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Category: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense

Review: A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

[ 4 ] June 4, 2015

head full of ghosts book coverReviewed by Nina Longfield

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay is a disturbing tour de force. This is the story of the Barrett family in northern Massachusetts. The Barretts are suffering from a malady of personal misfortune. John Barrett lost his long-time job and isn’t successful in new employment endeavors. John and his wife, Sarah, are experiencing difficulties in their marriage. There is the financial mishaps creating tension, but greater than that is the declining emotional and physical health of their family.

The Barrett’s oldest daughter, Marjorie, is the subject of the family’s emotional devastation. Marjorie is sullen and withdrawn; a seemingly normal teenager until her moods turn excessively darker. She admits to hearing voices. She is seen as a threat to the family’s wellbeing and especially a menace to the security of her younger sister Merry (Meredith). Eight-year-old Merry doesn’t understand what her older sister is dealing with but she knows things have changed, as they no longer make up stories as they used to. Marjorie’s stories are now dark and scary.

As the atmosphere in the Barrett household grows bleaker, John turns away from medicine and looks to religion to return his family to normal. This creates greater friction throughout the family unit. Impending financial ruin forces the Barretts to open their house to a reality television production that follows Marjorie’s increasing madness and approaching exorcism.

Tremblay has a way of building tension using the most common of daily chores and occurrences. Even though the narration’s current situation is safe, Tremblay creates anticipation filled with dread for what is coming. I felt like I was always trying to peek around a corner to catch a glimpse of what might be there.

A Head Full of Ghosts has two narrators. Merry Barrett is a young woman living a quiet inconspicuous life. It is fifteen years after events within the Barrett household and Merry is telling her childhood story to best-selling author Rachel Neville. The second narrator is Merry at eight years old as she lives the day-to-day horror that her family is experiencing. Both narrators, the adult and the child, are somewhat unreliable. The child tells the story from what she sees and experiences; she admits to embellishing some events in attempts for attention. She is only eight. The adult Merry seems to have something to hide. There is a sense that she is carrying too much guilt for what transpired fifteen years ago. It takes time for her story to come out leaving Rachel Neville and the reader stunned.

I finished Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts a few days ago and it is still sitting in my forethoughts. I suppose you can say the story is haunting me. I’m contemplating this novel. Tremblay’s writing is authentic. The story mesmerizing. The narrator, both child and adult, is likeable and easily forgiven for admitted exaggeration. A Head Full of Ghosts was difficult to put down and is not easy to let go after reaching the end. Descriptions of A Head Full of Ghosts suggested it is a thriller full of drama, suspense, and horror, yet this novel incorporates so much more.

In the end, Paul Tremblay has created a heart-wrenching tale that seems all too relevant in today’s world. It is a testament to the extremes one is driven to when hope is elusive. A Head Full of Ghosts has a solid and satisfying ending, yet it also leaves lurking consideration as I ponder other paths the Barrett family could have taken.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by William Morrow. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Twisted Innocence by Terri Blackstock

[ 2 ] June 3, 2015

twisted innocence book coverReviewed by Sarah McCubbin

The scales of justice are weighed unfairly. Two men are dead. Another is in prison. A fourth is wanted for a murder he didn’t commit. The common thread of destruction binding their stories together is a drug dealer named Leonard Miller who controls the cocaine trade in Florida’s panhandle. Wherever he goes, he leaves a wake of destruction and grief.

In her novel, Twisted Innocence, Terri Blackstock weaves together a story of intrigue and redemption finding second chances in the ashes. A master storyteller, Blackstock builds intrigue and suspense with each twist and turn. What originally meets the eye is never what it seems.

Holly Cramer has made her share of mistakes. A one night stand with Creed Kershaw leaves her pregnant, unmarried and alone. With pink tipped bleach blond hair, she doesn’t look the part of a stable parent, but more like the party girl she was. Nevertheless, she rises to the challenge, chooses to raise her daughter, Lily, alone, and supports herself driving a taxi and working part time as a private investigator.

It seems that trouble is a family business for Holly and her siblings. Several of their family members have either been killed or imprisoned due to Leonard Miller who has managed to elude capture. When Holly attempts to find Creed Kershaw, she discovers that he too is mixed up with Leonard, is accused of murder and is being hunted by gang members. In his desperation to elude police, Creed kidnaps Holly and Lily. As Holly uses her investigative skills to determine who is guilty and who is innocent, she finds herself a marked target of Leonard and his gang. When she and Lily are finally safe, Leonard turns that connection into a trap for Creed.

With non-stop action, this novel was a real page turner. With just the right amount of mystery, this Christian thriller novel will be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys fast paced fiction. This was the third in the Moonlighter series, each one focusing on a different sister. However, it was the first book in the series that I had read. Normally that can cause some confusion, but that was not the case. Enough detail was given to understand the story completely without reading the earlier books in the series. I will be looking for more of Terri Blackstock’s books in the future as this one was two thumbs up!

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Sarah McCubbin is a homeschooling and foster mom in NE Ohio where she resides with her husband and 7 children. In addition to reading great books, she enjoys gardening, traveling and blogging at Living Unboxed.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Zondervan. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Captive by Brighton Walsh

[ 2 ] June 2, 2015

captive book coverReviewed by Melanie Kline

Madison Frost is miserable. She makes every attempt to make herself invisible to those around her at school, in public–basically anywhere she goes. At home, she is already invisible to her parents. Her immensely dysfunctional family includes an alcoholic, pill-popping mother and a father who hardly ever comes home from work. On the rare occasion that he does show up, he turns a blind eye on the entire situation. Madison feels helpless, useless and cannot wait to escape her situation. Unfortunately, guilt keeps her there day after day, making sure that her mother doesn’t overdose or cause herself even more harm.

Imagine Madison’s surprise when she is kidnapped by a huge, frightening man who is as sinfully gorgeous as he is terrifying. Who would want her kidnapped? And an even better question…who would be willing to pay the ransom? Terrified but intrigued, Madison studies not only her situation but also her captor, “Ghost”, waiting and biding her time to make an escape.

Captive becomes much more predictable once Madison makes her escape attempt – which of course fails – and she and Ghost begin talking and getting to know each other better. Both find themselves falling for the other against all odds and rationality. As a reader, I felt as though I fell straight into a Harlequin romance. The predictability multiplies until until Madison and Ghost finally admit their feelings and sleep together. At that point, the book finally moves on.

Once back on track, Captive presents another twist. We find out who actually arranged for Madison’s kidnapping and why and the story regains some of its credibility.

I’d recommend Captive to anyone who doesn’t mind the typical romance, or is looking for a quick easy read that doesn’t require their full attention. The book showed great promise, but I would have preferred the midpoint of the story to be more interesting and much less predictable.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by St. Martin’s Griffin. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Bone Box by Jay Amberg

[ 6 ] June 2, 2015

bone box book coverReviewed by Nina Longfield 

Bone Box by Jay Amberg is a sweeping archeological suspense novel that spans Anatolia and merges ancient history, contemporary business, religion, and world politics. Bone Box begins as Joe Travers is descending on Istanbul, Turkey. Travers, a former corporate executive, is an unlikely analyst for an archeological dig. Yet Travers has a keen ability to see below the surface of the people around him. He is in Turkey at the behest of the Aegean Association, a multi-national foundation, to evaluate the Saint John’s archeological site and determine Sophia Altay’s ability to continue leading the dig. When Altay finds an ancient relic that could possibly rewrite history, Travers must determine who he is really working for and at what cost.

To be honest, at first, I had a difficult time getting into Bone Box. Joseph (Joe) Travers is a distant protagonist. Not cold, just withholding and difficult to know. I was several chapters into the novel before I began to form a wary fondness for Travers. He has suffered a great loss in his personal life and I think this adds to his distance but also makes him vulnerable, which leads to likeability. Sophia Altay, the lead archeologist, took longer to form any opinion on; she begins too cardboard-like, cool, and seemingly calculating. It is her passion for her job and her research that helps to chip away her icy façade. As both characters mold into likeable, the story also takes shape and draws the reader in with the deepening mystery. Questions arise as to why Travers was brought to Turkey and to an archaeological dig unsuited for his technological expertise.

Amberg is meticulous with his detail; so much so, that the details tend to take over at times distancing the reader from the story. Yet, Amberg offers up some vivid comparisons at times, “her eyes are William Blake’s tiger’s”, that draws one back into the moment captivating the reader. Amberg’s writing is generally good. There are a few transition flaws and sentence structure flaws that hinder the narration at times, but these flaws are easily dismissed given the captivating story within Bone Box.

Don’t be put off by this novel’s slow beginning. Bone Box picks up quickly as the narrative moves into the conflict between the Aegean Association against Sophia Altay’s management of Saint John’s archeological dig site. It is Travers’ job to determine Altay’s capabilities to continue overseeing the dig site. Tension escalates when Altay discovers a fabulous and world-altering artifact. Things become complicated for Travers as he tries to figure out the true intent for him being in Turkey and what Altay’s discovery means to him and the world. At this point, Bone Box falls into place and was difficult to set down as the novel raced to a satisfying conclusion.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.

Review copy was provided by Amika Press. 

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Review: Agent Ai by Michael Wreford

[ 1 ] May 29, 2015

agent ai book coverReviewed by Caleb Shadis

Kill with a Borrowed Knife: or Agent Ai is a spy thriller and takes place primarily in Russia, China and Hong Kong. George Quant is a journalist turned spy. He burned his bridges in Moscow and is in China, on the run from some very dangerous people.

When George arrives in China he is met by the correct people, who help him get settled and also immediately find him a job to do. It just so happens that a wife of an important party man may have some important information. They want Quant, now known as Ai, to try and get close to her and pump her for information.

It also turns out that Quant is on the run from the Russians because he stole from them. He snatched a person and the secret code he was writing. This also put his British handler (whom he was in love with) into a sticky place. Mostly because he didn’t deliver either of the items to her.

This was a decent book but George bugged me. Everyone seemed to think he was a great agent, but what I saw throughout the book was that he was a guy who just got lucky. He did have some talent and skill that kept him alive, but he didn’t seem to be able to stay out of trouble–even when he really should have been looking out for and expecting it to show up. He was captured three separate times and only one of them should have been a real surprise. His escapes were also mostly luck and had nothing to do with his personal abilities.

The plot was actually fairly intricate and for quite a bit of the book I was having a very hard time figuring out what was happening. The story was filled with flashbacks and they were very necessary for helping paint the picture that Quant found himself in. It was also mostly of his own making.  I didn’t rate this book very highly mostly because of the confusion for the first half of the book, and Quant’s general habit of poor decisions that when they worked out, made him look like a genius.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Caleb is a software engineer and amateur woodworker living in southern Minnesota. He has more hobbies than he has time or money for, and enjoys his quiet time reading.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Michael Wreford. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: The Daughter by Jane Shemilt

[ 3 ] May 27, 2015

the daughter book coverReviewed by Jennifer Jensen

Jenny lives a seemingly perfect life that shatters after her youngest daughter, Naomi, disappears and is presumed dead. Many months later, Jenny and her two remaining children and her husband are still plagued by what could have happened to Naomi. Life moves on as best as it can for the rest of them, but Jenny is haunted and begins to search for answers. As she goes through her daughter’s journal and attempts to decode the cryptic entries, a very different Naomi than the one Jenny knew begins to emerge.

The Daughter is the debut from newcomer Jane Shemilt, but unfortunately didn’t live up to my expectations. I found it neither as suspenseful nor as thrilling as the early buzz had led me to believe it would be. The narrative is very disjointed, flipping between 2009 (when Naomi disappears), 2010, and 2011. Although the chapters are labeled, I still on occasion found myself having to turn back the pages to find out where exactly in the timeline I was. I’m not a huge fan of novels that use this technique, especially when it’s supposed to be a thriller. Because it begins in 2011, we already know that no one knows what happened to Naomi, and are stuck with the ramblings of her devastated mother.

Jenny struck me as an uninvolved parent; she didn’t seem to have a great relationship with any of her children. It wasn’t only Naomi that had secrets. It later comes out that one of her sons was indirectly involved in the disappearance, and had she been more attuned to her children, she may have been able to intervene.

The pacing felt slow to me, and when the truth finally comes out regarding what happened to Naomi in 2009, it felt a bit out there. I wish the author had let the reader get to know Naomi as well, possibly through flashbacks written in the third person point of view. If that had been the case, I think perhaps I could have accepted the reveal with more ease.

While I definitely cannot recommend The Daughter, I am sure it will spark the interest of some readers— especially those who are interested in slower-paced mysteries, disjointed timelines, and stream of consciousness narrators.

Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

Jennifer graduated from the University of Utah with a BA in English. She occasionally dabbles with her own fiction writing, particularly with the Young Adult and Paranormal genres. She currently resides in Utah with her husband and daughter.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by William Morrow Paperbacks. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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