dome raid.

Here, the lawyer referred to in the Sunday Times as ‘The Mr Big of Criminal Briefs’ offers a fascinating insight into life at the top of the profession, lifting the lid on the psychology of those who end up on the wrong side of the law and those who defend them. By turns shocking and hilarious, this remarkable memoir takes us deep into the enigmatic criminal underworld, delivering a wry personal commentary on the most extraordinary aspects of a life spent amongst the accused.

My Review: I received this audiobook from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I have to say, from the very beginning of this book I just loved it.

In 1967 the author, Henry Milner is in the College of Estate Management when he is essentially told by the school that he is not very good (as he had come at the bottom of his building construction class twice because he “can’t draw”), and that he should think instead of becoming a lawyer, as he had excelled in legal classes such as property law. And so he did.

Milner eventually becomes a defense attorney and he tells the stories of when he was practicing in the 70s and 80s. The stories are told with wit and humor and at times had me laughing out loud. His clients, some guilty, some acquitted are characters unto themselves. Even though they are criminals, many of their antics were funny (maybe not haha funny, but at least shake your head in astonishment funny).

I had never heard of these cases because they were before my time, and also this takes place in England and not America.

I also really liked the narrator. He told the stories in an animated way, like you were at a party, engaged in a conversation with him and he was regaling you of that one time when he represented this guy…

The crimes that are discussed are not heinous in nature, mostly robberies, and so I didn’t feel drained by reading this book like with some true crime books about murder.

All in all, I highly recommend this book.

10 Book Reviews

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW: A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny

352921Title: A Fatal Grace

Author: Louise Penny

Book Length: 311 pages

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Thriller, Mystery, Crime,

Read Start Date: May 13, 2022

Read Finish Date: May 30, 2022

Number in Book Series: 2

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Welcome to winter in Three Pines, a picturesque village in Quebec, where the villagers are preparing for a traditional country Christmas, and someone is preparing for murder.

No one liked CC de Poitiers. Not her quiet husband, not her spineless lover, not her pathetic daughter—and certainly none of the residents of Three Pines. CC de Poitiers managed to alienate everyone, right up until the moment of her death.

When Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, of the Sûreté du Québec, is called to investigate, he quickly realizes he’s dealing with someone quite extraordinary. CC de Poitiers was electrocuted in the middle of a frozen lake, in front of the entire village, as she watched the annual curling tournament. And yet no one saw anything. Who could have been insane enough to try such a macabre method of murder—or brilliant enough to succeed?

With his trademark compassion and courage, Gamache digs beneath the idyllic surface of village life to find the dangerous secrets long buried there. For a Quebec winter is not only staggeringly beautiful but deadly, and the people of Three Pines know better than to reveal too much of themselves. But other dangers are becoming clear to Gamache. As a bitter wind blows into the village, something even more chilling is coming for Gamache himself. 

My Review: This is the second book in the Armand Gamache novel series, and Gamache is back again in Three Pines investigating a murder. CC de Poitiers is an awful woman, hated by everyone, even her lover and family. The first 8-10% of the book is setting the scene for the murder, so Gamache doesn’t really enter the story until afterward.

The murder is imaginative — electrocution by metal chair, outside in the snow during a curling event. Several things had to fall into place, which on its face seemed rather impossible. CC had to have bare hands, in the freezing cold. CC had to be standing in water. CC had to be wearing shoes without rubber soles. And most of all, the chair had to be connected to electricity. How was this accomplished, and by whom? Was it more than just one person?

This series is fast becoming one of my favorites. Not only are the murder plots interesting, but the clues unfold in a natural way — and the author doesn’t make you feel like Gamache is some super smart super hero who figured it out when no one else would. He is just a good cop, with personal flaws, like everyone else.

I really recommend this series.

Other Books in this Series:

A Still Life is the first book in the series where we are introduced to Armand Gamache and the village of Three Pines.

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: The discovery of a dead body in the woods on Thanksgiving Weekend brings Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his colleagues from the Surete du Quebec to a small village in the Eastern Townships. Gamache cannot understand why anyone would want to deliberately kill well-loved artist Jane Neal, especially any of the residents of Three Pines – a place so free from crime it doesn’t even have its own police force.

But Gamache knows that evil is lurking somewhere behind the white picket fences and that, if he watches closely enough, Three Pines will start to give up its dark secrets…

You can find my review of Still Life here.

BOOK REVIEW: Murder in the Neighborhood by Ellen J. Green

60152986Title: Murder in the Neighborhood

Author: Ellen J. Green

Audiobook Length: 9 hours 38 minutes

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime

Read Start Date: April 7, 2022

Read Finish Date: April 10, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: On September 6, 1949, twenty-eight-year-old Howard Barton Unruh shot thirteen people in less than twelve minutes on his block in East Camden, New Jersey.

The shocking true story of the first recorded mass shooting in America has never been told, until now.

The sky was cloudless that morning when twelve-year-old Raymond Havens left his home on River Road.

His grandmother had sent him to get a haircut at the barbershop across the street – where he was about to witness his neighbor and friend Howard open fire on the customers inside. Told through the eyes of the young boy who visited Howard regularly to listen to his war stories, and the mother trying to piece together the disturbing inner workings of her son’s mind, Ellen Green uncovers the chilling true story of Howard Unruh – the quiet oddball who meticulously plotted his revenge on the neighbors who shunned him and became one of America’s first mass killers. With access to Howard’s diaries, newly released police reports and psychiatric records alongside interviews with surviving family members and residents of the neighborhood, A Murder in the Neighborhood will have readers of In Cold Blood, If You Tell and American Predator absolutely gripped.

My Review: I received this audiobook from Netgalley as an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Murder in the Neighborhood tells the story of the first recorded mass shooting in the US (which took place in 1949), from the perspective of 12-year-old Raymond Havens who witnessed the shootings and Freda Unruh, the killer’s mother.

Sitting here in 2022, with dozens of mass shootings have occurred in recent decades, the facts surrounding the first mass shooting in 1949, alarmingly, doesn’t seem shocking to me. What is clear, is that nothing has changed since 1949. Through a gripping narrative, the author explores not only the crime, but the events leading up to the crime. We get to see not only the aftermath, but Howard Unruh’s evolution from veteran to mass murderer.

I am not sure if the author intended it, but as I read this book, I could really see the parallels with the mass shootings taking place today, and it is honestly maddening that nothing has changed in 70+ years. This book is not only a story about an event in history, but also gives us a lens into our future.

I read a book recently that posited that people who commit suicide do so only when their chosen method of suicide is at hand. In other words, the method of suicide is intrinsically linked to the suicide itself. E.g. if Person X wants to shoot himself, but can’t find a gun, he will not just use another method, he will, in fact, not commit suicide at all.

This made me wonder whether mass killings are similar. What would have happened if Howard Unruh did not have access to guns? Would he have been able to shoot as many people? Would he have stopped at just the Cohens — the original intended victims? Unruh had planned to murder the Cohens for their ceaseless bullying, but Unruh describes that as he started shooting, he couldn’t stop. He just kept going. Shooting people, whether they had “wronged” him or not. He even killed 3 children for no reason. Now, if he had a knife, say, would he have been able to keep killing before someone stopped him? I guess we will never know.

The book seemed to be well researched, and I liked how this book not only discussed the hard facts surrounding the killings, but also went into the psychology of Unruh. As readers, we got to see the “why” (as ridiculous as his reasons were), not only the how. I also really liked the writing style of the author. It was written like a fiction book i.e. the telling of a story rather than a recitation of facts, which made it very easy to read.

If you are a true crime fan who otherwise reads mostly fiction (like me) I think this book is right up your alley.

10 Book Reviews

Professional Reader

Reviews Published

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.