Category Archives: Contemporary

Review: Whistle Blower by Dev Bentham

Title: Whistle Blower by Dev Bentham
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary, M/M, Romance
Length: 214 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by the Author

Summary:

Money can’t buy happiness. Jacob Nussbaum knows this better than anyone. He’s a corporate lawyer deep inside a huge New York firm, where he works overtime, sacrifices any chance at a personal life, and has been selling his soul for years. With a secretary as his only friend, he trudges on, until his whole world is blown apart by a manila envelope of photos—evidence that one of the firm’s partners is the dirtiest lawyer in one hell of a filthy business.

In search of the truth, Jacob travels to a small northern Wisconsin fishing resort. There he meets Ben Anderson, a brutally lonely man, who knocks him off his feet. Ben prompts Jacob to reevaluate his life. He’s a dozen years older than Jacob, still recovering from the death of his long time love, and doesn’t want to leave anyone a widower. But a jaded New Yorker on a soul-searching mission might be just the man to convince the grieving Ben that it’s never too late to begin again.

Review:

Whistle Blower by Dev Bentham is a sweet and sultry novel of healing for widower Ben Anderson. Still grieving the death of his longtime partner of twenty-five years when he meets Jacob Nussbaum, Ben gradually comes to terms with his loss but is he ready to commit to another relationship?

In his mid-thirties, Jacob has sacrificed his personal life to achieve professional success and despite making partner, he still continues to work long hours. After receiving an envelope from an anonymous source containing damning evidence against senior partner Marvin Voss, Jacob suffers a crisis of conscience over his chosen profession. As a corporate lawyer who helps major corporations settle disputes to their advantage, he has always maintained a degree of separation from the victims in the law suits. However, after viewing the photos from the chemical spill case he worked on with Voss, Jacob decides that no matter the cost to his career, he has no choice but to find proof that Voss is guilty of ethical misconduct.

The first step in Jacob’s investigation is to track down opposing lawyer Carl Halverson at a remote Wildcat Island Resort in northern Wisconsin. Upon his arrival, he discovers that Carl has changed his arrival date but Jacob decides to take advantage of his time off. Although completely out of his element, he relaxes for the first time in years and he enjoys spending time in Ben’s company and learning to row a scull. At the same time, Jacob continues to re-evaluate his life but he remains uncertain about his plans for his future and the situation with Voss.

After Manny’s death, Ben moved to Wisconsin and began operating the lodge year round. Although he has been gone for two years, Ben cannot bring himself to clear out Manny’s clothes or spread his ashes. Despite indulging in a couple of meaningless one night stands in the intervening years, Ben is nowhere near ready for another relationship which is why his attraction to Jacob catches him completely off guard. He genuinely likes the younger man and while he is willing to agree to a no strings fling, Ben is unprepared for his growing feelings for Jacob.

Ben and Jacob’s relationship begins with friendship and gradually turns to sexual once they decide to act on their mutual attraction. Their encounters are deliciously steamy and both men are surprised by their emotional connection. When it is time for Jacob to return to New York, their parting is a little bittersweet and they begin corresponding by e-mail. Jacob returns to Wisconsin to meet face to face with Carl and while waiting for his arrival, he resumes his fling with Ben. Both men realize their feelings run deeper than desire, but Ben refuses to take their relationship to the next level in an effort to protect Jacob from future heartache. Another trip provides Jacob vital information about Voss and unexpectedly leads to disagreement with Ben that completely derails their burgeoning romance.

Whistle Blower is a beautifully written romance that is remarkably free from unnecessary drama or angst. Ben and Jacob are well-rounded protagonists who are flawed yet immensely appealing. The resort setting is quite unique and Dev Bentham brings the remote island and its surroundings vibrantly to life. With its distinctive storyline and charming cast of characters, Whistle Blower is a realistic and engaging love story that I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend to fans of the genre.

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Filed under Contemporary, Dev Bentham, Dreamspinner Press, M/M, Rated B+, Review, Romance, Whistle Blower

Review: Missing Pieces by Heather Gudenkauf

Title: Missing Pieces by Heather Gudenkauf
Publisher: MIRA
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 288 pages
Book Rating: 288 pages

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

A woman uncovers earth-shattering secrets about her husband’s family in this chilling page-turner from New York Times bestselling author Heather Gudenkauf 

Sarah Quinlan’s husband, Jack, has been haunted for decades by the untimely death of his mother when he was just a teenager, her body found in the cellar of their family farm, the circumstances a mystery. The case rocked the small farm town of Penny Gate, Iowa, where Jack was raised, and for years Jack avoided returning home. But when his beloved aunt Julia is in an accident, hospitalized in a coma, Jack and Sarah are forced to confront the past that they have long evaded.

Upon arriving in Penny Gate, Sarah and Jack are welcomed by the family Jack left behind all those years ago—barely a trace of the wounds that had once devastated them all. But as facts about Julia’s accident begin to surface, Sarah realizes that nothing about the Quinlans is what it seems. Caught in a flurry of unanswered questions, Sarah dives deep into the puzzling rabbit hole of Jack’s past. But the farther in she climbs, the harder it is for her to get out. And soon she is faced with a deadly truth she may not be prepared for.

Review:

In Heather Gudenkauf’s newest release, Missing Pieces, Sarah Quinlan grows suspicious of her husband Jack after learning he has been lying about his past for the last twenty years.

As soon as Jack gets the news that his beloved Aunt Julia has been gravely injured in a fall, he and Sarah make a hurried trip to his rural hometown in Iowa. It does not take long for Jack’s carefully constructed past to come tumbling down when his sister Amy makes cryptic comments about their family home, where their cousin Dean and his wife Celia now reside. Pressing her husband for answers, Sarah quickly learns that Jack’s parents did not die in a car crash as he has long professed. She is stunned to discover his mother, Lydia, was bludgeoned to death in the cellar of their farmhouse when Jack was fifteen years old and that his long missing father John remains the prime suspect in her murder. When Julia unexpectedly succumbs to her injuries, the Quinlan family falls under suspicion when Sheriff Verne Gilmore announces she was the victim of foul play.

Sarah’s shock and distress over Jack’s lies is understandable as is her search for answers, but her immediate suspicions about him make it difficult to like her. Given the circumstances with his aunt’s precarious health, it is little wonder he has the desire or energy to rehash his sordid past. Jack’s downplaying of old relationships is definitely cause for concern but Sarah’s resulting jealousy seems misplaced.

Sarah does not give Jack the benefit of the doubt upon learning he deliberately mislead her about his past nor does she give him much of a chance to explain his reasons for his deception. Instead, with each new discovery, she grows convinced he killed his mother and although there is no way he is responsible for his aunt’s initial injuries, she cannot help but wonder if he had a hand in her death as well.

Turning to an unlikely source for help, Sarah manages to get the police reports from his mother’s murder. As she listens to his police interviews and reads the witness statements, a troubling picture soon emerges about fifteen year old Jack and she becomes certain he is responsible for Lydia’s death. This quick indictment of her husband clouds Sarah’s judgment and gives her tunnel vision during her amateur investigation of both murders.

Events unfold at a breakneck speed and there is a strong sense of urgency to discover the truth as Sarah tries to piece together the truth about what happened to Jack’s mother and his Aunt Julia. Sheriff Gilmore’s primary concern is finding Julia’s killer and although certain he has the right person in custody, he continues searching for evidence. He eventually makes a shocking discovery that casts doubt on his theory about Lydia’s death but whether this has any bearing on his current investigation remains unclear. When Sarah finally understands the meaning behind a puzzling series of e-mails, she is certain she has uncovered the motive for the murders, but only time will tell if her supposition is correct.

Despite a few improbable plot points and a somewhat unsympathetic lead protagonist, Missing Pieces is an intriguing mystery that is quite riveting. Heather Gudenkauf cleverly conceals the both the motive for the murders and the killer’s identity right up until the novel’s dramatic conclusion. All in all, a suspense-laden novel that fans of the genre will enjoy.

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Filed under Contemporary, Harlequin, Heather Gudenkauf, Mira, Missing Pieces, Mystery, Rated B, Review, suspense

Review: Breakdown by Jonathan Kellerman

Title: Breakdown by Jonathan Kellerman
Alex Delaware Series Book 31
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 368 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Bestselling author Jonathan Kellerman has been universally hailed as the master of psychological suspense, and the blockbuster new thriller featuring Alex Delaware and Milo Sturgis confirms his status as today’s preeminent practitioner of saber-sharp storytelling.

Psychologist Dr. Alex Delaware meets beautiful and emotionally fragile TV actress Zelda Chase when called upon to evaluate her five-year-old son, Ovid. Years later, Alex is unexpectedly reunited with Zelda when she is involuntarily committed after a bizarre psychotic episode. Shortly after Zelda’s release, an already sad situation turns tragic when she is discovered dead on the grounds of a palatial Bel Air estate. Having experienced more than enough of L.A.’s dark side to recognize the scent of evil, Alex turns to his friend LAPD Lieutenant Milo Sturgis for help in finding out who ended Zelda’s broken life.

At the same time, Alex is caught up in another quest: the search for Zelda’s missing son. And when other victims vanish from the same upscale neighborhood, worry turns to terror.

As Alex struggles to piece together the brief rise and steep fall of a gorgeous, talented actress, he and Milo unveil shattered dreams, the corruption of a family, and a grotesque betrayal of innocence. With each devastating revelation and damning clue, Alex’s brilliant mind is challenged as never before—and his determination grows to see a killer caged and the truth set free.

Review:

Breakdown by Jonathan Kellerman is an exceptionally well-written and intriguing addition to the Alex Delaware series. In this outing, psychologist and police consultant Alex Delaware and police lieutenant Milo Sturgis stumble onto some very perplexing murders while at the same time searching for a missing young boy with ties to one of the victims.

Although Alex’s history with Zelda Chase and her young son Ovid was brief and occurred several years earlier, he agrees to evaluate her when contacted by a psychiatric outpatient facility. He is rather stunned to see the once beautiful actress’s mental state has greatly deteriorated and he grows very concerned about Ovid once he learns she has been living on the streets. Deeply medicated and mostly uncommunicative, Zelda is unable to answer questions about his whereabouts so Alex enlists Milo’s help in locating the missing boy. Knowing there might be a glimmer of truth in Zelda’s psychotic ravings, Alex tries to separate fact from fiction after her untimely death and he quickly becomes obsessed as he tries to uncover new details that he hopes will lead to Ovid.

Sadly, Zelda quickly ended up homeless after her sitcom was cancelled and finding anyone who knew her is like finding a needle in a haystack. With little to go on, Alex tracks down her former cast mates and while he does not learn much new information, their observations reiterate his suspicions she suffered from bipolar disorder. Quickly exhausting the scant clues he uncovers, he finally gives up actively investigating her life and death, but two perplexing disappearances in the same area where Zelda died revitalizes the investigation. Piecing together the connection between Zelda’s death and the two missing maids takes the case in a very surprising direction, and Alex and Milo continue to struggle to make sense of the evidence. Another seemingly unrelated death is too coincidental to ignore but finding the link between the murders is seemingly impossible.

Alex and Milo are both too stubborn to give up despite their lack of progress and initially, Alex does a lot of the legwork on the different cases. Utilizing some of Milo’s police contacts, he uncovers new information about a long ago disappearance, but he quickly hits yet another dead end. Once the truth about closely guarded family secrets is exposed, the pieces begin to fall into place, but Milo and Alex are prevented from searching for new evidence by bureaucratic red tape. Alex cleverly maneuvers around the legal obstacles that stand in their way and the case is eventually cracked wide open when they uncover the evidence they need to make arrests for the murders.

Breakdown is a riveting police procedural that is full of shocking twists and turns. The storyline is complex but very easy to follow and each new development brilliantly advances the novel toward its stunning conclusion. As with the previous novels in the Alex Delaware series, Jonathan Kellerman provides enough background information about Alex, Milo and their longstanding friendship/professional collaboration that newcomers to the series will have no trouble reading this latest installment (but I highly recommend the entire series). An outstanding crime drama that fans of the genre are to enjoy.

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Filed under Alex Delaware Series, Ballantine Books, Breakdown, Contemporary, Jonathan Kellerman, Mystery, Rated B+, Review

Review: The Truth by Jeffry W. Johnston

the truthTitle: The Truth by Jeffry W. Johnston
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, Suspense
Length: 256 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

“I tied you up because I need you to listen,” Derek says. “Focus.”
“Please… W-what do you want from me?”
“The truth,” he says. “About what happened the night my brother died.” He reaches for my left hand. “If I think you’re lying…” With his other hand, he flourishes a pair of flower cutters. Curved. Sharp.
And he smiles.

When Chris wakes up in a dark basement tied to a chair, he knows that he’s trapped-and why. Eight nights ago a burglar broke into Chris’ home. Eight nights ago Chris did what he had to do to protect his family. And eight nights ago a 13-year-old runaway bled to death on his kitchen floor.

Now Derek wants the truth about what happened that night. He wants proof his little brother didn’t deserve to die. For every lie Chris tells, he will lose a finger. But telling the truth is far more dangerous…

A riveting, edge-of-your-seat thriller from Edgar Award-nominated author Jeffry W. Johnston that explores the gray area between what is right and what we’ll do to protect the people we love.

Review:

The Truth by Jeffry W. Johnston is a suspense-laden young adult mystery about a teenager kidnapped and forced to recount the events of the night he shot and killed an intruder.

Eight days after killing thirteen year old Caleb Brannick, Chris Russo is kidnapped by Caleb’s older brother Derek who just wants the truth about what happened the night Caleb died. Convinced the police planted evidence, Derek threatens to cut off Chris’s finger with garden shears if he does not fully co-operate with his demands. Over the course of several hours, Chris recounts the details from the night he and his ten year old brother Devon confronted an armed assailant in the kitchen of their home.

By all appearances, Chris is a devoted older brother who stepped in and became the “man of the house” after his policeman father was killed in the line of duty three years earlier. He takes care of Devon while their mother is working and the boys are extremely close. Although not a sports fan, Chris helps Devon with baseball practice and he, along with their mother, cheer the youngster on during his baseball games. Chris is quiet and unassuming but after he shoots Caleb, he becomes a bit of a local hero although he tries his best to remain out of the spotlight.

A year older than Chris, Derek has had few brushes with the law and he has, in fact, been recently released from a stint in juvie. While still serving his sentence, Caleb ran away from home despite Derek’s pleas to him to stay put until his release. Their home life was incredibly dysfunctional and Derek is still trying to move past the abuse inflicted by their parents. His motives for demanding the truth about the night of Caleb’s death remain a little murky and Chris (along with the reader) cannot help but wonder what will happen when/if Derek is satisfied that Chris has been completely honest with him.

The events of the preceding days are revealed through flashbacks from Chris’s point of view. The transitions from present to past are clearly marked and easy to follow. Derek pushes for honesty about all areas of Chris’s life and although reluctant, Chris is forced to discuss the events surrounding his father’s death which in turn leads to some very probing questions (and reluctant admissions) about his relationship with his dad. Chris also pushes Derek to be honest about his relationship with his own family and he, too, is forced to admit some very uncomfortable truths of his own.

The Truth is an extremely fast-paced and enthralling young adult novel with an unusual but fascinating storyline. Jeffry W. Johnston does an excellent job keeping readers off balance with unexpected plot twists and surprising confessions from both Chris and Derek. The novel comes to a pulse-pounding and dramatic conclusion that is, for the most part, satisfying. An excellent novel that I recommended to readers of all ages.

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Filed under Contemporary, Jeffry W Johnston, Mystery, Rated B, Review, Sourcebooks Fire, The Truth, Young Adult

Review: He Will Be My Ruin by K.A. Tucker

he will beTitle: He Will Be My Ruin by K.A. Tucker
Publisher: Atria Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 352 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

The USA TODAY bestselling author of the Ten Tiny Breaths and Burying Water series makes her suspense debut with this sexy, heartpounding story of a young woman determined to find justice after her best friend’s death, a story pulsing with the “intense, hot, emotional” (Colleen Hoover) writing that exhilarates her legions of fans.

A woman who almost had it all . . .

On the surface, Celine Gonzalez had everything a twenty-eight-year-old woman could want: a one-bedroom apartment on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, a job that (mostly) paid the bills, and an acceptance letter to the prestigious Hollingsworth Institute of Art, where she would finally live out her dream of becoming an antiques appraiser for a major auction house. All she had worked so hard to achieve was finally within her reach. So why would she kill herself?

A man who was supposed to be her salvation . . .

Maggie Sparkes arrives in New York City to pack up what’s left of her best friend’s belongings after a suicide that has left everyone stunned. The police have deemed the evidence conclusive: Celine got into bed, downed a lethal cocktail of pills and vodka, and never woke up. But when Maggie discovers a scandalous photograph in a lock box hidden in Celine’s apartment, she begins asking questions. Questions about the man Celine fell in love with. The man she never told anyone about, not even Maggie. The man Celine believed would change her life.

Until he became her ruin.

On the hunt for evidence that will force the police to reopen the case, Maggie uncovers more than she bargained for about Celine’s private life—and inadvertently puts herself on the radar of a killer. A killer who will stop at nothing to keep his crimes undiscovered.

Review:

With a labyrinthine plot and plenty of dark secrets, He Will Be My Ruin by K.A. Tucker is spellbinding mystery that keeps readers guessing what exactly happened to Maggie Sparkes’ best friend Celine Gaonzalez.

Best friends since childhood, Maggie and Celine come from completely different backgrounds and live very different lives. Wealthy heiress Maggie puts her trust fund to good use funding the philanthropic organization she founded. Not content to just write checks and raise money, Maggie also invests plenty of sweat equity in the foundation as she works side by side the other volunteers in some of the world’s poorest and most remote regions.  Celine, on the other hand, is from humble beginnings and she is barely scraping by as she saves money to complete her degree in hopes of landing a job with a prestigious auction house. Maggie is stunned to learn of Celine’s shocking death and she cannot accept that her friend committed suicide. While packing up Celine’s apartment, she discovers stunning secrets that convince her there is more to Celine’s death than meets the eye. Maggie hires a private investigator to help uncover the truth but she puts herself in danger when she continues investigating on her own.

Maggie is quite idealistic but with her wealthy background, she is rather insulated from the realities of normal life. Tenacious, determined and strong willed, she refuses to give up on finding out the truth about what happened to Celine. Maggie’s quest leads to her to make some questionable decisions but it is difficult to find fault with her refusal to give up on getting answers about Celine’s death.

Growing up with a single mom who struggled financially, Celine wants a better life for herself. With an astute eye for antiques, she scours estate and garages sales for hidden treasures and her collection of valuable pieces is quite extensive. Too proud to accept Maggie’s offers of financial assistance, Celine supplements her meager pay in a somewhat unorthodox manner. Finally on the verge of moving forward with her plans when a major setback occurs, Celine ends up on a crash course with disaster.

The secondary cast of characters is eclectic and entertaining. Celine’s octogenarian neighbor Ruby Cummings is endearing and her astute observations are invaluable. Laidback building super Grady is quite charming and Maggie finds him too sexy to resist. Several clues point Maggie to wealthy, successful hedge fund financier Jace Everett but he does not seem to have a motive to harm Celine. Private investigator Doug Murphy is relentless in his pursuit of answers and his trusty computer expert Zac is rather colorful yet likable.

He Will Be My Ruin is a twisty, turny suspense laden mystery that is quite riveting. Intricately plotted with clever misdirects and well-placed red herrings, K.A. Tucker brilliantly obscures the perpetrator’s identity until virtually the end of the novel. Although a few loose ends are left dangling, this mesmerizing whodunit is a satisfying, smart read that is sure to be a hit with fans of the genre.

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Filed under Atria Books, Contemporary, He Will Be My Ruin, KA Tucker, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, suspense

Review: How to Wrangle a Cowboy by Joanne Kennedy

how to wrangleTitle: How to Wrangle a Cowboy by Joanne Kennedy
Cowboys of Decker Ranch Series Book Three
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 480 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

The last thing this cowboy expected
Inner-city veterinarian Lindsey Ward always loved visiting her grandfather’s Wyoming ranch, so it breaks her heart to have to sell it. She’ll miss the scent of hay and sagebrush under the wide-open sky, but at least the sale will help fund the clinic she’s always dreamed of.

Was to get roped by a city girl
Ruggedly handsome foreman Shane Lockhart and his adorable son aren’t making it any easier for Lindsey to focus on what has to be done. It’s exhilarating going toe to toe with a rough, tough cowboy whose stubborn idealism matches her own, but it’s Shane’s tenderness that might tip Lindsey’s heart over the fence.

Review:

The final installment in Joanne Kennedy’s heartwarming Cowboys of Decker Ranch series, How to Wrangle a Cowboy is a sweet love story that is healing and uplifting.

Lindsey Ward and her grandfather Bud parted on bitter terms and unfortunately he passed away before they could mend the rift between them. Despite their estrangement, she is stunned to discover she will inherit the family ranch instead of her beloved grandmother, Grace. Lindsey is disillusioned by a stranger’s claim against the estate but in an effort to protect her grandfather’s memory, she keeps the situation from her grandmother and their trusted ranch foreman, Shane Lockhart. Trying to handle the predicament on her own, Lindsey considers selling the ranch, but can she bear to part with her grandfather’s legacy?

Recently divorced and still trying to recover financially, Lindsey deeply regrets not acting sooner to make amends with her grandfather. Her grandmother is quick to assure her that Bud harbored no ill feelings toward her and that he wanted nothing but happiness for her. Lindsey would like nothing better than to remain on the ranch but she needs to raise a large sum of money in a short amount of time in order to keep information about her grandfather from becoming public knowledge. She turns to Shane for advice and they immediately lock horns over her plans.

Shane is one of three foster brothers who spent their teenage years on a neighboring ranch. He is deeply scarred by the damage inflicted by his drug addicted parents and his experiences with some of his foster families. Recently reunited with his six year old son, Cody, Shane is protective of those he loves and he finds it very difficult to trust that his good fortune will last.

Sparks fly between Shane and Lindsey from the very beginning and they spend a great deal of the story giving in to their attraction only to have their issues come between them time and again. Shane remains emotionally closed off, distant and mistrusting of Lindsey’s plans while her experiences with her ex-husband leave her zealously guarding her independence. Lindsey is quick to make assumptions about Shane without discussing things with him first and this causes friction between them on more than one occasion. Their relationship is fraught with tension as lack of communication and trust take their toll on their fragile romance.

How to Wrangle a Cowboy by Joanne Kennedy is a deliciously steamy contemporary Western romance. Shane and Lindsey are multi-faceted protagonists whose life experiences have left them a bit wary and guarded as they try to protect themselves from further pain and disappointment. The plot is engaging but it is a little busy since multiple story arcs occur simultaneously. The novel wraps up with a heartfelt epilogue that is quite sweet. A wonderful conclusion to the Cowboys of Decker Ranch series that old and new fans are sure to love.

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Filed under Contemporary, Cowboys of Decker Ranch, How to Wrangle a Cowboy, Joanne Kennedy, Rated B, Review, Romance, Sourcebooks Casablanca