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Monday, March 19, 2018

Such Dark Things by Courtney Evan Tate

Setting: Chicago
Genre: Psychological Suspense
Publisher: MIRA
Author: Courtney Evan Tate
Release Date: March 20, 2018

Many years ago, Dr. Connie Cabot's father was arrested for murdering a woman and her husband. Connie remembers seeing their bodies, but she can't remember details. Since her father was sentenced, she's never spoken to him.

Connie is married, but her long hours in the ER weigh a bit on her marriage. When she starts having panic attacks and hearing voices, her sanity is questioned. To unravel what's really going on with her, she'll need to go back to her teenage years and figure out what really happened.

Such Dark Things has a number of twists in its swift pace. I can't say I was shocked when certain revelations were made. I saw them coming. I never connected with the characters, either. Jude was scum in my opinion. Connie was a little more likable, though at times, I wondered how she could be so gullible.

The story bounces between Connie and her husband, Jude. It bounces between the present, the past few weeks, and the murder Connie cannot fully remember. You won't have a problem with the changes if you read the opening to each chapter. It will detail where you are in terms of time.

In all, I loved the suspense, but there were parts of Such Dark Things that were pretty predictable. Being predictable lessened some of the impact that the suspense novel should have had.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Hot Mess by Emily Belden

Setting: Chicago
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Graydon House
Author: Emily Belden
Release Date: March 20, 2018

At 25, Allie Simon is on a hot track to a promotion. She has a chef boyfriend who is the talk of the town. Together, they're a power couple that's on the rise. When Benji talks her into fronting the money to helping him become part owner in a restaurant in Chicago's prime restaurant zone, she panics. After all, $30,000 is just about her life savings. She also knows he's a killer in the kitchen, so she agrees. Just in time for him to fall off the wagon and disappear.

Allie has about $1,000 to her name. The only way out of this is to have the new restaurant prove to be a success. It means quitting her job and diving into a world that she knows little about. With the help of the other partners, the goal is to make this restaurant work without Benji. Worse, they only have about a month to make this happen.

There's nothing messy or unfinished in Hot Mess. The story sucked me in and had me rooting for everyone other than the loathsome Benji. My heart broke for Allie as she learned that he was no good the hard way. I cheered them on as they struggled to get the restaurant open on time. My mouth watered as I read some of the food descriptions. This book held my attention and left me feeling very satisfied.

It's not quite a romance, but it's also not really women's fiction. It's simply a very good story at the power to overcome obstacles. I loved it.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Half a Heart by Karen McQuestion

Setting: Wisconsin
Genre: General Fiction
Publisher: Lake Union
Author: Karen McQuestion
Release Date: March 13, 2018

Logan Weber stopped talking when his mother died. His father's cruelty has him suffering every day. When his father decides another beating is in order, Logan flees. He winds up hiding in a moving van and finds himself ditched in another state with only the clothes on his back.

As Logan tries to keep himself sheltered and fed, he doesn't realize that the grandmother he was told died is actually out there and trying to find him. The problem is that his father is also hot on his heels and only one can get there first.

Half a Heart is a poignant, often maddening look at a young boy's determination to find his place in a world that hasn't shown him much in the way of kindness. I really liked Logan's grit. At the same time, I found myself questioning the actions of many adults. Once they saw a kid who appeared to be alone or questioned if the kid was alone, not speaking up was just absurd to me. I have been in their shoes, and I did speak up. It's not that hard, and it could end up being what is needed to save a child from harm.

The book is a quick read. The ending comes fast, and I wish some of the characters' stories hadn't been rushed in spots. That said, I did enjoy it as a quick, refreshing story of the true power of love.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Beauty That Remains by Ashley Woodfolk

Genre: Young Adult
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Release Date: March 6, 2018

Cover art often has a way of drawing me to a book that I might have overlooked. That's the case in The Beauty That Remains. This is a debut novel from Ashley Woodfolk. It's a tender look at death and those left behind.

Autumn, Shay, and Logan have all suffered a tremendous loss. Autumn's best friend died in a car crash. Shay's sister passed away after a long battle with leukemia. Logan's ex-boyfriend is also dead following an overdose. The three know each other through music. The three are all coping as they try to come to terms with painful losses. 

Autumn blames herself. Shay misses her sister desperately. Logan is just as lost and shuts everyone out. It's music that brought them together once, and it's music that may be the thing that draws them back into the world of the living.

Connections between characters in The Beauty That Remains may not be tight, but the emotions are powerful. It's a deal where they live in the same town and attend the same school. They are linked through a local band. The three deaths are independent of each other and affect everyone in different ways. I loved how they were tied together but not closely. It gave each character a chance to grieve separately, come to terms with the tragic events in each case, and find themselves again.

I loved the way the story is presented. You have Shay's chapters. You have Autumn's messages to her deceased friend because closing the social media accounts is too much for her to think about. Logan turns to bad habits as he copes. Each story is emotional and draws you in. There were times I felt things dragged a bit, but the emotional pull never lessened. It's a bit of a tear jerker and very heartfelt.

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

Setting: Vermont
Genre: Mystery/Suspense
Publisher: Berkley
Author: Simone St. James
Release Date: March 20, 2018

Set in 2014 and the 1950s, The Broken Girls is a haunting mystery that's both endearing and spooky. Journalist Fiona Sheridan is still haunted by her sister's murder. She's convinced that her sister's popular boyfriend was to blame, but she also feels there are things that aren't quite right about the case. When new owners purchase a long-abandoned school for troubled girls, Fiona dives in with plans to cover the story of the school's past and future.

Things end up dragging Fiona own a road she's not ready for. A body of a girl is found in a well on the property. It brings memories of her sister's murder. Fiona makes it a goal to uncover the truth about this former student who was believed to have run away. The more Fiona digs, the more she realizes that her instincts into her sister's murder may have been right all along.

I always love books that have a very familiar setting. While I had my guesses as to where Idlewild Hall and it's surrounding town was supposed to be located, Burlington was spot on. As the main character walked down South Winooski Avenue, I knew exactly where she was. I've walked down that street and past those stores many times.

In The Broken Girls, the story bounces back and forth between past and present. The main focus is on the disappearance of the young girl in the 1950s. Fiona's sister's murder is secondary to that. The story, at times, delves into the supernatural. I found myself feeling chills, wanting to know what would happen with these girls in the 1950s, and even delving farther back into the history of the area.

It's an enjoyable story that never truly proved perplexing. It was finely tuned into the atmosphere of the times and area. When a big revelation is made, I wasn't shocked. Yet, despite having an instinct as to where the sister's murder was heading, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the ride.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

Genre: Psychological Suspense
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Author: Alice Feeney
Release Date: March 13, 2018

Sometimes I Lie starts off with a bang. Amber Reynolds is in a coma. She says her husband doesn't love her anymore. She also admits that sometimes she lies.

That's essentially the plot to the debut novel from Alice Feeney. Amber is in a coma, in the hospital, trying to remember what put here there. As she works through her childhood, a situation at work, her marriage, and her relationship with her sister, she struggles to remember how she got where she is.

She can't move, talk, or open her eyes. She doesn't know if her husband tried to kill her, though her instincts have her believing he may have. She isn't sure who she can trust or how to get out of the coma she's in.

The twists Sometimes I Lie keep you guessing. Amber may be an unreliable narrator. She also may be telling the truth. Just when you think you have it figured out, something else happens to have you questioning yourself.

Most of the story is told through diaries from Amber's childhood, the week before she was hospitalized, and the present day as she struggles to regain consciousness. Each switch in perspective is easy to follow. You'll always know when things are taking place. In the final chapters, you see a bit in future weeks and months.

There is a big twist at the end. I've heard other readers say they didn't get it. I thought it was pretty clear. As long as you're paying attention, the twist should catch your attention and leave you feeling uneasy. Part of me would like to keep the story going to see what happens next.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Going Places by Kathyrn Berla

Genre: Teen Fiction
Publisher: Amberjack Publishing
Author: Kathryn Berla
Release Date: March 20, 2018

Going Places had its ups and downs. At heart, it's a coming of age story about an 18-year-old boy who doesn't dream of going to college. Hudson Wheeler wants to create graphic novels and launch his two businesses. One of those businesses has him helping the elderly with tasks that fall below the criteria of emergencies.

To meet some of his goals, he convinces his mom to let him leave high school and get homeschooled for his final year. He'll take yoga and an art class at the local school, but other requirements will be done at home on his schedule.

His senior care and dog walking businesses seem to do very well and sometimes overlap. It's at the home of one senior client where he discovers a mysterious older man. The veteran continues to see his young daughter in a neighbor's window. The problem is there's no way this young girl is the veteran's daughter. There's also no child living in that house. As Hudson tries to appease his client's fears, he learns a little about himself in the process.

Some of the topics covered in Going Places include first love, life's uncertainties, and simply becoming an adult. There were times I felt the book moved too quickly and glossed over things that I wanted to know more about. As Hudson gets to know his male senior client, Len Pirkle, I found his other clients got shoved to the background and I missed them.

Hudson was young and pretty immature. I did like that Pirkle was the trigger that led to Hudson finally having an "a-ha" moment and growing up. I liked Pirkle's neighbor Fritzy, a take-no-crap basketball playing teen girl who doesn't hesitate to tell Hudson when he's being an idiot.

In the end, this was a novel I enjoyed, but it never blew me away. The ending ended up hitting and felt so abrupt that I felt let down.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Let Me Lie by Clare Mackintosh

Setting: England
Genre: Suspense/Mystery
Publisher: Berkley
Author: Clare Mackintosh
Release Date: March 13, 2018

She should be extremely happy, but tragic events from just a year ago haunt Anna Johnson. She is a new mom and has a loving boyfriend, but her parents' suicides weigh heavily. First, her dad jumped off a cliff, and months later her grieving mom did the same.

Anna's life changes when a card saying, "Suicide? Think again" arrives. She immediately goes to the police. That triggers a chain reaction that puts this new mom and her daughter at risk. Someone out there knows the truth, and the more Anna and the police dig to unravel the truth, the more dangerous it will become.

Hooked. I was so completely hooked by the time I'd read the first page. The description of Anna nursing her new daughter was so tenderly written. Her maternal instinct made me really like her. As the mystery gets underway, I couldn't stop reading. I knew one part of the mystery, but some of it I just didn't predict. I found myself holding my breath at times waiting to see what more could possibly happen.

Let Me Lie is another fascinating novel by Clare Mackintosh. I've yet to be disappointed by any of her books. Once again, her novel is one I highly recommend.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Not That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser

Setting: Yellow Springs, Ohio
Genre: Women's Fiction/Suspense
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Release Date: March 27, 2018

In her second novel, Jessica Strawser delves into the startling disappearance of a mom and her twins. Kristin is a likable mom with young twins. She's a college administrator and wife to a popular OB/GYN. While Kristin was about to go through a divorce, none of her friends could make sense of her disappearance.

Gathered around a neighbor's firepit, a group of women meet for wine and friendship. Most of the story is told by Clara, the closest to Kristin. Clara is baffled by the disappearance. It's also bringing up memories she'd rather forget. The other key character is Izzy. She's the only single woman in the group. She's the newcomer and is hoping for a fresh start away from her family.

Media attention to the case is making it hard to enjoy peace and quiet in the neighborhood. Paul, Kristin's husband, is the main suspect, as is true any time a spouse disappears. It makes him a bit of an outcast. Izzy doesn't want to immediately think the worst of a man who has been helpful in her getting her new house in shape. As the case progresses and some of Kristin's secrets come to light, it makes everyone question how well do they really know each other.

Not That I Could Tell is classified as women's fiction by Amazon. It's really more of a suspense/mystery novel. Kristin packs up most everything she owns and disappears with her twins. It looks like she left of her own accord, but why? That question keeps you reading.

I did feel all characters were likable and added to the story. I wasn't particularly fond of parenting styles from time to time. The kid creating her own newspaper to tell good news needed more of a talking to than she got. Her little paper project should have been yanked as soon as her mom saw the first edition. I disliked that plot. It didn't add anything I hadn't figured out.

When the big revelation is made, I really wasn't surprised. That's the only thing that keeps me from loving this book more. I liked it, but the ending, to me, was predictable. I wasn't shocked.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Falling for the Brother by Tara Taylor Quinn

Genre: Contemporary Romance/Romantic Suspense
Publisher: Harlequin
Author: Tara Taylor Quinn
Release Date: March 6, 2018

Harper Davidson is the head of security for a shelter for women. She's shocked when her ex-husband's grandmother arrives. The woman's broken arm and bruises prove she's being abused, and Harper cannot believe Mason Thomas, her ex-brother-in-law', and his suspicions that her ex is to blame.

Harper knows her ex isn't a great guy, but he adores his grandmother. She also knows that Mason is an outstanding detective and has excellent gut instincts. She also has a hard time hiding her attraction to him. She can't afford to get involved and put her job on the line. Instead, she decides to work with Mason and try to get to the truth.

Falling for the Brother is a quick read. The attraction between Mason and Harper is clear. I liked her daughter's involvement with the grandmother, too. It added an extra layer of family ties that kept the reader guessing. The outcome keeps you guessing. I had a harder time liking the grandmother, as she's so grumpy, but I did become involved and wanted to know who was abusing her. It's a solid read from Tara Taylor Quinn.