REVIEW: HER LAST GOODBYE, BY MELINDA LEIGH

 

Young mother Chelsea Clark leaves the house for a girls’ night out…and vanishes. Her family knows she would never voluntarily leave her two small children. Her desperate husband—also the prime suspect—hires Morgan to find his wife and prove his innocence.

As a single mother, Morgan sympathizes with Chelsea’s family and is determined to find her. She teams up with private investigator Lance Kruger. But the deeper they dig, the deadlier their investigation gets. When Morgan is stalked by a violent predator, everything—and everyone—she holds dear is in grave danger.

Now, Morgan must track down a deranged criminal to protect her own family…but she won’t need to leave home to find him. She’s his next target.

My Thoughts: From the very first page of Her Last Goodbye, I was immersed in this newest story in the Morgan Dane Series.

Morgan and Lance have a new client, Tim Clark, whose wife Chelsea has gone missing, and they are concerned because of the Sheriff’s attitude of focusing primarily on Tim as a suspect. Their work is cut out for them; finding Chelsea and smoothing the Sheriff’s ruffled feathers. Tim worked at a company called Speed Net, and checking out the employees was one of their first steps.

Chelsea is an alternate narrator in this story, so we know right away that she has been abducted. From her perspective, we learn that she is chained inside some kind of container with no windows, and that her abductor wears a mask.

Juggling the care of her three daughters with this newest case, and also handling health issues now arising with her grandfather, Morgan is even more stressed than usual.

So when one of their suspects seems to be stalking Morgan, the intensity ratchets up…and even after their investigation moves forward, greater potential harm to Morgan comes out of left field. Who is the perpetrator, and why is he now targeting Morgan? Could he be one of the sex offenders in the area, or someone they had previously overlooked? After running investigations on numerous employees, Morgan inadvertently stumbled upon an omission that could make all the difference.

Rather than risk further run-ins with the Sheriff, Morgan and Lance try something very dangerous…which leads to success.

I literally held my breath through many scenes in this book, so I am definitely giving this one 5 stars.

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REVIEW: A STRANGER IN THE HOUSE, BY SHARI LAPENA

Karen and Tom Krupp are happy—they’ve got a lovely home in upstate New York, they’re practically newlyweds, and they have no kids to interrupt their comfortable life together. But one day, Tom returns home to find Karen has vanished—her car’s gone and it seems she left in a rush. She even left her purse—complete with phone and ID—behind.

There’s a knock on the door—the police are there to take Tom to the hospital where his wife has been admitted. She had a car accident, and lost control as she sped through the worst part of town.

The accident has left Karen with a concussion and a few scrapes.  Still, she’s mostly okay—except that she can’t remember what she was doing or where she was when she crashed. The cops think her memory loss is highly convenient, and they suspect she was up to no good. 

Karen returns home with Tom, determined to heal and move on with her life. Then she realizes something’s been moved. Something’s not quite right. Someone’s been in her house. And the police won’t stop asking questions.

Because in this house, everyone’s a stranger. Everyone has something they’d rather keep hidden. Something they might even kill to keep quiet.

My Thoughts: A story that wrapped itself around me from the first page, A Stranger in the House takes us into the world of Karen and Tom, living in upstate New York in a lovely neighborhood. But then, one night, everything changed.

Karen’s accident in a sketchy neighborhood left her with amnesia, but also with detectives appearing on her doorstep regularly, asking questions, looking at her as if they don’t believe her. They even turn their skepticism on Tom. Because now it is not just an investigation into an accident, but something more happened that night, and Karen and Tom are both looking like suspects.

Across the street, Brigid is watching, too. Supposedly Karen’s best friend, she has secrets…and reasons to keep them. Why is she obsessed with Tom and Karen?

Besides the cops and the investigation, there is more. Who is skulking around in Karen’s house, moving things, messing things up just enough that she will know it?

I am one of those people who always knows when someone has moved my things, just a bit. It drives me mad! Karen cleverly has started taking photos before she leaves the house. What will she discover?

A captivating story that held me in its grip until the very end, not knowing who to trust and who might be the stranger in the house. Then came a stunning twist I did not expect. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: HEARTBREAK HOTEL, BY JONATHAN KELLERMAN

 

At nearly one hundred years old, Thalia Mars is a far cry from the patients that child psychologist Alex Delaware normally treats. But the charming, witty woman convinces Alex to meet with her in a suite at the Aventura, a luxury hotel with a checkered history.

What Thalia wants from Alex are answers to unsettling questions—about guilt, patterns of criminal behavior, victim selection. When Alex asks the reason for her morbid fascination, Thalia promises to tell all during their next session. But when he shows up the following morning, he is met with silence: Thalia is dead in her room.

When questions arise about how Thalia perished, Alex and homicide detective Milo Sturgis must peel back the layers of a fascinating but elusive woman’s life and embark on one of the most baffling investigations either of them has ever experienced. For Thalia Mars is a victim like no other, an enigma who harbored nearly a century of secrets and whose life and death draw those around her into a vortex of violence.

My Thoughts: Heartbreak Hotel begins with an apparently straightforward meeting between Alex Delaware and an almost one-hundred-year-old woman, and then veers off into a series of murders, all seemingly connected to her in some way.

How did Thalia become so wealthy, when her career as a CPA seemed to suggest a more modest financial portfolio? Who are the seemingly nefarious people surrounding her through the years, and what, if anything, does a certain mobster have to do with her wealth? And with her death? Could an unsolved jewel heist in Beverly Hills bring in more possible suspects?

I always enjoy watching Alex and Milo work their cases, seemingly finding connections when others cannot. The author also shows us a peek into their personal lives, like Alex’s longstanding relationship with Robin, and their gorgeous house in Beverly Glen, and Milo Sturgis’s long term relationship with Rick, a doctor.

Sometimes I believe that Alex and Milo have nothing else to do but work on whatever case has taken over a particular book…but then we see them juggling other cases, too, forming a somewhat realistic picture of their days.

I started to get a little dizzy from all the possibilities in this book, but then as we began checking off the red herrings, I was almost ready to guess what person or persons in the past had come back to haunt poor Thalia. Almost. But there were some final surprises in this enjoyable book that earned 4 stars.

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REVIEW: SUNDAY MORNING COMING DOWN, BY NICCI FRENCH

Psychotherapist Dr Frieda Klein once again finds herself in the midst of a criminal investigation when the rotting body of an ex-policeman is found beneath the floorboards of her house.

The corpse is only months old but the main suspect, murderer Dean Reeve, died over seven years ago.

As the killer picks off his next victims and her home is turned into a crime scene, Frieda’s old life seems like a hazy dream.

With eyes of the world upon her and no answers from the police, Frieda realizes that she will have to track this killer before he tracks down those she loves.

My Thoughts: I have been a fan of this series from the very first outing. Some readers find Frieda Klein to be unlikable, but I am not one of them. Yes, she is determined, and she pursues her goals, even when others disagree with her; she has no qualms about telling others when they are wrong. She is almost always right, too, which annoys the police.

She loves London, and her famous walks through the streets when she is trying to think, to solve a problem, are a big part of her routines. She is a bit obsessive in these routines, but as a reader, I take comfort in how she goes through her days following these patterns. I can count on her to take certain actions when others will not.

I also like how she enjoys her cozy mews house, so when this book opens with the discovery of a dead body under the floor boards of that house, we know that Frieda will be deeply affected.

But what happens next will be even more disturbing. Someone appears to be copying Frieda’s nemesis Dean Reeve, the perpetrator in previous murders that the police do not believe is still alive. Now her friends and loved ones are being targeted. That same Someone is sending Frieda a message. When she figures out who, someone the police have not even suspected, she has a hard time convincing them.

One more person, a police detective, almost dies before they finally get the message.

But will the perpetrator be captured? Will the police finally find Dean Reeve? The ending left me in a quandary. Is the series done, leaving so many loose ends? Or will there be another outing? No matter what, I loved this series and Sunday Morning Coming Down. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: GIRL IN SNOW, BY DANYA KUKAFTA

When a beloved high schooler named Lucinda Hayes is found murdered, no one in her sleepy Colorado suburb is untouched—not the boy who loved her too much; not the girl who wanted her perfect life; not the officer assigned to investigate her murder. In the aftermath of the tragedy, these three indelible characters—Cameron, Jade, and Russ—must each confront their darkest secrets in an effort to find solace, the truth, or both. In crystalline prose, Danya Kukafka offers a brilliant exploration of identity and of the razor-sharp line between love and obsession, between watching and seeing, between truth and memory.

My Thoughts: Flowing back and forth in time, via alternating narrators, the life and death of a young teenager living in a small Colorado town is shown through the eyes of her watchers; and then we follow their meandering and introspective thoughts about their own lives.

Who were these watchers, and which of them could have taken her life? Or could the perpetrator be someone completely different, someone not on our radar at all?

Cameron was described by other students as a stalker and a boy most likely to bring a gun to school. Actually, he was a budding artist and loved drawing what he could see.

Jade is an abused girl, someone unafraid to push her way into the inner circles, only to be ignored or taunted. She believes that Lucinda stole her boyfriend. Throughout, we see snippets of her writing in the form of a screenplay.

Russ, a police officer, has some secrets from the past. He once had a partner named Lee Whitley, Cameron’s dad, whose actions led to an arrest and his disappearance from town. What had Russ been willing to do to cover for his partner?

Girl in Snow kept me engaged throughout, although it was sometimes difficult to connect with the characters; we saw them only in bits and pieces, and sometimes, like a shift in a kaleidoscope, we watched them morph abruptly into the past.

I was surprised by the reveal at the end, and while it made sense, there were no hints of this person’s culpability ahead of time. After the revelations, there were moments in which we saw the lives of the other characters as they started to move on. I did like knowing what was ahead for them. 4 stars.

***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: THE SECRETS YOU KEEP, BY KATE WHITE

 

What would you do if you realized that your new husband, a man you adore, is keeping secrets from you—secrets with terrifying consequences?

Bryn Harper, an accomplished self-help author, already has plenty to deal with. She’s still recovering from a devastating car accident that has left her haunted by recurring, smoke-filled nightmares. Worse still, she can’t shake the ominous feeling her dreams contain a warning. 

In the beginning, Bryn’s husband Guy couldn’t have been more supportive. But after moving into a new house together, disturbing incidents occur and Guy grows evasive, secretive. What the hell is going on, she wonders? Then, a woman hired to cater their dinner party is brutally murdered.

As Bryn’s world unravels—and yet another woman in town is slain —she must summon her old strength to find answers and protect her own life. Her nightmares may in fact hold the key to unlocking the truth and unmasking the murderer.

My Thoughts: What an exciting premise! I was captivated by the unfolding scenarios in The Secrets You Keep. There were so many characters to distrust that it was impossible to pinpoint who might be a murderer. But in the midst of it all, we also learned a lot more about some past events: the night of Bryn’s car accident and what her colleague, Paul, was trying to tell her, leading to understanding the disturbing elements of her nightmares.

From the beginning, I didn’t like Guy. He was too mercurial, with charming overtures that rapidly turned sullen; lashing out at the slightest questioning was another familiar reaction.

Eve, the caterer, was also blatantly unlikable, making her a target for my suspicion. There were also a handful of characters that I didn’t like, but who turned out not to figure into the murder mystery.

I was a little surprised that one of the annoying characters turned out to be the perpetrator, but I like not being able to guess everything right away. I would have enjoyed a closer look into Bryn’s world as an author, so I gave this one 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE CUTAWAY, BY CHRISTINA KOVAC

 

The Cutaway draws you into the tangled world of corruption and cover-up as a young television producer investigates the disappearance of a beautiful Georgetown lawyer in this stunning psychological thriller, perfect for fans of Paula Hawkins and Gillian Flynn.

When brilliant TV news producer Virginia Knightly receives a disturbing “MISSING” notice on her desk related to the disappearance of a beautiful young attorney, she can’t seem to shake the image from her head. Despite skepticism from her colleagues, Knightly suspects this ambitious young lawyer may be at the heart of something far more sinister, especially since she was last seen leaving an upscale restaurant after a domestic dispute. Yet, as the only woman of power at her station, Knightly quickly finds herself investigating on her own.

Risking her career, her life, and perhaps even her own sanity, Knightly dives deep into the dark underbelly of Washington, DC business and politics in an investigation that will drag her mercilessly through the inextricable webs of corruption that bind the press, the police, and politics in our nation’s capital.

My Thoughts: The Cutaway was a gripping story that kept me fascinated throughout, beginning with the up close and personal look at how television news stories are developed, including the live shots and the video clips that bring a finished product to the viewers. The danger, the intensity, and the insider politics make the story even more compelling. Set in Washington, D.C., we also get an insider view of how corruption breeds within a system, including how funding PACs can be made up of “dark” money.

The characters were especially captivating, beginning with Virginia, whose skill kept me going. I also enjoyed her close familial-like ties with her staff, like Ben, the evening news anchor, who might have turned into a romantic connection. Then there were those like Isaiah, who had been around a long time, and who were loyal…but who could also be tempted to stray when their own careers seemed to be threatened.

Nick Mellay, the news director, was a weasel, IMO. Quick to think of his own needs above others, he turned Virginia’s job upside down, demoting her for his own reasons…carrying out his own selfish plan. Seeing him get a comeuppance was worth the read.

How will Virginia connect the dots when some of her sources have their own dark agendas? What will happen when she comes face-to-face with the killer? Will the story be worth all the drama? Many odd twists and turns finally bring a solution, but I didn’t guess the identity of the killer until she was right in front of me.

Definitely a 5 star read for me.

***

REVIEW: RAINY DAY WOMEN, BY KAY KENDALL

 

Kay Kendall’s RAINY DAY WOMEN is the second book in the Austin Starr Mystery series. In 1969, during the week of the Manson murders and Woodstock, the intrepid amateur sleuth, infant in tow, flies across the continent to support a friend suspected of murdering women’s liberation activists in Seattle and Vancouver. Then her former CIA trainer warns that an old enemy has contracted a hit on her. Her anxious husband demands that she give up her quest and fly back to him. How much should Austin risk when tracking the killer puts her and her baby’s life in danger?
My Thoughts: Having enjoyed Book One in this series, I was eager to rejoin amateur sleuth Austin Starr. Following along in her adventures in Vancouver, I loved how the reader is introduced to the early feminist struggles via a women’s group.

As a backdrop to Rainy Day Women, the vernacular of the 60s, the music, and the Woodstock festival, along with the Sharon Tate murders, offer up a real taste of what life was like back then.

Austin is an interesting character, determined and skilled at following clues. She was also a little bit naïve, but she made up for it by pushing ahead fearlessly. Her husband, David, opposed to her activities, seemed to take on the thoughts and feelings of a lot of men back then, worried and overly-protective.

Larissa, the daughter of a Russian immigrant, Professor Klimenko, was different in this outing. Previously, while in Toronto, she had been awed by Austin, but in this setting, and probably because she was a suspect in her friend Shona’s murder, she seemed brusque and irritable.

As Austin accompanied Larissa to the women’s lib group, she met other friends of Shona’s, and also a few rivals in the group. How did Shona’s former roommate Mia fit into what happened to her? Were her brashness and her violent ups and downs a factor? How does Becky, another woman in the group, recently separated from her controlling husband, add to the questions Austin has? Did Shona’s ex-boyfriend Jack have a motive to have killed her? Or would the answers lie closer to home in the chemistry lab, with the graduate students?

I did enjoy watching Austin zero in on the killer, and in an exciting finale, bring justice for her friend and the other women in the group. In the end, there were also unresolved threads in the form of an ex-US Senator who had been tailing her. I can see a Book Three on the horizon. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE VANISHING YEAR, BY KATE MORETTI

 

 

Zoe Whittaker is living a charmed life. She is the beautiful young wife to handsome, charming Wall Street tycoon Henry Whittaker. She is a member of Manhattan’s social elite. She is on the board of one of the city’s most prestigious philanthropic organizations. She has a perfect Tribeca penthouse in the city and a gorgeous lake house in the country. The finest wine, the most up-to-date fashion, and the most luxurious vacations are all at her fingertips.

What no one knows is that five years ago, Zoe’s life was in danger. Back then, Zoe wasn’t Zoe at all. Now her secrets are coming back to haunt her.

As the past and present collide, Zoe must decide who she can trust before she—whoever she is—vanishes completely.

 

My Thoughts: From the first pages of The Vanishing Year, I was caught up in Zoe’s world, both the current charmed life and the one she escaped. I could visualize the criminals who might be pursuing her, even now.

As Zoe begins to experience moments in her present life that collide with the past, we learn more about who she really was…back then. About her adoption by Evelyn, about her birth mother, and the most shocking secret of all that comes when she meets her birth mother.

In her present life, there is her friend Lydia, with whom she worked in a small flower shop…before Henry.

Then there is Cash, a journalist who wrote an article about an event she produced…and who has turned into someone she trusts. Someone who is helping her. But he is someone Henry hates.

How do the strange and frightening events happening in her new life connect with the old one? Who has decided to target her and terrify her all over again? Why does Henry seem to monitor her every activity, and why is he enraged when she questions him?

I had my own ideas about who was behind a lot of what was happening to Zoe…and when the truth started to unfold, I realized that it was all a lot more convoluted than I had imagined. A book I could not put down, I give this one a resounding 5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE OTHER WIDOW, BY SUSAN CRAWFORD

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The car skidded and crashed, right after Joe Lindsay told his lover Dorrie Keating that they had to end their affair, that they were in danger.

Somehow Dorrie escapes the car unscathed, except for a small cut on her forehead. But Joe has died. His airbag failed to open, and after checking on his condition, she slipped out. She has a marriage and a daughter to protect.

So begins The Other Widow, a story set in Boston, and an intricate tale of deception, lies, secrets, and murder. A story populated with characters who were so engaging that I found myself rooting for them all. Except for one or two, of course.

Joe was co-owner of a company called Home Runs Renovations, and Dorrie was one of his up and coming employees. She had a head for numbers and a mind for putting facts together, so Joe had left her a little clue in a phone message. A link that took her to an individual, and some very big questions.

Karen, Joe’s wife, had just found out about his affair, but had not confronted him. On the day of the accident, she and her best friend Alice had been having a meal. She saw the wrecked car, and feared it might be Joe’s old Audi. Alone, desperate, she reaches out to an old friend, Tomas, whom she suspects might have feelings for her. She is not sure what she feels for him, though, and hesitates before going too far.

Enter Maggie Brennan, an investigator for the insurance company. A former cop who had also served in the military in Iraq, she is dedicated to finding answers. Nothing about the case feels right, and she is dogged and persistent.

Edward Wells, Joe’s partner, had been his friend since college. Karen had always believed he was someone who cared about her, someone she could trust. But somebody in the company has been doing something wrong. The numbers are off, suggesting embezzlement, and Karen cannot believe that the culprit was Joe. Despite his marital deception, he was basically a good person.

So…the three women are all separately seeking answers, and as their lives begin to intersect, and as they start uncovering bits and pieces of the truth, they each sense a presence: that someone is watching. Following. And in a startling moment, just before someone almost pushes Dorrie to her death, the truth begins to reveal itself. Who among the possible characters could have set all these events in motion? I was suspicious of one character all along, but another one was totally a surprise…until the end. And even then, I had some remaining doubts about another character’s involvement. Definitely a book I will remember and ponder, now that I’ve turned the final page. 5 stars.

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