Category Archives: Rated C+

Review: You’re the One that I Want by Giovanna Fletcher

Title: You’re the One that I Want by Giovanna Fletcher
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: 352 pages
Book Rating: C+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

In this charming and exciting women’s fiction novel, You’re the One That I Want, Giovanna Fletcher explores the complicated relationship between three friends—Maddy, her fiancé Rob, and their best friend Ben.

Maddy, dressed in white, stands at the back of the church. At the end of the aisle is Rob—the man she’s about to marry. Next to Rob is Ben—best man and the best friend anyone could ever have. And that’s the problem. Because if it wasn’t Rob waiting for her at the altar, there’s a strong chance it would be Ben. Loyal and sensitive, Ben has always kept his feelings to himself, but if he told Maddy she was making a mistake, would she listen? And would he be right?

Best friends since childhood, Maddy, Ben, and Rob thought their bond was unbreakable. But love changes everything. Maddy has a choice to make, but will she choose wisely? Her heart, and the hearts of the two best men she knows, depend on it… Romantic, suspenseful, and a whole lot of fun, You’re the One That I Want is a great read about friendship, love, and the decisions that we make.

Review:

You’re the One that I Want by Giovanna Fletcher is an endearing novel of friendship.

Thick as thieves from the day they met, Maddy Hurst, Rob Miles and Ben Gilbert have been friends since childhood.  Despite their classmates’ speculation that Maddy might harbor feelings for one or both of the boys, their friendship remains platonic until their mid-teens.  An unexpected romance springs up between Maddy and one of her friends but the three still remain close although one of the young men ends up suffering from unrequited love.  The brokenhearted young man laments his lost opportunity and he never reveals his feelings for Maddy until a pivotal moment in university.  On her wedding day a few years later, Maddy cannot help but wonder if she is marrying the right man.

Opening with the Maddy walking down the aisle, the novel then flashes back to the first day Maddy, Rob and Ben met.  The chapters alternate between two of the character’s perspective and take readers through the years of their friendship.  These chapters are interspersed with brief snippets from the remaining character’s point of view in the present. Maddy, Rob and Ben’s friendship is quite heartwarming and even after she pairs up with one of the boys, the three remain inseparable.

While their childhood exploits are quite entertaining, the novel’s pacing slows down after Maddy, Rob and Ben go off to university. Maddy’s romance takes a bit of a turn and once she is aware of her other friend’s long standing love of her, she is somewhat indecisive about which of the two young men she loves.  Even after she seemingly makes her decision, she is still uncertain she made the right choice and this dithering continues to plague her even as she is walking down the aisle. While there is not actually a full blown love triangle between the three, Maddy’s vacillation becomes irritating as does the unrequited lover’s continued feelings for her.

You’re the One that I Want is a light-hearted story of friendship and love.  The storyline is entertaining  and the cast of characters are appealing.  For a good portion of the novel, Giovanna Fletcher keeps readers guessing who Maddy is going to marry but there are enough hints dropped along the way that it is fairly easy to predict whom she chooses in the end. The epilogue is sweet and offers a nice peek into their lives several years after the wedding.  A pleasurable, mostly conflict free read that fans of contemporary women’s fiction will enjoy.

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Filed under Contemporary, Giovanna Fletcher, Rated C+, Review, St Martin's Press, Women's Fiction, You're the One that I Want

Review: Gone Without a Trace by Mary Torjussen

Title: Gone Without a Trace by Mary Torjussen
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 352 pages
Book Rating: C+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

A jaw-dropping novel of psychological suspense that asks, If the love of your life disappeared without a trace, how far would you go to find out why?  

Hannah Monroe’s boyfriend, Matt, is gone. His belongings have disappeared from their house. Every call she ever made to him, every text she ever sent, every photo of him and any sign of him on social media have vanished. It’s as though their last four years together never happened.

As Hannah struggles to get through the next few days, with humiliation and recriminations whirring through her head, she knows that she’ll do whatever it takes to find him again and get answers. But as soon as her search starts, she realizes she is being led into a maze of madness and obsession. Step by suspenseful step, Hannah discovers her only way out is to come face to face with the shocking truth…

READERS GUIDE INSIDE

Review:

In Gone Without a Trace by Mary Torjussen, lead protagonist Hannah Monroe’s devastation over a shocking break up turns into an obsession.

Hannah’s excitement about a possible promotion at work quickly turns to dismay when she returns home from a business meeting to find her boyfriend of four years, Matt Stone, has left her without warning. Not only has Matt disappeared, but he has erased every trace of him from her life. Frantic to find him in order to learn what prompted the split, Hannah is soon so obsessed with trying to track him down, she jeopardizes her job and begins to alienate her few friends. Before long, she is receiving strange texts and she also suspects someone has been inside her house. Hannah becomes convinced Matt is responsible for these strange occurrences although she lacks any evidence or even a logical reason that supports her theory.

Hannah is initially a sympathetic character and it is easy to understand her compulsion to try to understand why Matt would take such extreme measures after leaving her. According to Hannah, the two have been blissfully happy and Matt gave no indication he was thinking of ending their relationship. Her best friend Katie urges her to move forward and forget about Matt, but Hannah is certain if she finds Matt, he will move back home and they will live happily ever after.

However, after weeks pass and Hannah continues her downward spiral, it soon becomes apparent that she is not the most reliable of narrators. The glimpses of her distant relationship with her parents are a fairly good indication that she might have deeper issues than her missing boyfriend. Her friendship with Katie is also somewhat dysfunctional and there is an unhealthy jealousy between the women that leaves Hannah (and the reader) questioning her friend’s motives. Hannah also has a somewhat complicated past with Katie’s boyfriend James that adds another layer of uncertainty to the unfolding story.

While the initial reaction is sympathy for Hannah’s plight, it does not take long to run out of patience for her growing obsession and increasingly irrational conviction that if she can just find Matt, their relationship will resume right where it left off. Once the shock over the way he left her wears off, curious minds will wonder what prompted Matt to break up with Hannah in such an extreme fashion. Equally fascinating is how quickly Hannah becomes fixated on finding Matt and how nothing seems to faze her as she jeopardizes her career and friendships as she single-mindedly focuses on finding someone who made it blatantly clear he was finished with her.

While the premise of Gone Without a Trace is quite unique, the story gets somewhat bogged down and repetitive as Hannah’s obsession with finding Matt consumes her. The mystery behind Matt’s behavior is initially what keeps readers engaged in the unfolding drama but readers might become impatient with the lack of details or new information about their relationship or the reasons for the break up. Mary Torjussen throws in a few plot twists at the novel’s conclusion that are completely unexpected and an interesting epilogue offers an intriguing (and rather surprising) glimpse into Hannah’s future.

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Filed under Berkley, Contemporary, Gone Without a Trace, Mary Torjussen, Mystery, Rated C+, Review, Suspense

Review: The Day I Died by Lori Rader-Day

Title: The Day I Died by Lori Rader-Day
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 432 pages
Book Rating: C+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

From the award-winning author of Little Pretty Things comes this gripping, unforgettable tale of a mother’s desperate search for a lost boy.

Anna Winger can know people better than they know themselves with only a glance—at their handwriting. Hired out by companies wanting to land trustworthy employees and by the lovelorn hoping to find happiness, Anna likes to keep the real-life mess of other people at arm’s length and on paper. But when she is called to use her expertise on a note left behind at a murder scene in the small town she and her son have recently moved to, the crime gets under Anna’s skin and rips open her narrow life for all to see. To save her son—and herself—once and for all, Anna will face her every fear, her every mistake, and the past she thought she’d rewritten.

Review:

The Day I Died by Lori Rader-Day is an intriguing mystery about a missing young boy.

Anna Winger is a handwriting analyst who assists federal and local law enforcement with a variety of cases. When two year old Aidan Ransey goes missing, she is asked to aid Sheriff Russ Keller with the investigation. Keller reluctantly turns documents relevant to kidnapping over to Anna but the two continue to clash over his lack of cooperation with her requests. Anna is also growing increasingly concerned over her thirteen year old son Joshua’s increasingly troubling behavior.  When Joshua  begins asking difficult questions that she is reluctant to answer, Anna eventually has no choice but to face the past she has been running from for over thirteen years.

Anna was forced to make a rather decision years earlier which has resulted in an itinerant, solitary lifestyle for her and Joshua.  Having recently relocated to Parks, Indiana, Anna is already second guessing whether or not she made the right choice to settle in the small town. Seriously lacking the anonymity she desperately needs to feel safe, the missing person’s case attracts far more attention that she desires. She is also rather troubled by the parallels between herself and Aidan’s mom, Leila Ransey.  She is already struggling to maintain her objectivity as she examines the documents associated with the disappearance when she meets Aidan’s father, Bo. Their encounters bring back unpleasant memories of her own past and Anna continues to worry about whether or not she can remain impartial during the investigation.

Adding to Anna’s discomfort is Sheriff Keller’s skepticism about the veracity of handwriting analysis. His office is on the periphery of the investigation but he continues to follow leads in an effort to locate the missing boy.  A shocking murder adds another complication to the case and Keller reluctantly continues to seek assistance from Anna as they recover documents that are pertinent to the investigation. Their interactions continue to be a little adversarial as Anna offers her expert opinion on the evidence he provides for her analysis.

The pacing of the novel is somewhat slow as Anna becomes increasingly introspective during the investigation. Her self-confidence is gradually undetermined as she juggles her professional duties with the increasingly tense situation with Joshua. Completely out of her depth as she deals with her suddenly tumultuous relationship with Joshua, Anna is stunned when he takes matters into his own hands after she fails to give him the answers he desperately needs.  With nowhere else to turn, Anna is forced to return to the place where her life went so tragically wrong but will she find what she is searching for?

With an unusual premise and a unique lead protagonist, The Day I Died is a compelling mystery with plenty of twists and turns. Despite the suspense surrounding Aidan’s disappearance, the storyline quickly becomes bogged down in the secrets of Anna’s past. However, the various story arcs finally come together in a rather unexpected (and far too coincidental) manner. Lori Rader-Day brings the novel to an action-filled conclusion that neatly ties up all of the loose ends.

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Filed under Contemporary, Lori Rader-Day, Mystery, Rated C+, Review, Suspense, The Day I Died, William Morrow Paperbacks

Review: Ill Will by Dan Chaon

Title: Ill Will by Dan Chaon
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 480 pages
Book Rating: C+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Two sensational unsolved crimes—one in the past, another in the present—are linked by one man’s memory and self-deception in this chilling novel of literary suspense from National Book Award finalist Dan Chaon.

“We are always telling a story to ourselves, about ourselves.” This is one of the little mantras Dustin Tillman likes to share with his patients, and it’s meant to be reassuring. But what if that story is a lie?

A psychologist in suburban Cleveland, Dustin is drifting through his forties when he hears the news: His adopted brother, Rusty, is being released from prison. Thirty years ago, Rusty received a life sentence for the massacre of Dustin’s parents, aunt, and uncle. The trial came to epitomize the 1980s hysteria over Satanic cults; despite the lack of physical evidence, the jury believed the outlandish accusations Dustin and his cousin made against Rusty. Now, after DNA analysis has overturned the conviction, Dustin braces for a reckoning.

Meanwhile, one of Dustin’s patients has been plying him with stories of the drowning deaths of a string of drunk college boys. At first Dustin dismisses his patient’s suggestions that a serial killer is at work as paranoid thinking, but as the two embark on an amateur investigation, Dustin starts to believe that there’s more to the deaths than coincidence. Soon he becomes obsessed, crossing all professional boundaries—and putting his own family in harm’s way.

From one of today’s most renowned practitioners of literary suspense, Ill Will is an intimate thriller about the failures of memory and the perils of self-deception. In Dan Chaon’s nimble, chilling prose, the past looms over the present, turning each into a haunted place.

Review:

Weaving back and forth in time, Ill Will by Dan Chaon is an intriguing psychological mystery about murders in the past that appeared to linked to the Satanic ritual abuse in the early ’80s and a possible serial killer in the present.

Just as Dustin Tillman learns his adopted brother Russell aka Rusty has been exonerated of the 1983 murders of his parents, aunt and uncle, his world is further rocked by unexpected news from his wife.  Just thirteen years old at the time of his family’s murders, it was Dustin’s and his cousin Kate’s testimony about Satanic rituals and other abuse that helped convict Rusty of the crimes. A year and a half after the news that shatters his life, Dustin and his youngest son Aaron share the same house, but Dustin is woefully unaware his son is in touch with Rusty. He also misses the very obvious signs that Aaron is in the throes of a nasty drug addiction. Instead of paying attention to his floundering son, Dustin is caught up in his patient Aqil Ozorowski’s conviction that a recent series of drownings is the work of a serial killer who is targeting young college men. As Aaron’s downward spiral continues at an alarming rate, his father becomes more involved with Aqil’s investigation of the drownings. Dustin does finally become aware that his son in is in deep trouble that goes beyond drugs and his family’s tangled history but is it too late to save him?

As a child, Dustin was quite imaginative but he is easy to manipulate and rather gullible. He is quite a few years younger than his adopted brother Russell and he is rather in awe of the older boy.  Through Dustin’s recollections of his childhood, it quickly becomes  apparent that Russell is rather troubled and his behavior towards Dustin is abusive on occasion.  Despite their unhealthy relationship, Dustin does not lose his starry eyed worship of Russell until the murders and Rusty’s subsequent conviction.

Dustin’s cousins Kate and Wave are closer in age to Rusty, and since the two families spend quite a bit of time together, the girls are also somewhat transfixed by their adopted cousin. The sisters also have a wild streak and they are a little promiscuous and they occasionally indulge in somewhat risky behavior.  At one time very close, Wave and Kate’s relationship becomes strained after their parents’ murders and soon after Rusty’s trial, they drift apart.

The two story arcs unfold through flashbacks to Dustin’s past and events that are taking place in the present. Some of these transitions from one time period to another are jarring and occur without warning. The novel is written from multiple points of view and the shifts from one perspective to another are often abrupt which makes the story feel somewhat disjointed. Many of the story’s narrators are quite unreliable which makes it impossible to separate fact from fiction. Several conversations drop off mid-sentence (and occasionally mid-word) and this contributes to the novel’s overall confusion. The narrative sporadically shifts into several pages of side by side columns which requires flipping back and forth between pages to read and this stream of consciousness format is frustrating.

Ill Will by Dan Chaon has an imaginative plot but the overall execution of the story is a little convoluted and somewhat difficult to follow. Some of the storylines do not really seem to go anywhere and the novel occasionally becomes bogged down in extraneous details that add little to the plot. The mysteries are interesting, but the pacing is slow and the storytelling is clunky and annoying.  The various story arcs do finally come together in a shocking twist but readers might be unsatisfied with novel’s somewhat ambiguous conclusion.

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Filed under Ballantine Books, Contemporary, Dan Chaon, Ill Will, Mystery, Rated C+, Review, Suspense

Review: One Wild Night by Melissa Cutler

Title: One Wild Night by Melissa Cutler
One and Only Texas Series Book Three
Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 336 pages
Book Rating: C+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley\

Summary:

Return to beautiful Briscoe Ranch Resort in Melissa Cutler’s next steamy installment of the One and Only Texas series, One Wild Night.

Get ready for the ride of your life…
A cowgirl at heart, Skye Martinez has a rebellious streak she’s determined to shake. Especially since she’s poised to take the reins of her family’s business at Briscoe Ranch Resort. It’s time for her to settle down and get serious about her future…right after one last night of fun with a handsome stranger she meets in the resort’s stable. But when a midnight horseback ride turns into a red-hot weekend with one of country music’s biggest stars, Skye’s world is rocked beyond her wildest dreams…

Gentry Wells rode his bad boy image all the way to the top of the country music charts. But churning out hits has dried up his creativity, and he can’t remember the last time his life was his own. Skye is a sexy distraction he can’t resist, especially since she breathes new life into his music. They bring out the wild side in each other, which is great for Gentry’s career–but a major threat to Skye’s. Too bad he’s fallen in love with her. With their hearts and futures on the line, can Gentry convince Skye to turn their joyride into a real chance to ride off into the sunset together?

Review:

One Wild Night by Melissa Cutler is the latest addition the One and Only Texas series.  Although this newest release is the  third installment in the series, it can be read as a standalone.

Skye Martinez is ready to settle down, but with a string a disastrous dates behind her, she is beginning to lose hope she will find a man to spend the rest of her life with.  When she decides to take a midnight ride, she is rather surprised to find a handsome stranger in the barn.  Skye decides to throw caution to the wind when she invites him to join her and then agrees to meet him the next night.  Unbeknownst to Skye, the sexy man whose company she is enjoying is fading country superstar Gentry Wells.  With completely different plans for their respective futures, Skye and Gentry agree to part ways after they spend a passionate night together.

Skye made an ill-fated choice almost a decade earlier that she has no intention of repeating.  Finally deciding it is time to live up to her mother’s expectation of settling down with a nice Catholic man, Skye is running out of options when she meets Gentry. He is everything she is trying to avoid, but she cannot resist one final fling before she resumes her search for the “perfect” husband.  Their night together exceeds her wildest dreams but once Gentry confides he has no plans to marry, Skye does not have any trouble walking away from him.  She is still searching for Mr. Right when Gentry makes an unexpected return but will she be able to resist letting her wild side free one last time?

Gentry is considered the bad boy of country music but none of his adoring fans realize that he is nothing like his beer swilling, skirt-chasing public persona.  Trying to revive his flagging career, he is struggling to write the songs for his next album when he meets Skye. The sultry beauty immediately fires up his flagging libido and helps him break free from his writer’s block.  Despite their fiery attraction, Gentry has no plan to marry again, so when their time together is over, the two go their separate ways.  However, Gentry cannot stop thinking about Skye and he tempts her into unleashing her rebellious streak again but their reunion has barely begun when disaster strikes.  In the aftermath, can Gentry convince Skye to give him another chance?

Gentry and Skye are interesting characters who are both carrying around plenty of baggage from past mistakes.  Gentry loves his career but he is ready to shed his bad boy image that made him famous. Skye is also trying to reinvent herself by denying the fun-loving side of her personality. Skye and Gentry share a combustible chemistry, but there does not seem to be any future for them since they both want different things for their respective futures. Following a crisis, Gentry makes a pretty dramatic transformation, but the same event solidifies Skye belief she is being punished for her choices.

One Wild Night by Melissa Cutler is an entertaining romance that is delectably steamy.  Although there is plenty of chemistry between Gentry and Skye, their romance is a little lackluster since they spend very little time with each other.  Skye’s need to change her personality is a little frustrating since it is quite obvious she is trying to mold herself into what other people want her to be.  Gentry’s change of heart is a little too drastic to believe despite his obvious commitment to his new life. Although this latest addition to the One and Only Texas series is an enjoyable read, the relationship between Gentry and Skye is a somewhat underdeveloped.

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Filed under Contemporary, Melissa Cutler, One and Only Texas Series, One Wild Night, Rated C+, Review, Romance, St Martin's Paperbacks

Review: The Good Daughter by Alexandra Burt

Title: The Good Daughter by Alexandra Burt
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 400 pages
Book Rating: C+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

From the author of Remember Mia comes the tale of a young woman in search of her past, and the mother who will do anything to keep it hidden…

What if you were the worst crime your mother ever committed?

Dahlia Waller’s childhood memories consist of stuffy cars, seedy motels, and a rootless existence traveling the country with her eccentric mother. Now grown, she desperately wants to distance herself from that life. Yet one thing is stopping her from moving forward: she has questions.

In order to understand her past, Dahlia must go back. Back to her mother in the stifling town of Aurora, Texas. Back into the past of a woman on the brink of madness. But after she discovers three grave-like mounds on a neighboring farm, she’ll learn that in her mother’s world of secrets, not all questions are meant to be answered…

Review:

The Good Daughter by Alexandra Burt is a perplexing mystery about a woman who is determined to get to the bottom of her unconventional past. At the same time, she is also trying to uncover the truth about a victim of a violent crime.

Until returning to Aurora, TX, Dahlia Waller’s childhood was mostly nomadic as she and her mother, Memphis, moved from town to town.  Frustrated by her mother’s refusal to answer her numerous questions about their past, Dahlia leaves town after graduating from high school only to move back fifteen years later.  Not long after her return to Aurora, she stumbles across a woman buried in the woods and afterwards, she is plagued by strange visions that seem to be connected to the woman she just rescued.  When her mom is found wandering far from home, Dahlia’s investigation about where Memphis was discovered turns up unexpected information that helps her unravel the mystery of her past.

The first quarter of the novel is a rather confusing since the chapters are narrated by different characters.  The chapters alternate between points of view and with very little backstory of any of the narrators, it is a bit of a convoluted mess trying to figure out what is going on.  The readers’ patience does finally pay off and a picture of where the story is headed eventually becomes clear.  The overall storyline then becomes somewhat predictable and it is extremely easy to know where Memphis’s revelations are going to lead.  The story arc with the woman Dahlia discovers in the woods feels mostly like an afterthought to the main storyline but it is completely wrapped up by novel’s end.  The characters are interesting but they do not have much depth.

The Good Daughter by Alexandra Burt is a little slow until about the halfway point when all of the various threads finally begin to come together.  There are a few unexpected twists but overall, there are not many surprises as Dahlia finally learns the truth about her past.

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Filed under Alexandra Burt, Berkley, Contemporary, Mystery, Rated C+, Review, The Good Daughter