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Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Category: Suspense (page 1 of 6)

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.

Neon Prey by John Sandford (Davenport #29)

Lucas Davenport pursues a prolific serial killer who has gone undetected for years in the newest nail-biter by #1 NewYork Times bestselling author John Sandford.

It was a relatively minor criminal matter, all things considered, but enough that the US Marshals obtained a warrant to enter the home. They didn’t expect to unearth trophies from a score of killings.

Now Davenport is on the trail of a serial murderer, one who was able to operate for years without notice or suspicion. But there’s even more to this killer than meets the eye…

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

It’s hard to believe that this is Davenport’s 29th adventure. He’s gotten shot, stabbed, punched numerous times, and suffered various other indignities. In NEON PREY he and his fellow Marshals Bob and Rae are hot on the heels of a cannibal. Multiple bodies have been found in the yard of Clayton Deese, and the Marshals want to ask him some questions. Deese, however, is not cooperating.

When Lucas and Co. discover that the livers from the bodies are missing, and the barbeque grill from Deese’s house has been used, they realize that they are not looking for a typical run-of-the-mill killer. Bob, Rae, and Lucas share the spotlight equally, which is different from previous books. It almost seems as though Lucas is part of the supporting cast rather than the main character. Even his “cop talk” is secondary to that of Bob and Rae.

Las Vegas is a quirky setting that provides both sparkle and squalor. There is a section of the book where Deese and his crew hang out at a friend’s ramshackle trailer. As I read on, I could hear the banjos from “Deliverance” in the background – it was that eerie!

My thoughts on this one is that it’s a firm middle-of-the-road Prey novel. What stood out for me was that Davenport seems to be feeling his age (both mentally and physically) here. No spoilers; but I was not ready for some of the plot twists. Kudos to the author for keeping his characters human with relevant emotions.

I’d love to know what you think of #29 – leave me a comment with your thoughts. You can pick up your copy here.

 

An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Seeking women ages 18–32 to participate in a study on ethics and morality. Generous compensation. Anonymity guaranteed. 

When Jessica Farris signs up for a psychology study conducted by the mysterious Dr. Shields, she thinks all she’ll have to do is answer a few questions, collect her money, and leave. But as the questions grow more and more intense and invasive and the sessions become outings where Jess is told what to wear and how to act, she begins to feel as though Dr. Shields may know what she’s thinking…and what she’s hiding. As Jess’s paranoia grows, it becomes clear that she can no longer trust what in her life is real, and what is one of Dr. Shields’ manipulative experiments. Caught in a web of deceit and jealousy, Jess quickly learns that some obsessions can be deadly.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

Just like most of the other reviewers, I absolutely loved this book and could not put it down. The plot was immediately interesting despite Jessica’s vacuous personality and poor decision making. Dr Shields was someone I loved to hate, with her internal monologues and her unemotional personality. At times she reminded me of a robot, until she started having feelings – and boy, were they unexpected!

The authors made each character an unreliable narrator, so you are thrown off balance towards the end, where the twists start to happen. The characters’ past affects their future in unexpected ways, and the authors do a great job of showing how tragedy affects people differently. The underlying tension of the morality study’s probing questions juxtaposed with Jessica’s difficulty with her own morals will make you think about your own actions, both past and present.

The psychological scars of each character shape their actions and decisions, giving the impression that we are no better than the sum of our past. As more light is shed on each character and their own past, things start to make sense – sort of. Once we learn Dr Shield’s motivation, the tension ramps up and you simply must devour each page in order to find out what happens next.

I found it quite interesting that the authors chose to have both women be strong characters, with Dr Shield’s husband somewhat of a weak link. He shows up in the book later on and is just as unreliable as the two women. Despite a strong beginning, he is no match for Jessica and Dr Shields as the story line comes to a head.  That being said, all three of these characters manipulate morality for their own benefit.

Dr Shields is a nearly perfect example of someone who needs control at all costs and will go to great lengths to gain it. At times she seemed too perfectly perspicacious, always seeming to be one or two steps ahead of Jessica’s machinations. However, each character has a flaw that can be exploited, and once those flaws are revealed the story starts to twist and turn as the characters unravel. I stayed up all night until I finished AN ANONYMOUS GIRL – it truly was that good. This is the book everyone will be talking about this year – don’t miss it!

You can get your copy here.

The Suspect by Fiona Barton

The new must-read standalone crime thriller from the author of Sunday Times bestseller, The Widow, and the Richard & Judy No. 1 bestseller, The Child – featuring unforgettable journalist, Kate Waters.
The police belonged to another world – the world they saw on the television or in the papers. Not theirs.
When two eighteen-year-old girls go missing on their gap year in Thailand, their families are thrust into the international spotlight: desperate, bereft and frantic with worry.
Journalist Kate Waters always does everything she can to be first to the story, first with the exclusive, first to discover the truth – and this time is no exception. But she can’t help but think of her own son, who she hasn’t seen in two years since he left home to go traveling. This time it’s personal.
And as the case of the missing girls unfolds, they will all find that even this far away, danger can lie closer to home than you might think . . .

Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC!

Fiona Barton still has the touch in this latest Kate Waters mystery. We become a little more acquainted in Kate’s personal life while she is investigating a story of how two girls go missing during a trip to Thailand. During a series of plot twists, Kate becomes part of the journalist’s fodder and experiences what it is like from the other side – knocks on your door day and night, having to hide from the press, and looking over your shoulder all the time.

One of Barton’s hallmarks is that some of her characters are unreliable narrators. Sometimes you don’t find out who is unreliable until you have finished half the story, other times it is painfully obvious. THE SUSPECT is a tale that shifts your perspective on the reliability of a character multiple times. Are the good guys really good? Are you supposed to read between the lines of one girl’s email to her best friend, or is she just sharing her innermost thoughts?

Set in the UK with flashbacks of the girls’ trip to Bangkok, the story unfolds as Kate ingratiates herself with the girls’ parents and tries to uncover what happened to them. Once certain details come to light, Kate is removed from the case and becomes a pariah. The author leads you down a path that makes you certain you know the truth…then swiftly changes the course of your journey.

More sensual tension simmers between Kate and Detective Bob Sparkes, despite the fact that his wife is expected to die from cancer within a few months. His character is wonderfully written, full of conflict, regret and fatigue.

The parents of the missing girls are all rage and accusation, blaming each other even as they cling to the small hope that their daughters are still alive. They turn on each other like vipers, then close ranks against the journalists who seek to create a story out of their pain.

The seedy atmosphere of Bangkok’s underworld is a perfect setting. If I were a parent, I would never want my daughter taking a trip there, regardless of how many friends she had with her. Some other reviews note that there is really nothing good mentioned about Thailand; I feel that is to make the story a bit darker and have the actions of the characters appear insidious.

I’d be interested to see if Barton includes some of the characters from this book in a future one. This was definitely an enjoyable read.

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

Past Tense by Lee Child (Jack Reacher #23)

 

 

Family secrets come back to haunt Jack Reacher in this electrifying thriller from #1 New York Times bestselling author Lee Child, “a superb craftsman of suspense” (Entertainment Weekly). Reacher, the eternal drifter, happens by chance on the small New Hampshire town he remembers his father was supposed to have come from. But when he starts looking for his dad’s old home, he finds there’s no record of anyone named Reacher ever having lived there.

 

 

Thanks to Goodreads for the ARC! This latest outing for Reacher is unputdownable.

This is the first Jack Reacher book in a while that I literally could not stop reading. Our hero is caught up in a small town in New Hampshire attempting to find out information about his father and family tree, and as usual, trouble follows him. There is also a converging plotline about two travelers with a mysterious suitcase. Their car dies and they check into a motel of dubious origin. The author doles out tidbits of information on these people in a way that kept me hooked. Consider eating a single M&M or potato chip….then having to wait for another one. This is exactly how I felt – I was so eager to find out what happened to the couple, what was really going on in that motel, and WHAT THE HELL was in that suitcase!!

In the meantime, Reacher is doing his thing, making friends and enemies along the way. There are some wonderful punch-ups and delicious retribution that will gladden the heart of every Reacher fan. We learn more about Reacher’s family (his father in particular) and the town he grew up in. The description of the town was amazing, as I enjoy urban exploring and wanted to go there right away to walk around this abandoned place. However, the information about Reacher’s dad was probably the weakest part of the plot for me. I may have been expecting more detail or a plot twist, but was satisfied enough with what I got. Minor complaints about a nearly perfect book. It was also refreshing to not have Jack caught up in a passionate but short hookup with one of the available women in town. Sometimes that detracts from the action.

As I said before, this is a nearly perfect book and would work well as a stand-alone for those who have not read this series before. I’m very grateful to the publisher for offering this as a giveaway.

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

After The Bubbles by Susan Berliner

One touch and you’re dead…

One minute, Erin Fredericks is daydreaming in geometry class. The next minute, she’s running for her life. Oddly shaped bubbles are falling from the sky all over the world, transforming everyone who comes into contact with them into extraordinary beings that are no longer human. And these monsters want to kill people, which they can do just by touching them.
Phone systems in the United States immediately fail, followed soon after by the collapse of the power grid. With communication impossible, society disintegrates into chaos as bubble-generated monsters prowl the streets, searching for human prey.
Erin, her family, and her neighbors are trapped in their houses by Cyndy Louise, one of the evolving creatures Erin calls “touchers.” As the situation worsens, Erin and the remaining residents of Walnut Lane—along with a handsome young stranger—must fight for their food, their homes, and their very lives. Facing a seemingly invincible foe, how will they manage to survive?

Many thanks to the author for this ARC!

AFTER THE BUBBLES has a unique science fiction flair to it. A quiet town is disrupted by floating bubbles that transform people into zombie-like creatures with a deadly secret – they can kill merely by touch. This twist provided a spine-chilling effect, sort of like a game of tag where you are no longer “it”, but “dead”. Think about all the close calls the characters have, doing their best to avoid the slightest pressure of the fingertips of these creatures.

Erin Fredericks and her family become trapped inside their house by a neighbor girl that was transformed into a zombie (or Toucher, as Erin names them). She marches up and down the block, effectively jailing people inside their homes. The only thing that affects Touchers is water – so when it rains the prisoners are happy to leave their house and seek food and other human interaction.

As Erin and her other neighbors explore their town, there is a great post-apocalyptic feel to the surroundings – there are dead bodies strewn about in the supermarket, starving dogs roam the streets, and houses are eerily devoid of occupants. Multiple Touchers attempt to stop Erin and the others from finding food or seeking other human contact. As the book progresses, the Touchers get smarter and stronger. The author does an excellent job of conveying the characters’ frustration of being cooped up inside the house, waiting for a rainy day so they can move about freely.

AFTER THE BUBBLES is written in a slightly different style than the author’s other books. It has a slightly YA flair to it, yet it will appeal to readers of all ages. Teen readers will especially identify with Erin’s melancholy, as she wonders if she will ever have a boyfriend or be able to hang out with girls her own age again. Her brother is too young to worry about anything other than video games, while Erin is of an age where she is thinking about more adult things.

The book’s story line alternates between suspense, as Touchers are dealt with, and waiting for rain. I felt that the book could have been trimmed down a bit by eliminating some of those scenes, since there were more than enough passages that conveyed that illustrated the plight of Erin and her family. That is the only issue I had while reading. Otherwise, I was engaged with the characters and hoped they would escape unscathed. The cover states that this story is “Book One” so I know there is more action to come in the future. I will definitely be looking for the second book in the series to find out what happened!

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

 

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