Review: Bitter Falls by Rachel Caine

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Release date: January 21, 2020

Publisher: Thomas and Mercer

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Blurb:

She’s investigating a cold case no one else could—by going places no else would dare.

In spite of a harrowing past still haunting her, Gwen Proctor is trying to move forward. Until a new assignment gives her purpose: the cold-case disappearance of a young man in Tennessee. Three years missing, no clues. Just Ruth Landry, a tortured mother in limbo. Gwen understands what it’s like to worry about your children.

Gwen’s investigation unearths new suspects…and victims. As she follows each sinister lead, the implications of the mystery grow more disturbing. Because the closer Gwen gets, the closer she is to a threat that looms back home.

In a town that’s closed its ranks against Gwen; her partner, Sam; and her kids, there’s no bolder enemy than the Belldene family—paramilitary, criminal, powerful, and vengeful. As personal vendettas collide with Gwen’s investigation, she’s prepared to fight both battles. But is she prepared for the toll it could take on everyone she loves?

Review:

I’ve been a fan of this series since day one, there is something about Caine’s writing that draws me in and keeps me engaged. This isn’t a series where you can just start wherever, you really need to start with the first book in order to appreciate everything that Gwen and her family have been through. The good news is that even though this is the fourth book they’re fairly quick reads and are easy to binge.

High points of this installment for me were Gwen as a private investigator and the fact that her case involves a cult. I have a morbid fascination and curiosity with cults and I never tire of reading about them. The chapters are pretty brief and you hear from Gwen, Sam, Lanny and Connor giving you a bird’s eye overview of all that’s going on, and with this crew, there’s always a ton going on.

Now onto the low points. You know how sometimes after the first few books a series can kind of feel meh? There was a little bit of that here for me if I’m being completely honest. You may be wondering why I spent the first part of this review trying to encourage you to read this series if this one was just ok for me, but stay with me for a minute. The momentum in the first few books was steady. I loved where these books seemed to be heading and was totally onboard. But something felt different with this one, almost like the exciting edge was missing? I’m not totally sure what it was but this definitely didn’t excite me as much as the other books. I have grown pretty attached to Gwen and her kids (and Sam) though so that’s why I’ll keep reading and recommending this one. I have faith in the author, especially since this one wasn’t bad by any means, it just felt lacking a little. I’ll definitely be picking up the next book in the hopes that the suspense and intrigue is heightened back up to the previous level and chalk this one up to a one off.

Overall rating: 3/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

Review: The Prized Girl by Amy K. Green

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Release date: January 14, 2020

Publisher: Dutton

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Blurb:

Days after a young teenager named Jenny is found murdered, her small town grieves the loss alongside her picture-perfect parents. At first glance, Jenny’s tragic death appears clear-cut for investigators. In the murder of a former pageant queen from a safe and loving family, the most obvious suspect is a fan who got too close for comfort. But Jenny’s sarcastic, older half-sister Virginia isn’t so sure of his guilt and takes matters into her own hands to find the killer.

But for Jenny’s case and and Virginia’s investigation, there’s more to the story. Virginia, still living in town and haunted by her own troubled teenage years, suspects that a similar darkness lay beneath the sparkling veneer of Jenny’s life. Alternating between Jenny’s final days and Virginia’s determined search for the truth, the sisters’ dual narratives follow a harrowing trail of suspects, with surprising turns that race toward a shocking finale.

Review:

The first month of the year and I’m already struggling with thrillers AGAIN. Sigh. I had high hopes for this one, the premise and structure sounded interesting enough and I’m always excited about a debut. Unfortunately for me this one just didn’t work at all, maybe I’ve just read too many similar books, but in the end, this was just a mess for me.

I’m just going to highlight what was problematic for me quickly because I think for the right reader this may work great, that reader just wasn’t me. If you haven’t read a bunch of thrillers recently then this may be better for you, but for me it was predictable and kind of draining. I had zero connection to Virginia, frankly I found her pretty intolerable and I while I did want to know who killed Jenny, the answer itself was horrible and disappointing. The whole last part of the book was convoluted and messy and it felt like certain things were added just for shock and didn’t feel as if said things were of any value to the book. The author is a good writer though and the pacing was good, this had potential for me but the execution just didn’t work.

Overall rating: 2.5/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

Review: The Rabbit Hunter by Lars Kepler

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Release date: January 14, 2020

Publisher: Knopf

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Blurb:

Detective Joona Linna is finishing out a sentence at Kumla prison for assaulting an officer in the course of his last investigation when he is summoned to a meeting with the Swedish Prime Minister. The Foreign Minister has been brutally murdered. There’s a chance more political figures could be targeted. The police need Linna to find the killer and neutralize the threat, so he’s granted a temporary release from prison. But when another murder occurs, Linna realizes he’s dealing with something far more complex, and far more terrifying, than anyone imagined. As the body count grows, Linna begins to understand that he can’t do this alone and he reaches out to Saga Bauer, the young Security Police detective, for help. Now, together, the two race against time to unravel the killer’s intricate plan before he can take his ultimate revenge.

Review:

While this is the sixth book in a series you definitely don’t have to start with the first book in order to enjoy this, but I do think that you will better appreciate the characterization and how much these characters have grown if you’ve read at least a couple of them. I jumped in back at The Sandman and think this is a great starting point if you don’t have the time or inclination to start all the way back at book one. Whatever you do decide to do though, this is one gritty series that shouldn’t be missed, especially if you like your thrillers on the super dark side.

One of the main things that keeps me glued to a thriller is when the pacing is well done and Kepler has that nailed once again. These books are long and sometimes I get intimidated, until I actually start and remember that between a sharp, crisp writing style, short chapters and an always intriguing case, the pages truly fly by.

I do want to point out again that this book (as well as the others I’ve read in the series) is extremely violent, shocking and disturbing. It’s definitely not one for anyone that doesn’t like bold writing, things are creepy and tense from the start and this is definitely not for anyone squeamish. BUT if you can handle that, this is excellent, seriously top notch crime fiction that’s not to be missed.

Overall rating: 4/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

Review: The Wife and the Widow by Christian White

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Release date: January 21, 2020

Publisher: Minotaur

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Blurb:

Set against the backdrop of an eerie island town in the dead of winter, The Wife and The Widow is an unsettling thriller told from two perspectives: Kate, a widow whose grief is compounded by what she learns about her dead husband’s secret life; and Abby, an island local whose world is turned upside when she’s forced to confront the evidence of her husband’s guilt. But nothing on this island is quite as it seems, and only when these women come together can they discover the whole story about the men in their lives. Brilliant and beguiling, The Wife and The Widow takes you to a cliff edge and asks the question: how well do we really know the people we love?

Review:

I’ve made no secret of my struggle with thrillers as of late, but every once in awhile I read a book that reminds me why it’s always been my go to genre and The Wife and the Widow was that kind of book for me!

Friends, this one will be tricky to review because it was so incredibly clever that you should go in as blind as possible. How about this, if you like books that are super fast paced and the type you have to read in just a couple of sittings, grab this. Or if you like books that have two narrators that switch back and forth flawlessly read this. If you like smart twists that actually make perfect sense and don’t require you to suspend disbelief, read this! I basically devoured this one and loved every minute of it, highly recommended by me for something that feels original and exciting.

Overall rating: 5/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

Review: Followers by Megan Angelo

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Release date: January 14, 2020

Publisher: Graydon House

Genre: Fiction

Blurb:

An electrifying story of two ambitious friends, the dark choices they make and the profound moment that changes the meaning of privacy forever.

Orla Cadden dreams of literary success, but she’s stuck writing about movie-star hookups and influencer yoga moves. Orla has no idea how to change her life until her new roommate, Floss―a striving, wannabe A-lister―comes up with a plan for launching them both into the high-profile lives they so desperately crave. But it’s only when Orla and Floss abandon all pretense of ethics that social media responds with the most terrifying feedback of all: overwhelming success.

Thirty-five years later, in a closed California village where government-appointed celebrities live every moment of the day on camera, a woman named Marlow discovers a shattering secret about her past. Despite her massive popularity―twelve million loyal followers―Marlow dreams of fleeing the corporate sponsors who would do anything, even horrible things, to keep her on-screen. When she learns that her whole family history is a lie, Marlow finally summons the courage to run in search of the truth, no matter the risks.

Followers traces the paths of Orla, Floss and Marlow as they wind through time toward each other, and toward a cataclysmic event that sends America into lasting upheaval. At turns wry and tender, bleak and hopeful, this darkly funny story reminds us that even if we obsess over famous people we’ll never meet, what we really crave is genuine human connection. 

Review:

Man this one was addictive, I usually only think of that word to describe a book when I talking about a thriller, and while this definitely had some mystery and intrigue it was not a thriller. Either way, this one sucked me right in and had me captivated for sure!

There are two timelines here, 2015 and 2051 and I was equally drawn to both, though if I was pushed I was maybe slightly more invested in the future chapters. It was enough of a time jump to feel futuristic but it wasn’t so far ahead of present day that I was disconnected. You can almost imagine what the world would look like then and if it’s anything like the world Angelo creates its simultaneously fascinating and horrifying. For a good portion of the book the timelines seem unrelated but nothing is at it seems and that’s all I’ll say. Things took a turn, a turn I loved and by that point I was beyond hooked.

My only super minor complaint is that it did feel a tad bit too long, I’m not exactly sure what could’ve been cut but it did drag just a little at times so some pages probably could’ve been chopped. Sometimes I’m impatient though so take that with a grain of salt because beyond that this one was incredibly well written, fresh and compelling. Super impressed this is a debut and looking forward to what the author does next.

Overall rating: 4.5/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

Review: The Country Guesthouse by Robyn Carr

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Release date: January 7, 2020

Publisher: MIRA

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Blurb:

A summer rental, a new beginning…

Hannah Russell’s carefully crafted plans for her life have been upended without warning. When her best friend died suddenly, Hannah became guardian to a five-year-old named Noah. With no experience at motherhood, she’s terrified she’s not up to the challenge. She and Noah need time to get to know each other, so she decides to rent a country house with stunning views on a lake in rural Colorado.

When they arrive at the house, they are greeted by the owner, a handsome man who promises to stay out of their way. But his clumsy Great Dane, Romeo, has other ideas and Noah immediately bonds with the lovable dog. As Hannah learns to become a mother, Owen Abrams, who is recovering from his own grief, can’t help but be drawn out of his solitude by his guests.

But life throws more challenges at this unlikely trio and they are tested in ways they never thought possible. All three will discover their strengths and, despite their differences, they will fight to become a family. And the people of Sullivan’s Crossing will rally around them to offer all of the support they need.

#1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr delivers an emotional and triumphant novel about the fierce power of a mother’s love.

Review:

This is the fifth book in the Sullivan’s Crossing series but you could definitely read it as a standalone. Each book follows a new couple with reappearances from the characters in the previous books since they’re all set in the same quaint town. I wasn’t sure who this one would be about at first and I was pleasantly surprised that both the hero and heroine were fairly unknown characters making it even easier if you want to just jump in here.

Having read quite a few of Carr’s books now the one thing that I think really sets her apart from other authors is the authentic and messy characters she creates. Hannah and Owen both have a lot on their plates, Hannah with the sudden custody of a five year old boy with special needs and then Owen has a tragic history of his own. There is nothing easy for these people and I always find myself rooting SO hard for these kind of characters, it’s a nice change of pace from romance novels filled with perfect sounding characters, that’s for sure.

This one had it all for me, romance, family drama and strife, an adorable kid and a charming town with even more charming residents. Having only missed one book in this series I think it’s safe to say that this one was my favorite, they seem to be getting better with each installment and I’m excited to see what happens next.

Overall rating: 4.5/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

Review: Big Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain

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Release date: January 14, 2020

Publisher: St. Martin’s

Genre: Historical Fiction

Blurb:

North Carolina, 2018: Morgan Christopher’s life has been derailed. Taking the fall for a crime she did not commit, she finds herself serving a three-year stint in the North Carolina Women’s Correctional Center. Her dream of a career in art is put on hold—until a mysterious visitor makes her an offer that will see her released immediately. Her assignment: restore an old post office mural in a sleepy southern town. Morgan knows nothing about art restoration, but desperate to leave prison, she accepts. What she finds under the layers of grime is a painting that tells the story of madness, violence, and a conspiracy of small town secrets. 

North Carolina, 1940: Anna Dale, an artist from New Jersey, wins a national contest to paint a mural for the post office in Edenton, North Carolina. Alone in the world and desperate for work, she accepts. But what she doesn’t expect is to find herself immersed in a town where prejudices run deep, where people are hiding secrets behind closed doors, and where the price of being different might just end in murder. 

What happened to Anna Dale? Are the clues hidden in the decrepit mural? Can Morgan overcome her own demons to discover what exists beneath the layers of lies? 

Review:

I love when a book is told in alternating timelines, especially if the author manages to seamlessly switch between past and present and I don’t know if any author does this better than DC. Can she do any wrong?! I’m beginning to think not, I’ve only read a handful of her books and have finished each one feeling so impressed and awed.

One of my very favorite things about cracking open a DC book is I always know that I’m going to learn something new and I’ll most likely be fascinated with whatever topic she covers and this was no exception. I know next to nothing about art in general, never mind art restoration but I was totally taken with the whole process was which is something I never would’ve guessed. Add in a mystery and her trademark characterization and I was all in. Fans of the author will be thrilled with her latest and if you’ve never read her before get on it!

Overall rating: 4.5/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

Review: Love Her or Lose Her by Tessa Bailey

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Release date: January 14, 2020

Publisher: Avon

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Blurb:

Rosie and Dominic Vega are the perfect couple: high school sweethearts, best friends, madly in love. Well, they used to be anyway. Now Rosie’s lucky to get a caveman grunt from the ex-soldier every time she walks in the door. Dom is faithful and a great provider, but the man she fell in love with ten years ago is nowhere to be found. When her girlfriends encourage Rosie to demand more out of life and pursue her dream of opening a restaurant, she decides to demand more out of love, too. Three words: marriage boot camp.

Never in a million years did Rosie believe her stoic, too-manly-to-emote husband would actually agree to relationship rehab with a weed-smoking hippy. Dom talking about feelings? Sitting on pillows? Communing with nature? Learning love languages? Nope. But to her surprise, he’s all in, and it forces her to admit her own role in their cracked foundation. As they complete one ridiculous—yet surprisingly helpful—assignment after another, their remodeled relationship gets stronger than ever. Except just as they’re getting back on track, Rosie discovers Dom has a secret… and it could demolish everything.

Review:

This is the second in a series, I read and enjoyed the first, Fix Her Up last year. As much as I liked the first book I freaking loved this one, way more than I was expecting to actually. It was just as racy and steamy as the first book but it also had so much emotional depth which was just a great balance for me.

I really liked that this focused on a married couple that was having issues. For me, that’s much more relatable than a super young couple trying to figure things out. So many of Rosie and Dom’s problems are ones that I think many married couples face and it was refreshing to see said issues explored honestly. The characterization of both of them was fantastic, I really felt like I knew both of them by the end and felt like they were both portrayed in a raw and authentic manner.

Guys I just loved this one and if you like your romance novel super spicy then don’t miss this one! I love when the second in a series is just as good, or in this case, better and I’m so excited to see where it goes next.

Overall rating: 5/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

Review: You Were There Too by Colleen Oakley

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Release date: January 7, 2020

Publisher: Berkley

Genre: Contemporary Fiction/ Romance

Blurb:

Acclaimed author Colleen Oakley delivers a heart-wrenching and unforgettable love story about a woman who must choose between the man she loves and the man fate has chosen for her in a novel that reminds us that the best life is one led by the heart.

Mia Graydon’s life looks picket-fence perfect; she has the house, her loving husband, and dreams of starting a family. But she has other dreams too — unexplained, recurring ones starring the same man. Still, she doesn’t think much of them, until a relocation to small-town Pennsylvania brings her face to face with the stranger she has been dreaming about for years. And this man harbors a jaw-dropping secret of his own—he’s been dreaming of her too. 

Determined to understand, Mia and this not-so-stranger search for answers. But when diving into their pasts begins to unravel her life in the present, Mia emerges with a single question—what if?

Review:

I love the premise of this one, the whole reoccurring dream thing actually fascinates me to no end and this took that idea to a whole new level. It definitely requires the reader to be open minded and just take the book for what it is, but if you can just go with the flow and be open to strange happenings and odd coincidences you may enjoy it.

Based on the description alone I really expected this one to be highly emotional and gut wrenching and I felt like for the majority of the book I was waiting for an emotional punch that never came until the very end. It wasn’t even that there was a bunch of buildup and then a big payoff in the end, it was more that it was lacking something for me, maybe a connection with the main character, Mia? I’m not sure but there was definitely something missing for me and despite a tumultuous ending that packed a punch, I can’t say the rest of the book held up for me. This isn’t a bad book by any means, and it did have original components, but it didn’t wow me as much as I had hoped.

Overall rating: 3/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

Review: Husband Material by Emily Belden

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Release date: December 30, 2019

Publisher: Graydon House

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Blurb:

Sometimes love is unpredictable…

Twenty-nine-year-old Charlotte Rosen has a secret: she’s a widow. Ever since the fateful day that leveled her world, Charlotte has worked hard to move forward. Great job at a hot social media analytics company? Check. Roommate with no knowledge of her past? Check. Adorable dog? Check. All the while, she’s faithfully data-crunched her way through life, calculating the probability of risk—so she can avoid it.

Yet Charlotte’s algorithms could never have predicted that her late husband’s ashes would land squarely on her doorstep five years later. Stunned but determined, Charlotte sets out to find meaning in this sudden twist of fate, even if that includes facing her perfectly coiffed, and perfectly difficult, ex-mother-in-law—and her husband’s best friend, who seems to become a fixture at her side whether she likes it or not.

But soon a shocking secret surfaces, forcing Charlotte to answer questions she never knew to ask and to consider the possibility of forgiveness. And when a chance at new love arises, she’ll have to decide once and for all whether to follow the numbers or trust her heart. 

Review:

Do you ever finish a book and just think, meh? That’s what happened to me with this one, I didn’t love or hate it, I didn’t even really like or dislike it either, I just feel pretty apathetic about it overall. Kind of a bummer because the authors previous book, Hot Mess was such a hit for me that I wasn’t expecting this to be such a miss.

There were definitely some things I liked about this one, the fact that Charlotte was a young widow was interesting and the author has a really quirky, sarcastic style I like. There were also some great secondary characters that entertained me but I didn’t really connect with either Charlotte or Brian on any level. I also felt like this really lacked romance which was probably the biggest disappointment for me. The ending was also lackluster for me and by that point I was just ready for it to be over, never a good sign for me. Because I loved Hot Mess so much though I would definitely give the author another try and if you haven’t read that one I can definitely recommend it over this one.

Overall rating: Honestly a 2.75ish but I’ll go with 3/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.