Category Archives: Rated B+

Review: The Fallen by Ace Atkins

Title: The Fallen by Ace Atkins
Quinn Colson Series Book Seven
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 365 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Penguin’s First to Read Program

Summary:

A classic southern tale of backroom deals, tainted honor, dysfunctional family, high-stakes greed—and everyday heroism—from the New York Times–bestselling author.

Mississippi sheriff Quinn Colson had to admit he admired the bank robbers. A new bank was hit almost every week, and the robbers rushed in and out with such skill and precision it reminded him of raids he’d led back in Afghanistan and Iraq when he was an army ranger. In fact, it reminded him so much of the techniques in the Ranger Handbook that he couldn’t help wondering if the outlaws were former Rangers themselves.

And that was definitely going to be a problem. If he stood any chance of catching them, he was going to need the help of old allies, new enemies, and a lot of luck. The enemies he had plenty of. It was the allies and the luck that were going to be in woefully short supply.

Review:

In Ace Atkins’ seventh installment in the Quinn Colson series,  The Fallen, Tibbehah County, Mississippi is once again a hotbed of illegal activity which runs the gamut of bank robberies, missing teenage girls and an underlying corruption that Sheriff Quinn Colson just cannot seem to stay ahead of.

When bank robbers Rick Wilcox, Jonas Cord and their buddy Opie make an ill-fated decision to rob Jericho First National Bank, they are certain they will get away with their crime. However, instead of a clueless small town police force, their crime falls under the jurisdiction of Sheriff Quinn Colson and assistant Sheriff Lillie Virgil who have proven time and again they are a formidable crime fighting duo. Colson correctly deduces the men are former military and with few clues to go on, he turns to federal agent Jon Holliday who does not have any more information about the crew than Quinn and Lillie.

Interspersed with the investigation into the bank robbery are a couple of story arcs set in the local community. Quinn’s sister Caddy is worried about two missing teenagers that she has been trying to locate under the Sheriff’s radar. Strip bar owner Fannie Hathcock is running up against good ole boy Skinner whose Southern Christian values are greatly offended by her establishment.  The search for the missing girls leads straight to Fannie’s strip joint and ultimately, the latest round of corruption that is attempting to gain a toehold in Tibbehah County.

In between the investigation of the bank robbery and fighting petty crimes in the county, Quinn reunites with childhood friend Maggie Powers who has recently moved to town with her nine year old son Brandon. As they reminisce about their innocent exploits, a simmering passion threatens to explode into full blown passion but since Maggie is in the midst of a messy divorce, they attempt to keep their relationship platonic.

When Quinn begins putting the pieces of the various puzzles together, Lillie’s concerns about his objectivity lead her to make a surprising decision about her future.  When the multiple  plotlines finally converge into a violent showdown, she concedes Quinn’s suspicions are, indeed correct, and her expertise is instrumentally in bringing the siege to an end.  In the aftermath, will Lillie change her mind about the events she set into motion during a moment of frustration?

The Fallen is another well-plotted mystery with a storyline that is an accurate reflection of the pervasive political mindset of the deep South today.  Ace Atkins lightens the mood with some laugh out loud funny one-liners as Quinn and Lillie take aim at the corruption and crime that threaten to destroy Tibbehah County. Although this latest release is the seventh installment in the Quinn Colson series, it can easily be read as a standalone.  However, I have to warn readers that the novel’s tantalizing conclusion will leave them  impatiently awaiting the next book in this fantastic series.

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Filed under Ace Atkins, Contemporary, Mystery, Quinn Colson Series, Rated B+, Review, The Fallen

Review: The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson

Title: The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 357 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

With empathy, grace, humor, and piercing insight, the author of gods in Alabama pens a powerful, emotionally resonant novel of the South that confronts the truth about privilege, family, and the distinctions between perception and reality—the stories we tell ourselves about our origins and who we really are.

Superheroes have always been Leia Birch Briggs’ weakness. One tequila-soaked night at a comics convention, the usually level-headed graphic novelist is swept off her barstool by a handsome and anonymous Batman.

It turns out the caped crusader has left her with more than just a nice, fuzzy memory. She’s having a baby boy—an unexpected but not unhappy development in the thirty-eight year-old’s life. But before Leia can break the news of her impending single-motherhood (including the fact that her baby is biracial) to her conventional, Southern family, her step-sister Rachel’s marriage implodes. Worse, she learns her beloved ninety-year-old grandmother, Birchie, is losing her mind, and she’s been hiding her dementia with the help of Wattie, her best friend since girlhood.

Leia returns to Alabama to put her grandmother’s affairs in order, clean out the big Victorian that has been in the Birch family for generations, and tell her family that she’s pregnant. Yet just when Leia thinks she’s got it all under control, she learns that illness is not the only thing Birchie’s been hiding. Tucked in the attic is a dangerous secret with roots that reach all the way back to the Civil War. Its exposure threatens the family’s freedom and future, and it will change everything about how Leia sees herself and her sister, her son and his missing father, and the world she thinks she knows.

Review:

The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson is a poignant and thought-provoking novel of secrets, complicated family relationships and the complexity of race relations the South today.

Just as Leia Birch Briggs is trying to figure how and when to break the news that she is going to become a single mom, her family begins imploding around her. Her “perfect” stepsister Rachel’s marriage is in serious trouble but the biggest blow is the discovery that her beloved ninety year old grandmother Birchie is suffering from Lewy Body dementia. With her thirteen year old niece Lavender in tow, Leia heads to Alabama to help Birchie and her best friend Wattie Price put their affairs in order while (hopefully) convincing them to move into assisted living. However, a stunning discovery sets the town’s tongues  a wagging and an unplanned pregnancy becomes the least of Leia’s concerns as she tries to protect Birchie and Wattie from the repercussions from something that occurred in the very distant past.

Leia is a self-proclaimed nerd who successfully parlayed her love of superheroes and graphic novels into an extremely lucrative career. Her recent attendance at a comic book convention turned out to be a double-edged sword as she enjoys her still unbelievable success as the author of a wildly popular graphic novel while coming face to face with the life she could have been living if not for her fear of getting her heart broken again. This culminates in her out of character decision to drown her sorrows and indulge in a drunken one-night stand with a fan who Leia only knows as Batman (due to his cosplay costume).

Now trying to deal with the consequences of her actions, Leia has barely come to terms with her impending motherhood when she walks into Rachel’s marital disaster. Their relationship is extremely complicated and she is at a loss at how to help Rachel since her stepsister never reveals any weakness to her. In fact, Rachel is typically a force to be reckoned with as she steamrolls her way into “fixing” Leia’s problems.

Distraction arrives in the form of Birchie’s very public meltdown and Leia knows it is past time for her to take a firm hand with Birchie and Wattie. She has barely unpacked when the situation with Birchie spirals out of control and Leia realizes her grandmother is harboring a secret that is much larger and more damaging than her impending motherhood.

With the small town divided along racial lines, Leia experiences an epiphany of sorts that provides her with an answer to a situation she has been wrestling with. It also opens her eyes to the truth about the underlying racial tensions that continue to plague the South in general and her grandmother’s small town in particular. This shocking discovery also leads her to a complicated realization about Wattie that leaves in her a moral quandary about the increasingly complicated situation with her grandmother.

With an astute storyline, delightfully charming characters and a heartwarming small town setting, The Almost Sisters is a riveting novel of healing and new beginnings.  Joshilyn Jackson does not shy away from tough subject matter and she handles these difficult issues with humor, sensitivity and perceptive observations that will resonate with readers. I absolutely loved and highly recommend this incredibly entertaining, insightful and heartfelt story.

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Filed under Contemporary, Fiction, Joshilyn Jackson, Rated B+, Review, The Almost Sisters, William Morrow

Review: Secrets of the Tulip Sisters by Susan Mallery

Title: Secrets of the Tulip Sisters by Susan Mallery
Publisher: HQN Books
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction, Romance
Length: 448 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Don’t miss this heart-warming tale about family, and the unbreakable bond between sisters. From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Daughters of the Bride comes the feel-good novel of the year!

Kelly Murphy’s life as a tulip farmer is pretty routine—up at dawn, off to work, lather, rinse, repeat. But everything changes one sun-washed summer with two dramatic homecomings: Griffith Burnett—Tulpen Crossing’s prodigal son, who’s set his sights on Kelly—and Olivia, her beautiful, wayward and, as far as Kelly is concerned, unwelcome sister. Tempted by Griffith, annoyed by Olivia, Kelly is overwhelmed by the secrets that were so easy to keep when she was alone.

But Olivia’s return isn’t as triumphant as she pretends. Her job has no future, and ever since her dad sent her away from the bad boy she loved, she has felt cut off from her past. She’s determined to reclaim her man and her place in the family…whether her sister likes it or not. For ten years, she and Kelly have been strangers. Olivia will get by without her approval now.

While Kelly and Olivia butt heads, their secrets tumble out in a big hot mess, revealing some truths that will change everything they thought they knew. Can they forgive each other—and themselves—and redefine what it means to be sisters?

Told with Mallery’s trademark heart and humor, the Tulip Sisters are in for the most colorful summer of their lives…

Review:

With a cast of complex characters, a storyline with plenty of depth and just a hint of sizzle, Secrets of the Tulip Sisters by Susan Mallery is a beautiful novel of healing, new beginnings and love.

Kelly Murphy is a no nonsense young woman who works on the family tulip farm with her dad. She is estranged from her younger sister Olivia and their mother. Recently out of a long term relationship, she is a little surprised by how easily she has recovered from their break up. Kelly is a little nonplussed when she begins running into her high school crush Griffith Burnett everywhere she goes in their small town.  She does not know what to think when he suggests they begin seeing each other but she decides she can easily handle a no pressure relationship. However, Kelly’s world is quickly turned upside down when Olivia shows up without warning.

Olivia is at a bit of a crossroads so her boss suggests she take some time off, she decides it is the perfect time to pay a visit to her childhood home. Sent away to boarding school after their parents’ divorce, she has made peace with her father but she and Kelly slowly drifted apart over the years.  At loose ends since she has no interest in the family business, Olivia volunteers to head a fundraiser for a local business and she is pleasantly surprised by the business owners’ receptive response to some of her suggestions to help them bring in more customers. In between getting reacquainted with Kelly and her work on the fundraiser, she finds the time to embark on a no strings fling with a local hottie.

Just as Olivia, Kelly and their father Jeff are becoming comfortable with the changes in their lives, someone from the past unexpectedly shows up and puts everyone on edge.  Jeff goes out of his way to be fair but is he doing the right thing for everyone involved? Olivia and Kelly’s fragile bond is quickly tested and Kelly is not certain she can trust her sister. Olivia is more certain than ever she is ready for a change, but she is in an awkward position as she tries to figure out what she wants to do next. Kelly is not exactly at ease with certain elements of her burgeoning relationship with Griffith and a situation involving her dad  puts her at odds with the one person she trusted without reservation. With so much uncertainty surrounding them, what will the future hold for Kelly and Olivia?

Secrets of the Tulip Sisters is an absolutely charming novel that is heartfelt and engaging.  With a couple of notable exceptions, the wonderfully developed cast of characters undergo a great deal of growth as they face new challenges and repair their fractured relationships. The storyline is engrossing with believable issues for the various characters to overcome.  The romances are incredibly sweet with just the right amount of steam and it is an absolute joy watching the couples open themselves to the possibility of love.  A delightful small town story that old and new fans of Susan Mallery are sure to enjoy.

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Filed under Contemporary, Harlequin, HQN Books, Rated B+, Review, Romance, Secrets of the Tulip Sisters, Susan Mallery, Women's Fiction

Review: His Guilt by Shelley Shepard Gray

Title: His Guilt by Shelley Shepard Gray
The Amish of Hart County Series Book Two
Publisher: Avon Inspire
Genre: Contemporary, Inspirational, Amish, Romance
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Shelley Shepard Gray delivers the next novel in her Amish of Hart County series—a suspenseful tale of an Amish man who will risk all to protect the woman he loves.

Mark Fisher has returned home to Hart County, determined to put the past behind him. Two years ago, after being wrongly accused of assault, he left the Amish community, though never forgot his home. When the one person who had helped him through his rough times asks for help, Mark returns. But it is pretty Waneta Cain who makes him want to stay…

Neeta is one of the few people in Hart County who doesn’t believe Mark is guilty of hurting anyone. However, his worldliness and tough exterior do make her uneasy. As she begins to see the real man behind all the gossip and prejudice, she wonders if he is the man for her.

Just when Mark starts to believe a new life is possible, a close friend of Neeta’s is attacked. Once again, everyone in the community seems to believe he is guilty.  But what hurts most is Neeta’s sudden wariness around him. When another woman is hurt, a woman who is close to both Neeta and himself, Mark fears he knows the real culprit. And time is running out. Will Mark be able to find him before Neeta becomes his next victim?

Review:

In His Guilt, Shelley Shepard Gray’s insightful storyline about the effects of gossip and judgmental attitudes will give readers a lot to think about. Although this latest thought-provoking release is the second installment in the The Amish of Hart County series, it can easily be read as a standalone.

Two years earlier, Mark Fisher was questioned by the Sheriff about a brutal assault on a young woman in the community. He was ultimately cleared of any involvement in the case and he moved away soon after. He has recently returned to Hart County in order to work with Henry Lehman, the one person who has always supported and believed in him. His co-worker, Waneta “Neeta” Cain is initially a little anxious in his presence, but once she gets to know Mark, will she realize everyone’s fears about him are unfounded?

Although they grew up in the same Amish community, Mark and Neeta’s life experiences are very different.Mark’s childhood was extremely dysfunctional and his parents were abusive and neglected both him and his younger brother Calvin. Unlike Mark, Neeta’s parents were nothing but loving and the three of them are still quite close. As an adult, she remains devoted to them but will their relationship withstand their quick judgment against Mark?

When another young woman in the community is attacked, Mark is once again indicted in the court of public opinion. However, gifted preacher Eli delivers a powerful sermon about the dangers of gossip and judging others, but will his flock take his lessons to heart? Fortunately there are some members who are willing to admit they are wrong but when the Sheriff fails to make an arrest and the perpetrator strikes again, will Mark be able to prove his innocence?

His Guilt is a heartwarming romance with a hard-hitting storyline that is not typically found in Amish fiction.Shelley Shepard Gray broaches difficult subject matter with sensitivity and deftly highlights the fact that not even peaceful, religious communities are exempt from violence, child abuse and malicious gossip. Mark carries a terrible burden as he tries to overcome his dysfunctional past and he struggles to feel worthy of the unconditional love and support of the people in his life. Despite her strong conviction in her faith, Neeta must face her own shortcomings as the events unfold within the close-knit community. This latest addition to The Amish of Hart County series is a beautifully delivered lesson in forgiveness that also carries a timely reminder to avoid gossip and harsh judgment of others.

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Filed under Amish, Avon Inspire, Contemporary, His Guilt, Inspirational, Rated B+, Review, Romance, Shelley Shepard Gray, The Amish of Hart County Series

Review: The Lightkeeper’s Daughters by Jean E. Pendziwol

Title: The Lightkeeper’s Daughters by Jean E.Pendziwol
Publisher: Harper
Genre: Contemporary, Historical, Fiction
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

With the haunting atmosphere and emotional power of The Language of Flowers, Orphan Train, and The Light Between Oceans, critically acclaimed children’s author Jean E. Pendziwol’s adult debut is an affecting story of family, identity, and art that involves a decades-old mystery.

Though her mind is still sharp, Elizabeth’s eyes have failed. No longer able to linger over her beloved books or gaze at the paintings that move her spirit, she fills the void with music and memories of her family, especially her beloved twin sister, Emily. When her late father’s journals are discovered after an accident, the past suddenly becomes all too present.

With the help of Morgan, a delinquent teenager performing community service at her senior home, Elizabeth goes through the diaries, a journey through time that brings the two women closer together. Entry by entry, these unlikely friends are drawn deep into a world far removed from their own, to Porphyry Island on Lake Superior, where Elizabeth’s father manned the lighthouse and raised his young family seventy years before.

As the words on these musty pages come alive, Elizabeth and Morgan begin to realize that their fates are connected to the isolated island in ways they never dreamed. While the discovery of Morgan’s connection sheds light onto her own family mysteries, the faded pages of the journals will shake the foundation of everything Elizabeth thinks she knows and bring the secrets of the past into the light.

Review:

Weaving back and forth in time, The Lightkeeper’s Daughters by Jean E. Pendziwol is a poignant novel about an elderly woman’s childhood on Porphyry Island and the troubled teen who helps her piece together long ago events from her past.

After her beloved grandfather death, Morgan Fletcher becomes a ward of the state. After becoming involved with a bad crowd, she is caught spraying graffiti on the fence of an assisted living facility. Handed a community service sentence to clean up her handiwork, Morgan meets Elizabeth Livingstone, who lives in the facility. After living abroad for much of adult life, Elizabeth wanted to spend her remaining years close to Lake Superior and the island where she grew up. The recent discovery of the personal diaries her father kept while he was the lightkeeper on Porphyry Island leaves her hopeful she will finally find answers about her childhood. However, due to her failing eyesight, Elizabeth asks Morgan to read the entries to her. Will Elizabeth find the answers she is searching for? And by helping Elizabeth, will Morgan find a measure of happiness that has eluded her since her grandfather passed away?

Life has not been easy for Morgan and past heartbreak has taught her not to become too attached to anyone.  She is currently on a somewhat self-destructive path after meeting Derrick, a young man who is only looking out for himself.  Morgan has a negative attitude when she begins her community service so she is surprised to find herself drawn to Elizabeth.  Intrigued by the unfolding drama as she reads the diary entries aloud, Morgan is quickly caught up the long ago events surrounding Elizabeth’s life on Porphyry Island.

Despite some very harsh living conditions, Elizabeth’s childhood on Porphyry Island  was somewhat idyllic. She and her twin sister Emily were inseparable and  Elizabeth knew from a young age she needed to watch out for her artistically gifted but ever silent sibling.  During her childhood, an overheard conversation between her parents and her inexplicable discovery on a neighboring island raise several questions that Elizabeth never receives answers for.  Will Elizabeth find the truth about her past in her father’s journals?

The Lightkeeper’s Daughters is an incredibly atmospheric story that is quite captivating. Morgan is initially quite prickly with a bad attitude but spending time with Elizabeth helps smooth over her rough edges. Elizabeth is incredibly patient with her new companion and her wry observations and keen insights are instrumental in Morgan’s transformation.  Jean E. Pendziwol brings the past vibrantly to life through the journal entries and these glimpses into lightkeeping duties on an isolated island are quite fascinating and educational.  With surprising twists and turns, the novel comes to a heartwarming conclusion that will delight readers.

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Filed under Contemporary, Fiction, Harper, Historical, Jean Pendziwol, Rated B+, Review, The Lightkeeper's Daughters

Review: UNSUB by Meg Gardiner

Title: UNSUB by Meg Gardiner
UNSUB Series Book One
Publisher: Dutton
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 381 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Penguin’s First to Read Program

Summary:

A riveting psychological thriller inspired by the never-caught Zodiac Killer, about a young detective determined to apprehend the serial murderer who destroyed her family and terrorized a city twenty years earlier.

Caitlin Hendrix has been a Narcotics detective for six months when the killer at the heart of all her childhood nightmares reemerges: the Prophet. An UNSUB—what the FBI calls an unknown subject—the Prophet terrorized the Bay Area in the 1990s and nearly destroyed her father, the lead investigator on the case.

The Prophet’s cryptic messages and mind games drove Detective Mack Hendrix to the brink of madness, and Mack’s failure to solve the series of ritualized murders—eleven seemingly unconnected victims left with the ancient sign for Mercury etched into their flesh—was the final nail in the coffin for a once promising career.

Twenty years later, two bodies are found bearing the haunting signature of the Prophet. Caitlin Hendrix has never escaped the shadow of her father’s failure to protect their city. But now the ruthless madman is killing again and has set his sights on her, threatening to undermine the fragile barrier she rigidly maintains for her own protection, between relentless pursuit and dangerous obsession.

Determined to decipher his twisted messages and stop the carnage, Caitlin ignores her father’s warnings as she draws closer to the killer with each new gruesome murder. Is it a copycat, or can this really be the same Prophet who haunted her childhood? Will Caitlin avoid repeating her father’s mistakes and redeem her family name, or will chasing the Prophet drag her and everyone she loves into the depths of the abyss?

Review:

The first book in a new mystery series, UNSUB by Meg Gardiner is a high-octane police procedural about the search for a chilling serial killer known as the Prophet.

When a gruesome murder scene appears to indicate the Prophet has inexplicably begun killing after a twenty year absence, homicide detectives turn to narcotics Detective Caitlyn Hendrix for assistance.  Caitlyn’s father, Mack Hendrix, worked the original investigation so police hope she can offer insight into the current case.  Caitlyn is soon hard at work attempting to solve the cryptic message the killer leaves behind but can she succeed where her father failed and bring the killer to justice?

Caitlyn is incredibly smart but she is still an inexperienced detective.  She also has a personal connection to the case which has the potential to cloud her judgment during the investigation. The first order of business is to figure out if the current murders are the work of a copycat and if not, why did the murders stop?  Caitlyn is extremely focused as she attempts to figure out the meaning of the Prophet’s messages but she has made little progress when he strikes again.

The investigation has barely begun as the Prophet claims more victims.  The murders are increasingly violent and carefully staged.  Caitlyn is having a difficult remaining detached as the pressure mounts to understand the reason for the murders.  The case takes a personal turn when Caitlyn’s boyfriend, ATF agent Sean Rawlins, goes missing right after she finally discovers the Prophet’s motivation for the murders, the cryptic messages and the elaborate staging at the crime scenes. With very little information to go on, Caitlyn, Mack and the rest of the team are in a race against time to locate Sean before it is too late.

UNSUB is an unbelievably fast-paced and engrossing police procedural. Meg Gardiner ratchets up the tension with back to back murders, enigmatic clues and increasingly grotesque staging at the crime scenes. The novel comes to an adrenaline-filled, pulse pounding conclusion that neatly sets up the next book in the series.

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Filed under Contemporary, Dutton, Meg Gardiner, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, Suspense, UNSUB, UNSUB Series