Category Archives: Rated C+

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

Review: How to Behave in a Crowd by Camille Bordas

Title: How to Behave in a Crowd by Camille Bordas
Publisher: Tim Duggan Books
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult
Length: 338 pages
Book Rating: C+

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

Summary:

A witty, heartfelt novel that brilliantly evokes the confusions of adolescence and marks the arrival of an extraordinary young talent.

Isidore Mazal is eleven years old, the youngest of six siblings living in a small French town. He doesn’t quite fit in. Berenice, Aurore, and Leonard are on track to have doctorates by age twenty-four. Jeremie performs with a symphony, and Simone, older than Isidore by eighteen months, expects a great career as a novelist–she’s already put Isidore to work on her biography. The only time they leave their rooms is to gather on the old, stained couch and dissect prime-time television dramas in light of Aristotle’s Poetics.

Isidore has never skipped a grade or written a dissertation. But he notices things the others don’t, and asks questions they fear to ask. So when tragedy strikes the Mazal family, Isidore is the only one to recognize how everyone is struggling with their grief, and perhaps the only one who can help them—if he doesn’t run away from home first.

Isidore’s unstinting empathy, combined with his simmering anger, makes for a complex character study, in which the elegiac and comedic build toward a heartbreaking conclusion. With How to Behave in a Crowd, Camille Bordas immerses readers in the interior life of a boy puzzled by adulthood and beginning to realize that the adults around him are just as lost.

Review:

Spanning a couple of years, How to Behave in a Crowd by Camille Bordas is a character driven young adult novel about the youngest of six children who is trying to figure out how he fits in with his genius siblings.

Eleven year old Isidore “Dory” Mazal is quite ordinary compared to his highly intelligent, grade skipping brothers and sisters.  While he might not be as smart as his siblings, Dory is much more observant and he is also more social than they are. Despite being more interested in forming friendships, his only friend at school, Denise Galet, is also somewhat of an outcast due to her ongoing depression and anorexia.  Although Dory is close to his mother, his relationship with his business traveling father is somewhat distant.  Despite sharing a room with his sister, Simone, who is also closest in age to him, they are not particularly close since she is a scholastic overachiever like their older siblings. After the family suffers a tragic loss, Dory reacts with kindhearted compassion and empathy unlike his brothers and sisters who quickly return to their normal life.

Life with the Mazal family is somewhat dysfunctional since Dory’s siblings are rather disconnected from the rest of the family. Their interactions with one another are limited to family meals and watching the occasional TV show together.  The siblings’ extremely high IQs alienate them from their peers and they have little patience or tact when dealing with anyone whom they perceive is not their intellectual equal.

Although the concept for How to Behave in a Crowd is unique, the novel is very slow paced. The plot occasionally feels disjointed since Dory’s narration hops from one anecdote to another that are not necessarily connected to each other. Overall, his narration comes across as extremely detached which makes it somewhat difficult to for the reader to feel much of a connection with the various characters. While Dory is an enjoyable lead protagonist, none of his is siblings are particularly sympathetic or likable. Camille Bordas brings the story to a very abrupt and rather unsatisfying conclusion.

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Filed under Camille Bordas, Contemporary, How to Behave in a Crowd, Rated C+, Review, Tim Duggan Books, Young Adult

Review: Shadow Girl by Gerry Schmitt

Title: Shadow Girl by Gerry Schmitt
Afton Tangler Thriller Series Book Two
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: C+

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

Summary:

The brutal murder of a business tycoon leaves Afton Tangler and the Twin Cities reeling, but that’s just the beginning of a gruesome crime spree…

Leland Odin made his fortune launching a home shopping network, but his millions can’t save his life. On the list for a transplant, the ailing businessman sees all hope lost when the helicopter carrying his donor heart is shot out of the sky.

Now with two pilots dead and dozens injured, Afton Tangler, family liaison officer for the Minneapolis Police Department, is drawn into the case. As she and her partner investigate family members and business associates, whoever wants Leland dead strikes again—and succeeds—in a brazen hospital room attack.

The supposedly squeaky clean millionaire has crossed the wrong person—and she’s not finished exacting her revenge. The case explodes into an international conspiracy of unbridled greed and violence. And as Afton gets closer to unearthing the mastermind behind it, she gets closer to becoming collateral damage…

Review:

The second installment in Gerry Schmitt’s Afton Tangler Thriller series, Shadow Girl is an intriguing police procedural about a plot to murder a home shopping network mogul.

Minneapolis Family Liaison Officer Afton Tangler and her partner Detective Max Montgomery are among the first on the scene of a horrific helicopter crash. They quickly learn the crash was no accident-someone deliberately shot the helo out of sky.  The discovery the copter was delivering a donor heart for multi-millionaire Leland Odin raises some very interesting questions about why someone wants the executive dead. Their preliminary inquiries fails to offer a motive and before their investigation has the opportunity to gain speed, the killer’s second attempt on Leland’s life is successful.  Max and Afton are soon embroiled in the hunt for the person responsible for Odin’s death but will they locate the murderer before he (or she) strikes again?

Since Afton is hoping to eventually become a full-fledged detective, she is eager to help Max with the investigation. She often acts without thinking and in this case, she puts herself right in the path of danger during a suspect chase.  Afton is given a lot of leeway as she assists Max but will her impulsivity and personal feelings cloud her judgment as they struggle to solve the case?

With no motive for the murder or a viable suspect, Afton and Max are struggling to make any progress on the case when someone closely connected to Leland disappears.  A lack of cooperation by family members and business associates impedes their investigation and they often rely on gut instinct to uncover information. Through hard work, determination and a few lucky breaks, Max and Afton are finally getting close to finding Odin’s killers but a motive for the crimes remains elusive.

Since the reader is fully aware of who the bad guys are and what their next move is going to be, there is a distinct lack of tension as Shadow Girl  slowly unfolds. Despite the initial lack of knowledge for the perpetrator’s somewhat nefarious and violent plot against Odin, it does not take much to deduce the suspect’s motive for the crime. In this newest addition to the  Afton Tangler Thriller series, the lines between Afton’s position with the police force are very blurred since she acts more like a criminal investigator than a family liaison officer.  It will be very interesting to see what Gerry Schmitt has planned for her in the future installments of the series.

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Filed under Afton Tangler Series, Berkley, Contemporary, Mystery, Rated C+, Review, Shadow Girl