Thursday, July 21, 2016

YA Mystery a Chilling Story of Survival, Hope

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Scarlett Contreras has always loved Skywoman, a dazzling comic book superhero who uses her powers to protect the people of Silver City from evil villains.  It was the image of her heroine swooping in to save the world from a deadly meteor crash that Scarlett kept in her mind to give her courage during the years-long abduction that changed her young life irrevocably.  It's what helped her take advantage of a rare opportunity to escape.  It's what led her back home to her father and her younger siblings.  

Still overwhelmed by the ability to make decisions for herself, Scarlett is nevertheless determined to live a normal life.  Getting a job at Five Banners Adventure World, an amusement park based on the Skywoman stories, feels like something an average teen would do.  Her first day on the job, Scarlett hears the shocking news—a teenage girl has vanished from the park without a trace.  Scarlett can't shake the terrifying feeling that the disappearance is her fault.  When a co-worker starts acting strangely around her, saying things that seem like echoes from the time Scarlett is trying so hard to forget, her sense of foreboding heightens.  Is Scarlett being paranoid?  Or have the ghosts of her past come back to haunt her?  

When I read the premise for Never Missing, Never Found—a new YA novel by Amanda Panitch—I knew I wanted to read it.  Unlike romance, dystopian, and sci fi/fantasy, mystery/suspense is not a popular genre in the YA world.  This alone made the book appealing to me.  So, when the good folks at Penguin Random House asked me to be part of the Never Missing, Never Found blog tour, I happily agreed.  What did I think of the novel?  It's a fast, compelling read.  The carnival setting gives it an otherworldly, spooky vibe that adds to the tension of the story.  Scarlett and her cohorts are likable enough, although not terribly memorable.  The writing gets melodramatic at times and the story, which is ultimately about hope, feels pretty depressing.  Although I saw the novel's big twist coming, the plot kept me turning pages.  Overall, I didn't enjoy Never Missing, Never Found as much as I wanted to—still, it made for an exciting read.  I liked it, just didn't love it.  

(Readalikes: Reminded me a little of Now You See Me by Sharon [S.J.] Bolton)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, depictions of underage drinking, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Never Missing, Never Found from the generous folks at Penguin Random House.  Thank you!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

My Own Choose Your Comment Adventure


If you've been a blogger for any length of time, you've probably noticed the general decline in not just blog reading but also in blog commenting.  I still spend a sizable chunk of time doing both, but no one has ever accused me of keeping up with trends!  Megan over at Leafing Through Life is also sad that commenting has gone out of fashion.  In order to bring back the blog commenting love, she launched a little thing she calls Choose Your Own Comment Adventure.  To have an "adventure," you choose a book blog, read the most recent post, make a thoughtful comment, then click on the first commenter's link and head over to their blog.  Repeat the process until you've visited ten (or more) blogs.  I love this idea!  I've been meaning to go on an adventure of my own ever since Megan posted about her first one.  Now that she's provided a linky to join in the fun, I'm totally going for it!  Here's the journey I took around the book blogosphere today:

1.  Back to Books:  The first blog that showed up in my Bloglovin' list was this one, written by a Canadian book lover.  I've been visiting Nicola's blog off and on for years and have discovered lots of great books because of it.  Unfortunately, the book she most recently reviewed—Crazy Dead by Suzanne F. Kingsmill—doesn't sound like my cup of tea.  Nicola wasn't wild about it either.  She said the plot was a mess and the characters behaved in ways that just weren't believable.  Hate that!  I'll pass on this book, but I'll definitely return to Back to Books.

2.  Mystica/Musings from Sri Lanka:  Mystica was the first commenter on Nicola's post, so I headed over to her blog next.  She reviewed a book that sounds like the exact sort of read I would enjoy.  Still Mine by Amy Stuart is a mystery about a missing girl and an outsider who refuses to give up on finding her.  She says the book is descriptive, atmospheric, and twisty.  I added it to my Goodreads TBR list.  Can't wait to see what I think of it.

3.  Bermuda Onion:  This blogger has been around for a long time and is well known for her generous commenting.  It's no surprise that her blog came up.  I was intrigued by her Wondrous Wednesday post, highlighting words I'd never heard of.  I learned the definition of "ruminants" (gross!) and "coelacanth" (interesting!).

4.  The Book Sage:  The first comment on that post led me to a new-to-me blog.  Lloyd's most recent post was a recap of an author event he had attended.  Yaa Gyasi, author of Homegoing—which has been getting excellent reviews—is a local author.  Gyasi, who's originally from Ghana, sounds like a fascinating person.  Her book has been on my Goodreads TBR list for many weeks.

The first comment on this post was from Bermuda Onion, so I went back to my Bloglovin' list and started over, which led me to:

5.  Bart's Bookshelf:  This is another blog that I've been reading for years.  Darren reviews a lot of sci fi/fantasy and dystopian books and has provided me with some excellent reading recommendations in the past.  His newest review is lovely.  He talks about The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Milwood Hargrave, which, he says, is worth the buy just for its gorgeous writing.  However, he insists readers should get themselves a paper copy because the book itself is so beautiful.  Verdict?  Sold.

6.  The Written Word:  The first commenter on that post was Kailana, another Canadian book blogger.  Her most recent post was a "week in review" summary.  Her loved ones have been sick, so it's been a bit of a rough one for her.  On the bright side, she's reading two books that I enjoyed:  Me Before You by Jojo Moyes and The Cutting Season by Attica Locke.  She also posted some gorgeous scenic shots that she took.  Very impressive.

7.  I Wish I Lived in a Library:  Kailana's first commenter was Katherine P, whose blog I visit frequently.  Her most recent post is a review of An Address to Die For by Mary Feliz.  The book revolves around a professional organizer who is moving into a new house.  When she drives up, she's shocked to see that the home is in terrible disrepair.  Even more disconcerting is the dead body in the basement.  The plot sounds similar to The Dead Cat Bounce by Sarah Graves.  I enjoyed that one and am quite sure I'll dig this one as well.

8.  Quinn's Book Nook:  That post led me to Quinn's review of P.S. I Like You, a new YA romance by Kasie West.  Quinn said it took her a little while to warm up to the characters in the book, but that she enjoyed it overall.  Like West's other books, it's a light, cute romance.  I enjoy West as well, so I'll check this one out soon.

9.  Nick and Nereyda's Infinite Booklist:  Quinn's commenter led me to another new-to-me blog.  The most recent post by N&N is a fun guide to their "Favorite Friends to More Romances."  I've only read 1 1/2 of the books on the list, so I got a lot of great recommendations on what to try next.

10.  Lekeisha the Book Nerd:  The last stop on my adventure was another new discovery for me.  Lekeisha's Waiting on Wednesday post featured The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis.  Like me, she's a fan of McGinnis' writing.  Even when she doesn't like one of the characters or plot devices in one of the author's books, Lekeisha said McGinnis' prose is always "on point."  I agree wholeheartedly.

Phew!  So, there you have it.  I had a fun commenting adventure, which led me to new blogs and back to old favorites that I hadn't visited in awhile.  Thanks for the inspiration, Megan!  If you'd like to join in the commenting fun, head over to Leafing Through Life and sign up.  I'd love to hear about the blogs you discover on your own journey.  Until then, happy commenting!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Bolton's Debut Novel Just As Addicting As Her Latest

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Although her husband was reared in Unst, 33-year-old Tora Hamilton is a stranger to the remote, weather-beaten Shetland Islands.  She is still getting used to Lerwick, her new hometown, when she comes across a dead body buried on the property she and Duncan recently purchased from a trust associated with the church.  At first, she assumes it's one of the infamous bog bodies—a Stone Age corpse perfectly preserved by the peat.  The post-mortem reveals the truth; not only is the body that of a recently deceased woman, but the victim had her heart cut out.  A few days after giving birth.  

It's this last bit that Tora—an obstetrician who has been trying to get pregnant since she married Duncan five years ago—can't let go of.  Why would someone murder a new mother?  And so savagely?  What are they to make of the runes carved into her body?  Was this a ritualistic killing?  Or something even more sinister?  Obsessed with finding the truth, Tora digs deeply into Shetland folklore and local secrets to solve the mystery.  Everyone warns her to back off, but she refuses to listen.  Even when it becomes apparent that someone will do anything—anything—to silence her.  

I became aware of Sharon (S.J.) Bolton because of her latest book, Little Black Lies.  After being completely blown away by it, I knew I had to read every novel the author had ever published.  So I did.  Sacrifice is Bolton's first novel and it's interesting to compare and contrast it with Little Black Lies.  The former is just as atmospheric, just as unsettling, just as compelling.  It's less sophisticated in some ways, but no less enticing.  With a brave, admirable heroine guiding the story, it's absolutely impossible to look away.  Just like Little Black Lies (which happens to be my favorite Bolton mystery), Sacrifice is a dark, twisty suspense novel that will keep you turning pages until the wee hours of the morning.  Trust me on this—you don't want to start Sacrifice (or any Bolton book for that matter) unless you have all day to inhale it because once you begin reading, you won't be able to stop.  Did I mention that I binge-read all of her books in a matter of days just so I could get on with my life?  Well, I did.  Bolton's mysteries are that addicting.  Consider yourself warned. 

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a bit of Peter May's Shetland trilogy [The Blackhouse; The Lewis Man; and The Chessmen]; also of Ann Cleeves' Shetland mysteries [Raven Black; White Nights; Red Bones; Blue Lightning; Dead Water; Thin Air; and Cold Earth])

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a dozen or so F-bombs plus milder expletives), violence, blood/gore, mild sexual content, and disturbing content

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Easy Breezy Beach Read (a Little) Enlightening, (a Lot) Entertaining

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Gia Montgomery has the perfect boyfriend.  For two months, she's been dating Bradley Harris, a great-looking older guy who happens to be a junior at UCLA.  Since the two live in different towns, they don't spend a lot of actual time together.  Not that it matters—17-year-old Gia is willing to take on a long-distance romance for someone as great as Bradley.  Even if her friends are starting to doubt his existence.

Prom night is Gia's chance to show off the elusive Bradley.  When he dumps her in the school parking lot right before the dance, she's devastated.  And desperate.  Desperate enough to nab Hayden Reynolds, who's sitting in his car reading a book while he waits for his sister.  The plan is simple; all Hayden has to do is pretend to be Bradley for a couple hours.  It works like a charm, convincing most of Gia's frenemies that she's telling the truth about her older boyfriend.  

Now, Gia has another problem.  She can't stop thinking about Fill-in Bradley (FIB for short).  Neither can one of Gia's so-called friends, who's determined to catch Gia in her lie.  Then, there's Hayden's sister, who doesn't want self-absorbed Gia anywhere near her brother.  Forced to take a harsh look at herself and the increasingly artificial life she's leading, Gia knows she needs to grow up.  Can she do it in time to keep her relationships intact?  Or will lying mean losing everything that's important to her?

From the pastel cover to the frothy plot summary, everything about The Fill-in Boyfriend by Kasie West screams easy breezy beach read.  Which is totally accurate.  It's a fun, fluffy romance that makes for a light, enjoyable distraction between heavier tomes.  Is the novel silly?  Yes.  Predictable?  You bet.  Worth the read?  Definitely.  It's a clean romance with enough substance to be (a little) enlightening and (a lot) entertaining.  If you're looking for the perfect beach bag novel, look no further.  You've found it.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Kasie West's other YA romances, including The Distance Between Us and On the Fence)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for mild sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Love Deanna Raybourn? Then You're Going to Adore This Post. (With a Giveaway!)


Remember back in January when I raved about A Curious Beginning, the first book in a new Victorian mystery series by Deanna Raybourn?  Well, guess what?  I have some great news related to this novel, which I adored.  First off, the next installment in the series—A Perilous Undertaking—will be available January 10, 2017.  Personally, I cannot wait!  Second, the paperback version of A Curious Beginning will be available on July 12, 2016.  Not only that, but it has gorgeous new cover art that matches that of A Perilous Undertaking.  Here, take a gander:


Pretty, aren't they?  I think I prefer the hardcover art, but still, these are lovely in their own right.

The real question is, how would you like to win a pretty paperback version of A Curious Beginning for yourself?  You would?  Good.  Thanks to the good folks at Penguin Random House (Berkley/NAL), I have one to give away.  Details are at the bottom of this post.

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Don't go there yet, though!  I had the chance to interview the wonderful Deanna Raybourn recently.  Here's the conversation we had:

BBB:  Although I've had SILENT IN THE GRAVE on my bookshelf for some time now, A CURIOUS BEGINNING is the first and only book of yours that I've read.  I adored the novel so much that I'll definitely be reading everything you've ever written!  For me and authors who are not (yet) familiar with your previous work, would you please describe a Deanna Raybourn novel in five words or less?  

DR:  Twisty, witty historical adventures. (And I’m delighted you enjoyed—thanks for the kind words!)

BBB:  Veronica Speedwell, the star of A CURIOUS BEGINNING, is such a fun character.  What's your favorite thing about her?  Why do you think she will appeal to modern readers? 

DR:  Veronica is an unapologetic badass, by which I mean she sincerely does not care what people think of her. She is intelligent and resourceful and courageous, and she believes those qualities make her the equal of anyone else—and frequently their superior! I think modern readers see themselves in Veronica because, unlike the common impression we have of Victorian women as tightly-corseted and helpless, Veronica goes out and gets what she wants. She lives life on her own terms and is comfortable in her own skin. She is also inspired by an actual Victorian lepidopterist who did exactly as she pleased, so there is a precedent for it.

BBB:  I haven't read your Lady Julia novels, but I have a friend who's a big fan.  She has two burning questions for you:  Will Julia and Nicholas ever have an adventure in America?  She also wonders how prevalent certain "modern" elements that you write about in your Victorian novels (feminism, drug use, homosexuality, etc.) actually were during that time period.  How do you go about researching these sometimes controversial issues?  Also, how did the class/money issues that so affected Victorian society affect a real Victorian's pursuit of such things?

DR:  For now Julia and Nicholas are on hiatus, but with the coming of the TV series, who knows! Although I have to say, I doubt I would take them to America. They are so firmly rooted in Victorian London, pulling them out of that just feels tricky. I did take them to Darjeeling, and I teased an Italian adventure, so I suppose I shouldn’t rule it out entirely.

It’s a very common misconception that those elements are modern. We hear so much about Victorians being sexually repressed and uptight, but the truth is that sort of staid morality only gives a picture of a certain segment of the population. The newly-emerging middle class was all about respectability, but in the lower class, more than 50% of brides were pregnant on their wedding day, and adultery was extremely common amongst aristocrats. (The Prince of Wales himself set the fashion!) Women were agitating for the vote; what we now call street drugs were entirely legal then; there was a lesbian commune in London that was so well established, it had its own newspaper. Vegetarianism, department stores, beach vacations, escalators, free love—we think all these things were 20th-century inventions, but the Victorians had them long before we did.

As to class and money, the 19th-century is the first time in British history that you see the rise of such a large and moneyed middle class. There had always been a merchant class, but under Victoria’s reign, it was possible to vault your way much higher than ever before. That sort of social fluidity, while minor by our standards in America, was unprecedented for the British. It was an exciting time, but also a very alarming one for people who liked things neatly pigeonholed.

BBB:  On your blog, you said, "For me, the holy grail is a novel that is historically plausible and witty."  I know you're a voracious reader—what are your all-time favorite novels that fit this description? 

DR:  I love the Flavia de Luce series by Adam Bradley; Lyndsay Faye’s JANE STEELE is outrageously good, and I recently discovered the Gower Street Detectives books by M. R. C. Kasasian—they’re delicious. And I am devoted to the late Elizabeth Peters, of course.

BBB:  In a blog post you wrote giving advice to new writers, you cautioned them against taking criticism about their work from people who "do not create."  You insist that although these people are entitled to their own opinions, such opinions should not be allowed to live in the writer's head.  As a book blogger but not a "real" writer, I find this idea interesting.  Do you read reviews of your books?  Do you pay attention to those written only by "professionals" or are you one of those writers who trolls Amazon/Goodreads/Barnes & Noble, etc. to get a feel for what the average reader thinks?  Whether you do or do not read reviews, how does this affect the way you write? 

DR:  Much to my kindly publicist’s dismay, no, I don’t read reviews. He will tell me when something great comes along from Kirkus or Library Journal, but I don’t actually read what he forwards. (Sorry, Loren!) I don’t have a Google alert for my name; I don’t go to Goodreads or Amazon or B&N. I just don’t happen to believe that reviews of my books are any of my business. And good or bad, other people’s opinions shouldn’t be part of my process. It’s difficult to get feedback—positive or negative—out of your head, and I don’t want to have to work that hard for serenity. People who like me will continue to read me; people who don’t will move on and hopefully find someone whose work they enjoy.

That specific piece of advice to new writers is meant to caution against taking to heart criticisms from people who don’t know what it’s like to put yourself out there and be willing to fail in order to make something new. It’s incredibly easy to sit back and judge that effort, and I’ve seen writer pals crushed by those judgments. It can be difficult to pick yourself up after that, and it’s even harder if you don’t have the experience and support that established authors do. That’s why I encourage new writers to be cautious about opening themselves up to criticism that can sometimes be gratuitously unkind. (And if you’re writing a blog, you are creating! You’re fashioning a platform and asking people to listen to what you have to say.)

BBB:  Every writer has a unique approach to their work.  You've written extensively about your own writing process on your blog, but I'm curious:  What essentials do you have to have nearby when you're working (music, coffee, a lucky charm, a special pen, etc)?  

DR:  Lined up in front of my computer is a collection of Funko Pop Maleficent figures and a small stuffed dragon—all gifts from friends. They are silly but also reminders of things I find powerful. I always play music; I have playlists for each book and I am smitten with the film scores of Fernando Velasquez. I light a candle on the first day of a new book, and I wear my Virgen de Guadalupe charm that day just for a little extra boost. 

BBB:  Thanks so much, Deanna!

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Ready to toss your name into the hat for a chance to win a copy of A Curious Beginning?  Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below.  Please note that giveaway is only open to readers with United States mailing addresses.  Also, it ends on July 30, so sign up today!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, July 04, 2016

Creepy Gothic Thriller Will Leave You Quaking Under Your Covers

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"I worked with wild animals.  I lived at the end of the quietest street in the most remote village I could find.  I made a point of not knowing the names of my neighbors.  I did my shopping by mail order.  What exactly did I have to do to be left alone?" (68)

All Clara Benning wants is for people to leave her be.  Marked by a vicious facial scar, she can do without all the staring, the gossip, and the questions, thank you very much.  The animals she tends at the wildlife hospital don't care what she looks like.  It's with them that the 30-year-old veterinary surgeon prefers to spend her time.  Only they know the truth—beneath Clara's stern aloofness lies a woman who is smart, compassionate, generous, and deeply lonely. 

Clara's precious solitude is shattered by a sudden influx of snakes in the small English village where she lives.  A horrified mother calls Clara when she discovers a coiled reptile in her baby's crib.  When a local man dies from an apparent snakebite, her expertise is called on once again.  She's ready to pass the whole thing off as a random wildlife migration until she learns the dead man was poisoned with more venom than could ever be found in one snake.  His killer is not serpentine at all, but human.  Someone is using innocent snakes to fulfill their own murderous intent.  But who?

Unwillingly pulled into the investigation by a charming neighbor, Clara finds some very disturbing links between the town's current crisis and a century-old local tragedy.  With her quiet hamlet in an uproar and serpents slithering around every corner, even the unflinching Clara is creeped out.  Can she figure out what's going on in time to save her sanity?  What about her own life?

A shivery, gothic tale like AwakeningSharon (S.J.) Bolton's second novel—is probably more suited to Halloween than Independence Day reading.  Still.  If you like eerie thrillers, you can't go wrong with Bolton.  She always delivers.  Awakening is no exception.  The story is tense, exciting, and can't-stop-now compelling.  Clara is a wholly sympathetic heroine, a character for which it's easy to root.  She's complex and contradictory, making her just as intriguing as the mystery she's trying to solve.  I would love to see her as a serial character as I feel like I've only just begun to scratch the surface of what makes her tick.  Story-wise, Awakening delivers twists that are not jaw-dropping but still unexpected.  With interesting characters, a twisty mystery, and a sinister vibe that will have you quaking under your covers, Awakening is another satisfying thriller from a genre master.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Sacrifice by Sharon (S.J.) Bolton)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a dozen or so F-bombs plus milder expletives), violence, and blood/gore

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Silent Sting a Disappointing Mess

(Image from Amazon)

In California's Central Valley, something strange is happening—honeybees are dying at an unnatural rate.  The situation has become alarming; if it continues, it could be disastrous.  The U.S. government has assigned a team of researchers at the University of California-Riverside with finding some answers.  When the scientists began mysteriously dying one by one, it's clear that someone will do anything to stop the truth from getting out.

Tiana Lambrose, a 21-year-old LDS woman from Malibu, is studying entomology at UC Riverside.  When she captures a bee that has been engineered to kill, she brings in the first real clue to what is happening with the insects.  No one knows who has the money, technology, and motive to create such a thing.  But Tiana vows to figure it out.  With the help of FBI agent Stu Whiteleather by her side, she continues the professors' research.  The closer she gets to the truth, though, the closer she's coming to sharing her professors' fate.  Can Stu keep her safe?  Or is she, too, destined to die from the silent and deadly sting of a killer insect?

Remember what I said about LDS romantic thrillers?  Namely, that they're not my favorite?  Well, Silent Sting by Clair M. Poulson is an excellent example of why.  I've been hesitating to write this post because contrary to popular belief, I don't actually enjoy writing negative reviews.  Especially about books written by nice old men.  But, I have to be honest—Silent Sting is a mess.  Not only is the plot confusing, but the prose is dull and the characters are cardboard stereotypes.  Poor editing makes thing even more befuddling (is Tiana's surname Lambrose or Lambert?  Is her dad Lloyd or Connor?).  Although I appreciate the fact that Silent Sting is a clean "thriller," I just found it boring, confusing, and difficult to slog through.  I had to force myself to finish it.  Considering LDS romantic thrillers aren't high on my list of favorite genres, I really
should have left this one on the shelf.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence and references to mature subject matter (illegal drug use, child abuse, etc.)

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Silent Sting from the generous folks at Covenant Communications.  Thank you!

Friday, July 01, 2016

Lighthearted LDS Romantic Suspense Doesn't Take Itself Too Seriously (Thank Goodness!) [With a Giveaway]

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Navigating the singles dating scene in the Provo/Orem area can be a killer—it can murder a girl's nerves, her self-esteem, and her faith in both God and men.  Jacklyn "Jack" Wyatt should know.  A 25-year-old Utah Valley University (UVU) student, she's considered an old maid.  At least by her mom.  And her meddling aunt.  And her married siblings.  And her nieces and nephews.  Not to mention every decent guy in her LDS student ward, apparently.  It's no wonder Jack's sister decided to take drastic measures and make her a profile on Eter-knit-ty, an online dating site.  It worked, too.  Not only has Jack's profile attracted the attention of some potential disasters dates, it has also brought a handsome FBI agent to her door. 

Jack is no 007.  She cashiers at Forever 21, for heaven's sake!  Still, when Agent Damon Wade asks her to help with the case of a local woman who went missing after meeting several men from Eter-knit-ty, Jack can't say no.  Scoping out potential killers is way more exciting than writing essays for English lit—even if she doesn't get to drive a sleek Bondmobile.  Jack's survived countless bad dates.  What's a few more?  Especially if her sacrifice helps the FBI find out what happened to Natalie Paul.  At the very least she'll get some free food out of the deal.  

As Jack meets with the men who also asked Natalie out, she realizes just how desperate the singles scene in Utah Valley really is.  She's been bored to death, groped by a human octopus, suffered the side effects of a major sugar coma, and still, she's no closer to finding out what happened to Natalie.  Sure, Damon's annoying, buttoned-up personality is growing on her, but that's a relationship that's clearly going nowhere.  

Jack's convinced the mission's a total bust until she, herself, is threatened.  With the FBI now determined to pull her off the case, Jack has to up her spy game and find Natalie before she, too, vanishes off the face of the earth.  If she wasn't convinced before, now she's certain—dating can be murder.  

You've probably noticed by now that LDS romantic suspense does not top my list of favorite genres.  Despite the number of such novels that are published every year, I've yet to come across one that feels even a little bit realistic.  Too often, they're not just ridiculously far-fetched but terribly written as well.  Biased as I am, I wasn't expecting a whole lot from A Date With Danger, a debut novel by Kari Iroz.  The generic Sandra Bullock-y cover didn't bode well for what was inside.  And yet, I was pleasantly surprised by the story.  Not because the tale is super realistic (it isn't) but because it's light, funny, and more entertaining than I expected it to be.  The novel doesn't take itself too seriously—it's more rom-com than mystery/thriller.  Unapologetic about it, too.  I liked that as well as the lighthearted fun-poking at LDS dating culture (which, thankfully, I never had to suffer much through).  These things make the novel entertaining, even when Jack and her adventures get a little too absurd.  Sure, I saw the big reveal coming from several miles away, but still, A Date With Danger remained a fun, satisfying read throughout.  To my great surprise, I quite enjoyed it.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything. Can you?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for violence and mild sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of A Date With Danger from the generous folks at Covenant Communications.  Thank you!

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Gritty British Murder Mystery Is Can't-Look-Away Compelling

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Lacey Flint is as enigmatic and complex as her contradictory name indicates.  As a detective constable with the London police, the 29-year-old's official assignment is locating stolen property. Her real passion, however, is helping victims of sexual assault get justice.  It's while moonlighting at a seedy apartment complex that Lacey finds herself cradling a walking corpse.  With a gaping neck wound, the woman is obviously the victim of a brutal attack—one that happened just moments ago.  As the life ebbs out of the stranger, Lacey summons her colleagues, but no one can help her now.

Although Lacey knows nothing about the murder, it's clear that the inscrutable DI Mark Joesbury suspects her of something.  When the police receive an anonymous letter that not only compares the recent murder to Jack the Ripper's first killing but also calls Lacey out by name, Joesbury's ready to arrest her.  DI Dana Tulloch holds him off.  Instead of booking DC Flint, she recruits her to help investigate a killer who seems bent on re-creating Jack the Ripper's greatest hits.  With innocent lives at stake, all hands are needed on deck.  Even those of suspected murderer Lacey Flint.

The more the young detective digs into the case, the more alarmed she becomes. Someone is playing a sadistic game, one that seems directed at her specifically.  With secrets she keeps very well hidden, Lacey can't afford to spend any time in the spotlight.  In order to protect herself from unwanted attention and save more women from being killed, she must stop a smart, bloodthirsty murderer.  But how?  Can she put the puzzle pieces together in time?  Or will she become the killer's next victim?

Now You See Me, the first installment in Sharon (S.J.) Bolton's Lacey Flint series, is not an easy read.  It's dark.  It's gruesome.  It's bleak.  Much more so than I expected after reading my first Bolton book, a standalone called Little Black Lies.  And yet, I couldn't put Now You See Me down.  Lacey is an intriguing character, well-developed but still mysterious.  With her at the helm of a story as tense and twisty as this one, I literally couldn't look away.  Not until 2 a.m. when I finished the book, still stunned by its revelations.  Thoroughly hooked by Bolton's irresistible storytelling powers, I put the rest of the series on hold and proceeded to binge-read everything the author's ever written.  Her novels are that good.  While Little Black Lies remains my favorite of the bunch, I'm addicted to the Lacey Flint series.  Now You See Me is a mesmerizing mystery, a compelling start to a series that never fails to grab me, shake me up, and keep me guessing until the wee hours of the morning.  If you like gritty British mystery/thrillers, you can't go wrong with the incomparable Sharon Bolton. 

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Lacey Flint series, including If Snow Hadn't Fallen [novella]; Dead Scared; Lost; A Dark and Twisted Tide; and Here Be Dragons [novella])

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language, violence, blood/gore, sexual content, depictions of illegal drug use, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Isle of Man Murder Mystery a Creepy, Compelling Thriller

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Hop-tu-naa, the Manx version of Halloween, is supposed to be a day of innocent, spooky fun.  And it is.  Until the year a woman vanishes from the Isle of Man on Hop-tu-naa, leaving behind her mystified husband and their 8-year-old daughter.  Questions about the unsolved case abound—did the woman abandon her family on purpose?  Does her husband know more than he's saying?  What really happened to Mrs. Cooper?    

Still haunted by the disappearance of her mother six years ago, Claire Cooper never looks forward to Hop-tu-naa.  When a gang of popular kids invites the shy, broody 14-year-old to join them on their annual Hop dare night adventure, she can't believe it.  Apprehensive but grateful to be included, she accepts.  Every year afterward, the group gathers for Halloween hijinks.  Until one of their pranks goes horribly awry, changing the kids' lives forever. 
  
At 25, Claire is no longer the timid, awkward girl she once was.  She's a detective constable and a tougher, wiser, more cynical woman because of it.  When a member of her old Hop dare gang dies under suspicious circumstances on Hop-tu-naa, Claire's called in to investigate.  A second death exactly a year later makes it clear that someone is deliberately and determinedly picking the gang off one by one.  Who?  Why?  And what, if anything, do these killings have to do with Mrs. Cooper's long-ago disappearance?  The more Claire digs into the past, the closer she comes to finding the answers she seeks.  But with every passing Hop-tu-naa, she's creeping closer to something else as well—her own "accidental" death.  Can she find the murderer in time to save herself?  Or will her own demise become just another unexplained Hop-tu-naa tragedy?

Thrillers with exotic, atmospheric settings always interest me, so when I heard about Dark Tides by British crime writer Chris Ewan, I knew I had to read it.  It didn't disappoint.  The Isle of Man is a place I know little about, so I especially enjoyed learning more about its unique people and customs.  The And Then There Were None-type plot makes the story especially compelling, as does the fast, almost choppy pace of its prose.  The Hop-tu-naa aspect definitely gives the novel a tense, shivery vibe that ups the suspense factor.  Although I did have the murderer pegged pretty early on in the story, it didn't detract from my reading enjoyment as I wasn't completely sure I was right until the very end of the story.  I had a few issues with this one, but overall, I found it to be an engrossing page-turner that kept me up reading long, long after I should have been in bed.

(Readalikes: Reminded me of And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie and Ten by Gretchen McNeil)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs), violence, blood/gore, depictions of underage drinking, and mild sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Monday, June 20, 2016

Compelling Psychological Thriller Also Sad, Depressing

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Heidi Wood can't resist a stray.  The 37-year-old works for a non-profit, collects feral cats, and smothers her only child in plenty of unwanted motherly attention.  She's always wanted more children, so when Heidi spies a disheveled young woman at the train station cradling an equally unkempt baby, her heart goes out to them.  At first, 16-year-old Willow refuses to let Heidi help her or baby Ruby, who's suffering from a bad cold made worse by exposure to Chicago's inclement winter weather.  When the teen finally gives in, Heidi brings both of them to her home.  The other Woods are horrified.  Who is this stranger invading their already crowded apartment?  And what of the wailing baby to whom Heidi is forming an unhealthy attachment?  Nothing good can come of sheltering them, not in Chris Wood's mind.  But his wife insists.  After all, who would be cruel enough to toss a sick baby and her worn-out young mother back onto the cold, mean streets?  Certainly not Heidi.

As mother and child continue their stay, secrets about Willow's past slowly come to life.  The more Heidi learns, the more disturbed she becomes.  She'll protect Ruby at all costs.  But what will be the price for her devotion?  Her family?  Her sanity?  Her life?  

Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica tells an engrossing story about one woman's obsession with getting that for which her heart has always yearned.  It's a twisty tale, compelling, but also sad and depressing.  While all the novel's characters are sympathetic, none are particularly likable.  This fact made the read feel less fulfilling for me.  The plot definitely kept my attention, though.  Overall, then, I liked this one just didn't love it.

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a couple F-bombs plus milder expletives), violence, sexual content, and disturbing subject matter (child abuse, spousal abuse, sexual abuse, etc.)

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

TTT: Most Anticipated Releases for the Second Half of 2016


I haven't done a Top Ten Tuesday in a long time, but I liked today's topic so I decided to join in.  If you're not aware of this super fun weekly meme, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? click on over to The Broke and the Bookish to read all about it.  Then, create your own TTT list and share it.  It's a great way to find new book blogs, add exciting titles to your TBR mountain chains, and share your love of books/reading.  Join in, won't you?  It's a good time, I promise!

You might remember back in December when TTTers were prompted to list the Top Ten Most Anticipated Releases for the First Half of 2016.  You can see my list here.  I guess I wasn't anticipating them too much because I've only read one of the books I listed.  Oh well.  Anticipation is half the fun, right?  In that spirit, let's talk about my Top Ten Most Anticipated Releases for the Second Half of 2016:  


1.  The Trespasser by Tana French — French is one of my very favorite mystery/suspense writers.  I've loved all the books in her Dublin Murder Squad series.  My only complaint is that it takes two years for a new one to come out.  Patience is a virtue but not one I have when waiting for new books from my favorite authors!  The Trespasser (the 6th installment in French's popular series) makes its debut on October 4.  Guess who's counting down the days?


2.  Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton — After devouring Little Black Lies, I binge read the rest of this English author's mystery novels.  All of them kept me totally and completely mesmerized.  Even though I just barely finished reading them all, I've still been having Bolton withdrawals.  Lucky for me, her newest comes out on September 20.


3.  Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult — I mentioned this one in my post about releases for the first half of the year, but Picoult's newest will actually not come out until October 11.  This one concerns an African-American labor and delivery nurse and a decision she makes which leads to a court case that shakes up her life.  I love me some Picoult, so I'm excited for this one.


4.  I Will Send Rain by Rae Meadows — As compelling as I find stories about people struggling to survive during difficult times, especially in a historical context, I haven't read many books about the Dust Bowl.  The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck might be the only one.  At any rate, this one sounds really intriguing to me.  It comes out on August 9.


5.  By Gaslight by Steven Price — As I said above, I've been big into British mystery/thrillers this year.  Naturally, then, this book caught my eye.  It's not written by a Brit (Price is a Canadian poet, actually), but the novel is set in London, 1885.  Sounds grisly but good.  It's available October 4.


6.  Only Daughter by Anna Snoekstra — This psychological thriller about a teen who goes missing only to be "replaced" eleven years later sounds intriguing.  Comes out September 27.


7.  We Are Unprepared by Meg Little Reilly — I know most people are so over dystopian novels, but I'm not.  As long as it tells a compelling yarn, I'm still game for a post-apocalyptic tale.  This debut novel by a former White House employee sounds like it fits the bill.  I'll be eager to find myself a copy when it comes out on August 30.


8.  Something in Between by Melissa de la Cruz — This YA novel about a high schooler whose bright future is shattered when it's discovered that she—and her whole family—are illegal immigrants sounds timely and interesting.  It will appear on October 4.


9.  The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron — I enjoyed Cameron's Dark Unwinding series, so I'm anxious to see what she's up to this time around.  The synopsis of this book reminds me of Don't You Forget About Me by Kate Karyus Quinn.  Every 12 years, the safe, rule-bound town of Canaan undergoes a bloody ritual that erases everyone's memories.  One teen girl is determined not to forget.  Sounds interesting.  I'll look for it on September 16.


10.  The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis — I enjoy this author's books, so I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for her newest YA novel.  I'm not sure how to describe this one exactly, but it looks intriguing.  Comes out September 20

There are so many amazing-sounding books still to come out in 2016!  Which ones are you most looking forward to?  What do you think of my selections?  Do we have any in common?  Which others should I be popping onto ye ole TBR mountain chain?  Leave me a comment and I will gladly return the favor.  

Happy TTT!
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