Category Archives: Contemporary

Review: Love, Alice by Barbara Davis

Title: Love, Alice by Barbara Davis
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary, Historical (60s), Women’s Fiction, Romance
Length: 428 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

From the author of Summer at Hideaway Key comes a sweeping new Southern women’s fiction novel about forgiving the past one letter at a time…

The truth lies between the lines…

A year ago, Dovie Larkin’s life was shattered when her fiancé committed suicide just weeks before their wedding. Now, plagued by guilt, she has become a fixture at the cemetery where William is buried, visiting his grave daily, waiting for answers she knows will never come.

Then one day, she sees an old woman whose grief mirrors her own. Fascinated, she watches the woman leave a letter on a nearby grave. Dovie ignores her conscience and reads the letter—a mother’s plea for forgiveness to her dead daughter—and immediately needs to know the rest of the story.

As she delves deeper, a collection of letters from the cemetery’s lost and found  begins to unravel a decades-old mystery involving one of Charleston’s wealthiest families. But even as Dovie seeks to answer questions about another woman’s past—questions filled with deception, betrayal, and heartbreaking loss—she starts to discover the keys to love, forgiveness, and finally embracing the future…

Review:

Love, Alice is a heart wrenching story of loss and grief that is ultimately uplifting. With the secondary story arc that takes place during the 1960s, Barbara Davis brings much needed attention to the abhorrent “Magdalene Laundries” where unwed mothers were forced to give up their babies and endure horrific living conditions.  The present day storyline is equally affecting as a grief-stricken young woman searches for answers about her fiancé’s inexplicable suicide a year earlier.

On the one year anniversary of her fiancé William Prescott’s death, Dovie Larkin is no closer to understanding why he took his own life and she still remains mired in grief as she visits his grave daily.  With her family, boss and friends running out of patience with her inability to move past her tragedy, she is already in danger of losing her job when she becomes obsessed with a series of letters that were written by Alice Tandy during the 1960s. Trying to help Alice’s elderly mom, Dora, find a measure of peace for forcing her unwed daughter give her baby up for adoption, Dovie puts her career in jeopardy when her search for answers leads to the Tate family, who just happen to have recently made a huge donation to the museum where she works.   Working closely with Austin Tate on a fundraiser, Dovie tries to respect his request that she stay away from his grieving mother, Gemma,  but she quickly realizes that Gemma quite possibly holds the key to finding out what happened to Alice.  Will uncovering the truth about what happened to Alice and the baby she gave up for adoption help heal Dora’s wounds?  Can understanding Dora’s grief provide a way for Dovie to move past her own grief?

Dovie’s need for answers about William’s suicide is completely understandable but it is very frustrating watching her push away her friends and family in the process.  It is also somewhat maddening that even though she KNOWS her job is in jeopardy, she continues to make reckless decisions that puts her career on the line.  It is not until she meets  Austin that she is forced to take a hard look at her relationship with William and face the truth that has been staring her in face all along.  Dovie is also very dismayed by her unnerving attraction to the handsome Tate heir, but Austin has his own demons to make peace with before their relationship can move forward.

The storyline about Alice’s time at the  Blackhurst Asylum for Unwed Mothers  is incredibly poignant and utterly heartrending.  The stigma of unwed pregnancy is the driving force behind Dora’s decision to force her daughter to give up her child for adoption.  Through a series of letters written over the years to her beloved baby, the  truth about Alice’s time at Blackhurst and her subsequent search for her child emerges in heartbreaking  detail.

From the first gut wrenching and emotional letter to the final deeply moving missive,  Love, Alice is an absolutely riveting story that is impossible to put down. The plot is a bit predictable but this does not lessen the impact of this touching story. The characters are beautifully developed and although deeply flawed, they are sympathetic and easy to root for.  Barbara Davis’s decision to include the “Magdalene Laundries” in the novel adds an incredible amount of depth and substance to the storyline. The addition of a slight romantic element lightens the story but it also forces Dovie and Austin to deal with the unresolved issues from their previous relationships. I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend beautiful novel of healing and redemption.

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Filed under Barbara Davis, Berkley, Contemporary, Historical, Historical (60s), Love Alice, Rated B+, Review, Romance, Women's Fiction

Review: The Kill Sign by Nichole Christoff

Title: The Kill Sign by Nichole Christoff
Jamie Sinclair Series Book Four
Publisher: Alibi
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
Length: 288 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Security specialist and PI Jamie Sinclair finds herself in deadly waters off the steamy Gulf Coast in this combustible thriller from the award-winning author of The Kill Box.

Never in her life has Jamie Sinclair anticipated a weekend getaway more. After four months apart, she’s flying to Mississippi to see her would-be boyfriend, military police officer Adam Barrett. Barrett’s currently stationed in the same Gulf Coast town where Jamie got her start as a private investigator, and she’s equally excited to reconnect with her old mentor, Ray Walther, and his pregnant wife, Corinne, who’s Jamie’s best friend.

But all hopes for a relaxing and romantic weekend are shattered when a dirty bomb explodes on a riverboat packed with military, killing dozens of soldiers. In the chaotic aftermath, Jamie believes that she spots the bomber—and recognizes him from her past. As Barrett and Jamie race to catch the terrorist before he strikes again, Ray and Corinne become targets themselves. And this time around, Jamie won’t let a little thing like the law keep her from protecting the people she loves most—no matter the cost.

Review:

The Kill Sign, the fourth installment in Nichole Christoff’s Jamie Sinclair series, is a spellbinding mystery about an investigation into a deadly explosion on a riverboat.

Jamie Sinclair is looking forward to her weekend getaway with Lt. Colonel Adam Barrett, who is now stationed at Ft. Donovan, Mississippi.  Returning to the base where she lived many years ago with her now ex-husband stirs up a bittersweet mix of memories about her failed marriage and her unexpected career path as a private investigator. Happy to reconnect with her mentor Ray Walther and his wife pregnant Corinne, Jamie does not know what to think when she finds out Ray has taken Brandon “Bran” Laurent on as a partner in his investigation firm.  Equally disquieting are her suspicions about Corinne’s relationship with Bran.  Trying to put these unpleasant thoughts out of her mind, she and Adam head to the riverboat for a military function but Jamie is surprised to see two familiar faces on board as well.  After a stunning explosion leaves forty one people dead and several others wounded, Jamie decides to investigate the case on her own after Adam is assigned to the federal investigation.

Jamie immediately recognizes the bomber as Eddie Jepson, a man she knows from her time working with Ray.  She cannot help but wonder how on earth a self-serving scam artist like Eddie could pull off such a well-thought out attack.  She is also rather puzzled by Eddie’s apparent  connection to Ray’s new partner, Bran.  And she is also quite curious about the reason both men were so interested in live lingerie model Monique Wells right before the bomb exploded.  The deeper Jamie digs into the case, the less things add up and as her investigation takes one shocking turn after another, she is thrust into the dangerous world of high stakes gambling, homegrown terrorist plots and a search for a missing stripper.  Jamie becomes even more confused once Corinne goes missing but she is determined to find her friend before it is too late.

The investigation into the bombing moves at a breakneck speed, but Jamie has a great deal of difficulty figuring out how the pieces of the puzzle fit together. Jepson is an unlikely terrorist and Jamie wants to talk to him before the feds take him into custody. She is also deeply suspicious about Bran and the information she uncovers does little to dispel her misgivings about him. Jamie is also quite shocked about some of the changes in Ray but she is even more concerned about what is going on with Corinne. Another murder on the heels of Corinne’s disappearance makes it imperative that Jamie get answers to her very troubling questions, but will she discover the truth in time to save her friend?

Jamie has barely begun tracking down leads when DEA Agent Marc Sandoval arrives in town.  While his assistance on the case is appreciated, he further complicates her already confusing relationship with Adam.  Not one for long term commitments, Jamie is spooked by the direction Adam seems to want to take their romance.  Marc is not at all shy about letting Jamie know his interest in her runs much deeper than friendship.  Jamie is conflicted by her attraction to Marc but she is in love with Adam. Isn’t she?  Hmm, an interesting love triangle  but which man will Jamie choose?

The Kill Sign is a suspense-laden, action-packed mystery that will keep readers on the edge of their seats as Jamie’s investigation takes some very unexpected detours.  With plenty of plot twists, red herrings and clever misdirects, Nichole Christoff adroitly conceal the truth about the incongruous crimes right up until the novel’s pulse-pounding adrenaline-filled conclusion. Another outstanding addition to the Jamie Sinclair series that old and new fans are going to love.

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Filed under Alibi, Contemporary, Jamie Sinclair Series, Mystery, Nichole Christoff, Rated B+, Review, suspense, The Kill Sign

Review: Marry Me On Main Street by Luann McLane

Title: Marry Me On Main Street by Luann McLane
Cricket Creek Series Book 11
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 303 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

In the latest Cricket Creek romance from the USA Today bestselling author of Wish Upon a Wedding, two people discover what it really takes to go after your heart’s desire…

In her small shop on Main Street, Susan Quincy sells handmade gifts and repurposed items. But she can’t part with the beautiful rocking chair she bought at an estate sale when its maker turns out to be Danny Mayfield. Even years later, Susan still cringes over how her handsome, popular high school crush only asked her to prom out of pity—or so she thinks…

Danny doesn’t know why Susan has avoided him for years, especially after the electric kiss they shared the night of prom. So when he learns that she wants him to craft more rocking chairs to sell at her shop, Danny can’t resist the chance to work on his passion and charm shy, beautiful Susan again—and this time, make it last…

Review:

Marry Me On Main Street by Luann McLane is a sweet, conflict free holiday romance that old and new fans of the Cricket Creek series are going to LOVE!

Susan Quincy might still be a bit shy, but she has really come out of her shell since opening her business.  She is close to her parents but she leads a fairly solitary life.  A chance encounter with her old high school crush, Danny Mayfield, is just the catalyst she needs to jumpstart her life.  With her close friend & assistant, Betsy Brock’s encouragement, Susan decides  it is time to open herself to new experiences. Although she is a little nervous, she gives her wardrobe a much needed makeover and she tentatively accepts  Danny’s offer to go out with him.  Although somewhat surprised by how much fun she has on their dates, Susan wants to take things slow, but fate steps in and hastens their plan to take their relationship to the next level.

Danny is feeling a little lonely and dissatisfied with his life and he is having trouble getting into the holiday mood.  He is a kindhearted man who is quite dedicated to his family but by concentrating on helping them with their businesses, Danny is quite reluctant to pursue his career aspirations.  Happy to finally run into Susan,  he is rather bemused by her reaction when he asks her to go out with him.  However, he does not let her refusal deter him from trying to persuade her to change her mind.  He is quite charmed by Susan’s adorable quirks and their time together is blissfully free from conflict or drama.  Like Susan, Danny is fine with taking things slowly but when the opportunity presents itself to take their relationship up a notch, he eagerly takes advantage of the situation.

Susan and Danny’s romance is an absolute delight to watch unfold.  Although initially reluctant to confide why she is reluctant to date him, Susan does finally give Danny the reason she avoided him since high school.  Their dates are rather low key  but this provides them the chance to get to know each other.  Although their interactions are mostly chaste and initially limited to steamy kisses, there is a marvelous undercurrent of desire that burns hotter with each encounter.  However, their romance turns heated late in the story and although Susan is somewhat overwhelmed by her unexpected response, she and Danny discuss the problem instead of ignoring it.  They are a mature couple with excellent communication skills who are committed to making their relationship work despite some of the obstacles in their way.

A secondary story arc leads to an unexpected romance for Susan’s friend, Betsy.  Feeling somewhat out of sorts since her daughter left for college, Betsy is surprised by her attraction to deli owner John Clark.  She is rather intimidated by his past so, at first, she is quite reluctant to agree to go out with him.  John has his share of emotional baggage from his previous career and failed marriage, but he is a genuinely nice man who slowly but gently persuades Betsy to give him a chance.  Their romance is a wonderful addition to the storyline and readers who enjoy seeing older couples find happiness are going to love their love story.

Marry Me On Main Street by Luann McLane is a charming holiday novel with a cast of appealing characters, a tranquil small town setting and two love stories that are extremely heartwarming.  The storyline is engaging and the dual romances are captivating.  Although this latest release is the eleventh installment in the Cricket Creek series, it can easily be read as a standalone (but I highly recommend the previous novels in the series as well).

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Filed under Berkley, Contemporary, Cricket Creek Series, Luann McLane, Marry Me on Main Street, Rated B, Review, Romance

Review: Hanging the Stars by Rhys Ford

Title: Hanging the Stars by Rhys Ford
Half Moon Bay Series Book Two
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary, M/M, Romance, Mystery/Suspense
Length: 206 pages?Word Count: 74,726
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by the Author

Summary:

Half Moon Bay: Book Two

Angel Daniels grew up hard, one step ahead of the law and always looking over his shoulder. A grifter’s son, he’d learned every con and trick in the book but ached for a normal life. Once out on his own, Angel returns to Half Moon Bay where he once found… and then lost… love.

Now, Angel’s life is a frantic mess of schedules and chaos. Between running his bakery and raising his troubled eleven-year-old half brother, Roman, Angel has a hectic but happy life. Then West Harris returns to Half Moon Bay and threatens to break Angel all over again by taking away the only home he and Rome ever had.

When they were young, Angel taught West how to love and laugh, but when Angel moved on, West locked his heart up and threw away the key. Older and hardened, West returns to Half Moon Bay and finds himself face-to-face with the man he’d lost. Now West is torn between killing Angel or holding him tight.

But rekindling their passionate relationship is jeopardized as someone wants one or both of them dead, and as the terrifying danger mounts, neither man knows if the menace will bring them together or forever tear them apart.

Review:

Hanging the Stars is the second suspense-laden installment in Rhys Ford’s Half Moon Bay series.  While this newest release can be read as a standalone, I highly recommend the first book the series as well.

After moving around from place to place with his con-man father,  Angel Daniels returned Half Moon Bay to set down roots.  Now raising his eleven year brother, Roman, he owns a bakery and manages a rundown motel that is home to several down on their luck residents.  Angel is extremely patient and loving as he tries to ensure Roman has a stable home life and reassure him he will always be there for him.

West Harris runs a highly successful business but he is not close to his twin brother Lang nor does he have very many close friendships.  He is socially awkward, standoffish and finds it hard to trust anyone.  West kind comes across as a little callous and unfeeling but he is making progress in overcoming the effects of his dysfunctional childhood.

West and Angel have history together but they have not seen or spoken to each other in several years.  Given how their relationship ended, Angel is pretty unhappy that West is trying to buy his bakery and force him out of the only home he and Roman have ever had.  Even worse, instead of approaching Angel directly, West is letting his best friend handle the transaction.  All of that changes when separate attempts are made on both men’s lives and West returns to Half Moon Bay.  The sparks fly between the two men right away and despite the painful ending to their relationship years earlier, both of them still have feelings for one another.  Their reconciliation occurs without them  hashing out their unresolved issues from their break up but there is no shortage of angst as West and Angel continue to targeted by their unknown assailant(s).

West and Angel have absolutely no idea who is behind the attempts on their lives and they can only assume the events are somehow connected.  A shocking murder reveals a stunning betrayal and West’s reaction threatens to derail the men’s still fragile romance.  While things continue to be a little shaky with Angel, West and Roman instantly bond and their relationship is rock solid despite the danger surrounding them.

Hanging the Stars is an action-packed mystery with a cast of likable characters.  The first few chapters are a little confusing since the novel starts right in the middle of the action but it does not take long to get up to speed on what is happening. The romance between West and Angel is surprisingly conflict free considering their history but they do have to overcome a few bumps on the road to happily ever after. The mystery element is full of twists and turns and Rhys Ford brings this part of the storyline to an adrenaline fueled conclusion.  All in all, an excellent addition to the Half Moon Bay series that  old and new fans will enjoy.

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Filed under Contemporary, Dreamspinner Press, Half Moon Bay Mystery Series, Hanging the Stars, M/M, Mystery, Rated B, Review, Rhys Ford, Romance, suspense

Review: Sweet Southern Bad Boy by Michele Summers

Title: Sweet Southern Bad Boy by Michele Summers
Harmony Homecomings Series Book Three
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 384 pages
Book Rating: C+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

HE’S GOT SOMETHING SHE WANTS
When Katie McKnight gets lost location-scouting for her father’s TV studio, she stumbles upon the perfect setting for their angsty new teen vampire series-a remote barn house unfortunately occupied by a grouchy, disheveled, and incredibly sexy man who instantly mistakes her for the new nanny. Should Katie tell him the truth, or get her foot in the door?

SHE’S GOT EVERYTHING HE NEEDS
Bestselling author Vance Kerner doesn’t just have writer’s block-he’s been run ragged ever since he was saddled with taking care of his brother’s three kids, an adopted kitten, and a runaway mutt. The last thing he needs is a teen drama defiling his property, but with fascinating and unconventional Katie underfoot charming the entire Kerner household, Vance is finding it harder and harder to say no.

Review:

The newest installment in Michele Summers’ Harmony Homecomings series, Sweet Southern Bad Boy is a charming romance between a California cutie and a grouchy Southern author.  This latest release can be read as a standalone, but I highly recommend the previous novels as well.

Twenty-eight year old Katie McKnight is hoping that finding the perfect location for an upcoming miniseries will finally impress her impossible to satisfy father.  The youngest of three siblings, she has never quite measured up to her parents’ unrealistic expectations and as a result, she gave up her teaching job in order to work in the family business.  With extremely low self-esteem due to her mother’s disparaging comments about Katie’s appearance and her loathsome (sort of ex) boyfriend Tad’s equally withering observations, Katie is a bit of a doormat who finds it impossible to stand up for herself.  Absolutely convinced she has found the right place for her father’s next project, Katie has her work cut out for persuading the owner to sign the contract.

Novelist Vance Kerner is under deadline but temporarily caring for his brother’s rambunctious children leaves him little time or energy to work on his novel.  Initially mistaking Katie for his newly hired nanny, he agrees to listen to her proposition in exchange for her taking care of the kids.  Vance has no intention of allowing her father film on his property but Katie hopes that over time, she’ll convince him change his mind so she agrees to work for him temporarily while he writes his novel.   Vance has a serious case of lust for Katie, but this bad boy is really a Southern gentleman in disguise so he tries to keep his distance from his curvaceous nanny.

On paper, Vance and Katie are perfect for each other but their relationship follows a formulaic pattern with very predictable external conflicts and betrayals.  Katie’s self-doubts quickly become repetitive and since she loved her career as a teacher, it is impossible to understand why she allowed her father to manipulate her into giving up her job to work for him.  It is also a little incomprehensible that Katie allows her self-absorbed and shallow mother’s comments to have such a negative effect on her self-image.  Katie’s relationship with Tad is also a little hard to believe since she clearly sees that he is using her as a stepping stone in his career.  Why she does not cut him loose is a complete mystery and it is incredibly frustrating that she continues to let him get to her.  Her father’s sneaky behind the scenes maneuvering is also a source of irritation and it is extremely maddening that Vance allows himself to get sucked into his scheme.  It is very easy to guess how Katie is going to react once she learns the truth about what has been happening behind her back but thankfully, this is just the impetus she needs to finally discover her backbone, confront her parents and  make decisions about her future that are based on what is best for her.

Despite some frustration with overused plot devices, Sweet Southern Bad Boy is a cute romance between two very likable characters. Insta-lust quickly turns to  insta-love which results in a very fast progression of Vance and Katie’s relationship.  With plenty of witty banter, cutsey nicknames and a cast of  quirky characters, this latest outing in Michele Summers’ Harmony Homecomings series will appeal to readers who enjoy small-town romances.

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Filed under Contemporary, Harmony Homecomings Series, Michele Summers, Rated C+, Review, Romance, Sourcebooks Casablanca, Sweet Southern Bad Boy

Review: How Will I Know You? by Jessica Treadway

Title: How Will I Know You? by Jessica Treadway
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 416 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

A page-turner about the murder of a teenage girl, from the author of Lacy Eye.

On a cold December day in northern upstate New York, the body of high school senior Joy Enright is discovered in the woods at the edge of a pond. She had been presumed drowned, but an autopsy shows that she was, in fact, strangled. As the investigation unfolds, four characters tell the story from widely divergent perspectives: Susanne, Joy’s mother and a professor at the local art college; Martin, a black graduate student suspected of the murder; Harper, Joy’s best friend and a potential eyewitness; and Tom, a rescue diver and son-in-law of the town’s police chief. As a web of small-town secrets comes to light, a dramatic conclusion reveals the truth about Joy’s death.

Review:

How Will I Know You? by Jessica Treadway is an engrossing mystery about the murder of a teenage girl and the impact her death has on her family, friends and the local community.

Following her disappearance after an argument with her mother, Susanne, everyone beleives Joy Enright accidentally drowned in a local pond.  Weeks later, her body is discovered in the woods and the autopsy reveals she was strangled.  Eyewitness reports and police interviews lead interim police chief Doug Armstrong to arrest grad student Martin Willett. At the behest of Susanne, Armstrong’s son-in-law Tom Carbone is running a parallel investigation into Joy’s murder and the information he uncovers casts suspicion on the entire police investigation.  Joy’s childhood best friend, Harper Grove, also plays a prominent role in the Willett’s arrest but can her version of events the day Joy was murdered be trusted?

A sculptor and professor at the nearby art college, Susanne cannot help but feel guilty for her role in the series of events that led up to Joy’s murder.  Their once close relationship had rapidly deteriorated in the months preceding Joy’s death and Susanne is quite contemplative as she tries to pinpoint the reason for reason for the changes in her daughter’s behavior. Susanne’s marriage to husband Gil is also on shaky ground due to betrayals from both partners and the added strain of Joy’s murder might be too much for their marriage to bear.  Can they manage to repair their fractured bond in the in the aftermath of such a horrific loss?

Tom Carbone is caught between loyalty to his wife and father-in-law and uncovering the truth about Joy’s murder.  Initially believing Martin is involved in the teenager’s death, Tom soon discovers shocking information about Joy that could destroy his already precarious relationship with his in-laws and ultimately, his marriage.  Already reeling from stunning revelations about those closest to him,  Tom questions whether or not he can trust his judgment after he learns unexpected news that could turn the investigation in a new direction. What will Tom do with this information that will have lasting repercussions on his loved ones?

During her interview with police chief Armstrong, Harper makes a decision that she immediately regrets but finds impossible to undo as events begin to snowball out of control.  Soon realizing rectifying her mistake could have devastating consequences not only for the investigation but her family, she continues to wrestle with her guilt. Harper also tries to pinpoint why her friendship with Joy began to fall apart in the months leading up to her friend’s murder.  Although she easily forgives some of Joy’s behavior, she also feels deeply betrayed by some her friend’s actions.  Harper cannot help but feel she could have done more to save Joy’s life but is her assumption correct?

Martin Willett is immediately a person of interest in the investigation but is there any evidence to back up Armstrong’s suspicions?  He is certainly guilty of making a few bad decisions in the months before Joy’s murder but did the police chief rush to judgment? Martin’s brief interactions with Joy and his connection to Susanne provide Armstrong with legitimate reasons to look at him more closely but in his zeal to close the case, did he give the investigation into her murder the attention it deserved? Is Martin’s arrest based on evidence or is his arrest racially motivated?

Weaving back and forth in time and written from four distinct points of view, How Will I Know You? is a disquieting novel that is part mystery and part character study.  Secrets and lies are slowly revealed over the course of the investigation as each of the characters reflect on the roles they might have played in the events leading up to Joy’s murder.  Jessica Treadway masterfully conceals the murderer’s identity and the motive for the crime right up until the novel’s stunning conclusion. I highly recommend this poignant and thought-provoking mystery to readers of the genre.

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Filed under Contemporary, Grand Central Publishing, How Will I Know You?, Jessica Treadway, Mystery, Rated B+, Review