Category Archives: Mystery

Review: Bitter Roots by C. J. Carmichael

Title: Bitter Roots by C. J. Carmichael
Bitter Root Mysteries Book One
Publisher: Tule Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 206 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Bitter Roots (Book 1 of Bitter Root Mysteries)

Dispatcher Zak Waller prefers working behind the scenes in the Sheriff’s Office of Lost Trail, Montana, but when a newcomer to the sparely populated town is brutally murdered—and the Sheriff is quick to pin the death on an unknown outsider—Zak starts his own private sleuthing.

On the surface Lost Trail is a picture-perfect western town, offering a simple way of life revolving around the local ranches and ski hill, but Zak knows the truth behind the façade. When his old school friend Tiff Masterson, whose family owns a local Christmas tree farm, moves back to town, the two of them join forces to get to the truth about the murder.

Bitter Roots is the first of three Bitter Root Mysteries.

Review:

The first installment in C. J. Carmichael’s Bitter Root Mysteries series, Bitter Roots is a fast-paced and engaging mystery.

The day after Halloween is always a busy day for vandalism reports in the Sheriff’s office. Zak Waller is not anticipating any kind of serious crime reports, so the discovery of the body of a young woman who has apparently been beaten to death is quite shocking. Even more disconcerting is the identity of the victim: twenty-two year old Riley Concurran, a young lady whom Zak knows in passing. Since she is a newcomer to the rural community of Lost Trail, MT, local Sheriff Archie Ford is certain her murderer is someone from her old life. Although Zak is content with his behind the scenes job as the dispatcher, he is frustrated by Ford’s rush to judgment so he embarks on a bit of surreptitious sleuthing. When he uncovers some startling evidence, he turns the information over to Deputy Nadine Black to look into.

On the same day Riley’s body is found, Zak is surprised to learn his old friend Tiffany “Tiff” Masterson has returned to town. Tiff left for college then moved to Seattle where she is an up and comer at an accounting firm. Unbeknownst to her friends and family, her life has undergone some upheaval and she is planning to move back to her family’s Christmas tree farm. Hoping to open her own accounting business, Tiff is unhappy to discover her mom and Aunt Marsha have hired Kenny Bombard as the new manager of the family’s business. Her first encounter with Kenny rubs her the wrong way and she grows even more suspicious of him in the coming days.

Several of Lost Trial’s residents are in the midst of personal dramas of their own and curious minds will certainly wonder whether or not these issues have any bearing on the recent murder. Zak and Tiff’s friend, Derrick Sparks and his wife Aubrey are new parents of an adopted baby boy and Tiff is shocked by the changes in her old friend. Local attorney Justin Pittman is recently married and he is very concerned about his new wife’s puzzling behavior. Tiff wonders if there is any significance to an overheard conversation between her aunt and the local doctor. Will the ongoing investigation into Riley’s murder reveal any connection to any of these well-known and respected citizens?

With plenty of twists and turns, a perplexing murder and intriguing characters, Bitter Roots is an engrossing mystery. C. J. Carmichael brilliantly keeps the killer’s identity concealed as Zak pieces together the truth about what happened to Riley. While Riley’s murder is solved, not all of the story arcs are completely wrapped up by the novel’s end. These lingering questions will leave readers impatiently awaiting the next installment in the Bitter Root Mysteries series.

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Filed under Bitter Root Mysteries Series, Bitter Roots, CJ Carmichael, Contemporary, Mystery, Rated B, Review, Tule Publishing

Review: The Girl Who Was Taken by Charlie Donlea

Title: The Girl Who Was Taken by Charlie Donlea
Publisher: Kensington
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Charlie Donlea, one of the most original new voices in suspense, returns with a haunting novel, laden with twists and high tension, about two abducted girls—one who returns, one who doesn’t—and the forensics expert searching for answers.

Nicole Cutty and Megan McDonald are both high school seniors in the small town of Emerson Bay, North Carolina. When they disappear from a beach party one warm summer night, police launch a massive search. No clues are found, and hope is almost lost until Megan miraculously surfaces after escaping from a bunker deep in the woods.

A year later, the bestselling account of her ordeal has turned Megan from local hero to national celebrity. It’s a triumphant, inspiring story, except for one inconvenient detail: Nicole is still missing. Nicole’s older sister Livia, a fellow in forensic pathology, expects that one day soon Nicole’s body will be found, and it will be up to someone like Livia to analyze the evidence and finally determine her sister’s fate. Instead, the first clue to Nicole’s disappearance comes from another body that shows up in Livia’s morgue—that of a young man connected to Nicole’s past. Livia reaches out to Megan for help, hoping to learn more about the night the two were taken. Other girls have gone missing too, and Livia is increasingly certain the cases are connected.

But Megan knows more than she revealed in her blockbuster book. Flashes of memory are coming together, pointing to something darker and more monstrous than her chilling memoir describes. And the deeper she and Livia dig, the more they realize that sometimes true terror lies in finding exactly what you’ve been looking for.

Review:

The Girl Who Was Taken by Charlie Donlea is a fast-paced and engrossing mystery about two young women who were kidnapped the same night.  Megan McDonald managed to escape from her captor two weeks after she went missing. A year later, Nicole Cutty is still missing and the discovery of her secret boyfriend Casey Delevan’s corpse raises many intriguing questions for her sister, Dr. Livia Cutty, the forensic pathologist who performed his autopsy.

Megan has made a lot of progress recovering from her harrowing ordeal but she is still struggling to reclaim her fragmented memories of the time she spent in captivity. She has been unable to move forward with her plans to go to college and hoping to calm her mother’s concern, she reluctantly agreed to write the tell all book about her experience. With Nicole still missing, Megan continues therapy to try to remember what happened during the two weeks she was imprisoned by the kidnapper and while she is making progress, it is an slow process retrieving those lost details.

Livia is determined to understand the connection  between Nicole and Casey but her investigation is strictly off the books. She uncovers some very disturbing cases that might be linked to Megan and Nicole’s disappearances but since they occurred out of state, she is not completely certain they are connected. Livia does reach out to Megan in hopes of learning new information about the night the girls were abducted and while Megan is eager to assist, will she be able provide new details that will help Livia discover what happened to Nicole?

The storyline weaves back and forth in time and provides readers with insight into Nicole’s activities in the weeks before the abduction. As Livia soon discovers, Nicole’s behavior had dramatically transformed in the weeks leading up to her disappearance, but trying to find the reason for this change is elusive.  Equally puzzling is her relationship with the much older Casey but Livia cannot seem to discover how the two met or what drew them to one another.  The answers to these questions are quite shocking as is their horrifying obsession and how Casey and Nicole satisfy their unhealthy curiosity.

The Girl Who Was Taken is a spellbinding mystery with an unusual storyline and strong female characters. Charlie Donlea employs several red herrings, clever misdirects and offers a viable pool of suspects in an effort to keep the perpetrator’s identity hidden.  Despite these rather ingenious attempts to conceal the kidnapper’s identity, astute readers will most likely figure out who is behind the crimes well before the novel’s conclusion.  Despite accurately solving the mystery about halfway through the novel, Livia’s investigation and Megan’s continued efforts to retrieve her memories surrounding her traumatic kidnapping are quite interesting and easily kept me engaged in the unfolding story.  All in all, a very intriguing mystery that fans of the genre do not want to miss!

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Filed under Charlie Donlea, Contemporary, Kensington, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, The Girl Who Was Taken

Review: No Easy Target by Iris Johansen

Title: No Easy Target by Iris Johansen
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Romantic Suspense
Length: 349 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

New York Times bestselling author Iris Johansen returns with another thriller, No Easy Target

Margaret Douglas has worked hard to put her painful past behind her. Raised off the grid in an abusive home, her only escape was the nearby forest where she sought refuge whenever she could. There, in the peaceful woods, she discovered a strange gift: the ability to understand animals and to communicate with them. And so those creatures became her only friends, her only joy during a desolate childhood. Now Margaret wants nothing more than to live a quiet life, close to the animals and under the radar. But her abilities have not gone unnoticed and there are those who would use them for their own purposes. Determined not to be a pawn in anyone’s game, every time someone gets too close, Margaret uproots her life and outruns them.

When John Lassiter breaks into Margaret’s apartment, she vanishes again, but Lassiter has good reason to be persistent. As a CIA operative, he owes his life to his men, one of whom is being held captive by an unrelenting enemy—an enemy who has set his sights on Margaret. Which means that Lassiter must control her to use her as bait.

With danger in hot pursuit, Margaret finds herself matching wits with a man who refuses to stop or be stopped. Turning from the hunted to the hunter, Margaret must use everything she has ever learned to not only survive, but to defeat a great evil. And to prove once and for all that she’s no easy target.

Review:

No Easy Target by Iris Johansen is a suspense-laden mystery  with a romantic element.

Margaret Douglas has left her troubles behind her, but one phone call changes everything for her. Discovering that a total stranger, John Lassister, has pulled out all the stops in order to locate her, she is afraid that Stan Nicos, a notorious, sadistic criminal, has found her. However, John and his friend and associate Neal Cambry are one step ahead of her and before Margaret can go on the run again, he kidnaps her.  Will Margaret convince John to set her free? Or will he follow through with his plan and put in her in extreme danger in the process?

Margaret has a unique ability to communicate with animals which also makes it easy to read strong emotions in humans as well.  Now volunteering at a local zoo, she is content with her life when John finds her.  Margaret wants absolutely nothing to do with John and his plan which will put her smack dab in the Nicos’ crosshairs.  However, in John’s mind, his needs supersede Margaret’s objections and he will go to any lengths to follow through with his plan.

While Margaret is a likable and sympathetic character, the same cannot be said for John. His information about Margaret and her ties to Nicos is superficial and he has a lot of assumptions but very few facts. While he has a good reason for going up against Nicos, his plan to use Margaret to accomplish his goal is unconscionable.

Margaret’s quick about face is unrealistic given her history with Nicos and her subsequent romantic relationship with John falls flat. Despite the suspense element, the novel is extremely slow paced and gets bogged down in endless dialogue.  The conversations and inner thoughts of the characters are initially interesting but they quickly become repetitive.   The overall plot feels just feels tired and overdone.

No Easy Target has an interesting premise and Margaret is a gutsy heroine. Readers will be left wondering whether or not this is the first installment in a new series from Iris Johansen.

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Filed under Contemporary, Iris Johansen, Mystery, No Easy Target, Rated C, Review, Romantic Suspense, St Martin's Press

Review: Fallout by Sara Paretsky

Title: Fallout by Sara Paretsky
V.I. Warshawski Series
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 448 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

LEE CHILD says she’s “a genius.”

P.D. JAMES called her “the most remarkable” of today’s suspense writers.

STIEG LARSSON loved her work so much, he named her in his novels.

And now SARA PARETSKY returns with the most extraordinary novel of her legendary career: FALLOUT.

Before there was Lisbeth Salander, before there was Stephanie Plum, there was V.I. WARSHAWSKI. To her parents, she’s Victoria Iphigenia. To her friends, she’s Vic. But to clients seeking her talents as a detective, she’s V.I. And her new case will lead her from her native Chicago… and into Kansas, on the trail of a vanished film student and a faded Hollywood star.

Accompanied by her dog, V.I. tracks her quarry through a university town, across fields where missile silos once flourished — and into a past riven by long-simmering racial tensions, a past that holds the key to the crimes of the present. But as the mysteries stack up, so does the body count. And in this, her toughest case, not even V.I. is safe.

Exciting and provocative, fiercely intelligent and witty, FALLOUT is reading at its most enjoyable and powerful.

Review:

In Sara Paretsky’s, Fallout, the latest installment in the V.I. Warshawski  series, the intrepid sleuth must travel to Lawrence, Kansas in order to locate a missing filmmaker and an aging film star.

Vernie Bourchard’s friend Angela Creedy is worried about her missing cousin, August Veriden, who has not been seen or heard from in quite some time and they convince V.I. to find him. Discovering the police would like to interview August about a break in and robbery at the gym where he works as a personal trainer, she quickly learns his apartment has also been recently ransacked. Quickly learning August is filming a documentary starring African American actress Emerald Ferring, she is soon attempting to retrace their steps. Her first stop is an Army post in Kansas where she meets Colonel Dante Bagetto.  V.I. and her dog Peppy then journey to Lawrence where the townspeople are not exactly eager to answer her questions. However, V.I. is quite tenacious and she eventually discovers Emerald’s long ago visits to Lawrence in 1983 are tied to an anti-nuclear protest at the Kanwaka Missile Silo and her mother Lucinda’s funeral.  As V.I. continues searching for August and Emerald, she uncovers some puzzling clues and unsettling information  about these long ago events.  What, if any, connection is there between what happened in 1983 and her current case? And most importantly, where are August and Emerald?

V.I. has good instincts and she cannot help but wonder why everyone she meets is so reluctant to talk to her when she arrives in Lawrence. Her first solid lead almost ends in tragedy for local Sonia Kiel, a homeless woman with a history of mental illness and an alcohol problem. Although Sonia only confirms her suspicion that August and Emerald were recently in town, the confirmation is enough for V.I. to continue searching for answers.  Her quest keeps leading right back to the now defunct Kanwaka Missile Silo which abuts a local farm owned by Doris McKinnon.  A shocking discovery at the farm puts V.I. under the close scrutiny of local law enforcement who are none too pleased she is poking around in the town’s secrets.  When V.I. stumbles across a meeting with Colonel Bagetto, local Sheriff Gisborne, the oddly familiar Marlon Pinsen and agricultural executive Bram Roswell, her curiosity is definitely piqued but she remains uncertain whether or not the tête-à-tête has anything to do with her missing duo.

V.I.’s search for August and Emerald continues circling back to the events that occurred in 1983 and local researcher Dr. Nathan Kiel, who also happens to be Sonia’s father.  A little more sleuthing turns up unexpected links to Emerald but V.I. is having difficulty piecing together the disparate clues.  V.I. refuses to give up trying to find Emerald and August and she is growing more and more concerned for their safety after a second attempt is made on Sonia’s life and another person turns up dead. When she continues to see Bagetto, Giborne and Pinsen together, V.I. is certain her case is linked to what happened at the Kanwaka Missile Silo in 1983.  After Vernie grows impatient with V.I.’s lack of progress in locating August, she  makes an impulsive decision to join her in Lawrence and inadvertently puts herself and V.I. in danger. Will V.I. be able to escape from a precarious situation?  Will she locate August and Emerald?

With a refreshing change of scenery, a unique case to solve and a cast of interesting characters, Fallout is a fast-paced and engrossing mystery that old and fans of the V.I. Warshawski series do not want to miss. Sara Paretsky keeps the series fresh as she changes the setting for this latest release from Chicago to Kansas.  V.I. has to contend with unusual surroundings, and without her usual go to people to help her out, she is forced to rely on herself to unlock the increasingly puzzling mystery she is currently embroiled in.  The novel comes to a pulse-pounding conclusion that completely wraps all of the various story arcs. I highly recommend this absolutely brilliant and intricately-plotted mystery to fans of the genre.

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Filed under Contemporary, Fallout, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, Sara Paretsky, VI Warshawski Series, William Morrow

Review: The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda

Title: The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 352 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

In the masterful follow-up to the New York Times bestseller All the Missing Girls—“think: Luckiest Girl Alive, The Girl on the Train, Gone Girl” (TheSkimm)—a journalist sets out to find a missing friend, a friend who may never have existed at all.

Confronted by a restraining order and the threat of a lawsuit, failed journalist Leah Stevens needs to get out of Boston when she runs into an old friend, Emmy Grey, who has just left a troubled relationship. Emmy proposes they move to rural Pennsylvania, where Leah can get a teaching position and both women can start again. But their new start is threatened when a woman with an eerie resemblance to Leah is assaulted by the lake, and Emmy disappears days later.

Determined to find Emmy, Leah cooperates with Kyle Donovan, a handsome young police officer on the case. As they investigate her friend’s life for clues, Leah begins to wonder: did she ever really know Emmy at all? With no friends, family, or a digital footprint, the police begin to suspect that there is no Emmy Grey. Soon Leah’s credibility is at stake, and she is forced to revisit her past: the article that ruined her career. To save herself, Leah must uncover the truth about Emmy Grey—and along the way, confront her old demons, find out who she can really trust, and clear her own name.

Everyone in this rural Pennsylvanian town has something to hide—including Leah herself. How do you uncover the truth when you are busy hiding your own?

Review:

The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda is a perplexing mystery about a woman who goes missing around the same time another woman is attacked.  Is there any connection between the two cases?

On the same day Bethany Jarvitz is bludgeoned, high school teacher Leah Stevens becomes increasingly concerned over the whereabouts of her roommate Emmy Grey.  Trying to pinpoint the last time she saw her friend is not easy since they work opposite schedules, but Leah decides to err on the side of caution and report the disappearance to the police. Having already been questioned by Detective Kyle Donovan, she turns to him for help in finding Emmy.  However, the more questions Kyle asks about her friend, Leah realizes how very little she knows about Emmy.  When the police are unable to uncover any information about her missing friend, Leah begins her own investigation but there are many surprises awaiting her as she begins digging into her roommate’s past.

Following a scandal surrounding a newspaper article about a series of college suicides, Leah has no choice but to quit her job as a newspaper reporter.  While she is trying to figure out what to do next, she unexpectedly runs into Emmy at a local bar. Although she has not seen nor heard from her friend in eight years, Leah has absolutely no qualms about agreeing to Emmy’s plan to move to Pennsylvania for a fresh start. Leah has secured a job as high school teacher and although she is a little troubled by the unwanted attention of the school’s basketball coach Davis Cobb, she has no regrets about her decision.

Trying to keep the information about her past under wraps, Leah is rather evasive during her interview with local police after Bethany is attacked.  She continues to be a little vague as she reports Emmy’s disappearance and after Kyle cannot find any solid details about her missing roommate, she soon realizes she does not know much about her friend.  Emmy does not have many possessions but after Leah makes a shocking discovery, she aggressively begins her search for information about her friend’s past. The deeper she digs, the more elusive her friend becomes and Leah has difficulty trying to make sense of the things she knows about Emmy.  She is quite introspective as she reflects on their friendship and Leah soon reaches an utterly shocking conclusion as she uncovers stunning clues that leave her reeling and desperate for answers.

The Perfect Stranger is a compelling mystery with a unique storyline. Leah is an incredibly loyal friend and despite her former profession, she is rather naive in the face of overwhelming evidence that Emmy possibly fabricated her entire history. The first half of the novel is a little slow paced but once Leah begins her investigation in earnest, the story then hurtles to a fairly shocking conclusion.  Fans of the genre will enjoy this complex and multi-layered mystery  by Megan Miranda.

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Filed under Contemporary, Megan Miranda, Mystery, Rated B, Review, Simon & Schuster Inc, The Perfect Stranger

Review: The Night the Lights Went Out by Karen White

Title: The Night the Lights Went Out by Karen White
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction, Mystery
Length: 418 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

From the New York Times bestselling author of the Tradd Street series comes a stunning new novel about a young single mother who discovers that the nature of friendship is never what it seems….

Recently divorced, Merilee Talbot Dunlap moves with her two children to the Atlanta suburb of Sweet Apple, Georgia. It’s not her first time starting over, but her efforts at a new beginning aren’t helped by an anonymous local blog that dishes about the scandalous events that caused her marriage to fail.

Merilee finds some measure of peace in the cottage she is renting from town matriarch Sugar Prescott. Though stubborn and irascible, Sugar sees something of herself in Merilee—something that allows her to open up about her own colorful past.

Sugar’s stories give Merilee a different perspective on the town and its wealthy school moms in their tennis whites and shiny SUVs, and even on her new friendship with Heather Blackford. Merilee is charmed by the glamorous young mother’s seemingly perfect life and finds herself drawn into Heather’s world.

In a town like Sweet Apple, where sins and secrets are as likely to be found behind the walls of gated mansions as in the dark woods surrounding Merilee’s house, appearance is everything. But just how dangerous that deception can be will shock all three women….

Review:

The Night the Lights Went Out by Karen White is a captivating novel of new beginnings and friendship.

Following her divorce from her husband of eleven years, Merilee Dunlap and her two children, ten old year Lily and eight year old Colin, move into a cottage behind a farmhouse in Sweet Apple, GA.  Her ninety-three year old landlady Sugar Prescott is surprisingly spry, mentally sharp and somewhat outspoken. Sugar and Merilee strike up an unlikely friendship in spite of Sugar’s reluctance to become involved with the divorcee and her kids. Despite not quite fitting in with the other wealthy  suburban moms at her children’s private school, Merilee is soon fast friends with Heather Blackford, wife to Dr. Daniel Blackburn and mother of two.  Merilee has also caught the eye of Sugar’s best friend’s grandson Wade Kimball but she is not quite ready to reenter the dating scene.  Sugar tries to warn Merilee that Heather might have an ulterior motive for befriending her but will Merilee heed her friend’s advice to not be quite so trusting?

Merilee is still reeling from her unexpected divorce and she is rather vulnerable as she starts her life over. She is a little concerned about how recent events have affected Lily and she makes every effort to keep her daughter from worrying too much about the changes to their lives. On the other hand, Colin is quite resilient and he loves exploring his new surroundings.  While their move has gone fairly smoothly, Merilee is a little overwhelmed by her responsibilities as a single mom.  Despite her natural reticence to discuss about her past, Merilee is surprisingly trusting as  her friendship with Heather deepens. Although the beginning of her relationship with Sugar is a little rocky due to her landlady’s propensity to speak her mind, they quickly find common ground as Sugar opens up to Merilee about her long ago past.

Sugar has had more than her share of heartache over her lifetime so she tries to protect herself from getting close to anyone. She has never had any trouble keeping her distance from her previous tenants, so she is a little surprised when she finds herself drawn to Merilee and her children. Sugar recognizes herself in Merilee and she is soon confiding long held secrets to her young friend. She is also a little worried about Merilee’s budding friendship with Heather but her warnings fall on deaf ears. While Merilee and Sugar do not see eye to eye on some things, their friendship easily withstands the occasional friction between them.  Although Sugar refuses to admit it, Merilee, Lily and Colin have become quite important to her and she worries about them as if they were blood relatives.

There is also a hint of suspense to the storyline in addition to Merliee’s new found friendships. Vague references to Merilee’s past hint that her recent divorce is just one of the losses she has suffered.  Her relationship with her parents is quite distant and they do not offer her help or support as she rebuilds her life. Astute readers will easily pick up on what is happening right under Merilee’s nose well before events take a wrong turn and she finds herself in an increasingly precarious situation. It is also somewhat easy to guess the motive for the plan that has been set in motion. This does not lessen the overall enjoyment of the novel but is incredibly frustrating seeing someone who is vulnerable fall victim to another person’s twisted manipulations.

The Night the Lights Went Out is an extremely heartwarming novel with a wonderful small town atmosphere.  The storyline is well-developed and quite engaging. The characters are multi-dimensional and very personable despite a few flaws. A very charming story with plenty of Southern flair that I absolutely loved and highly recommend to old and new fans of Karen White.

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Filed under Berkley, Karen White, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, The Night the Lights Went Out, Women's Fiction