Fiona Barton: The Child Thursday, Jul 27 2017 

Fiona Barton’s debut, The Widow, thrust her into the minds of readers everywhere and introduced reporter Kate Waters. She returns with The Child, and it’s every bit as suspensful and well written, sure to please readers with its compelling story.

Journalist Kate is a seasoned print reporter trying to stay afloat in a 24 hr/online news world. She’s saddled with a trainee, Joe Jackson, just as a small article catches her eye when construction workers in Woolrich discover the remains of baby, long-buried and reduced to bones.

Besides Kate, the discovery affects two women: Angela, whose baby Alice was stolen from her hospital cot the night after being born; and Emma, a young woman whose secret has affected her entire life. Emma’s mother, Jude, raised Emma as a single mother and has a complicated relationship with her daughter.

Angela is convinced the bones are of her baby, Alice. Emma is convinced of something entirely different. Kate just wants to find the truth of the matter and the answer to her question: “Who would bury a baby?”Each woman, with Kate’s help, will find the answers they need to know.

Kate can’t let this story go, to the detriment at times of her own family life. She sets out to investigate the old neighbors who lived in that neighborhood, and uncovers tales of drugs, parties, illicit sex and more. She encourages Angela and is with the woman when her DNA is tested. And through a circuitous route, she eventually meet Emma and Jude.

Complicating matters is the way Kate must tread carefully between her job as a reporter to get the lead on the news, and the police investigation. Her detective contact is one she holds dear, and she must keep his confidence and that of the lead detective looking into the identity of the remains, while holding her editor at bay.

Each woman’s story is precisely told in this character-driven mystery, a taut thriller that explores the complex relationships we all hold with our families, our jobs, and our perceived identities. The suspense as the story unfolds will keep readers flipping pages to the satisfying denouement. Highly recommended.

Karen Dionne: The Marsh King’s Daughter Tuesday, Jul 25 2017 

Karen Dionne’s superb psychological suspense, The Marsh King’s Daughter, brings readers the story of a child born in captivity to her abducted mother and kidnapper father. Not realizng until age 11 that her mother had been taken against her will as a young teen, Helena’s youth story is told in recall throughout the modern story of adult Helena’s desperate attempts to track her father before he can find her.

With exquisitely detailed prose of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, born out of Dionne’s own expericences living off the land in the wilderness in the 70’s, the author creates Helena’s world, raised so far off the grid that she has rarely seen other humans except thoe in old copies of National Geographics she’s used to teach her self to read. What she has learned is how to hunt and trap, and to use the land to live off of it.

All of these skills become extraordinarily useful as an adult. After leaving the UP with her mother, in an unforgettable scene that is detailed later in the book, Helena must adjust to life in the outside world. It’s an uneasy experience, one that leaves her with scars deeper than the tattoos her father gave her as a child.

Restarting her life under a new name, Helena is married with two little girls to her photographer husband when her father escapes from prison. She knows he is on his way to find her and hurt her and her family for turning him in–and knows she must hunt him down first.

It’s a complicated relationship, as Helena’s father taught her everything she’s learned, and a part of her loves him. But as she’s been in the modern world, she realizes more and more the control and abuse she and her mother suffered at his hands.

It’s a remarkable story that is by turns amazing and absolutely terrifying, causing Lee Child to call it,” sensationally good psychological suspense…” Highly recommended.

John Farrow: Perish the Day Sunday, Jul 23 2017 

Author and playwright Trevor Ferguson writes the Emile Cinq-Mars series under the pen name John Farrow. He brings us Perish the Day, with Emile and his wife, Sandra, staying at her mother’s New Hampshire horse farm as the woman lies in a coma after a life well lived.

It’s raining hard in the small town of Holyoake, just down the road from Ivy League Dartmouth. Sandra’s niece is graduating from the big college’s stepchild, the Dowboggin School of International Relations, and along with Sandra’s sister, they plan to also attend Caroline’s graduation. The rain obscures roads, overflows rivers, and creates havoc that only intensifies when the body of one of Caro’s friends is found at the bottom of a locked clock tower.

Emile soon finds himself immersed in trying to find out what happened to Caro’s friend, Addie. Hers will be the first of three murders in short order, and as the case heats up, territorial disputes threaten to overwhelm the investigation, even as the weather interferes with everything.

He finds a way to insinuate himself, even as Sandra’s mother dies and they plan her funeral. Enlisting Caro and two of her friends, the retired Canadian detective will use his wits and his experience to find out who would kill a young student, an older professor, and a custodian at the college.

Only Emile could bring the disparate forces of troopers, local sheriff, and FBI together to solve a complicated case that is unlike any he’s seen before. It’s a tour de force of his thinking abilities.

One of the hallmarks of the series is Emile’s ruminations on the case, spirituality, life, and his marriage. It makes for involved and heady reading, a literary feel to what is essentially a crime novel. His feel for his setting, and how he uses it, deepen our understanding of where he finds himself at this moment in time. Despite his appearance, Emile Cinq-Mars is highly attractive and thoroughly engaging.

Another winner in a series that keep getting better. Highly recommended.

On the Importance of Writing Groups Friday, Jul 21 2017 

On The Importance of Writing Groups

Auntie M belongs to a unique writing group. What author doesn’t want to improve his or her writing skills? Mine meets in person yearly, but we are in contact all year long on email. It’s an unusual concept, but one that works for us because we are all novelists, and when we meet, we workshop our entire novels. We rotate to each other’s homes each year across the country, so we’ve visited each other’s homes and explored different areas.

Our week together is thrilling beyond belief, but filled with hard work as we go through each other’s manuscripts page by page, after having received them the month before for our first reading. Picture four female writers sitting around a table, a tin of chocolate chip cookies in the center to sustain them, various beverages at hand, pens and pencils, and those stacks of manuscript pages. It’s daunting and exhilarating at once.

We learn what’s worked for the others in our first drafts—and what hasn’t. We learn what needs to be expanded and what needs to be trimmed. We learn what thoughts we’ve kept locked inside our brains that never made it to the page. Most of all, we gather ideas for filling out the plot and adding texture to create a fully realized book and a satisfying read. This is the goal of any writing group, and it can come to you if you join a local group.

Auntie M writes crime novels but some of the others don’t. We have not found this to be an obstacle. Good writing and a good story keep our interest. Our hallmark is that the author is owner of her work, and the critique process represents suggestions. If one other person finds fault with a passage, I take that under advisement. But if three other writers tell me my pacing is slow in the same spot, you’d better believe I’m going to revise that scene.

But this process we’ve derived is not for most writers. What’s far more reasonable is for writers in any genre to belong to a writing group that meets monthly or bi-monthly. One group I’m aware of that I can highly recommend is the Pamlico Writers Group. Meeting bi-monthly for general critique sessions in the historic Turnage Theatre in downtown Washington, NC, it’s one of the oldest writing groups in North Carolina.

The group sponsors workshops and meet-the-author luncheons, where writers have the opportunity to pick the brains of published authors in a casual setting. The workshops offer variations on different aspects writers need on craft, publishing, techniques and other skill sets.

For several years now Auntie M has been teaching writing workshops at the PWG’s yearly conference that draws writers and readers from all over the state and bordering areas. I’ve been on panel discussions and met budding authors, published big names, publishers, agents, and all manner of readers and fans. As part of this yearly conference, the PWG sponsors a writing competition, handing out prizes in several genres, with a category for high school writers. 2018’s conference will be held March 23rd and 24th, so do plan to keep those dates open and check their website for registration opening.

If you’re any level of writer who longs to be a part of an enthusiastic and diverse writing community, learn about the PWG and contact them through their website: http://www.pamlicowritersgroup.wildaprocot.org, or email Sherri Hollister (pwgcritique.group@gmail.com) or Louis Edwards (pwgwashingtonnc@gmail.com) with questions or for more information. And do check out their anthology contest, which opened July 15th~

Mark Billingham: Die of Shame & Love Like Blood Wednesday, Jul 19 2017 

Readers of Auntie M Writes know that Mark Billingham is one of her favorites. So it was frustrating that she’d missed reading Die of Shame, which starts out as a stand-alone featuring Detective Inspector Nicola Tanner and has a tie-in to Tom Thorn at its end.

It starts with six people, all addicts of some kind, in a group therapy session held by their therapist in his home. With his wife and teen daughter on the periphery, the six speak of their secrets and tell their stories of the life they’ve tried to leave. The object is to reveal their deepest shame.

It’s an intriguing setup, as each of these characters has something to hide. When one of them is murdered, it will fall to DI Tanner to ferret out the murderer. Readers will learn of the addict’s ability to obfuscate and explain away any situation. As Tanner’s investigation advances, it soon becomes clear that one of the six is responsible for the victim’s death.
That’s where Tom Thorne comes in at the end, working undercover as the newest member of the group.

While this one can definitely be read as a stand-alone, and it’s new in paperback for those like Auntie M who missed it last year, Billingham’s newest, Love Like Blood, follows the thread. Not with the group, which is tied up easily, but with DI Nicola Tanner as Thorne’s off-the-books newest partner.

It opens with a grissly home invasion that becomes a ghastly murder. At first, readers assume it Tanner who’s the victim, but although she was probably the proposed victim, Tanner’s partner Susan has borrowed her car that day and is brutally murdered in her stead.

Due to her closeness to the victim, policy dictates Tanner must be off the case. She enlists Thorne to take the case on, with her aiding him unofficially. When a young couple from different cultures go missing, they soon realize their targets are a pair of contracted killers, performing so-called ‘honor’ killings for families.

It’s a set-up that has nothing good about it. Thorne worming his way into a community where he’s despised just for being a cop; Tanner continuing to investigate when she shouldn’t. There’s Tom’s home with Helen and her son, Alfie, to consider, too, with Helen dealing with her own bad case.

A sobering Author’s note describes the statistics of increasing honor killings in the UK, and details one particular heartbreaking case. Leave it to Mark Billingham to sensitively explore this issue. Highly recommended, both of them. Do yourself a favor and read them both.

David Bell: Bring Her Home Sunday, Jul 16 2017 


At the opening of David Bell’s newest suspenseful novel, Bring Her Home, readers may think they know where this is headed.

Eighteen months after the accidental death of his wife, Julie, Bill Price’s teenaged daughter and her best friend disappear. Summer Price and her friend Haley have been almost inseparable for years. It’s a father’s worst nightmare and intensifies when the two girls are found, badly beaten, in a Kentucky city park. Haley is dead and Summer is so badly beaten, her face is unrecognizable. She might have brain or vision damage. She might not remember who did this to her.

As Bill’s sister drives in from her Ohio home, she brings a voice of reason and support to Bill, whose legendary temper often gets the best of him. As the pair keep vigil over Summer in Intensive Care, the investigation heats up and unwelcome stories about the girls and their behavior and company surface. Bill starts asking questions of his own to uncover the truth.

But the surprises keep coming, in twists and plot turns that elevate this to a gripping crime novel. Bill Price will have to adjust his thinking about his dead wife, his friends and neighbors, and his own daughter.

A layered mystery, filled with emotions that strike as realistic and keep pace with the surprises, this is one of those thrillers that will have readers flipping pages long after the light should have been turned out.

Rob Hart: The Woman from Prague Friday, Jul 14 2017 

Rob Hart returns with PI Ash McKenna in The Woman from Prague., which is where he finds himself, laying low for the past months, but on a visa ready to run out.

This entertaining novel elevates the spy genre with Ash’s first person POV, the crisp dialogue, and Ash’s wry thoughts when he finds himself strong-armed into working for a supposed US agent who knows far too much about Ash and his background. But can “Roman” be trusted? And is he who he says he is?

Things quickly go south–did Auntie M mention there’s a woman involved? –as the meet Roman sets up turns deadly. Ash is forced to go on the run with the mysterious Samantha. Despite the lovely Sam in tow, Ash finds the role of an international spy is not all James Bond made it seem.

He’s in a foreign city, with someone he can’t trust, being hunted for reasons he can’t fathom.

Non-stop action gives readers a wild ride in a great setting. The fast pace makes this a perfect summer read.

Anthony Horowitz: Magpie Murders Wednesday, Jul 12 2017 

If the name Anthony Horowitz sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because you’ve seen it in the credits for Midsomer Murders or Foyle’s War, amongst other television works. Or because you’ve read his Holmes novels, Moriarty and The House of Silk; or Trigger Mortis, which contained original material from Ian Fleming; or perhaps his YA Alex Rider series.

Yes, quite the prolific and successful author in multiple genres. Yet Horowitz manages to pull off a coup quite unlike any other with his newest mystery, Magpie Murders.

This is a clever and compelling romp, paying homage to the writers of the Golden Age with a mystery novel-within-a-novel. Readers are introduced to editor Susan Ryeland, whose client Alan Conway’s Atticus Pund series has kept her publishing house afloat. There should be an umlaut over that “u” in Pund, but Auntie M’s keyboard doesn’t have that diacritical mark. It’s another way that Conway plays with his readers. And play he does, with increasing contempt, for Conway could be snarky, and as Susan soon discovers, not just to her.

Susan is delivered Conway’s newest and last manuscript, where he’s decided to kill his detective off. Over the weekend as she reads it, so do we, becoming submerged into 1950s England outside Bath, and we and she are presented with a period-perfect murder mystery, complete with many references to classic works. But as Susan reaches the end of the manuscript, she finds to her dismay–and ours–that the denouement chapter is missing. When Susan returns to work Monday, searching for that last chapter, she finds that Conway has committed suicide.

The novel turns into a contemporary mystery, as Susan takes on the detecting of issues surrounding Conway’s death, trying to find the missing chapter, and soon becomes convinced his death could be murder. As she travels to his home and his funeral, meeting those in Conway’s circle, she connects many of the devices Conway used in the book with his real life. It’s not a pretty picture that emerges, and there are far too many candidates for the role of murderer. And where is that missing chapter?

This is a hugely satisfying read, containing puzzles, anagrams, literary motifs and more, including a gentle send-up of today’s publishing world. It’s garnered wonderful enthusiastic reviews and this is one more. Highly recommended.

Alyssa Palombo: The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence: A Story of Botticelli Sunday, Jul 9 2017 

Palombo merges reality with history in a captivating way and returns to do it again with a story of Botticelli in The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence.

Inspired by Botticelli’s iconic painting The Birth of Venus, readers will be plunged into the Florence of the Medicis that has a surprisingly feminist view.

Palombo has the artist’s muse, Simonetta Vespucci, appearing here not just as his muse but as his mistress. Not difficult to imagine this might have been true, when in reality the artist asked to be buried at her feet.

Born into a glittering circle of the time, with writers, artists, and politicians of the day fawning over her, men are enthralled with Simonetta’s beauty. She saves her heart for the young Botticelli, becoming his muse after he invites her to pose for him.

Once she married Maraco Vespucci, Simonetta must learn how to massage both her marriage and her place in Medici society, while she and the painter dance around their growing love for each other, until they finally consummate their passion that leads to his most famous painting of her.

Don’t miss the author’s note that explains the historical research the author conducted and how she choose this version of events.

Bill Schutt & JR Finch: The Himalayan Codex Wednesday, Jul 5 2017 

Action, adventure and science wrapped up together prove an explosive read in the second outing from this duo of Bill Schutt and JR Finch in The Himalayan Codex, the second book featuring zoologist RJ MacCready.

This time the adventure captain finds himself on searching the plateaus of Tibet for the legendary Yeti. For the post WWII era, 1946 is a time of rebuilding. MacCready heads to Tibet to examine mammoth bones that were recently discovered in the Himalayas.

Yeti may not exist, but a codex purportedly written by Pliny the Elder certainly does, giving rise to the theory of a new race of ancestral humans, whose presence gave rise to the stories of the Yetis, yet with one startling aspect–their ability to speed up evolution.

It’s a process that would bring with it benefits but also potential for devastation with no limits. Is this the truth? And if not, why would Communist Chinese among others be hunting him and his team?

There’s enough plausible science here with technical research to allow readers to suspend disbelief to enjoy the action-packed ride. A thorough author’s note gives a complete explanation on what is fictional, what is not, and just what might be possible.

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