Friday, February 22, 2019

Sisters + Family Secrets + Coming Home = Always-Appealing Trifecta

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

After the trauma of losing their mother and youngest sister in a sudden storm, none of the remaining Hemingway sisters had any reason to stay in their tiny hometown in the Ozarks.  As soon as they were old enough to leave Cold River, Missouri, they did.  The only thing that could bring the three sisters back is the death of the aunt who raised them.  As the women return to the dilapidated ancestral farmhouse where they grew up, they're filled with grief, anxiety, and fear.  All of them are harboring secrets they haven't shared with the others.  When Aunt Bea posthumously lets out a few of her own skeletons, the Hemingway sisters are thrown for a dizzying, unexpected loop.     

As Hadley, Pfeiffer, and Martha try to puzzle out a family mystery, they must come together in a way they haven't since they were children.  With the help of friends old and new, including an affectionate basset hound who adopts them despite their protests, they will discover that the happiness and fulfillment which has been so elusive to all of them might just be waiting in the exact place they never expected to find it—home.

I love books about sisters, family secrets, and coming home, so a story that combines all three is always going to appeal to me.  The Sisters Hemingway by Annie England Noblin offers this bewitching trifecta in an engaging novel that is compelling, upbeat, and enjoyable.  I would have liked a stronger mystery plot, but really it's the relationship between the sisters that is at the heart of this novel.  And while none of the women are all that original or exciting, they're all sympathetic and likable.  I cared about what happened to them.  There were a few holes in the novel's plot that had me scratching my head and I got a good laugh out of Noblin's description of driving a new Tesla with "keys" and an engine that "purred" (we use an app on our phones to drive ours [with a slim key card as a back-up] and the engine is eerily silent, an oddity that a first-time electric car driver would definitely notice).  Overall, though, I found The Sisters Hemingway to be an easy, entertaining read that I liked but didn't love.

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of Joshilyn Jackson's Southern family sagas, especially Almost Sisters)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (one F-bomb plus milder expletives) and mild sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of The Sisters Hemingway from the generous folks at William Morrow (an imprint of HarperCollins) via those at TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

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Interested in more opinions on The Sisters Hemingway?  Follow along on the book's blog tour by clicking the links below:

Instagram Features

Tuesday, February 12th: Instagram: @oddandbookish
Tuesday, February 12th: Instagram: @thepagesinbetween
Wednesday, February 13th: Instagram: @megabunnyreads
Friday, February 15th: Instagram: @somekindofalibrary
Saturday, February 16th: Instagram: @marissa_writes
Monday, February 18th: Instagram: @books.tea.quotes
Tuesday, February 19th: Instagram: @storiesandcoffee
TBD, Sunday, February 17th: Instagram: @writersdream

Review Stops

Tuesday, February 12th: A Bookish Affair
Wednesday, February 13th: Peppermint PhD
Thursday, February 14th: Bibliotica
Friday, February 15th: Lindsay’s Book Reviews
Monday, February 18th: Iwriteinbooks’s blog
Tuesday, February 19th: BookNAround
Wednesday, February 20th: Ms. Nose in a Book
Friday, February 22nd: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books
Friday, February 22nd: Literary Quicksand
Monday, February 25th: Instagram: @giuliland
Tuesday, February 26th: Laura’s Reviews
Wednesday, February 27th: Into the Hall of Books
Thursday, February 28th: What Is That Book About
Thursday, February 28th: From the TBR Pile

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Taut Crime Thriller a Pulse-Pounding Page-Turner

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for The Suspect, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier Kate Waters books.  Even though this installment is labeled a standalone, I still recommend reading books in a series in order.

As a journalist who's used to covering hard news, Kate Waters is an expert at maintaining objectivity.  She observes what's happening, cajoles victims into telling her their stories, writes up her pieces, and sends them across the wires.  She's not a cold-hearted monster; she's just doing her job.

When Kate hears the news that two 18-year-old British girls have disappeared while on a backpacking trip in Thailand, she's immediately on alert.  It's not only because it's been a slow news week, but also because her own son—24-year-old Jake—has been in the Asian country for the past two years, almost incommunicado with his worried parents.  If she's sent on location for the newspaper, she can help find the missing girls and check on Jake at the same time.

Kate is shocked to discover that something very sinister has gone down in Thailand.  And that Jake may be tangled up in it.  Frantic with worry, Kate flies to Thailand determined to find not two missing young adults, but three ...

While there's nothing super unique or original about The Suspect, a taut thriller by Fiona Barton, the novel is still a pulse-pounding page-turner.  I read it fast and furious, anxious to know what would happen next.  I guessed most of the twists, but still, the story's compelling enough that I kept reading.  Way later than I should have, as a matter of fact.  In addition to a fast-paced plot, the novel features sympathetic characters (the adult protagonists anyway—the kids are selfish, shallow brats) and capable prose.  Like I said, there's nothing shout-it-from-the-rooftops amazing here, but I'm definitely up for reading more from Barton.  If you like British crime thrillers, give this newcomer a try.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of books by Tana French, Sharon Bolton, Jane Casey, Paula Hawkins, Ruth Ware, etc.)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, mild sexual content, depictions of illegal drug use and underage drinking, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Suspect from the generous folks at Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Little Big Love: I Laughed, I Cried, I Loved It

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Juliet Hutchinson may be tired, overweight, and perennially bankrupt, but she's making it.  Barely.  She lives in a dingy council flat, subsists on cheap convenience food, and can't always be home at night due to her dead-end job.  Still, Juliet pours what little energy she has into the care of her 10-year-old son, Zac.  It's not a glamorous life, but at least Zac knows that he's loved, that his mom would do anything for him.  What he doesn't realize is that she's been lying to him his whole life.  She's done it to protect his fragile ego—and her own.  After all, it's easier on Juliet's non-existent self-esteem to forget that Liam Jones—Zac's father and the only man she's ever loved—walked out on them when Zac was only two weeks old.

Even though Zac has a doting grandpa who does "dad" things with him, the boy can't help but wonder about the father he's never known.  His mum and her parents insist Liam is a waste of space and they're better off without him.  But if Zac's dad is such a loser, why did his mother love him so much? And, if Zac has half Liam's DNA, does that mean Zac will grow up to be a bad person, too?  The only way to get answers is to find Liam.  If his father's not a bad person, maybe Zac can even get his parents back together so his mum can be happy again.

With Zac's Find Dad mission, he unwittingly opens a can of worms that will crack open the secrets, pains, and hard truths that have defined his family's lives for the past decade.  As each of them is forced to face the things they've done, the lies they've told, and the assumptions they've made, they may finally be able to find healing, forgiveness, and peace.

Little Big Love by Katy Regan is a sweet, but heart-wrenching novel about a vulnerable boy and his search for answers.  It tells a warm, hopeful story, one that is, nonetheless, realistic and peopled with complex, flawed human beings.  Both engaging and engrossing, Little Big Love is an enjoyable read about redemption, forgiveness, and the kind of truths that set men (even little big ones) free.  I laughed, I cried, I loved it.

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language and some violence

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Little Big Love from the generous folks at Penguin Random House.  Thank you!

Monday, February 18, 2019

New Magic Treehouse-ish Series Offers Fun, Educational Adventures for Kids (with a Giveaway!)

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George and Gracie know that their family's Stockton Museum of Just About Everything in American History holds some amazing artifacts.  What they don't realize, until one fateful night, is that one of those objects is actually a time machine.  The exact same contraption their parents used to get themselves stuck somewhere in history.  Now, it's up to George and Gracie to figure out when their folks are and how to unstick them so they can finally come home.

The kids have a solid plan to find their parents in history, but that scheme goes horribly awry when they find themselves in the middle of the Revolutionary War.  Even worse, Gracie has turned into a horse!  Things can't possibly get worse ... until they do.  Suddenly, the twins are smack-dab in the middle of a wild race to save not just their own skin and that of their parents, but also the fate of the entire country.  Will they be successful?  Or will history—and their family—be changed forever?

Are you the parent of a rabid Magic Treehouse fan?  Then, you should probably give the Just in Time series by Cheri Pray Earl and Carol Lynch Williams a go.  I'm not sure how many books of a projected 25 (one for each state) have already been penned, but I do know the series starts with The Rescue Begins in Delaware.  Like the Magic Treehouse books, this one involves a set of siblings, a time machine, and a host of based-on-a-true-story historical adventures.  The Rescue Begins in Delaware tells a fast, fun tale that gives young readers a little glimpse of history that is educational enough to teach them something but not so much that they will be bored with the lesson.  This installment starts with a bang and doesn't let up, which is good except that I felt like I was missing some background information that would have helped later events make more sense.  Based on the series opener, I would say the Just in Time series isn't quite up to Magic Treehouse snuff.  It should, however, give fans of the latter something entertaining and new to devour.


(Readalikes:  Reminds me of the Magic Treehouse series by Mary Pope Osbourne)

Grade:



If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-copy of The Rescue Begins in Delaware in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

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Want more opinions of The Rescue Begins in Delaware?  Follow along on the book's blog tour by clicking the links below:

Feb 21: My Book a Day

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Thursday, February 14, 2019

Empowering Middle Grade Novel Urges Kids to Embrace Their Own Unique Voice

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Being deaf has always made 12-year-old Iris Bailey feel like an outsider.  Even in her own family, where some members have made the effort to learn American Sign Language (ASL) and others haven't.  As the only deaf student at her school, it can be tough for Iris to understand what's going on around her, make friends, and communicate everything that's going on inside her head.  She wants her voice to be heard, but that's difficult when you're a deaf kid in a hearing world.

When Iris learns about Blue 55, a whale who has to swim alone because he can't communicate with other whales, she feels immediate empathy for the lonely creature.  She longs to find a way to tell him he is not alone.  A whiz with radios and other tech, Iris sets about creating a welcoming song just for Blue 55.  Even though he's a long way from her home in Texas, she will find a way to reach him.  It will take all her smarts, all her courage, and all her determination to achieve her goal.  Then, maybe, both she and Blue 55 will finally be able to connect to their peers in a world where neither one of them feels understood ... 

Song for a Whale is the second novel by Lynne Kelly, who has worked as a sign language interpreter for over 25 years.  It tells a gentle, sympathetic story about a lonely young lady who finds her purpose while trying to help an unusual whale (you can read about the real whale that inspired Blue 55 here).  As she puts her heart and soul into the project, Iris is finally able to make herself heard.  Although the tale gets bogged down with science/tech talk, it's still an interesting and unique story.  Young readers may find Song for a Whale overly detailed and a little long (as did I), but if they hang in there, they'll find the novel pays off in the end with empowering, uplifting messages about family, belonging, and embracing your own special voice.  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a little of El Deafo by Cece Bell)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Song for a Whale from the generous folks at Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Fascinating Family History Memoir Asks Thought-Provoking Questions About Family, Identity, Heritage, and More

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"All my life I had known there was a secret.  What I hadn't known—that secret was me."

For her entire life, Dani Shapiro has watched people puzzle over her looks.  Unlike the rest of her family, she has blonde hair and blue eyes.  More than one person has observed that she looks more Aryan than Jewish.  This stings a little because although she is not observant, Shapiro has always felt a strong connection to her Jewish past.  Of her stalwart forbears, she says:
These ancestors are the foundation upon which I have built my life.  I have dreamt of them, wrestled with them, longed for them.  I have tried to understand them.  In my writing, they have been my territory—my obsession, you might even say.  They are the tangled roots—thick, rich, and dark—that bind me to the turning earth.  During younger years when I was lost—particularly after my dad's death—I used them as my inner compass.  I would ask what to do, which way to turn.  I would listen intently, and hear them answer ... I can say with certainty that I've felt the presence of this long-gone crowd whenever I've sought them. (12)
It was with great shock, then, that Shapiro received startling results after taking a DNA test on a whim.  At 54 years old, she stumbled upon a stunning truth—her beloved dad was not, in fact, her biological father.  The more she dug into her own beginning, the more incredulous she became.  Her discoveries launched her on a quest—one that would prove frustrating, disturbing, enlightening, and ultimately, reassuring—to discover her truest self in all its bewildering complexity.

Inheritance, Shapiro's newest book, tells the story of the journey she undertook to find herself.  Again.  Despite its deep, thought-provoking subject matter, the volume is actually very readable.  It's quick but fascinating.  Throughout, Shapiro asks sharp, impactful questions about family, identity, medical ethics, and the sometimes huge effects that can come from small, "inconsequential" acts.  I found her story absorbing, her questions compelling, and her observations on point.  Inheritance gets high marks from me as I found it to be an enjoyable read on many different levels.

(Readalikes:  Hm, nothing is coming to mind.  You?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (2 F-bombs, plus occasional, milder expletives), and non-graphic references to sex

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Entertaining Cozy a Fun, Light Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Note: While this review will not contain spoilers for Murder Made to Order, it may inadvertently spoil plot surprises from its predecessor, Scone Cold Killer.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.

Gia Morelli, the newest resident of Boggy Creek, Florida, and owner of the popular All-Day Breakfast Cafe is still reeling from finding her ex-husband's body in the dumpster behind her restaurant.  The last thing she needs is another shock. Gia just wants to run her business in peace, but the forceful president of the town council has other ideas.  A forgotten city ordinance is being trumped up by the council in an effort to close Gia down.  Truth is, it might be just the motivation Gia needs to leave all of Florida's quirks behind and head back to New York, where she really belongs. 

While Gia is debating whether to stay or go, she comes across a shocking sight while out on a walk with her dog.  It's not a dreaded gator, but the dead body of Marcia Steers, the very woman who was trying so hard to shut down the All-Day Breakfast Cafe.  Although Marcia had plenty of enemies in town, suspicion immediately falls on Gia.  There's only one way to clear her name and that's to find the killer herself.  Hunt Quinn, aka Detective Tall, Dark, and Gorgeous, will frown on Gia's do-it-herself sleuthing, but when has that ever stopped the intrepid chef?

Murder Made to Order, the second installment in Lena Gregory's All-Day Breakfast Cafe series, is another fun cozy mystery.  Not gonna lie—these books require a big suspension of disbelief, but once you're past that, they're great for a bit of light entertainment.  I enjoy the Boggy Creek setting, the likable townspeople, and Gia's friends.  I'm hoping the characters get more developed as the series goes on.  Even with that, though, I enjoy this series.  It's nothing shout-it-from-the-rooftops amazing, but the books make me smile and they don't give me nightmares, so I'll for sure keep reading them.

(Readalikes:  Scone Cold Killer by Lena Gregory.  Also reminds me of cozy mysteries by Ellie Alexander.)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, and innuendo/non-graphic references to sex

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Friday, February 08, 2019

Military Romance a Solid, if Unoriginal, Series Opener

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It's been five years since Noah Wilcox, a Navy SEAL serving in North Africa, was killed during a skirmish with local insurgents.  Still not quite sure how to move on after her husband's death, Harper is biding her time in her hometown of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.  A freelance bookkeeper and mom to 5-year-old Ben, she's living with her mother and feeling stuck.  When Allison Teague—the wife of one of Noah's former SEAL brothers—reaches out for help in dealing with her husband's paralyzing PTSD, Harper jumps at the chance to not only aid a friend but also to do something meaningful for other military spouses.  As she comforts Allison, the women hatch a plan to open a string of coffee shops near military bases around the country.  

In the meantime, Harper's quest for purpose brings her face-to-face with Bennett Caldwell, another of Noah's SEAL brothers and the one he considered his best friend.  She's never met the man before, but her attraction to the brusque outdoorsman is almost instant.  Though shocked by her own interest, Harper can't suppress the urge to get to know Bennett better, even if their burgeoning relationship makes them both feel disloyal to Noah.  Can the two of them find their way together, despite past sorrows? 

With its plain Jane title, it's probably not surprising that The Military Wife by Laura Trentham is not the most original or memorable novel in the world.  It does, however, offer an empathetic look at military life as well as a sweet, second-chance romance between two sympathetic, likable characters.  Although the plot is predictable, there's enough going on in the story to keep it interesting.  As I mentioned, there's nothing terribly unique or surprising here, but The Military Wife is a solid, readable novel that's a little deeper than your typical romance.  I didn't love this series opener, but I liked it well enough.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Robyn Carr's small-town romance series [especially Virgin River] starring ex-military men and the women who love them.) 

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, sexual content, and some disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-copy of The Military Wife from the generous folks at St. Martin's Press in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!
   

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Female Civil War Soldiers Novel a Good (Enough) Read

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When her young husband joins the Confederate Army, Libby Beale Tanner knows he may never come home.  Still, she's not at all prepared to be a widow almost before she's had a chance to be a bride.  Haunted by the loss, Libby's overwhelming grief takes on a disturbing singlemindedness.  Obsessed with avenging her husband by killing one Union soldier to represent each of the dead man's twenty years of life, she disguises herself as a man and joins the Army herself.  

Although Josephine Beale never liked her sister's cocky husband, she's devastated to see her beloved Libby so overtaken by sadness.  When she discovers Libby's cockamamie plan to enlist, Josephine begs her sister not to be so foolhardy.  When Libby refuses to back down, Josephine does the only thing she can to protect her—she enlists, too.  

Rechristened Thomas and Joseph Holden, the women join a big, bloody war that will rock them to their cores in ways they could never have predicted.  Tormented nightly by her husband's angry ghost, Libby slowly descends into madness.  Struck by Cupid's arrow, Josephine is going crazy in a different way.  Desperate to keep their identities both concealed and intact, the sisters struggle to remain sane in a world gone utterly mad.

I find the subject of women disguising themselves as men to serve in the Civil War endlessly fascinating.  These based-on-a-true-story accounts showcase the courage and devotion that drove real women to join the cause, whether it was in an effort to stay close to a loved one, earn money for their families, or simply to prove themselves in a time when they were limited by the constraints of being a "lady".  Sisters of Shiloh, penned by sisters Kathy and Becky Hepinstall, is an interesting depiction of what two Southern women may have experienced while serving as Confederate soldiers.  Although the characters are not well developed, the sisters are both sympathetic story people.  Their tale is one of survival; as such, it's episodic, meandering, and even a little dull at times.  Despite this, a plodding pace, and some overdone prose, though, I liked Sisters of Shiloh well enough to finish it.   


Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Sisters of Shiloh with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Unnecessarily Gory and Graphic, No Exit Leaves a Lot to Be Desired

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

College student Darby Thorne had no intention of going home for Christmas.  Until a diagnosis of late-stage pancreatic cancer changed everything.  Now the UC-Boulder art major is racing through a snowstorm to get to her mother's side.  As the weather worsens dramatically, she knows she can't risk her own life trying to drive through it.  Darby will have to wait it out.  She finds refuge at a remote rest stop with electricity, a coffee machine, and four strangers.  While she frantically searches for a cell signal so she can at least check in on her mom, Darby makes a shocking discovery in the frigid parking lot—a small child is locked in an animal cage in the back of a van.  There's no explanation for it except that one of the people inside the rest stop is a kidnapper.  With no safe way off the mountain, no cell phone service, and only a vague idea who the villain might be, it's up to Darby to save the child.

As the snow piles up outside, the stranded art major must think her way out of a desperate situation.  Which of the strangers can she trust to help her?  If she chooses incorrectly, it could mean danger for a helpless child and for herself.  Darby can't leave the captive to freeze to death or worse.  What can she possibly do to save them both from a situation that's growing more deadly with each passing minute?

No Exit, a new thriller by Taylor Adams, is getting all kinds of buzz right now.  Based on its intriguing premise, I can understand why.  I picked it up hoping for a taut psychological thriller—what I got was more thriller thriller.  The novel lacks the subtlety of the former, relying more on the kind of propulsive action most associated with the latter.  In fact, the story gets so unnecessarily graphic and violent that it feels far-fetched and, really, just kind of ridiculous.  Add in a cast of mostly unlikable characters, a "What's the point?" kind of vibe, and a nauseating blood-bath of a story and, in my opinion at least, you've got a stomach-turning thriller without a lot of redeeming qualities.  I still think No Exit's premise is chock-full of fascinating potential; its execution, though, leaves a lot to be desired.

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, blood/gore, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of No Exit from the generous folks at BookTrib in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

Monday, February 04, 2019

Carpenter's Newest a Gritty, Nail-Biting Thrill Ride

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When her computer engineer husband dies in a car crash, 48-year-old Erin Gaines finds herself completely unmoored.  She's not sure how to proceed with day-to-day living, let alone how to manage her role as CEO of Jax, the lucrative startup tech company the Gaines' own with several of their friends.  Erin knows that, after five months, her paralyzing, zombie-like grief is wearing thin.  Everyone—her friends, family, and co-workers—have expressed grave concern about her ability to function at all, especially as the head of a powerful company at the peak of its performance.  After a particularly telling incident, Erin's loved ones stage an intervention, gently forcing her to enroll in a program at a luxurious "restoration" facility on a remote Caribbean island.  Reluctant though she is to admit it, Erin knows a few weeks at Hidden Sands might be exactly what she needs to come back to herself.

Shorie Gaines, Erin's 18-year-old daughter, is thrilled her mother's finally getting some help.  She's worried about Erin's emotional state, but she's also concerned over some weird error messages on Jax's operating system.  Something isn't quite right and with the company's CEO conveniently out of the way, it's up to Shorie to figure out what.  The more she digs, however, the more distressed she becomes.  When she receives a cryptic S.O.S. from her mother, Shorie realizes what Erin's already discovered—Erin has been sent to Hidden Sands not to heal, but to disappear ...

I discovered Emily Carpenter's mesmerizing thrillers last year and was absolutely thrilled to discover she'd be releasing a new one in 2019.  The premise and setting of her newest, Until the Day I Die (available March 12), is a bit different from her others.  It's got a less Gothic, more modern spin, which I ended up liking even though I wasn't sure I would.  Like Carpenter's previous novels, this one features a sympathetic heroine who becomes entangled in a unique, intriguing situation.  As the story stakes rise, the action ramps up until the reader is frantically whipping through pages to find out what will happen next.  Although the climax does come to a confusingly abrupt end (at least in the ARC), Until the Day I Die remains a propulsive, engrossing thriller from which you will not be able to look away.  It's far-fetched, sure, but who cares?  This is the kind of tense, nail-biting suspense that will leave fans thirsty for more.  I thoroughly enjoyed Until the Day I Die and can't wait to see what the incomparable Emily Carpenter will do next.


Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language, violence, mild sexual content, and references to illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Until the Day I Die from the generous folks at Lake Union Publishing via those at NetGalley.  Thank you!

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