Category Archives: Contemporary

Review: Homecoming by Shannon Stacey

Title: Homecoming by Shannon Stacey
Boys of Fall Series Book Three
Publisher: Jove
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 303 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

The New York Times bestselling author of Defending Hearts returns to small-town New Hampshire where a substitute football coach and a guidance counselor tackle love.

They were the golden boys of fall: Stewart Mills High School’s legendary championship football team. Fourteen years later, they’re back to relive their glory, save the team—and find themselves again . . .

Sam Leavitt has returned home to Stewart Mills with one goal: to fill in for Coach McDonnell and lead the high school football team to the championship. He doesn’t have time for distractions or commitments—but he’s unable to resist falling for the sexy guidance counselor he shared a hot night with months ago.

Jen Cooper knows what she’s looking for long-term, and it’s not Sam—even though the night they shared was explosive. Now, with Sam back in town and working by her side, picking up where they left off is too great a temptation to resist. But before long their fun fling is looking like a future together. And as the championship approaches, Sam is faced with a big decision that will either break them apart—or help them find their way home.

Review:

Homecoming by Shannon Stacey is a heartwarming novel of redemption, forgiveness and love.  Although this latest release is the third installment in the Boys of Fall series, it can be read as a standalone but I highly recommend the previous two books as well.

After beloved high school football Coach McDonnell suffers a heart attack, Sam Leavitt returns to Stewart Falls take over coaching duties until Coach gets the green light from his doctor to return to work.  With a host of bad memories and unresolved issues stemming from his dysfunctional childhood, Sam does not mind helping out temporarily but he has no intention of moving back to town permanently. So he knows he has to maintain a healthy distance from the woman he had a very hot and unforgettable one night stand with the previous summer, guidance counselor Jen Cooper. His good intentions quickly fall by the wayside as their lives become entangled through their jobs and friends but their simmering attraction becomes too powerful to resist. Deciding there is no harm in indulging in a casual affair, Jen and Sam are both somewhat surprised when their no strings fling begins to look an awful lot like a real relationship. Will their deepening emotions have any effect on Sam’s plan to Stewart Falls when Coach returns to work?

Sam is a caring, compassionate man whose abusive childhood left an indelible mark on him.  While he may have put his horrible memories out of his mind, he has never really dealt with his painful past. His strained relationship with his mom is a work in progress and he is trying very hard to forgive her for not doing more to protect him while he was growing up.  Sam has mixed emotions about being back in Stewart Falls and while he really comes to enjoy coaching the football team and mentoring the players, he still has a difficult time letting go of the hurt and anger he still carries with him. After receiving an unexpected job opportunity, he begins rethinking his plans to return to Texas but he cannot see himself moving back to Stewart Falls. Sam comes up with a viable solution to this problem, but will Jen agree to his plan?

Jen cares deeply for the students she works with and she works tirelessly on their behalf to give them the opportunity to make a better life for themselves. Although her family no longer lives in Stewart Falls, she has strong ties to the community.  Still nursing a little hurt and anger over the way Sam left town the previous summer, Jen resolves to stay away from him. When this plan quickly falls through, she refuses to entertain the possibility of giving in to her desire for him. Slowly but surely, she convinces herself she can handle a no strings fling and they soon embroiled in a heated affair. Although she readily admits she is in love with Sam, is Jen ready to do whatever it takes for them to be together?

With a sweet and steamy romance, a wonderful small town atmosphere and laugh out loud humor (the pumpkin babies and Gretchen’s emojis are hilarious), Homecoming is an endearing and heartfelt addition the Boys of Fall series. Jen and Sam are wonderful protagonists whose romance is believable but with some very real obstacles to overcome, their future is far from certain.  This finely crafted novel of love and healing is sure to be a hit with old and new fans of Shannon Stacey.

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Filed under Boys of Fall Series, Contemporary, Homecoming, Jove, Rated B, Review, Romance, Shannon Stacey

Review: Sunrise Crossing by Jodi Thomas

Title: Sunrise Crossing by Jodi Thomas
Ransom Canyon Series Book Four
Publisher: HQN Books
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 384 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Return to peaceful Crossroads, Texas, where community comes first and love thrives in the unlikeliest places… 

Yancy Grey is slowly putting his life back together after serving time for petty theft. As he rebuilds an old house, he finally has a sense of stability, but he can’t stop thinking of himself as just an ex-con. Until one night, he finds a mysterious dark-haired beauty hiding in his loft. But who is she, and what secret is she protecting?

The art gallery Parker Lacey manages is her life—she has no time for friends, and certainly not lovers. But when her star artist begs Parker for help, she finds herself in a pickup truck, headed for the sleepy town of Crossroads. A truck driven by a strong, silent cowboy…

Gabe Snow has been a drifter since he left Crossroads at seventeen after a violent incident. When he accepts a job in his hometown, he’ll have to decide whether he can put the worst night of his life behind him and build a future in the community that raised him.

Review:

With three sweet romances and a hint of suspense, Sunrise Crossing is another heartwarming and engaging installment in Jodi Thomas’s wonderful Ransom Canyon series.  Although this latest release is the fourth in the series, it can be read as a standalone (although I highly recommend the previous books as well).

Yancy Grey has pretty much given up on finding a woman who will overlook his past so he is concentrating on renovating the house he inherited from his grandmother. Busy but satisfied with the various jobs he has around town, he works on the house in his spare time and late one night, he is surprised to discover a young woman hiding on his property.  Unbeknownst to Yancy, the young lady he dubs “Rabbit” is none other than “missing” artist Victoria “Tori” Vilanie.  Having recently fled from her over controlling parents with the help of gallery owner Parker Lacey (who owns a never used home in the area), Tori really is not missing but with her face plastered all over the news, there are plenty of people looking for her.  Tori cannot resist spending time with Yancy but will she unthinkingly put him and Parker in harm’s way?

Parker has worked hard to build a successful business but she does not have much of a personal life.  Helping Tori on the spur of the moment might be a little out of character, but she does not regret her decision.  Deciding to join Tori, Parker asks Clint Montgomery, the cowboy (and her neighbor) who sold her the property in Crossroads, to help her leave Dallas undetected.  Intrigued by the taciturn cowboy, she finds an excuse to visit him and she is pleasantly surprised to discover that while Clint might be the strong, silent type, he makes no effort to conceal his attraction to her.  A delicate dance ensues between them since neither is looking for a long term relationship but love sometimes has way of slipping in when least expected.  Despite their unexpected feelings for one another, Parker has no intention of changing her plans but will Clint convince her to change her mind?

Deputy Fifth Weathers is in the midst of an unexpected romance of his own with helicopter pilot Madison O’Grady when his professional life intersects with the other two couples.  Wary of a newcomer to town, he and Madison are perplexed by some rather suspicious background information of the man who is also staying at the B&B. Fifth is still trying to piece together the puzzling details when the situation with Tori takes a very dangerous turn. Will everyone escape unscathed as the the case hurtles to an explosive conclusion?

While the plot might seem a little busy due to the number of characters and relationships, the various story arcs overlap and it is very easy to keep up with what is happening.  Yancy has been featured throughout the Ransom Canyon series but it is well worth the wait to see him finally find someone who can accept him in spite of his troubled past.  In a town as small as Crossroads, it is no surprise that an outsider can see the man he is now instead of the troubled person he once was and Tori is perfect woman to do just that.  Beginning with friendship, the shift in their relationship to romance is gradual and although they fall in love quickly, their feelings for each other are believable.

While Yancy and Tori’s romance has an air of innocence, the relationship between Parker and Clint is much steamier.  Although neither of them is looking for a lasting commitment, both are open to exploring the attraction between them.  Parker has a few reservations and Clint is amazingly patient with her as she tries to decide if she should give in to her desire.  For a rough and tumble cowboy, there is an unanticipated amount of depth to Clint and at heart, he is a romantic who manages to surprise Parker with some very sighworthy and touching gestures.  Despite not wanting a serious relationship, Parker quickly realizes her feelings for Clint run much deeper than lust, but with an uncertain future, she is not willing to risk breaking his heart.

Sunrise Crossing is an absolutely wonderful addition to the Ransom Canyon series.  The characters are richly developed and immensely appealing.  The small town setting is charming and since many of the characters are recurring, a stop in Crossroads always feels like coming home.  By bring in new people, Jodi Thomas not only keeps the series fresh but with one person in particular, she also answers some lingering questions from earlier installments.  Another outstanding novel in this terrific series which will leave readers anxiously awaiting next year’s release, Wild Horse Springs which features Sheriff Dan Brigman, his daughter Lauren and her first love, Lucas Reyes (SQUEEEEE)!

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Filed under Contemporary, Harlequin, HQN Books, Jodi Thomas, Ransom Canyon Series, Rated B, Review, Romance, Sunrise Crossing

Review: The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

Title: The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 313 pages
Book Rating: B

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

Summary:

How well do you know the couple next door? Or your husband? Or even—yourself?  

People are capable of almost anything. . . 

A domestic suspense debut about a young couple and their apparently friendly neighbors—a twisty, rollercoaster ride of lies, betrayal, and the secrets between husbands and wives. . . 

Anne and Marco Conti seem to have it all—a loving relationship, a wonderful home, and their beautiful baby, Cora. But one night when they are at a dinner party next door, a terrible crime is committed. Suspicion immediately focuses on the parents. But the truth is a much more complicated story.

Inside the curtained house, an unsettling account of what actually happened unfolds. Detective Rasbach knows that the panicked couple is hiding something. Both Anne and Marco  soon discover that the other is keeping secrets, secrets they’ve kept for years.

What follows is the nerve-racking unraveling of a family—a chilling tale of  deception, duplicity, and unfaithfulness that will keep you breathless until the final shocking twist.

Review:

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena is a suspense-laden mystery about a parents’ worst fear: a kidnapped child.  In this case, the missing child is a six month old baby and the police uncover few leads which gives the novel an overwhelming sense of urgency as the search continues.

Anne and Marco Conti are, by all appearances, happily married and devoted to their baby Cora.  They live in a rather affluent neighborhood and their home is beautifully and tastefully decorated.  Marco is a self-made man who owns his own business and Anne is a stay at home mom to their daughter.  With plans to go their next door neighbors Cynthia and Graham Stillwell’s home for a birthday party, they are dismayed by their sitter’s last minute cancellation.   Anne offers to stay home to care for Cora, but Marco convinces her to attend the celebration.  Armed with the baby monitor and taking turns checking in on Cora every thirty minutes, Anne and Marco are stunned when they return home to discover the front standing open and their baby is missing.  What possible motive would anyone have to kidnap their daughter?  Detective Rashbach is called in to investigate and he has quite a few theories about what happened but will any of them pan out?

Scratch below the surface and it is quickly obvious all is not perfect with Anne and Marco.  Both are quite distraught about their daughter’s disappearance and while at first they present a united front, doubts soon begin to creep in.  Following the birth of their daughter, their marriage has become strained and Anne is having trouble coping with a fussy baby and a lack of adult interaction.  Marco’s business has fallen on very tough times and he feels helpless when trying to help Anne through her difficulties.  Both are keeping secrets from the other and Anne becomes increasingly convinced her husband’s relationship with next door neighbor Cynthia might go beyond friendship.  With the couple’s complicated family dynamics with Anne’s wealthy parents, Anne’s complex history and Marco’s growing desperation his business will fail, Anne and Marco grow suspicious of one another as days pass with no news about their missing baby.

Detective Rashbach senses Anne and Marco are holding something back and he is immediately convinced one or both of them might be involved in the kidnapping.  His suspicions grow when they turn up little evidence in the house and he takes a much closer look at the baby’s parents.  He uncovers possibly incriminating evidence but with nothing to support his theories, he is unable to leverage either of them into confessing.  While it appears Rashbach is just going through the motions, there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes that might just blow the case wide open.

By the midpoint of The Couple Next Door, the first major plot twist occurs and it becomes quite intriguing anticipating  what is going to happen next.  However this is just the first of many unexpected twists and turns and after a puzzling murder occurs, it is clear that things have spun out of control.  The next major revelation is jaw-dropping but hold to your hat, because the wild ride is not quite over.  Another shocking  discovery is on the way and boy is it is humdinger.  The denouement is convoluted yet easy to follow and Shari Lapena  brings the novel to an absolutely stunning conclusion.  All in all, a solid debut that mystery lovers will enjoy.

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Filed under Contemporary, Mystery, Pamela Dorman Books, Rated B, Review, Shari Lapena, suspense, The Couple Next Door

Review: Meant to Be Mine by Lisa Marie Perry

Title: Meant to Be Mine by Lisa Marie Perry
Guilty Pleasures Series Book One
Publisher: Forever
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 400 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Loving him was hard. Wanting him was so damn easy . . .

Sofia Mercer may have been sick as a teen, but she’s no delicate flower. And she’s proven it by making it on her own and starting a new life away from the town that turned against her, away from the boy who broke her already fragile heart. But when her aunt Luz dies unexpectedly, leaving Sofia with a mountain of regrets and the keys to a quirky boutique, Sofia has no choice but to return to Cape Cod. Only, this new life in her old town comes with complications.

Burke Wolf was Sofia’s first love-a relationship that burned bright and went up in flames. Seeing him again, Sofia can’t help but get caught up in that all-too-familiar tornado of passion and pain. He’s battled his own demons-that much is clear. But Sofia can’t afford to be careless with her heart . . . and loving Burke again might just break it completely.

Review:

The first installment in Lisa Marie Perry’s Guilty Pleasures series, Meant to Be Mine is a second chance at love romance between former friends who have not seen one another for fourteen years.

Sophia Mercer has not been back to Eaves, MA since she and father left years earlier after a scandal.  Following her beloved great aunt’s death, Sophia returns for the funeral but after the service, she is more than ready to return to the anonymity of New York.  However, Sophia decides to move back to the small town after inheriting her aunt’s specialty store and apartment. Running into her old friend Burke Wolf stirs up long forgotten feelings but will their complicated pasts prevent them acting on their scorching hot attraction?

A sickly child with a life threatening heart condition, Sophia has been fairly healthy since receiving a much needed heart transplant.  She has a successful career but after returning from her aunt’s funeral, her life does not seem to quite fit her any more.  Realizing she would rather be in Eaves, she moves back home although she knows she will have to make peace with some of the ghosts of her past.  Sophia is a smart and savvy business woman who has an uphill battle ahead of her as she makes some pretty gutsy changes to her aunt’s business.  One of the improvements she would like to make involves spending time with Burke, but their interactions are rather acrimonious due to their somewhat convoluted history with one another.

Several years ago, Burke finally managed to kick his drug addiction and he continues to work hard to maintain his sobriety.  Running into Sophia brings back painful childhood memories he has tried very hard to forget.  Despite their unlikely friendship, they were once thick as thieves and Sophia saved him more than once during his turbulent teen years.  While he and Sophia supported on another during very tough times, he kept much of his life a secret from her and he still keeps a tight lid on the reasons for his substance abuse problems. Despite his unhappy history, Burke cannot quite leave Eaves for good although his career keeps him away from town for long stretches of time.

Burke and Sophia’s relationship seems to be following the same frustrating pattern as when they were teenagers.  They get along on a superficial level but the peace between them is tenuous which leads to an irritating pattern of them getting along, fighting and making up then turn around and repeat the cycle time and again.  Neither of them has dealt with the lingering issues from their respective childhoods and they both have a tendency to shut down or run away instead of discussing their problems.  Burke and Sophia spend so much time apart that it is difficult to connect with them as a couple and while there is plenty of passion between them, something always stops them before they consummate their desire.

While the plot is interesting, it does not seem to have much focus.  There are multiple story arcs involving numerous secondary characters so the storyline often feels chaotic and disjointed.  Every character seems to be keeping secrets and while this helps keep readers invested in the unfolding story, it is also irritating since there is little context for their actions or decisions.  With so much going on with Burke and Sophia, the plot feels a little overly complicated and busy because there is plenty of drama going on with the secondary cast of characters as well.

Despite a few flaws, Meant to Be Mine is a nice introduction to the Guilty Pleasures series.  Sophia is a strong female lead and her medical condition adds another layer to the storyline.  Burke is a well-rounded hero and his struggle with recovery is realistically portrayed.  The conflict between them is believable although it takes a little too long for begin working through their emotional baggage. Lisa Marie Perry’s tantalizing glimpses of the secondary characters will leave readers anxiously awaiting the next installment in the series.

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Filed under Contemporary, Forever, Lisa Marie Perry, Meant to Be Mine, Rated C, Review, Romance

Review: The Form of Things Unknown by Robin Bridges

Title: The Form of Things Unknown by Robin Bridges
Publisher: Kensington
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, Romance
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Natalie Roman isn’t much for the spotlight. But performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a stately old theatre in Savannah, Georgia, beats sitting alone replaying mistakes made in Athens. Fairy queens and magic on stage, maybe a few scary stories backstage. And no one in the cast knows her backstory.

Except for Lucas—he was in the psych ward, too. He won’t even meet her eye. But Nat doesn’t need him. She’s making friends with girls, girls who like horror movies and Ouija boards, who can hide their liquor in Coke bottles and laugh at the theater’s ghosts. Natalie can keep up. She can adapt. And if she skips her meds once or twice so they don’t interfere with her partying, it won’t be a problem. She just needs to keep her wits about her.

Honest, nuanced, and bittersweet, The Form of Things Unknown explores the shadows that haunt even the truest hearts . . . and the sparks that set them free.

Review:

The Form of Things Unknown by Robin Bridges is a credible depiction of a teenager’s struggles to be “normal” despite her diagnosis of schizophrenia.  This young adult novel also has a bit of a mystery element along with a hint of romance.

Natalie Roman and her family have recently relocated to Savannah to take care of her grandmother who also suffers from schizophrenia.  Grateful for the new beginning, Natalie lets her brother David talk her into trying out for the summer production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. However, she is quickly dismayed when she recognizes one of the cast members Lucas Grant.  She and Lucas were both recently receiving treatment at the same metal health facility and she would rather keep this information to herself for the time being.  Her worries appear to be unfounded when Lucas continues to ignore her and Natalie is befriended by cast members Raine and Starla.  Amid rumors the theater is haunted, the three girls delight in exploring the theater for spirits but after a few ghostly encounters, Natalie wonders if what she is seeing is real or delusions caused by her schizophrenia.

In many ways, Natalie is a typical teen who makes questionable decisions due to her immaturity.  She does not want to cause any problems for her parents who are struggling to care for her grandmother and the stress from their recent move.  She does have an excellent relationship with David and their interactions are a wonderful blend of teasing and concern for each other’s well being.  Natalie’s desire to keep schizophrenia under wraps is understandable, but in an effort to fit in with her new friends, she makes some very unwise decisions that could lead to a worsening of her symptoms.  When these choices lead to trouble, her parents remain supportive but still manage to emphasize the importance of managing her health responsibly.

The secondary story arcs with Natalie’s new friends, the ghost stories and an unexpected romance with Lucas are skillfully interwoven into the main plot.  Raine and Starla are also normal teens but their budding friendship is full of peer pressure that leads to Natalie making some stupid decisions that jeopardize her health.  The mystery surrounding the ghostly manifestations at the theater is interesting and it is impossible to tell if these sightings are real or part of Natalie’s delusions.  There is also a slight romantic element which involves Natalie and Lucas and although their romance is not the main focus of the story, it does play a pivotal role in a major plotline.

The Form of Things Unknown by Robin Bridges is a fast-paced and engaging young adult novel.  The characters are multi-faceted with true to life frailties that are realistically portryaed and easy to relate to.  The teenagers’ thoughts and actions mimic real life and although they make questionable decisions with predictable outcomes, they are sympathetic and likable.  The overall plot is compelling and the various storylines are fully resolved by the novel’s conclusion.  All in all, it is a wonderful novel that readers of all ages are sure to enjoy.

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Filed under Contemporary, Kensington, Rated B, Review, Robin Bridges, Romance, The Form of Things Unkown, Young Adult

Review: Damaged by Lisa Scottoline

Title: Damaged by Lisa Scottoline
Rosato and DiNunzio Series Book Four
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
Length: 416 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

One boy. One lawyer. One chance for justice.

Ten-year-old Patrick O’Brien is a natural target at school. Shy, dyslexic, and small for his age, he tries to hide his first-grade reading level from everyone: from his classmates, from the grandfather who cares for him, and from the teachers who are supposed to help him. But the real trouble begins when Patrick is accused of attacking a school aide. The aide promptly quits and sues the boy, his family, and the school district. Patrick’s grandfather turns to the law firm of Rosato & DiNunzio for help and Mary DiNunzio is on the case. Soon Mary becomes Patrick’s true champion and his only hope for security and justice. But there is more to the story than meets the eye and Patrick might be more troubled than he seems. With twists at every turn and secrets about the family coming to light, Mary DiNunzio might have found the case that can make her a true protector, or break her heart…

With Lisa Scottoline’s trademark emotional depth and fast-paced action, Damaged will have readers riveted to the last page as they root for the beloved characters and their fight for justice.

Review:

Damaged, the latest addition to Lisa Scottoline’s Rosato and DiNunzio series, is a perplexing legal mystery that delves into the intricacies of special education law and family law.

Mary DiNunzio is the final two weeks of wedding preparations when she finds herself knee deep in a heartbreaking case involving a ten year old boy and his grandfather.  Retired accountant Edward O’Brien hires Mary to defend his grandson Patrick after the child is accused of attacking his teacher’s aide, Steven Robertson, with a pair of scissors. Robertson’s attorney is notorious and diabolical legal shark, Nick Machiavelli, whose immature taunts and dastardly manipulations immediately infuriate Mary.  After the case takes a deadly turn, she jeopardizes her relationship with her fiancé Anthony Rotunno when she impetuously makes a decision without consulting him.  Desperate to rescue Patrick before he is irreparably damaged by the system that is designed to protect him, Mary works feverishly to solve a shocking murder but will she become the killer’s next victim?

Helping special needs children get the best education possible is what Mary does best and she is willing to do whatever is necessary to help Edward navigate the complicated system for his grandson.  She is incensed at Nick’s legal shenanigans and she sometimes acts before she thinks.  She is immediately on the offensive trying to anticipate his next move, but Mary is stunned at how far he will go to outmaneuver her.  As the situation with Patrick worsens, she genuinely wants what is best for the young boy, but some of her decisions are a little naive and ill-planned.  Mary’s heart is in the right place, but she is definitely out of her depth and making choices that could do more harm than good in the long run.

The allegations against Patrick are not easy to prove but they are equally difficult to disprove as well.  While Mary knows the special education laws inside out, backwards and upside down, she is on unfamiliar ground once Patrick reveals shocking  information about Steven Robertson.  After the case takes a heartrending turn, she is even more determined than ever to save the young boy, but things begin moving so fast that she can barely keep up.  Mary is puzzled by some of the details she stumbles across but she is so overwhelmed by everything that is happening, the truth remains tantalizingly out of reach.  Will Mary be able to solve the mystery before it is too late?

With plenty of intriguing twists and turns, Damaged is a fast-paced and compelling mystery. Lisa Scottoline’s research into special education laws and family law is absolutely impeccable and provides depth to the various story arcs.  The storyline is interesting with unexpected plot twists that will keep the reader guessing whodunit and why right up until the dramatic showdown between Mary and the murderer(s).  Although Damaged is the fourth book in the  Rosato and DiNunzio series, it can easily be read as a standalone.

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Filed under Blog Tour, Contemporary, Damaged, Lisa Scottoline, Mystery, Rated B, Rosato and DiNunzio Series, St Martin's Press, suspense