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Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Category: Suspense (page 1 of 7)

Masked Prey by John Sandford

Lucas Davenport investigates a vitriolic blog that seems to be targeting the children of U.S. politicians in the latest thriller by #1 New York Times-bestselling author John Sandford.

The daughter of a U.S. Senator is monitoring her social media presence when she finds a picture of herself on a strange blog. And there are other pictures . . . of the children of other influential Washington politicians, walking or standing outside their schools, each identified by name. Surrounding the photos are texts of vicious political rants from a motley variety of radical groups.

It’s obviously alarming–is there an unstable extremist tracking the loved ones of powerful politicians with deadly intent? But when the FBI is called in, there isn’t much the feds can do. The anonymous photographer can’t be pinned down to one location or IP address, and more importantly, at least to the paper-processing bureaucrats, no crime has actually been committed. With nowhere else to turn, influential Senators decide to call in someone who can operate outside the FBI’s constraints: Lucas Davenport.

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this review copy!

Lots of politicking and Nazi alt-right groups in this Davenport outing. Lucas is still smarting from the bullet he took a few months ago, so when he gets a call from Washington demanding his presence, he is not all that eager to go. What he finds when he gets there is a twisted plot that takes nearly the entire book to resolve.

In the meantime, we have favorite characters Bob and Rae, lots of dialogue which moves the book along, and more information about alt-right groups that you never wanted to know. The book shifts back and forth between multiple subplots, which makes the book a bit draggy in places. Towards the end the action ramps up so that the pages are turning a lot quicker.

Bob and Rae are solid as usual, cracking wise and kicking ass. The scenes in which they help Davenport are some of the most entertaining ones in the book. However, it seems that Lucas was affected by the shooting in which he was wounded, and it shows. He is more thoughtful and less raw. He’s not happy about dealing with the Washington crowd, but handles it with diplomatic aplomb. Is this the start of an older, wiser Lucas Davenport? According to Goodreads at the time of this writing, MASKED PREY was a solid 4 stars. I’m not sure why this book didn’t get that fifth star, unless it was the “new” Lucas.

I enjoyed the book well enough, but I’m going to give it four stars as well. There was a bit too much politics. 20% into the book, when Davenport meets alt-right expert Charles Lang and his assistant Stephen Gibson, Lang reminded me a tiny bit of Hannibal Lecter, but without the shock factor and the gore. Lang seemed to thrive on information, and he was hungry for some all throughout the book. I found those interactions a bit creepy. Now that I think about it, both Lang and Gibson did need to be in the book under the guise of plot thickening, but I still don’t like Lang.

Davenport fans should enjoy this albeit a bit mildly. Hardcore readers will gobble this up and look for more, while first time readers may find it a bit dry. I fall between those groups…that said there is nothing like a good Prey novel to while away the hours. MASKED PREY filled a few hours for me, and I enjoyed it more than mildly….yet not 5 stars worth.

You can pick up your copy here.

Killer Soul Mate by Anne Rothman-Hicks and Kenneth Hicks

Jane Larson is back, and trouble abounds on New York’s Upper East Side!

A new client, Jasmine, hires Jane to undo the terms of a matrimonial agreement with her ex-husband, the owner of a prosperous hedge fund who does not like to lose. At the same time, Jane’s landlord is working to evict her from the storefront law office where her mother had practiced for many years, and Jane is forced to fight to save her mother’s legacy. However, it seems there is no way she can win.

All too soon, the bodies begin to pile up and Jane has to figure out who is responsible before she becomes one of the victims. Meanwhile, a guy named Gary is trying to worm his way into her life, and, even though she thinks he is much too young for he, she starts to fall for him. The problem is that he has a habit of showing up where the murders occur. Can she trust him?

Thanks to the authors for this review copy!

Jane Larson is feeling tired and old. To make matters worse, she is served with papers declaring to evict her from her storefront law office. There is also a younger man named Gary flirting with her at the local Y; Jane keeps telling him to scram. And the current case she is working on is a matrimonial one with ironclad clauses, enough to keep her busy. Her client Jasmine is making sure Jane gets paid top dollar – something she is not used to with her regular clients. Suddenly Gary appears in her office bearing papers discussing legal action against him. Jane just doubled her client load, even if the second client is flirty Gary.

More cases come to Jane quickly, and soon she is super busy. Suddenly Jasmine’s ex-husband’s lawyer Kevin is found dead, and his daughter claims foul play. Jane is drawn into a murder investigation, and that is where things really take off. Flirty Gary seems to always be in the middle of things, whether it’s on the same subway train as Jane, or a bar when Jane and Jasmine are hanging out. What is his deal? And who killed Kevin?

This is Jane Larson’s fourth mystery; she was the main character in WEAVE A MURDEROUS WEB, among others, a few years ago. She is still the same feisty woman that we know and love, however, she is slightly softer and more emotional in this book. I liked how the authors gave her more dimensions here.

There are many characters in KILLER SOUL MATE but they are easy to keep track of, and the twisty plot will keep you turning the pages. Towards the end the action ramps up to tie the loose ends together; once the book ends you will wish it didn’t. I hope the 5th installment of Jane’s adventures comes soon, as this one was fantastic reading.

I loved this book! The authors have a great style of writing that draws you into the story quickly, and they make you truly care about Jane and her clients. The dialogue is captivating, and the character development is thorough; I could picture each one in my head as I raced through the book. I was very invested in Jane and the other characters and was super curious to see how each subplot would be resolved.  I especially enjoyed that the romance between Gary and Jane was kept light; there is nothing that bogs down a good murder mystery than a heavy romance. Kudos to the authors!

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

The Argument by Victoria Jenkins

It happens to every mother. One day, the daughter whose whole world you once were, becomes someone you barely know. And you don’t know the secrets she’s hiding…

One hot summer night, 15-year-old Olivia comes home late from a party she was strictly forbidden from going to, and she and her mother, Hannah, start arguing. Soon Olivia speaks the words that every parent has heard from their teenage child:

‘I hate you. You’ve ruined my life. And I’m never speaking to you again.’

Olivia has never been an easy child, a sharp contrast to her easy-going, happy-go-lucky little sister. But Hannah thinks Olivia’s outburst is the end of a normal family argument. In fact, it’s only the beginning of a nightmare…

After one day of silence, Hannah thinks Olivia is taking a teenage sulk too far. After two days, she starts to feel anxious that something more serious could be going on. After a week, when her daughter still hasn’t spoken, Hannah knows that Olivia is hiding a bigger darkness – something that could threaten to tear their precious family apart…

The Argument is an unputdownable psychological thriller that asks how far we can push our families before they finally break. Perfect for fans of Gillian Flynn, The Woman in the Window, and The Silent Patient.

Thanks to NetGalley for this reviewer’s copy!

The premise of THE ARGUMENT is simple – teenage girl goes out to a party, parents disapprove, teenager tells parents she hates them and refuses to talk to them any more. If it only were that innocent!

Hannah is the stodgy, no-fun mother of Olivia and Rosie. Olivia is a normal 15-year-old testing the boundaries of parental control. Rosie is still young and is the favored child, much to Olivia’s chagrin. Everyone appears to be a reliable narrator so far, despite the titular argument.  The book flows along with minimal ups and downs until about 60% gone – then the first twist is uncovered and Hannah becomes a sympathetic character while Olivia becomes a selfish, annoying little girl, still believing that if her parents didn’t treat her the way they did, she would not have had to sneak out to that party. Soon after that, the second twist happens – hold onto your book, because it’s a doozy! My sympathies changed ever so slightly towards Olivia at this point, despite the fact that she was still a selfish teenager. At this point, I was not putting the book down until it was finished; it was that good! Then the author drops another twist into the mix, making Hannah even more sympathetic.

Hold those emotions close, though, as from here on in they will be changing and spinning out of control. By the end of the book every character but one is deserving of pity, more or less. Each character (except Rosie, who is quite the innocent throughout) has their demons and their false beliefs. One is a narcissist, another is a control freak, and the other is selfish. Actually, they are all selfish and broken in their own way.

THE ARGUMENT is an unputdownable psychological thriller that starts slow, but ends with multiple jaw-dropping twists. The author is adept at creating simmering tension that boils over midway through the book – and the ending will have you shaking your head at Hannah’s final words. I look forward to reading more of the author’s work. You can pick up your copy here.

You Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

You probably know someone like Shay Miller.
She wants to find love, but it eludes her.
She wants to be fulfilled, but her job is a dead end.
She wants to belong, but her life is becoming increasingly isolated.

You probably don’t know anyone like the Moore sisters.
They have an unbreakable circle of friends.
They live a life of glamour and perfection.
They always get what they desire.

Shay thinks she wants their life.
But what they really want is hers.

Thanks to NetGalley for this review copy!

This is a difficult review to write. Overall the book was a pleasant read with areas of suspense, but for the most part the plot took a while to advance and there were a lot of characters to keep straight. It also seemed that Shay was prone to make bad decisions or choose no course of action at all. I found myself wishing that she would have more of a backbone. Towards the end she seemed more in touch with reality, once she figured everything out.

I felt a little uncomfortable with all the stalking Shay did; it advanced the plot, but I kept thinking that there was no way she would have been able to get away with it in real life. I also was anticipating the police (or the sisters) would eventually catch up to her at the worst possible moment.

Multiple characters mean multiple POV’s. This changed with each chapter and at times it was difficult keeping everyone’s story straight, especially some of the more minor characters.

What I did like: The suspense kept building up until the end – the last 25% of the book was the best part. I could not guess the ending until almost the last pages; once I did, I was very glad things turned out the way they did. I enjoyed hating Jody, Shay’s roommate’s girlfriend. She definitely was someone to keep your eyes on and her despicableness did not disappoint.

I enjoyed the authors’ other books and will look forward to reading the next one. They are masters of the psychological twist and you can be sure each book will leave you thinking about the characters for a few days after you are done.

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

The Wives by Tarryn Fisher

Imagine that your husband has two other wives.

You’ve never met the other wives. None of you know each other, and because of this unconventional arrangement, you can see your husband only one day a week. But you love him so much you don’t care. Or at least that’s what you’ve told yourself.
But one day, while you’re doing laundry, you find a scrap of paper in his pocket—an appointment reminder for a woman named Hannah, and you just know it’s another of the wives.
You thought you were fine with your arrangement, but you can’t help yourself: you track her down, and, under false pretenses, you strike up a friendship. Hannah has no idea who you really are. Then, Hannah starts showing up to your coffee dates with telltale bruises, and you realize she’s being abused by her husband. Who, of course, is also your husband. But you’ve never known him to be violent, ever.
Who exactly is your husband, and how far would you go to find the truth? Would you risk your own life?

And who is his mysterious third wife?

Thanks to NetGalley for this review copy!

This is the story of Seth and his three wives. The story is told in the voice of (legally married) wife #2; sometimes amorous, sometimes regretful. Seth explains his polygamy with the explanation that he grew up in Utah and with the sentence I love you all differently but equally. One day wife #2 discovers a piece of paper in Seth’s coat and discovers information about wife #3, named Hannah. Wife #2 snoops some more and tracks her down, eventually, ironically, becoming friends with her. They share breakfasts and family stories without discovering they have a husband in common. However, Hannah starts showing up to their meetings with visible bruises, and wife #2 has questions. Lots of them. Seth has never been violent with her before, and she starts wondering more about the man she married. She also continues to snoop, finding wife #1 on Facebook and other social media sites. It’s like she’s addicted to hurting herself with this information.

The author paints a perfect picture of a woman with a polygamous man; insecure one moment and in love the next. Wife #2’s internal monologues are spot-on, just another woman wondering about what her husband is thinking and what he’s doing when he is away from her. The twist here is that none of the narrators are reliable, and you don’t know what is going to happen next. I thought I had the story straight, then suddenly there was a plot twist and it changed EVERYTHING. After that some things made more sense, while others didn’t make sense at all. I was torn between feeling sorry for wife #2 or thinking about her scornfully. Seth is no gem either, despite the fact that wife #2 keeps hanging on to him even though she is crazy jealous of his other two wives.

This book lived up to all the hype – there is drama and psychological suspense galore. Towards the end, all the characters start to decompensate, which provides for an amazing and shocking ending. I literally spent the entire day reading this book, which is something that I don’t normally do. I’m eagerly awaiting Ms. Fisher’s next work. You can pick up your copy of THE WIVES here.

The Only Child by Mi-ae Seo

An eerie and absorbing novel following a criminal psychologist who has discovered shocking and possibly dangerous connections between a serial killer and her stepdaughter.

Criminal psychologist Seonkyeong receives an unexpected call one day. Yi Byeongdo, a serial killer whose gruesome murders shook the world, wants to be interviewed. Yi Byeongdo, who has refused to speak to anyone until now, asks specifically for her. Seonkyeong agrees out of curiosity.

That same day Hayeong, her husband’s eleven-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, shows up at their door after her grandparents, with whom she lived after her mother passed away, die in a sudden fire. Seonkyeong wants her to feel at home, but is gradually unnerved as the young girl says very little and acts strangely.

At work and at home, Seonkyeong starts to unravel the pasts of the two new arrivals in her life and begins to see startling similarities. Hayeong looks at her the same way Yi Byeongdo does when he recounts the abuse he experienced as a child; Hayeong’s serene expression masks a temper that she can’t control. Plus, the story she tells about her grandparents’ death, and her mother’s before that, deeply troubles Seonkyeong. So much so that Yi Byeongdo picks up on it and starts giving her advice.

Written with exquisite precision and persistent creepiness, The Only Child is psychological suspense at its very best.

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

THE ONLY CHILD is a very dark book that explores the mind of a fictional serial killer while contrasting his behavior with Hayeong, the main character’s stepdaughter. Seonkyeong is a criminal psychologist who is summoned to prison to interview the notorious killer Yi Byeongdo. As she delves deeper into his mind through his stories, she notices how his mannerisms mirror that of 11-year-old Hayeong, who has recently come to live with her and her husband after a fire destroys her house.

The story is told from multiple points of view, with a concerted effort to make Byeongdo appear somewhat sympathetic. Hayeong is a manipulative little girl and I disliked her immediately. Seonkyeong’s husband brings his daughter into the house and soon becomes an absentee father, only seeing the “good” side of the girl.

The plot could have used a bit of tightening up, as it takes a while to establish Hayeong’s dark side. There is a longish portion regarding the “punishment” of a cat which could have been shorter yet still convey the latent evil that was lurking that day. There is also a series of dithering by Seonkyeong in which she alternately fears the girl, then feels sorry for her due to the tragedies that have befallen her. She seems almost blind to the danger that Hayeong poses to her family.

Most of the action occurs around the last 15% of the book, as the serial killer escapes jail while the tension between the psychologist and the girl comes to a head. The ending itself is a shocker yet I felt it wasn’t a surprise.

None of these characters are truly given life; I am not sure if it is due to the original work being translated, or if it is the writer’s style. (Click here for information on more Korean mysteries being translated into English.) There is only the briefest of backstory and Seonkyeong is not portrayed as a strong female character. Certainly someone of her background would have better sense regarding Hayeong’s penchant for evil. Again, this could be due to the culture, as Asian women are not known for taking the lead and being dominant. In any case, I wish she had been given more of a backbone, especially as she began discovering Hayeong’s secrets.

I would like to see a sequel to this book to see what happens next with the characters. The ending does leave room for another story, and I can imagine different plot twists taking place. All in all, not a bad read. Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

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!

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