Category Archives: Rated B

Review: Cold Summer by Gwen Cole

Title: Cold Summer by Gwen Cole
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Genre: Contemporary, Historical, Young Adult, Time Travel
Length: 334 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

Today, he’s a high school dropout with no future.

Tomorrow, he’s a soldier in World War II.

Kale Jackson has spent years trying to control his time-traveling ability but hasn’t had much luck. One day he lives in 1945, fighting in the war as a sharpshooter and helplessly watching soldiers—friends—die. Then the next day, he’s back in the present, where WWII has bled into his modern life in the form of PTSD, straining his relationship with his father and the few friends he has left. Every day it becomes harder to hide his battle wounds, both physical and mental, from the past.

When the ex-girl-next-door, Harper, moves back to town, thoughts of what could be if only he had a normal life begin to haunt him. Harper reminds him of the person he was before the PTSD, which helps anchor him to the present. With practice, maybe Kale could remain in the present permanently and never step foot on a battlefield again. Maybe he can have the normal life he craves.

But then Harper finds Kale’s name in a historical article—and he’s listed as a casualty of the war. Is Kale’s death inevitable? Does this mean that, one of these days, when Kale travels to the past, he may not come back?

Kale knows now that he must learn to control his time-traveling ability to save himself and his chance at a life with Harper. Otherwise, he’ll be killed in a time where he doesn’t belong by a bullet that was never meant for him.

Review:

In Cold Summer by Gwen Cole, a teen’s time-traveling ability endangers his life and puts him at odds with his family.

Kale Jackson began time-traveling at seven years of age and recently his “trips” have begun to occur with alarming frequency. His recent travels take him back in time to World War II where his skills as a marksman put him in harm’s way. Kale’s brother Bryce and sister Libby have always been  his staunch supporters, but with Bryce ignoring him as he prepares to leave for college and Libby spending the summer with their mother, Kale has little reason to remain in the present. Adding to his stress is his increasingly fractured relationship with his father, who makes no effort to hide skepticism for his son’s inexplicable disappearances.

Until six years ago, Harper Croft spent her summers with her Uncle Jasper. She, Kale and Libby were inseparable during her visits but in recent years, she is only in touch with Libby. Now moving in with her Uncle Jasper permanently due to her mother’s recent move, Harper is looking forward to renewing these friendships.  Although she is aware of Kale’s disappearances, she has no idea why he periodically vanishes. Despite her alarm over his unhealthy appearance and his apparent unhappiness, Harper keeps her promise she made to him long ago. But when she discovers shocking information about his visits back to World War II, will Harper convince to Kale to try to figure out how to control his unusual ability?

In theory, time travel sounds like an exciting adventure, but as Kale knows all too well, not everyone is willing to believe he travels into the past. Although his siblings and best friend Miles never doubt his stories about his adventures, he has given up trying to convince his father he is telling the truth.  Kale is quickly sinking into despondency when he thinks about his future since his unexplainable absences caused problems with school and extracurricular activities. With everything in the present turning into a unhappy mess,  Kale is only slightly troubled by his frequent trips back to World War II.  At the same, the situation with his dad is spiraling out of control but Kale stubbornly refuses to provide him with irrefutable proof he is telling the truth.  Will he make the same mistake when his relationship with Harper turns romantic?

Harper knows she made the right decision to move in with her Uncle Jasper but she cannot help but wish things were different between her and her emotionally (and now physically) absent mother.  Making the best of her new circumstances, she tries to be understanding about Kale’s frequent absences but she is fairly assertive as she tries to persuade him to try fix his relationship with his father. With her concern over his health growing with each of his trips back to World War II, she eventually forces him to tell her the truth about what is going on with him. Once their friendship deepens into romance, will Harper convince Kale to figure out why his travels have become more frequent? And when she learns the truth about what happens to him during World War II, will Kale try to change the outcome?

Cold Summer is a very clever and enjoyable young adult novel with an interesting premise. Gwen Cole does a fantastic job with the time travel element of the story while at the same time gently delivering an important message to her readers. Although flawed, the characters are appealing and sympathetic. The storyline is engaging and quite interesting. The glimpses of Kale’s wartime experiences  provide insight into  both his need to go back in time to help comrades in arms and his struggles with PTSD in the present. All in all, a riveting young adult novel that I absolutely loved and highly recommend to readers of all ages.

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Filed under Cold Summer, Contemporary, Gwen Cole, Historical, Historical (40s), Rated B, Review, Sky Pony Press, Time Travel, Young Adult

Review: Lucky Girl by Amanda Maciel

Title: Lucky Girl by Amanda Maciel
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

Lucky Girl is an unflinching exploration of beauty, self-worth, and sexual assault, from the author of the acclaimed Tease.

Rosie is a beautiful girl—and it’s always been enough. Boys crush on her, men stare at her, girls (begrudgingly) admire her. She’s lucky and she knows it.

But it’s the start of a new school year and she begins to realize that she wants to be more. Namely, she’s determined to be better to her best friend, Maddie, who’s just back from a summer program abroad having totally blossomed into her own looks. Rosie isn’t thrilled when Maddie connects with a football player who Rosie was hooking up with—but if it makes her friend happy, she’s prepared to get over it. Plus, someone even more interesting has moved to town: Alex, who became semifamous after he stopped a classmate from carrying out a shooting rampage at his old high school. Rosie is drawn to Alex in a way she’s never experienced before—and she is surprised to discover that, unlike every other guy, he seems to see more to her than her beauty.

Then at a party one night, in the midst of a devastating storm, something happens that tears apart Rosie’s life and sets her on a journey of self-discovery that forces her to face uncomfortable truths about reputation, identity, and what it means to be a true friend.

Review:

Lucky Girl by Amanda Maciel is a thought-provoking young adult novel about sexual assault.

Rosie Fuller is a beautiful teenager who revels in the attention she gets from the opposite sex. While she is popular with the boys at her school, she is not exactly teeming with female friends.  After spending the summer apart from her best friend, Maddie Costello, she is shocked to discover that Maddie has transformed from a slightly nerdy awkward duckling into a beautiful swan.  Rosie is determined to be a better friend to Maddie so after learning of Maddie’s crush on popular football player (and Rosie’s summer fling) Cory Callahan, she breaks things off with Cory.  Despite her lingering jealousy, Rosie is supportive of her friend’s new romance with Cory. However, one night at a party, Cory attacks Rosie and instead of coming to her friend’s defense, Maddie blames Rosie for coming on to her boyfriend. In the aftermath, Rosie is ashamed and blames herself for Cory’s actions but will  her new friendship with transfer student Alex Goode help her see that what happened is not her fault?

Rosie is beautiful and she knows it.  She uses her looks to validate her self-worth and she seeks out attention from boys every chance she gets.  She is a party girl who sees nothing wrong with flitting from boy to boy but her relationships are as superficial as she is. While her friendship with Maddie means the world to her, Rosie is extremely jealous of her friend’s transformation and she is ill prepared for the change in the dynamic of the friendship once Maddie gains some much needed self-confidence.

Initially, Rosie is so incredibly self-centered and selfish that she is difficult to like but after the incident with Cory, she finally begins to tone down her need for male attention. She is also much more reflective as tries to understand her conflicted emotions about what happened to her. Like many girls and women, Rosie is certain that she is to blame for the attack because she dresses to noticed and loves to flirt.  She goes over the events from that night again and again and while at first she is convinced she flirted too much, she gradually begins to understand that the only person who is responsible for what happened to her is Cory.  This is just the beginning of Rosie’s transformation from self-absorbed party girl to a young woman who begins to realize that outward appearances are not the measure of a person. Repairing her friendship with Maddie is another important facet of her newfound maturity. Will Rosie take the next step in healing from her ordeal and report Cory for assaulting her?

Lucky Girl is a poignant and powerful novel that challenges the pervasive “blame the victim” attitude following a sexual assault. The long standing “she asked for it” mindset is still firmly in place and women are conditioned to automatically take the blame when they are sexually assaulted. The resulting shame and guilt in the aftermath of an unwanted sexual advance or assault are HUGE factors in a victim’s unwillingness to report an attacker.  Amanda Maciel’s portrayal of Rosie after Cory’s attempted assault is an all too accurate depiction of what a victim feels and thinks in the aftermath of such a shocking and painful  event.  In Rosie’s case, her confusion is much worse considering her previous relationship with Cory and her own behavior.  The subject matter is difficult to read, but this topic is so incredibly important that I highly recommend Lucky Girl to readers of all ages.

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Filed under Balzer + Bray, Contemporary, Rated B, Review, Young Adult

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 Unprotected by Kelly Sokol

Title: The Unprotected by Kelly Sokol
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: 296 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

A compelling debut novel exploring postpartum depression—for readers of suspenseful women’s fiction and fans of Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin.

They say motherhood changes you.

As a driven advertising executive, Lara James has always put her career before any plans for a family, preferring professional chic to stay-at-home style. But after her father’s death, she realizes she’s ready. More than ready, in fact. Yet pregnancy—something other women seem to accomplish effortlessly, even accidentally—doesn’t come easily to Lara. What began as an adventure quickly becomes a nightmare as she and her husband endure endless IVF treatments, hormone therapy, and devastating miscarriages.

When Lara at last becomes pregnant and gives birth to a daughter, Auden, she believes their determination has paid off. But Auden cries day and night, ear-shattering screams that strip Lara of her nerves and energy. Her life as a sleep-deprived new mother is unrelenting, and, guiltily, Lara can’t help but mourn for what she once had. With her marriage crumbling, Lara is increasingly driven to alarming thoughts and destructive actions she would never have imagined possible before now. Hanging on by a thread, it’s only in her darkest moment that Lara will discover the true depths of her love and devotion—and what she’s willing to face for the family she’s so desperately sought.

At times disturbing, The Unprotected is a bold, unflinching novel for anyone who’s ever wanted children—and wondered what they might have to sacrifice along the way.

Review:

The Unprotected by Kelly Sokol is a starkly  honest depiction of infertility and postpartum depression.

Lara James is a driven career advertising executive who never thought she would want to have children. At one time rather dismissive of her friends and family with kids, she shocks her husband Will with her sudden announcement she wants to have a baby. Pursuing pregnancy with the same single-minded focus that helped her achieve professional success, Lara is ill-prepared for a four year battle with infertility. Cautiously optimistic when she is finally pregnant, she is soon writing a detailed birth plan while designing the baby’s nursery and discussing baby names.  Making a completely unexpected decision to give up her career in order to be a stay at home mom, Lara is completely stunned by the reality of sleep deprivation and a colicky baby who cries for hours on end. Even more shocking is her increasingly downward spiral of exhaustion, frightening thoughts and lack of bonding with her newborn baby.

Lara is not an easy character to like. Her relationship with her mom is contentious and she has absolutely no patience with her at all.  She is rude and condescending to her sister, Bea, and she never hesitates to let her know her opinion about Bea’s decision to marry and have kids.  Lara is a steamroller who does not take other people’s feelings or viewpoint into consideration.  This attitude extends to her husband Will and she refuses to give up on getting pregnant despite the toll her infertility and treatments are taking on their marriage. She is also a little sly and devious as she becomes obsessed with her quest to become pregnant.

Despite her fertility problems, Lara’s pregnancy is rather easy and without complications. Her childbirth experience is not what she expected or planned for, and things continue to go downhill once she is released from the hospital with baby Auden. Exhausted and in pain, Lara struggles with breastfeeding and things worsens as Will quickly returns to work, leaving her and Auden on their own. As the situation continues to deteriorate, her fears about what would happen if she were to reveal some of her worst thoughts are understandable. However, it is somewhat incomprehensible that an intelligent, well-educated woman would not confide just how bad things are becoming. Will also carries his share of the blame for failing to recognize his wife’s exhaustion and understandable frustration with Auden’s inconsolable crying.

The Unprotected  is a realistic portrayal of the shame and fear women experience when motherhood takes a dark turn.  Kelly Sokol does not downplay the alarming symptoms of postpartum depression and while she shines a much needed light on this little discussed topic, it is not easy reading about Lara’s increasingly disturbing downward spiral. A tough read but one I highly recommend.

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Filed under Contemporary, Kelly Sokol, Rated B, Review, Skyhorse Publishing, The Unprotected, Women's Fiction

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: Song of the Lion by Anne Hillerman

Title: Song of the Lion by Anne Hillerman
Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito Series Book 21
Publisher: Harper
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

A deadly bombing takes Navajo Tribal cops Bernadette Manuelito, Jim Chee, and their mentor, the legendary Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, back into the past to find a vengeful killer in this riveting Southwestern mystery from the bestselling author of Spider Woman’s Daughter and Rock with Wings.

When a car bomb kills a young man in the Shiprock High School parking lot, Officer Bernadette Manuelito discovers that the intended victim was a mediator for a multi-million-dollar development planned at the Grand Canyon.

But what seems like an act of ecoterrorism turns out to be something far more nefarious and complex. Piecing together the clues, Bernadette and her husband, Sergeant Jim Chee, uncover a scheme to disrupt the negotiations and inflame tensions between the Hopi and Dine tribes.

Retired Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn has seen just about everything in his long career. As the tribal police’s investigation unfolds, he begins to suspect that the bombing may be linked to a cold case he handled years ago. As he, Bernadette, and Chee carefully pull away the layers behind the crime, they make a disturbing discovery: a meticulous and very patient killer with a long-simmering plan of revenge.

Writing with a clarity and grace that is all her own, Anne Hillerman depicts the beauty and mystery of Navajo Country and the rituals, myths, and customs of its people in a mystery that builds on and complements the beloved, bestselling mysteries of her acclaimed father, Tony Hillerman.

Review:

Song of the Lion by Anne Hillerman is an absolutely riveting mystery about a car bombing during an alumni basketball at Shiprock High School. Although this latest release is the twenty-first installment in the Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito series, it can easily be read as a standalone.

Navajo Tribal Police Officer Bernadette “Bernie” Manuelito is off duty at the basketball game when she hears an explosion that sounds close by. Rushing to the parking lot, she discovers one of the vehicles has exploded and she quickly takes charge of the situation.  After discovering the owner of the car is Aza Palmer, a lawyer who is mediating a proposal for a controversial  resort that will be built on the Navajo Reservation, Bernie’s husband, Sergeant Jim Chee is assigned to guard Aza during an upcoming forum. When the identity of the man who was killed at the bomb site is discovered, Bernie hopes retired Lieutenant  Joe Leaphorn might help fill in the blanks about the deceased man’s past.  With tensions running high between protestors who are hoping to kill the resort project, will Jim and Bernie figure out who wants to kill Aza before it is too late?

Although the bombing case is quickly turned over the a variety of federal agencies, Bernie continues trying to understand the connection between the deceased, Richard Horseman, and Aza Palmer.  Both men grew up on the reservation, but their lives took dramatically different turns.  Aza is a very successful lawyer based in Arizona and this is not the first time he has worked as a mediator. Richard, on the other hand, has a bit of a checkered past which includes brushes with the law and an alcohol problem. According to his grandmother, Marie Nez, her grandson has left his problems behind and has been diligently working on steering clear of trouble. If Mrs. Nez’s assertions are true, then Bernie wants to know why he was near Aza’s car the night of the explosion.  Could the reason be completely innocent?

Meanwhile, Jim has his hands full trying to protect Aza.  The biggest threat to the lawyer at this point is his stubborn refusal to heed Jim’s pleas to maintain a low profile and stop going off on his own.  Jim is also rather troubled when a young man keeps appearing on the scene and his questions to Aza about the man’s identity go unanswered.  As the protestors  step up their efforts  to sabotage the public discussion, Jim is grateful for the extra help when Bernie unexpectedly decides to spend her days off with him. But even with the both of them keeping an eye on Aza, can they keep him out of harm’s way?

Despite the injuries that still plague Joe Leaphorn, he is still a vital resource with a formidable amount of information from his years on the police force.  Bernie hopes Joe will be able to provide background information about Richard’s past and her patience pays off once he begins searching through old records. Does Joe hold the key which will break the case wide open?

Song of the Lion is a fast-paced and intriguing police procedural that is quite compelling.  Anne Hillerman does an outstanding job providing readers with fascinating information about Native American culture.  The investigation moves along at a brisk pace and there are several unexpected twists and turns that will keep readers invested in the resolution of the case. Although the identity of the perpetrator is rather easy to surmise, the novel comes to an action-packed and rather dramatic conclusion. Old and new fans of the Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito series will be absolutely delighted with this latest outing which features a topical storyline and a fascinating mystery.

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Filed under Anne Hillerman, Chee & Manuelito Series, Contemporary, Harper, Mystery, Rated B, Review, Song of the Lion, Suspense