Category Archives: Grand Central Publishing

Review: The Undertaker’s Daughter by Sara Blaedel

Title: The Undertaker’s Daughter by Sara Blaedel
Ilka Series Booke One
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction, Mystery
Length: 336 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Already widowed by the age of forty, Ilka Nichols Jensen, a school portrait photographer, leads a modest, regimented, and uneventful life in Copenhagen. Until unexpected news rocks her quiet existence: Her father–who walked out suddenly and inexplicably on the family more than three decades ago–has died. And he’s left her something in his will: his funeral home. In Racine, Wisconsin.

Clinging to this last shred of communication from the father she hasn’t heard from since childhood, Ilka makes an uncharacteristically rash decision and jumps on a plane to Wisconsin. Desperate for a connection to the parent she never really knew, she plans to visit the funeral home and go through her father’s things–hoping for some insight into his new life in America–before preparing the business for a quick sale.

But when she stumbles on an unsolved murder, and a killer who seems to still be very much alive, the undertaker’s daughter realizes she might be in over her head . .

Review:

With a slight mystery element, The Undertaker’s Daughter by Sara Blaedel is an interesting novel about a Danish woman who unexpectedly inherits a funeral home in Wisconsin from her estranged father.

Forty year old Ilka Nichols Jensen is shocked to learn her father who abandoned her over thirty years ago has included her in his will.  Ignoring her mother’s advice to remain uninvolved with the inheritance, Ilka quickly heads to Wisconsin hoping to learn more about her dad but instead discovers the funeral home is in dire financial straits. With the help of Artie Sovino and Sister Eileen O’Connor, Ilka jumps right into planning funerals while trying to decide what she should do with the business.

Ilka is a bit of an inconsistent character as she tries to decide the future of the funeral home.  One minute she is prepared to stay and the very next minute she is ready to book her return flight to Denmark. At the same time, Ilka is trying to understand why her father abandoned her and her mother and she is hoping to find answers among his belongings and the business.

Ilka’s memories of her father are somewhat hazy and fleeting and seem to center around her dad’s love of horse racing and his gambling at the racetrack. She only has the vaguest of clues about the events surrounding his move and her memories are filtered through her mother’s animosity over the situation he left them in. Although Ilka gleans a few clues about his life in the US, she is puzzled by the information she has discovered nor can she make sense of some of the troubling items she has unearthed.

Although Ilka has no experience working in a funeral home, she has no choice but to help the bereaved lay their loved ones to rest. Although the few funerals she helps plan are somewhat mundane, the arrival of an unidentified  homeless person’s corpse embroils her, Artie and Eileen in a bit of a mystery. While the police do eventually discover who he is, his identity raises some very intriguing questions about a still unsolved murder from twelve years earlier.  This mystery plays out on the periphery of the novel and even though Ilka is curious about what happened to the man, she does not play much of a role in the investigation.

The Undertaker’s Daughter by Sara Blaedel is an easy to read novel with an unusual premise and a mostly likable but sometimes frustrating protagonist. The funeral home is an out of the ordinary backdrop for the unfolding story and it is quite obvious Sara Blaedel carefully researched the intricacies involved with the funeral business.  While the current mystery is completely wrapped up, the novel ends with a cliffhanger about Ilka’s father. Hopefully the next installment in the Ilka series will be less of a character study and more of a mystery.

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Filed under Contemporary, Grand Central Publishing, Ilka Series, Mystery, Rated B, Review, Sara Blaedel, The Undertaker's Daughter, Women's Fiction

Review: The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey

Title: The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey
Gemma Woodstock Series Book One
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Rosalind’s secrets didn’t die with her.

The lead homicide investigator in a rural town, Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock is deeply unnerved when a high school classmate is found strangled, her body floating in a lake. And not just any classmate, but Rosalind Ryan, whose beauty and inscrutability exerted a magnetic pull on Smithson High School, first during Rosalind’s student years and then again when she returned to teach drama.

As much as Rosalind’s life was a mystery to Gemma when they were students together, her death presents even more of a puzzle. What made Rosalind quit her teaching job in Sydney and return to her hometown? Why did she live in a small, run-down apartment when her father was one of the town’s richest men? And despite her many admirers, did anyone in the town truly know her?

Rosalind’s enigmas frustrate and obsess Gemma, who has her own dangerous secrets–an affair with her colleague and past tragedies that may not stay in the past. Brilliantly rendered, THE DARK LAKE has characters as compelling and mysteries as layered as the best thrillers from Gillian Flynn and Sophie Hannah.

Review:

A stunning debut by Sarah Bailey set in Smithson, Australia, The Dark Lake is an absolutely riveting police procedural starring the deeply flawed but sympathetic Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock.

A police detective in the same small town she grew up in, Gemma is used to sometimes knowing victims of crimes she investigates. However, she is shocked to learn the murder victim in her newest case is Rosalind Ryan, a former classmate of hers.  Gemma and her partner Detective Sergeant Felix McKinnon are soon stymied by the lack of evidence at the scene. Equally frustrating is their inability to get a sense of who the victim was prior to her death. Seemingly loved by all who knew her, there is scant information about her life and her relationships. Then there is Gemma’s puzzling personal history with the victim which is slowly revealed as she hunts for Rosalind’s killer.

Gemma is a brilliant detective but her personal life is a mess. She lives with her partner Scott and their young son Ben, but she is definitely not firmly committed to her relationship since she is currently embroiled in a passionate affair.   Although Gemma loves her son, she is not overly maternal and she is more dedicated to her job than she is to either Scott or Ben.  As the bits and pieces of her somewhat tragic past are revealed, the reasons for her fear of commitment become clear. Gemma is a sympathetic character but it is easy to become impatient with her lack of honesty in both her personal and professional lives.

The investigation into Rosalind’s murder is virtually at a standstill from the start.  Despite her family’s wealth, she lived a seemingly quiet life with no friends or romantic entanglements.  Most everyone at the high school has nothing but kind things to say about her, but the discovery of possible trouble at her previous job raises some very intriguing questions. An unsubstantiated rumor about Rosalind’s involvement with one of her students is just one of the avenues of inquiry that Gemma and Felix explore as they try to unearth a possible suspect or even a motive for the murder.

The Dark Lake  seamlessly weaves back and forth between events from Gemma’s past and the murder investigation in the present.  The search for Rosalind’s killer often takes a backseat to Gemma’s unsettled personal life, but these glimpses into Gemma’s past and present are absolutely fascinating. Sarah Bailey does a bang up job of keeping the killer’s identity and motive for the crime carefully underwraps until the novel’s adrenaline laced and action packed conclusion. An outstanding beginning to the Gemma Woodstock series that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the next installment.

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Filed under Contemporary, Gemma Woodstock Series, Grand Central Publishing, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, Sarah Bailey, Suspense, The Dark Lake

Review: Girl Last Seen by Nina Laurin

Title: Girl Last Seen by Nina Laurin
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 352 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Two missing girls. Thirteen years apart.
Olivia Shaw has been missing since last Tuesday. She was last seen outside the entrance of her elementary school in Hunts Point wearing a white spring jacket, blue jeans, and pink boots.

I force myself to look at the face in the photo, into her slightly smudged features, and I can’t bring myself to move. Olivia Shaw could be my mirror image, rewound to thirteen years ago.

If you have any knowledge of Olivia Shaw’s whereabouts or any relevant information, please contact…

I’ve spent a long time peering into the faces of girls on missing posters, wondering which one replaced me in that basement. But they were never quite the right age, the right look, the right circumstances. Until Olivia Shaw, missing for one week tomorrow.

Whoever stole me was never found. But since I was taken, there hasn’t been another girl.

And now there is.

Review:

Girl Last Seen by Nina Laurin is a gritty, suspense-laden mystery.

In the ten years since her pedophile kidnapper inexplicably freed her, Laine Moreno has never fully recovered from her three year ordeal. Now twenty-three, she holds down two jobs to support herself and she relies on alcohol and drugs to keep her dark memories at bay. Laine comes face to face with her past when ten year old Olivia Shaw goes missing and Detective Sean Ortiz suspects there is a connection between Laine’s still unsolved case and Olivia’s kidnapping. Laine wants nothing more than to help find the young girl, but will she help or hinder the investigation?

Laine’s ordeal at the hands of abductor was horrendous but little was done to find her captor after her release. The daughter of a junkie, Laine was quickly forgotten as she became a ward of the state and soon turned to unhealthy methods of coping with what happened to her. Now on probation and still undergoing counseling, Laine is her own worst enemy as she numbs her pain with a plethora of prescription drug addictions and alcohol. She wants to help rescue Olivia, but Laine is impulsive and unable to cope with the traumatic memories from her time in captivity.

Since Olivia is from a wealthy family, her disappearance is a high profile case with intense media scrutiny. There is also a great deal of pressure on the police to locate the missing girl and Sean’s reason for reaching out to Laine is two-fold: rule her out as a suspect and check to see if she has recalled any new details about her own case.  Laine implicitly trusts Sean due to their history but is her faith in him misplaced? Laine soon discovers she can rely on no one but herself as she continues trying to find Olivia on her own while she becomes progressively more paranoid as her downward spiral continues.

With plenty of unexpected twists and turns and an increasingly unreliable narrator, Girl Last Seen is a somewhat dark mystery that delves into some difficult subject matter. Although Laine is initially a sympathetic protagonist, it is easy to become frustrated with her erratic behavior and poor choices.  Sean is not exactly impartial when it comes to Laine and he, too, makes some very ill-advised decisions. Nina Laurin brings the investigation to an adrenaline-fueled (but slightly improbably) conclusion and the novel ends on a surprisingly upbeat note.

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Filed under Contemporary, Girl Last Seen, Grand Central Publishing, Mystery, Nina Laurin, Rated B, Review, Suspense

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: How Will I Know You? by Jessica Treadway

Title: How Will I Know You? by Jessica Treadway
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 416 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

A page-turner about the murder of a teenage girl, from the author of Lacy Eye.

On a cold December day in northern upstate New York, the body of high school senior Joy Enright is discovered in the woods at the edge of a pond. She had been presumed drowned, but an autopsy shows that she was, in fact, strangled. As the investigation unfolds, four characters tell the story from widely divergent perspectives: Susanne, Joy’s mother and a professor at the local art college; Martin, a black graduate student suspected of the murder; Harper, Joy’s best friend and a potential eyewitness; and Tom, a rescue diver and son-in-law of the town’s police chief. As a web of small-town secrets comes to light, a dramatic conclusion reveals the truth about Joy’s death.

Review:

How Will I Know You? by Jessica Treadway is an engrossing mystery about the murder of a teenage girl and the impact her death has on her family, friends and the local community.

Following her disappearance after an argument with her mother, Susanne, everyone beleives Joy Enright accidentally drowned in a local pond.  Weeks later, her body is discovered in the woods and the autopsy reveals she was strangled.  Eyewitness reports and police interviews lead interim police chief Doug Armstrong to arrest grad student Martin Willett. At the behest of Susanne, Armstrong’s son-in-law Tom Carbone is running a parallel investigation into Joy’s murder and the information he uncovers casts suspicion on the entire police investigation.  Joy’s childhood best friend, Harper Grove, also plays a prominent role in the Willett’s arrest but can her version of events the day Joy was murdered be trusted?

A sculptor and professor at the nearby art college, Susanne cannot help but feel guilty for her role in the series of events that led up to Joy’s murder.  Their once close relationship had rapidly deteriorated in the months preceding Joy’s death and Susanne is quite contemplative as she tries to pinpoint the reason for reason for the changes in her daughter’s behavior. Susanne’s marriage to husband Gil is also on shaky ground due to betrayals from both partners and the added strain of Joy’s murder might be too much for their marriage to bear.  Can they manage to repair their fractured bond in the in the aftermath of such a horrific loss?

Tom Carbone is caught between loyalty to his wife and father-in-law and uncovering the truth about Joy’s murder.  Initially believing Martin is involved in the teenager’s death, Tom soon discovers shocking information about Joy that could destroy his already precarious relationship with his in-laws and ultimately, his marriage.  Already reeling from stunning revelations about those closest to him,  Tom questions whether or not he can trust his judgment after he learns unexpected news that could turn the investigation in a new direction. What will Tom do with this information that will have lasting repercussions on his loved ones?

During her interview with police chief Armstrong, Harper makes a decision that she immediately regrets but finds impossible to undo as events begin to snowball out of control.  Soon realizing rectifying her mistake could have devastating consequences not only for the investigation but her family, she continues to wrestle with her guilt. Harper also tries to pinpoint why her friendship with Joy began to fall apart in the months leading up to her friend’s murder.  Although she easily forgives some of Joy’s behavior, she also feels deeply betrayed by some her friend’s actions.  Harper cannot help but feel she could have done more to save Joy’s life but is her assumption correct?

Martin Willett is immediately a person of interest in the investigation but is there any evidence to back up Armstrong’s suspicions?  He is certainly guilty of making a few bad decisions in the months before Joy’s murder but did the police chief rush to judgment? Martin’s brief interactions with Joy and his connection to Susanne provide Armstrong with legitimate reasons to look at him more closely but in his zeal to close the case, did he give the investigation into her murder the attention it deserved? Is Martin’s arrest based on evidence or is his arrest racially motivated?

Weaving back and forth in time and written from four distinct points of view, How Will I Know You? is a disquieting novel that is part mystery and part character study.  Secrets and lies are slowly revealed over the course of the investigation as each of the characters reflect on the roles they might have played in the events leading up to Joy’s murder.  Jessica Treadway masterfully conceals the murderer’s identity and the motive for the crime right up until the novel’s stunning conclusion. I highly recommend this poignant and thought-provoking mystery to readers of the genre.

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Filed under Contemporary, Grand Central Publishing, How Will I Know You?, Jessica Treadway, Mystery, Rated B+, Review

Review: Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Title: Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 400 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

From the Emmy, PEN, Peabody, Critics’ Choice, and Golden Globe Award-winning creator of the TV show Fargo comes the thriller of the year.

On a foggy summer night, eleven people–ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter–depart Martha’s Vineyard on a private jet headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the plane plunges into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs-the painter-and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of an immensely wealthy and powerful media mogul’s family.

With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the crash and the backstories of the passengers and crew members–including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot–the mystery surrounding the tragedy heightens. As the passengers’ intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy. Was it merely by dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating storm of media outrage and accusations. And while Scott struggles to cope with fame that borders on notoriety, the authorities scramble to salvage the truth from the wreckage.

Amid pulse-quickening suspense, the fragile relationship between Scott and the young boy glows at the heart of this stunning novel, raising questions of fate, human nature, and the inextricable ties that bind us together.

Review:

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley is an intriguing mystery about the investigation into the cause of a private airplane crash that killed nine of eleven passengers on board.

The passengers on board the luxury plane bound for New York are network head David Bateman, his wife Maggie, their two children Rachel and JJ, their bodyguard Gil Baruch, Wall Street financier Ben Kipling and his wife Sarah, and struggling painter Scott Burroughs.  The crew include pilot James Melody, co-pilot Charlie Busch and flight attendant Emma Lightner.  Nothing seems out of the ordinary with the flight until sixteen minutes after takeoff, the plane inexplicably crashes into the ocean.  Scott and four year old JJ are the only survivors and after an arduous night of swimming, Scott and JJ arrive safely on the New York shore only to wind up smack dab in the middle of an intense investigation and media frenzy.

Although Scott is immediately hailed as a hero, he is also at the center of the investigation and media speculation.  Why was a recovering alcoholic and moderately successful painter on the plane in the first place?  What was his relationship with Maggie Bateman?   What is his connection to Ben and Sarah? What does Scott know about Ben’s business dealings?  Why, of all the passengers on the plane, is he the lone adult survivor?  NTSB investigator Gus Franklin gives Scott the benefit of the doubt and he treats Scott with respect and care.  The same cannot be said for FBI Agent O’Brien whose antagonistic approach angers Gus and befuddles Scott.

News anchor Bill Cunningham deliberately stirs up the public with his rabid (and often baseless) speculation and he utilizes questionable (and illegal) tactics in hopes of getting information for his news reports.  Like much of today’s news reporting, Bill is pursuing his own agenda and he blatantly skews facts to fit his increasingly bizarre theories.  Scott is genuinely bewildered by some of Bill’s questions and he goes to great lengths to avoid the limelight.

The investigation into the cause of the crash is rather straight forward but plagued by interagency fighting since they each have their own theory about what happened.  Although there is little evidence to back up some of the conjecture, other assumptions are credible.  However the novel quickly gets bogged down in chapters about the passengers and crew and while they contain nuggets of valuable information, these points are often lost in these extraneous, meandering passages. Equally frustrating are Bill’s wild accusations and vitriolic newscasts that are nothing but pure speculation.  Although Scott is a genuinely likable person who is caught up in extraordinary circumstances, he comes across as incredibly naive and rather clueless during his interactions with Bill and Agent O’Brien.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley is a perplexing mystery that is impossible to solve.  Despite the somewhat slowing pacing overall, once the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place, the novel thunders to a dramatic and completely unexpected conclusion.  All in all, an interesting mystery with a unique storyline that fans of the genre will enjoy.

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Filed under Before the Fall, Contemporary, Grand Central Publishing, Mystery, Noah Hawley, Rated C, Review, Suspense