Category Archives: Review

Review: Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak

Title: Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 362 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:  

A warm, wry, sharply observed debut novel about what happens when a family is forced to spend a week together in quarantine over the holidays…

It’s Christmas, and for the first time in years the entire Birch family will be under one roof. Even Emma and Andrew’s elder daughter—who is usually off saving the world—will be joining them at Weyfield Hall, their aging country estate. But Olivia, a doctor, is only coming home because she has to. Having just returned from treating an epidemic abroad, she’s been told she must stay in quarantine for a week…and so too should her family.

For the next seven days, the Birches are locked down, cut off from the rest of humanity—and even decent Wi-Fi—and forced into each other’s orbits. Younger, unabashedly frivolous daughter Phoebe is fixated on her upcoming wedding, while Olivia deals with the culture shock of being immersed in first-world problems.

As Andrew sequesters himself in his study writing scathing restaurant reviews and remembering his glory days as a war correspondent, Emma hides a secret that will turn the whole family upside down.

In close proximity, not much can stay hidden for long, and as revelations and long-held tensions come to light, nothing is more shocking than the unexpected guest who’s about to arrive…

Review:

In Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak, a seven day quarantine means the dysfunctional Birch family are sequestered together during Christmas. With each of them keeping secrets, will this tense reunion prove to be a time of healing once the revelations begin to unfold?

Oldest daughter Olivia is a doctor who spends most of her time volunteering with humanitarian agencies during health epidemics in third world countries. With her latest rotation over, she is forced into quarantine to monitor for symptoms of the deadly Haag virus. She and fellow doctor, Sean Coughlan, ignored the strict no contact rule and for the first time in her life, she has fallen in love. Olivia has zero patience for her self-centered and frivolous younger sister, Phoebe, and her relationship with her parents,  Andrew and Emma, is also quite strained. Olivia is already struggling with her reintegration into regular life when her world is rocked by possibly devastating news.

Twenty-nine and still living at home, Phoebe is happy about her recent engagement despite her disappointment with some aspects of her fiancé George’s proposal.  Now completely wrapped up in planning her upcoming nuptials, she has no interest in anything negative intruding on her excitement.  Needless to say, Phoebe is not exactly the most sympathetic family member due to her self-absorption and unhappiness when she is not the center of everyone’s attention.

Matriarch Emma is determined to make the most of Olivia’s first Christmas with the family in years so she conceals some unexpected news about herself.  Relentlessly upbeat and positive, she refuses to let anything mar their time together and it is almost comical how she acknowledges bad news yet immediately pretends it has no effect on her or her family. When she learns some very troubling information about her husband, Emma becomes quite reflective about their marriage but will she confront Andrew about this discovery?

A former war correspondent who gave up his career for his family, Andrew is a restaurant critic whose distant past unexpectedly collides with his present. As he looks back on the early years of his courtship and marriage to Emma, he barely recognizes who they used to be. He delights in Phoebe’s sparkling personality and they are quite close but his relationship with Olivia has always been distant.  Turning his back on a stunning disclosure, how will Andrew react when is forced to deal with this life-altering bit of news head on?

Despite a rather slow beginning, Seven Days of Us is ultimately an engrossing family drama that is sure to resonate with readers who can relate to imperfect family relationships. The characters are quite eclectic and diverse with relatable flaws and strengths. The storyline is refreshingly unique and Francesca Hornak bring the novel to twist-filled emotional conclusion.

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Filed under Berkley, Contemporary, Fiction, Francesca Hornak, Rated B, Review, Seven Days of Us

Review: Start Without Me by Joshua Max Feldman

Title: Start Without Me by Joshua Max Feldman
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 288 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

The author of the critically acclaimed The Book of Jonah explores questions of love and choice, disappointment and hope in the lives of two strangers who meet by chance in this mesmerizing tale that unfolds over one Thanksgiving Day.

Adam is a former musician and recovering alcoholic who is home for Thanksgiving for the first time in many years. Surrounded by his parents and siblings, nieces and nephews—all who have seen him at his worst—he can’t shake the feeling that no matter how hard he tries, he’ll always be the one who can’t get it right.

Marissa is a flight attendant whose marriage is strained by simmering tensions over race, class, and ambition. Heading to her in-laws for their picture-perfect holiday family dinner, her anxiety is intensified by the knowledge she is pregnant from an impulsive one-night-stand.

In an airport restaurant on Thanksgiving morning, Adam and Marissa meet. Over the course of this day fraught with emotion and expectation, these two strangers will form an unlikely bond as they reckon with their family ties, their pasts, and the choices that will determine their way forward.

Joshua Max Feldman focuses his knowing eye on one of the last bastions of classical American idealism, the Thanksgiving family gathering, as he explores our struggles to know—and to be—our best selves. Hilarious and heartrending, Start Without Me is a thoughtful and entertaining page-turner that will leave its indelible mark on your heart.

Review:

Start Without Me by Joshua Max Feldman is an interesting character study that will resonate with readers who have complicated family relationships.

Recovering alcoholic Adam Warshaw is spending the first Thanksgiving with his family in years and he has barely arrived before he runs away. Planning to fly back to San Francisco, he is passing time at a hotel restaurant where he meets flight attendant Marissa who is also not looking forward to spending the day with her husband, Robbie and his family.  After changing his mind about leaving town, he and Marissa are uneasy traveling partners when she agrees to drop Adam off at his parents’ on her way to her in-laws. Unlikely allies, they are often unable to find answers for their own problems  yet  Marissa and Adam offer one another some rather insightful advice about the troubles they are grappling with. As their time together is coming to an end, both Marissa and Adam are facing monumental decisions about their respective futures.

With each of them dealing with very different issues, Adam and Marissa are incredibly world weary.  Adam’s latest stint in rehab seems to have finally made a difference and although he is not exactly loving his life, he is committed to his sobriety. And yet, for all the progress he has made, Adam is rather daunted at the prospect of dealing with his family without the numbing effects of alcohol. Already overwhelmed, Adam runs when he makes the tiniest mistake.

Marissa is conflicted over the seemingly insurmountable reality of her unplanned pregnancy from her out of character one night stand. Her once happy marriage has been strained for quite some time and she is slowly realizing that she and Robbie see their future quite differently. She is also dreading spending the day with her in-laws who have always made her feel like an unwanted outsider. The events that transpire over Thanksgiving coupled with Robbie’s reaction to her news leave her very uncertain about what choice she will make about her marriage and her pregnancy.

Start Without Me is an engaging novel with well-developed characters who are dealing with realistic problems.  Despite his new self-awareness, Adam remains mired in negative thinking and a defeatist outlook. Marissa is clinging to her marriage in spite of the fact that she and Robbie are no longer on the same page.  Joshua Max Feldman brings this contemplative and thought-provoking journey of self-discovery to a satisfying conclusion.

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Filed under Contemporary, Fiction, Joshua Max Feldman, Rated B, Review, Start Without Me, William Morrow

Review: Little Secrets by Anna Snoekstra

Title: Little Secrets by Anna Snoekstra
Publisher: MIRA
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 336 pages
Book Rating: C+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

What happens when ambition trumps the truth?

A town reeling in the wake of tragedy

An arsonist is on the loose in Colmstock, Australia, most recently burning down the town’s courthouse and killing a young boy who was trapped inside..

An aspiring journalist desperate for a story

The clock is ticking for Rose Blakey. With nothing but rejections from newspapers piling up, her job pulling beers for cops at the local tavern isn’t nearly enough to cover rent. Rose needs a story—a big one.

Little dolls full of secrets

In the weeks after the courthouse fire, precise porcelain replicas of Colmstock’s daughters begin turning up on doorsteps, terrifying parents and testing the limits of the town’s already fractured police force.

Rose may have finally found her story. But as her articles gain traction and the boundaries of her investigation blur, Colmstock is seized by a seething paranoia. Soon, no one is safe from suspicion. And when Rose’s attention turns to the mysterious stranger living in the rooms behind the tavern, neighbor turns on neighbor and the darkest side of self-preservation is revealed.

Review:

Set in a slowly dying town in Australia, Little Secrets by Anna Snoekstra is an intriguing mystery that begins with arson and quickly moves to the creepy porcelain dolls being left for the townspeople’s children.

Rose Blakey’s mom and stepfather are forcing her to move out of the family home and she is counting on a cadetship with a newspaper to help her realize her dream of becoming a journalist. In the meantime, her hometown of Colmstock is plagued by a series of fires and unfortunately, the latest fire claimed the life of thirteen year old Ben Riley.  When a porcelain doll is delivered to her home that bears an eerie resemblance to her younger sister Laura, Rose is shocked to discover a few other children have also received similar gifts.  In an order to jumpstart her journalist career, Rose writes a sensational story that is published by a tabloid. Under intense pressure, the police investigation fails to uncover any leads. Rose’s subsequent articles ratchet up the town’s fears but they lead to unintended consequences.

Rose and her best friend Mia are working dead end jobs at the local tavern. While Mia seems resigned to remaining in Colmstock and marrying a local, Rose is ambitious and cannot wait to leave the economically depressed town behind. Growing desperate following numerous rejections for her articles, she eagerly takes advantage of the uneasiness of the town’s residents following young Ben’s death and the deliveries of the frightening dolls. Rose also exploits the cops who visit the tavern to get insider information for her titillating articles. As events begin to spiral out of control, how far is Rose willing to go in her pursuit of her ambitions? How many people will suffer the consequences of her actions?

Little Secrets is a rather slow-moving novel and quite frankly, none of the characters, including Rose, are particularly likable.  The storyline is interesting and the town’s decay, the townspeople’s fears for their safety and their economic struggles are palpable. Despite the unlikable characters, the bleak setting and the story’s slow pace, Anna Snoekstra brings the novel to a twist-filled conclusion that very neatly ties up all the various story arcs loose threads.

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Filed under Anna Snoekstra, Contemporary, Harlequin, Little Secrets, Mira, Mystery, Rated C+, Review, Suspense

Review: Lilac Lane by Sherryl Woods

Title: Lilac Lane by Sherryl Woods
Chesapeake Shores Series Book 14
Publisher: MIRA
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 352 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

No one writes about friends, family and home better than Sherryl Woods. Told with warmth and humor, Lilac Lane is a brand-new story in her beloved Chesapeake Shores series, one readers all over the world have waited two years to read!

At the heart of Lilac Lane is Keira Malone, who raised her three children alone after her first marriage broke apart, and who, after years of guarding her heart, finally finds love again. But that love is short-lived when her fiancé suffers a fatal heart attack. Grieving and unsure of what’s next, Keira agrees to move from Dublin to Chesapeake Shores, Maryland, to spend time with her daughter, Moira, and her new granddaughter, Kate, as well as to help her son-in-law, Luke, with his Irish pub, O’Briens.

Not wanting to live underfoot, she rents a charming cottage on Lilac Lane, replete with views of the ocean and her neighbor’s thriving garden—not to mention views of the neighbor himself. The neighbor is none other than Bryan Laramie, the brusque and moody chef at the pub, with whom Keira is constantly butting heads. But things get real when Bryan’s long-lost daughter, whom he hasn’t seen since she was a baby, shows up out of the blue. As Bryan and Keira each delve into their pasts, reopening wounds, the rest of the town is gearing up for the Fall Festival Irish Stew cook-off, and making no bones about whose side they’re on. It’s Kitchen Wars meets This is Your Life—a recipe for disaster…or a new take on love?

You won’t want to miss this epic return to Chesapeake Shores, a place we’re betting you’ll want to stay forever.

Review:

Featuring a heartwarming romance, close family ties and delightful friendships, Lilac Lane is an endearing addition to Sherryl Woods’ Chesapeake Shores series.

Following the sudden death of her mother Keira Malone’s fiancé, Moira O’Brien is worried about her mom so she comes up with a foolproof plan to lure her to the US from Ireland. She convinces her mom that her husband Luke could use her help in his pub and she could use a helping hand with their baby.  Keira readily agrees to visit temporarily and while waiting for her visa issues to be fully worked out, she is working at the pub as a consultant. Keira has not had an easy life and she is not one to mince words or hold back from voicing her opinions. Needless to say, she immediately gets on the pub’s chef Bryan Laramie’s nerves, who is not always amenable to her suggestions.

Bryan is haunted by the fact that he has not seen his daughter since his wife walked out on him years ago and he has never stopped looking for her. Although he is always pleasant, he is a bit of a loner who is devoted to his job. He wants to get along with Luke’s mother-in-law, but Keira always manages to irritate him with her unsolicited advice. However, when she moves in next door to him, the unlikely pair end up spending a lot of time in each other’s company.  After his daughter unexpectedly re-enters his life, Keira is instrumental in smoothing over the rough spots in their reunion.

The relationship between Bryan and Keira is originally a little antagonistic as they bicker back and forth at the pub. Their peaceful moments are often short-lived due to their respective baggage.  Their surprising friendship paves the way for their unlikely yet incredibly sweet romance but Keira’s fears come between them on more than one occasion.  She is quick to put obstacles in their path since she is afraid of risking her heart again. Until Bryan meets Keira, his unsettled past with his wife makes him hesitant to become seriously involved but his growing feelings for the feisty Irishwoman are the catalyst he needs to take steps to resolve these issues.

Lilac Lane is an engaging novel with a fantastic cast of characters and a slow moving but heartfelt romance.  Readers who enjoy close-knit families, small town settings and clean romances are sure to love this newest installment in Sherryl Woods’ homespun Chesapeake Shores series.

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Filed under Chesapeake Shores Series, Contemporary, Harlequin, Lilac Lane, Mira, Rated B, Review, Romance, Sherryl Woods

Review: Righteous by Joe Ide

Title: Righteous by Joe Ide
IQ Series Book Two
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 336 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

In this hotly anticipated follow-up to the smash hit IQ, a New York Times Critics’ Best of the Year and nominee for the Best First Novel Edgar Award, Isaiah uncovers a secret behind the death of his brother, Marcus.

For ten years, something has gnawed at Isaiah Quintabe’s gut and kept him up nights, boiling with anger and thoughts of revenge. Ten years ago, when Isaiah was just a boy, his brother was killed by an unknown assailant. The search for the killer sent Isaiah plunging into despair and nearly destroyed his life. Even with a flourishing career, a new dog, and near-iconic status as a PI in his hometown, East Long Beach, he has to begin the hunt again-or lose his mind.

A case takes him and his volatile, dubious sidekick, Dodson, to Vegas, where Chinese gangsters and a terrifying seven-foot loan shark are stalking a DJ and her screwball boyfriend. If Isaiah doesn’t find the two first, they’ll be murdered. Awaiting the outcome is the love of IQ’s life: fail, and he’ll lose her. Isaiah’s quest is fraught with treachery, menace, and startling twists, and it will lead him to the mastermind behind his brother’s death, Isaiah’s own sinister Moriarty.

With even more action, suspense, and mind-bending mysteries than Isaiah’s first adventures, Righteousis a rollicking, ingenious thrill ride.

Review:

In Joe Ide’s Righteous, brilliant detective Isaiah Quintabe (aka IQ) finds himself working two cases that are extremely personal since they both have links to his beloved brother Marcus who died in a tragic hit and run several years earlier. This second installment in the gritty private detective series, IQ, is a suspenseful mystery that easily stands on its own but I highly recommend the first novel as well.

This latest outing picks up where the previous novel left off and having discovered the car from the hit and run that killed Marcus, Isaiah is more determined than ever to find the person responsible. After closely examining the contents inside the car, he stumbles onto a startling realization about the hit and run. Beginning his investigation with his straight as an arrow brother’s business records,  his search for the truth takes him in a surprising direction. As he gets closer to figuring out who is responsible for Marcus’s death, Isaiah’s perception of his brother is forever changed. And his quest for vengeance puts him in a moral quandary as Isaiah questions suspects and eventually comes face to face with his brother’s killer.

While delving into his brother’s past, Marcus’s girlfriend at the time of his death, Sarita Van, reaches out to Isaiah to look into her half-sister Janine’s troubles in Las Vegas. Janine and her ne’er-do-well boyfriend Benny have racked up a huge debt with a loan shark and their harebrained scheme to extort money puts them in the path of Chinese gangsters from the 14K Triad. Isaiah enlists the aid of his former partner in crime, Juanell Dodson, and they quickly travel to Vegas in order to save Janine. Their rescue attempt immediately runs into trouble since the 14K is gunning for both Janine and Benny.

With with the Triad and the loan sharks hot on their heels, Isaiah and Dodson must use every skill they possess as they try to keep Janine out of harm’s way following Benny’s disappearance. Since Isaiah a little off his game as he comes to terms with the revelations about Marcus and Dodson is trying to outthink and outmaneuver him, their collaboration is full of tension and friction as they try to stay one step ahead of the gangsters. But when the case takes a detour that hits extremely close to home, will Isaiah and Dodson put aside their differences before it is too late?

In the aftermath of both cases, Isaiah is forced to take stock of his life when his hopes and dreams are dashed after a rude reality check. A loner by choice, he is shocked by a proposition from Dodson whose plan is surprisingly well thought out and provides Isaiah with a way to make more money while still helping the people in his community.

Righteous is an engrossing, action-packed mystery with an immensely appealing lead protagonist. While Isaiah is not prone to much introspection, the events that unfold during this latest installment of the IQ series will force him to step out of comfort zone. With the chapters alternating back and forth between Isaiah’s search for Marcus’s killer and trying to keep Janine out of harm’s way, Joe Ide brings the novel to an unexpected conclusion. I greatly enjoyed this extremely clever novel and I highly recommend it to fans of the genre.

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Filed under Contemporary, IQ Series, Joe Ide, Mullholland Books, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, Righteous, Suspense

Review: Hide and Seek by M.J. Arlidge

Title: Hide and Seek by M.J. Arlidge
Helen Grace Series book Six
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 409 pages
Book Rating: B+

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

Summary:

Caught in a wicked game of cat and mouse, Helen Grace finds herself trapped among the hunted in the darkest thriller yet from the international bestselling author of Little Boy Blue and Eeny Meeny.

Framed for a murder she didn’t commit…

As one of HM Prison Holloway’s most high-profile new inmates, Helen Grace has a target on her back and nowhere to hide. She has made a long list of enemies over the course of her career—some are incarcerated within these very walls. When one of Helen’s fellow prisoners is found mutilated and murdered in her own locked cell, it’s clear that the killer is someone on the inside.

But time is running out for Helen as she races to expose the person who framed her, and the body count in the prison starts to climb. Helen will need to draw on all her investigative skills and instincts to catch the serial killer behind these murders and discover the truth—unless the killer finds her first.

Review:

Featuring concurrent story arcs, Hide and Seek by M.J. Arlidge is an electrifying, nail-biting addition to the DI Helen Grace series.

Picking up where Little Boy Blue left off, Helen Grace is in HM Prison Holloway awaiting trial for three murders that she insists she is not guilty of committing. Incarcerated with criminals she put behind bars, she is still struggling to adjust to prison life when one of her fellow inmates is murdered in a particularly gruesome manner. Despite her circumstances, Helen is at heart, a homicide detective so she begins her own investigation into the death. When another inmate is murdered in the same exact way, Helen knows she must stop the killer strikes again.

Outside the prison, Helen’s good friend and fellow copper, Detective Sergeant Charlie Brooks risks her career (and relationship) to clear Helen’s name. The only person on the force who believes Helen’s vehement assertion she was framed, Charlie refuses to stop searching for the man they know is responsible for the murders Helen is accused of committing. Coming very close to insubordination after defying her newly minted boss Detective Inspector Joanne Sanderson’s order to immediately cease working on the firmly closed case, Charlie manages to uncover an important lead that breaks the investigation wide open. Will Charlie manage to capture the wily and intelligent man who meticulously planned and carried out the diabolical plan to frame Helen for three brutal murders?

Back at HM Prison Holloway, Helen is painstakingly attempting to investigate the murders that one of the most sadistic guards thinks she is responsible for committing. Relying on the post-mortem reports and her finely honed instincts, a shocking theory is beginning to emerge. Certain she knows the killer’s identity, Helen tries to uncover the evidence she needs to prove her theory whilst avoiding vicious inmates with an ax to grind and the depraved guards who abuse the inmates in their charge.

Hide and Seek is an exhilarating police procedural with an exciting storyline and an brilliant cast of characters.  M.J. Arlidge breathes fresh life into the series by putting the Helen into a completely foreign and extremely dangerous environment where she is forced to use every skill in her arsenal to stay alive.  Both story arcs move at a blistering pace as the search for the serial killer inside HM Prison Holloway intensifies and Charlie desperately pursues the person responsible for framing Helen. With stunning twists and turns, the novel comes to an action-packed, adrenaline laced conclusion.

While most of the mysteries in the DI Helen Grace series can be read as standalones, I highly recommend reading Little Boy Blue in order to fully appreciate the events that unfold in Hide and Seek.

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Filed under Berkley, Contemporary, DI Helen Grace Series, Hide and Seek, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, Suspense