Category Archives: Rated B

Review: Almost Missed You by Jessica Strawser

Title: Almost Missed You by Jessica Strawser
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Violet and Finn were “meant to be,” said everyone, always. They ended up together by the hands of fate aligning things just so. Three years into their marriage, they have a wonderful little boy, and as the three of them embark on their first vacation as a family, Violet can’t help thinking that she can’t believe her luck. Life is good.

So no one is more surprised than she when Finn leaves her at the beach—just packs up the hotel room and disappears. And takes their son with him. Violet is suddenly in her own worst nightmare, and faced with the knowledge that the man she’s shared her life with, she never really knew at all.

Caitlin and Finn have been best friends since way back when, but when Finn shows up on Caitlin’s doorstep with the son he’s wanted for kidnapping, demands that she hide them from the authorities, and threatens to reveal a secret that could destroy her own family if she doesn’t, Caitlin faces an impossible choice.

Told through alternating viewpoints of Violet, Finn and Caitlin, Jessica Strawser’s Almost Missed You is a powerful story of a mother’s love, a husband’s betrayal, connections that maybe should have been missed, secrets that perhaps shouldn’t have been kept, and spaces between what’s meant to be and what might have been.

Review:

In Almost Missed You by Jessica Strawser, unresolved grief and guilt are the basis for an impetuous kidnapping that tests the bonds of friendship and love.

Violet and Finn Welsh, along with their three year old son Bear, are on vacation in FL when Violet returns to their hotel room and finds both her husband and son have disappeared.  She has no idea what prompted Finn’s decision to kidnap their son and as the days pass with no word about them, she discovers Finn and their close friend Caitlin Bryce-Daniels have been keeping secrets from her.  Finn uses some of those secrets from his and Caitlin’s shared past to gain her co-operation when he needs a place to hide while he figures out what to do next.  Caitlin is torn between her loyalty and her fear about what will happen to her family if she does not do what Finn asks.  Will Violet be reunited with her son? Can she forgive Finn for taking their son?

Years earlier, Violet and Finn met while they were both on vacation and despite their instant connection, they are separated before they can exchange even the most basic information.  They each return to their normal lives, but they both wonder “what might have been”.  Years later, they eventually reunite but they do not talk much about what happened in their lives between their first meeting and their reunion.  By all appearances, their marriage is happy and both Violet and Finn are devoted to their son Bear. Violet is beyond stunned when Finn kidnaps Bear and during the subsequent investigation, she learns some very shocking information about her husband. In light of these revelations, Violet looks back on their relationship and comes to some very shocking conclusions about herself, her husband and their marriage.

Almost Missed You is a very suspenseful and engrossing novel. The chapters alternate between Violet, Finn and Caitlin’s perspectives and often end on cliffhanger. One of the most gripping questions that keeps the pages turning at a blistering pace is, of course, why did Finn kidnap Bear? Equally compelling is what happened in the years between Finn and Violet’s first meeting and their reunion years later. Forgiveness, secrets, deliberate omissions and betrayal are just a few of the fascinating topics that Jessica Strawser explores in this well-written and intriguing story. The novel ends on a curious note that is vaguely unsatisfying but overall, readers will be quite pleased with this debut.

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Filed under Almost Missed You, Contemporary, Jessica Strawser, Mystery, Rated B, Review, St Martin's Press

Review: Undertow by R.M. Greenaway

Title: Undertow by R.M. Greenaway
B.C. Blues Series Book Two
Publisher: Dundurn
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 424 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

A heartbreaking set of murders bring detectives Leith and Dion together in the Lower Mainland, where violence flows like a riptide.

Last summer the inlet waters washed an unnamed woman’s body onto the rocks of North Vancouver’s Neptune shipyards. When RCMP Constable Cal Dion returns home after a year’s absence, he finds the case still open and grown cold.

While Dion works to fit back in and put closure to the Jane Doe drowning case, newly relocated Constable Dave Leith is learning to cope with his first big-city posting. But they have bigger concerns: Why would anyone beat up a young electrician, then track down his wife and baby girl to finish them off? It is a motiveless and haunting killing that leaves behind one small witness and a handful of cryptic clues. And who battered and asphyxiated a wealthy nightclub owner in his own garage? A case of home invasion, by the looks of it. But Leith has a less abstract set of suspects to deal with: the victim’s business partner and his strange little clan.

The North Vancouver General Investigations Section is put to the test, with two files to solve, one tragic cold case, and Dion seemingly lost at sea.

Review:

Set in Canada, Undertow by R.M. Greenaway is an intriguing police procedural.  This latest release is the second installment in the B.C. Blues series and while it can be read as a standalone, I strongly recommend reading the series in order to fully understand the characters’ backstories.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Constables Cal Dion and Dave Leith have recently been transferred to North Vancouver and are once again working together.  Leith is struggling with living apart from his wife and daughter and he is also trying to assimilate to his transition to a life in a big city. Dion is still making progress with his recovery from a traumatic brain injury but he is frustrated by  his memory lapses and lack of focus. He is also depressed as he tries to settle back into his old life but does not fit comfortably in the world he once inhabited.

Leith and Dion are both trying to solve the heartbreaking murders of the Liu family when they are called to the scene of the puzzling murder of wealthy businessman Oscar Roth. The investigations into the murders are not really turning up any leads when Dion makes a sudden decision that leads to some very enlightening information.

Dave is much older than Cal and he is a competent constable who relies on old fashioned detective work during the investigation.  Despite Cal’s cognitive problems, he is quite intuitive but these flashes of brilliance sometime slip away before he can fully comprehend what he has just discovered.  The two men do not seem to really like each other but they do set aside their differences during the investigations.

Cal has plenty of tricks to make it appear that he is fit for duty.  But maintaining the facade that he is back to normal is exhausting and he doubts his competence.  His inability to fit back into his old life leads him to make a somewhat impetuous decision about his career.  He then becomes unexpectedly involved with some of the key witnesses in the investigations but can he really turn off the instincts that have become second nature to him over the years? When he unexpectedly stumbles onto a witness that could help solve the Liu murders, he is quick to call Dave but has Cal inadvertently tainted the investigation?

Despite the sometimes confusing storyline involving Cal Dion’s past, Undertow is a riveting murder mystery.  The investigations are fairly straight forward even though it takes a while for the pieces to begin to fall into place.  Dion and Leith are both likable protagonists and in spite of  their very different styles when it comes to detective work, they are a formidable investigative team. R.M. Greenaway has an enjoyable writing style but the slow parceling of information about Dion’s past is sometimes a little frustrating. This newest addition to the B.C. Blues series comes to a very clever conclusion that wraps up all of the loose ends with the current investigations.  However, readers will have wait for further installments to (hopefully) learn more about Cal Dion and his tangled past. 

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Filed under BC Blues Series, Contest, Dundurn, Mystery, Rated B, Review, RM Greenaway, Undertow

Review: A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell

Title: A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell
Publisher: Harper
Genre: Contemporary, mystery
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

She’s your best friend.

She knows all your secrets.

That’s why she’s so dangerous.

A single mother’s life is turned upside down when her best friend vanishes in this chilling debut thriller in the vein of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train.

It starts with a simple favor—an ordinary kindness mothers do for one another. When her best friend, Emily, asks Stephanie to pick up her son Nicky after school, she happily says yes. Nicky and her son, Miles, are classmates and best friends, and the five-year-olds love being together—just like she and Emily. A widow and stay-at-home mommy blogger living in woodsy suburban Connecticut, Stephanie was lonely until she met Emily, a sophisticated PR executive whose job in Manhattan demands so much of her time.

But Emily doesn’t come back. She doesn’t answer calls or return texts. Stephanie knows something is terribly wrong—Emily would never leave Nicky, no matter what the police say. Terrified, she reaches out to her blog readers for help. She also reaches out to Emily’s husband, the handsome, reticent Sean, offering emotional support. It’s the least she can do for her best friend. Then, she and Sean receive shocking news. Emily is dead. The nightmare of her disappearance is over.

Or is it? Because soon, Stephanie will begin to see that nothing—not friendship, love, or even an ordinary favor—is as simple as it seems.

A Simple Favor is a remarkable tale of psychological suspense—a clever and twisting free-fall of a ride filled with betrayals and reversals, twists and turns, secrets and revelations, love and loyalty, murder and revenge. Darcey Bell masterfully ratchets up the tension in a taut, unsettling, and completely absorbing story that holds you in its grip until the final page.

Review:

A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell is a surprisingly compelling debut mystery.

A mommy blogger and widowed mother of young son Miles, Stephanie agrees to do her best friend Emily Nelson a rather simple favor: pick up her son Nicky from school and keep him with her until she gets off work later that evening.  Since this is something Stephanie does for Emily on a semi-regular basis, she has no reason to believe this favor will be any different than usual. It is not until Emily fails to  pick up Nicky later that evening that Stephanie becomes a little concerned but she wonders if she misunderstood her friend.  Days pass and Emily has yet to return so Stephanie tracks down her friend’s husband, Sean, who is out of the country on business.  Initially, Sean is not alarmed by his wife’s absence but upon his return, he reports Emily’s disappearance to the police whose investigation is rather lackluster until her body is recovered near her family’s vacation cabin. Sean and Stephanie turn to one another for comfort and support but Stephanie begins to wonder if Emily is, in fact, really dead.

In her blog posts, Stephanie is perky, unfailingly upbeat and endearingly honest about her flaws and worries.  In real life, she is nowhere near as likable or as seemingly perfect as her online persona.  She has struggled to make friends in the small town so she is thrilled when she befriends Emily.  Despite the differences in their lives, the two are soon thick as thieves as they exchange confidences and house keys in between play dates and excursions.  It is not until Emily’s disappearance that Stephanie begins to wonder if she really knew her friend as well as she thought.  While Stephanie felt no compunction about spilling her deepest, darkest secrets (and boy are they doozies!), she soon realizes that she knows very little about her friend’s past.

Despite being best friends with Emily, Stephanie has little information about Sean except for the details Emily shared about him.  He works long hours and travels frequently for his job so she spent very little time around him until Emily goes missing.  After Emily’s disappearance, she is more than happy to continue helping out with Nicky but she is a little unnerved by her sudden attraction to her friend’s grieving husband. Gradually, the two households merge together when, much to Stephanie’s delighted surprise, their friendship turns into a relationship.

At this point in the story, the tone of the novel shifts and unexpected revelations illustrate how truly naive Stephanie is.  She is quite easy to manipulate which makes it very easy to turn her into an unwitting accomplice to a somewhat nefarious and vengeful plot.  Incredulous readers will be left shaking their heads as Stephanie transitions from someone who makes morally questionable choices into an empty-headed dupe. There is also very little mystery about the rather unbelievable direction the plot is about to take.

And yet, despite some of the absurd plot twists, A Simple Favor  is a compulsively readable novel.  Darcey Bell is a gifted storyteller with a twisted imagination and although the storyline is unabashedly predictable and somewhat hard to believe, readers will be captivated by these thoroughly unlikable and somewhat unreliable characters.  Although this debut novel is far from perfect, it is a highly entertaining read that I found impossible to put down and highly recommend to fans of the genre.

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Filed under A Simple FAvor, Contemporary, Darcey Bell, Harper, Mystery, Rated B, Review

Review: There’s This Guy by Rhys Ford

Title: There’s This Guy by Rhys Ford
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary, M/M, Romance
Length: 200 pages/Word Count: 71,030
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by the Author

Summary:

How do you save a drowning man when that drowning man is you?

Jake Moore’s world fits too tightly around him. Every penny he makes as a welder goes to care for his dying father, an abusive, controlling man who’s the only family Jake has left. Because of a promise to his dead mother, Jake resists his desire for other men, but it leaves him consumed by darkness.

It takes all of Dallas Yates’s imagination to see the possibilities in the fatigued art deco building on WeHo’s outskirts, but what seals the deal is a shy smile from the handsome metal worker across the street. Their friendship deepens while Dallas peels back the hardened layers strangling Jake’s soul. It’s easy to love the sweet, artistic man hidden behind Jake’s shattered exterior, but Dallas knows Jake needs to first learn to love himself.

When Jake’s world crumbles, he reaches for Dallas, the man he’s learned to lean on. It’s only a matter of time before he’s left to drift in a life he never wanted to lead and while he wants more, Jake’s past haunts him, making him doubt he’s worth the love Dallas is so desperate to give him.

Review:

There’s This Guy by Rhys Ford is an incredibly uplifting and extremely emotional journey of healing.

Jake Moore is an exceptionally gifted metal worker but his highly dysfunctional and abusive childhood leaves him feeling utterly hopeless and unable to accept every aspect of himself. He is heavily guilt-laden over his perceived role in his mother’s death and despite the horror inflicted upon him by his father, Jake cannot turn his back on the man now that he is dying.  His life is at an incredibly dark place and when Jake meets Dallas Yates and his delightful friend Celeste, he does not feel worthy of love let alone friendship or comfort.

Dallas is Jake’s complete opposite in every way.  He has a loving, supportive family who accept every facet of his personality and his life.  He is quick to welcome people into his life and his heart and he is extremely upbeat and outgoing.  His optimism is refreshing and despite his sunny outlook on life, Dallas knows not everyone can be fixed and he is well aware his relationship with Jake might not ever progress beyond friendship.

Although Jake is not ready to embrace his sexuality,  his fledgling friendship with  Dallas is a glimmer of light in his somewhat grim and rather hopeless life.  Dallas respects Jake’s boundaries and his inability to talk about his past, but when he inadvertently stumbles onto one of his new friend’s most shameful secrets, he finally begins to breach his defenses. Quickly realizing the depth of Jake’s problems, he encourages him to seek professional assistance to help him deal with the trauma from his childhood.  The changes in both Jake and the men’s relationship are gradual and realistic as Jake finally begins to come to terms with his haunting past.

There’s This Guy is an absolutely heartwarming romance but it is Jake’s recovery from his emotional wounds that makes the novel such an outstanding read.  Rhys Ford handles difficult subject matter with a great deal of sensitivity.  The storyline has an amazing amount of depth and there are no quick or easy fixes for Jake’s issues and his subsequent recovery from his traumatic past. The characters are richly developed and multi-faceted with realistic backstories and experiences.  While there is plenty of chemistry between Dallas and Jake, it is their emotional connection that makes their relationship so believable.  A heartfelt and moving novel that I highly recommend to fans of the genre.

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Filed under Contemporary, Dreamspinner Press, M/M, Rated B, Review, Rhys Ford, Romance

Review: The Fire Child by S.K. Tremayne

Title: The Fire Child by S.K. Tremayne
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
Length: 400 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

THE PERFECT HUSBAND. THE PERFECT STEPSON. THE PERFECT LIE?

When Rachel marries dark, handsome David, everything seems to fall into place. Swept from single life in London to the beautiful Carnhallow House in Cornwall, she gains wealth, love, and an affectionate stepson, Jamie.

But then Jamie’s behavior changes, and Rachel’s perfect life begins to unravel. He makes disturbing predictions, claiming to be haunted by the specter of his late mother – David’s previous wife. Is this Jamie’s way of punishing Rachel, or is he far more traumatized than she thought?

As Rachel starts digging into the past, she begins to grow suspicious of her husband. Why is he so reluctant to discuss Jamie’s outbursts? And what exactly happened to cause his ex-wife’s untimely death, less than two years ago? As summer slips away and December looms, Rachel begins to fear there might be truth in Jamie’s words:

“You will be dead by Christmas.”

Review:

With an isolated setting and increasingly unreliable characters, The Fire Child by S.K. Tremayne is an atmospheric, suspense-laden psychological thriller.

After a whirlwind courtship, thirty year old Rachel Daly marries forty year old lawyer David Kerthen who then whisks her and his eight year old son Jamie to the family estate in Cornwall.  Initially blissfully happy, Rachel is struggling with her stepson’s increasingly upsetting behavior that eventually brings her to ask a few probing questions about his mother Nina’s somewhat tragic death.  David is reluctant to divulge very many details and as Rachel becomes more concerned about Jaime’s mental state, she makes a decision that has violent consequences and puts her in a very precarious situation with her husband.  Will Rachel find out the truth about Nina’s death? Can she protect herself and Jamie after events begin to escalate out of control?

Rachel has come a long way from her humble beginnings but she is still somewhat uncomfortable as she tries to resume the elegant renovations of David’s family estate.  With David working long hours in London, Rachel is lonely but she keeps busy investigating her new surroundings.  She is also busy with Jamie but she is becoming increasingly worried about his strange behavior and she becomes quite frightened after he makes a rather dire prediction.  As Rachel begins piecing together the details of Nina’s fatal accident, some of the information she uncovers does not make sense and David is reluctant to discuss the night his first wife died.  What secrets are her husband keeping?  Why is he so unwilling to do more to help Jamie handle his grief?

At first glance, David is the perfect catch.  He is a devoted father and he is a well-respected lawyer who works long hours.  Through hard work and a lot of determination, he saved the estate after his father’s gambling problem nearly bankrupted the family. He positively adored his first wife, but David is quite smitten with Rachel and he has a great deal of respect for her.  However, he is most displeased when she begins asking questions he does not want to answer and he is infuriated after she takes steps to try to get Jamie help for his odd behavior.  In the aftermath of violent altercation, David is cold-hearted and ruthless in his attempts to take complete charge of his fracturing family.

In some ways, Jamie is a perfectly normal little boy.  He loves his dad and he cares a great for Rachel.  However, he is completely confused about some of the things that happened the night his mother died and with the anniversary of her death fast approaching, he is becoming quite desperate. Jamie’s declarations are unsettling and he is quite adamant that she is alive despite evidence to the contrary. However, inexplicable and unexplained occurrences play into some of Rachel’s doubts and fears and she becomes convinced that Jamie might have a legitimate reason for some of his beliefs.

For the most part, The Fire Child is an incredibly riveting mystery that moves at a very brisk pace.  S.K. Tremayne does an absolutely brilliant job building suspense as Rachel tries to uncover the truth that David is trying so hard to keep from her.  With the tension reaching a fever pitch, this psychological thriller comes to a pulse-pounding adrenaline-filled conclusion that neatly wraps up all of the various threads of this spell-binding  and somewhat eerie story.

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Filed under Contemporary, Grand Central Publishing, Mystery, Rated B, Review, SK Tremayne, Suspense, The Fire Child, Thriller

Review: The Forgotten Girls by Owen Laukkanen

Title: The Forgotten Girls by Owen Laukkanen
Stevens & Windermere Series Book Six
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
Length: 367 pages
Book Rating: B

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

Summary:

They are the victims no one has ever cared about, until now. Agents Stevens and Windermere return in the blistering new crime novel from the fast-rising, multi-award-nominated suspense star.

She was a forgotten girl, a runaway found murdered on the High Line train through the northern Rocky Mountains and, with little local interest, put into a dead file. But she was not alone. When Kirk Stevens and Carla Windermere of the joint FBI-BCA violent crime force stumble upon the case, they discover a horror far greater than anyone expected—a string of murders on the High Line, all of them young women drifters whom no one would notice.

But someone has noticed now. Through the bleak midwinter and a frontier land of forbidding geography, Stevens and Windermere follow a frustratingly light trail of clues—and where it ends, even they will be shocked.

Review:

The Forgotten Girls by Owen Laukkanen is a fast-paced and spellbinding police procedural about a hunt for a serial killer preying on woman on the fringe of society (runaways, prostitutes, etc).  Although this is latest release is the sixth installment in the Stevens & Windermere series, it can easily be read as a standalone.

FBI Agent Carla Windermere and BCA Agent Kirk Stevens are called in to investigate a man, Mark Higgins, who has a picture of a dead woman on his cell phone.  He says he has no idea how the picture ended up on his phone and when Stevens and Windermere learn the dead woman was found by the railroad tracks in Idaho, they decide to investigate the odd series of events.  They quickly discover there have been rumors of serial killer (known as the “Ghost Rider”) who preys on women not far from the High Line-the trains that run between Chicago, IL and Seattle, WA.  With the help of local Deputy Sheriff Kerry Finley, Kirk and Carla have identified twenty-five dead women who are most likely the victims of the ghost rider and they are hot on the trail of the killer and an at risk young woman they have identified as Mila, a friend of the last victim.  With a massive winter storm bearing down on them, Kirk, Carla and Kerry are one step behind the elusive killer who is very much at home in the vast wilderness that serves as his home and his hunting grounds.

Carla and Kirk’s investigation picks up steam immediately as they figure out how the picture of the deceased girl ended up on the stranger’s cell phone.  Using the other photos that Mark insists he did not take, they are able to track her travels, as well as those of her friend, Mila. Realizing almost immediately that Mila is in grave danger, they quickly issue a bulletin for the railroad bulls and workers to be on the look-out for her.  Carla’s boyfriend, Agent Derek Mathers, puts his computer skills to work and uses the various photos’ metadata to pinpoint Mila’s whereabouts.  Tracking her movements, Kirk and Carla soon realize that Mila has figured out the identity of the ghost rider, but will they find her and the killer before it is too late?

A solid police procedural with an unusual storyline, The Forgotten Girls is a pulse-pounding mystery that is quite enthralling. Once Windermere and Stevens know the killer’s identity, the manhunt is quickly thwarted by the weather and the vast territory they must cover during their search. Tracking a diabolical killer who is intimately familiar with the terrain is a herculean task but Kirk and Carla know they have to capture the ghost rider before he permanently disappears into the wilderness. Old and new fans of the clever investigative team in the Stevens & Windermere series are going to love this latest high-octane thriller by Owen Laukkanen.

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Filed under Contemporary, GP Putnams Sons, Mystery, Owen Laukkanen, Rated B, Review, Stevens & Windermere Series, Suspense, The Forgtten Girls, Thriller