Category Archives: Contemporary

Review: Almost Missed You by Jessica Strawser

Title: Almost Missed You by Jessica Strawser
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Violet and Finn were “meant to be,” said everyone, always. They ended up together by the hands of fate aligning things just so. Three years into their marriage, they have a wonderful little boy, and as the three of them embark on their first vacation as a family, Violet can’t help thinking that she can’t believe her luck. Life is good.

So no one is more surprised than she when Finn leaves her at the beach—just packs up the hotel room and disappears. And takes their son with him. Violet is suddenly in her own worst nightmare, and faced with the knowledge that the man she’s shared her life with, she never really knew at all.

Caitlin and Finn have been best friends since way back when, but when Finn shows up on Caitlin’s doorstep with the son he’s wanted for kidnapping, demands that she hide them from the authorities, and threatens to reveal a secret that could destroy her own family if she doesn’t, Caitlin faces an impossible choice.

Told through alternating viewpoints of Violet, Finn and Caitlin, Jessica Strawser’s Almost Missed You is a powerful story of a mother’s love, a husband’s betrayal, connections that maybe should have been missed, secrets that perhaps shouldn’t have been kept, and spaces between what’s meant to be and what might have been.

Review:

In Almost Missed You by Jessica Strawser, unresolved grief and guilt are the basis for an impetuous kidnapping that tests the bonds of friendship and love.

Violet and Finn Welsh, along with their three year old son Bear, are on vacation in FL when Violet returns to their hotel room and finds both her husband and son have disappeared.  She has no idea what prompted Finn’s decision to kidnap their son and as the days pass with no word about them, she discovers Finn and their close friend Caitlin Bryce-Daniels have been keeping secrets from her.  Finn uses some of those secrets from his and Caitlin’s shared past to gain her co-operation when he needs a place to hide while he figures out what to do next.  Caitlin is torn between her loyalty and her fear about what will happen to her family if she does not do what Finn asks.  Will Violet be reunited with her son? Can she forgive Finn for taking their son?

Years earlier, Violet and Finn met while they were both on vacation and despite their instant connection, they are separated before they can exchange even the most basic information.  They each return to their normal lives, but they both wonder “what might have been”.  Years later, they eventually reunite but they do not talk much about what happened in their lives between their first meeting and their reunion.  By all appearances, their marriage is happy and both Violet and Finn are devoted to their son Bear. Violet is beyond stunned when Finn kidnaps Bear and during the subsequent investigation, she learns some very shocking information about her husband. In light of these revelations, Violet looks back on their relationship and comes to some very shocking conclusions about herself, her husband and their marriage.

Almost Missed You is a very suspenseful and engrossing novel. The chapters alternate between Violet, Finn and Caitlin’s perspectives and often end on cliffhanger. One of the most gripping questions that keeps the pages turning at a blistering pace is, of course, why did Finn kidnap Bear? Equally compelling is what happened in the years between Finn and Violet’s first meeting and their reunion years later. Forgiveness, secrets, deliberate omissions and betrayal are just a few of the fascinating topics that Jessica Strawser explores in this well-written and intriguing story. The novel ends on a curious note that is vaguely unsatisfying but overall, readers will be quite pleased with this debut.

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Filed under Almost Missed You, Contemporary, Jessica Strawser, Mystery, Rated B, Review, St Martin's Press

Review: A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell

Title: A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell
Publisher: Harper
Genre: Contemporary, mystery
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

She’s your best friend.

She knows all your secrets.

That’s why she’s so dangerous.

A single mother’s life is turned upside down when her best friend vanishes in this chilling debut thriller in the vein of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train.

It starts with a simple favor—an ordinary kindness mothers do for one another. When her best friend, Emily, asks Stephanie to pick up her son Nicky after school, she happily says yes. Nicky and her son, Miles, are classmates and best friends, and the five-year-olds love being together—just like she and Emily. A widow and stay-at-home mommy blogger living in woodsy suburban Connecticut, Stephanie was lonely until she met Emily, a sophisticated PR executive whose job in Manhattan demands so much of her time.

But Emily doesn’t come back. She doesn’t answer calls or return texts. Stephanie knows something is terribly wrong—Emily would never leave Nicky, no matter what the police say. Terrified, she reaches out to her blog readers for help. She also reaches out to Emily’s husband, the handsome, reticent Sean, offering emotional support. It’s the least she can do for her best friend. Then, she and Sean receive shocking news. Emily is dead. The nightmare of her disappearance is over.

Or is it? Because soon, Stephanie will begin to see that nothing—not friendship, love, or even an ordinary favor—is as simple as it seems.

A Simple Favor is a remarkable tale of psychological suspense—a clever and twisting free-fall of a ride filled with betrayals and reversals, twists and turns, secrets and revelations, love and loyalty, murder and revenge. Darcey Bell masterfully ratchets up the tension in a taut, unsettling, and completely absorbing story that holds you in its grip until the final page.

Review:

A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell is a surprisingly compelling debut mystery.

A mommy blogger and widowed mother of young son Miles, Stephanie agrees to do her best friend Emily Nelson a rather simple favor: pick up her son Nicky from school and keep him with her until she gets off work later that evening.  Since this is something Stephanie does for Emily on a semi-regular basis, she has no reason to believe this favor will be any different than usual. It is not until Emily fails to  pick up Nicky later that evening that Stephanie becomes a little concerned but she wonders if she misunderstood her friend.  Days pass and Emily has yet to return so Stephanie tracks down her friend’s husband, Sean, who is out of the country on business.  Initially, Sean is not alarmed by his wife’s absence but upon his return, he reports Emily’s disappearance to the police whose investigation is rather lackluster until her body is recovered near her family’s vacation cabin. Sean and Stephanie turn to one another for comfort and support but Stephanie begins to wonder if Emily is, in fact, really dead.

In her blog posts, Stephanie is perky, unfailingly upbeat and endearingly honest about her flaws and worries.  In real life, she is nowhere near as likable or as seemingly perfect as her online persona.  She has struggled to make friends in the small town so she is thrilled when she befriends Emily.  Despite the differences in their lives, the two are soon thick as thieves as they exchange confidences and house keys in between play dates and excursions.  It is not until Emily’s disappearance that Stephanie begins to wonder if she really knew her friend as well as she thought.  While Stephanie felt no compunction about spilling her deepest, darkest secrets (and boy are they doozies!), she soon realizes that she knows very little about her friend’s past.

Despite being best friends with Emily, Stephanie has little information about Sean except for the details Emily shared about him.  He works long hours and travels frequently for his job so she spent very little time around him until Emily goes missing.  After Emily’s disappearance, she is more than happy to continue helping out with Nicky but she is a little unnerved by her sudden attraction to her friend’s grieving husband. Gradually, the two households merge together when, much to Stephanie’s delighted surprise, their friendship turns into a relationship.

At this point in the story, the tone of the novel shifts and unexpected revelations illustrate how truly naive Stephanie is.  She is quite easy to manipulate which makes it very easy to turn her into an unwitting accomplice to a somewhat nefarious and vengeful plot.  Incredulous readers will be left shaking their heads as Stephanie transitions from someone who makes morally questionable choices into an empty-headed dupe. There is also very little mystery about the rather unbelievable direction the plot is about to take.

And yet, despite some of the absurd plot twists, A Simple Favor  is a compulsively readable novel.  Darcey Bell is a gifted storyteller with a twisted imagination and although the storyline is unabashedly predictable and somewhat hard to believe, readers will be captivated by these thoroughly unlikable and somewhat unreliable characters.  Although this debut novel is far from perfect, it is a highly entertaining read that I found impossible to put down and highly recommend to fans of the genre.

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Filed under A Simple FAvor, Contemporary, Darcey Bell, Harper, Mystery, Rated B, Review

Review: If Not for You by Debbie Macomber

Title: If Not for You by Debbie Macomber
New Beginnings Series Book Three
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 386 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

#1 New York Times bestselling author Debbie Macomber has written an emotionally stirring novel that shows how sometimes a choice can seem wrong even though it’s absolutely right.

If not for her loving but controlling parents, Beth Prudhomme might never have taken charge of her life and moved from her native Chicago to Portland, Oregon, where she’s reconnected with her spirited Aunt Sunshine and found a job as a high school music teacher. If not for her friend Nichole, Beth would never have met Sam Carney, although first impressions have left Beth with serious doubts. Sam is everything Beth is not—and her parents’ worst nightmare: a tattooed auto mechanic who’s rough around the edges. Reserved and smart as a whip, Beth isn’t exactly Sam’s usual beer-drinking, pool-playing type of woman, either.

But if not for an awkward setup one evening, Beth might never have left early and been involved in a car crash. And if not for Sam—who witnessed the terrifying ordeal, rushed to her aid, and stayed with her until help arrived—Beth might have been all alone, or worse. Yet as events play out, Sam feels compelled to check on Beth almost daily at the hospital—even bringing his guitar to play songs to lift her spirits. Soon their unlikely friendship evolves into an intense attraction that surprises them both.

Before long, Beth’s strong-willed mother, Ellie, blows into town spouting harsh opinions, especially about Sam, and reopening old wounds with Sunshine. When shocking secrets from Sam’s past are revealed, Beth struggles to reconcile her feelings. But when Beth goes a step too far, she risks losing the man and the life she’s come to love.

Review:

If Not for You by Debbie Macomber is a delightfully charming novel of new beginnings, healing and love. Although this latest installment is the third in the wonderfully heartwarming New Beginnings series, it can be read as a standalone.

Beth Prudhomme is fighting hard to reclaim her life from her overbearing mother and relocating to Portland, OR and a new job as a high school music teacher is a great start to her new life.  She is very hesitant to accept her friend Nichole’s invitation to meet her and her husband’s friend, Sam Carney, but Beth’s Aunt Sunshine convinces her to stretch her wings a little further.  Unfortunately, the introduction is as uncomfortable as she feared and although Sam is a nice enough man, she knows the rough around the edges mechanic is not the man for her.  Which makes it all the more surprising when Sam proves to be Beth’s biggest comfort and source of support after she is involved in a serious car accident the same night as their blind date.

Sam is just as wary as Beth when his friend Rocco invites him to dinner to meet Beth.  After having his heart broken years earlier, he does not have any interest in relationships or love.  He has no interest in seeing her again but after witnessing the horrible collision, Sam just cannot seem to stay away from Beth’s bedside.

Despite their inauspicious first meeting and their mutual conviction they have nothing in common, Sam and Beth are both amazed by how much they enjoy each other’s company during Beth’s rehabilitation from the car accident.  They each look forward to spending time together and they are astonished by how easily conversation flows between them. Beth and Sam’s relationship runs deeper than friendship but given Sam’s aversion to dating, they do not discuss or think too deeply about what comes next for them.

In spite of the ease in which Sam and Beth fall into a relationship, not everything is roses and sunshine between them.   Beth is still struggling to overcome her need to please her mother and avoidance of these issues only takes her so far in resolving their strained relationship.  Beth also makes a mistake when she refuses to stand up to her domineering mother.  Her mom is also quite insulting when she meets face to face with Sam, but fortunately, he does not allow her disparaging comments and haughty attitude affect their relationship.  Instead, Sam’s doubts and insecurities lead him to make an ill-thought out decision that has the potential to backfire on him.  Beth is also guilty of putting together well-intentioned schemes that sometimes end with painful consequences for the people she loves the most.

If Not for You by Debbie Macomber is a sweet, clean romance that is the perfect example of the old adage, “don’t judge a book by its cover”. Despite the odds being against the very proper music teacher and the blue-collar mechanic, Beth and Sam are a surprisingly well-suited couple with plenty of chemistry. This lovely addition to the uplifting New Beginnings series is a mostly conflict-free love story with a great cast of characters, a couple of heartfelt reconciliations and a touching conclusion.

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Filed under Ballantine Books, Contemporary, Debbie Macomber, If Not for You, New Beginnings Series, Rated B+, Review, Romance

Review: The Cutaway by Christina Kovac

Title: The Cutaway by Christina Kovac
Publisher: Atria / 37 Ink
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

The Newsroom meets Gone Girl.” —Cosmopolitan

The Cutaway draws you into the tangled world of corruption and cover-up as a young television producer investigates the disappearance of a beautiful Georgetown lawyer in this stunning psychological thriller, perfect for fans of Paula Hawkins and Gillian Flynn.

When brilliant TV news producer Virginia Knightly receives a disturbing “MISSING” notice on her desk related to the disappearance of a beautiful young attorney, she can’t seem to shake the image from her head. Despite skepticism from her colleagues, Knightly suspects this ambitious young lawyer may be at the heart of something far more sinister, especially since she was last seen leaving an upscale restaurant after a domestic dispute. Yet, as the only woman of power at her station, Knightly quickly finds herself investigating on her own.

Risking her career, her life, and perhaps even her own sanity, Knightly dives deep into the dark underbelly of Washington, DC business and politics in an investigation that will drag her mercilessly through the inextricable webs of corruption that bind the press, the police, and politics in our nation’s capital.

Harkening to dark thrillers such as Gone Girl, Luckiest Girl Alive, and Big Little Lies, The Cutaway is a striking debut that will haunt you long after you reach the last page.

Review:

With a clever plot and a resourceful lead protagonist, Christina Kovac’s debut mystery The Cutaway is a riveting mystery about a missing woman.

Missing person notices come across TV news producer Virginia Knightly’s desk on a fairly regular basis, but she is  soon obsessed with the case of Evelyn Carney.  An up and coming lawyer, Evelyn appears to have vanished into thin air after a rather tempestuous dinner with her war hero husband, Peter.  With her newly estranged husband’s alibi immediately clearing him of suspicion, the investigation is quickly stalled.  Virginia is a little puzzled to discover her ex-boyfriend Michael Ledger, who is now the commander of the Criminal Division, is involved in the case, but she pushes aside her curiosity in order  to utilize him as source.  With the help of Evelyn’s co-worker, Paige Linden, Virginia quickly discovers Assistant US Attorney Ian Chase is a “person of interest” in Evelyn’s disappearance. However, after uncovering some irregularities and inconsistencies in the investigation, Virginia is uncertain whom she can trust as she continues delving into what happened to Evelyn.

Virginia is a talented journalist with an uncanny ability to remember images from photographs and news stories and she knows right away that she has seen Evelyn in a cutaway from a news story.  She is right in the middle of trying to locate the footage when the somewhat smarmy news director Nick Mellay begins throwing his weight around and handing out pink slips.  Smarting from her temporary demotion, Virginia throws herself into uncovering as much information about the missing lawyer as possible.

Although she wants to stay as far away from Michael as possible, Virginia is too smart not to make use of a valuable resource, so she shoves down her misgivings and pays him a visit.  Trying to keep her personal feelings out of their renewed professional relationship, she is soon trading information and favors for insider details about the case.  While Virginia finds working alongside Michael a distasteful prospect, she views him as a trusted source even though she knows he is not being completely forthcoming about certain aspects of the investigation.

After some of her leads dry up, Virginia turns to Paige for assistance.  Despite the attorney’s reluctance to go on the record, she does provide some very valuable insight and information about Evelyn’s professional and personal lives. Some of the details Virginia gleans from Paige corroborates other facts she has unearthed while some elements of their discussions point her in new directions.

However, the one fact that seems to be irrefutable from both of Virginia’s sources is that Evelyn was personally involved with Ian Chase.  She is also aware that Ian is refusing to talk to the police, but she is hoping he will be willing to talk to grant her an interview.  Virginia is quite tenacious and rather inventive in her attempts to talk to Ian but he is firmly refusing to go on the record. When the police investigation into his role in Evelyn’s disappearance heats up, readers will enjoy the exciting peek into the process in which journalists obtain footage for their broadcast.

The Cutaway  is a very intriguing mystery that has plenty of interesting twists and turns. Christina Kovac utilizes a few red herrings and misdirects in an attempt to obscure the perpetrator’s identity and motive for the crime.  Savvy readers will most likely pick up on a few details that will provide them with a suspect almost right away but the motive for Evelyn’s disappearance will remain elusive. Chock full of suspense, this fast-paced and riveting mystery culminates with a rather surprising conclusion.  Hopefully this is just the first of many investigations starring the very intrepid and immensely appealing Virginia Knightly.

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Filed under Atria / 37 Ink, Christina Kovac, Contemporary, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, Suspense, The Cutaway

Review: There’s This Guy by Rhys Ford

Title: There’s This Guy by Rhys Ford
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary, M/M, Romance
Length: 200 pages/Word Count: 71,030
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by the Author

Summary:

How do you save a drowning man when that drowning man is you?

Jake Moore’s world fits too tightly around him. Every penny he makes as a welder goes to care for his dying father, an abusive, controlling man who’s the only family Jake has left. Because of a promise to his dead mother, Jake resists his desire for other men, but it leaves him consumed by darkness.

It takes all of Dallas Yates’s imagination to see the possibilities in the fatigued art deco building on WeHo’s outskirts, but what seals the deal is a shy smile from the handsome metal worker across the street. Their friendship deepens while Dallas peels back the hardened layers strangling Jake’s soul. It’s easy to love the sweet, artistic man hidden behind Jake’s shattered exterior, but Dallas knows Jake needs to first learn to love himself.

When Jake’s world crumbles, he reaches for Dallas, the man he’s learned to lean on. It’s only a matter of time before he’s left to drift in a life he never wanted to lead and while he wants more, Jake’s past haunts him, making him doubt he’s worth the love Dallas is so desperate to give him.

Review:

There’s This Guy by Rhys Ford is an incredibly uplifting and extremely emotional journey of healing.

Jake Moore is an exceptionally gifted metal worker but his highly dysfunctional and abusive childhood leaves him feeling utterly hopeless and unable to accept every aspect of himself. He is heavily guilt-laden over his perceived role in his mother’s death and despite the horror inflicted upon him by his father, Jake cannot turn his back on the man now that he is dying.  His life is at an incredibly dark place and when Jake meets Dallas Yates and his delightful friend Celeste, he does not feel worthy of love let alone friendship or comfort.

Dallas is Jake’s complete opposite in every way.  He has a loving, supportive family who accept every facet of his personality and his life.  He is quick to welcome people into his life and his heart and he is extremely upbeat and outgoing.  His optimism is refreshing and despite his sunny outlook on life, Dallas knows not everyone can be fixed and he is well aware his relationship with Jake might not ever progress beyond friendship.

Although Jake is not ready to embrace his sexuality,  his fledgling friendship with  Dallas is a glimmer of light in his somewhat grim and rather hopeless life.  Dallas respects Jake’s boundaries and his inability to talk about his past, but when he inadvertently stumbles onto one of his new friend’s most shameful secrets, he finally begins to breach his defenses. Quickly realizing the depth of Jake’s problems, he encourages him to seek professional assistance to help him deal with the trauma from his childhood.  The changes in both Jake and the men’s relationship are gradual and realistic as Jake finally begins to come to terms with his haunting past.

There’s This Guy is an absolutely heartwarming romance but it is Jake’s recovery from his emotional wounds that makes the novel such an outstanding read.  Rhys Ford handles difficult subject matter with a great deal of sensitivity.  The storyline has an amazing amount of depth and there are no quick or easy fixes for Jake’s issues and his subsequent recovery from his traumatic past. The characters are richly developed and multi-faceted with realistic backstories and experiences.  While there is plenty of chemistry between Dallas and Jake, it is their emotional connection that makes their relationship so believable.  A heartfelt and moving novel that I highly recommend to fans of the genre.

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Filed under Contemporary, Dreamspinner Press, M/M, Rated B, Review, Rhys Ford, Romance

Review: Find Me by J.S. Monroe

Title: Find Me by J.S. Monroe
Publisher: MIRA
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 400 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

A sighting of a woman who supposedly died years ago sparks a desperate search for the truth in this breakout suspense thriller, perfect for readers of The Good Girl and The Widow

Sometimes we choose to see only what we want. Sometimes what we see changes the way we look at everything… 

Jarlath “Jar” Costello’s girlfriend, Rosa, committed suicide when they were both students at Cambridge, and Jar has thought about her every day since. It’s been five years, yet Jar is still obsessed with the idea that Rosa, the one true love of his life, is alive. He’s tormented by disturbingly real sightings of her—experiences the psychologist treating him describes as “post-bereavement hallucinations.”

When Rosa’s aunt uncovers an encrypted file on her laptop that she believes is Rosa’s diary, she gives Jar the hard drive, sending him on a frantic quest to unlock the mysterious document and finally make sense of the suspicious circumstances surrounding Rosa’s suicide. But the deeper he digs, the more confused he becomes as he is pressed into a dark underworld where nothing is as it seems and no one can be trusted. When a startling discovery convinces him more than ever that these are not just hallucinations—that Rosa really is alive—Jar is thrust into the heart of a larger intrigue that may finally shed some light on Rosa’s death…even as it dangerously threatens his own life.

Review:

With plenty of suspense and unexpected twists and turns, Find Me by J.S. Monroe is a spectacular yet chilling psychological thriller.

Jarlath “Jar” Costello lost his girlfriend, Rosa Sandhoe, to suicide five years earlier.  However, due to the fact her body was never recovered, he is convinced she is still alive.  His life has gone steadily downhill as he works a job that he hates, drinks to excess and ends up having meaningless one night stands.  Jar is also continuing to experience “post-bereavement hallucination” where he sees Rosa in a variety of different locations and situations.  After Rosa’s Aunt Amy stumbles onto a what is believed to be her niece’s computer diary, Jar discovers grows more convinced Rosa is still alive and he intensifies his search for her with the help of his friend, Carl.

Although their relationship had barely started when Rosa vanished, there is never any doubt she and Jar were deeply in love.  It is not until Jar begins reading the diary entries that he realizes how deeply she was still grieving the death of her father but Jar still does not believe she was suicidal.  With each diary entry he reads, Jar becomes aware there was a lot going on in Rosa’s life that she kept hidden from him.  He is also more certain than before that she is still alive and in fact, some of this newly discovered information helps explain some of the odd events that have been happening to him recently.  Although Jar learns valuable details about what might have happened to Rosa, he has no idea how he will find her.

Broken into two parts with chapters alternating between Jar’s perspective and a hodgepodge of diary entries, there is an incredible sense of urgency as Jar uncovers the truth about Rosa. The diary entries are non-sequential since they are decrypted in random order but each chapter is clearly marked with the correct date so they are easy to follow. Initially, Jar appears to an unreliable narrator who is seemingly paranoid since he certain that someone is following him. However, as part one comes to a close, there is little doubt that Jar is on the right track about Rosa.

The pacing of part two is even more frantic as Jar’s investigation intensifies and the diary entries are now written from two characters’ perspectives.  The truth about Rosa’s disappearance is still a little murky, but the details that begin to emerge are completely horrifying.  Jar makes an absolutely shocking discovery that he first finds impossible to believe.  Will he find irrefutable proof to prove that his suspicions are, in fact, correct?

Find Me by J.S. Monroe is an utterly engrossing mystery that is part crime drama and part spy novel.  With unspeakable acts of violence committed by a thoroughly sick and twisted individual, there is a high degree of suspense as Jar uncovers the grisly  truth about what happened to Rosa.  This high octane novel moves at breakneck speed and has no shortage of breathtaking twists, turns and stunning revelations.  All in all, it is an incredibly well-written mystery with an original storyline that tackles some fascinating yet very dark subject matter.

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Filed under Contemporary, Find Me, Harlequin, JS Monroe, Mira, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, Suspense