Category Archives: Rated C+

Review: Poison by Galt Niederhoffer

Title: Poison by Galt Niederhoffer
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: C+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Cass and Ryan Connor have achieved family nirvana. With three kids between them, a cat and a yard, a home they built and feathered, they seem to have the Modern Family dream. Their family, including Cass’ two children from previous relationships, has recently moved to Portland —a new start for their new lives. Cass and Ryan have stable, successful careers, and they are happy. But trouble begins almost imperceptibly. First with small omissions and white lies that happen daily in any marital bedroom. They seem insignificant, but they are quickly followed by a series of denials and feints that mushroom and then cyclone in menace.

With life-or-death stakes and irreversible consequences, Poison is a chilling and irresistible reminder that the closest bond designed to protect and provide for each other and for children can change in a minute.

Review:

Poison by Galt Niederhoffer is an inventive domestic mystery about a woman who is being gaslighted by her husband.

At first glance, Cass and Ryan Connor have the perfect marriage.  The couple relocated to a suburb of Seattle with Cass’s two children from her first marriage, seven year old Pete and ten year old Alice, along with their son, two year old Sam. The children adore Ryan, who is spontaneous and playful, but Cass finds these traits a bit annoying since he sometimes disrupts the kids’ routines. Ryan is the family’s main breadwinner but Cass also works outside the home as a college professor. Despite their outward happy appearance, their marriage has deep cracks that widen after Cass begins to suspect Ryan is having an affair.

Cass is an award winning journalist who sometimes yearns for the career she willingly gave up to raise her children after her marriage to Ryan. She is still strongly attracted to Ryan and even after she catches him in a lie, this never changes. Cass is stunned by the sudden changes in Ryan’s behavior but even in the aftermath of a shocking threat, she remains under his spell. As the tension mounts between them and her health rapidly deteriorates, Cass gradually begins to realize she has completely ignored rather unsavory aspects of Ryan’s personality.

As her marriage takes a dark turn, Cass becomes more isolated and rather helpless as she becomes a victim of both Ryan and the legal system. Her judgment is seriously skewed as she puts her trust in the wrong people then makes questionable decisions that endanger not only herself but her children. With her situation becoming increasingly dire, Cass finds herself in the crosshairs of a diabolical man who will do absolutely anything to win.

While the plot is unique, Poison is a slow-moving novel that quickly becomes bogged down in long passages of wordy narration that lacks much action or dialogue. Galt Niederhoffer brilliantly highlights societal issues regarding crimes against women and how they are often victimized as they attempt to seek justice.   Readers will have to suspend disbelief as the novel wends its way to a somewhat dissatisfying and abrupt conclusion that does not completely wrap up all of the dangling threads.

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Filed under Contemporary, Galt Niederhoffer, Mystery, Poison, Rated C+, Review, St Martin's Press, Suspense

Review: Back in the Game by Erin Kern

Title: Back in the Game by Erin Kern
Champion Valley Series Book Two
Publisher: Forever
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 352 pages
Book Rating: C+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

WHEN YOU PLAY FOR LOVE, YOU PLAY FOR KEEPS

Stella Davenport wasn’t made for small-town life. Sure, teaching ballet in Blanco Valley, Colorado, is great, but she longs for the chance to perform in a big city. Stella swore she’d never let anything get in the way of her dream-until sexy, broad-shouldered Brandon West walks back into her life. Stella is determined to resist him, even if arguing with Brandon is sexier than any foreplay.

For Brandon, it’s always been just him and his son, Matt. Knowing that love only leads to heartbreak, he isn’t looking to expand his family any time soon. Stella, with her long, gorgeous legs and infectious laugh, is a breath of fresh air he didn’t even know he’d been missing. But when she’s offered her dream job in Chicago, will he be willing to put his heart on the line?

Review:

Back in the Game by Erin Kern is a somewhat angsty romance between two protagonists who are both carrying A LOT of baggage. This second installment in the Champion Valley series can be read as a standalone but the failed date between the couple in this outing occurred in the first book in the series.

Respective events from both Stella Davenport and Brandon West’s pasts continue to affect them well into adulthood. Stella’s childhood with her flighty and inattentive mother and a traumatic event that occurred when she was a teenager have left her with claustrophobia and anxiety. Following a career ending injury and a shocking break up, she moved to Colorado where she  has built a thriving business as a ballet instructor. Although it has been a year since Stella’s disastrous date with Brandon, her attraction to him burns hotter than ever.

Single dad Brandon is struggling with his son Matt’s plans to leave Colorado after graduation to attend college and play football in Texas. He is desperately hoping Matt avoids some of the missteps he made at the same age so Brandon is a little overprotective of his son.  With little time, energy or desire to date since his long ago divorce, he finds it impossible to stay away from Stella but will his unresolved issues from his relationship with his ex-wife prevent him from giving a relationship with Stella chance?

Stella and Brandon are interesting characters but readers will have to suspend disbelief to enjoy their romance. They have not spent much time in each other’s company yet, with just one glance, Brandon seems to magically “know” about Stella’s struggles with anxiety and panic attacks. While their banter is initially amusing, it becomes extremely frustrating since they both use humor and sarcasm to avoid discussing their respective issues which gives their scenes together a superficial feel. Their inner monologues also lack much depth since they mainly focus on their sizzling hot desire for each other.  They do not date in the traditional sense because their interactions mainly consist of accidental meetings around town. Overall, Stella and Brandon’s romance feels superficial and somewhat rushed due to the reliance on contrived encounters instead of actually dating. It also does not help that the novel takes place over a rather short amount of time.

Although the romance element in Back in the Game is underwhelming, both Stella and Brandon undergo tremendous character growth. Brandon’s son Matt is brilliantly developed and he manages to steal every scene he appears in.  Erin Kern brings the novel to a heartwarming conclusion that will satisfy old and new fans of the Champion Valley series.

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Filed under Champion Valley Series, Contemporary, Erin Kelly, Forever, Rated C+, Review, Romance

Review: Little Secrets by Anna Snoekstra

Title: Little Secrets by Anna Snoekstra
Publisher: MIRA
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 336 pages
Book Rating: C+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

What happens when ambition trumps the truth?

A town reeling in the wake of tragedy

An arsonist is on the loose in Colmstock, Australia, most recently burning down the town’s courthouse and killing a young boy who was trapped inside..

An aspiring journalist desperate for a story

The clock is ticking for Rose Blakey. With nothing but rejections from newspapers piling up, her job pulling beers for cops at the local tavern isn’t nearly enough to cover rent. Rose needs a story—a big one.

Little dolls full of secrets

In the weeks after the courthouse fire, precise porcelain replicas of Colmstock’s daughters begin turning up on doorsteps, terrifying parents and testing the limits of the town’s already fractured police force.

Rose may have finally found her story. But as her articles gain traction and the boundaries of her investigation blur, Colmstock is seized by a seething paranoia. Soon, no one is safe from suspicion. And when Rose’s attention turns to the mysterious stranger living in the rooms behind the tavern, neighbor turns on neighbor and the darkest side of self-preservation is revealed.

Review:

Set in a slowly dying town in Australia, Little Secrets by Anna Snoekstra is an intriguing mystery that begins with arson and quickly moves to the creepy porcelain dolls being left for the townspeople’s children.

Rose Blakey’s mom and stepfather are forcing her to move out of the family home and she is counting on a cadetship with a newspaper to help her realize her dream of becoming a journalist. In the meantime, her hometown of Colmstock is plagued by a series of fires and unfortunately, the latest fire claimed the life of thirteen year old Ben Riley.  When a porcelain doll is delivered to her home that bears an eerie resemblance to her younger sister Laura, Rose is shocked to discover a few other children have also received similar gifts.  In an order to jumpstart her journalist career, Rose writes a sensational story that is published by a tabloid. Under intense pressure, the police investigation fails to uncover any leads. Rose’s subsequent articles ratchet up the town’s fears but they lead to unintended consequences.

Rose and her best friend Mia are working dead end jobs at the local tavern. While Mia seems resigned to remaining in Colmstock and marrying a local, Rose is ambitious and cannot wait to leave the economically depressed town behind. Growing desperate following numerous rejections for her articles, she eagerly takes advantage of the uneasiness of the town’s residents following young Ben’s death and the deliveries of the frightening dolls. Rose also exploits the cops who visit the tavern to get insider information for her titillating articles. As events begin to spiral out of control, how far is Rose willing to go in her pursuit of her ambitions? How many people will suffer the consequences of her actions?

Little Secrets is a rather slow-moving novel and quite frankly, none of the characters, including Rose, are particularly likable.  The storyline is interesting and the town’s decay, the townspeople’s fears for their safety and their economic struggles are palpable. Despite the unlikable characters, the bleak setting and the story’s slow pace, Anna Snoekstra brings the novel to a twist-filled conclusion that very neatly ties up all the various story arcs loose threads.

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Filed under Anna Snoekstra, Contemporary, Harlequin, Little Secrets, Mira, Mystery, Rated C+, Review, Suspense

Review: All the Secret Places by Anna Carlisle

Title: All the Secret Places by Anna Carlisle
Gin Sullivan Mystery Series Book Two
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: C+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Gin Sullivan is back in her small hometown of Trumbull, Pennsylvania on an extended leave from her job at the Chicago medical examiner’s office and rekindling an old flame with her high school sweetheart, Jake. Gin is readjusting to life at home when Jake receives harrowing news early one morning. The new housing development his construction firm is building has caught fire and underneath one of the burnt homes is a dead body.

When the body is identified as a man who may very well be the violent offender who terrified Gin’s childhood town years ago, the pool of suspects broadens and it becomes a greater challenge to pinpoint his killer. Gin is determined to unearth old demons, hers included, but soon finds some people will kill to keep them buried.

Small town secrets cast daunting shadows in All the Secret Places, Anna Carlisle’s riveting second Gin Sullivan mystery.

Review:

All the Secret Places is an intriguing addition Anna Carlisle’s Gin Sullivan Mystery series.

Still on leave from her job as a medical examiner in Chicago, Gin is uneasily settling into life in her small hometown in Trumbull, PA.  Having rekindled her romance with her former high school boyfriend, Jake Crosby, the couple are living together but Gin is concerned about the future of the relationship. During a fire at Jake’s construction site  for an upscale home, firefighters unearth a badly decomposed body on the property. Gin is less than thrilled when abrasive Detective Bruce Stillman is assigned to the case and she is worried that his bias towards Jake will have a negative impact on the investigation. Will Gin, along with some help from the newly hired Trumbull Police Chief Tuck Baxter, find out the cause of the fire and the truth about the corpse before it is too late?

Gin and Jake’s relationship is already a little troubled and in the aftermath of the fire, the tension between them continues to grow. Communication is not exactly their strong suit so Gin is mostly in the dark about how things are going with Jake’s construction business.  Although Jake knows she cannot discuss the case with him, he is very frustrated at not being kept in the loop. With so much dissent in her personal life, Gin is taken off guard by her unexpected attraction to Tuck who makes no secret of his interest in her.

Amidst all this uncertainty, Gin does everything she can to uncover the truth about what happened on Jake’s construction site. An uneasy evening with Jake’s construction foreman and his wife seemingly provides some much needed information about the fire.  However, Gin is confused by contradictory details when she investigates the lead before taking the information to the police. The preliminary examination of the buried remains is somewhat discouraging but Gin notices some  inconsistencies that she is hopeful will help Jake.  However, she is disheartened by her inability to find the proof to back up her suspicions.

What should be a straight forward murder mystery becomes rather bogged done in Gin’s personal dramas, Detective Stillman’s lack of partiality and  political posturing. Gin is also rather prone to jumping to conclusions and making impetuous, ill-thought out decisions that put her into dangerous situations. It is also somewhat frustrating (and a little unrealistic) that Jake is once again fighting to prove his innocence when he is at the center of another investigation.

Despite a few frustrations with the storyline and a somewhat slow start, All the Secret Places has plenty of unexpected twists and turns.  Although the culprit for one of the mysteries is rather easy to figure out, the resolution of the other crime is quite unexpected. Old and new fans will enjoy this latest installment in Anna Carlisle’s Gin Sullivan Mystery series.

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Filed under All the Secret Places, Anna Carlisle, Contemporary, Crooked Lane Books, Gin Sullivan Mystery Series, Mystery, Rated C+, Review, Suspense

Review: Bringing Maggie Home by Kim Vogel Sawyer

Title: Bringing Maggie Home by Kim Vogel Sawyer
Publisher: WaterBrook
Genre: Contemporary, Christian, Women’s Fiction
Length: 353 pages
Book Rating: C+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Blogging for Books

Summary:

Decades of Loss, an Unsolved Mystery,
and a Rift Spanning Three Generations

Hazel DeFord is a woman haunted by her past. While berry picking in a blackberry thicket in 1943, ten-year old Hazel momentarily turns her back on her three-year old sister Maggie and the young girl disappears.

Almost seventy years later, the mystery remains unsolved and the secret guilt Hazel carries has alienated her from her daughter Diane, who can’t understand her mother’s overprotectiveness and near paranoia. While Diane resents her mother’s inexplicable eccentricities, her daughter Meghan—a cold case agent—cherishes her grandmother’s lavish attention and affection.

When a traffic accident forces Meghan to take a six-week leave-of-absence to recover, all three generations of DeFord women find themselves unexpectedly under the same roof. Meghan knows she will have to act as a mediator between the two headstrong and contentious women. But when they uncover Hazel’s painful secret, will Meghan also be able to use her investigative prowess to solve the family mystery and help both women recover all that’s been lost?

Review:

Bringing Maggie Home by Kim Vogel Sawyer is a bittersweet novel of healing for three generations of mothers and daughters.

In rural Arkansas in 1943, Hazel DeFord’s younger sister Maggie vanishes while the two girls are picking blackberries. This one event defines Hazel’s life to the extent that her only daughter, Diane, seethes with resentment over her mother’s over protectiveness.  In turn, Diane’s relationship with her daughter, Meghan, is also affected as Diane’s attempts not to be anything like Hazel take her to the other end of the parenting spectrum. When these three women end up under the same roof while Meghan recovers from a car accident, can the fractures in these relationships be repaired?

Despite Diane’s somewhat aloof mothering, Meghan is a warm, caring and quite well adjusted young woman. She absolutely adores her grandmother and her fondest childhood memories revolve around her summer visits with Hazel. In recent years, she has not spent as much time with Hazel as she would like, so Meghan is eagerly looking forward to convalescing from her accident with her grandmother. Needless to say, the last person she expects to see upon her arrival at Hazel’s house is Diane. Which begs the question: why is Diane here?

Well, the answer to that question definitely paints Diane in a very unflattering light. Her anger and bitterness toward Hazel  have not abated despite the passage of time and she snipes and snaps at her mother at every turn. Diane is a downright unpleasant character whose attitude is absolutely ridiculous since she is now an adult and should seriously have let go of her resentment YEARS ago. Her jealousy over Hazel and Meghan’s close relationship quickly grows tiresome as does her inability to feel any type of empathy for her mother’s loss.

Should Hazel have attempted to explain to Diane why she was so worried about her daughter’s safety? Of course. But in all honesty, she has a valid, albeit slightly skewed, reason for not revealing this traumatic secret. Hazel’s actions stem from love and fear and although it is perfectly understandable that Diane would chafe at her mother’s long ago restrictions, her present day reaction is over the top and completely out of proportion now she is a middle aged adult.

The mystery about what happened to young Maggie is quite interesting.  Although it is fairly easy to guess what happened to her, Meghan and her partner Sean’s investigation into the long ago disappearance is fascinating.  While their chances at uncovering the truth are slim due to the passage of time, no matter how tenuous, they pursue every lead they uncover.

With a strong undercurrent of faith, Bringing Maggie Home is heartwarming novel of redemption and forgiveness.  Although it is difficult to like Diane, Meghan and Hazel are enjoyable characters who share warm and loving relationship.  Maggie’s story arc is quite fascinating and the investigation into her disappearance is quite engrossing.  The various storylines are completely wrapped up by the novel’s conclusion and readers will love Kim Vogel Sawyer’s sweet epilogue.

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Filed under Bringing Maggie Home, Christian, Contemporary, Kim Vogel Sawyer, Rated C+, Review, WaterBrook Press, Women's Fiction

Review: Holiday in the Hamptons by Sarah Morgan

Title: Holiday in the Hamptons by Sarah Morgan
From Manhattan with Love Series Book Five
Publisher: HQN
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 416 pages
Book Rating: C+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

The perfect summer escape? 

Professional dog-walker Felicity Knight loves everything about New York…until her ex-husband starts working at her local vet clinic. She hasn’t seen Seth Carlyle in ten years, but one glimpse of him—too gorgeous, and still too good for her—and Fliss’s heart hurts like their whirlwind marriage ended yesterday. So when her grandmother in the Hamptons needs help for the summer, it seems the ideal way to escape her past.

Their relationship might have lasted only a few scorching months, but vet Seth knows Fliss—if she’s run away to the Hamptons, it’s because she still feels their connection and it terrifies her. He let her go once before, when he didn’t know any better, but not this summer! With the help of his adorable dog, Lulu, and a sprinkling of beachside magic, Seth is determined to make Fliss see that he’s never stopped loving her…

Sarah Morgan delights with more love and laughter in her acclaimed series From Manhattan with Love, which Publishers Weekly calls “engaging…[a] classic sweep-you-off-your-feet romantic experience.”

Review:

Holiday in the Hamptons is a second chance at love between a couple who have been divorced for ten years.  This fifth installment in Sarah Morgan’s From Manhattan with Love series is the second novel featuring the Knight siblings.

In an effort to avoid running into her ex-husband, veterinarian Seth Carlyle, professional dog walker Felicity “Fliss” Knight quickly seizes the chance to go to the Hamptons to help her grandmother. Despite their marriage only lasting a few short, scorching hot months, Fliss has never really gotten over her first love.  Unfortunately, she runs into Seth as soon as she arrives in the Hamptons and she impulsively goes to somewhat ridiculous lengths to try to avoid him. Scarred from her verbally abusive father, Fliss is emotionally closed off and her father’s criticism and negative remarks continue to affect her. Despite her feisty and colorful personality, Fliss is a difficult character to like due to her unwillingness to let anyone close to her. Her refusal to have meaningful discussions is understandable, but she is so emotionally crippled that getting past her defenses takes a herculean effort.

Seth is kind, compassionate and caring so it is no surprise that he is well-liked and highly respected by everyone who knows him. He has never quite gotten over Fliss and following an unexpected loss, he decides it is time to become reacquainted with his ex-wife.  Seth realizes his feelings for Fliss have not lessened over the years and he hopes if they can discuss what went wrong in the past they can start over again. He knows getting through to his ex-wife is not going to be easy and although he has quite a bit of patience with Fliss, he is no pushover.  When she continues to hold him at arms’ length, Seth is gentle yet forceful as he confronts her about her behavior.  He is also adamant they work on the emotional part of their relationship before giving in to their blazing hot passion.

Holiday in the Hamptons is a slow-paced romance  and it is not easy to connect with Fliss and Seth as a couple due to Fliss’s kneejerk reactions and unwillingness to lower her defenses.  Some elements of their present day relationship are somewhat unrealistic considering the circumstances surrounding their divorce, the short duration of their marriage and the passage of time.  While Fliss is a frustrating character, Seth is quite charming and immensely appealing. Fliss’s grandmother is also quite wonderful and the scenes with her and her friends are absolutely priceless.  Sarah Morgan’s intriguing glimpses of Fliss’s twin sister Harriet will leave readers impatiently awaiting the next installment in the From Manhattan with Love series.

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Filed under Contemporary, From Manhattan with Love Series, Harlequin, Holiday in the Hamptons, Rated C+, Review, Romance, Sarah Morgan