REVIEW: SEEING RED, BY SANDRA BROWN

 

Kerra Bailey is a TV journalist hot on the trail of a story guaranteed to skyrocket her career to new heights. Twenty-five years ago, Major Franklin Trapper became a national icon when he was photographed leading a handful of survivors to safety after the bombing of a Dallas hotel. For years, he gave frequent speeches and interviews but then suddenly dropped out of the public eye, shunning all media. Now Kerra is willing to use any means necessary to get an exclusive with the Major–even if she has to secure an introduction from his estranged son, former ATF agent John Trapper.

Still seething over his break with both the ATF and his father, Trapper wants no association with the bombing or the Major. Yet Kerra’s hints that there’s more to the story rouse Trapper’s interest despite himself. And when the interview goes catastrophically awry–with unknown assailants targeting not only the Major, but also Kerra–Trapper realizes he needs her under wraps if he’s going to track down the gunmen . . . and finally discover who was responsible for the Dallas bombing.

 

My Thoughts: From the very beginning of Seeing Red, I was drawn into this layered tale full of numerous red herrings and good guys turning out to be bad guys, with many secrets only revealed at the very end.

Just when I thought I had all the bad guys figured out, another good guy would bite the dust. I must say that I was pleased with some of the so-called good guys turning bad, as smug people always annoy me.

Throughout, I loved how Trapper and Kerra worked together to find the answers, and the growing connection between them made what could have been a very grim tale lighter and more fun.

In some ways, my head was spinning because of all the dark connections, but in the end, I was smiling. My eyes were also blurring as I had to keep reading until the final denouement. 4.5 stars.

***

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REVIEW: FRAGMENTS OF THE LOST, BY MEGAN MIRANDA

 

Jessa Whitworth knew she didn’t belong in her ex-boyfriend Caleb’s room. But she couldn’t deny that she was everywhere–in his photos, his neatly folded T-shirts, even the butterfly necklace in his jeans pocket . . . the one she gave him for safe keeping on that day.

His mother asked her to pack up his things–even though she blames Jessa for his accident. How could she say no? And maybe, just maybe, it will help her work through the guilt she feels about their final moments together.

But as Jessa begins to box up the pieces of Caleb’s life, they trigger memories that make Jessa realize their past relationship may not be exactly as she remembered. And she starts to question whether she really knew Caleb at all.

Each fragment of his life reveals a new clue that propels Jessa to search for the truth about Caleb’s accident. What really happened on the storm-swept bridge?


My Thoughts: From the beginning of Fragments of the Lost, I was drawn in by Jessa’s task to search through and box up Caleb’s belongings…after his death. And at his mother’s request.

But his mother, Eve, was someone untrustworthy with her own agenda, in my opinion. And the little girl, Mia, Caleb’s half-sister, had been fed stories about Jessa by her mother, obviously. But why?

Caleb’s secrets and his mysterious “death” seemed to hide a whole other life that might have been waiting for him. A life lost to him because of the choices of others.

As Jessa discovered each item in his room, her thoughts carried her away to moments in their relationship, and she was caught up in nostalgia. But she also realized that pieces of Caleb’s life had been hidden from her. What will she do to find her answers? Will the mysterious room behind his closet offer up a path to discovery?

The book was slow for about 2/3 of the way through. As fascinating as it was to see what each “fragment” yielded, I wanted the story to move along, taking us to whatever denouement awaited us. And I hoped that Jessa would dismiss the creepy Eve and Mia who always seemed to appear just when Jessa was on the path to a new memory. What further secrets will Jessa find as she packs up boxes and dumps the trash? Will a recent find lead to more answers? Near the end, the pieces of the puzzle started to come together, and as they did, I very happily could not stop reading as the intensity and danger grew. Despite the uneven pacing, the story did satisfy me eventually, and I liked how everything was finally resolved. 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: MORAL DEFENSE, BY MARCIA CLARK

 

For defense attorney Samantha Brinkman, it’s not about guilt or innocence—it’s about making sure her clients walk.

In the follow-up to bestselling Blood Defense, Samantha is hired as the legal advocate for Cassie Sonnenberg after a brutal stabbing left the teenager’s father and brother dead, and her mother barely clinging to life. It’s a tabloid-ready case that has the nation in an uproar—and Sam facing her biggest challenge yet. Why did Cassie survive? Is she hiding something?

As Sam digs in to find the answers, she’s surprised to find herself identifying with Cassie, becoming more and more personally entangled in the case. But when Sam finally discovers the reason for that kinship, she faces a choice she never imagined she’d have to make.

My Thoughts: In the first outing with Samantha Brinkman, Blood Defense, I was drawn in by this tough but vulnerable defense attorney, and in Moral Defense, I loved finding out more about her world. From the author’s descriptions, I could visualize everything about her current life, and her past had a way of poking into her world via a client with whom she identifies.

Sam’s father Dale Pearson made himself available to her in her cases as she struggles to deal with nefarious clients and a dirty cop. But would he continue to support her when he discovers some of her less than legitimate methods?

Cassie Sonnenberg was the kind of teenage girl that made me want to roll my eyes, but I could also feel empathy for her situation as more of her story came to light.

Will Sam find enough information to help her client? Will she gather enough evidence to win the case? Or will we all be blindsided when we finally see the truth?

Midway through the book, we think we know how it all plays out…but then we are thrown a curve with an unexpected character. When that twist turns everything in a completely different direction, we get to watch how Sam makes the system work for her. A 5 star read for me.***

REVIEW: THEN SHE WAS GONE, BY LISA JEWELL

 

Ten years after her teenage daughter disappears, a woman crosses paths with a charming single father whose young child feels eerily familiar, in this evocative, suspenseful drama from New York Times bestselling author Lisa Jewell—perfect for fans of Paula Hawkins and Liane Moriarty.

Ellie Mack was the perfect daughter. She was fifteen, the youngest of three. She was beloved by her parents, friends, and teachers. She and her boyfriend made a teenaged golden couple. She was days away from an idyllic post-exams summer vacation, with her whole life ahead of her.

And then she was gone.

Now, her mother Laurel Mack is trying to put her life back together. It’s been ten years since her daughter disappeared, seven years since her marriage ended, and only months since the last clue in Ellie’s case was unearthed. So when she meets an unexpectedly charming man in a café, no one is more surprised than Laurel at how quickly their flirtation develops into something deeper. Before she knows it, she’s meeting Floyd’s daughters—and his youngest, Poppy, takes Laurel’s breath away.

Because looking at Poppy is like looking at Ellie. And now, the unanswered questions she’s tried so hard to put to rest begin to haunt Laurel anew. Where did Ellie go? Did she really run away from home, as the police have long suspected, or was there a more sinister reason for her disappearance? Who is Floyd, really? And why does his daughter remind Laurel so viscerally of her own missing girl?


My Thoughts: The characters, the story, and the mysterious circumstances of Then She Was Gone drew me in, taking me to places I could not have imagined.

After Laurel Mack meets a handsome stranger named Floyd Dunn, she is swept up into a feeling of belonging, a sense of family. But there is something so surreal about Floyd’s nine-year-old daughter Poppy. She cannot help but feel a special connection to her.

As Laurel quickly becomes enmeshed in his world and in his family, she begins to feel uneasy. Why did Floyd reel her in so quickly? What is going on in his mind? She senses something about the way Floyd behaves with Poppy, something that raises those red flags. Why did he always give in to her demands? Why does he treat her like an adult, allowing her control over many aspects of their lives?

In alternating narratives, we learn more about Poppy, and about her mother Noelle Donnelly, who had abandoned her when she was very young; through Ellie’s first person narrative, we realize what had happened to her. And finally, we learn the secrets Floyd is hiding. A book I couldn’t put down. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: KEEP HER SAFE, BY SOPHIE HANNAH

 

Pushed to the breaking point, Cara Burrows flees her home and family and escapes to a five-star spa resort she can’t afford. Late at night, exhausted and desperate, she lets herself into her hotel room and is shocked to find it already occupied — by a man and a teenage girl.

A simple mistake at the front desk… but soon Cara realizes that the girl she saw alive and well in the hotel room is someone she can’t possibly have seen: the most famous murder victim in the country, Melody Chapa, whose parents are serving natural life sentences for her murder.

Cara doesn’t know what to trust — everything she’s read and heard about the case, or the evidence of her own eyes. Did she really see Melody? And is she prepared to ask herself that question and answer it honestly if it means risking her own life?

My Thoughts: The opening lines of Keep Her Safe reveal another narrator, someone who seems to be Melody Chapa…and then we are thrust into the perspective of Cara Burrows, a British woman who fled her home for some unknown reason, and who is looking forward to her time at the Swallowtail Resort and Spa in Arizona. The place is huge and guests push a white button to get a car to take them around. But on the first night, Cara is given a room number and a key and insists on walking to her destination.

What does she find on the third floor when she unlocks the door? Evidence of occupancy, and then the crying voice of a girl, followed by a man’s voice. The girl is upset over spilling something on her stuffed toy Poggy. Embarrassed and apologetic, Cara scurries from the room, and the management upgrades her to a casita with a private pool and wonderful amenities. She is also given an iPad to guide her through her days.

What is going on in this strange spa? The receptionist, a woman named Riyonna Briggs, is trying to calm down an elderly woman who insists she saw “Melody.” Later, that same staff member assures Cara that the woman always sees Melody, wherever she goes, and is confused.

As the pages turn, we watch Cara studying the guests and listening to a woman named Tarin Fry and her daughter Zellie, who annoy her, but also pique her curiosity. Soon she is reading a blog that Tarin mentioned, written by a woman named Bonnie…and learns about Melody’s case and how her parents are in prison for killing her. She also begins to connect the dots, and realizes that there was something odd about the man and girl in that first room.

Nothing is the way it seems, as we soon find out. Numerous oddities keep us wondering, even as we realize that danger lurks around every corner. How does Cara find herself right in the middle of what looks like a conspiracy, wondering if she will ever see her family again? Will she put together the clues and find her way home again? A captivating 5 star read with so many twists that I could not stop reading.***

REVIEW: SAY YOU’RE SORRY, BY MELINDA LEIGH

After the devastating loss of her husband in Iraq, Morgan Dane returns to Scarlet Falls, seeking the comfort of her hometown. Now, surrounded by family, she’s finally found peace and a promising career opportunity—until her babysitter is killed and her neighbor asks her to defend his son, Nick, who stands accused of the murder.

Tessa was the ultimate girl next door, and the community is outraged by her death. But Morgan has known Nick for years and can’t believe he’s guilty, despite the damning evidence stacked against him. She asks her friend Lance Kruger, an ex-cop turned private eye, for help. Taking on the town, the police, and a zealous DA, Morgan and Lance plunge into the investigation, determined to find the real killer. But as they uncover secrets that rock the community, they become targets for the madman hiding in plain sight.

My Thoughts: Morgan Dane is the kind of character that inspires me, with her love of home, family, and justice. Despite the fact that she comes from a family of cops and plans to work for the DA’s office, she makes a decision that many do not understand. She agrees to defend her neighbor, Nick, arrested for the murder of Tessa, with whom he had a close relationship…because there is just something about him that makes his guilt seem impossible.

Her friend and new partner in the investigation, Lance Kruger, is not as sure of Nick’s innocence, but he is determined to stand by Morgan.

Before she is barely off the ground in the investigation, Morgan is confronted by numerous characters who threaten and shadow her. These actions convince her even more that she is getting close to the truth. Who will she finally pinpoint as the alternate suspect, the true criminal? What happened the night of the party, and who else might have seen what happened? I had my suspicions about several, but in the end, I didn’t guess who the perpetrator was.

There was danger, intensity, and a sense of political conspiracies afoot, all of which made Say You’re Sorry a page turner for me. There was also a growing romantic connection between Morgan and Lance, which they tried to fight. I am eager to see what the two of them will do next, in Book Two. 5 stars.***

REVIEW: THE BLACKBIRD SEASON, BY KATE MORETTI

In a quiet Pennsylvania town, a thousand dead starlings fall onto a high school baseball field, unleashing a horrifying and unexpected chain of events that will rock the close-knit community.

Beloved baseball coach and teacher Nate Winters and his wife, Alecia, are well respected throughout town. That is, until one of the many reporters investigating the bizarre bird phenomenon catches Nate embracing a wayward student, Lucia Hamm, in front of a sleazy motel. Lucia soon buoys the scandal by claiming that she and Nate are engaged in an affair, throwing the town into an uproar…and leaving Alecia to wonder if her husband has a second life.

And when Lucia suddenly disappears, the police only to have one suspect: Nate.

Nate’s coworker and sole supporter, Bridget Harris, Lucia’s creative writing teacher, is determined to prove his innocence. She has Lucia’s class journal, and while some of the entries appear particularly damning to Nate’s case, others just don’t add up. Bridget knows the key to Nate’s exoneration and the truth of Lucia’s disappearance lie within the walls of the school and in the pages of that journal.

My Thoughts: The alternating perspectives of Nate, Alecia, Bridget, Lucia…and others reeled me into The Blackbird Season, a dark tale that probes beneath the surface of small town life in Pennsylvania.

Could the golden boy Nate have crossed some lines while dealing with his students? Could his desire to help them have drawn him into a dark place? And what is behind his almost obsessive need to be liked by everyone?

As a result, I found myself not really liking Nate, who always seemed defensive and did not prioritize his family at all. However, there was also the possibility that more was hidden beneath the surface, and that others bore a great deal of responsibility for what happened to Lucia.

Bridget, of course, was his biggest supporter and the friendship that Alecia had once felt for her began to fizzle. How could Bridget blindly believe Nate when the evidence suggested otherwise?

And what was Lucia’s game? She seemed broken and who wouldn’t empathize? But her seductive, weird behavior bugged me. I don’t automatically believe the stories teenage girls tell. But it was also possible that some of what she said was true, even if there were lies and manipulations involved.

What would happen before the truth finally came out? I couldn’t stop reading, waiting for it all to unravel so we could see and understand. 5 stars.


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

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: YOU’LL NEVER KNOW, DEAR, BY HALLIE EPHRON

 

Seven-year-old Lissie Woodham and her four-year-old sister Janey were playing with their porcelain dolls in the front yard when an adorable puppy scampered by. Eager to pet the pretty dog, Lissie chased after the pup as it ran down the street. When she returned to the yard, Janey’s precious doll was gone . . . and so was Janey.

Forty years after Janey went missing, Lis—now a mother with a college-age daughter of her own—still blames herself for what happened. Every year on the anniversary of her sister’s disappearance, their mother, Miss Sorrel, places a classified ad in the local paper with a picture of the toy Janey had with her that day—a one-of-a-kind porcelain doll—offering a generous cash reward for its return. For years, there’s been no response. But this year, the doll came home.

It is the first clue in a decades-old mystery that is about to turn into something far more sinister—endangering Lis and the lives of her mother and daughter as well. Someone knows the truth about what happened all those years ago, and is desperate to keep it hidden.

 

My Thoughts: In the opening pages of You’ll Never Know, Dear, we meet Lis’s daughter Vanessa, living in Rhode Island and working on post-doctoral sleep studies. One morning, she is awakened by a vision of her grandmother, Miss Sorrel, holding a doll out to her. Soon after, a phone call summons her home to Bonsecours, South Carolina. Her mother and grandmother have been hospitalized due to an explosion at the house. Carbon monoxide poisoning keeps her grandmother hospitalized for a while. But her grandmother insists that the doll is the one she made for Janey.

Once she is home, Vanessa is drawn into the search for the strange doll that might be Janey’s…but busybody neighbor Evelyn, who works with Miss Sorrel on the doll repairs, is sure that the doll is not the right one.

A search leads Vanessa to the woman who brought the doll, who had disappeared when Miss Sorrel asked her where she got the doll…and from there, we follow some twisty pathways to unexpected answers.

Why is the doll that Miss Sorrel first saw now different? Was Miss Sorrel seeing things, or had someone switched the dolls? What happened to all the other dolls the night of the explosion? Were they stolen, and by whom? Why does every path that seems the right one suddenly become even more twisted?

The characters drew me in, and I was captivated by the quest for answers. There were characters that seemed very suspicious to me. Why did they seem to be everywhere and always keeping Vanessa and Lis from the answers? I had my eye on one particular character, but the extent of the deception was so layered and seductive that I literally could not put the book down. Another brilliant read from Ephron. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: WHAT’S BECOME OF HER, BY DEB CALETTI

 

“Guilty people keep secrets.”

Isabelle Austen returns to her hometown on a small, isolated Pacific Northwest island to take over the family tourism business after the death of her mother, a disapproving parent and a hard woman to love. Feeling lost, Isabelle is also struggling with a recent divorce and wondering if she’ll ever come into her own. Then her life takes a surprising turn: The mysterious Henry North arrives on Parrish Island, steps off a seaplane, and changes Isabelle’s world forever.

From the beginning, their relationship is heady and intense—then Isabelle learns of Henry’s disturbing past, involving the death of a fiancée and the disappearance of a wife. Suddenly Isabelle is caught between love and suspicion, paranoia and passion, as she searches for the truth she may not want to find—and is swept into a dangerous game she may not survive.


MY THOUGHTS:
What’s Become of Her is alternately narrated by Isabelle and a stranger named Professor Weary, who has no personal interaction with her, but from afar, seems to be keeping an eye on her.Henry’s past, full of unanswered questions and mysteries, all point to the possibility of something dark and dangerous about him, and his secrets and lies raised a huge red flag that had me wanting to shout at Isabelle: Run!

But Henry was one of those men who can be so charming, and he did kind and loving things for her. Then something aroused his rage, usually as the result of his bruised ego, at which point, his “poor me” attitude reared its head, even as he turned frightening.

Why did Isabelle put up with him? Everyone who knew her kept warning her off, but she focused instead on the strange packages she kept receiving from someone, and even though each object hinted of bad acts by Henry, she kept hanging in there.

Even though I was turned off by Henry, and hoped Isabelle would make better choices, I wondered if I could be wrong about him. Could others, like Weary, be persecuting him, and would we discover that the real bad guys were out there, watching and waiting?

The beautiful setting on an island near Seattle kept me engaged, even though parts of the story were slow and even boring (Weary’s narratives). But I kept turning the pages, wondering what I would ultimately learn and what Isabelle would do about her precarious situation. What she did came as a complete surprise, and I wanted to celebrate. 4 stars.

***