REVIEW: THE DARKNESS GATHERS, BY LISA UNGER

 

Fresh from a tour promoting her last case, reclusive true crime writer Lydia Strong receives an anonymous cry for help, begging her to find and protect Tatiana Quinn, “and all the other girls in need of rescue.” Maybe the plea strikes close to her heart; maybe her investigator’s intuition starts buzzing. She takes it on.

But this simple case of a missing teenager soon becomes much more. Someone wants Lydia to drop the case, someone powerful, someone anxious enough to engineer the reappearance of one of Lydia’s first–and most dangerous–adversaries. Now, in addition to tracing the roots of Tatiana’s disappearance on a trail across the country and eventually overseas, Lydia must find the man who wants her dead, his unfinished business from years ago.

My Thoughts: A page turner with strong and intriguing characters, The Darkness Gathers brings the reader the same strength and ingenuity we find in the author’s later novels. As we trail Lydia Strong and her partner Jeffrey Mark in their quest to find a missing girl, we soon realize that so much more is at stake. Especially when so many agencies and individuals are trying to stop them, no matter what.

Following the money turns out to be their best way to uncover the truth and lead to the evil hidden in powerful organizations.

Will Lydia and Jeff find Tatiana? Who is behind her kidnapping? What evil lurks within her family?

Chasing down connections to the Albanian mob, sexual slavery, and snuff films keep their lives on a chaotic path, hurling toward danger in the darkness and the shadows.

As a final horror for the two of them, the release from prison of serial killer Jed McIntyre brings them to a terrifying conflict. This novel was a page turner that was intense and interesting, albeit with a few confusing elements. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: EVEN IF IT KILLS HER, BY KATE WHITE

 

Bailey Weggins’ great new friend in college, Jillian Lowe, had everything going for her. Pretty, popular, and whip-smart, she lit up any room that she walked into. All of that dramatically changed during her sophomore year, when a neighbor became unhinged and murdered her family. Jillian immediately left school, and ever since, Bailey has felt guilty for not staying in closer contact and being a greater support to her friend.

Now, sixteen years later, Bailey is shocked to see Jillian at her book event, and even more stunned when her still-gorgeous friend approaches her with a case. The man accused of murdering her family is on the brink of being cleared of the crime through new DNA evidence. With the real killer walking free, Jillian is desperate for Bailey’s help to identify him and allow her the closure she yearns for.

As the two women return to Jillian’s childhood town to investigate, it doesn’t take long for their sleuthing to cause shock waves. Someone starts watching their every move. As they uncover deeply-guarded secrets, so shocking that they make Jillian rethink her entire relationship to her family, Bailey and Jillian find themselves in great peril. They must decide just how much they’re willing to risk to finally discover the truth about the Lowe family’s murder.

My Thoughts: Plunging into a Bailey Weggins mystery always keeps me rapidly turning pages. And in Even If It Kills Her, the story wrapped itself around me and kept holding on until the very end.

All the characters felt like real people, and as Bailey approached each one, I was alert and on guard, because who knew what secrets might provide the answers she needed.

Jillian stayed out of Bailey’s way, opening doors to the people from her past in the small town of Dory, Massachusetts…and for some reason, hung out mostly with old friends Mamie and Blake. At one point, Bailey began to sense something between Jillian and Blake that made her nervous. Was she flirting with him?

There were a lot of persons of interest for Bailey, like Bruce Korda, a former business partner to Mr. Lowe, with whom there had been tension near the end. Then there was Bruce’s stepson, Trevor, who had been fired just before the murders. Reported animosity between others in the town made for intense interactions and the building up of suspicion.

What had happened at the high school years before that might have led to the murder? Was there a big secret that could have been the tipping point? Finding the people with answers kept Bailey going, and in between there were conversations by phone with her boyfriend Beau Regan, who disapproved of her pursuit of a murderer.

At each turn, I thought I had it figured out, and as the danger increased, I waited for the final piece of the puzzle…and then I was stunned to discover the identity of the perpetrator. I hadn’t seen that coming…except when looking back, I realized that it all made sense. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: TWO IF BY SEA, BY JACQUELYN MITCHARD

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It was the night before Christmas in Brisbane, Australia, when the tsunami struck, taking lives and tearing families apart.

Frank Mercy lost his pregnant wife Natalie and several members of her family.

A former cop, Frank is assisting with rescue attempts when he finds two young boys in a purple van, almost submerged by water. The older boy insists that he take the younger one, and he carries him away.

There is something unique about the boy whom he calls Ian. A special gift that calms people down: a kind of telepathy. Has Frank taken him because something in the boy insists on it? Or does he know that he must protect him somehow?

After everything settles down in Brisbane, Frank takes Ian with him to Wisconsin, to his mother, Hope, and his sister Eden. They would settle in at Tenacity Farm and the horses that were part of his life.

At the ranch, Frank helps train the horses…and meets Claudia, a psychiatrist who is also an equestrian. She asks Frank to train her to perform on her horse.

But perhaps Claudia can also help with Ian, whose special gifts may have made him a target for sinister characters.

Two If by Sea was a book that captured my interest, for the most part, although it rambled on for longer than I would have liked, and there were sections, mostly those involving horse training, that I slogged through.

However, I had to keep reading, because I wanted to know what would happen to Frank, to Claudia, and to Ian and his brother Colin, who came to them from an orphanage in Australia.

There were surprises along the way, and a sense of dark foreboding that never lessened. And then, finally, after the whole family moved to England to start over once again, and in the face of a new form of the recurring danger, something truly mystical and triumphant would bring the story to its conclusion. 4 stars.

ratings worms 4-cropped***

REVIEW: THE MELODY LINGERS ON, BY MARY HIGGINS CLARK

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A story of an investment banker, Parker Bennett, who deceived his clients; the aftermath for those who were affected; and the mystery of what happened to the supposedly deceased crook, grabbed me from the first page of The Melody Lingers On.

Lane Harmon is a young interior designer, an assistant to Glady Harper, famed designer to the rich in Connecticut, Manhattan, and nearby wealthy neighborhoods. A single mom to four-year-old Katie, Lane finds herself unexpectedly drawn to Eric Bennett and his mother Anne, who reside in a downsized condo now being renovated by Lane and Glady.

It is obvious that there is considerable question as to whether or not Parker Bennett is actually dead, and if not, how he pulled it all off. There is also question as to how much, if anything, his wife and son knew of his dealings. Various FBI agents and undercover operatives bring out interesting perspectives.

Typically intense, this page turner kept me going, wondering about the answers to what happened, who knew what and when, and what the mysterious music box in Anne’s home had to do with anything.

Of course I had my own guesses about the characters and events, but the author also offers the reader a peek at what went on before the downfall, and we get to watch the mysterious drama unfold. The fun is in wondering just how far the deception went and how much of his family had been privy to his goings-on, as well as who is in danger and who will save the day.

Rating: ratings worms 4-cropped

***

A JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTICAL PAST — A REVIEW

When Raisin Radcliffe leaves London for a small village in France, she is trying to find a way to deal with her relationship woes and the secrets of her past.

When Geoffrey, her brother, joins her, the two set off to explore the surrounding area, including the tunnels that seemingly hold a mystical meaning. Along the way, they also share some memories of their shared childhood.

As they attempt to reconnect, they are unexpectedly drawn into other events in the village. Protestors who have formed a cult-like organization have their own agenda with regard to the tunnels, and in the process, kidnap a young boy. Raisin and Geoffrey immediately become involved in the search.

What dangers will they and other villagers face as they try to find the child and expose the insidious plans of the cult? How does a shepherd named Henri add to their knowledge? What does the “shepherd’s prayer” mean? And how do the wolves figure into the dangerous ceremony planned by the cult members?

The story was fairly fast-paced, although the mid-section bogged down, with a lot of detail that did nothing to advance the story for me. As much as I wanted to see everyone safely back home and for the cult members to pay for their actions, I didn’t like Raisin or Geoffrey very much. To me, they seemed like adolescents rather than adults. The best parts of the story were those dealing with finding the young boy. Shepherd’s Prayer earned three stars from me.