Category Archives: Contemporary

Review: The May Queen Murders by Sarah Jude

Title: The May Queen Murders by Sarah Jude
Publisher: HMH for Young Readers
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, Mystery
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

Stay on the roads. Don’t enter the woods. Never go out at night.

Those are the rules in Rowan’s Glen, a remote farming community in the Missouri Ozarks where Ivy Templeton’s family has lived for centuries. It’s an old-fashioned way of life, full of superstition and traditions, and sixteen-year-old Ivy loves it. The other kids at school may think the Glen kids are weird, but Ivy doesn’t care—she has her cousin Heather as her best friend. The two girls share everything with each other—or so Ivy thinks. When Heather goes missing after a May Day celebration, Ivy discovers that both her best friend and her beloved hometown are as full of secrets as the woods that surround them.

Review:

Set in the Missouri Ozarks, The May Queen Murders by Sarah Jude is an atmospheric, spell-binding young adult mystery.

Rowan’s Glen is home to generations of families who are deeply rooted in the insular community.  Ivy Templeton is a strong believer of the folklore, omens and superstitions that have been handed down by her grandma but her cousin and best friend, Heather, is not.  With various animals turning up dead, the town blames Birch Markle, a troubled young man who murdered a young woman twenty-five years ago then disappeared into the surrounding woods.  For the first time since the tragic murder, Rowan’s Glen has decided to celebrate May Day despite the concern from some the villagers.  In the weeks leading up to the celebration, Ivy and Heather are at odds when Ivy fears that her cousin is courting danger by sneaking around with someone from the neighboring town.  Her fears soon are realized when, shortly after being crowned May Queen, Heather disappears and days later, her lifeless body is discovered.  Shattered by her loss, Ivy is determined to uncover the truth about Heather’s murder but will her search for answers endanger not only her life, but her loved ones as well?

Although the community is close-knit, Ivy’s closest friends are Heather and Rook Merriweather.  She is hurt when Heather begins to exclude her and they begin to drift apart.  Ivy grows deeply worried for her cousin’s safety when she realizes that Heather is sneaking around after dark, but her concerns fall on deaf ears.  Hurtful words are exchanged during a heated confrontation, and Ivy is devastated when Heather dies before they reconcile their differences.

Despite the heightened security in the Glen following Heather’s murder, Ivy and Rook begin investigating the puzzling clues that Ivy discovers amongst Heather’s belongings.  One of their discoveries answers a decade’s old mystery but this information raises some very serious questions about some of the events occurring in the present.  Another troubling murder puts the town on edge as the search for killer intensifies.  Rook and Ivy stumble into a rather macabre situation that quickly turns deadly, leaving both of their lives hanging in the balance.

The May Queen Murders is an eerie, suspense laden mystery that is full of unexpected twists and turns. With a plethora of long buried secrets, chilling revelations and spooky folklore, Sarah Jude obscures the perpetrator’s identity until to the novel’s shocking conclusion.  An outstanding young adult novel that is sure to be a hit with readers of all ages.

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Filed under Contemporary, HMH Books for Young Readers, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, Sarah Jude, The May Queen Murders, Young Adult

Review: The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson

Title: The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson
Publisher: Crown
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Blogging for Books

Summary:

A singularly compelling debut novel, about a desert where people go to escape their past, and a truck driver who finds himself at risk when he falls in love with a mysterious woman.

Ben Jones lives a quiet, hardscrabble life, working as a trucker on Route 117, a little-travelled road in a remote region of the Utah desert which serves as a haven for fugitives and others looking to hide from the world. For many of the desert’s inhabitants, Ben’s visits are their only contact with the outside world, and the only landmark worth noting is a once-famous roadside diner that hasn’t opened in years.

Ben’s routine is turned upside down when he stumbles across a beautiful woman named Claire playing a cello in an abandoned housing development. He can tell that she’s fleeing something in her past—a dark secret that pushed her to the end of the earth—but despite his better judgment he is inexorably drawn to her.

As Ben and Claire fall in love, specters from her past begin to resurface, with serious and life-threatening consequences not only for them both, but for others who have made this desert their sanctuary. Dangerous men come looking for her, and as they turn Route 117 upside down in their search, the long-buried secrets of those who’ve laid claim to this desert come to light, bringing Ben and the other locals into deadly conflict with Claire’s pursuers. Ultimately, the answers they all seek are connected to the desert’s greatest mystery—what really happened all those years ago at the never-open desert diner?

In this unforgettable story of love and loss, Ben learns the enduring truth that some violent crimes renew themselves across generations. At turns funny, heartbreaking and thrilling, The Never-Open Desert Diner powerfully evokes an unforgettable setting and introduces readers to a cast of characters who will linger long after the last page.

Review:

Set against the backdrop of the Utah desert, The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson is an atmospheric novel that is part mystery and part character study.  With its incredible setting and cast of eclectic but vastly appealing characters, this captivating debut will leave readers hopeful it is just the first of many installments starring truck driver Ben Jones.

Ben is an independent trucker whose route along the desolate 117 is much more than a job.  Caring deeply for the diverse customers he delivers packages to, his compassion for the residents leaves him on the verge of losing his business.  Fiercely protective of their desire for privacy, Ben shields them from the sudden scrutiny of strangers even when offered an opportunity that could potentially pull him from the brink of financial ruin.  Bewitched by the mysterious, ephemeral beauty whom he meets in a rather unorthodox (yet humorous) encounter, Ben is unwittingly drawn into a puzzling mystery that puts him and those he cares for in danger.

An orphan who was abandoned by his mother when he was a baby, Ben is one of those characters that is impossible not to like.  He is a bit of loner yet he cares deeply for the customers on his route.  He respects their vehement need for privacy and he never pushes for more contact than they are willing to give him.  He is pragmatic and accepting of his fate even in the face of losing the truck route that is more calling than job.  Down to earth with a surprising amount of depth under his somewhat taciturn exterior, Ben is a champion of those he cares for and he will do just about anything to protect them from outsiders.

One of the many notable characters on his route, Walt Butterfield is the cranky and enigmatic owner of  The Well-Known Desert Diner.  While many people know of the events of his tragic past, few know the actual details of the tragedy that continues to haunt him decades after it occurred.  Walt’s diner is now closed for business yet he meticulously keeps the interior exactly as it was the day he shut the doors to the public.  Hardened and irrefutably shaped by his misfortune, Walt has a surprising capacity for love when the prospect to right a wrong presents itself.

The unexpected appearance of Claire, a mysterious woman on the run from her past, provides Ben an unanticipated chance at love.  Immediately smitten, he returns as often as possible with hopes of catching a glimpse of the beautiful stranger.  Their encounters slowly evolve from slightly antagonistic to friendship then surprisingly, to romance.  However, Claire’s unresolved past soon collides with her present which leaves Ben uncertain about their future together.

The harsh Utah desert is as much a character in the story as it is the setting.  The descriptions of the bleak landscape are tempered by Mr. Anderson’s uncanny ability to find beauty in an arid region that is truly breathtaking.  This wild and untamed location springs vibrantly to life and the reader experiences the vagaries of weather and the bleak isolation alongside Ben and the assorted cast of characters.

The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson is a fascinating peek into the lives of people who manage to thrive despite the hardship and heartbreak they experience while eking out a hard fought existence in an unforgiving stretch of isolated desert.  Beautifully rendered with an ensemble of quirky but likable characters, this debut is an entertaining and thought-provoking story that I absolutely loved and highly recommend to anyone who enjoys character driven novels with a hint of mystery.

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Filed under Contemporary, Crown, James Anderson, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, The Never Open Desert Diner

Review: The Drowning Girls by Paula Treick DeBoard

Title: The Drowning Girls by Paula Treick DeBoard
Publisher: MIRA
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
Length: 381 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by the Author

Summary:

Critically acclaimed author of The Mourning Hours and The Fragile World, Paula Treick DeBoard returns with a tale of dark secrets, shocking lies and a dangerous obsession that will change one neighborhood forever 

Liz McGinnis never imagined herself living in a luxurious gated community like The Palms. Ever since she and her family moved in, she’s felt like an outsider amongst the Stepford-like wives and their obnoxiously spoiled children. Still, she’s determined to make it work—if not for herself, then for her husband, Phil, who landed them this lavish home in the first place, and for her daughter, Danielle, who’s about to enter high school.

Yet underneath the glossy veneer of The Palms, life is far from idyllic. In a place where reputation is everything, Liz soon discovers that even the friendliest residents can’t be trusted. So when the gorgeous girl next door befriends Danielle, Liz can’t help but find sophisticated Kelsey’s interest in her shy and slightly nerdy daughter a bit suspicious.

But while Kelsey quickly becomes a fixture in the McGinnis home, Liz’s relationships with both Danielle and Phil grow strained. Now even her own family seems to be hiding things, and it’s not long before their dream of living the high life quickly spirals out of control…

Review:

The Drowning Girls by Paula Treick DeBoard is a compelling and thought-provoking novel that is suspenseful and slightly disturbing.

Liz and Phil McGinnis and their fourteen year old daughter Danielle have just relocated to The Palms, an affluent, exclusive and tight-knit subdivision.  Phil is the newly hired community relations specialist for the neighborhood while Liz is a counselor at a nearby high school. Although they feel like they are living in paradise due to the many amenities and lavish surroundings, Liz is slightly intimidated by her wealthy neighbors and she is plagued by insecurities when dealing with the other families.  Hoping to ease her daughter’s transition to the new neighborhood and her new school, Liz eagerly accepts Sonia Jorgesen’s offer to introduce her daughter Kelsey to Danielle.  The two girls soon become tight friends, but it quickly becomes apparent that Kelsey is deeply troubled and after Liz makes a disconcerting discovery, her once happy family becomes to fall apart.

Liz is uncomfortable and feels out of place in their new neighborhood.  Their sumptuous and expansive home is part of Phil’s salary package and she is somewhat astonished by her neighbors’ extravagant lifestyles.  Feeling like she is out of her league, she tries to keep to herself as much as possible and to some extent, she manages to remain under the radar.  At first happy that Danielle and Kelsey have become fast friends, Liz is not exactly thrilled with some of the changes in her daughter nor does she like having Kelsey under foot all the time.  Her disenchantment in the situation grows when Danielle is caught in a lie and Liz begins to have doubts that she can trust her daughter.  At the same time, Liz suspects that something is going on with Phil and their marriage grows strained as circumstantial evidence seems to support her suspicions.

Phil is pretty laidback and easygoing and he is a good fit for his new job.  He is not exactly happy to have Kelsey at their house day in and day out especially since she has developed a disconcerting habit of dropping by his office as well.  He makes a concerted efforts to put an end to her flirtatious behavior but these attempts usually backfire. By the time Phil realizes the depth of Kelsey’s obsession with him, he fears it is too late to go to Liz with his concerns.  As his problems with Kelsey worsen, Phil desperately searches for options to get himself out of the untenable situation before he loses everything he holds dear.

Kelsey is an extremely disturbed young woman whose behavior quickly grows out of control.  She is extremely devious and manipulative as she insinuates herself into the McGinnis’s life.  When her schemes fail, she resorts to rumors and lies to try to achieve her goals.  Kelsey is quick to retaliate when things do not go her way and her destructive behavior soon begins to escalate.  Her parents are frequently away on business and despite an earlier incident, they are completely blind to their daughter’s faults.

With the chapters alternating between Liz and Phil’s points of view, The Drowning Girls by Paula Treick DeBoard is a darkly captivating novel of obsession.  Weaving back and forth in time, this spellbinding mystery is fascinating yet sometimes unsettling as it thunders to a conclusion that is utterly shocking. An absolutely riveting novel that I highly recommend to fans of the genre.

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Filed under Contemporary, Harlequin, Mira, Mystery, Paula Treick DeBoard, Rated B+, Review, suspense, The Drowning Girls

Review: Best of My Love by Susan Mallery

Title: Best of My Love by Susan Mallery
Fool’s Gold Series Book Twenty
Publisher: HQN Books
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 384 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

An irresistible new love story from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Fool’s Gold series, set in a town Library Journal calls “so appealing, readers will want to start scoping out real estate.” 

To overcome her painful past, baker Shelby Gilmore goes on the hunt for a friend—a male friend—to convince her stubborn psyche that men can be trusted. But where in a town as small as Fool’s Gold will the petite blonde find a guy willing to not date her?

Dark, charming Aidan Mitchell puts the “adventure” in Mitchell Adventure Tours…and into the beds of his many willing female tourists. Until he realizes he’s inadvertently become that guy—the one-night Casanova—and worse, everyone in town knows it. Maybe Shelby’s boy/girl experiment will help him see women as more than just conquests so he can change his ways and win back his self-respect.

As Aidan and Shelby explore the secret lives of men and women, the heat between them fires up the Fool’s Gold rumor mill. If no one will believe they’re just friends, maybe they should give the gossips something to really talk about!

Review:

Best of My Love by Susan Mallery is a delightfully charming novel with a refreshingly unique storyline.  This twentieth installment in the long running Fool’s Gold series pairs up relative newcomer Shelby Gilmore with Aidan Mitchell and their unexpected friendship offers a firm foundation for their equally surprising romance.

Since moving to Fool’s Gold, Shelby has made a lot of progress in both her professional and personal lives.  Having worked through a lot of her issues that stem from her abusive childhood, she has not had much luck when it comes to relationships.  Her decision to fix her love life occurs at the same time an unfortunate encounter with a woman from Aidan’s past serves as a wake up call for him to make some much needed changes in his life.  Deciding a platonic friendship might be beneficial to both of them, Shelby proposes she and Aidan spend the next six months hanging out together as friends.  As the months pass, both of them are thrilled with how well their plan is working but will their simmering attraction derail their friendship?

Determined not to be ruled by her dysfunctional past, Shelby is self-aware enough to realize she needs help in turning around her lackluster love life.  She has taken steps to come to terms with the events from her childhood but she is still struggling with trust issues.  Despite being a little nervous when initially approaching Aidan, she does not shy away from telling him about her childhood and she is upfront about what she hopes to achieve through their platonic friendship.  Shelby is direct and straightforward with him right from the start and despite a bit of a rocky beginning, they quickly become close friends.

Aidan’s childhood with his temperamental artist father was tempestuous and left him with a somewhat skewed perception of love and marriage.  In order to avoid a committed relationship, Aidan has always stayed away from the local women while indulging in short flings with the female tourists.  Deciding to clean up his reputation, he swears off women and vows to change his playboy ways.  After a great deal of thought, Aidan realizes Shelby’s proposition has a lot of merit and he throws himself wholeheartedly into their friendship.

Since neither Aidan nor Shelby have had friendships with someone of the opposite sex before, their relationship immediately runs into a few snags.  Deciding to alternate their weekly get togethers between “girl” and “boy”  activities, they each begin to understand the very different ways that men and women communicate and interact.  This insight is invaluable as they work their individual issues and genuine affection slowly develops between them over the course of several months.  Neither is prepared for their mutual attraction, but they decide their friendship is more important than giving in to their desire.

With witty dialogue, a distinctive storyline and phenomenal character growth,  Best of My Love is a beautiful friends to lovers romance that old and new fans of the Fool’s Gold series are sure to love.  Aidan and Shelby are perfectly imperfect with fears and insecurities that are realistic and easy to relate to.  The friendship between them develops slowly but naturally over the course of story and  provides a solid basis for their burgeoning romance.  Susan Mallery does a wonderful job keeping this latest installment fresh and unique so there are a few surprises for Aidan and Shelby as they travel the road to happily ever after.

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Filed under Best of My Love, Contemporary, Fools Gold Series, Harlequin, HQN Books, Rated B+, Review, Romance, Susan Mallery

Review: Lone Heart Pass by Jodi Thomas

Title: Lone Heart Pass by Jodi Thomas
Ransom Canyon Series Book Three
Publisher: HQN Books
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 352 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Where family bonds are made and broken, and where young love sparks as old flames grow dim, Ransom Canyon is ready to welcome—and shelter—those who need it

With a career and a relationship in ruins, Jubilee Hamilton is left reeling from a fast fall to the bottom. The run-down Texas farm she’s inherited is a far cry from the second chance she hoped for, but it and the abrasive foreman she’s forced to hire are all she’s got.

Every time Charley Collins has let a woman get close, he’s been burned. So Lone Heart ranch and the contrary woman who owns it are merely a means to an end, until Jubilee tempts him to take another risk—to stop resisting the attraction drawing them together despite all his hard-learned logic.

Desperation is all young Thatcher Jones knows. And when he finds himself mixed up in a murder investigation, his only protection is the shelter of a man and woman who—just like him—need someone to trust.

Review:

Lone Heart Pass by Jodi Thomas is a heartwarming novel of new beginnings and second chances.  This third installment in the Ransom Canyon features multiple story arcs which include a beautiful romance and a perplexing mystery.  Old and new fans will be delighted to meet new characters while at the same catching up with a few favorites from previous novels.

After her latest relationship and her career fall apart, Jubilee Hamilton is more than ready for a change of scenery and a new plan for her future.  Discovering her beloved great-grandfather recently passed away and left her his Texas ranch, she eagerly plans her move to Ransom Canyon.  With little knowledge about ranching, Jubilee quickly hires Charley Collins as her foreman and despite the occasional disagreement, they soon settle into an easy working relationship and a surprising friendship.  Neither Jubilee or Charley are looking for romance, but when love sneaks in when neither are looking, will their emotional baggage prevent them from embracing their chance for happily ever after?

As a campaign manager, Jubilee works long hours and as a result, her relationships take a back seat to her career.  With her life in tatters, she returns home hoping to repair her strained relationship with her family but she makes little headway.  Determined to get the Lone Heart Ranch up and running, she enthusiastically begins the arduous task of learning the skills she needs to succeed as a rancher.  Confident that Charley knows what he is doing, Jubilee is all in as they begin rebuilding the herd and embark on a few side ventures to support the fledgling business.

A single father devoted to his five year daughter Lillie, Charley is barely scraping by financially as he tries to save for a ranch of his own.  No stranger to hard work, he is working multiple jobs when Jubilee hires him to work for her.  He is more than thrilled with their arrangement since he will be making more money, but most important, he will be working on a ranch again.  Charley has a bit of a checkered past and he has not always made the best decisions but he is a caring man with a good heart.

Young Thatcher Jones meets Jubilee and Charley while he is helping Sheriff Dan Brigman investigate a murder close to Jubilee’s ranch.  Thatcher is savvy and street smart due to his somewhat unconventional childhood and his connections make him useful during the investigation.  He begins helping out on the ranch as well and Charley takes him under his wing when he discovers the truth about Thatcher’s home life.

Lauren Brigman returns to Crossroads during a college break and now on the brink of graduation, she is unsure what comes next for her.  Reuniting with old friend Tim O’Grady, she realizes he is a little troubled, so she convinces her father to hire him to help with the murder investigation.  As the two of them renew their friendship, Lauren finds her thoughts turning to Lucas Reyes, the man she has loved since they were teenagers.  She and Lucas have not been in contact for quite some time, so she is shocked to run into him in town.  After one final encounter and more excuses from Lucas about the timing not being right, Lauren gives up hope on a future with him.

Lone Heart Pass by Jodi Thomas is an engaging romance with a charming cast of appealing characters.  The various story arcs overlap and each of the storylines are well-developed and interesting. The introduction of new characters keeps the Ransom Canyon series fresh while the inclusion of characters from previous installments provides a homey, comfortable feel to the story. This heartfelt novel can be read as a standalone, but I highly recommend the entire series.

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Filed under Contemporary, Harlequin, HQN Books, Jodi Thomas, Lone Heart Pass, Ransom Canyon Series, Rated B, Review

Review: One Night Charmer by Maisey Yates

Title: One Night Charmer by Maisey Yates
Copper Ridge Series Book Four
Publisher: HQN Books
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 384 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Copper Ridge, Oregon’s favorite bachelor is about to meet his match

If the devil wore flannel, he’d look like Ace Thompson. He’s gruff. Opinionated. Infernally hot. The last person that Sierra West wants to ask for a bartending job—not that she has a choice. Ever since discovering that her “perfect” family is built on a lie, Sierra has been determined to make it on her own. Resisting her new boss should be easy when they’re always bickering. Until one night, the squabbling stops…and something far more dangerous takes over.

Ace has a personal policy against messing around with staff—or with spoiled rich girls. But there’s a steel backbone beneath Sierra’s silver-spoon upbringing. She’s tougher than he thought, and so much more tempting. Enough to make him want to break all his rules, even if it means risking his heart…

Review:

The newest installment in Maisey Yates’ marvelous Copper Ridge series, One Night Charmer is a scorching hot romance between affable bar owner Ace Thompson and his new waitress Sierra West.

After discovering her family is nowhere near as perfect as she believes, Sierra quits her job on the family ranch and moves out with the intention of standing on her own two feet.  Which is easier said than done since she quickly exhausts all of her job options until her best friend’s boyfriend convinces Ace to hire her as a waitress.  Their relationship is somewhat contentious but Sierra is determined to prove to Ace that she is more than a snobby rich girl.  Despite their squabbling and sarcastic exchanges, they share a simmering attraction that both Sierra and Ace are determined to ignore.  However, late one night, the fighting stops, chemistry takes over and their lives are irrevocably changed afterward.

Ace is friendly, well-liked and always willing to lend a listening ear.  Having left town years earlier to compete on the rodeo circuit, he returned home a changed man.  Although he has plenty of acquaintances, Ace does not talk about himself and in spite of his well deserved reputation with the ladies, he has zero interest in a relationship.  Ace is laidback and easygoing, so his antagonistic attitude and biting comments when he is around Sierra comes as a shock to both of them.

As the daughter of a wealthy rancher, everything has come easily to Sierra.  She has always done what is expected of her and she sees nothing wrong with the choices she has made.  But after learning some very unexpected news about her father, she begins re-evaluating everything she has done up to this point.  Deciding it is time to take charge of her life, Sierra stands behind her decision despite the difficulties she encounters as she leaves behind her sheltered and pampered life.

For someone who has been content to coast through life, Sierra quickly discovers her backbone when faced with Ace’s antipathy towards her.  She refuses to let his opinion affect her as she continues with her plans.  Unbeknownst to Sierra, she reminds Ace of a devastating time in his life that he has never fully recovered from.  Between his unresolved issues and his sizzling hot attraction to Sierra, Ace uses every weapon in his arsenal to keep her at arms’ length even when as they begin planning for a future together.

One Night Charmer is a fun, flirty romance that has a surprising amount of depth.  Ace and Sierra are multi-layered protagonists who undergo an incredible amount of growth throughout the novel.  The storyline is engaging and once again,  Maisey Yates incorporates true to life, realistic issues that the characters must overcome before finding their happily ever after.  It is a sweet yet steamy addition to the Copper Ridge series that old and new fans are sure to love.

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Filed under Contemporary, Copper Ridge Series, Harlequin, HQN Books, Maisey Yates, One Night Charmer, Rated B+, Review, Romance