I Could Be You by Sheila Bugler

4th August 2020.   4 stars.

A dead woman lies at the side of the road and her child is missing. Former journalist, Dee Doran, who has problems of her own, is shaken to the core by the death of her friend, Katie. But this is only the beginning of her troubles as she launches her own investigation alongside the local police.

Like any psychological thriller, there are secrets to unravel. The story alternates between Dee and Katie, past and present, to fill in the missing details, little by little. This means the pace is gentle to start with, but the suspense builds and the pace quickens to an exciting climax as the truth emerges.

Or is it the truth?

That’s the question at the heart of this story and it’s in doubt for most of this well-written novel. While I didn’t take to Dee immediately, her tenacity and friendship to Katie drove her over the hurdles and disappointments she encountered. Meanwhile, Katie’s life before she met Dee is beautifully developed and revealed, creating tension, conflict and a few surprises.

I became more engrossed as the story went on, enjoying the setting and the character development. I would recommend this novel to anyone who likes psychological thrillers and murder mysteries as there are elements of both, providing an entertaining and satisfying read.

Description

A life has been taken. But whose life is it?

On a stifling hot day, former journalist Dee Doran finds the crumpled body of her friend at the roadside. Katie and her little boy, Jake, have been a light in Dee’s otherwise desolate life – now a woman is dead and a child is missing.

Katie has been keeping secrets for a long time. Years earlier, she fell for the wrong person. But he was in love with someone else; who he couldn’t have but couldn’t keep away from. When jealousy and desire spilled over into murder Katie hid the truth, and has been pretending ever since.

As Dee assists the police with their enquiries she’s compelled to investigate too. She realises Katie wasn’t who she claimed to be. Lies are catching up. Stories are unravelling. Revenge is demanded and someone must pay the price. The question is: who?

I Could Be You

An interview with author J A Schneider

I’m delighted to welcome psychological suspense author, J A Schneider to Robservations. Her latest novel, What You’ve Done, is released tomorrow, 16th April 2020. I was lucky enough to read it recently and it’s brilliant, driven by a strong lead character in attorney, Mia Pearle, who feels a sense of responsibility and guilt when 16-year old Kelly is brutally murdered in a quiet town in Connecticut.

Having also read and thoroughly enjoyed Girl Watching You, I thought it was time to find out a little more about J A Schneider.

Please tell me a little about yourself and your writing.

When very young, I’d hear complaints that I’d rather read the back of cereal boxes than “join in the discussion.” Ha! Well, small talk can be small indeed, right? Much more thrilling to escape the mundane and imagine exciting stories. So that’s me at the core: wild imagination, cooking up stories since forever.

And that led to being a reader, which led to being a French literature major in college/university, which led me next to working at Newsweek…where everyone dreamed out loud about writing the next “great American novel.” Back then, I never dared dream I could actually write fiction but I listened, and kept reading everything, pulp to Jane Austen.

When did you first realise you wanted to be an author?

Maybe it was the moment I started timidly, not really serious but “what the heck, let’s see if I can string sentences together.” My husband Bob and I were living in Paris, I’d had two glasses of wine and was off – scribbling on the back of a paper menu in a café. He thought it was funny. Our waiter came along, looked curious, and tried to read over my shoulder. Bob told him I was writing a novel and he said, “Ooh, mais qu’est-ce qui se passe?” (What’s happening!?) Seeing him grin and his eyes light up was magic. It was the first time I had dared tell anyone not a loved one that I was writing fiction. Such a serendipity, but I started more seriously soon after.

Describe the first piece you wrote and what it meant to you?

When my children were young, I wrote first for our local newspaper – people interest stuff, historical stories about Colonial times in Connecticut. It was nice to see people react to them, less nice when people found fault – “Greenwich was not founded by the Dutch!” – so I decided, nuts to non-fiction, if you write fiction no one can argue, it’s your thing. Back to scribbling fiction I went.

What do you most enjoy about being an author?

Feeling an exciting idea come to me.

What do you least enjoy about being an author?

The marketing and promo part, since I publish independently.

What type of characters do you love and hate to write? Why?

Do you mean love but hate to write? None! I enjoy developing all characters, imagining their innermost thoughts. In a way the villain is the most fun. Peter Pan would be no story at all without Captain Hook.

Can you tell us about your time at Newsweek magazine and how it influenced your writing career?

It was the most writing-intense experience ever. Every Friday night was a deadline. We had to research and write fast but succinctly – no padding. I’d watch whole paragraphs I’d slaved over get cut…so there was that aspect. Also eye-opening were former writers who’d published bestsellers and quit, then come back to grin and tease: “What are you still doing here? Write a novel!”

I believe you keep a list of inspirational quotes. Could you share a couple of your favourites and how they relate to your writing journey?

  • “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Anton Chekhov
  • “Every paragraph I write is a surprise to me. Ideas comes as I write.” Lee Child
  • “We’re not writers, we’re re-writers. Nobody gets it right the first time.” Stephen King

I write on my laptop, and for the first draft keep three documents open: In the centre, the growing story; to the left my “crutch” with lots of inspirational quotes, & to the right the story’s outline – which only goes down as I figure out the story…not before. I’ve tried to outline before I start, and can’t.

You’ve written two series and standalone novels? Which do you prefer and why?

Love ‘em both. It’s like deciding which of your children is your favorite. Series stories are somewhat easier, because I already know the main characters. Readers also enjoy feeling familiarity with the characters…but again, I do like mulling whole new standalone ideas, like a box of chocolates.

How would you describe your books to someone who has never read one before?

High adrenaline romantic suspense thrillers often with police procedural.

What’s the best compliment you’ve received about your books?

“You’ve helped me. Helped me get through dark times just by being able to escape.”

Do you have any favourite authors? What is it about them or their work that appeals to you?

Ira Levin: (Rosemary’s Baby, The Boys From Brazil, The Stepford Wives) I re-read him often, am still astonished at how he conveys so much with so few words.

Agatha Christie’s best (And Then There Were None, Death on the Nile, others) Same: her ability to say much with few words.

James Patterson: I love his pace, fast action; also his ability to say much with few words.

If you could invite four guests (fictional or real, alive or dead) for dinner, who would you choose and why?

Smile…JFK was asked that question and he said, “I’d just want Thomas Jefferson dining alone.” J  But okay, four guests? How ‘bout James Patterson, Ira Levin, Don Rickles and Mel Brooks? What fun that would be!

Please tell me about your latest project/plans for the future.

The next thriller. Will probably feature Mia Peale and Jay Colter.

Thank you for some fascinating insights into the way you work and what motivates and inspires you to write fiction. Good luck with the launch and the book.

What You've Done

A small town divorce lawyer (“I know people’s secrets”) blames herself when a client’s teen daughter is brutally murdered. She investigates and finds herself the killer’s next target.

Grieving the loss of her NYPD detective husband, former defence attorney Mia Peale moves to Grand Cove, Connecticut, desperate for a sense of community and hoping to rebuild her life. Now, starting a family law practice, she’s finally found friends and peace – until the teen daughter of one of her clients is brutally murdered, and the girl’s boyfriend stands accused.

Kelly Payne was an adored high school track star. Brian Hall is a poor boy in a rich town, and the community is outraged. But Mia has known Brian since her arrival and can’t believe he’s guilty, despite strong circumstantial evidence against him. As his defence turns lacklustre, she asks Grand Cove police detective Jay Colter for help. Jay is also sceptical of the police and DA’s case and takes them on, especially when Mia’s friend from her former Manhattan law firm uncovers a frighteningly similar murder in the city. Secretly, Jay helps Mia investigate both murders, but his alarm grows as her life is threatened by a maniac hiding among them.

You can find J A Schneider on

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/joyce.schneider.142?fref=ts (friends)

https://www.facebook.com/JASchneiderAuthor?fref=ts   (author)

Twitter:   https://twitter.com/JoyceSchneider1

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5832782.J_A_Schneider

Website: http://jaschneiderauthor.net

BookBub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/j-a-schneider

 

What You’ve Done by J A Schneider

12th April 2020.   5 stars.

When I was offered the chance to read an advance copy of this novel, I jumped at the chance, having previously enjoyed the author’s last book, Girl Watching You.

When 16-year old Kelly is found brutally murdered, local lawyer and friend, Mia Peale feels responsible. Could she have stopped Kelly’s reunion with Brian, who’s now the main suspect? With the help of Jay Colter from the police, and a friend in New York, who finds links to a similar murder, Mia sets out to prove Brian’s innocence.

It’s a move that antagonises the killer and puts her life in danger.

What You’ve Done is an expertly crafted suspense thriller with strong, believable characters and a good pace that leads to a thrilling climax and resolution. The shock waves from Kelly’s death and its effect on the family and local community are particularly well portrayed, allowing the reader to share their grief and confusion.

Mia’s a bright, clever and creative lead whose determination and desire for justice drive the story along. Her feelings of guilt reveal the compassionate and vulnerable character beneath as she faces her fears to get the job done.

Gripping from the first page to the last, with chapters from the killer to raise the stakes and tension, this is an accomplished and involving mystery as well as a thriller. No one is quite who they appear to be, providing plenty of suspects and motives to keep the reader guessing.

Highly recommended.

Description

A small town divorce lawyer (“I know people’s secrets”) blames herself when a client’s teen daughter is brutally murdered. She investigates and finds herself the killer’s next target.

Grieving the loss of her NYPD detective husband, former defence attorney Mia Peale moves to Grand Cove, Connecticut, desperate for a sense of community and hoping to rebuild her life. Now, starting a family law practice, she’s finally found friends and peace – until the teen daughter of one of her clients is brutally murdered, and the girl’s boyfriend stands accused.

Kelly Payne was an adored high school track star. Brian Hall is a poor boy in a rich town, and the community is outraged. But Mia has known Brian since her arrival and can’t believe he’s guilty, despite strong circumstantial evidence against him. As his defence turns lacklustre, she asks Grand Cove police detective Jay Colter for help. Jay is also sceptical of the police and DA’s case and takes them on, especially when Mia’s friend from her former Manhattan law firm uncovers a frighteningly similar murder in the city. Secretly, Jay helps Mia investigate both murders, but his alarm grows as her life is threatened by a maniac hiding among them.

What You've Done

Call Me Star Girl by Louise Beech

11th January 2020.    4 stars.

I find many psychological suspense stories formulaic, relying on dark family secrets being slowly peeled away. Star Girl was quite different, being focused on the death of a pregnant woman, Vicky Valbon.

The story is told by Stella and her mother, Elizabeth, who abandoned her daughter at a young age. It jumps back and forth in time, which helps to build tension and suspense as more details are revealed. At times it felt like there were too many background details, slowing the pace and drawing out the story to delay revelations and key developments.

The characters are intense and driven by passion, often selfishly, often darkly, but the author portrays them sympathetically and deeply so you understand them and the way they think and behave. The intensity of the characters drives events and the consequences that lead towards a shocking climax. Several further twists then follow. Though they are clever and reveal what really happened to Vicky Valbon, I thought the twists drew out the ending, just taking the edge off the emotional impact.

Dark, occasionally disturbing, but always intriguing, Call Me Star Girl is a complex, consuming story that will take you on an emotional roller coaster. It will leave you drained but glad you took the ride.

Description

Stirring up secrets can be deadly … especially if they’re yours…

Pregnant Victoria Valbon was brutally murdered in an alley three weeks ago – and her killer hasn’t been caught.

Tonight is Stella McKeever’s final radio show. The theme is secrets. You tell her yours, and she’ll share some of hers.

Stella might tell you about Tom, a boyfriend who likes to play games, about the mother who abandoned her, now back after fourteen years. She might tell you about the perfume bottle with the star-shaped stopper, or about her father …

What Stella really wants to know is more about the mysterious man calling the station … who says he knows who killed Victoria, and has proof.

Tonight is the night for secrets, and Stella wants to know everything…

Call Me Star Girl

The Family by Louise Jensen

6th November 2019.  2 stars.

After reading some of the reviews for this psychological thriller, I started the book with high expectations. The first impressions were good. The story was told through the eyes of the three main characters, Laura, her daughter, Tilly, and Alex, who ran the community. They took it in turns to present their version of the events that unfolded.

The emotional states of the characters were particularly well portrayed, and the unresolved problems each one had helped to create the suspense needed for this type of story.

But despite the good writing, I never fully engaged or connected with these characters. I’m not sure why because they were realistic enough. Maybe their many secrets and past tragedies, which were hinted at regularly, got in the way, slowing the pace of the story. When the pace finally picked up towards the end, many of the twists and surprises felt more like convenient coincidences.

I wanted to like the story, but finished it feeling disappointed. The slow pace meant it never really got going for me. I never felt uneasy or threatened because I didn’t connect with the three viewpoint characters. And the revelations that explained the characters’ problems felt contrived, taking the edge off any surprises.

Description

ONCE YOU’RE IN, THEY’LL NEVER LET YOU LEAVE.

At Oak Leaf Farm you will find a haven.
Welcome to The Family.

Laura is grieving after the sudden death of her husband. Struggling to cope emotionally and financially, Laura is grateful when a local community, Oak Leaf Organics, offer her and her 17-year-old daughter Tilly a home.

But as Laura and Tilly settle into life with their new ‘family’, sinister things begin to happen. When one of the community dies in suspicious circumstances Laura wants to leave but Tilly, enthralled by the charismatic leader, Alex, refuses to go.

Desperately searching for a way to save her daughter, Laura uncovers a horrifying secret but Alex and his family aren’t the only ones with something to hide. Just as Laura has been digging into their past, they’ve been digging into hers and she discovers the terrifying reason they invited her and Tilly in, and why they’ll never let them leave…

The Family by Louise Jensen

Girl on a Train by AJ Waines

3/5 stars. While I loved the idea behind the story, the concept felt stretched and contrived in places.

My thoughts

I loved the idea of sitting next to a stranger on a train, only for that person to die. Okay, this is a psychological thriller, so it’s unlikely to be an accident or suicide, no matter what the police and coroner say. But it gives the main character, Anna, a chance to dig around and follow the poor girl’s trail to find out why she might have died.

Being a journalist, Anna has a nose for a story and her own baggage to carry. As she slowly unravels the mystery, she finds out a lot more than she bargained for.

This is where I felt the story lost momentum and began to feel a little contrived. A past trauma that provided some of Anna’s motivation to investigate was referred to so many times, I wondered whether the author was trying to convince me or herself. And though the author tried really hard, the latter stages of the book stretched credibility a little too far.

The flow of the story was also spoiled by more similes than you can shake a proverbial stick at, often three or four on a page. These constant similes jumped out and jolted me out of the story, which is a shame, because it’s well written and constructed, with a concept I really liked.

Description

Everything points to suicide – but I saw her face…

Headstrong Journalist, Anna Rothman, knows what suicide looks like – her own husband killed himself five years earlier. When Elly Swift, an agitated passenger beside her on a train, leaves a locket in Anna’s bag before jumping onto the tracks, Anna starts asking awkward questions. But everything points to suicide and the police close the case.

Anna, however, believes Elly’s fears for Toby, her young nephew, missing since being snatched from St Stephen’s church six months ago, fail to explain the true reason behind Elly’s distress. Through a series of hidden messages Elly left behind, Anna embarks on a dangerous crusade to track down Toby and find Elly’s killer.

But nothing is as it seems and Anna opens a can of worms that throws into question even her own husband’s suicide – before the threads of the mystery converge in an astonishing conclusion.

Girl on a Train

 

The Good Mother by Karen Osman

3/5 stars. The plot and the twist placed constraints on the way the story was told, draining much of the tension and suspense from it.

Description

How far would you go to protect your children?

A gripping psychological suspense, with a shocking twist that will leave you reeling…

Catherine is a good mother and a good wife. The family home is immaculate, her husband’s supper is cooked on time, but when she starts writing to Michael, a prisoner convicted of murder, she finds herself obsessing about his crime and whether he can ever truly be forgiven…

Kate has no time for herself. Caught in the maelstrom of bringing up two young children with no money, and an out-of-work husband, she longs to escape the drudgery of being a wife and a mother. And she soon starts taking dangerous risks to feel alive…

Alison has flown the nest. But university life is not what she had hoped for, and she finds herself alone and unhappy. Until the day her professor takes a sudden interest in her. Then everything changes…

Three women – all with secrets. And as the days tick down to Michael’s release, those secrets can no longer be ignored.

My thoughts

I was puzzled when I finished this book – not at the ending, but my reaction to it. The shocking twist didn’t leave me reeling – quite the opposite.

“Is that it?” I thought, not sure why I felt flat. The story is well-written, cleverly plotted, and I thought the characterisation of Kate, Alison and Catherine was excellent overall. They came to life from the first paragraph and kept me intrigued as their stories unfolded.

I don’t think the tagline – gripping psychological suspense, with a shocking twist that will leave you reeling – was to blame. I ignore these overblown and all-too-frequent claims by publishers. However, this didn’t feel like psychological suspense to me. The tension didn’t build or grip me, especially towards the end when two of the story strands faded out.

This turned out to be necessary for the twist.

And that’s why I felt flat. The plot and the twist took over. They placed constraints on the story and the way it was told to disguise the twist. The resulting compromises affected character behaviour and some of the decisions made by the women. The overall result, I feel, was to drain much of the tension and suspense from the story.

It’s a shame because I think the author is talented. She brought the characters to life with some excellent writing and insights, and had she not gone for the clever plot and twist, I think The Good Mother could have been a tense, suspenseful story.

3/5 stars.

The Good Mother