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

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

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!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

New Romantic Suspense Novel an Easy, Enjoyable (Enough) Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

As a big city reporter, Kate Beaumont doesn't stop asking questions until she gets answers.  The question haunting the 30-year-old now is, why did her brother kill himself?  What would make a young man with a bright future take his own life?  Why did Jason, who had been clean for three years, ingest a toxic cocktail of drugs and alcohol, committing suicide in a lonely spot in the local graveyard?  None of it makes any sense.  Furious at herself for not being there when Jason needed her most, Kate vows to find out exactly what happened to the beloved sibling she has always protected.  

Kate travels to Laurel Ridge, Pennsylvania, the tiny town where Jason had been interning for an investment group.  Her presence immediately attracts attention in a village where newcomers are rare.  McKinley "Mac" Whiting, an ex-Marine who serves as Laurel Ridge's police chief, takes a special interest in the pretty reporter.  Wary of anyone who might stir up trouble in his town, he keeps a close eye on her.  It doesn't take long for her questions about Jason to attract the wrong kind of attention.  Someone is trying to stop her from digging into her brother's death.  But who?  Was Mac wrong in labeling Jason's death a suicide?

As Kate and Mac pair up to investigate Jason's death, the two grow closer together.  A relationship between them can never work, despite the sparks that crackle between them.  Still, Kate relies on the solid police chief to help find answers.  Desperate to keep Kate safe, Mac is torn between forcing her to leave Laurel Ridge and begging her to stay.  Can he protect her from the enemies she's making, one of whom may be a cold blooded killer?  And what about his heart?  Can he keep it safe?  

Marta Perry has authored many romance and romantic suspense books set in her native Pennsylvania.  Her newest, How Secrets Die (available June 28, 2016), is no exception.  The novel introduces a warm-hearted little town in the middle of Amish country—one that hides some sinister secrets.  These types of settings are my favorite.  Still, Laurel Ridge definitely needed more color to make it come alive.  Its residents felt more like caricatures than real people.  The same can be said of Kate and Mac, neither one of whom hadHow Secrets Die is an easy, entertaining read, just not one that really stands out from the crowd.
enough complexity to be really intriguing.  Their insta-love relationship likewise felt forced.  While I appreciated Perry's ability to write a clean romantic suspense novel with enough conflict to keep me reading, I would have liked more from it—more depth, more originality, more surprises.  As is,

(Readalikes:  I'm not much of a romantic suspense reader, so nothing's coming to mind.  Ideas?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence, references to illegal drugs, and mild sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished e-copy of How Secrets Die from the generous folks at Harlequin via those at TLC Book Tours.  Thank you!

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Black Rabbit Hall An Atmospheric Family Saga Perfect for Kate Morton Fans

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"But here, of course, it's a different story.  It's always a different story at Black Rabbit Hall.  It unspools everything" (104).

Time moves differently at Black Rabbit Hall, the Alton family's country estate in Cornwall.  None of the clocks in the home tell the same time and no one cares.  It's what makes the summers there so timeless, so ideal.  Amber, a 14-year-old bookworm, adores the place.  She loves roaming its grounds with her twin brother, Toby, and their two younger siblings.  Languishing in the salty air makes London feel a million miles away, which is just how Amber likes it.

Then, on a stormy night in 1968, the idyllic peace of Black Rabbit Hall is shattered forever. The events of that night change everything, ripping apart the seams that bind the Alton family together.  Never will they return to their country home.  Never will things be the same for Amber and her kin.

Thirty-odd years later, Lorna Dunaway and her fiancĂ© are scouring the Cornwall countryside for a half-remembered estate Lorna visited as a child.  The house has always spoken to her soul; she can't imagine a better setting for her upcoming wedding.  Even when Lorna sees what a crumbling ruin the place has become, she won't back down.  Black Rabbit Hall is the only place she wants to be married.  When the home's caretaker invites Lorna for an extended stay, she can't resist.  As she breathes in the estate's musty, enchanted air, she becomes more and more obsessed with the history of Black Rabbit Hall and the happy family that once made it their summer home.  What happened to the Altons?  Why did they abandon their beloved estate?  And why does Lorna feel so connected to a home she never lived in and family she never knew?  Black Rabbit Hall hides secrets—secrets Lorna is determined to discover ...

You probably know by now that I'm a sucker for novels which feature mysterious old houses, tantalizing secrets, and family drama.  Black Rabbit Hall, a debut novel by Eve Chase, fits the bill on all three accounts.  It's a compelling saga that oscillates between the past and the present, offering a suspenseful tale that has enough twists to keep readers guessing.  At least a little.  While I saw some of the "surprises" coming, that didn't damper my enjoyment of the story.  I found myself absorbed in the mystery, intrigued by the characters, and entranced by Black Rabbit Hall's peculiar magic.  If you enjoy a good, atmospheric family saga, definitely give this one a go.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Kate Morton's books, especially The Lake House)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (1 F-bomb plus milder expletives), violence, and mild sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Brilliantly-Plotted Falklands Mystery Keeps Me Guessing Until the Very Last Sentence

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

It's easy to feel isolated in a place as rugged and remote as the Falkland Islands.  An archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean, the area is home to more birds than people.  And yet, when a Falklander goes missing, the loss is felt keenly by the residents of the islands' close-knit communities.  When the individual is a child—the third to disappear in as many years—it's more than a tragedy.  It's an indication that a serial killer may be lurking nearby, hunting for young boys.  

Still reeling after the accidental death of her own sons three years ago, Catrin Quinn has cut herself off from the people in her town.  A recluse, she ventures out only to care for the wildlife protected by the Falkland Conservation, the organization for which she works.  Bitter and angry, the 34-year-old lets only one person come anywhere near her heart—her ex-lover, Callum Murray.  She refuses to engage or trust anyone else.  People will only let you down; Catrin's learned that lesson in the most traumatic way possible.

When a 3-year-old boy disappears while picnicking with his family in Stanley, Catrin is as heartsick as anyone else.  In such a dangerous landscape, the child could easily have drowned.  Only, it looks as if something much more sinister has happened.  Suspicion falls on Catrin, whose grief—most would agree—has certainly driven her crazy enough to kidnap a toddler.  The recluse harbors secrets, it's true, but she knows she had nothing to do with the boys' disappearances.  Doesn't she? 

As Catrin struggles to come to grips with her own impending madness, she becomes obsessed with finding the missing children.  Callum and Catrin's former best friend, Rachel Grimwood, are hiding as many secrets as Catrin.  As the search continues for a missing boy, both will have to confront their own pain and unseen suffering.  Hidden deep in their broken souls, one of the three—perhaps all of the three—holds the key to finding young Archie West.  Can they pull the truth out of their damaged psyches in time to save an innocent child?  Or will he become the third victim of a ruthless, unknown killer stalking children in the beautiful but deadly Falklands?

I'd never heard of English crime writer Sharon Bolton (formerly S.J. Bolton) before picking up her 8th novel, Little Black Lies, back in March.  Except for her newest book, which hasn't come out in the U.S. yet, I've now read everything she's ever published.  That should tell you something about how mesmerizing I found Little Black Lies.  From the beginning, the story grabbed me, pulling me into the bleak but utterly compelling world of Catrin Quinn.  The Falklands make a stunning and intriguing backdrop to the tale, adding a gothic element to an already otherworldly setting.  Its treacherous isolation makes the novel even more eerie and suspenseful.  Add in complex characters; solid writing; and a twisty, brilliantly-plotted mystery; voilĂĄ, I was hooked from the first page to the last.  This book kept me guessing—not just until the last chapter but until the very last sentence.  If you like a good mystery/suspense, you can't go wrong with Sharon Bolton.  Although Little Black Lies is my favorite of hers, all of her novels have sucked me in and kept me up reading way, way, way past my bedtime.  She's that good.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a little of the Shetland mystery series by Ann Cleeves)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find
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