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Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Category: Suspense (page 1 of 7)

Call Me Cass by Kelly Stone Gamble

Cass Adams is finally happy. She has a man who loves her, a family that understands her, and a baby on the way. Other than seeing the occasional dead person, Cass feels normal. But pregnancy has an unwelcome side effect. Cass is having visions of the future, just like Grams does. While some are cloudy, Cass knows one thing for certain. Her best friend, Maryanne, is going to die.

Police Chief Benny Cloud has his own problems. His father has been released from prison and is on his way home to surprise Benny’s mother, who’s been keeping time with the county sheriff. Fat Tina’s Gentlemen’s Club is under siege by protestors. And it’s growing dark outside.

A devastating storm is coming to Deacon, Kansas. In its wake, the town must deal with tragic losses that force everyone to reevaluate their lives.

Thanks to the author for this review copy!

One thing about Kelly Stone Gamble is that she is adept at creating character backstory. In CALL ME CASS we see all of our favorites from her previous two books but with more depth. This is accomplished by having each chapter told from a different point of view – something that I usually dislike – but it works here. We are privy to each character’s deepest thoughts and fears and learn who dislikes who (and why). These inner thoughts are both poignant and hilarious at the same time.

In this 3rd book of the series, Cass is ready to give birth while a massive tornado is bearing down on Deacon, Kansas. She is also struggling with one of her visions – her best friend Maryanne is supposed to die. Each character experiences the huge storm in their own way, and no one is unaffected. Deacon is destroyed and we stay with Cass & Co. while everyone picks up the collective pieces.

Gamble’s real talent lies in her ability to create friendships and deep connections in her storytelling. It feels like there are true bonds between Fat Tina, Angus, Clay, and the rest of the Deaconites. Kindness shines through on nearly every page no matter which character is telling the story at the moment. The characters are quirky and fun, and they all show compassion when the situation warrants.

The storm creates serious suspense while also serving as a cleansing for the town, since a few of the characters experience revelations about their life, their relationships, and their dreams. This proves to create a satisfying ending despite the fact that some of the characters did not survive the storm. I felt truly sad for these characters and wish things turned out differently. This shows how strongly the author is able to create lasting emotions in her readers through her writing. Anyone who can make the reader feel for a fictional character is a winner in my opinion.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

Good Girls Lie by J.T. Ellison

Perched atop a hill in the tiny town of Marchburg, Virginia, The Goode School is a prestigious prep school known as a Silent Ivy. The boarding school of choice for daughters of the rich and influential, it accepts only the best and the brightest. Its elite status, long-held traditions and honor code are ideal for preparing exceptional young women for brilliant futures at Ivy League universities and beyond. But a stranger has come to Goode, and this ivy has turned poisonous.

In a world where appearances are everything, as long as students pretend to follow the rules, no one questions the cruelties of the secret societies or the dubious behavior of the privileged young women who expect to get away with murder. But when a popular student is found dead, the truth cannot be ignored. Rumors suggest she was struggling with a secret that drove her to suicide.

But look closely…because there are truths and there are lies, and then there is everything that really happened.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

This book was a conundrum. On one hand, the setting was full of promise: a Gothic prep school filled with overachieving rich girls. On the other hand, we have lots of internal dialogue and chapters that switch POV’s rapidly, causing confusion. There was also a slow start to the book, and it seemed to drag on towards the middle. This was almost a DNF for me, but I kept going.

The last 20% of the book is filled with rapid-fire twists and turns, and all the questions (and there are plenty!) are answered. There are some (more) deaths but I felt the conclusion was satisfactorily drawn. Ellison’s characters are typical boarding-school-with-money types, and there are a lot of familiar tropes (secret societies, girl drama, rich girls behaving badly) that will warm the heart of the reader that loves this type of thing.

I am unsure how to classify this book – is it YA or not? I feel it fits either category; the writing style is easy to read, if a little drawn out. I think each chapter would have benefitted from naming the narrator right at the beginning so the reader would immediately know who is speaking. However, this may have been done deliberately by the author to cause confusion and increase the intrigue.

My favorite character was Becca – she was an apt Head Girl, hiding her loneliness under a harsh and demanding exterior. I also felt sorry for the Dean, who was constantly under the thumb of the previous Dean (who just happened to be her manipulative mother).

All in all – an uneven but mildly pleasant read. Stick with it through the slow portions and you will be happy you did. You can pick up your copy here.

Bloody Genius by John Sandford (Virgil Flowers #12)

Virgil Flowers will have to watch his back–and his mouth–as he investigates a college culture war turned deadly in the latest thriller from #1 New York Times-bestseller John Sandford.

At the local state university, two feuding departments have faced off on the battleground of PC culture. Each carries their views to extremes that may seem absurd, but highly educated people of sound mind and good intentions can reasonably disagree, right?

Then someone winds up dead, and Virgil Flowers is brought in to investigate . . . and he soon comes to realize he’s dealing with people who, on this one particular issue, are functionally crazy. Among this group of wildly impassioned, diametrically opposed zealots lurks a killer, and it will be up to Virgil to sort the murderer from the mere maniacs.

Thanks to NetGalley for this review copy!

No one is getting Virgil’s jokes. This is because he is knee-deep in academia land, investigating the murder of a well-respected but also generally disliked professor. Apparently those who work at the University of Minnesota do not have a well-rounded sense of humor.

Virgil teams up with Detective Trane from the Minnesota police department, a partnership that starts out shaky but solidifies when Virgil proves himself to be an affable companion. Trane is at a dead end until Virgil discovers some evidence that starts the ball rolling, leading to some of the strangest characters ever seen in a Flowers novel.

I felt that the book was slow going until the last third, when the action started to pick up a bit and the loose ends started to come together. There are a lot of characters and subplots, and unless you keep them straight it will end up being confusing.

The plot blurb notes there is an interdepartmental feud going on, but I found that portion of the story a bit underwhelming. There is less going on there than the publisher would have you believe. I feel it would have benefitted the book to have noted there was a murder on campus and Virgil had to deal with a lot of functionally crazy people; after all, the murder does take place in the beginning of the book and the rest is just smoke and mirrors until the end. At times I wanted to skip ahead, looking for more action and less talking, but I was afraid I would miss something.

Flowers novels are like pizza – it may not always be the best tasting, but it’s pizza. Despite the flaws I noted above, it is always good to see what Virgil is doing. Hopefully the next outing will be more suspenseful and action packed.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

Tracking Game by Margaret Mizushima (Timber Creek K-9 #5)

Two brutal murders, a menacing band of poachers, and a fearsome creature on the loose in the mountains plunge Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo into a sinister vortex.
An explosion outside a community dance sends Mattie Cobb and Cole Walker reeling into the night, where they discover a burning van and beside it the body of outfitter Nate Fletcher. But the explosion didn’t kill Nate–it was two gunshots to the heart.
The investigation leads them to the home of rancher Doyle Redman, whose daughter is Nate’s widow, and the object of one of their suspect’s affection. But before they can make an arrest, they receive an emergency call from a man who’s been shot in the mountains. Mattie and Robo rush to the scene, only to be confronted by the ominous growl of a wild predator.

As new players emerge on the scene, Mattie begins to understand the true danger that’s enveloping Timber Creek. They journey into the cold, misty mountains to track the animal–but discover something even more deadly in Tracking Game, the fifth installment in Margaret Mizushima’s Timber Creek K-9 mysteries.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

This is another winner for the author! I’m a big fan of the series about troubled cop Mattie Cobb and her K9 partner, Robo. The love and respect Cobb has for her dog shines through in each book and this one was no exception.

A twisty murder mystery is the setting for this latest installment, with the backdrop of the Colorado mountains looming large as usual. Unique to this story was a subplot of big game hunting and a ferocious big cat on the loose. Mattie must depend on Robo to keep her safe from both human and animal as they track a killer.

We learn a bit more about Mattie’s past – the author loves to peel back the layers bit by bit in each book, which helps develop the character, as well as adding to the reader’s kinship with Mattie. She is a troubled soul, fiercely independent and devoted to her canine companion Robo. The ways in which Mizushima describes their interactions is both heartwarming and jaw-dropping – this German Shepherd is such a smart dog!

I was also happy to see Mattie’s romance with veterinarian Cole Walker developing some more – there is a lot of chemistry between them and he is so good for Mattie’s wounded soul. In fact, there are a few ways that Mattie overcomes some of her fears in TRACKING GAME – I was proud of her for getting out of her comfort zone.

If you love backcountry mysteries, you will love the Timber Creek series. There is just enough fast-paced intrigue plus a little romance to keep nearly every reader interested. This book could be read as a stand-alone, but some of the references will go over the heads of readers. This will not detract from the plot or outcome, but it is always recommended to start with the first book and go from there. I am anxiously awaiting the next mystery from Mizushima; she is one of my favorite authors and I’m always ready to dive into her next work. Grab your copy here!

One Night Gone by Tara Laskowski

One sultry summer in the 1980s, a teenage girl arrived in the wealthy vacation town of Opal Beach to start her life anew—to achieve her destiny. But before the summer was up, she vanished.
Decades later, when Allison Simpson is offered the opportunity to house-sit in Opal Beach, it seems like the perfect chance to regroup and start fresh after a messy divorce. It’s the off-season, after all, which means peace and quiet, and more importantly for Allison, safety.
But when Allison becomes drawn into the story of a girl who disappeared from town thirty years before, she begins to realize that Opal Beach isn’t as idyllic as it seems. Beyond the walls of the gorgeous homes hide dark secrets. And as Allison digs deeper into the mystery, she uncovers not only the shocking truth, but finds herself caught in the middle of a twisted plot.

Part electric coming-of-age story and part breathtaking mystery, One Night Gone is an atmospheric, suspenseful novel about power, privilege, and ultimately, sisterhood.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

This dark story takes place in Opal Beach, a Jersey Shore-like town with authentic details such as the Boardwalk, carnivals, and winter residents (who hate the summer with a passion). These residents are insular and secretive with good reason – a girl went missing years ago and no one knows what happened to her.

When Allison, a disgraced meteorologist, scores a house-sitting job in Opal Beach she discovers just how insular the townfolk can be. The story is told from various points of view, with the main story being that of Allison and her demons. Maureen, the vanished girl, has demons of her own but has a youthful optimism that makes her more appealing than Allison. I was instantly on Maureen’s side and was hoping for a good outcome for her. Allison had her moments, but it seemed that she was slow to make a move due to past events. I understand how she was written, but I wanted her to have a little more backbone. Perhaps she was outshone by the brightness and promise of Maureen. I absolutely loved, loved, loved that Maureen considered herself a mermaid, with her tail flapping at times when she was most confident. It’s too bad that some of that confidence didn’t rub off on Allison.

Allison is befriended by a few friendly residents of Opal Beach and shunned by others. As the plotlines converge and we see characters commit actions in their youth, the reader will find out that what happens in the 80’s does not stay there. The author is skilled at creating the carefree attitude of summer down the shore, both in her character description and the environment. Laskowski is adept at setting a mood with weather; I wondered if that was a subtle nod to Allison. Maureen’s weather is mostly warm, sunny, and full of promise, while Allison’s is bleak and cold. There has been quite a lot of books written with converging multiple points of view, and I may be growing weary of that. However, the author managed to keep my interest going until the plot twists captured my attention – then I didn’t put the book down until it was finished.

The themes of sisterhood and betrayal illuminate just how brutal it can be when women turn on each other. Women grab onto their anger and never let go until the death, either literally or figuratively. ONE NIGHT GONE places the reader firmly in the middle of this anger and doesn’t let go.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

Mother Knows Best by Kira Peikoff

A mother’s worst nightmare, a chance at redemption, and a deadly secret that haunts a family across the generations.
There’s only room for one mother in this family.
Claire Abrams’s dreams became a nightmare when she passed on a genetic mutation that killed her little boy. Now she wants a second chance to be a mother and finds it in Robert Nash, a maverick fertility doctor who works under the radar with Jillian Hendricks, a cunning young scientist bent on making her mark—and seducing her boss.

Claire, Robert, and Jillian work together to create the world’s first baby with three genetic parents—an unprecedented feat that could eliminate inherited disease. But when word of their illegal experiment leaks to the wrong person, Robert escapes into hiding with the now-pregnant Claire, leaving Jillian to serve out a prison sentence that destroys her future.

Ten years later, a spunky girl named Abigail begins to understand that all is not right with the reclusive man and woman she knows as her parents. But the family’s problems are only beginning. Jillian, hardened by a decade of jealousy and loss, has returned—and nothing will stop her from reuniting with the man and daughter who should have been hers. Past, present—and future converge in a mesmerizing psychological thriller from acclaimed bestselling author Kira Peikoff.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

There is science. There is suspense. There is drama. There is also an important element that makes this fiction seem closer to non-fiction.

Claire wants another baby and is willing to go to great lengths to make, I mean to have, one. Against her husband’s wishes, she goes to see fertility specialist Robert Nash. Using a top-secret plausible-in-real-life-sort-of technique, Claire becomes pregnant with Abby, who is considered a “frankenbaby” after Claire’s secret is uncovered. The story jumps back and forth from the POV of Claire, Abby, Nash, and Nash’s assistant Jillian. This technique lets us see each character’s perspective and motivation (be aware, not all of them are altruistic).

The mix of science and family dynamics was done perfectly, and the bad guys are eminently hateable. As I mentioned before, the procedure to create a baby using multiple people’s sperm/eggs seems within reach. This made the book dramatic without focusing on obviously fake science.

As the author shares the character’s flaws and desires, she illustrates the desire to have and protect a child in a poignant and accurate manner. She is adept at creating psychological suspense that appears real, not overly histrionic. Except for the science and the “three-parent creation”, each character’s emotions add to the plot and support the action. Abby behaves exactly the way a kid her age would, exploiting her computer savvy and using the Internet to find answers.

There were a couple of twists in the book, one that seemed obvious and another that was a shocker. I feel there is enough going on to get the reader hooked and wanting to get to the end to see how things turn out. Things get tied up kind of quickly in the end but it was satisfying. If the author continues with her science-backed plots I’ll definitely pick up her next novel.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

Old Bones (Nora Kelly #1) by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

 

The first in the groundbreaking Nora Kelly series from #1 bestselling authors Preston & Child blends the legend of the Donner party with a riveting suspense tale, taking the dynamic duo’s work to new heights.

Nora Kelly, a young but successful curator with a series of important excavations already under her belt, is approached by the handsome historian, Guy Porter, to lead an expedition unlike any other. Guy tells his story–one involving the ill-fated Donner Party, who became permanently lodged in the American consciousness in the winter of 1847, when the first skeletonized survivors of the party stumbled out of the California mountains, replete with tales of courage, resourcefulness, bad luck, murder, barbarism–and, finally, starvation and cannibalism.

Captivated by the Donner Party, Nora agrees and they venture into the Sierra Nevada in search of the camp. Quickly, they learn that the discovery of the missing starvation camp is just the tip of the iceberg–and that the real truth behind those long-dead pioneers is not only far more complex and surprising than they could have imagined…but it is one that puts them both in mortal danger from a very real, present-day threat in which the search for the lost party, and its fabled fortune in gold, are merely means to a horrifying end.

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

OLD BONES is the first of the Nora Kelly series. As you may recall, Nora was the intrepid curator/archaeologist in some of the early Pendergast novels. The authors have decided to give Nora her own series, minus the usual Pendergast characters save one. Newly minted FBI agent Corrie Swanson is here also, investigating a murder.

Nora is on site excavating remains found of the famous Donner Party of 1847. What begins as a typical excavation turns into terror when members of their dig turn up dead. Corrie and the FBI are investigating these murders because they took place on Federal land, plus they tie in with another investigation involving grave robbing. Apparently, the robbed graves were descendants of a member of the Donner Party – but why the interest in them all of a sudden?

The premise sounds thrilling, but the telling of the tale is middling. Much of the action takes place on the dig and seems repetitive. Nora and Corrie butt heads during the course of the investigation and Corrie has to deal with the “good old boys” of law enforcement who mock her lack of experience.

The winning points of OLD BONES are the strong female characters – Nora, Corrie, and Nora’s boss Dr Fugit. It seems as though their characters are drawn well with good backstory, while the men are secondary. You won’t hear a complaint from me; I appreciate the authors giving Nora and Corrie their feisty personalities and strong work ethic.

Most of the book reads like a weak version of a Pendergast novel. I did keep expecting him to pop up somewhere to save the day. Final verdict – not the worst thing by far I’ve read, but just sort of dull. The best parts were the history, albeit gory, of the Donner Party and how they managed to survive.

Nora is a great character and I am looking forward to seeing her handle her next adventure. Perhaps the authors will hit their stride in the next book. Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

 

The Arrangement by Robyn Harding

A Pretty Woman tale turns toxic and deadly in this provocative and riveting thriller of sex, obsession, and murder from Robyn Harding, the “master of domestic suspense” (Kathleen Barber) and the USA TODAY bestselling author of The Party and Her Pretty Face.

Natalie, a young art student in New York City, is struggling to pay her bills when a friend makes a suggestion: Why not go online and find a sugar daddy—a wealthy, older man who will pay her for dates, and even give her a monthly allowance? Lots of girls do it, Nat learns. All that’s required is to look pretty and hang on his every word. Sexual favors are optional.Though more than thirty years her senior, Gabe, a handsome corporate finance attorney, seems like the perfect candidate, and within a month, they are madly in love. At least, Nat is…Gabe already has a family, whom he has no intention of leaving.

So when he abruptly ends things, Nat can’t let go. She begins drinking heavily and stalking him: watching him at work, spying on his wife, even befriending his daughter, who is not much younger than she is. But Gabe’s not about to let his sugar baby destroy his perfect life. What was supposed to be a mutually beneficial arrangement devolves into a nightmare of deception, obsession, and, when a body is found near Gabe’s posh Upper East Side apartment, murder.

Emotionally powerful and packed with page-turning suspense, The Arrangement delves into the sordid, all-too-real world of shadowy relationships between wealthy, powerful men and the young women who are caught in their web.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

Before I read this story, I had no idea what a “sugar baby” was. Now I know, thanks to this mostly forgettable story by the author of THE PARTY. Everyone is entitled to a flopper sometimes, and this one is Harding’s.

Struggling college student Natalie joins the over-the-top world of sugar daddies and babies when she is literally on her last dollar and has nowhere to turn. She is lacking self-confidence, but once she is dressed in designer duds and has a gorgeous older man on her arm, she becomes a sensual viper, living it up and loving every minute of it – even the intimacy. Then Daddy has a change of heart and decides to give all his attention to his beleaguered wife and hippie daughter, so Natalie loses her mind. The rest of the book is about Natalie boozing it up, complete with crying jags, stalking, and unhealthy behavior. Then there is a murder; Natalie is blamed and faces jail time.

At this point the book becomes interesting due to the plot twist and further development of Gabe’s wife. Natalie is a one-dimensional whiny girl who is in over her head, and it was hard to become invested in her future. Gabe was a typical narcissist rich guy, and I could see him dumping Natalie a mile away.

Harding’s writing style is great as usual, but there wasn’t the usual suspense that she is known for in this book. Even the ending with the twist seemed to sputter out and die with no lasting effects. I’m sure there will be lots of people who think I’m nuts for not loving it – but we are all entitled to our own opinion. You can pick up your copy here.

 

The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton

YOU’VE NEVER READ A LOVE STORY AS TWISTED AS THIS.

Juliette loves Nate.
She will follow him anywhere. She’s even become a flight attendant for his airline so she can keep a closer eye on him. They are meant to be.

The fact that Nate broke up with her six months ago means nothing. Because Juliette has a plan to win him back.
She is the perfect girlfriend. And she’ll make sure no one stops her from getting exactly what she wants.

True love hurts, but Juliette knows it’s worth all the pain…

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

This book is so close to the diary of a stalker that you will be simultaneously appalled (jeez, that’s scary!), confused (why can’t she see that he doesn’t care for her?), and sympathetic (she really needs help, I hope she gets it). That combination of emotions didn’t work for me, as the feeling that overpowered everything was disgust. This woman just did not get it. The begging and pleading and duplicity were way too much for me to keep on going. That being said, I did finish the book despite my soul pleading for me to just DNF and move on. The author made a good showing, and I am sure there is a better second book in the works.

I will say the writing is good, the characters were mostly fleshed out and the twist at the end was something I didn’t see coming. The actual ending….meh. I felt that anyone who made it through the slog should have deserved better. The more I think about it, the more I call it a cop-out.

THE PERFECT GIRLFRIEND is one of the few books that I regretted spending time reading, even as I turned the pages. Perhaps if Juliette was less clingy (would that have diluted the story?) or if the book was shorter (there was a lot of plans and wailing and gnashing of teeth). At times it seemed as if the plot consisted of Juliette just breaking into places (some of which seemed nigh impossible) then vacillating between love and hatred for Nate. At least seven instances of that could have been removed to make the book go faster.

I think this book is one you will either love or hate – which one will you be? You can pick up your copy here.

Man of the Year by Caroline Louise Walker

Beware the Man of the Year. You may praise him, resent him, even want to be him: but beneath the elegant trappings that define him, danger looms. Caroline Louise Walker’s stunning debut novel, for fans of Herman Koch’s The Dinner and Shari Lapena’s The Couple Next Door, delves into the increasingly paranoid mind of a man whose life as the most upstanding of citizens hides a relentlessly dark heart.

Dr. Robert Hart, Sag Harbor’s just-named Man of the Year, is the envy of his friends and neighbors. His medical practice is thriving. He has a beautiful old house and a beautiful new wife and a beautiful boat docked in the village marina. Even his wayward son, Jonah, is back on track, doing well at school, finally worthy of his father’s attentions. So when Jonah’s troubled college roommate, Nick, needs a place to stay for the summer, Hart and his wife generously offer him their guest house. A win-win: Jonah will have someone to hang with, and his father can bask in the warm glow of his own generosity.

But when he begins to notice his new houseguest getting a little too close to his wife, the good doctor’s veneer begins to crack. All the little lies Robert tells—harmless falsehoods meant to protect everything he holds dear—begin to mount. Before long, he’s embroiled in a desperate downward spiral, destroying the lives that stand in his way. It’s only the women in his life—his devoted office manager, his friends, his wife—who can clearly see the truth.

Biting and timely, Man of the Year races along at an electric pace, with a wicked twist that you won’t see coming.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

Fans of unreliable narrators – get ready to love this book. Each character looks out for himself (some more than others), tells lies, and behaves oddly, and they all desperately want to avoid punishment for the tragedy that happens in the latter half of the book. The author is generous with tropes (narcissism, infidelity, money, desperation) and it mostly works to create this sometimes fast-paced story. I was not sure if I hated or felt sorry for the main character, the eponymous Man of the Year.

The author is skilled at creating circumstances that change with perception. Each chapter is told in the point of view from each character, so the disconnect between perception is magnified. Some characters get to speak only once, which is jarring. I had to think for a moment or two when a minor character took over the narration. Some of these narrators are never heard from again; they tell their story just for the reader to see things from yet another angle.

Dr. Hart is a tragic figure, cuckolded by his son’s friend, who is staying with the family over the summer. The stereotypical “guest staying in the pool house” provides a convenient location for some activities that muddy the plot and/or provide tension. His wife Elizabeth seems self-centered and vacuous – I am not sure if that was what the author intended, or if she was written that way on purpose. I disliked her almost from the start and did not change my feelings when the book was finished.  However, I did end up disliking the rest of the characters towards the end, regardless of how the plot twisted. At that point, I was heartily sick of everyone’s machinations and drama and self-servitude.

I would give the book four and a half stars, for while the plot was engaging there were a few draggy spots and as mentioned above, some characters faded in and out. This fading caused me to disengage a bit when they reappeared since I thought they were on the fringe, not actually moving the story along.

You can get your own copy here.

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