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Tag: "mystery"

Review: That Night by Chevy Stevens

[ 5 ] July 7, 2014

18404248That Night by Chevy Stevens is the She Reads July Book Club Selection! Enter to win 1 of 5 copies here.

Reviewed by Meg Massey

Toni Murphy was a typical teenager with every day problems: a boyfriend her parents disliked, a perfect sister she couldn’t relate to, parents who didn’t understand her, and bullies that made high school a living hell. But when her sister Nicole was found murdered after a night out with Toni and her boyfriend Ryan, Toni’s problems were just beginning. She and Ryan were later convicted of killing Nicole, and after a grueling trial, both went to prison for the crime.

Opening in the moments after Toni is released from prison, That Night jumps back and forth through time, revealing a troubled year in Toni’s past that led to her sister’s violent murder, and the horrific treatment that she endured in prison. In the present, after being released, Toni is determined to put the past behind her and does everything that she can not to violate parole. Even speaking with Ryan is a violation, but when he runs in to someone from their past, he believes that they can find the person that really murdered Nicole. And while Toni is desperate to move on, she knows that she can never really do so until she finds out what happened to her sister on that horrible night.

That Night is a suspenseful tale that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the final pages. While I found Toni difficult to relate to personally, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her as she lost everything: her relationship with Ryan, her sister, and the trust of her parents. But when Toni becomes resolved to take control and solve her sister’s murder, things become really interesting. Lies told by supposed witnesses begin to unravel, and a shocking truth is revealed in the final pages. I felt this novel might appeal more to a young adult audience, only because of the author’s focus on Toni’s teenage years, but I still very much enjoyed the novel and would recommend it to those who enjoy mysteries or crime novels.

This novel does contain language, sex, drug references, and violence.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Meg lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, Ryan. Library professional by day, freelance writer by night, Meg writes about life, entertainment and everything in between.

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

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Review: Gulf Boulevard by Dennis Hart

[ 2 ] July 6, 2014

gulf-boulevard-by-dennis-hartReviewed by Melanie Kline

Gulf Boulevard is by far one of the most fun and entertaining books I have read in quite some time. Jason Najarian is at work when he reaches his hand into his sweet stash, a 56-ounce XXL bag of M&Ms and finds he only has green ones. Jason decides that this must be a premonition of some kind. What are the odds of getting only green M&Ms out of a bag, let alone a 56-ounce XXL bag? So he finds himself the proud owner of a lottery ticket. Everyone he tells about the freak M&M experience thinks he’s crazy and it was just a coincidence or dumb luck.

In the middle of the night, Jason wakes up on the couch and as he’s turning off the TV to go to bed, the lottery drawing is on and he – in great disbelief – finds himself the winner of $63 million. He immediately purchases a house for his mother and a house for his father and makes plans to live his dream on the Gulf Coast of Florida.

He locates a real estate agent, Phyllis Hammerstein, whom he nicknames The Hammer behind her back and pays $1.2 million dollars cash for a home. He moves in all by himself on the side of a Gulf Coast island and frames his green M&Ms. He also winds up purchasing a parrot named Montana that only quotes the movie Scarface and knows every word of it by heart.

Since finding out about his windfall, Jason’s ex-wife, Megan decides that they are still in love and continually attempts to hunt him down while he sends her on wild goose chases. His plan is to become a hermit in his home except when he needs to go to the mainland for groceries or supplies.

Jason very soon realizes that this is not going to happen as the people from the other side of the island begin coming by to visit. They then decide that they will all come to Jason’s side of the island to watch the sunset every night which is where the serious roller coaster ride begins. Jason finds out that Sal is in the mafia and hiding out on the island. He falls in love with Fiona who has her own secrets to keep. “Toast” and Amber are just there for vacation, but wind up getting drawn into the issues that ensue.

Gulf Boulevard was absolutely one of the best books I have read and I recommend it to everyone. Hysterically funny, dramatic, ironic–it has it all and is well worth the read.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

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

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Review: FaceOff

[ 4 ] June 27, 2014

187752781Reviewed by Caleb Shadis

FaceOff is an anthology of 11 different short stories, by 23 famous authors. I was very interested in this book because I recognized quite a few of the authors and heard of a bunch more. I expected it to be a great way to sample new characters that I haven’t had a chance to “meet” yet. I wasn’t disappointed. I will say that the name seemed to be a bit of a misnomer–it kind of implies that characters will be pitted against each other, when most of them they paired up against some foe.

My favorite character in the book (Lucas Davenport) got one of the longest stories in the set which made me very happy. I also found his temporary partner Lincoln Rhyme to be an interesting enough character that I plan on looking up his stories as well.

I have never read a story by Heather Graham or F. Paul Wilson but I was intrigued by both of their characters (Michael Quinn and Repairman Jack). So that is two more series I plan to add to my list of ‘To Read’ books. Apparently, they both tend to have dealing with the supernatural and they have an interesting way of handling situations.

The only story where I knew both of the characters was with Steve Berry’s Cotton Malone and James Rollin’s Gray Pierce. It was interesting seeing them both in a story. However it was pretty obvious that both authors were used to 400+ page stories because it felt extremely rushed (and for these two that is saying something!).

While I found almost every single character worth reading about, the only other two new ones that floated to the top (IMO) was Nick Heller (who was paired with Jack Reacher, another excellent character) and Aloysius Pendergast.

So while I felt this book was a little ‘gimmicky’ and the name for it was misleading, I still enjoyed reading it. It gave me an excellent chance to sample more authors and their leading protagonists. I personally found four new author series I will be actively on the lookout for and a bunch more that won’t pass up if the opportunity presents itself. Excellent sampler for thriller readers!

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 Meryl L. Moss Media Relations. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Liv, Forever by Amy Talkington

[ 1 ] June 17, 2014

18077961Reviewed by Carrie Ardoin

I don’t read too many ghost stories, mostly because my husband sometimes works nights. When I’m alone at home, no doubt my overactive imagination will start creating noises and shadows that aren’t really there. But the thing that made me want to read Liv, Forever, is that it is told from the point of view of the ghost. This makes the story inherently less scary.

As a matter of fact, Liv, Forever is more a love story than a ghost story. Our main character is Liv Bloom, who’s been sent to the prestigious Wickham Hall boarding school as one of its’ few scholarship students. Liv has been bounced from foster home to foster home during her sixteen years, and although the school and the students are rather intimidating, she’s happy to find a place she can call home.

Until one tragic night only a few weeks into the school year, Liv is violently murdered. To her surprise, though, she finds she is still walking around the Wickham campus. She’s a ghost–and it will be up to her friends to find out the truth about what happened to her. But who will listen to Gabe–another scholarship student who’s a loner that everyone thinks is crazy because he sees and hears things that no one else can, and Malcolm–the golden boy who fell quickly and inexplicably in love with Liv before her death?

Let me go ahead and get my main problem with this book out of the way. Liv and Malcolm only had about six weeks together before she was murdered. So was it insta-love? Yes and no. I did find it annoying that Malcolm and Liv had that cliche “locked eyes from across the room” moment, but I didn’t really find that they were boyfriend and girlfriend as much as two teenagers just hanging out, flirting and getting to know each other. Yes, they had strong feelings for one another, but they didn’t get to act on them before Liv died. They are very sweet together, and this is what made the novel so heartbreaking for me.

Though the story does contain a great deal of romance, you never forget that there is a mystery to solve. As it turns out, Wickham Hall has a grisly history and a disturbing body count. When Gabe and Malcolm get closer to the truth, they both find their lives in danger. So you can rest assured that even if you’re looking for ghosts, they are definitely the center of this book.

The climax took a dark turn, and I think that’s why Liv, Forever will appeal to readers of different genres. I, for one, found myself both shocked, angered, and in tears over what happens in the last couple of chapters. I absolutely recommend this book to both lovers of romantic tales and the paranormal.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Carrie runs the blog Sweet Southern Home, and is a stay at home wife and mom to one little boy. When she’s not reading, she’s usually watching Netflix with her husband, playing outside with her son, or baking. Her family would describe her as sometimes annoyingly sarcastic, but mostly lovable. 

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

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Review: Small Plates by Katherine Hall Page

[ 4 ] June 11, 2014

download (11)Reviewed by Meghan Hyden

I loved this book! For anyone who follows my reviews over on The Gal, you will probably notice that I say this often. After all these years of reading, I make the right choice for me about 90% of the time – and this book was definitely the right choice. It was creative, fun, and kept me wanting more.

Small Plates is a book of short stories that all flow together nicely. Several star a character that you may know from other Katherine Hall books, Mrs. Faith Fairchild. She reminds me a lot of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple (who I love!!). She is married to a Reverend and runs a catering company. It seems, from the stories I have read here, that mysteries are something that Faith is good at solving, sometimes with the help of her husband, and she’s great fun to read about.

The book opens up with a well-written Introduction, letting us know what we are in store for as we begin this book. Having read a lot of short story collections (some that I have liked and some that I have despised), I love to see a collection that begins this way. It gives the adventure you are about to embark on some rhyme ‘n’ reason.

And then there are the stories …

“The Ghost of Winthrop: Prudence Winthrop” lives in the home that she shared with her Aunt Eliza, but now that Eliza has passed away, Prudence thinks the home is haunted by her ghost. After finding out about the interesting will her aunt left, she confides all of this to Faith, who eagerly helps the lady solve the mystery. (This is one of my favorites in the book and a great beginning. I had never met Faith Fairchild before and now she is one of my favorite characters.)

“Death in the Dunes” is another story involving Faith Fairchild and her husband. This time they are at The Oceanside Retreat where the Reverend is attending a conference. When a lady shows up scared at her door one night, Faith is pulled into another mystery.

“The Would-Be Widower”: A man decides that he would be a great widower and even goes about, at the beginning of the story, imagining what his life would be like. The problem is, his wife is not anywhere near death. As he goes about trying to “fix” his situation, things happen that prove that not everything works out the way you want them to.

“Across the Pond”: Faith Fairchild makes another appearance, this time with her sister, Hope, and a close friend, Polly. Polly has recently become engaged – to her step-sister’s ex-fiance (and you will never believe where they met). As you can imagine, drama ensues – and another mystery is there for Faith to solve. (The ending to this one was completely unexpected. I mean, right up to the end I thought I had an idea of what was going to happen, but when it ended … wow.)

“A Perfect Marine Day”: This story opens with Myra Peters found dead in the water, having fallen over the side of a boat, which was odd to everyone who knew her because she grew up on boats and her father had a lobster company. So what DID happen? The story-teller (this is in first-person and the teller never reveals her/his identity) investigates.

“Hiding Places”: Felicity Wyndham is pregnant with her son and newly married to the love of her life. While her husband travels for business, she passes the time decorating their new home. While she’s doing this, she finds that her husband has lots of little hiding places around the place, which she finds cute, and she makes a game out of finding them. But sometimes when you make the decision to snoop, you might not like what you find

“The Proof Is Always in the Pudding”: Another Faith Fairchild story, and another one of my favorites with her. She’s having a conversation with her mother-in-law while she helps her prepare for the up-coming Christmas festivities. There’s an extra person for dinner and her mother-in-law is worried, especially because of “The Fairchild Christmas Dinner Curse.” Faith is shocked that her husband hasn’t told her about this, especially since he knows her love of a good mystery. Was there a murder one Christmas long ago? Or was it simply an accident? Read the story and you’ll see.

“Sliced”: In this story, Faith Fairchild has agreed to be part of a fund-raiser for breast cancer research. Think of the reality cooking shows you’ve seen on TV and you’ll know what she’s dealing with – four acclaimed New England Chefs competing for the Golden Toque, having to make three courses (appetizer, entree and dessert), all using specific ingredients that they aren’t told until right before they begin cooking. What could have been fun ended up just a bad situation all around when she found out just WHO she was competing against. As usual, there is a mystery, but this one isn’t hard to solve. (This is my absolute favorite of the whole book. I went to school for culinary arts and found this story really intriguing.)

“The Two Marys”: Mary finds a baby abandoned in her barn on Christmas Eve and, not knowing what to do, calls upon Faith Fairchild Christmas Day for help. Having heard about a previous mystery she had solved (a dead body near the lighthouse, and then more “accidents” afterwards), Mary knew she was the one to call, especially living on such a small island where rumors and secrets spread like wildfire. (A very well written and powerful story that made me cry. The perfect ending to this amazing book of short stories, which, in all honesty, was the BEST book of short stories I have ever read.)

But wait … that’s not the end. The last few pages of this book have three delicious looking recipes from three of the stories in the book.

Well done, Katherine Hall. You have a new fan. :)

Rating: ★★★★★ 

You can find Meghan (that’s Meghan spelled the right way) over on her book-ish blog The Gal in the Blue Mask. She’s an avid reader, a book editor, a story teller, a purveyor of delectable fare and pulchritudinous confections, and the best aunt in the world. She loves gardening, hiking, cooking and spending time at the zoo, library and museums. She may not be able to find her wallet, car keys or sunglasses, but she always knows where her Kindle is.

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: No One Else Can Have You by Kathleen Hale

[ 3 ] May 18, 2014

18052934Reviewed by Cal Cleary

Small town life is very different. There are a great many ways in which this is true, but few are as extreme – or as dramatic – as crime. It’s not that it’s less common, though it is; it’s the way it affects the town. The way a mob mentality can take over and turn a quest for justice into a personal attack on the town’s reputation. The way vendettas and phobias against outsiders can blind the people to things they know. No One Else Can Have You takes a look at all those issues and more… through a farcical dark young adult comedy. I have mixed feelings about this.

Crime and comedy are tough to blend. It’s been done and done well plenty of times, but it requires a deft balance – and even stories that hit that balance perfectly are going to turn some readers off. Writer Kathleen Hale tries to downplay a lot of the genre’s darkness, which I’m fine with because Hale never quite feels comfortable with darkness. The book’s best bits lean more towards elaborate, off-kilter farce, set-pieces of sublime ridiculousness that find our heroine stumbling haphazardly into problems (and, occasionally, solutions) that would be incredibly easy to avoid. But, of course, the townsfolks’ tacit agreement to avoid uncomfortable truths is why Kippy is the only one who stands a chance to solve this case.

Make no mistake: No One Else Can Have You is a mess. It veers between broad comedy and dark procedural, with neither element every really meshing. The book has drawn a lot of comparisons as a young adult Fargo for its combination of crime, comedy, and small town life, but it lacks the Coens’ razor-sharp satirical precision and depth of character. It needs its Marge Gunderson, its sympathetic, human character navigating the mess; instead, the central character is just one of a cast of crazies. In its worst moments, No One Else Can Have You seems loudly condescending of its small-town cast and dismissive of its story-driving investigation.

And yet, despite its flaws, despite the many ways in which the book doesn’t really work, I still kind of really liked it. The novel’s strongest segments eventually develop a darkly manic slapstick energy stemming from Kippy’s odd, loopy worldview. It never quite lost the stink of condescension to me, but the bizarre twists of Kippy’s investigation became more and more a gleefully fun reflection of Kippy’s loopy inner life. While I would have liked a more controlled pace, stronger character development, a more interesting plot to go along with the unpredictable sense of fun, I can at least say this: No one else could have written No One Else Can Have You.

Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

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 HarperTeen. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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