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.

***
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REVIEW: TWO GIRLS DOWN, BY LOUISA LUNA

 

As addictive, cinematic, and binge-worthy a narrative as The Wire and The Killing, Two Girls Down introduces Louisa Luna as a thriller writer of immense talent and verve.

When two young sisters disappear from a strip mall parking lot in a small Pennsylvania town, their devastated mother hires an enigmatic bounty hunter, Alice Vega, to help find the girls.

Immediately shut out by a local police department already stretched thin by budget cuts and the growing Oxycontin and meth epidemic, Vega enlists the help of a disgraced former cop, Max Caplan. Cap is a man trying to put the scandal of his past behind him and move on, but Vega needs his help to find the girls, and she will not be denied.

With little to go on, Vega and Cap will go to extraordinary lengths to untangle a dangerous web of lies, false leads, and complex relationships to find the girls before time runs out, and they are gone forever.

 

My Thoughts: Alice Vega is an interesting character: tough, vulnerable, damaged, and with a great track record for finding missing people. Two Girls Down first shows her in her home in Central California as she goes through her yoga routine. We follow her thoughts as she connects with someone who wants to hire her to find two missing girls in the Pennsylvania small town of Denville.

Jamie Brandt knows she is not the best mother. She is impatient and feels burdened by the task of rearing her two girls, Kylie, 10, and Bailey, 8. But she is devastated by the loss of them, and we watch her go through the emotional wringer over the days that follow.

Once Vega arrives and connects with the police, she realizes she must find another way, since they are “locking her out,” claiming they don’t work with civilians. She finds a PI named Max Caplan, a former cop, and the two of them take on the task together.

Alternating narratives take us along for the ride as they find potential suspects, people who might have connected with the girls. They watch videos of the scene where they disappeared; they talk to witnesses; and connect the dots. Eventually the police and FBI let them in, and the collaboration is often frustrating, but productive.

Their search takes them to the ramshackle homes of druggies and dealers…and then, finally, to some wealthy habitats where the darkest secrets hide. What will they discover? Who is behind the elaborate taking of the two young girls, and how do their kidnappings connect to others in the state? An engaging story that was sometimes confusing to follow, this one earned 4 stars.***

REVIEW: HOME, BY HARLAN COBEN

A decade ago, kidnappers grabbed two boys from wealthy families and demanded ransom, then went silent. No trace of the boys ever surfaced. For ten years their families have been left with nothing but painful memories and a quiet desperation for the day that has finally, miraculously arrived: Myron Bolitar and his friend Win believe they have located one of the boys, now a teenager. Where has he been for ten years, and what does he know about the day, more than half a life ago, when he was taken? And most critically: What can he tell Myron and Win about the fate of his missing friend? Drawing on his singular talent, Harlan Coben delivers an explosive and deeply moving thriller about friendship, family, and the meaning of home.

My Thoughts: From the first page, Home captures the reader. Win is in London and, following up on an anonymous e-mail, stumbles upon a situation involving a teenage boy who may be Patrick Moore. In his inimitable fashion, he attacks the men with the boy, but then the boy disappears. He calls upon Myron’s help back in the states, who quickly joins him.

How the two men finally catch up with the boy again and “rescue” him kept me enthralled, even though I don’t usually enjoy the antics of guys wanting to show their machismo.

For the rest of the story, we alternate between Win and Myron’s narratives, and we are back and forth between Europe and the states. There are meetings with the parents, whose behavior seems strange in light of recent developments. Why are Patrick’s parents so determined to keep him away from everyone? Why haven’t they done a DNA test? How does Patrick seem to be so up-to-date with contemporary life? Where is Rhys?

Finding the answers kept me turning pages, as even when parts of the story were less interesting to me, I did want to know what had happened, and whether or not Patrick was really the boy who had been kidnapped. By the end, the twists and turns that brought us to resolution reminded me of what Myron and Win always said: Sometimes you have to start at the beginning to figure out the truth. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE WIDOW, BY FIONA BARTON

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Glen and Jean Taylor might have seemed like an ordinary couple at some point, but their lives in this tidy suburb of London have just gone off the rails.

A little girl named Bella Elliott has gone missing, and inexplicably, at least to Glen and Jean, he is the prime suspect. They are now hounded by police, reporters, and angry strangers. Hiding in their home is not even possible, once Glen is arrested and begins to stand trial. He is proclaiming his innocence, and Jean is standing by him.

In order to fully understand his point of view, of course, we have only to watch and wait, as various characters share their perspectives: Detective Bob Sparkes and his associates; reporter Kate Waters; the missing child’s mother, Dawn; and Jean herself.

The story moves back and forth through time, starting in the early years of the Taylor marriage, when the roles were set: Glen, the one in power, with Jean, the housewife and submissive one.

But things shifted at some point, perhaps when their childlessness became an issue. Jean is devastated about not having a baby, and Glen is the infertile one. Could Jean have somehow persuaded Glen to “get” the child for her? Is Bella the baby she has always wanted?

The focus on Glen has come about primarily because of the sighting of his van in the child’s neighborhood around the time she was taken…and his Internet porn addiction.

When we are swept forward in time, to the present, something major has changed. Glen has been struck by a bus and killed. An accident? At any rate, now the police and reporters take a different tack. Maybe they can get Jean to talk. Maybe they can finally find Bella.

The past and the present finally converge and we are moving forward to a moment of enlightenment. What the police have “known” all along but couldn’t prove might finally be forthcoming.

Jean was a puzzling character. Sometimes she seemed like a victim, while at other times, I thought of her as sneaky and manipulative. Glen always felt like a predator, and his behavior seemed creepy and like that of a sociopath; in addition to denial of any wrong-doing, he adamantly maintained the persona of the innocent victim. I liked DI Bob Sparkes, but Kate Waters seemed to push her own agenda with the use of charm and by pretending to befriend her subject. She seemed untrustworthy, wanting to get the story, no matter what the consequences. The Widow was an intriguing story that had very little of mystery about it, except for the details of how it all went down. 4.5 stars.

*** An e-ARC was provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

CURL UP WITH “WHAT WAS MINE”

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Welcome to another Waiting on Wednesday event, hosted by Jill, at Breaking the Spine.

Every week, we gather around the blogosphere and search out the upcoming book releases, sharing our thoughts and blurbs.  Today I am eagerly awaiting a book from an author I have never read, but I love the sound of this one.

What Was Mine, by Helen Klein Ross, is the story of a woman who kidnaps a baby in a superstore…and gets away with it for twenty-one years.  This book was actually released today, January 5, 2016...and I can’t wait to get it.

 

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Lucy Wakefield is a seemingly ordinary woman who does something extraordinary in a desperate moment: she takes a baby girl from a shopping cart and raises her as her own. It’s a secret she manages to keep for over two decades—from her daughter, the babysitter who helped raise her, family, coworkers, and friends.

When Lucy’s now-grown daughter Mia discovers the devastating truth of her origins, she is overwhelmed by confusion and anger and determines not to speak again to the mother who raised her. She reaches out to her birth mother for a tearful reunion, and Lucy is forced to flee to China to avoid prosecution. What follows is a ripple effect that alters the lives of many and challenges our understanding of the very meaning of motherhood.

Author Helen Klein Ross, whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, weaves a powerful story of upheaval and resilience told from the alternating perspectives of Lucy, Mia, Mia’s birth mother, and others intimately involved in the kidnapping. What Was Mine is a compelling tale of motherhood and loss, of grief and hope, and the life-shattering effects of a single, irrevocable moment.

***

What do you think?  Does this story grab you?

***

REVIEW: THE EDGE OF NORMAL, BY CARLA NORTON

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It has been ten years since Reeve LeClaire was kidnapped and held captive. For the past six years, since her rescue, she has been trying to recover, with the help of her therapist, Dr. Ezra Lerner.

Living in San Francisco, miles away from Seattle where the abduction happened, she is truly starting over. But there are still many issues. Not quite normal, she is still on the edge.

Then a series of abductions in Northern California require the assistance of Dr. Lerner, when one girl is found and brought home. Dr. Lerner asks Reeve to accompany him, to act as a mentor for little Tilly.

They share a bond, these two. But then Tilly reveals a dark secret to Reeve. A secret she is sworn not to tell anyone. Will keeping Tilly’s secret endanger Reeve’s life? And who is the master mind behind the kidnappings? What unique qualities does he possess that enable him to fly beneath the radar and evade suspicion? How is he able to successfully carry out his machinations without anyone noticing?

An intense, page-turning psychological thriller, The Edge of Normal was truly a nail-biting tale, with chapters bringing multiple narrators, including the voice of the master mind. Just when everything seems to be coming together, there are more surprises ahead.

Many of the characters were unlikeable, and while Reeve was definitely someone with whom I could engage, some of her behaviors were foolhardy and risky. Too much so for someone with her history, in my opinion. But I enjoyed the story and could not put it down. 4.5 stars.

FINDING LOST THINGS

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Slate is a man trying to recover from the loss of his family in an accident. He accomplishes this partly by changing many aspects of his life, which leads to selling the family home, buying a beach bar, and also a sailboat. His new residence.

A lawyer by profession, Slate now likes to take on missing persons cases. He likes finding lost things.

His newest one involves a missing teenaged girl, Kris Kramer. Her father Don has hired Slate, but Slate has barely started his investigation when Don Kramer is found murdered.

Now Slate’s job has gotten a whole lot harder, and as he discovers more and more about some of Kramer’s business dealings, he realizes the complexity of the task he has taken on. Plus, there are those who are desperately trying to warn him off the case.

How will Slate find what he needs to solve the case? Who will he connect with along the way, and what individuals/agencies will turn out to be helpful? What does the gas and oil industry have to do with the case, if anything?

Cold Winter Rain (Slate) is set in several Southern cities, including Birmingham and New Orleans. The author has shown us just what those places look like, including some of the fine dining experiences the characters enjoy. The story takes place in January, during the rainy season. I always like feeling as though I’m walking alongside the characters in the books I read, and that mission was definitely accomplished in this one. Slate’s foray into a romance with Kris Kramer’s soccer coach is his first attempt at a relationship since his wife’s death. I enjoyed the moments between them.

The story moved along quickly, with short, suspenseful chapters. From the beginning, I quickly engaged with the characters and the plot. When Slate begins examining Kramer’s “oil and gas” files, I had a hard time staying interested, but that feeling soon passed. Afterwards, the characters and the story reeled me in. Finding Kris and learning who murdered Kramer came out of left field, but it also made total sense in the end. 4.5 stars.

A SERIES OF CAPERS & TWO HOT GUYS — A REVIEW

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Stephanie Plum is in a pickle. Her cousin and the head of the bail bonds company for which she works has been snatched due to gambling debt, and the pay-off is $786,000 and mounting.

So what is a girl to do? With sidekicks Lula and Connie in tow, Stephanie tries to find Vinnie and snatch him back, since the odds of gathering this amount of money are zero to none.

Much hilarity follows, as the somewhat klutzy Stephanie tries various shenanigans to find her cousin and save the day. Meanwhile, she tries to capture a few FTAs along the way.

What or who is really behind Vinny’s kidnapping? How are all the various mobsters somehow connected to the event, making it almost impossible to either satisfy the debt or save Vinny? And how do stink bombs, fire bombs, and a group of Hobbits figure into the complex thrill ride that ends with Stephanie alone in her apartment with one of the hotties she dreams about. But will it be Ranger or will it be Morrelli?

Predictable, a little nutsy, and a page turner, Sizzling Sixteen (Stephanie Plum Novels) was also fun. But I think the most fun of all is how much trouble Stephanie gets into and yet somehow manages to get out of…with help from the hotties, of course. But shouldn’t she be developing a few more skills along the way? Or would that make her capers seem boring? 3.5 stars.