Category Archives: Crown

Review: Lullaby Road by James Anderson

Title: Lullaby Road by James Anderson
Publisher: Crown
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B+

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

Summary:

Winter has come to Route 117, a remote road through the high desert of Utah trafficked only by eccentrics, fugitives, and those looking to escape the world. Local truck driver Ben Jones, still in mourning over a heartbreaking loss, is just trying to get through another season of treacherous roads and sudden snowfall without an accident. But then he finds a mute Hispanic child who has been abandoned at a seedy truck stop along his route, far from civilization and bearing a note that simply reads “Please Ben. Watch my son. His name is Juan” And then at the bottom, a few more hastily scribbled words. “Bad Trouble. Tell no one.”.

Despite deep misgivings, and without any hint of who this child is or the grave danger he’s facing, Ben takes the child with him in his truck and sets out into an environment that is as dangerous as it is beautiful and silent. From that moment forward, nothing will ever be the same. Not for Ben. Not for the child. And not for anyone along the seemingly empty stretch of road known as Route 117.

Review:

Featuring many of the same people  from The Never-Open Desert Diner, Lullaby Road by James Anderson is an intriguing mystery starring independent trucker Ben Jones who once again finds himself caught up in the lives of the eccentric people along his delivery route.

Set against the backdrop of the Utah desert and lonely highway 117, Ben finds himself swept into drama of other people’s making.  Unable to refuse a virtual stranger’s plea, he reluctantly takes young Juan into his care temporarily. His day gets even more complicated when Ginny, the teen mom he has been helping, asks him to take her baby Annabelle for the day since her sitter canceled. With an early winter snowstorm on its way, Ben sets about making the day’s deliveries but every time he turns around, he is distracted by the problems that manage to find the people along his route.

Ben remains a complex man who has left his boozing and brawling days behind him. Despite his reluctance to take young Juan with him, the alternative is turning the young boy over to social services which is something Ben will only consider as a last resort. His admiration for how Ginny pretty much singlehandedly turning her life around also makes it impossible to tell her no when she finally asks for help. Ben’s interactions with the various people along his route really showcase how kind-hearted and compassionate he is.  He is respectful for his customers’ desire for privacy but he does not hesitate to push them when he needs answers.

The novel  is a little busy due to a number of secondary story arcs but the various storylines all play out rather neatly.  Ben is quickly distracted from his quandary over Juan after itinerant preacher John is severely injured in a hit and run accident.  Ben also faces the loss of someone dear to him but he also realizes that he must not interfere with their decision. He is also somewhat troubled by new information about diner owner Walt Butterfield but he avoids finding out what is going on with the elderly veteran.  Then there is the stunning double homicide that takes the decision about what to do with Juan out of Ben’s hands once and for all.

Lullaby Road is another intricately plotted character driven story that also features a perplexing mystery. Ben is a complex protagonist whose troubled past does not disguise the fact that he has a heart of gold. The desolate, beautiful and harsh desert is the perfect setting for the unfolding drama and James Anderson brings the novel to a somewhat hurried but satisfactory conclusion.

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Filed under Contemporary, Crown, James Anderson, Lullaby Road, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, Suspense

Review: The Chalk Man by C. J. Tudor

Title: The Chalk Man by C. J. Tudor
Publisher: Crown
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 288 pages
Book Rating: B+

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

Summary:

A riveting and relentlessly compelling psychological suspense debut that weaves a mystery about a childhood game gone dangerously awry, and will keep readers guessing right up to the shocking ending

In 1986, Eddie and his friends are just kids on the verge of adolescence. They spend their days biking around their sleepy English village and looking for any taste of excitement they can get. The chalk men are their secret code: little chalk stick figures they leave for one another as messages only they can understand. But then a mysterious chalk man leads them right to a dismembered body, and nothing is ever the same.

In 2016, Eddie is fully grown, and thinks he’s put his past behind him. But then he gets a letter in the mail, containing a single chalk stick figure. When it turns out that his friends got the same message, they think it could be a prank . . . until one of them turns up dead.

That’s when Eddie realizes that saving himself means finally figuring out what really happened all those years ago.

Expertly alternating between flashbacks and the present day, The Chalk Man is the very best kind of suspense novel, one where every character is wonderfully fleshed out and compelling, where every mystery has a satisfying payoff, and where the twists will shock even the savviest reader.

Review:

Weaving back and forth in time between 1986 and 2016, The Chalk Man by C. J. Tudor is a suspense-laden, twist-filled tale of murder.

In 1986, Eddie Adams and his band of friends, Fat Gav, Metal Mickey Cooper, David “Hoppo” Hopkins and the lone girl in the group, Nicky Martin, are enjoying the last vestiges of summer before school resumes. Their days are filled with innocent pursuits as they ride their bikes, explore the nearby woods and write cryptic messages to one another in chalk.  Interspersed with their idyllic fun are a few tragedies and bullying from an older peer but a grisly discovery in the woods becomes the defining moment that haunts them for years to come.

Now thirty years later,  three of the gang still live in the same small town. Ed is a school teacher, Gav owns a pub and Hoppo is a plumber caring for his elderly mother. Ed remains deeply troubled by those long ago events and when Mickey comes back planning to write a book about that seminal summer, trouble quickly follows. Someone is sending them ominous letters and after one of them is murdered, Ed becomes obsessed with uncovering the truth about the current death and the troubling discovery from their youth.

Ed is a bit of an unreliable narrator as the novel flips back and forth between the past and present. Suffering from nightmares, fearing his father’s early onset Alzheimer’s will strike him and a propensity to drink too much, he tries to make sense of what he remembers from their childhood and how these long ago events might be connected to what is occurring now. Ed also regrets that he might have inadvertently influenced the investigation in the past and he would like nothing more than to find evidence that someone he greatly admired is, in fact, innocent of the crime many believe he committed. But after so much time has passed, will Ed find the proof he needs to unmask a clever killer?

The Chalk Man is an intricately plotted and riveting mystery. Each of the chapters ends on cliffhanger which ratchets up the tension in this clever debut by  C. J. Tudor. The characters are remarkably well developed and incredibly life-like with all too relatable strengths and weaknesses. The novel moves at a brisk pace and comes to a jaw-dropping, twisty-turny conclusion. An absolutely brilliant mystery that I highly recommend to fans of the genre.

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Filed under CJ Tudor, Contemporary, Crown, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, Suspense, The Chalk Man

Review: Here and Gone by Haylen Beck

Title: Here and Gone by Haylen Beck
Publisher: Crown
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense
Length: 306 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Blogging for Books

Summary:

Here and Gone is a gripping, wonderfully tense suspense thriller about a mother’s desperate fight to recover her stolen children from corrupt authorities.

It begins with a woman fleeing through Arizona with her kids in tow, trying to escape an abusive marriage. When she’s pulled over by an unsettling local sheriff, things soon go awry and she is taken into custody. Only when she gets to the station, her kids are gone. And then the cops start saying they never saw any kids with her, that if they’re gone than she must have done something with them…

Meanwhile, halfway across the country a man hears the frenzied news reports about the missing kids, which are eerily similar to events in his own past. As the clock ticks down on the search for the lost children, he too is drawn into the desperate fight for their return.

Review:

Haylen Beck’s Here and Gone is an edge of the seat suspenseful novel about a woman who falls victim to a corrupt sheriff and his deputy in a small town in Arizona.

Audra Kinney, along with her two children, ten year old Sean and six year old Louise, are nearing the end of their cross country flight from New York to California when she is pulled over by Sheriff Ronald Whiteside. Nervous and fearful since she is fleeing from her abusive husband, Patrick, Audra is shocked when the routine traffic stop results in her arrest for drug possession. Worried about what will happen to her children, she complies with Whiteside’s orders and  she is only mildly relieved when her children are picked up by Deputy Mary Collins. But it is not until Audra arrives at the local jail that events take a truly terrifying turn when she asks about her children and the sheriff very chillingly replies, “what children?”

Right from the beginning of her horrifying ordeal, the deck is completely stacked against Audra. Her history of drug and alcohol addiction is used against her by the authorities and the media and her wealthy husband and mother-in-law do everything they can to smear her reputation. Crucified in the media, Audra tries to convince FBI Agent Jennifer Mitchell to look deeper into Whiteside and Collins, but Mitchell has no reason to doubt the law enforcement officers’ account of events.  Audra’s alarm about her children’s well-being increases as she tries and fails to  persuade anyone to take her claims seriously. However, just as she is running out of options, help arrives from a very unexpected source.

Danny Lee might not know Audra but her story about what happened to her and her children is all too familiar.  His arrival in the small AZ town does not go unnoticed and Whiteside immediately begins trying to intimidate the newcomer.  While Danny’s offer help is not altogether altruistic, aiding Audra might help him find answers he has been searching for the past several years.  Danny and Audra are soon in a race against time to locate Sean and Louise before Whiteside can carry out his end of a thoroughly evil deal.

Here and Gone is a fast-paced thriller without much mystery to the storyline since readers know exactly what happened to Audra, Sean and Louise.  The motivation for Whiteside’s despicable actions is also crystal clear right from the start as well. However, there is no shortage of suspense as Audra continues to try to convince anyone who will listen that her children are in terrible danger and that she is innocent of any involvement in their disappearance. With the clock ticking down to find Sean and Louise before it is too late, Haylen Beck brings the novel to a pulse-pounding, adrenaline-filled conclusion.

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Filed under Contemporary, Crown, Haylen Beck, Here and Gone, Rated B+, Review, Suspense

Review: The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry

Title: The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry
The Lace Reader Series Book Two
Publisher: Crown
Genre: Contemporary, Supernatural, Mystery/Suspense
Length: 448 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Beloved author Brunonia Barry returns to the world of THE LACE READER with this spellbinding new thriller, a complex brew of suspense, seduction and murder.

When a teenage boy dies suspiciously on Halloween night, Salem’s chief of police, John Rafferty, now married to gifted lace reader Towner Whitney, wonders if there is a connection between his death and Salem’s most notorious cold case, a triple homicide dubbed “The Goddess Murders,” in which three young women, all descended from accused Salem witches, were slashed on Halloween night in 1989. He finds unexpected help in Callie Cahill, the daughter of one of the victims newly returned to town. Neither believes that the main suspect, Rose Whelan, respected local historian, is guilty of murder or witchcraft.

But exonerating Rose might mean crossing paths with a dangerous force. Were the women victims of an all-too-human vengeance, or was the devil raised in Salem that night? And if they cannot discover what truly happened, will evil rise again?

Review:

The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry is an intriguing mystery set in modern day Salem.  However, the city’s dark past features heavily in a story that is rife with references to the Salem witch trials, mordern day witchcraft and psychic phenomena.  Although this newest release is the second installment in the The Lace Reader series, it can be read as a standalone.

In 1989, three young women (dubbed the Goddesses) were brutally murdered and although everyone in Salem is convinced Rose Whelan is the killer, the case still remains open.  Twenty-five years later, there is renewed interest in the case when a confrontation between Rose and three teens ends with the death of their ringleader, Billy Barnes.  Local police chief John Rafferty has doubts about Rose’s guilt and due to her fragile mental state, he arranges for her to go to the state mental hospital until she is coherent enough to answer his questions.  When Rose’s honorary niece, Callie Cahill, who  was present at the attack twenty-five years earlier, learns that Rose is alive and in trouble, she returns to Salem to help exonerate her aunt of the crimes she is suspected of committing.   Trying to keep her identity under wraps for as long as possible,  Callie stays with Rafferty and his wife, Towner Whitney, while she tries to figure out who is responsible for murdering her mom, Olivia Cahill and her friends Cheryl Cassella and Susan Symms twenty-five years ago.  At the same time, Rafferty has unofficially reopened the case and begins searching for the fourth Goddess, Leah, who has not been seen since the night the other three women were killed.  Is Leah the murderer?  Or is there a far more sinister reason behind her disappearance?

Before the Goddess murders, Rose is a well-respected historian and scholar of Salem’s rather colorful history.  Rose’s fascination with uncovering the truth about the exact location the deaths of those persecuted during the Salem witch trials figures prominently in the events of the night the three women were murdered.  In the aftermath of the horrible crime, Rose is convinced a banshee killed the women and her long battle with mental illness began.  Now homeless and obsessed with oak trees, Rose is feared by the townspeople so it easy for everyone to accuse her of murdering Billy.  She is once again committed to the mental hospital while Rafferty begins his investigation into both cases.

After her mother’s murder, Callie became a ward of the state and bounced between foster homes and a Catholic orphanage.  While she has a successful career as a musical therapist, she is plagued with nightmares from the night her mother and her friends were killed and she really has no close ties with anyone.  Shocked to discover the sisters lied to her about Rose, Callie drops everything to rush back to Salem to help her honorary aunt.  The secrets from the night the Goddesses died slowly return to her the longer she remains in town.  Her involvement with the Whiting family, whose history in Salem in also closely intertwined with Marta Hathorne and her ancestors, helps unlock many of her long forgotten memories of the events of the night of the Goddess murders.  Callie tries to ignore her startling attraction to Paul Whiting and when their friendship deepens into love, their romance has very unexpected consequences.

Although a little slow-paced,  The Fifth Petal is an engrossing mystery that has supernatural elements including modern day witchcraft and psychic abilities.  The investigation into the Goddess murders moves at a snail’s pace as Rafferty painstakingly reviews old case files and re-interviews witnesses. Brunonia Barry expertly weaves all of the novel’s various threads into a credible tale of suspense, murder and revenge.  It is an absolutely fascinating addition to The Lace Reader series that old and new fans are sure to enjoy.

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Filed under Brunonia Barry, Contemporary, Crown, Mystery, Rated B, Review, Supernatural Elements, Suspense, The Fifth Petal, The Lace Reader Series

Review: The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson

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

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Blogging for Books

Summary:

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

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

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

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: What You Left Behind by Samantha Hayes

leftTitle: What You Left Behind by Samantha Hayes
DCI Lorraine Fisher Series Book Two
Publisher: Crown
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
Length: 322 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

A mesmerizing new thriller from the author of Until You’re Mine

Two years after a terrifying spate of teenage suicides, the remote village of Radcote has just begun to heal. Then a young man is killed in a freak motorcycle accident and a suicide note is found among his belongings. When a second boy is found dead shortly thereafter, the nightmare of repeat suicides once again threatens the community.

Desperate for a vacation, Detective Inspector Lorraine Fisher has just come to Radcote for a stay with her sister, Jo, but the atmosphere of the country house is unusually tense. Freddie, Jo’s son, seems troubled and uncommunicative, and Jo is struggling to reach out to him. Meanwhile, Lorraine becomes determined to discover the truth behind these deaths. Are they suicides, or is there something more sinister at work? Finding answers might help Freddie, but they’ll also lead to a shocking truth: whatever it is–or whoever it is–that’s killing these young people is far more disturbing than she ever could have imagined, and unraveling the secret is just as dangerous as the secret itself.

Wicked, intense, and utterly compulsive, What You Left Behind confirms Samantha Hayes as a top thriller writer.

Review:

What You Left Behind by Samantha Hayes is an intriguing whodunit that fans of British police procedurals are going to LOVE. Unexpected twists and turns, a large suspect pool and lack of a clear motive make it virtually impossible to guess the perpetrator’s identity. Although it is the second installment of the DCI Lorraine Fisher series, the novel can be read as a standalone.

Detective Chief Inspector Lorraine Fisher’s vacation is anything but relaxing when she finds herself embroiled in a perplexing mystery while visiting her sister Jo. Immediately upon arrival, she learns distressing news about Jo’s marriage but most shocking are the changes in her nephew Freddie. He is withdrawn, moody and refuses to accompany the rest of the family on excursions. It is soon clear that something is deeply troubling him, but he refuses to reveal what that something is. Jo is deeply concerned about her son because eighteen months earlier, a cluster of teen suicides rocked their small village and the recent death of a homeless youth, Dean Watts, was also ruled a suicide. Her fears are compounded when another young man takes his own life and Jo grows increasingly alarmed about Freddie’s state of mind.

Although Lorraine is also worried about Freddie, she is enjoying her visit with Jo until she receives a disturbing picture that leads her to look a little deeper in Dean’s death. While she is at the local police station, the death of another young man is reported and she goes with the lead detective, DCI Burnley, to the crime scene. She quickly sees evidence that foul play might be involved and knowing that Burnley is known to cut corners, she cannot resist investigating on her own. Lorraine’s husband Adam joins her and just as they are beginning to sort through the clues, Freddie vanishes and they are pulled in two different directions as they continue trying to make sense of the prior deaths while at the same time searching for Freddie.

Freddie’s story arc is as fascinating as it is frustrating. For reasons that are never quite clear, he absolutely refuses to discuss what is causing his extreme distress and he continues to spiral deeper into hopelessness and despair. Things become even more complicated for Freddie when he tries to help a friend and he unwittingly puts himself in danger.

While the pacing of What You Left Behind is a little slow, it is an overall compelling novel. The storyline is quite suspenseful and Samantha Hayes’ clever plot twists and red herrings keep readers guessing how this terrific mystery will end. A jaw dropping revelation ties up all of the loose ends and brings the mystery to a stunning conclusion. It is an excellent addition to the DCI Lorraine Fisher series that old and new fans do not want to miss.

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Filed under Contemporary, Crown, DCI Lorraine Fisher Series, Mystery, Rated B, Review, Samantha Hayes, Suspense, What You Left Behind