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Category: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense

Review: Golden State by Michelle Richmond

[ 2 ] March 28, 2014

51Oet5pfz0LReviewed by Jax Kepple

Stories layered within stories, interjected with side stories and straying into brief mini tangents make up Golden State by Michelle Richmond and the result is a riveting book with a can’t-put-down ending.

Julie Walker is a doctor at a VA hospital. She is dealing with pretty much the perfect storm of losses and emotional problems: her marriage, her sister and her job are all in flux and requiring her attention, while her coworkers at the hospital are being held hostage and the state of California is voting on whether to succeed the union. Yes, it’s a lot of story, but Richmond expertly navigates these intertwining story lines in such a way that the reader will hardly notice they’ve been reading a digression about the time Julie went to a fertility doctor and then is snapped back to the tense hostage situation.

Julie is a realistic and very identifiable character, trying to escape her Southern Christian roots while maintaining a stressful job as a doctor, a marriage and separation to midnight radio DJ Tom, and the return of her immature and irresponsible sister, Heather. Heather is back after ruining Tom and Julie’s lives years ago in a very serious and life-changing way. She enlisted in the army and went on tour, and now is pregnant and not telling who the baby’s father is. She wants to repair her relationship with Julie and have her deliver the child, and Julie is apprehensive and not sure if she can let Heather in again.

The story opens with Julie trying to get across San Francisco to get to Heather before the baby is delivered, while an old friend cracks and takes hostages at the same hospital she works at. Julie laboriously makes her way on one foot after hurting her ankle, all the while thinking about how her life has turned out. Her crumbling marriage, her house, her career, her relationship with a former patient and her son and all her decisions got her to where she is now: limping across the city to try to save her sister and her coworkers. San Francisco is another character, who is going through turmoil as citizens are rioting in a juicy subplot about California, fed up with the federal government, is voting on whether or not to succeed from the United States.

My one qualm would be what the hostage-taker makes Julie do right before the end, and without giving away spoilers, I would say that the ending could have been great without it. Golden State was a fantastic story about one woman’s quest to save herself in the face of danger, both physical and emotional. I felt that it really captured the essence of being a woman in today’s world.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Jax is in an accountant at a hedge fund. She resides in NYC with her husband.

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

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Review: The Culling by Robert Johnson

[ 1 ] March 25, 2014

18499955Reviewed by Shannon Trenton

It is a proven fact that the world population has exploded in the last century. While it took 18 centuries to reach the first billion people, it has only taken about two centuries to grow by six times that much. With so many people competing for finite resources, the future sustainability of our planet and the human race has been called into question. What if somebody proposed a radical solution to stem the tide?

In The Culling, author Robert Johnson imagines such a scenario.

CDC virologist Carl Sims is assigned to track a flu outbreak in the Guangdong region of China. His team, led by eminent researcher Dr. Jenna Williams, is shocked to find a flu strain that has infected everyone and has killed two out of three people. As Carl continues his quest for answers he uncovers sign after sign that the killer flu may not be at all what he imagined. When he begins to experience symptoms, he begins a race across the world to evade quarantine and warn his colleagues before it is too late.

At the same time, a small group of the world’s foremost scientists has been pondering the issues created by overpopulation – the extinction of flora and fauna, rapidly depleting food and natural resources, and the potential for humanity’s destruction as the situation worsens. These few agree that drastic measures are necessary to save humanity from itself, and when Carl’s path crosses with them he must decide whether to participate in the culling, or to try and stop it.

Johnson weaves narrative with real world references, including stories about the “Octomom” and statements from well-known scholars about the dangers of overpopulation. The population control movement that motivates the scientists in this story is a fictional construct, but mirrors the position of real-life biologist Paul Ehrlich.

Readers familiar with Dan Brown’s Inferno may find it interesting to compare the two books and each author’s approach to the same issue. While I certainly found the former book entertaining, I was captivated by Johnson’s willingness to directly challenge deep-seated moral norms about the value of individual lives versus the value of the whole population, as well as each character’s internal struggle with the decisions he or she made. Peripheral plot points made certain decisions all the more poignant.

My concerns with the book are few, and do not detract considerably from my own enjoyment of the story. The language dealing with the diseases in question is highly technical and makes some passages difficult to follow. Also, there were some typographical and grammatical errors in my review copy; however, as it is a preview edition I fully expect those issues to be resolved in the final sale copy.

The Culling forces the reader to confront a troubling question about our world’s ability to sustain its current population growth, and to consider whether the benefits of steps to mitigate the damage can possibly balance out the morally and ethically questionable steps themselves. If you’re interested in stories of suspense, morality tales or ones that bring real-world issues into sharp focus, you will enjoy The Culling. While you may need a medical dictionary to cut through some terminology, the effort is well worth it.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Shannon lives in Cleveland, Ohio with her husband, son, and two cats. When she isn’t reading, getting paid to play on social media, or running her own business she enjoys playing with her baby and cooking.

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

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Review: The Secrets She Carried by Barbara Davis

[ 4 ] March 24, 2014

16056382Reviewed by Colleen Turner

After losing her job in the print magazine publishing world of New York City two years previously, Leslie Nichols is quickly running out of money and options for making any. After receiving a message that the time limit for her to accept her claim to her grandmother’s estate is fast approaching, Leslie thinks this might be the perfect opportunity for her. Yes, she has refused to return to her family home of Peak Plantation for thirty years after her mother’s tragic death and has no wish to relieve the painful memories that tragedy stirs up. But she has nothing better to be doing right now and selling the plantation might solve her money issues. And with her ex-con father – the man everyone believes was responsible for her mother’s death – recently released from jail and sure to be tracking her down for money soon, returning to Peak Plantation also offers her a way of avoiding him. She can swallow her fear of the past, sell the plantation and move on for good.

Getting rid of Peak Plantation doesn’t prove to be as easy as she hoped, however. Someone else has a claim as well. Jay Davenport, the caretaker of Peak who took care of Leslie’s grandmother before she died, has been cultivating the land Leslie’s grandmother left to him in the hopes of turning it into a prosperous winery. For better or worse, Leslie and Jay will have to work together to do what is best for Peak as well as themselves. But as Leslie and Jay continue long buried secrets of the plantation and Leslie’s family begin to surface, including the life and death of a lady’s maid, Adele Laveau, who came to the plantation in the 1930s. As the two restore Peak and delve into its various mysteries they will be forced to face shocking truths – about Adele, Leslie’s family and each other – that will change their lives forever.

The Secrets She Carried does that wonderful thing so many books I’ve enjoyed lately do: effortlessly combine the past and the present, swirling the secrets and truths of the two timelines together until all the connections are laid open for the reader to marvel at. The modern day story of Leslie and Jay was very enjoyable, showing a slow but sweet love affair open up for these two characters that have been hurt in the past and need each other’s perspectives and honesty to move on from the pain they have been harboring. Without giving anything away the way the conflict between Leslie and her father is brought to a head is incredibly touching and I think the way both Leslie and Jay learn to open up and let other people in was spot on.

As usual the story line set in the past was my favorite part, however. Adele is such a captivating character and what she does for love is heartbreaking. While some of the secrets we learn were easy to see coming, other aspects were a total surprise for me and had me going back and rereading earlier passages to see how I could have possibly missed it. That, for me, made The Secrets She Carried that much more entertaining and a book I will remember for some time.

The Secrets She Carried is a touching look at the damage secrets can cause and the redemptive power of facing your demons, letting go of the past and opening yourself up to others. None of the characters are perfect which makes them easily relatable and sympathetic. Even thought the novel wraps up neatly by the end I enjoyed the characters so much that I have a secret hope the author writes a sequel so I can continue with the story of Leslie, Jay and Peak Plantation. That, to me, proves how enjoyable this novel is.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.

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

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Blog Tour: The Collector of Dying Breaths by M.J. Rose

[ 4 ] March 13, 2014

collector-of-dying-breaths-coverPlease welcome M.J. Rose, author of The Collector of Dying Breaths, as she tours the blogosphere with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

Reviewed by Colleen Turner

If you have never read a book by M.J. Rose then you are missing out on an immersive, sensual adventure that twists and turns through time and across the world, one that is laced with mystery, romance and heartbreak unlike anything else I’ve read. In her Reincarnationist series she introduces us to an unforgettable character named Jac L’Etoile, a woman from a long and illustrious line of French perfumers who has continually fought against her abilities to experience past life memories, her own as well as others, and who has spent her life trying to debunk the mysteries of the past in order to make sense of the mysteries surrounding her in the present. In The Collector of Dying Breaths, Jac will be forced to face her abilities head on and to trust in not only those abilities but in the people closest to her if she stands a change of finding some peace in a life that has been marred by tragedy.

When Jac’s life is turned upside down (once again) by the death of one of the people closest to her (no spoilers for those who know the series) she is thrust into contact with Melinoe Cypros, an eccentric and cunning heiress who wants Jac to decipher the work of the 16th century perfumer Rene le Florentin and use it to figure out the formula to reanimate a person’s dying breath. Taking on this project will also bring Jac’s one and only love, Griffin North, back into her life, a man she has loved not only in this life but in all others and whom she has caused the death of in each previous life. Even as Jac initially tries to refuse Melinoe’s offer she soon gives into the temptation of finishing Rene’s work and possibly finding a way to bring back her loved one. But agreeing to Melinoe’s terms to work on the formula at her opulent home in the forests of Fontainebleau, a home dripping with the priceless art collection Melinoe is determined to keep in this life and the next, brings Jac into the lair of a conniving, ruthless woman who will do anything to get what she wants. And what she wants might just cost Jac everything.

Weaved together with Jac’s story is that of Rene, the man who rose from nothing to become the perfumer to Catharine de Medici. This great honor comes with a heavy price, however, and Rene finds himself also creating poisons for his queen to use against her enemies and continuing his mentor’s work of discovering the secret to bringing back the dead. As Rene trusts Queen Catharine he does not question what she asks of him. But when Rene falls in love with one of Catharine’s ladies in waiting he discovers just how dangerous this Medici princess can be.

It is hard to find exactly where to begin my praise of The Collector of Dying Breath because I just loved it all! The meticulous sensory descriptions work to transport the reader through time much as Jac experiences it and it is hard not to feel the joy, passion and pain of the characters. The depths of obsession experienced by both Catharine and Melinoe and the lengths they both will go to to get what they desire is quite frightening and adds a heavy dose of shock, terror and passion to the suspenseful plots. I have long hoped that Griffin and Jac would somehow come together and watching their connection unfold alongside Rene and his love pulls at the heartstrings. Combine all of this emotion with the detailed and immersive history and the reincarnation twist and what isn’t there to love?

My only complaint would be that the story ended too soon for me and, from the ending, I have a very sad feeling that this might conclude Jac’s story. I truly hope I am wrong because I, for one, want more. This series is something not to miss, regardless of which book you decide to start with. They are magical.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.

Review and giveaway copies were provided free of any obligation by Atria Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Human Remains by Elizabeth Haynes

[ 1 ] March 8, 2014

9780062276766_p0_v2_s260x420Reviewed by Cal Cleary

How well do you know your neighbor? For many people today, the answer is probably, “Who are you and why are you talking to me?” If you didn’t see your neighbor for a week, would you notice? For a month? For longer? It’s scary to realize that, for many people, it could be months before they were really missed. And, in Elizabeth Haynes’ new novel, Human Remains, that very vulnerability is what attracts a serial killer so elusive, no one actually realizes that he’s killing anyone.

Annabel has never been a terribly social person, but when she investigates her next-door neighbor’s house based on an odd smell, she discovers a body seemingly left alone there for weeks without notice. Dismayed by how easy it was for someone to simply disappear, Annabel uses her position as a civilian analyst with the police to dig up information about similar deaths, and finds a frightening statistic about her town – something that suggests there’s more to these deaths than simple accidents.

I genuinely enjoyed Human Remains. Annabel is a heroine who remains likable and interesting even when she’s acting like a doormat or being a bit anti-social. Indeed, Haynes has a talent for crafting characters you can really relate to regardless of how broken they may be, but the grounded nature of most of the book will make a few small elements stand out all the more. I don’t even need to guess what the most difficult part of the book to swallow is going to be, so I’ll just come out and say it: The killer’s methods are perhaps just a step too far into the ridiculous. Saying why would be unfair, I think, because Haynes does a good job integrating it into the world, and because it fits so flawlessly with the book’s thematic hook, but it still took a few chapters for me to fully accept that was going on.

But what carries the book through its roughest patches and makes it easy to suspend disbelief for some of the book’s more…unexpected surprises, is Haynes’ dedication to her theme. She manages to tackle loneliness without reducing it to bland social tics or a ‘disease’ that must be fixed for someone to be a better person, and the focus on loneliness in city life help keep it stronger than your average serial killer yarn. Which is good! There’s some stuff in this book that doesn’t quite work, but I’d still ultimately recommend Human Remains as a focused, emotionally deft thriller with a strong point of view that overpowers whatever other issues I have.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Cal Cleary is a librarian, critic and writer in rural Ohio. You can find more of his work at read/RANT and Comics Crux.

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

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Review: Never Go Back by Child Lee

[ 3 ] March 5, 2014

914axwbH+PL._SL1500_Reviewed by Caleb Shadis

Never Go Back is the 18th book in the Jack Reacher series. I’ve listened to several earlier ones, and all of them have Jack Reacher as a large man that doesn’t back down to anyone for any reason. He finds a threat of any kind a challenge and you better be willing and able to back it up.

This time Reacher has finally decided to look up Susan Turner, the new commander of his old unit (had a part in 61 Hours four books earlier). He was attracted to her then and since he’s in the area, he stops in to say hello and see if the person matches the voice. He’s disappointed. She isn’t in residence any more. As a matter of fact she was arrested just the previous day, for accepting a bribe of all things. The man sitting in for Major Turner also seems to be laying in wait for Reacher. He has a sucker punch; he reenlists Reacher and orders him to stay in the area and await trial. He’s accused of both a murder and not paying child support.

Needless to say, with Reacher, this is just like waving a red flag in front of a bull. Not only that, less than five minutes after he is dropped off at his cheap motel, a couple of military type bad boys show up to run him off. Little do they know what they are getting themselves into!

The harder someone pushes Reacher away, the harder he pushes back. When he is arrested for the brutal beating of Susan’s lawyer, Reacher has had enough and decides to take matter into his own hands. Someone is trying very hard to cover something up and isn’t afraid to get some else’s hands a little dirty in the process.

Reacher is mostly Reacher. He likes women, he protects the innocent and permanently deals with bad guys with extreme prejudice. He is violence incarnate when he lets loose and he does so with no remorse. Most of these stories appeal because Reacher does things many would like to do to those who oppress and force their wants on others. He’s an avenging angel.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

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 Delacorte Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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