Category Archives: Rated B+

Review: Left to Chance by Amy Sue Nathan

Title: Left to Chance by Amy Sue Nathan
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: 288 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

No one knows why Teddi Lerner left her hometown, but everyone knows why she’s back.

Twelve-year-old Shayna— talented, persistent, and adorable—persuaded “Aunt Tee” to return to Chance, Ohio, to photograph her father’s wedding. Even though it’s been six years since Shay’s mother, Celia, died, Teddi can hardly bear the thought of her best friend’s husband marrying someone else. But Teddi’s bond with Shay is stronger than the hurt.

Teddi knows it’s time to face the consequences of her hasty retreat from family, friends, and, her old flame, but when she looks through her viewfinder, nothing in her small town looks the same. That’s when she truly sees the hurt she’s caused and—maybe—how to fix it.

After the man she once loved accuses Teddi of forgetting Celia, Teddi finally admits why she ran away, and the guilt she’s carried with her. As Teddi relinquishes the distance that kept her safe, she’ll discover surprising truths about the people she left behind, and herself. And she’ll finally see what she overlooked all along.

Review:

Left to Chance by Amy Sue Nathan is an emotionally compelling and poignant journey of healing and forgiveness.

In the six years since leaving her small hometown of Chance, OH, Teddi Lerner has become a renowned wedding photographer who travels frequently for her job. Returning to Chance, she is forced to deal with her guilt over the way she left town along with her still unresolved grief from her best friend Celia Cooper’s death.  Teddi also much face the consequences from her decision not to return to visit as she is reminded at every turn that her choice to leave had unintended consequences for several of her relationships, including Celia’s younger brother, Beck, and Celia’s husband Miles. She is also quick to notice that her twelve year old honorary niece Shanya “Shay” is struggling to accept her father’s upcoming marriage while also dealing with an uncomfortable situation with some of her classmates.   Will reconnecting with her past help Teddi decide what she wants for her future?

Teddi is immediately struck by the outward changes to Chance since the town has grown and prospered in the six years she has been gone.  However, just as quickly, she discovers the townspeople are much the same as she reconnects with her friend, Josie Fields and former neighbor Cameron Davis. Everyone still knows everyone else’s business and a few residents are prone to malicious gossip. But the most painful change Teddi struggles to deal with is the constant reminders her best friend is gone and that her relationships with Miles and Beck are irrevocably altered.  She is also stunned to learn that the distance between them is more than physical once Teddi learns the truth about  some of the challenges they have faced in her absence.

With a sympathetic lead protagonist, an outstanding cast of secondary characters and a thought-provoking storyline,  Left to Chance is a heartwarming novel about making peace with a tragic loss. Teddi holds her reasons for leaving town close as she traverses the emotional minefield awaiting her in the week leading up to the wedding.  She is extremely contemplative as she faces her painful memories while attempting to decide what she wants for her future. Endearing reunions with family members and friends prove to be a soothing balm for her unresolved pain and grief. Amy Sue Nathan easily grabs hold of readers’ attention and hearts with this captivating novel of redemption.

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Filed under Amy Sue Nathan, Contemporary, Left to Chance, Rated B+, Review, St Martin's Griffin, Women's Fiction

Review: Bonfire by Krysten Ritter

Title: Bonfire by Krysten Ritter
Publisher: Crown Archetype
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 288 pages
Book Rating: B+

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

Summary:

Can you ever outrun your past?

From actress, producer, and writer Krysten Ritter, a gripping, tightly wound suspense novel about a woman forced to confront her past in the wake of small-town corruption

It has been ten years since Abby Williams left home and scrubbed away all visible evidence of her small-town roots. Now working as an environmental lawyer in Chicago, she has a thriving career, a modern apartment, and her pick of meaningless one-night stands.

But when a new case takes her back home to Barrens, Indiana, the life Abby painstakingly created begins to crack. Tasked with investigating Optimal Plastics, the town’s most high-profile company and economic heart, Abby begins to find strange connections to Barrens’s biggest scandal from more than a decade ago, involving the popular Kaycee Mitchell and her closest friends—just before Kaycee disappeared for good.

Abby knows the key to solving any case lies in the weak spots, the unanswered questions. But as she tries desperately to find out what really happened to Kaycee, troubling memories begin to resurface and she begins to doubt her own observations. And when she unearths an even more disturbing secret—a ritual called “The Game”—it will threaten reputations, and lives, in the community and risk exposing a darkness that may consume her.

With tantalizing twists, slow-burning suspense, and a remote rural town of just five claustrophobic square miles, Bonfire is a dark exploration of what happens when your past and present collide.

Review:

Bonfire by Krysten Ritter is a superb debut mystery about an investigation into whether or not a rural town’s beloved savior, Optimal Plastics, is poisoning the towns’ residents.

Ten years ago, Abby Williams could not leave  Barrens, Indiana fast enough. Ten years later, she is returning to help investigate claims that the town’s largest employer and benefactor is responsible for polluting the water supply. She must also face many of her demons: memories of the horrible bullying she endured throughout high school, her former best friend turned nemesis Kaycee Mitchell’s disappearance and her relationship with her estranged father.  While not much has changed in her absence, there are a few surprises awaiting Abby as she discovers her father is almost unrecognizable due to his frail health and the biggest mean girl from her past, Misha Dale Jennings, is  the assistant principal of their alma mater. She is also still drawn her high school crush Brent O’Connell, but she cannot deny her attraction to former bad boy, Dave Condor. With her best friend and co-worker, Joe Carter at her side, Abby and the rest of the team meet plenty of opposition as they begin their investigation of Optimal Plastics.

Abby must face the ghosts of her past right from the minute she arrives in town. She runs into Misha right away and while distrustful, she immediately experiences doubts that her memories of their shared past are accurate. She does not let her confusion get in the way of her job and despite the community’s lack of co-operation, she is undeterred as she tries to get to the truth about Optimal. Help from an unexpected ally proves to be instrumental in her investigation and Abbby slowly but surely begins to unearth very troubling details about the company. She also interviews a crucial witness whose information is eerily reminiscent of an unsavory game that destroyed many of her classmates’ reputations during high school.  While Joe wants Abby to concentrate on events occurring in the present, Abby cannot shake her conviction that much of what is happening now is inexplicably connected to  the things that happened in the past. Certain that locating Kaycee Mitchell will provide her with the answers she is searching for, Abby is undeterred as she tries to locate the missing woman.

Abby is initially professional and focused on the task at hand, but the darkness from her past quickly engulfs her. Unable to shake off her  disturbing memories,  her drinking soon spirals out of control and she begins making some very questionable decisions that could jeopardize their investigation. Abby must also deal with an unexpected situation with her father while her efforts to efforts to unearth the truth about Optimal lead to a jaw-dropping discovery.

Bonfire is  a riveting mystery with a well-developed, topical storyline. Abby is a flawed but sympathetic protagonist who quickly discovers the only way to rid herself of her demons is to face them head on. Krysten Ritter brings this remarkable debut to an action-packed conclusion that is ultimately quite healing for Abby. Fans of the genre will enjoy this engaging, fast-paced mystery.

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Filed under Bonfire, Contest, Crown Archetype, Krysten Ritter, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, Suspense

Review: The Missing by C.L. Taylor

Title: The Missing by C.L. Taylor
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 496 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

In this harrowing psychological thriller about a missing teenage boy whose mother must expose the secrets within their own family if she wants to find her son—perfect for fans of Reconstructing Amelia.

You love your family. They make you feel safe. You trust them. Or do you…?

When fifteen-year-old Billy Wilkinson goes missing in the middle of the night, his mother, Claire Wilkinson, blames herself. She’s not the only one. There isn’t a single member of Billy’s family that doesn’t feel guilty. But the Wilkinsons are so used to keeping secrets from one another that it isn’t until six months later, after an appeal for information goes horribly wrong, that the truth begins to surface.

Claire is sure of two things—that Billy is still alive and that her friends and family had nothing to do with his disappearance.

A mother’s instinct is never wrong. Or is it…?

Combining an unreliable narrator and fast-paced storytelling, The Missing is a chilling novel of psychological suspense that will thoroughly captivate and obsess readers.

Review:

The Missing by C.L. Taylor is an incredibly fast-paced and suspenseful mystery about a missing fifteen year old and his mother’s attempts to locate him.

Six months after their son Billy vanished without a trace, Claire Wilkinson and her husband Mark are making a another media appearance in hopes of uncovering new information. When their appeal is derailed by their nineteen year old Jake’s drunken behavior, the family becomes even more fractured than before. Jake turns to drink to help him cope, his girlfriend, Kira Simmons, who lives with the family, loses herself in her college classes and Mark continues traveling for work. However, Claire begins experiencing inexplicable episodes of amnesia that while deeply troubling, do not distract her from her increasingly frantic efforts to locate Billy.

Written primarily from Claire’s perspective, her anguish and worry are palpable as she remains convinced Billy will safely return home. In the aftermath of her first terrifying fugue state, she is of course very concerned about what happened to her, but she does not allow this to keep her doing everything possible to unearth new leads about Billy. Her desperation leads to some very questionable decisions that put her into potentially dangerous situations. Claire refuses to give up hope that Billy is alive and as she tries to find out the truth about what happened to her son, she gradually realizes that she does not know her loved ones as well as she thought.

The unfolding story is interspersed with message exchanges between two unknown people that take place during the months leading up to Billy’s disappearance. While it is somewhat easy to surmise one of the authors of the messages is most likely Billy, the other person’s identity remains shrouded in mystery. These messages offer a distressing snapshot of Billy’s activities with this person and they also provide an intriguing peek into his strained relationships at home.

The Missing is an absolutely spellbinding mystery with a clever plot and a sympathetic yet increasingly unreliable narrator. C.L. Taylor brilliantly keeps readers guessing about whether or not Billy is alive and who might be responsible for his disappearance. The message exchanges are thought-provoking and provide fascinating insight into Billy’s life in the months before he vanished. However, the truth about what happened to him is cunningly concealed until the very dramatic and positively stunning conclusion. I highly scintillating psychological thriller to fans of the genre.

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Filed under CL Taylor, Contemporary, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, Suspense, The Missing, William Morrow Paperbacks

Review: Unholy City by Carrie Smith

Title: Unholy City by Carrie Smith
Claire Codella Mystery Series Book Three
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 310 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Despite their rocky history, Detective Claire Codella and Precinct Detective Brian Haggerty come together when senior churchwarden Philip Graves’s bloody body is found lying in the herb garden of historic St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Manhattan’s Upper West Side just two days before Good Friday. Upon first glance, it looks like a random act of big city violence, but it soon becomes clear churchwarden Philip’s death was the result of a meticulously calculated ploy by someone who knew him.

There are five vestry members and a choir director in addition to the ten homeless men asleep in the church basement. Any one of them could have done it, but what did Philip Graves do to warrant such a merciless death? Struggling to share the case and salvage their personal relationship, Claire, Brian and trusted Detective Eduardo Muñoz work around the clock to uncloak the desires, secrets, and resentments that find home through the iron gates and into the hidden beauty of one historic Romanesque church in Unholy City, the haunting third installment in Carrie Smith’s Claire Codella mysteries.

Review:

In Unholy City, the third outing in Carrie Smith’s brilliant Claire Codella Mystery series, prominent members of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church fall under suspicion following the murder of churhwarden Philip Graves. This newest release can be read as a standalone, but I HIGHLY recommend the previous novels as well.

Following a vestry meeting, Rose Bartruff discovers Philip’s body in the church’s herb garden. Fellow committee member Dr. Susan Bentley performs CPR to no avail. Detective Brian Haggerty catches the case, but upon discovering Philip’s death was due to foul play, his former partner and current girlfriend Detective Claire Codella is called in to investigate. Immediately discovering the body of church secretary, Emily Flounders, Claire adds Detective Eduardo Munoz to her team. Between the three detectives, they interview Roger Sturgis, Peter Linton, Vivian Wakefield, Rector Anna Brookes, Todd Brookes and Stephanie Lund. While they do not immediately uncover a viable suspect or motive for the murders, Claire is certain that, other than Rose, no one is being completely honest with them. Will Codella, Haggerty and Munoz uncover the truth before the killer strikes again?

Although she is completely recovered from her cancer treatments, Claire continues to navigate her often contentious relationship with her boss Lt. Dennis McGowan.  Ducking him as much as possible, she concentrates on interviewing suspects and following leads as she, Haggerty and Munoz try to zero in on what happened during the vestry meeting at the church. Feeling confident Rose is the only person from the meeting who is not hiding anything, Claire wants to know what happened during a crucial fifteen minute block of time when Rose was out of the room. Haggerty feels like Anna might be their weakest link since it obvious she has something to get off her chest, but will she find the courage to spill her secrets? Anna’s husband Todd was not present at the meeting but his sudden appearance during the investigation puts him on the suspect list too. Long time member and junior churchwarden, Vivian is upset about Philip’s plans to raise much needed revenue, but would she murder him to protect the church? Vivian’s nephew-in-law Roger is definitely hiding something, but how far would he go to keep his secret from being discovered? Susan is agonizing over what the murder investigation will reveal about her life, but is she responsible for killing Philip?  Peter is furious that his proposal to bring in money through the cemetery and crematorium is struck down but is he angry enough to kill Philip for presenting another means for raising money?

With three puzzling murders, a vast pool of suspects  and no obvious motive, Unholy City is an intriguing police procedural. Despite juggling her new romance with Haggery and her tense relationship with McGowan, Claire remains intensely focused on uncovering the truth about Philip and Emily’s deaths. The investigation moves at an even pace with Carrie Smith cleverly concealing the killer’s identity and motive for the murders until the novel’s exciting, action-packed conclusion. I greatly enjoyed and highly recommend this outstanding addition to the Claire Codella Mystery series to fans of the genre.

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Filed under Carrie Smith, Claire Codella Mystery Series, Contemporary, Crooked Lane Books, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, Suspense, Unholy City

Review: The Kill Circle by David Freed

Title: The Kill Circle by David Freed
Cordell Logan Mystery Series Book Six
Publisher: Permanent Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 280 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by the Author

Summary:

When retired senior CIA analyst Rico Perris plunges off a cliff in his vintage Porsche while speeding through the mountains of Colorado late one snowy night, the local sheriff rules it an accident. CIA officials, however, suspect otherwise. Their suspicions are soon heightened after two other former intelligence analysts turn up dead under questionable circumstances. All three victims were once assigned to the same top-secret project an internal review of the CIA’s long-rumored involvement in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Now, with a Congressional mandate about to go into effect compelling the CIA to release long-secret files relating to the assassination, there is growing concern that a shrewd and ruthless killer is on the loose, one who will stop at nothing to prevent the public from discovering the truth of what happened that tragic day in Dallas in November, 1963.

Veteran pilot, aspiring Buddhist and ex-government assassin Cordell Logan has little interest in helping his former comrade-in-arms, Buzz, who still works in the intelligence community, investigate what looks increasingly like a vexing conspiracy. Content to operate his small civilian flight school in the swanky seaside resort of Rancho Bonita, California, Logan would just as soon be left alone that is, until Buzz introduces him to Layne Sterling, a brilliant and beautiful CIA agent assigned to the case. Logan is instantly drawn to her. Working together while pretending to ignore their simmering mutual attraction, they soon find themselves caught up in a high-stakes, high-altitude cat-and-mouse game, one that in the end could destroy them both.

Fast-paced, brimming with action and humor, The Kill Circle is a page-turner of the first order, the sixth offering in a series of mystery-thrillers that has earned Cordell Logan and author David Freed a legion of loyal readers and critics alike.

Review:

David Freed’s latest release, The Kill Circle, is another clever and riveting installment in the always entertaining Cordell Logan Mystery series.

Cordell finds it surprisingly easy to refuse CIA agent Layne Sterling’s request to help look into the recent death of former CIA analyst Rico Perris.  On the surface, his untimely demise appears to be nothing more than a car accident but considering another retired agent, Joe Zyra, also died recently, the CIA is carefully scrutinizing both deaths. After Logan’s friend and former colleague Buzz reads him the riot act, Cordell reluctantly agrees  to work with Layne. Discovering Perris and Zyra formerly worked on a top secret project about John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Logan cannot help but wonder: is it a coincidence that both men died just as formerly unreleased files about JFK’s death are about to be released?  Cordell and Sterling soon head to Colorado to find out the answer to that very intriguing question.

Logan and Sterling’s investigation begins by interviewing local Sheriff Harlan Weber, who has ruled Rico’s death an accident. On the surface, Weber appears to be a devoted grandfather and stellar lawman, but knowing the sheriff’s somewhat checkered history, Cordell is less than convinced Harlan is squeaky clean.  Cordell strikes out his own to collect evidence and  after he is reunited with Sterling, they quickly find themselves in Weber’s crosshairs as he tries to intimidate them into abandoning their investigation.

Although Logan and Sterling are having difficulty finding definitive evidence of foul play, they do uncover enough puzzling information that convinces them to continue their investigation.  Details provided by Perris’s live-in girlfriend send the crime-fighting duo to Denver where they run up against local law enforcement.  With the clock ticking on the investigation as they fail to find proof that Rico was murdered, Logan doggedly stays on the case after learning some their evidence has gone missing. Returning to Weber’s territory, Cordell tries to remain under the radar as he re-interviews people connected to Rico and he slowly but surely begins untangling the details of this perplexing case.

With a puzzling death to investigate, plenty of action and surprising plot twists,  The Kill Circle is a well-plotted and briskly paced addition to the Cordell Logan Mysteries series.  Logan is a seasoned amateur sleuth with keen instincts, a sharp intellect and an inability to leave a job unfinished.  In this sixth outing, David Freed keeps the series fresh through the introduction new characters and a creative storyline. This fantastic whodunit comes a twist-filled, unexpected conclusion that is impossible to predict.  The novel ends with a tantalizing proposition that will leave readers eagerly awaiting the next installment in the series.

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Filed under Contemporary, Cordell Logan Mystery Series, David Freed, Mystery, Permanent Press, Rated B+, Review, Suspense, The Kill Circle

Review: Righteous by Joe Ide

Title: Righteous by Joe Ide
IQ Series Book Two
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 336 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

In this hotly anticipated follow-up to the smash hit IQ, a New York Times Critics’ Best of the Year and nominee for the Best First Novel Edgar Award, Isaiah uncovers a secret behind the death of his brother, Marcus.

For ten years, something has gnawed at Isaiah Quintabe’s gut and kept him up nights, boiling with anger and thoughts of revenge. Ten years ago, when Isaiah was just a boy, his brother was killed by an unknown assailant. The search for the killer sent Isaiah plunging into despair and nearly destroyed his life. Even with a flourishing career, a new dog, and near-iconic status as a PI in his hometown, East Long Beach, he has to begin the hunt again-or lose his mind.

A case takes him and his volatile, dubious sidekick, Dodson, to Vegas, where Chinese gangsters and a terrifying seven-foot loan shark are stalking a DJ and her screwball boyfriend. If Isaiah doesn’t find the two first, they’ll be murdered. Awaiting the outcome is the love of IQ’s life: fail, and he’ll lose her. Isaiah’s quest is fraught with treachery, menace, and startling twists, and it will lead him to the mastermind behind his brother’s death, Isaiah’s own sinister Moriarty.

With even more action, suspense, and mind-bending mysteries than Isaiah’s first adventures, Righteousis a rollicking, ingenious thrill ride.

Review:

In Joe Ide’s Righteous, brilliant detective Isaiah Quintabe (aka IQ) finds himself working two cases that are extremely personal since they both have links to his beloved brother Marcus who died in a tragic hit and run several years earlier. This second installment in the gritty private detective series, IQ, is a suspenseful mystery that easily stands on its own but I highly recommend the first novel as well.

This latest outing picks up where the previous novel left off and having discovered the car from the hit and run that killed Marcus, Isaiah is more determined than ever to find the person responsible. After closely examining the contents inside the car, he stumbles onto a startling realization about the hit and run. Beginning his investigation with his straight as an arrow brother’s business records,  his search for the truth takes him in a surprising direction. As he gets closer to figuring out who is responsible for Marcus’s death, Isaiah’s perception of his brother is forever changed. And his quest for vengeance puts him in a moral quandary as Isaiah questions suspects and eventually comes face to face with his brother’s killer.

While delving into his brother’s past, Marcus’s girlfriend at the time of his death, Sarita Van, reaches out to Isaiah to look into her half-sister Janine’s troubles in Las Vegas. Janine and her ne’er-do-well boyfriend Benny have racked up a huge debt with a loan shark and their harebrained scheme to extort money puts them in the path of Chinese gangsters from the 14K Triad. Isaiah enlists the aid of his former partner in crime, Juanell Dodson, and they quickly travel to Vegas in order to save Janine. Their rescue attempt immediately runs into trouble since the 14K is gunning for both Janine and Benny.

With with the Triad and the loan sharks hot on their heels, Isaiah and Dodson must use every skill they possess as they try to keep Janine out of harm’s way following Benny’s disappearance. Since Isaiah a little off his game as he comes to terms with the revelations about Marcus and Dodson is trying to outthink and outmaneuver him, their collaboration is full of tension and friction as they try to stay one step ahead of the gangsters. But when the case takes a detour that hits extremely close to home, will Isaiah and Dodson put aside their differences before it is too late?

In the aftermath of both cases, Isaiah is forced to take stock of his life when his hopes and dreams are dashed after a rude reality check. A loner by choice, he is shocked by a proposition from Dodson whose plan is surprisingly well thought out and provides Isaiah with a way to make more money while still helping the people in his community.

Righteous is an engrossing, action-packed mystery with an immensely appealing lead protagonist. While Isaiah is not prone to much introspection, the events that unfold during this latest installment of the IQ series will force him to step out of comfort zone. With the chapters alternating back and forth between Isaiah’s search for Marcus’s killer and trying to keep Janine out of harm’s way, Joe Ide brings the novel to an unexpected conclusion. I greatly enjoyed this extremely clever novel and I highly recommend it to fans of the genre.

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Filed under Contemporary, IQ Series, Joe Ide, Mullholland Books, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, Righteous, Suspense