Thursday, January 26, 2023

The Angel Maker Review

Genre: Thriller/Horror
Publisher: Celadon Books
Release Date: Feb. 28, 2023
Order Link: Amazon

3.5 Stars
Thanks to Celadon Books for a physical arc! Many thanks to the girls in my Bookstagram SQAF Book Club for a fantastic book discussion.

A dark, suspenseful new thriller about the mysteries of fate, the unbreakable bond of siblings, and a notorious serial killer who was said to know the future.

Review:
Kate Smith appeared to have it all at the end of her high school years - a beautiful home, a boyfriend ready to take it to the next level and her younger brother Chris who she protected fiercely. Until the day she makes a selfish decision and her brother becomes the victim of a violent attack that shatters their perfect world and changes their lives forever. Now, decades later, Kate and boyfriend Sam are married with a child of their own as Kate continues trying to avoid facing her guilt. But when she receives a phone call from her mother that her addict brother Chris has disappeared, the guilt drives her to answer the call for help and begin a search for her brother. Before long, her investigation crashes with past events, threatening to devastate them all.

Meantime, Professor Alan Hobbes, who teaches the theology of free will and fate, is found brutally murdered in his bed after dismissing his staff and preparing himself to die . . . even leaving the door open to give his killer easy access. How did he know he was going to die? Was it his fate?  Why didn't he try to protect himself? Detective Laurence Page is called in to investigate Hobbes's murder. Before it's all said and done, a connection to two cold cases emerges - the attack on Chris Shaw and a serial killer who is rumored to see the future. The story that unfolds is complex and heavily laden with characters and events that are difficult to keep straight at times as it frequently switches from past to present. I found myself backtracking to reread passages and clarify events in my mind.  I urge readers to pack away all distractions and give this one your full attention when reading.

The Angel Maker is highly atmospheric and one of the most convoluted, creepy, confusing stories I've ever read . . . and yet it's highly entertaining if you stick with it and ride it out. The author's talent for manipulating plot, characters and readers is readily apparent. The connections between past and present and the characters that bind them materialize slowly as North sprinkles tidbits of clues throughout. While I'm a fan of dark thrillers, this one borders a little too close to horror for my taste. At times I found myself glancing around the dark shadows of my room and turning more lights on. There are elements of the paranormal woven throughout the plot line that includes a serial killer, family dynamics, and seeing the future. It's hard to talk more about the story without giving away too many secrets that readers need to discover on their own. I highly recommend The Angel Maker to fans of dark stories with strong elements of horror and paranormal occurrences.

Synopsis:
Growing up in a beautiful house in the English countryside, Katie Shaw lived a charmed life. At the cusp of graduation, she had big dreams, a devoted boyfriend, and a little brother she protected fiercely. Until the day a violent stranger changed the fate of her family forever.

Years later, still unable to live down the guilt surrounding what happened to her brother, Chris, and now with a child of her own to protect, Katie struggles to separate the real threats from the imagined. Then she gets the phone call: Chris has gone missing and needs his big sister once more.

Meanwhile, Detective Laurence Page is facing a particularly gruesome crime. A distinguished professor of fate and free will has been brutally murdered just hours after firing his staff. All the leads point back to two old cases: the gruesome attack on teenager Christopher Shaw, and the despicable crimes of a notorious serial killer who, legend had it, could see the future.


Saturday, January 21, 2023

Dog Days Forever Review

Author: Shannon Richard
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Avon Books
Release Date: Feb. 28, 2023
Order Link: Amazon

Special thanks to Avon Books for an arc of this book.

A heartfelt, romantic novel inspired by Sweet Home Alabama and perfect for fans of Jill Shalvis, Kristan Higgins, and Susan Malleryin which a young woman who only fosters dogs discovers an abandoned puppy and finally starts to open herself up to love again...

Review:
Caroline Buchanan and Maximillian Abbot were once engaged to be married.  He went to college secure in their future only to have his heart broken when Caroline announced she wouldn't be following him . . . or marrying him.  She returned his heirloom wedding ring and parted ways without an explanation.  Caroline remained in their hometown while Max went to the big city of New York to lick his wounds and begin his career.  Now Max is back in town to help his grandmother clean out their big old house as she prepares to move into something smaller.  At every turn, Max and Caroline are thrown together.  At first it's painfully awkward as old memories surface, but eventually they begin connecting again through a puppy they both rescued.  It appears they're finally really communicating, but is there hope for a future that includes the both of them?

Dog Days Forever is a low-angst,
 contemporary romance about forgiveness, second chances, pain and love.  It's about letting go, but keeping your heart open to love again.  Richard's writing flows smoothly, carrying characters and readers forward at a simple, easy pace while rendering a story that will touch your heart.  I love the inclusion of the foster dogs - both those they must let go and the one they can't.  It's a great way to showcase the great need for both foster and adoption parents for animals abandoned in shelters.   Dog Days Forever is an emotional and heartfelt romance that I highly recommend for fans of contemporary romance with low key angst.

Synopsis:
Once inseparable as children and romantically entwined as young adults, Caroline Buchanan and Maximillian Abbot are now virtual strangers. It might be Caro's fault--considering she abruptly ended their engagement--but she had good reasons. After their devastating breakup, she stayed in North Carolina, building a quiet, cozy life, while Max went to New York City. In the fourteen years since, Caro has experienced more than her share of heartache and loss. She rarely lets anyone in, not even the steady stream of rescue dogs she fosters.

When Max returns to town for the summer at the behest of his grandmother, Caro must finally face their past because she keeps running into Max, and old feelings come rushing back. Shortly after Max arrives, Caro finds a puppy, alone and shivering in a thunderstorm. She takes the dog in, planning to find her the perfect new family. But at a time when her life is in turmoil, this new furry friend--who she names Frankie--unexpectedly becomes her anchor.

As she opens her heart to the sweet, cuddly canine, Caro begins to wonder if she could love Max again, too. Max and Frankie feel like home and she can't bear to say goodbye to either of them. But secrets, both old and new, are still lingering and Max hasn't completely forgiven her for breaking his heart all those years ago. Will this be a summer of second chances or are they bound to make the same mistakes twice?

Swift the Storm, Fierce the Flame Review

Author: Meg Long
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Release Date: Jan. 17, 2023
Purchase Link: Amazon

Special thanks to Wednesday Books for my copy.

A girl hellbent on finding the friend she lost. A planet on the brink of total destruction. Only one way to find answers amidst the chaos: team up with a traitor to stage a revolution, in Meg Long's Swift the Storm, Fierce the Flame.

Review:
I was introduced to Meg Long's descriptive prose in the stunning Cold The Night, Fast The Wolves.  The world building is outstanding and the story line mesmerizing.  I'm happy to say she's taken that world to new heights in Swift the Storm, Fierce the Flame.  Remy Castell, a support character in the previous book, takes center stage in this book as she's on a mission to find the friend she was forced to leave behind - the friend who helped her recover from the brainwashing she was forced into as a genetically engineered corporate agent.  Remy was betrayed by her genopath partner Kiran Lore and left for dead.  Now it seems she must seek out his help if there's any hope of finding her friend and saving a planet even though it means returning to the jungle planet of Marass that is plagued by a hellstorm that's growing larger by the day.  Danger lurks everywhere . . . perhaps most in the man whose help she seeks.  He portrayed her once . . . can she trust him now?

The highly atmospheric setting in Swift the Storm, Fierce the Flame steals the show at every turn.  Long's world building stretches the imagination and yet is unbelievably realistic.  It's all-consuming in every way - tantalizing all five senses to the point that readers are drawn into the battles taking place.  The plot line and characters are larger than life and yet somehow feel so authentic that you believe every word you're reading.  I love the inclusion of characters from the previous book, especially Sena and her vonenewolf Iska with whom this whole thing started.  The author has expanded the world and broadened the reach of characters while blending the past with the present.  The pace is insane in this action packed story and so intense that I found myself holding my breath at times.

Meg Long has rendered another fantastic otherworldly story in Swift the Storm, Fierce the Flame and reeled me into it.  While young adult fantasy isn't my go-to genre, I found myself trapped alongside these characters, battling my way through to the final page.  Long's expertise at building vivid, larger than life worlds is nothing short of brilliant as is her talent for delivering fascinating, complex characters readers pull for.  Swift the Storm, Fierce the Flame is an intense, vivid, gritty story I highly recommend to fans of fantasy and sci-fi.

Synopsis:

After a mission gone awry two years ago, Remy Castell has been desperately searching across worlds to find the friend she failed to save—the friend who changed her life by helping her overcome the brainwashing she was subjected to as a genetically engineered corporate agent.

Since then, she’s been chasing the only lead she has: fellow genopath Kiran Lore, the same secretive ex-squadmate who left her for dead when she compromised their mission. She nearly caught up to him on Tundar before joining the infamous sled race alongside outcast Sena and her wolf companion Iska. Now, all three of them have tracked Kiran back to Maraas, the jungle planet where Remy lost everything. But nothing on Maraas is how it was two years ago. Syndicates and scavvers alike are trying to overthrow a megalomaniac corpo director. Remy definitely wants nothing to do with that; fighting against corpos is as useless as trying to stay dry in the middle of the giant hellstorm that encircles the planet. But the storm—and the rebellion—are growing stronger by the minute.

When Remy finds Kiran, he doesn't run like she expects. Instead, he offers her a deal: help with the revolution and he'll take her to her friend. But can she really trust the boy who betrayed her once before? With the entire planet on the edge of all-out war, Remy will have to decide just how far she's willing to go to save one girl before the impending storm drowns them all.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

How To Best A Marquess Review

Author: Janna MacGregor
Series: The Widow Rules #3
Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Release Date: April 25, 2023
Order Link: Amazon

4 Hearts
Special thanks to St. Martins Press for an arc of this book.

Review:
Beth Howell was left financially ruined and dependent upon her brother when it turned out that her scum of a husband who abandoned her after one brief night had ebsconded with her dowry leaving her penniless and socially ruined.  If that's not bad enough, it turns out he had two other wives before her meaning she wasn't legally married at all.  Desperate to recover her missing dowry, Beth turns to her childhood friend and former almost fiance for help.  Lord Julian Raleah, Marquess of Grayson, was the love of her life, but like all the men in her life he walked away with nary a word.  However, now Grayson is in need of funds and he'll either need to marry a rich woman quickly . . . or help Beth for half of her dowry.  The pair shake hands over a deal and set off on a perilous road trip filled with intrigue, danger, sexy banter, steamy scenes and a healthy dose of humor.  

How To Best A Marquess is the third book in The Widow Rules series and ends the series in stunning style.  The tension and sexual chemistry between these two main characters is explosive even as they fight the attraction - each for their own reasons.  Beth has vowed to never leave herself vulnerable to a man again.  Grayson has a heart of stone even as he yearns for the future he thought lost with Beth.  He vows to protect her even if she'll never be his and that means helping her recover her lost dowry and preventing her scum bag of a brother who's threatening to marry her off to a man fifty years her senior from getting his hands on it and/or Beth.  I loved the inclusion of beloved characters from books one and two in this story.  The character and relationship development is outstanding and the setting is authentic.  While I may have wanted to knock some sense into these two stubborn characters more than once, I couldn't turn pages fast enough to see what happened.  

I highly recommend reading the first two books prior to How To Best A Marquess, but this book absolutely stands alone.  I enjoyed Beth and Grayson's story and must admit to laughing out loud at a few of the antics of these two.  MacGregor's highly readable and entertaining writing style is evident once again in How To Best A Marquess.  Highly recommended to fans of historical romance.

Synopsis:
Beth Howell needs to find her dowry, post haste. After her good-for-nothing first husband married her―and two other women, unbeknownst to them all―she’s left financially ruined and relegated to living with her brother, who cares more for his horses than he does his blood relatives. If Beth fails to acquire her funds, her brother will force her to marry someone fifty years her senior and missing half his teeth. She’d prefer to avoid that dreadful fate. But her now-deceased husband, Meri, absconded with her money mere days after their illegitimate marriage. To find it, Beth will have to leave town and retrace Meri’s steps if she’s to take her future into her own hands.

Julian Raleah, Marquess of Grayson, cares not a whit for social norms and generally growls at anyone in his path. Grayson has had a heart of stone ever since his engagement to Beth Howell went down in flames―long before she married that cad, Meri, and sealed her own fate for good. But now she’s on his doorstep, asking for use of his carriage and accompaniment on the hunt to find her lost dowry. Surely Grayson cannot go on the road with the woman who has occupied his thoughts for the past decade. Yet, knowing she needs him, how can he resist helping her this one last time? And maybe that’s just enough time to change the ending to their over-too-soon love story.

Such A Beautiful Family Review

Author: T.R. Ragan
Genre: Domestic Thriller
Publisher: Thomas Mercer
Release Date: Dec. 6, 2022
Buy Link: Amazon 

3.5 Hearts

A riveting novel of psychological suspense about perfect lives and hidden secrets by New York Times bestselling author T.R. Ragan.

Review:
There's an old saying that goes if it sounds to good to be true, it probably is and it's the premise for Such A Beautiful Family. Nora Harmon appears to have it all . . . a beautiful family and a career she loves.  If that's not enough, she lands her dream job that includes a flexible schedule, worldwide travel and a fantastic salary with a boss lady who acts more like a best friend than a boss.  In fact, it's not long until Jane Bell has insinuated herself into Nora's family while adoring and splurging on gifts for Nora's children and becoming way too attentive to Nora's husband.  Nora is suddenly quite uncomfortable with the situation, but is she overreacting? What started as a dream quickly turns into a nightmare.

Such A Beautiful Family is intense as the events unfold and the pace quickens.  Ragan does a great job setting the scene and building tension throughout.  The characters are well developed if annoying at times.  I found it a bit difficult to believe how gullible Nora and her husband are, but it's easy to overlook things when a book is highly readable which this one is.  Such A Beautiful Family flows nicely and I found myself flipping pages searching for answers.  While a bit predictable, the story still managed to surprise me in the end.  Highly recommended to fans of domestic thrillers.

Synopsis:

Nora Harmon has a lot to be thankful for: two great kids, a stable marriage, and now, a dream career. Software consultant Jane Bell wants Nora on her team. She’s offering a fantastic salary, flexible hours, and a chance to travel the world. It sounds too good to be true, but Jane won’t take no for an answer.

Jane acts more like a friend than a boss, and Nora’s personal and professional boundaries begin to blur. Jane is smitten with Nora’s perfect family—particularly her daughter—and far too attentive to Nora’s husband. Nora can’t help but feel insecure and unsettled.

Maybe Jane is everything she says she is: a lonely woman in need of feeling the love of a kind and decent family. Maybe Nora is just being paranoid.

Maybe not

Saturday, January 14, 2023

No One Knows Us Here Review

Author: Rebecca Kelley
Genre: Domestic Thriller
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: Jan. 1, 2023
Order Link: Amazon

3.5 Stars

Review published in Mystery & Suspense Magazine

In this gripping novel about obsession, control, and self-preservation, a woman desperate to provide a new life for her sister enters a compromising arrangement with an entitled tech billionaire.


Review:
Twenty-three year old Rosemary Rabourne is struggling to make ends meet, sleeping on the floor of a closet in a small apartment she rents with a couple of friends. She’s studying to take the entrance exam to enter law school, hoping to eventually find a nice apartment where she can bring her fourteen year old, orphaned half-sister to live with her. She asks her sister to bide her time until she can provide for her, but her sister forces the issue by attempting suicide which leaves Rosemary desperate to find the money she needs to get a nice place. One of her roommates steers her toward the Escort Service where she's been earning the big bucks. Rosemary's first encounter fell through when she couldn't go through with it; however, it put her on the radar of Tech billionaire Leo Cross. He strikes a year-long deal with Rosemary to be his fake girlfriend and against her better judgment and without having a lawyer read the contract, Rosemary makes a deal with the devil. Warning bells are sounding! At the same time, she meets and falls for her musician neighbor Sam but has to tell him she can't start a relationship because she has a "boyfriend". At this point in the story, I thought this might turn into a typical love triangle which I'm not fond of, but I couldn't have been more wrong.


No One Knows Us Here quickly turns sinister and creepy via stalker vibes. Kelley sets a dire tone, a sense of impending doom, which keeps increasing as the story progresses. It's soon clear to Rosemary and readers that something is off about Leo and the contract he drew Rosemary into - the one she failed to read. By midway, the story I thought was a romance turned into a domestic thriller with a dangerous life or death energy taking on a life of its own as it permeated the pages with a foul smell. Kelley's expertise with descriptive prose added to the building tension, driving a steadily increasing tension-laden pace full force toward an ending this reader couldn’t wait to reach. While I could nitpick about a couple of little things, overall I couldn't stop reading as the book kept me highly entertained and isn't that one of the main reasons we read?

No One Knows Us Here is a dark, gripping domestic thriller about lives destroyed when obsession, control and power are abused and decisions are made based on guilt and obligation. This story is narrated solely by Rosemary - a woman partially driven by guilt from an event in her past who finds herself capable of doing unspeakable things to protect those she loves. How far would you go to protect loved ones?

Rebecca Kelley does a great job tackling some tough social issues including the way a troubled past can bleed over and taint present situations in No One Knows Us Here. I enjoyed the ending and the way there's still a tiny bit left up to the reader's imagination. While there may be a few bumps along the journey, it's a highly readable story that I recommend to fans of domestic thrillers. I look forward to more from this promising author.

Synopsis:
Rosemary Rabourne is already struggling to pay the bills when her recently orphaned half sister, Wendy, shows up at her door. Rosemary will try anything to provide for the traumatized teenager—even joining a high-end escort service.
Leo Glass is the billionaire CEO of a revolutionary social app. He wants the “girlfriend experience”—someone contractually obligated to love him—and he thinks he’s found the perfect match in Rosemary. His proposition has its perks: a free luxury apartment and financial security. And its conditions: constant surveillance and availability whenever Leo calls. It’s not the life Rosemary wants, but she’s out of options.

Then she meets her new neighbor, Sam, a musician with whom Rosemary shares an immediate attraction and a genuine intimacy she’s never felt with anyone. Falling in love makes it possible to imagine a real new life. But Leo won’t let go of her that easily, and his need for control escalates. So does Rosemary’s desperation—to protect Wendy, to protect herself, and, at any price, to escape.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

All The Dangerous Things Review

Author: Stacy Willingham
Genre: Suspense Thriller
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Release Date: Jan. 10, 2023
Order Link: Amazon

4.5 Thrilling Hearts

Special thanks to Minotaur Books for an arc of this book.

A totally gripping thriller about a desperate mother with a troubled past.

Review:
All The Dangerous Things is the sophomore novel of Author Stacy Willingham.  I became a fan of this author's work last year after reading and reviewing her stunning debut novel, A Flicker In The Dark.  Willingham's ability to finesse both characters and readers through a complex plot line with an extremely unreliable protagonist at the helm is highly impressive and evident in both books.  I'm delighted to say All The Dangerous Things meets the high standards set in A Flicker In The Dark.  As much as I enjoyed that book, I appreciate this one even more.

It's been a year since Isabelle Drake allowed herself to sleep through the night.  A year since her young son Mason was abducted from his bed under the cover of darkness with both she and her husband sleeping right down the hall.  The kidnapping case has gone cold, and Isabelle's husband has moved on and is flaunting a new girlfriend around town.  And now it's clear everyone thinks it's time for Isabelle to move on also.  In short, the people surrounding Isabelle believe she's delusional and from all appearances, she is.  She's been plagued with insomnia since childhood, and in the past she experienced episodes of sleepwalking.  Now she's finding it difficult distinguishing reality from the unrelenting parade of mirages taunting her in her foggy, dreamlike state.  She keeps Mason's name and picture in the news by guest speaking at True Crime conferences around the country where she is approached by Waylon Spencer, a True Crime podcaster, who convinces Isabelle to commit to a series of live interviews on his podcast.  As this story unfolds, it becomes clear to readers that there's more going on here than meets the eye - in both Mason's disappearance and Spencer's intrusion into Isabelle's life.  

Narrated solely by Isabelle, All The Dangerous Things is a highly atmospheric, intricately plotted story that is presented through dual timelines - the present and  flashbacks to Isabelle's childhood where dark secrets are lurking in the hidden recesses of Isabelle's frail mind.  As bits and pieces of buried memories surface, she's in danger of losing her precarious handle on reality.  Readers are kept scrambling for answers as they also question what's real and what's an illusion, and the rising tension is so thick you can cut it with a knife.  A couple of super creepy sleepwalking scenes caught on camera literally made the hair on my arms stand up.  Characters are wonderfully original and well developed including several plausible red herrings.  While I figured out a couple of things on this wild journey through pages of smoke and mirrors, I didn't see the final shocker coming until the monster reveal.

All The Dangerous Things is a dark psychological thriller that explores the devastation wreaked on humans while experiencing unbearable grief, guilt, stress and trauma and the manner in which it erodes one's mental health and ability to make wise life choices over time.  Through expert manipulation of emotionally damaged characters, a highly unreliable narrator and a multi-faceted plot line, Willingham has once again proven herself to be an author to watch - one that has moved to my auto-buy list as her books now reside among my favorites on a star-studded Thriller Shelf occupied by the likes of Karin Slaughter, Lisa Gardner and Loreth Anne White.  I'm highly anticipating the next release by this talented author and recommend All The Dangerous Things to fans of suspense and psychological thrillers. 

Synopsis:
One year ago, Isabelle Drake's life changed forever: her toddler son, Mason, was taken out of his crib in the middle of the night while she and her husband were asleep in the next room. With little evidence and few leads for the police to chase, the case quickly went cold. However, Isabelle cannot rest until Mason is returned to her—literally.

Except for the occasional catnap or small blackout where she loses track of time, she hasn’t slept in a year.

Isabelle's entire existence now revolves around finding him, but she knows she can’t go on this way forever. In hopes of jarring loose a new witness or buried clue, she agrees to be interviewed by a true-crime podcaster—but his interest in Isabelle's past makes her nervous. His incessant questioning paired with her severe insomnia has brought up uncomfortable memories from her own childhood, making Isabelle start to doubt her recollection of the night of Mason’s disappearance, as well as second-guess who she can trust... including herself. But she is determined to figure out the truth no matter where it leads.