Category Archives: Review

Review: I See You by Clare Mackintosh

Title: I See You by Clare Mackintosh
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 382 pages
Book Rating:

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

The author of the New York Times bestseller I Let You Go propels readers into a dark and claustrophobic thriller, in which a normal, everyday woman becomes trapped in the confines of her normal, everyday world…

Every morning and evening, Zoe Walker takes the same route to the train station, waits at a certain place on the platform, finds her favorite spot in the car, never suspecting that someone is watching her…

It all starts with a classified ad. During her commute home one night, while glancing through her local paper, Zoe sees her own face staring back at her; a grainy photo along with a phone number and a listing for a website called FindTheOne.com.

Other women begin appearing in the same ad, a different one every day, and Zoe realizes they’ve become the victims of increasingly violent crimes—including murder. With the help of a determined cop, she uncovers the ad’s twisted purpose…A discovery that turns her paranoia into full-blown panic. Zoe is sure that someone close to her has set her up as the next target.

And now that man on the train—the one smiling at Zoe from across the car—could be more than just a friendly stranger. He could be someone who has deliberately chosen her and is ready to make his next move…

Review:

Fast-paced with a very unique premise, I See You by Clare Mackintosh is a chilling mystery that is suspense-laden and downright creepy.

Zoe Walker is like many Londoners who rely on public transportation to go to and from work every day.  Her daily routine is quite predictable and she rarely varies her route or where she sits on her daily commute.  Passing time on her ride home one day, Zoe is stunned to find a picture of herself along with a phone number and web address in the classified section of the newspaper.  Despite her family and friends’ assurances she is not the person in the photo, she is curious enough to continue checking the classified section.  Zoe soon makes a stunning connection between some of the women in the advertisements and recent victims of increasingly violent crimes.  She reports her suspicions to British Transport Police Detective Constable Kelly Swift who in turn manages to get assigned to the Murder Investigation Team (MIT).  Working closely with Detective Inspector Nick Rampello, she and the other members of the MIT make a horrifying discovery: someone is stalking daily commuters and putting their information up for sale on a secret website.  Quickly realizing two women who were recently murdered  and a rape victim were featured in the adverts, Kelly and Nick are under pressure to uncover the identity of the person running the site before someone else is attacked.  The stakes are even higher for Zoe who is growing increasingly worried about her safety.

Zoe is a divorced mum of two adult children, nineteen year old Katie, an aspiring actress and twenty-two year old Justin, who has finally turned his life around after a couple of brushes with the law when he was younger.  She and her two children live with her significant other, Simon, who dotes on her but cannot seem to quell his jealousy over her ex-husband Matt, who drives a taxi for a living.  Zoe commutes to her job in London where she works at a real estate office that specializes in commercial properties.  Close friends with her neighbors, Melissa and Neil, Zoe is mostly happy with her life although she frets over her children’s futures.

DC Kelly Swift  is an excellent investigator but after she got into some trouble during a case a few years earlier, her career has stalled.  After Zoe calls her with her suspicions about recent cases being linked to the classified adverts, she convinces an old boss of hers to let her work with the MIT.  Kelly is instrumental in finding the first big break in their investigation but their first solid lead quickly run into a dead end.  Realizing time is not on their side, Nick puts someone from cyber crimes on the case and while they uncover valuable information, will it be enough to identify the person who is running the website?

Once Zoe has a better idea of what is going on with the adverts, she becomes more and more worried about her security. She uncovers shocking information about Simon but her biggest concern is Katie’s new boyfriend.  However, it is an innocuous discovery that sets a horrifying plan into action that threatens those she holds most dear.  Will Kelly and Nick find the evidence they need to catch the person behind the website before it is too late?

I See You by Clare Mackintosh is a spellbinding police procedural that has many unexpected twists and turns.  A vast pool of suspects and a series of misdirects and red herrings will keep readers guessing the perpetrator’s identity right up until the novel’s stunning conclusion.  Although the final plot twist is not completely unexpected, it is still a stunning revelation that leaves a few loose ends dangling.  I highly recommend this intricately plotted and devilishly clever mystery to fans of the genre.

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Filed under Berkley, Clare Mackintosh, Contemporary, I See You, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, Suspense

Review: Setting Free the Kites by Alex George

Title: Setting Free the Kites by Alex George
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Genre: Historical (70s), Fiction
Length: 334 pages
Book Rating: B+

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

Summary:

From the author of the “lyrical and compelling” (USA Today) novel A Good American comes a powerful story of two friends and the unintended consequences of friendship, loss, and hope.

For Robert Carter, life in his coastal Maine hometown is comfortably predictable. But in 1976, on his first day of eighth grade, he meets Nathan Tilly, who changes everything. Nathan is confident, fearless, impetuous—and fascinated by kites and flying. Robert and Nathan’s budding friendship is forged in the crucible of two family tragedies, and as the boys struggle to come to terms with loss, they take summer jobs at the local rundown amusement park. It’s there that Nathan’s boundless capacity for optimism threatens to overwhelm them both, and where they learn some harsh truths about family, desire, and revenge.

Unforgettable and heart-breaking, Setting Free the Kites is a poignant and moving exploration of the pain, joy, and glories of young friendship.

Review:

Setting Free the Kites by Alex George is a nostalgic yet poignant coming of age novel which takes place on the coast of Maine during the mid seventies.

In 2016, the demolition of a long vacant paper mill is the catalyst for Robert Carter’s recollections of his long ago friendship with Nathan Tilly.  The two boys meet in 1976 after Nathan’s family relocates to Haverford from Texas.  Thirteen year old Robert notices Nathan right away, but he is more concerned about bully Hollis Calhoun than making new friends. Just as Hollis is visiting a new torture on his poor, beleaguered victim, bold and brash Nathan steps in to rescue Robert.  Nathan’s adventurous spirit and indomitable zest for life is the perfect foil for Robert’s more cautious approach to life and the two boys enjoy many fun-filled exploits over the course of their friendship.

The youngest of the Carter sons, Robert is often eclipsed by his older brother Liam who suffers from Duchenne muscular dystrophy.  Their parents dote on Liam while his health deteriorate as his disease worsens.  Robert adores Liam yet he is ever mindful of the very different relationships the two boys have with their parents.  Not one to rock the boat (or break the rules), Robert tries to keep out of trouble and the limelight since his parents have enough to worry about with Liam’s illness.

Robert’s unexpected friendship with Nathan is one escapade after another as the two boys run free and embark on fun-filled days out of the sight of their parents.  Nathan’s unbridled optimism is a stark contrast to Robert’s fears and concerns yet Robert is always quick to overcome his doubts about whatever exploit Nathan proposes.  Even in the midst of heartbreaking losses, they manage to find a way to step outside their grief and find happiness in each other’s company.  Not even the mundane jobs they undertake at Robert’s family amusement park can put a damper on their exploits but even the strongest bonds can be tested when one of the boys discovers his first love.

While the overall story is incredibly heartfelt and enjoyable, there are a few things that occur toward the end of the novel that need mentioning.  Without giving away any spoilers, here are a few observations about the most notable revelations and plot twists.  Late in the story, one of the characters does something that is so out of character that is impossible to believe.  Heavy foreshadowing from the first chapter hints at one of the events that occurs so it should not come as a surprise to readers once it finally happens.  And the final plot twist is an absolute delight and explains an awful lot about one of the secondary characters.

Setting Free the Kites is a very moving novel of friendship that is quite compelling. The coastal setting is harsh yet beautiful Alex George brings it vibrantly to life. Robert and Nathan are wonderfully developed characters that are multi-dimensional and so life-like it is difficult to believe they are fictional.  The storyline is engaging and although each family experiences devastating losses, the boys’ adventures and natural resiliency prevent the novel from becoming bogged down in grief.  Readers will appreciate the touching epilogue that completely wraps up any loose ends.  An extremely heartwarming and engaging story that will appeal to readers of all ages.

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Filed under Alex George, Fiction, GP Putnams Sons, Historical, Historical (70s), Rated B+, Review, Setting Free the Kites

Review: The Weight of Him by Ethel Rohan

Title: The Weight of Him by Ethel Rohan
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 336 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

In The Weight of Him Billy Brennan undergoes an unforgettable journey in a startling attempt to resurrect his family and reignite hearts, his own most of all.

At four hundred pounds, Billy Brennan can always count on food. From his earliest memories, he has loved food’s colors, textures and tastes. The way flavors go off in his mouth. How food keeps his mind still and his bad feelings quiet. Food has always made everything better, until the day Billy’s beloved son Michael takes his own life.

Billy determines to make a difference in Michael’s memory and undertakes a public weight-loss campaign, to raise money for suicide prevention―his first step in an ambitious plan to save himself, and to save others. However, Billy’s dramatic crusade appalls his family, who want to simply try to go on, quietly, privately.

Despite his crushing detractors, Billy gains welcome allies: his community-at-large; a co-worker who lost his father to suicide; a filmmaker with his own dubious agenda; and a secret, miniature kingdom that Billy populates with the sub-quality dolls and soldiers he saves from disposal at the toy factory where he works. But it is only if Billy can confront the truth of the suffering and brokenness within and around him that he and others will be able to realize the recovery they need.

Told against the picturesque yet haunting backdrop of rural, contemporary Ireland, The Weight of Him is a big-hearted novel about loss and reliance that moves from tragedy to recrimination to what can be achieved when we take the stand of our lives.

Review:

The Weight of Him by Ethel Rohan is a heartbreaking, poignant and uplifting novel of healing.

Following his oldest son Michael’s inexplicable suicide, Billy Brennan wants to make his son’s life and death matter.  Billy’s plan to raise money and public awareness about suicide is not well received by his family yet he does not let their lack of support stop him.  Publicly vowing to lose 200 pounds, he  puts up flyers and pledge sheets around town and embarks on his weight loss campaign.  Despite a few initial setbacks, Billy comes up with a diet and exercise plan that he sometimes struggles to stick to but with his new friend Denis Morrissey’s help, he begins shedding pounds.  While his ambitious undertaking takes a toll on his relationship with his family, Billy remains fully committed to his cause.  Will his efforts to raise money and public awareness for suicide prevention pay off?  Can he meet his weight loss goal?  Will Billy and his family heal from their terrible loss?

In the aftermath of Michael’s suicide, Billy and his wife Tricia are both trying to understand why their son took his own life.  Tricia just wants their life to return to some semblance of normal and she does not understand why Billy would do anything to bring more attention to their family.  Their children are, of course, struggling just as much as Billy and Tricia.  Fifteen year old John is angry and Billy is often a target of his furious outbursts.  Twelve year old Anna tries to play peacemaker as her parents’ relationship continues to deteriorate.  Nine year old Ivor is a lot like his father and harboring numerous regrets over his self perceived failings, Billy tries to help his youngest son make healthier choices.

Billy’s struggles with weight began during childhood and over the years, he has lost weight only to gain it back time and again.  Having finally given up on diets a few years ago, his weight continues to climb as he binges on his favorite foods in secret.  His relationship with food is complicated and at times, turning away from the comfort he derives from it is almost a herculean task  for Billy. The passages that detail Billy’s shame and low self-esteem from his excess weight are absolutely heartwrenching to read but they provide readers with a discerning glimpse into the struggles he is experiencing.

Equally devastating are effects that Michael’s suicide have on Billy and his family.  Everyone processes their grief differently but they are all grappling to understand why Michael took his own life.  No one is able to pinpoint anything in his behavior that should have been a red flag which makes it very difficult for them to move forward in the grieving process.  Trying to articulate their feelings for their loss is virtually impossible and Billy is helpless to bridge the growing distance between him and his family.  Even more bewildering to him is their lack of understanding for his need to raise public awareness in an effort to prevent another family from losing a loved one to suicide.

The Weight of Him is an emotionally compelling novel that is fast paced and engaging. Ethel Rohan handles very difficult subject matter with sensitivity and provides readers with an insightful perspective about the importance of eliminating the social stigma that surrounds both suicide and obesity.  An absolutely breathtaking journey of healing that is sad yet ends on a hopeful note.

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Filed under Contemporary, Ethel Rohan, Fiction, Rated B+, Review, St Martin's Press, The Weight of Him

Review: Switching Gears by Chantele Sedgwick

Title: Switching Gears by Chantele Sedgwick
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, Romance
Length: 288 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

Still mourning the loss of Lucas Nelson, the boy she loved in secret for years, seventeen-year-old Emmy Martin turns to her passion for mountain biking to try to fill the empty void in her life. But just when things start looking up, Emmy discovers her mom has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Confused and angry that her parents didn’t tell her sooner, she throws herself into mountain biking like never before.

When Cole Evans, the rich boy who usually doesn’t care about anything but himself, offers to train her for the biggest mountain biking race of the season, she accepts, determined to beat her nemesis, Whitney, and prove she’s good enough for a sponsor. The more time she spends with Cole, the more she realizes he’s different than she’d expected, and, to her surprise, she’s falling for him. Torn between the deep feelings she still has for Lucas and her growing ones for Cole, she knows she must choose a path: one offers her the chance to love again, while the other is blocked by the overwhelming heartache for the boy she lost.

As she drifts further away from her family and closer to her dream of being sponsored, a terrible accident threatens any semblance of peace and happiness she has left. Instead of closing herself off to the people she loves, Emmy must learn to rely on those she has pushed away if she’s going to have any chance of getting her life back again.

Review:

Switching Gears by Chantele Sedgwick is a poignant young adult novel about loss, family and unexpected love. This companion piece to Love, Lucas that can be read a standalone.

Following the tragic loss of her best friend and secret love, Lucas Nelson, seventeen year old Emmy Martin’s life is still off kilter.  An avid mountain bike racer, she is disappointed when she comes in second place in a race against her nemesis Whitney.  She is still also smarting over losing her team captain spot to relative newcomer Cole Evans.  So when Cole offers to coach her after she agrees to race against Whitney, Emmy turns him down without hesitation.  However, their paths continue crossing as she trains on her own and she begins to realize there is more to Cole than she previously believed, but is Emmy ready to move on to a new relationship?

Emmy is initially not an easy young woman to like.  She is prickly, closed off and refuses to let anyone except her best friend Kelsie get close to her.  Emmy is extremely close to her mom which is why it is so upsetting when she learns her parents have been keeping secrets from her and her brother Gavin.  After learning the truth about her mother’s recent diagnosis, Emmy refuses to talk to her parents and she begins avoiding spending any time at home.  Instead, she throws herself into training for the upcoming race against Whitney and as she continues running into Cole, she is surprised when she begins to realize she might be falling for him.

Kelsie is a wonderful secondary character and she is extremely loyal to Emmy.  She easily overlooks her friends moodiness and she is quick to agree to anything Emmy asks her to do.  But Kelsie refuses to let her friend wallow in her grief and she gently, but consistently, urges Emmy to consider giving Cole a chance.  Their friendship is refreshingly lacking in angst or drama and Kelsie’s upbeat personality is a nice contrast to Emmy’s numerous issues.

Cole is a fantastic love interest for Emmy and he refuses to give up on her no matter how unpleasant she is to him.  At first he seems like he might be a little too perfect but underneath his clean cut, wholesome facade is a normal teenager dealing with the same issues as other kids his age.  Cole accepts Emmy’s refusal to let him help her train without putting up a fuss but he is not fazed by her attempts to keep him at arms’ length. His persistence pays off and a tentative friendship forms between them which eventually deepens into a real relationship.

Switching Gears by Chantele Sedgwick is a sweet young adult romance that is fast-paced with engaging characters.  The storyline is well written with realistic problems and issues to overcome.  The ending is a little overly melodramatic but the epilogue is nice.  All in all, an enjoyable young adult novel that readers of all ages will enjoy.

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Filed under Chantele Sedgwick, Contemporary, Rated B, Review, Romance, Sky Pony Press, Switching Gears, Young Adult

Review: Heartbreak Hotel by Jonathan Kellerman

Title: Heartbreak Hotel by Jonathan Kellerman
Alex Delaware Series Book 32
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 368 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Alex Delaware and LAPD detective Milo Sturgis investigate the death of Alex’s most mysterious patient to date in the sensational new thriller from the master of suspense, #1 New York Times bestselling author Jonathan Kellerman.

At nearly one hundred years old, Thalia Mars is a far cry from the patients that child psychologist Alex Delaware normally treats. But the charming, witty woman convinces Alex to meet with her in a suite at the Aventura, a luxury hotel with a checkered history.

What Thalia wants from Alex are answers to unsettling questions—about guilt, patterns of criminal behavior, victim selection. When Alex asks the reason for her morbid fascination, Thalia promises to tell all during their next session. But when he shows up the following morning, he is met with silence: Thalia is dead in her room.

When questions arise about how Thalia perished, Alex and homicide detective Milo Sturgis must peel back the layers of a fascinating but elusive woman’s life and embark on one of the most baffling investigations either of them has ever experienced. For Thalia Mars is a victim like no other, an enigma who harbored nearly a century of secrets and whose life and death draw those around her into a vortex of violence.

Heartbreak Hotel is classic Delaware and classic Kellerman.

Review:

Heartbreak Hotel by Jonathan Kellerman  is the latest fast-paced and engrossing addition to the Alex Delaware series.

A child psychologist and part-time consultant to the LAPD, Dr. Alex Delaware’s newest client is a surprisingly well-liked woman about to celebrate her 100th birthday.  Alex is intrigued and charmed by his first meeting with Thalia Mars, but he has no idea exactly what direction their sessions are going to take.  Unfortunately, he never gets the chance to find out what his client hoped to gain from talking to him since she is murdered before their second appointment.  Alex and his friend, LAPD homicide detective, Lt. Milo Sturgis, team up once again to solve the case and their search for answers takes a very interesting  turn when Alex begins poking around in Thalia’s past.

By all accounts, Thalia is well-loved by everyone she knows. She has lived at the Aventura Hotel for most of her life and while her bungalow is a getting a little shabby, she is still paying a pretty hefty chunk of change in monthly rent.  When Alex begins trying to find out more about Thalia’s past, he quickly realizes there are a few incongruent details about the former CPA and long retired county assessor.  Thalia’s lawyer, Ricki Sylvester fills in a few of the blanks about her former client’s life but Alex is still very curious about how Thalia acquired her surprising wealth.  Once he figures out her unexpected ties to gangsters and a long ago jewel heist,  Alex and Milo’s investigation takes yet another compelling turn.  But the one piece of the puzzle they are having a difficult time finding is the link between those long ago events and Thalia’s murder nearly seventy years later.

With a cleverly plotted and very fascinating storyline, Heartbreak Hotel is a spellbinding installment in the Alex Delaware series.   The age of Delaware’s latest client makes the premise of this latest release very unique as does the discovery of Thalia’s ties to a decades old robbery and her surprising link to the mob.  The investigation never lags as Alex and Milo leave no stone unturned during their search for Thalia’s killer.  Veteran author Jonathan Kellerman has penned another solid police procedural that readers of the genre are going to love.

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

Review: The Nearness of You by Amanda Eyre Ward

Title: The Nearness of You by Amanda Eyre Ward
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: 240 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

In this profound and lyrical novel, acclaimed author Amanda Eyre Ward explores the deeper meanings of motherhood—from the first blissful hello to the heart-wrenching prospect of saying goodbye.

Brilliant heart surgeon Suzette Kendall is stunned when Hyland, her husband of fifteen years, admits his yearning for a child. From the beginning they’d decided that having children was not an option, as Suzette feared passing along the genes that landed her mother in a mental institution. But Hyland proposes a different idea: a baby via surrogate.

Suzette agrees, and what follows is a whirlwind of candidate selection, hospital visits, and Suzette’s doubts over whether she’s made the right decision. A young woman named Dorothy Muscarello is chosen as the one who will help make this family complete. For Dorrie, surrogacy (and the money that comes with it) are her opportunity to leave behind a troubled past and create a future for herself—one full of possibility. But this situation also forces all three of them—Dorrie, Suzette, and Hyland—to face a devastating uncertainty that will reverberate in the years to come.

Beautifully shifting between perspectives, The Nearness of You deftly explores the connections we form, the families we create, and the love we hold most dear.

Review:

In The Nearness of You, Amanda Eyre Ward explores the intricacies of motherhood and surrogacy.

Due to her family’s history of mental illness, cardiac surgeon Suzette Kendall decided early in life that she would not have children.  Her husband of fifteen years, Hyland, finally made peace with her decision before they married but he has recently had a change of heart.  Although she is not completely convinced motherhood is right for her, she and Hyland decide to use his sperm to impregnate a surrogate.  After selecting twenty-one year old Dorrie Muscarello to carry their baby, will Suzette and Hyland’s dream of becoming a family come true?

Suzette’s childhood with a mentally ill mother was quite a nightmare and her decision to not have kids of her own was solidified after she experienced difficulties during college.  Not once in all the years of her marriage has she regretted the decision and she never had any reason to believe that Hyland would change his mind.  Suzette has serious reservations about adding to their family, but she wants to make Hyland happy so in spite of her ambiguous feelings about parenthood, she agrees to her husband’s plan.

Suzette and Hyland’s search for a surrogate is more complicated than they believed so they ignore the agency’s warning that Dorrie might be a risky choice since she is relatively young and childless. Her reasons for becoming a surrogate are financially motivated since she dreams of going to college in order to escape her rather dismal life. The first insemination attempt is successful, the pregnancy is progressing smoothly and the Kendall’s are excited about Dorrie’s upcoming ultrasound.

From the prologue, readers are aware that something horrible has happened but what that could be remains unclear.  The first chapter then goes back to the point where Suzette and Hyland decide to have a baby and then follows the search for a surrogate and subsequent pregnancy until the point right before Dorrie’s ultrasound. The second part of the novel follows what happens next and these chapters unfold from various characters’ points of view.  The third part of the novel fast forwards back to the present and recounts the series of events leading up to the prologue. 

An insightful glimpse into the difficulties and pitfalls of surrogacy, The Nearness of You by Amanda Eyre Ward is a well-written novel that tugs on the heartstrings.  The characters are richly drawn and mostly sympathetic despite some of the choices they make. While not everything that happens throughout the story is completely unexpected, there are some nice twists and turns that are thought-provoking. The novel’s conclusion is a little abrupt and unsatisfying and readers will left wondering what comes next for the characters.

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Filed under Amanda Eyre Ward, Ballantine Books, Contemporary, Rated B, Review, The Nearness of You, Women's Fiction