Review: The Codebreaker’s Secret by Sara Ackerman

Review: The Codebreaker’s Secret by Sara AckermanThe Codebreaker's Secret by Sara Ackerman
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: espionage, historical fiction, World War II
Pages: 384
Published by Mira Books on August 2, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

A brilliant female codebreaker. An “unbreakable” Japanese naval code. A pilot on a top-secret mission that could change the course of WWII. The Codebreaker's Secret is a dazzling story of love and intrigue set during America’s darkest hour.
1943. As war in the Pacific rages on, Isabel Cooper and her codebreaker colleagues huddle in “the dungeon” at Station HYPO in Pearl Harbor, deciphering secrets plucked from the airwaves in a race to bring down the enemy. Isabel has only one wish: to avenge her brother’s death. But she soon finds life has other plans when she meets his best friend, a hotshot pilot with secrets of his own.
1965. Fledgling journalist Lu Freitas comes home to Hawai'i to cover the grand opening of the glamorous Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Rockefeller's newest and grandest project. When a high-profile guest goes missing, Lu forms an unlikely alliance with an intimidating veteran photographer to unravel the mystery. The two make a shocking discovery that stirs up memories and uncovers an explosive secret from the war days. A secret that only a codebreaker can crack.

My Review:

Like the author’s previous work, The Codebreaker’s Secret is primarily set in the author’s home state, Hawai’i, during World War II. And like her other books, this one mixes a touch of romance with a story about both brave and nefarious wartime deeds on a homefront that experienced the war just a bit differently – and considerably closer to home – than did the mainland.

This one is also a bit different because it has a bit of a timeslip element to it. Not exactly, and not all that far apart in time, but just far enough for that wartime experience to seem both far away in the rearview mirror but still very much relevant – and impactful – on the characters’ present.

We begin in 1942, in Washington DC, with codebreaker Isabel Cooper desperate to get to Hawai’i. Her brother was an Army pilot, who was stationed at Pearl on that “Date which will live in infamy” when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Walt Cooper went down with his plane. He was his sisters’ big brother, protector and best friend, and her world seems empty without him to share it with.

She’s determined to go to Hawai’i, to meet Walt’s friends, to see what he saw and walk where he walked, so that she can feel closer to him – even though he’s gone. When she manages to break the code of Japan’s complex naval cipher machine, she’s on her way to Pearl, where her adventure truly begins.

In 1965, Luana (call her Lu, please!) Freitas is on her way back to her home in Hawai’i, but not for a visit to her family. She’s a features writer for Sunset Magazine and she’s come to cover the opening of Laurance Rockefeller’s brand new hotel, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, on the Kohala Coast of the island of Hawai’i. Sunset was, and is, a lifestyle magazine. Lu was supposed to write about the luxurious splendor of the hotel and the parties attended by the rich and famous.

But the first person Lu meets on the way to the hotel is the famous singer Joni Diaz. The second person is the legendary Life Magazine photographer Matteo Russi. When Joni goes missing, the writer and the photographer team up to learn what, and especially who, happened to the singer for her body to wash up on the hotel’s otherwise pristine beach.

What they discover is that the secrets and the enemies that have been hidden since the war still have the power to destroy. But that the wounds left behind by that war can still be healed, and that what was once lost can be found again. Even in the last place that anyone ever expected to look.

Escape Rating A: This is my third book by Sara Ackerman (after Red Sky Over Hawaii and Radar Girls) and so far it’s my favorite. (I’m saying “so far” because there are two earlier books of hers that I have not yet read – and because of course I expect more!)

A huge part of what made this work so well for me was the way that the “timeslip” worked. First we follow Isabel in 1943, then we are with Lu in 1965. There’s no need for any supernatural woo-woo or lost diaries to make the two stories link up, because Matteo Russi becomes a central figure in both time periods.

Which is entirely plausible and even realistic. Think about that whole meme on the interwebs about the foreshortening of time, that in our heads we think of 1980 as being twenty years ago when it’s really 40 years ago and what a mindbend that is.

But in 1965 the men and women who served in World War II (and survived) were mostly in their 40s, and often their early 40s at that. Very much in their primes, with most of their lives still ahead of them. A lot of TV heroes in the mid-1960s had served in either WW2 or Korea, which led to them being cops or private investigators or something else dangerous and sexy. Not that I was thinking that last bit when I watched those shows, I was only eight in 1965.

That Matteo is a young aviator in 1942 and an experienced photographer in 1965 at the top of his game grounds the story. As does Lu’s position of being a young female journalist who feels compelled to beat the men who are certain that she can’t cut it because she’s a woman.

There have been a lot of recent books about women serving as code breakers and other top secret positions during the war – a trend that this author has herself contributed to. This is also something that would have once been believed to be too sensational to be true, but with the war years now mostly declassified, those truths have come out and aren’t they glorious?

One of the things that made this work so much better for me than Red Sky Over Hawaii is that the villain of The Codebreaker’s Secret is entirely realistic and not over-the-top at all. There were plenty of Nazis who were brought to the U.S. after the war, with their records sanitized by the U.S. government, in order to advance the U.S. missile program and give us a leg up against the Soviets in the Cold War arms and space race.

That there were spies and agents working for the Nazi cause during the war is hardly a surprise. It’s been a topic for conspiracy theories and espionage thrillers for decades. And it allows for a disgustingly slimy, smarmy villain who is all-too-realistic and not over-the-top at all.

I’m always fascinated with the history in historical fiction, but what really makes this story sing – and even occasionally dance – are the personalities of its three protagonists, Isabel Cooper, Luana Freitas, and especially Matteo Russi who links the two – although not in the way that you’re probably thinking. And the story is infinitely better for that link not following the usual patterns.

Although their stories take place two decades apart, both Lu and Isabel are in the same place in each of theirs. Not just geographically, but also personally and professionally. They are both in their early 20s, both experiencing their first taste of freedom and responsibility, both driven to excel in professions that are dominated by men. And both willing to put themselves on the line for the truth.

At the same time, Matteo, who is the same human being in both time periods, is radically different. Time, experience and war have changed him from the brash young man who was Isabel’s friend but never her lover, to the womanizing bastard who is at the top of his profession but heading towards the bottom of his life.

He has no idea that mentoring Lu will heal so much of what has ailed him since the war. If only he can open himself up enough to try.

As I said earlier, I loved The Codebreaker’s Secret. I can’t wait for the author’s next book, because I’m highly anticipating more historical fictional goodness set in a captivating place and manages to provide a bit of a fresh perspective on a time period that has been endlessly explored – but not from this marvelous angle. Hopefully this time next year!

Review: The Wrong Victim by Allison Brennan

Review: The Wrong Victim by Allison BrennanThe Wrong Victim (Quinn & Costa, #3) by Allison Brennan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, romantic suspense, suspense, thriller
Series: Quinn & Costa #3
Pages: 464
Published by Mira Books on April 26, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

A bomb explodes on a sunset charter cruise out of Friday Harbor at the height of tourist season and kills everyone on board. Now this fishing and boating community is in shock and asking who would commit such a heinous crime—the largest act of mass murder in the history of the San Juan Islands.
Forensic profilers know there are two types of domestic terrorists: those who use violence to instill fear for political purposes but stop at murder because it detracts from the cause, and those who crave attention and are willing to maim and murder for their own agenda.
Accused of putting profits before people after leaking fuel that caused a massive fish kill, the West End Charter company may itself have been the target. But as special agent Matt Costa, detective Kara Quinn and the rest of the FBI team begin their investigation, they discover that plenty of people might have wanted someone dead on that yacht. Now they must track down who is responsible and stop them before they strike again.

My Review:

If this book went looking for a subtitle, let me suggest ‘Game of Queens’ as an alternative. Because that’s what this one is, the contention among three women who are used to taking control of whatever sphere in which they find themselves – no matter who or what stands in their way.

And it’s a contest that is only partly resolved when The Wrong Victim wraps up the case of its final – and ultimately correct in the end – victim.

The beginning of this one is literally explosive. A charter yacht explodes in the waters around San Juan Island leaving 9 people dead and a whole lot of unanswered questions. Big questions, like whodunnit, along with why and how. And the biggie – which of the 9 people on the boat was the real target?

San Juan Island is just barely part of the U.S., one of over 400 islands in an archipelago that sits between Bellingham Washington and Victoria, British Columbia. The island has a population of 7,000, most of whom live in the town of Friday Harbor. The small police department knows everyone in town, and everyone knows them. Most issues are property crimes or tourists getting rowdy. They are neither prepared for nor objective enough to deal with a crime of this magnitude.

The FBI sends Mathias Costa and his Mobile Response Team, including LAPD Detective Kara Quinn, seconded to the MRT at the end of the second book in the series, Tell No Lies. Not that that was the first time Costa and Quinn met – that would be the case of the ‘Triple Killer’ in The Third to Die (which I have yet to read and really, really WANT to. I didn’t need to in order to have gotten into Tell No Lies, but that was great and so is this and now I want to very much indeed.)

Kara isn’t sure exactly where she fits in Costa’s team. Being a cop is her core identity, and the mess in LA that has forced her to leave her city to outrun the people – and contracts – that are after her. Her tenuous situation has made her question a lot about herself and how well she’s doing her job. Along with what happens next depending on how everything works out.

In Tell No Lies, the one thing that Kara was sure about was that Matt Costa trusted her judgment and was in her corner, that he respected her skills and opinions as an experienced cop and undercover detective. But all of that confidence is shaken with the return of FBI profiler Catherine Jones, who has profiled Kara and believes that she is a loose cannon who is insubordinate, takes unnecessary risks, makes snap judgments and is sure to endanger both the case and the team.

Catherine and Matt are old and dear friends, he’s even the godfather of her daughter. Kara and Matt, at least in their off-duty hours, have become friends with benefits, although Matt wants more. The conflict between the two women, who are both important to his life but in totally different ways, is messing with his head and his heart, making him a less than effective leader of a team that must produce results and solve the explosion before anyone else gets killed.

Which leads back to the question of who the real target among the 9 victims was. There are plenty of possibilities. With environmentalists making trouble for the charter company, the bomb might not have been meant for anyone in particular, but to make trouble for the ship’s owners.

Too many victims, too many possible motives, and too many ways for Kara and Catherine to butt heads. But as much as Catherine believes that Kara’s lack of formal education makes her less capable and her skills less trustworthy, it’s Kara’s instinct for people’s behavior, rather than Catherine’s careful analysis, that ultimately leads to whodunnit.

And it’s Catherine’s lack of trust in Kara that nearly gets both of them killed.

Escape Rating A+: I made a terrible mistake with this book. I started reading it when I went to bed, and absolutely could not put it down until I finished at 3:30 in the morning. I cursed my alarm when it woke me in the morning, but it was SO worth it. I needed a book to suck me into its pages, and The Wrong Victim did a fantastic job of taking me to the San Juan Islands and spinning me all around this compelling story.

This book, and this series, seem to sit at the crossroads between mystery, thriller and romantic suspense. Although again, there’s more suspense than romance – and that’s probably a good thing. The relationship between Quinn and Costa is not really healthy for either of them or their careers – a fact that profiler Catherine weaponizes during this entry in the series. They can’t be openly together as long as Kara is part of Matt’s team, no matter how temporary that might be. And yet they can’t manage to stay away from each other no matter how much of a mess it might make in the long term. I expect the horns of this particular dilemma are going to be sharp and pointy for much of the series. We’ll see.

But what makes this story so compelling is the combination of the sheer number of possible motives and the determined way that the team works through them. Out of the 9 people on the boat, there’s a wealthy man whose much younger wife left the boat just before it left the dock, a retired FBI agent still investigating a cold case he can’t let go of, a man dating one of the owners of the charter company, a slimy businessman and his equally slimy wife and four tech geniuses. All that’s needed is a partridge in a pear tree to make a very bad song.

And it could have been none of them. It could be a strike against the charter company. It could even have been an accident, the result of negligence, or even pilot error, but those possibilities get nixed very early on. As does terrorism.

So it’s murder. The FBI team are outsiders that no one trusts, but the local P.D. are much too close to every single possible suspect to be remotely objective.

For this reader, it was the investigation that fascinated. Not just looking into each of the victims, but also the town, the environmentalists, the charter company, and then the intricate work of fitting all the puzzle pieces together.

Also that the story breaks one of the unwritten rules of mystery, in that this is a rare occasion where there is more than one perpetrator, and more than one set of linkages to the crimes committed.

The team hasn’t quite gelled yet, although the process is ongoing. The way that the team is working – and occasionally not – reminded me a lot of Andrea Kane’s Forensic Instincts series, which gets involved in the same types of crimes and had the same feel of being competence porn conducted as a high-wire act.

So in addition to throwing that first book in the Quinn & Costa series, The Third to Die, onto the upper and more accessible reaches of the towering TBR pile, I need to go pick up where I left off with Forensic Instincts. So many books, so little time.

In spite of just how tall that towering TBR pile is, I’ll be looking for the next Quinn & Costa book whenever it appears – hopefully this time next year if not sooner.

Review: Love, Hate and Clickbait by Liz Bowery

Review: Love, Hate and Clickbait by Liz BoweryLove, Hate & Clickbait by Liz Bowery
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, M/M romance
Pages: 336
Published by Mira Books on April 26, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Politics is shaking hands and kissing coworkers
Cutthroat political consultant Thom Morgan is thriving, working on the governor of California’s presidential campaign. If only he didn’t have to deal with Clay Parker, the infuriatingly smug data analyst who gets under Thom’s skin like it’s his job. In the midst of one of their heated and very public arguments, a journalist snaps a photo, but the image makes it look like they’re kissing. As if that weren’t already worst-nightmare territory, the photo goes viral—and in a bid to secure the liberal vote, the governor asks them to lean into it. Hard.
Thom knows all about damage control—he practically invented it. Ever the professional, he’ll grin and bear this challenge as he does all others. But as the loyal staffers push the boundaries of “giving the people what they want,” the animosity between them blooms into something deeper and far more dangerous: desire. Soon their fake relationship is hurtling toward something very real, which could derail the campaign and cost them both their jobs…and their hearts.

My Review:

“Methinks the gentleman doth protest too much” as he’s tripping over that infinitely (and infamously) fine line between love and hate. Pardon me for mangling Shakespeare and mixing metaphors in the same sentence, but if the shoe fits – or in this case both shoes fit – I’m wearing them.

All three of the titular events happen in this enemies-to-lovers in a fake relationship romance. As the story begins, campaign operative Thom Morgan and pro-level geek Clay Parker are office enemies working on California governor Lennie Westwood’s pre-campaign campaign to become the next president of these United States.

Thom and Clay are office rivals because they are completely opposites. Not that either of them start out exactly likable, but they’re on totally different ends of pretty much any workplace spectrum, and they rub each other the wrong way pretty much just by breathing in each other’s vicinity.

Clay pretty much lets his geek flag fly all the time. He’s a refugee from Silicon Valley and is used to that kind of workstyle – meaning one that may be “working” 24/7 but sometimes that work looks like play and everyone is out to be the biggest nerd.. But he’s also the child of a family that loves him unconditionally and celebrated ALL of his accomplishments ALL the time. So he toots his own horn a lot. Too much. To the point of cringing absurdity – at least as far as Thom is concerned.

Thom, on the other hand, is a shark. Every relationship is calculated for the maximum benefit to him. He’s always dressed to the nines in a style appropriate to the event. He’s all about making his candidate look good so that he can make himself look good. But he’s from a family that treated him like a cuckoo in their cozy suburban nest. It’s not that anyone hated him, it’s that no one truly saw him or was there for him because he was just so different. He’s a version of Michael J. Fox’s character in Family Ties, but one that was neither supported nor even accepted by his family. He’s used to taking on protective coloration, not to blend in but just to get by.

The campaign that Thom and Clay are working on is in trouble, seemingly constantly, by huge gaffes committed by both the governor/candidate and her dysfunctional family. When Lennie is recorded making an off-the-cuff remark that the reason her hair isn’t properly styled is because there are no gays on her campaign staff, the liberal voters that her campaign is courting are up in arms.

The campaign’s answer is to have Thom and Clay pose as a gay couple working for the campaign. A candid video of them has been posted having an ugly argument that looks like it’s about to morph into throwing each other on the ground for sex instead of the kicking and punching that nearly happened for real. Twitter and Insta are both loving the picture, to the point where OMG fanfic is starting up.

With their jobs on the line, the enemies reluctantly agree to not just a temporary truce, but a fake relationship for the inevitable cameras. From both their perspectives, the whole thing is so implausible they can’t imagine it will work.

But it has to. And surprisingly, it does – at least as far as social media is concerned. Whether it can possibly save the campaign is an entirely other matter…

Escape Rating C+: This is a story that threatens to go completely off the rails at multiple points. It never quite does, but it toes that line awfully, awfully hard in multiple ways and multiple directions.

As unlikable as both Thom and Clay are in the beginning, once I got into the story it became clear that Clay’s behavior was a result of not knowing the work culture and feeling out of his depth and a bit insecure. Once he got a bit more settled the things that made him annoying smoothed out quite a bit. So I ended up feeling FOR him considerably more than I did Thom – not that in the beginning Thom seems to have any feelings whatsoever.

OTOH, Thom is both cold-blooded and narcissistic from jump, and it takes a long time for him to change and for the reader to see what is really motivating his shark-like behavior. While it was easy to see that Clay, for all his faults, was the kind of person who could give themselves in a relationship. With Thom I had to wonder if he was capable of having a real relationship of any kind with anyone but himself. He starts out with no real friends, no family (either birth or found) and no real romantic interests.

That the campaign required them to fake a romantic relationship, and that they agreed to do so, may be the trope that powers the story, but it crossed so far over so many lines that it was hard to take even though agreeing to the pretense felt very much in Thom’s wheelhouse if not Clay’s. Even though Thom is the one that has ALL the objections, mostly because he isn’t shy about pointing out that he’s “lowering his standards” to date someone like Clay.

I could see Clay falling for Thom if he was willing to let his heart sliced into bloody chunks, but that happens. People fall in love with all sorts of people who they either know or refuse to admit are either bad for them or just plain terrible.

What was harder to believe was the way that Thom slowly – very slowly – let some of his walls down. Even if he couldn’t admit to himself he was doing it. Thom’s in denial until the very end, and even then he’s more than a bit of a douche about it. Which fits his personality to a T. Even as much as Thom is dragged, kicking and screaming, into being a real human being, his redemption was a bit too pat.

But the hardest part of this story is the political shark tank they operate in. We all know that politics is a dirty business and is the epitome of the old joke about not wanting to see how the sausage is made. In fiction, especially in a romance, I think we want to see a few less of the warts that surround the process. Or more consequences for those warts. Or we want our heroes to be heroes and our villains to be villains and that’s not what happens here. Or, perhaps, all of the above.

Lennie Westwood is a piece of work, for all the negative connotations of that phrase. Thom’s colleague Felicia seems to still think that politics can do some good for people, but she’s generally a realist and a pragmatist. That Felicia sees the excesses of Westwood’s behavior and STILL thinks that getting the woman elected POTUS is her best chance at making a positive difference in people’s lives feels disingenuous at best and self-sabotage at worst. Or Felicia is playing everyone for a fool, including, quite possibly, herself.

To make a rather long story short, I ended up with extremely mixed feelings about Love, Hate & Clickbait. As much as I love both enemies-to-lovers and fake relationship romances, this one didn’t quite gel for me. As always, your reading mileage may vary.

Review: The Sorority Murder by Allison Brennan

Review: The Sorority Murder by Allison BrennanThe Sorority Murder by Allison Brennan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Pages: 448
Published by Mira Books on December 28, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

"The 10 Best New Mystery and Thriller Books of December are Giving Us Literal Chills"--E! Online
"10 Books to Cozy Up With This December"--PopSugar
A popular sorority girl. An unsolved murder. A campus podcast with chilling repercussions.
Lucas Vega is obsessed with the death of Candace Swain, who left a sorority party one night and never came back. Her body was found after two weeks, but the case has grown cold. Three years later while interning at the medical examiner's, Lucas discovers new information, but the police are not interested.
Lucas knows he has several credible pieces of the puzzle. He just isn't sure how they fit together. So he creates a podcast to revisit Candace's last hours. Then he encourages listeners to crowdsource what they remember and invites guest lecturer Regan Merritt, a former US marshal, to come on and share her expertise.
New tips come in that convince Lucas and Regan they are onto something. Then shockingly one of the podcast callers turns up dead. Another hints at Candace's secret life, a much darker picture than Lucas imagined--and one that implicates other sorority sisters. Regan uses her own resources to bolster their theory and learns that Lucas is hiding his own secret. The pressure is on to solve the murder, but first Lucas must come clean about his real motives in pursuing this podcast--before the killer silences him forever.
"Fans of Jeff Abbott and Karin Slaughter will find this crime novel hard to put down." --
Publishers Weekly
on The Third to Die
"Downright spectacular... [A] riveting page turner as prescient as it is purposeful." --Providence Journal on Tell No Lies

My Review:

In order for a book to be a mystery, it has to include a dead body and a detective – or so I was once told.

The Sorority Murder begins as a cold case, with a dead body three years in the grave, and one determined college student raking up the mystery as part of his capstone project for his degree in criminal justice.

By the end, there are two detectives and a whole slew of dead bodies – pun most certainly intended.

For young Lucas Vega, the case is not about the same victim as the podcast. That’s his secret. He’s attempting to get closure on one young woman’s mysterious disappearance by focusing on another’s equally mysterious death.

Not because he has any inkling that the more recent death is linked to the earlier disappearance. Just that they knew each other. And that someone might know something about what happened to both of them.

For former U.S. Marshal Regan Merritt, the case begins as a way of figuring out what to do with herself in the wake of the death of her 11-year-old son. A boy who was killed not for himself, but as a way to punish Regan for helping to put a criminal behind bars. In the aftermath of such a profound personal loss, she couldn’t focus on a job where a lack of focus could easily get someone else killed. That her husband blamed their son’s death on her, and divorced her as fast as humanly possible in the wake of the tragedy, doesn’t register nearly as high on her scale of loss. But lost she is.

She’s back in Flagstaff, living with her father, the retired county sheriff, because she’s hit emotional bottom and has nowhere else she needs to be or wants to go. She’s in a holding pattern when her former mentor at Northern Arizona University puts her in touch with Lucas Vega.

Her experience and his enthusiasm turn out to be a motivating combination for both of them. Because he’s learned just enough about the inconsistencies in the investigation of Candace Swain’s death to intrigue Regan, and she’s more than enough of a professional investigator to get him started asking questions that should have been asked – and just plain weren’t.

But the problem with reopening the proverbial can of worms is that you can never get the worms back in the same size can.

Someone went to a great deal of trouble to make sure that the investigation of Candace Swain’s death went cold and stayed that way. Someone has a lifestyle they want to protect – at all costs. They don’t want anyone to stir this hornet’s nest. But Lucas’ podcast series has that nest well stirred.

Now that the case is no longer cold, someone has to make sure that all the investigative trails lead to dead ends. Threatening to turn Lucas Vega’s capstone into an early grave.

Escape Rating B+: What I loved about The Sorority Murder was the way that the story delved deeply into the painstaking process of the investigation. The case is cold, mistakes were made, and no one wants to dig this mess back up and expose those mistakes to the light of day.

But Lucas can’t let go, for reasons that neither we nor Regan discover until very late in the investigation. His motives are complex but not in the least sinister, and the case he really wants to reopen turns out to be more relevant than even he imagined when he began.

This isn’t a case of miscarriage of justice – rather it’s a case where justice wasn’t done at all. There’s a mystery. At first, the mystery is where Candace Swain spent the week before her death, because she wasn’t held prisoner, she wasn’t ill, she wasn’t on drugs, she wasn’t seen – and she wasn’t found where she was killed.

Something doesn’t add up. The police blamed her death on a missing homeless alcoholic – but they haven’t found him, either.

What’s strange is that Candace’s friends and most especially her sorority sisters, with whom she was reported to be very close, don’t seem to want the case reopened. They don’t have closure and seem to be adamantly opposed to getting it. All of them. Collectively.

In spite of the roadblocks put in his path, Lucas knows he has too much to let go of. Someone must have seen Candace during that week she was missing but not yet dead. Once people start remembering the little details that no one ever asked about, a picture starts to form.

The biggest part of this story, and the most fascinating one for this reader, was the dogged pursuit of the whole of that picture. Even as one person who provides a bit of a clue after another ends up dead either just before or just after their piece is revealed.

I loved the fits and starts of the investigation. Watching them uncover the puzzle pieces bit by bit kept me glued to the book almost right up to the end. The whole picture, once it was uncovered, still took me by surprise.

I have to say that the reveal of the killer felt a bit flat – or the killer was so far over the top that I didn’t quite buy it. Or that we got to see inside the killer’s head at that point and I just didn’t want to be anywhere near there.

So I was at the edge of my seat with this story until the very end. I loved following the investigation even though I found the actual perpetrator to be off in “bwahaha” land a bit. I still felt utterly compelled to reach that end.

I picked this up because I loved the author’s Tell No Lies last year and hoped for more of the same. While this wasn’t quite that, it was still, most definitely a riveting and suspenseful read.

Review: Red Sky Over Hawaii by Sara Ackerman

Review: Red Sky Over Hawaii by Sara AckermanRed Sky Over Hawaii by Sara Ackerman
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, World War II
Pages: 352
Published by Mira Books on June 9, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Inspired by real places and events of WWII, Red Sky Over Hawaii immerses the reader in a time of American history full of suspicion and peril in this lush and poignant tale about the indisputable power of doing the right thing against all odds.
The attack on Pearl Harbor changes everything for Lana Hitchcock. Arriving home on the Big Island too late to reconcile with her estranged father, she is left alone to untangle the clues of his legacy, which lead to a secret property tucked away in the remote rain forest of Kilauea volcano. When the government starts taking away her neighbors as suspected sympathizers, Lana shelters two young German girls, a Japanese fisherman and his son. As tensions escalate, they are forced into hiding—only to discover the hideaway house is not what they expected.
When a detainment camp is established nearby, Lana struggles to keep the secrets of those in her care. Trust could have dangerous consequences. As their lives weave together, Lana begins to understand the true meaning of family and how the bonds of love carry us through the worst times.

My Review:

The story of Red Sky Over Hawaii is a combination of real places and events, a real dog not contemporaneous with the history, and a plot that feels like it owes perhaps a bit too much to women’s fiction into a look at events in Hawaii for the year that immediately follows the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Both the Alaskan and Hawaiian experiences of the war were different from those on the mainland. Islands in the Aleutian chain, territory of the U.S., were occupied and held by Japanese forces during the war. Hawaii, although it was never held, was directly attacked by Japan on December 7, 1942, the day that FDR claimed would live in infamy. And so it has.

After the attack, the situation on the ground was also a bit different. The internment camps created to house Japanese-Americans, and the quickly passed and racially-motivated laws that saw so many from the West Coast forced to sell or abandon their property as they were shipped to hellish camps for crimes they had neither committed nor even been tried for, including young children, is a crime that is still being paid for.

But the story of Red Sky Over Hawaii shows that the situation was a bit different in Hawaii, and also reminds readers that American citizens from all of the Axis Powers were harassed, detained and imprisoned, although the numbers of German-American and Italian-American detainees were considerably fewer.

As this story begins, in the days before Pearl Harbor, Lana Hitchcock flies from Honolulu to Hilo on a rather scarily small plane in the hopes of seeing her estranged father one last time before he dies. The meeting is not to be, but in the aftermath of the attack, Lana finds herself alone, grieving and looking for a lifeline.

A lifeline that she catches in what could be considered unlikely as well as unfortunate sources, at least for others. Her father’s neighbors, a German-American couple with their two daughters, leave the girls with her when they find themselves detained by the FBI on suspicion of being, basically, German-Americans. Her other neighbors, the elderly Japanese American Mochi and his grandson Benji, are certain that Mochi, at least, will be rounded up and taken away as well.

Lana, in desperation, decides to help her neighbors, or at least their children, by taking as many of them as she can to the remote cottage that her father left her, near the volcano Kilauea. The volcano area is remote and sparsely populated. It should be safe for Lana and her collection of refugees.

But when the nearby Army base is opened as one of several Japanese-American detainment camps on the island, Lana and her charges are in grave danger. And Lana is in danger of losing her heart to one of the soldiers – someone who will never be able to forgive her for all the lies she has told in her attempt to keep everyone safe.

Escape Rating B: Fair warning, this is going to be one of my mixed feelings reviews. Because I have very mixed feelings about this book.

I really, really wanted to love this book. Truly. But I just didn’t. I ended up left with the feeling that it is very well written, well-researched, absolutely has an audience, and that I’m just not quite it.

One of the ways in which the writing really got me, as in it moved me terribly, was in the descriptions of Lana’s grief at her father’s sudden death and her regrets about the time they wasted not really communicating. Because I went through all of that and STILL have a whole lot of regrets and tears almost 30 years later. Some griefs never leave us, so that part of her story resonated so hard I almost couldn’t get through it.

At the same time, I found a lot of Lana’s story read like it belonged in a contemporary women’s fiction story rather than a book that feels like it’s trying to say something about the Hawaiian experience of World War II in the period directly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. And not that I don’t generally enjoy women’s fiction. It’s just that these two great tastes didn’t go great together IMHO.

I think that Lana’s troubles, for me, hit the “one too many” button. Her dad has just died, and that’s both heartbreaking and a necessary part of the story, as it’s her inheritance from him that provides the refuge for the family she gathers around herself. But she’s also separated from her cheating husband, about to get divorced, and her marriage fell apart because she can’t have children. AND there’s a scumbag after her and especially the two girls she’s taking care of. The addition of the scumbag felt over-the-top. It created a bit of a heroine-in-jeopardy plot that wasn’t needed. They were all in enough bloody jeopardy without the scumbag.

I have mixed feelings about the German-American parents being dragged off to detention leaving Lana with their two girls. Not that it wasn’t historically plausible, because it certainly was. But the detention of both German-Americans and Italian-Americans didn’t have the heavy weight of racial animus that the detention of Japanese-Americans certainly did. Although the way that the whole situation bowed to economic necessity was fascinating. Because of the large percentage of Japanese-Americans who were part of the Hawaiian population, the number of people in the internment camps remained relatively small as those people were needed to keep the economy running. Remote places like Hawaii (and Alaska) just don’t have an easy option for bringing large numbers of people in.

I did like the tiny bit of magical realism stuck into the healing properties of the honey made by the bees living in the shadow of the volcano. That part was cool and the touch of it was just right.

So a mixed bag of feelings, and a mixed-feeling kind of review. Your reading mileage may definitely vary.

Spotlight + Excerpt: Sisters by Choice by Susan Mallery

Spotlight + Excerpt: Sisters by Choice by Susan MallerySisters by Choice (Blackberry Island, #4) by Susan Mallery
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Series: Blackberry Island #4
Pages: 400
Published by Mira Books on February 11, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the
New York Times
bestselling author of
California Girls
comes an all new original Blackberry Island novel told with Susan Mallery's trademark humor and charm.
Sisters by Choice
is a heartfelt tale of love, family and the friendships that see us through.


Cousins by chance, sisters by choice...

After her cat toy empire goes up in flames, Sophie Lane returns to Blackberry Island, determined to rebuild. Until small-town life reveals a big problem: she can't grow unless she learns to let go. If Sophie relaxes her grip even a little, she might lose everything. Or she might finally be free to reach for the happiness and love that have eluded her for so long.

Kristine has become defined by her relationship to others. She's a wife, a mom. As much as she adores her husband and sons, she wants something for herself--a sweet little bakery just off the waterfront. She knew changing the rules wouldn't be easy, but she never imagined she might have to choose between her marriage and her dreams.

Like the mainland on the horizon, Heather's goals seem beyond her grasp. Every time she manages to save for college, her mother has another crisis. Can she break free, or will she be trapped in this tiny life forever?


Don't miss the Blackberry Island series by Susan Mallery! Order your copy of
Barefoot Season, Three Sisters
and
Evening Stars
today!

Welcome to the Excerpt tour for Sisters by Choice by Susan Mallery. This is going to be my first trip to Blackberry Island, but Susan Mallery is an author that I love and I am always thrilled to be part of a tour for her newest book. Sisters by Choice will be coming out on February 11, and I’ll be reviewing it that week. But in the meantime, here’s a bit of Chapter Two of the book to whet your reading appetite. I’m certainly looking forward to this one, and I hope you will be too!

Excerpt from Sisters by Choice by Susan Mallery

Chapter Two

The Blackberry Island Inn featured comfortable beds, views of the water and a daisy motif Sophie wasn’t sure she totally understood. Daisies weren’t exactly a big thing on the island. If a business wanted to appeal to tourists, then the more black­berries, the better. Yet, there were daisies in the room, daisies on the wallpaper and hundreds, possibly thousands, of daisies planted along the driveway leading from the parking lot to the main road.

As Sophie walked toward her car, she shivered in the damp, chilly air. She’d forgotten how the island was given to real sea­sons, unlike back in LA where there was nearly always sun­shine. Today there were gray skies and the choppy, black waves of the Sound.

Under normal circumstances, and on a Monday morning, Sophie wouldn’t have noticed any of that. Instead, she would have been totally focused on her business and what needed to get done that day. But—and she would never admit this to any­one but herself—these days she was feeling a little fragile and disoriented.

It was the fire, she told herself. Losing her business, not hav­ing any of her employees want to move. Okay, and the loss of CK. That reality still had the ability to bring her to her emo­tional knees. And maybe the fact that she was thirty-four years old and she wasn’t any closer to having her life together than she had been at twenty. She was all about the work and with CK Industries in limbo, she felt lost.

“Not after today,” she whispered as she turned right at the end of the drive and headed toward the very small industrial area on the island.

The real estate agent was meeting her at the warehouse at nine. Sophie would get the key and have a look at the space she’d leased for the next five years.

She drove past touristy shops and wineries before heading in­land. There was a small shopping center, the K through eighth-grade school and a few medical buildings. Behind all that were a few office buildings, a handful of small businesses that would do everything from repair your car to clean your carpets. At the end of the street was the large warehouse.

She parked by the front door. She was early and the place looked closed up tight, so she walked around the outside of the building.

There was a front office and reception area with big windows and lots of parking for employees. The loading dock was plenty large. Products would come in and then be shipped out to cus­tomers. Given that this was literally the only warehouse on the island, she figured she’d been lucky to get it. Now she just had to make everything work.

Sophie returned to her car and waited for the agent. She sat in the front seat, with the driver’s door open, sipping her take-out coffee. She’d skipped breakfast at the inn, feeling too yucky to bother eating.

A salty breeze blew in from the west, but despite the gray skies, she didn’t think it was going to rain today. Sophie won­dered if her years in Los Angeles would make it difficult for her to adjust to the weather, or if it would matter at all. She assumed she would be working her usual sixteen-hour days. As long as the roof didn’t leak, she wasn’t sure she would even care about something as mundane as the weather.

A small SUV pulled into the parking lot. Sophie stood to greet the real estate agent. Once the key was in her hand, she would feel better, she told herself. She could get started on rebuilding CK Industries and everything would be fine.

Twenty minutes, two signatures and a brief conversation later, Sophie walked into the warehouse and waited for a sense of re­lief or even elation. The space was huge—nearly double what she’d had in Valencia. There were about a dozen offices, plenty of bathrooms and a massive open area where she could install miles of shelves and have the shipping center of her dreams. It was great. It was better than great, it was…

“Awful,” Sophie whispered, turning in a circle and taking in the emptiness around her.

She’d started CK Industries in the second bedroom of a two-bedroom apartment she’d rented while still in college, although the concept had been born in her freshman dorm room. From there she’d moved to a small space in a Culver City industrial complex. Two years after that she’d needed more square foot­age. The move to Valencia had come after her divorce and at the time, she’d felt excited—as if she were escaping to a new life.

This relocation wasn’t that. This had been forced upon her by bad electrical wiring. She hadn’t been prepared for the dev­astation—physical and emotional—of it all and to be honest, she wasn’t excited about the work she was going to have to do. It was overwhelming.

She wanted to stomp her feet and demand a do-over. Or at least a recount. But there was no one to complain to. This was her baby and only she could make it a success. “Lead, follow or get out of the way,” she reminded herself. “Winners win. I am the champion. It’s up to me. I can do this.”

None of the words seemed to be getting through but at least saying them was better than admitting defeat. She walked over to one of the huge loading dock doors and pushed the button to open it. Cool air blew in. Sophie lowered her backpack to the floor, sank down to sit cross-legged and prepared to get to work.

She needed everything. Employees, product, shelves, shipping supplies, office supplies, office furniture and Wi-Fi. While still in Los Angeles, she’d picked out everything she wanted but had waited to order until she knew the size of all the various spaces. She also had a big, fat insurance check sitting in her bank ac­count to pay for it all.

She got out her computer and, using her phone as a hotspot, logged on to the local internet provider and arranged for service. She would order everything else back in her room at the inn. The house she’d rented wouldn’t be available until the end of the week. Once she was settled there, she could fully focus on the business. In a couple of months everything would be run­ning smoothly and it would be like the fire never happened. Or so she hoped.

Author Info:

#1 NYT bestselling author Susan Mallery writes heartwarming, humorous novels about the relationships that define our lives-family, friendship, romance. She’s known for putting nuanced characters in emotional situations that surprise readers to laughter. Beloved by millions, her books have been translated into 28 languages.Susan lives in Washington with her husband, two cats, and a small poodle with delusions of grandeur. Visit her at SusanMallery.com.

Website | Facebook | TwitterInstagram

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: Impostor’s Lure by Carla Neggers

Review: Impostor’s Lure by Carla NeggersImpostor's Lure (Sharpe & Donovan #8) by Carla Neggers
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, romantic suspense
Series: Sharpe & Donovan #8
Pages: 320
Published by Mira Books on August 21, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Master of suspense and
New York Times
bestselling author Carla Neggers delivers an exhilarating page-turner where the disappearance of a federal prosecutor launches the latest high-stakes case for FBI agents Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan.Newlyweds Emma and Colin are suspicious when prosecutor Tamara McDermott is a no-show at a Boston dinner party. Matt Yankowski, head of HIT, Emma and Colin's small, elite Boston-based team, is a friend of Tamara's, and he needs them to find her.In London, a woman who was supposed to meet Emma's art-detective grandfather to talk about forgeries is discovered near death. Her husband, who stayed behind in Boston, has vanished. The couple's connection to Tamara adds to the puzzle.As the search for Tamara intensifies, a seemingly unrelated murder leads Emma, Colin and HIT deep into a maze of misdirection created by a clever, lethal criminal who stays one step ahead of them.As Emma draws on her expertise in art crimes and Colin on his experience as a deep-cover agent, the investigation takes a devastating turn that tests the strengths of their families and friendships as well as their FBI colleagues as never before.
Impostor's Lure
is full of clever twists that will keep readers guessing right to the stunning conclusion!

My Review:

The Sharpe & Donovan series is somewhere in that borderland between romantic suspense and mystery. Sorta/kinda like a contemporary version of In Death, but in a different place on the romantic suspense/mystery divide than the futuristic series.

At the beginning, Sharpe & Donovan hewed a bit closer to romantic suspense side, as FBI Agents Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan meet in the middle of an investigation near their hometowns on the coast of Maine. Colin is undercover, and Emma is in the middle of a case that is already much too personal.

Impostor’s Lure takes place a year (and 7 books) after that first meeting in Saint’s Gate. Emma and Colin are now married, and wondering just how long they will be able to continue working art crimes together before Colin gets tasked with yet another long-term undercover mission – his dangerous specialty. And now that their romance has reached its HEA, the story is more about the mystery and less about the romance. However, like many long-running mystery series, there is a “gang” of friends and family that surrounds Emma and Colin – and they have a big part to play in this particular story.

While they are worried about that medium-term problem, something happens much closer to home that puts them in the thick of a case that touches all of their friends and family both in Maine and Ireland.

On the other side of the pond, Emma’s grandfather Wendell, founder of the family art detective firm, discovers the comatose body of a woman who wanted to consult him about forgeries. The case looks like a drug overdose, but Wendell is shaken enough to worry both friends and family.

Over here, Emma and Colin as well as their boss Matt find themselves both shaken and alarmed when a friend who is also a federal prosecutor stands them up for dinner. While the woman could just have decided to start her long-overdue vacation a bit early, she’s also standing up her daughter on the young woman’s one-and-only 21st birthday.

This doesn’t seem right to anyone involved, especially once it turns out that Tamara might have been looking into some very alarming things that her daughter told her about her recent trip to Ireland – a trip that included both a murder and a developing friendship with the woman that Wendell found comatose.

Something is definitely not right. Actually lots of things aren’t right – on both sides of the Atlantic. As the bodies start piling up – and occasionally spilling over – it’s up to Emma and Colin to unravel the mystery and light the darkness at its center before it is too late.

Or at least before it’s more “too late” than it already is.

Escape Rating B: I finished this in one sitting. This is literally true as I was on a flight from California to Atlanta while I read it! This was a good, absorbing mystery to while away about half the flight.

This is definitely not the place to start this series. While, as with all the books in the series, the mystery is solved within this volume, an awful lot of the background revolves around the circle of friends and family that Emma and Colin are very much in the middle of. By the time this story ends, pretty much every one of their friends and most of their family have at least had a walk on part in the solution – and there’s a piece of that solution that only has resonance if you’ve at least read some of the previous books. I don’t think you need to have read them all to enjoy Impostor’s Lure, but at least the first one and one from the middle. Harbor Island and Liar’s Key are a couple of my favorites from the midpoint in the series.

The mystery in Impostor’s Lure is definitely a convoluted one. The perpetrator is certainly a sociopath, which makes that person both very organized and totally without scruples or conscience. They’ve been pulling off a lot of stuff for a very long time, and really only get caught because events have caught up with them and they are forced to act without their usual level of planning.

As a reader, I did not guess the perpetrator until very near the end – and then only because there were too many characters who simply could not be “it” because of their close relationship to Emma and/or Colin.

That being said, I really like the circle of friends and family that Emma and Colin have gathered around them/been gathered into. The group of is very interesting mix of family-of-birth and family-of-choice on both sides of the Atlantic and in both of their hearts. And just like any family, it has a few black sheep, and some members that one of them likes or tolerates more than the other. It’s also a hoot that one member of their family is a former art thief.

It’s always good to visit with this gang, even when some of the visit is bittersweet, as it is in Impostor’s Lure. I’ll be back.

 

Carla Neggers’ IMPOSTOR’S LURE – Review & Excerpt Tour Schedule:

August 20th

It’s All About the Romance – Excerpt

Nerdy Dirty and Flirty – Excerpt

Ripe For Reader – Excerpt

August 21st

Bobo’s Book Bank – Excerpt

Literary misfit – Excerpt

OMGReads – Excerpt

Sip Read Love – Excerpt

August 22nd

Bookstanista – Excerpt

Hearts & Scribbles – Excerpt

What Is That Book About – Excerpt

August 23rd

A Book Nerd, a Bookseller and a Bibliophile – Review & Excerpt

Reading Reality – Review

Words We Love By –Review & Excerpt

August 24th

Cinta Garcia de la Rosa – Excerpt

Wickedcoolflight – Review & Excerpt

August 25th

Bookishly Yours – Review & Excerpt

Catty Jane Book Lovers – Review & Excerpt

Reading Between the Wines Book Club – Excerpt

August 26th

Book Addict – Review & Excerpt

Novel Addiction – Excerpt

Tfaulcbookreviews – Review & Excerpt

August 27th

A Lovely Book Affair – Review

Cali Book Reviews – Review & Excerpt

TBR Book Blog – Excerpt

August 28th

Adventures in Writing – Excerpt

Lisa Book Blog – Excerpt

August 29th

BTH Reviews – Review & Excerpt

Evermore Books – Excerpt

Lynn’s Romance Enthusiasm – Excerpt

August 30th

All about reading – Review & Excerpt

Fire and Ice Book Reviews – Excerpt

GhostPepperBabes/ Pimpers’ Dungeon – Excerpt

August 31st

Becky on Books – Review & Excerpt

Cathy Reads Books – Review

Devilishly Delicious Book Reviews – Excerpt

September 1st

Books are love – Review & Excerpt

Brittany’s Book Blog – Excerpt

NightWolf Book Blog – Excerpt

September 2nd

Blushing babes are up all night – Review & Excerpt

Em Jay Reads – Review & Excerpt

Jax’s Book Magic – Excerpt

Review: The Family Gathering by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

Review: The Family Gathering by Robyn Carr + GiveawayThe Family Gathering (Sullivan's Crossing, #3) by Robyn Carr
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Sullivan's Crossing #3
Pages: 288
Published by Mira Books on April 17, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

An exceptional storyteller, #1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr beautifully captures the emotionally charged, complex dynamics that come with being part of any family. Readers will laugh and shed a few tears as they discover what it means to be loved, supported and accepted by the people who mean the most.

Having left the military, Dakota Jones is at a crossroads in his life. With his elder brother and youngest sister happily settled in Sullivan’s Crossing, he shows up hoping to clear his head before moving on to his next adventure. But, like every visitor to the Crossing, he’s immediately drawn to the down-to-earth people and the seemingly simple way of life.

Dakota is unprepared for how quickly things get complicated. As a newcomer, he is on everyone’s radar—especially the single women in town. While he enjoys the attention at first, he’s really only attracted to the one woman who isn’t interested. And spending quality time with his siblings is eye-opening. As he gets to know them, he also gets to know himself and what he truly wants.

When all the Jones siblings gather for a family wedding, the four adults are drawn together for the first time in a way they never were as children. As they struggle to accept each other, warts and all, the true nature and strength of their bond is tested. But all of them come to realize that your family are the people who see you for who you really are and love you anyway. And for Dakota, that truth allows him to find the home and family he’s always wanted.

My Review:

The title of this book turns out to have multiple meanings. The family gathers together, and the family gathers more people into itself. This happens to multiple families during the course of this entry in the Sullivan’s Crossing series. And it’s lovely all the way around.

The main story of this book focuses on Dakota Jones, just as the previous books in the series have focused first on his older brother Cal (What We Find) and then his younger sister Sierra (Any Day Now). And while you probably don’t have to read the first two books to enjoy this one, Sullivan’s Crossing is a marvelous place, the members of the family have an interesting set of dysfunctions, and the books are relatively quick reads that end with smile-on-your-face happy endings.

These are all nice people, and it’s great to see them get their acts together. Because they all sure need the help.

Dakota comes to Sullivan’s Crossing because he’s unexpectedly out of the military after 17 years, and is at a bit of a loose end. After years of staying as far away from his family as he can get, now that he doesn’t know what to do with himself he realizes that he wants to see how they are. Or at least how his brother and younger sister are. His parents still drive him crazy (with very good reason) and his older sister is a bossy control-freak that he can’t stand to be around.

Sullivan’s Crossing pulls him right in, just as it has Cal and Sierra. Part of that pull turns out to be Sid, the beautiful bartender at the local watering hole, just as Maggie changed Cal’s life and Connie did Sierra’s. Dakota doesn’t have any other place to be, no ties anywhere else that he wants to get closer to, and his brother and sister are both happy. Their newfound friends and family are extremely welcoming, and they have babies he can spoil without having to change their diapers.

Dakota may be drifting into life in Sullivan’s Crossing, but he is actively pursuing the extremely gunshy Sid. It’s only when not one but two of the local single women go out of their way to chase Dakota down with painfully obvious sexual intent that he eventually gets the clue that he’s after much more with Sid than just a quick fling. And that’s a good thing, because it’s going to require not just a lot of patience but also a sincere friendship for Sid to let any man other than her brother close enough to see if she might be willing to let her guard down again. Ever.

Escape Rating B+: The Family Gathering, and the entire Sullivan’s Crossing series, is simply a lovely, good time with a really quirky family. The quote that opens the book sums it all up very nicely – “In our family, we don’t hide crazy…we put it on the porch and give it a cocktail.”

The Jones siblings have all been a fairly nice brand of crazy. It’s in this entry that we see some of the darker sides of what has driven all of them to end up in Sullivan’s Crossing.

Their father is a non-functional schizophrenic who self-medicates with marijuana to keep the voices toned down. He’s not violent, in fact he’s rather sweet, but his inability to function in society made for a chaotic childhood for the four kids. Their mother was too busy enabling her husband to make sure that their children had any responsible parenting, but the kids mostly turned out okay with the help and guidance of their grandparents.

While Cal seems to have ended up the most functional, Sierra’s response was to self-medicate her fears of ending up like their father with alcohol, and Dakota ran away to the military at 17 and took a vat of resentment with him. Dakota’s older sister Sedona, the bossy control freak, has anxiety and OCD issues to the point where her family has to stage an intervention. Dealing with Sedona’s crisis is a big part of the story, and an important factor in the gathering of this family back together.

The other issue holding this book together, is the stalking of Dakota. Not that Dakota is stalking anyone, but that he is being stalked by a woman who entered the series in Any Day Now seeming slightly unhinged, but with Dakota entering the picture has escalated into full-scale criminal behavior – and she’s ramping up the violence along with the crazy.

It was marvelous to see this particular shoe on the other foot. I’ve read the trope where a woman is endangered by a crazed sexual stalker so many times that they all read alike, and usually read as an excuse to put the heroine in jeopardy so the hero can save her, often with some rape-porn on the side. Ugh!

This was different, but it was fresh and it also felt realistic. Dakota wants to dismiss it all. He doesn’t want to make trouble, he doesn’t want to seem like trouble to Sid, and he really doesn’t want to get his stalker in trouble for incidents that seems merely misguided – at least at first. It’s the police chief who convinces Dakota that even though the individual incidents don’t seem like much, that there is something going on that needs to be monitored. And that just because Dakota is a soldier doesn’t mean that he can’t be misled, misguided or be a victim of something awful just because the perpetrator is a woman and not another man.

There is also a romance in The Family Gathering, and even though the developing relationship between Sid and Dakota is the tentpole of the plot, it’s really the way that Dakota falls in love with the town, his life there, and his growing relationship with the rest of his family that carries the story.

And it is a lovely read.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I’m giving away a copy of The Family Gathering to one lucky US commenter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: The River House by Carla Neggers

Review: The River House by Carla NeggersThe River House by Carla Neggers
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Series: Swift River Valley #8
Pages: 352
Published by Mira Books on March 27th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In this charming novel about the search for love, home and family, New York Times bestselling author Carla Neggers takes readers on a journey to an irresistible town they’ll want to return to over and over again

Felicity MacGregor loves organizing social events for others but her own personal life is a different story. After a brief but failed attempt at a career as a financial analyst, she returned to Knights Bridge where she enjoys running a thriving party-planning business.

Then Felicity’s life gets a shake-up when her childhood friend Gabriel Flanagan returns unexpectedly to their tiny hometown. Now a high-flying businessman, Gabe always vowed to get out of Knights Bridge, but he is back for the local entrepreneurial boot camp Felicity’s been hired to organize. Together again, they’ll finally have to face each other—and their complicated past.

Gabe and Felicity soon realize their reunion is stirring up long-buried emotions. While Gabe has big plans for his future, Felicity is discovering that hers doesn’t depend on fate—she must choose what’s right for her. But if they can find a bridge between their diverging paths, they may just discover that their enduring connection is what matters most.

My Review:

Knights Bridge Massachusetts is not just a nice place to visit, it also seems like a really nice place to live – except for those New England winters.

In this story, for both Felicity MacGregor and Gabe Flanagan, it is also home in the Robert Frost sense, the one about “home is the place that when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

Felicity went back about three years before the story begins, opened up her own events planning business, and has been finally getting her life on track after a decade of doing what she was expected to do instead of what she wanted to do. Where she failed, repeatedly and over and over again, as the financial analyst her family expected her to be, she’s independent and successful in the career she found by accident.

Gabe Flanagan, on the other hand, has been a successful entrepreneur from the day he dropped out of college, or so it seems. He’s just sold his latest venture for “gazillions” of dollars, as Felicity put it, and he’s at loose ends.

Just in time to come home to Knights Bridge to speak at his brother’s one-day boot camp for budding entrepreneurs.

And to see if he can finally mend fences with the woman who used to be his best friend, Felicity.

They grew up together. They’ve been friends since nursery school. And once, just before they went their separate ways for college – they were lovers. They remained besties even through their first jobs, his ups and down with various start-ups and all her downs as she struggled through one financial analyst job after another.

Their breakup came when Gabe’s very tough love shoved at Felicity’s need for comfort and a place to land. She was broke again, having been fired from yet another position, and couch-surfing at Gabe’s apartment. He was in the midst of what turned out to be his first big success. And in his very blunt and possibly tactless fashion, he told Felicity the bald truth that she had been avoiding for a decade – that whatever she was meant to be and do, it was clear that being a financial analyst made her utterly miserable to the point of failure, and that she needed to get her act together – at something else.

He was right. His delivery sucked, but he was right. And she was gone.

Now she’s living in Knights Bridge, the proud owner of the house that Gabe and his brother built on the site of their grandfather’s old campgrounds. The site where Felicity and Gabe’s friendship morphed into something more, for that one night. The place where Gabe was Felicity’s first lover.

They say you never forget your first. Felicity certainly can’t forget Gabe – he’s wrapped into all her memories of her childhood and adolescence in Knights Bridge. But when he comes back to town, the question is whether she ever got over him – and whether she ever wants to.

Escape Rating B: It feels like The River House is more of a women’s fiction story than a romance. While the relationship between Felicity and Gabe is front and center throughout the book, most of that story is about them rebuilding their solid and life-sustaining friendship. There is sexual tension under the surface, but for most of the story it feels like the focus is on whether they can be besties again, rather than either of them actively looking for more.

Not that more doesn’t eventually find them.

Because they were besties for over two decades, they have a lot of backstory together. And Gabe’s return to Knights Bridge brings up all the events since he left. That means there’s a lot of the past that gets uncovered and turned over. While longtime readers of the series may find the backstory repetitive, for those of us who have read few (one in my case) or none of the previous entries will probably see the backstory as a way of catching up to the cast of characters – which is fairly large and very interconnected.

I really liked the people of Knights Bridge and felt a great deal of empathy for both Felicity and Gabe. Like Gabe, I have also been accused, and rightly so, of being much too blunt. Like Felicity, my dad didn’t figure out what he wanted to do when he grew up until he was also about 30, and fell into the job that became his career with a similar lack of planning. I understood where they both were coming from.

This was the kind of story I happened to be looking for when I picked it up, and I fell right into it.

As much as I enjoyed the setting and the characters, there was one person in the mix whose involvement pushed the book down to a B, and that’s the intrusion of Nadia. She starts by trying to inveigle her way into the entrepreneur boot camp and never lets up until the very end. She comes off as “crazy stalker ex”, but she is not Gabe’s ex. Instead, she’s a former colleague and the ex of the douchebag who bought Gabe’s company for those gazillions of dollars and then left her without a job as well as a husband – not that he was any great loss.

But Nadia becomes a constant, niggling annoyance throughout the entire story. Her lies, her constant interference and her continued unwanted intrusions and overall shadowy presence cast a pall over a whole lot of the events. It feels as if she is being built up to be a villain – and then her plot line kind of fizzles. I’m not sure what she brought to the table and I wish she weren’t there at all. She’s a Chekhov’s gun that misfires with a whimper.

However, I really enjoyed the rest of the story and will happily look for an excuse to go back to Knights Bridge at some point, especially if I get to jonesing for something in the author’s romantic suspense series, Sharpe & Donovan.

 

THE RIVER HOUSE Review & Excerpt Tour Schedule:

March 19th

Nerdy Dirty and Flirty – Excerpt

Reading Keeps Me Sane – Excerpt

Reads All the Books – Excerpt

March 20th

Always a happy ever after – Excerpt

It’s All About the Romance – Excerpt

Ramblings From This Chick – Excerpt

March 21st

Devilishly Delicious Book Reviews – Excerpt

Nose Stuck in a Book – Excerpt

Novel Addiction – Excerpt

March 22nd

Hearts & Scribbles – Excerpt

LETSHAVEAKYA – Excerpt

Reading Between the Wines Book Club – Excerpt

What Is That Book About – Excerpt

March 23rd

Books n Wine – Excerpt

Cathy Reads Books – Review & Excerpt

Ficwishes – Excerpt

Reading Reality – Review

White Hot Reads – Review & Excerpt

March 24th

Nicole’s Book Musings – Excerpt

Shannon’s Book Blog – Review & Excerpt

Smut Book Junkie Book Reviews – Excerpt

Tfaulcbookreviews – Excerpt

March 25th

Book Magic – Under a spell with every page – Review & Excerpt

Evermore Books – Excerpt

Ripe For Reader – Excerpt

TBR Book Blog – Review & Excerpt

March 26th

A Literary Perusal – Review & Excerpt

Have Words Will Scribble – Review & Excerpt

Nice Ladies, Naughty Books – Excerpt

The Ghost Pepper Babes – Excerpt

March 27th

Book Nook Nuts – Excerpt

Kick Back & Review – Excerpt

Literary Misfit – Excerpt

The Bookish Sisters – Review & Excerpt

March 28th

JordansBookReviews – Excerpt

Read more sleep less – Excerpt

Read-Love-Blog – Review & Excerpt

Two Book Pushers – Excerpt

March 29th

Blushing babes are up all night – Review & Excerpt

Sip Read Love – Review

Thoughts of a Blonde – Excerpt

Words We Love By – Review & Excerpt

March 30th

Bobo’s Book Bank – Excerpt

Jax’s Book Magic – Excerpt

Kindle Friends Forever – Review & Excerpt

Scandalous Book Blog – Review & Excerpt

March 31st

Books are love – Review & Excerpt

G & T’s Indie Café – Excerpt

Inside The Mind of an Avid Reader – Review

The Fairest of All Book Reviews – Excerpt

Review: A Dangerous Game by Heather Graham

Review: A Dangerous Game by Heather GrahamA Dangerous Game (New York Confidential #3) by Heather Graham
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Series: New York Confidential #3
Pages: 336
Published by Mira Books on March 13th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The third novel in the New York Confidential series by long-established NYT bestselling romantic suspense author Heather Graham. This is the author's romantic-suspense stream, in addition to her successful ongoing mass market paperback paranormal romantic suspense series.

Psychologist Kieran Finnegan is thrust into the middle of an investigation into human trafficking when a desperate woman shoves an infant into her arms and then flees...only to be murdered minutes later on a busy Manhattan street. Despite the fact that it isn't an FBI case, Special Agent Craig Frasier starts poking around, because Kieran can't stop thinking about the child and the victim. Their one lead comes through the pub, Finnegan's on Broadway. One of the waitresses also volunteers at a church outreach center, and had been in contact with a distraught young pregnant woman, whom she recommended Kieran to as someone who might be able to help her. When Kieran goes to the outreach center to do some off-the-books investigating of her own, she is approached by two women who are worried for their missing friend, and who reveal that they were part of a human trafficking ring that did business in babies. As Craig and Kieran delve deeper into the underbelly of NYC trying to find out more, the dangerous elements of the ring come to the surface, hoping to silence Kieran before she exposes them.

My Review:

A Dangerous Game is romantic suspense of the “established couples” variety of romantic suspense. FBI Special Agent Craig Frasier and therapist/pub owner Kieran Finnegan met and fell in love in the first book in the series, Flawless, while Craig was undercover. By the time this third book in the series takes place, after last year’s A Perfect Obsession, the two of them are very much in love and are at the stage of living together without actually deciding to live together. In other words, they spend their nights together, but still have two apartments.

They have been together more than long enough to know each other all too well, including each other’s bad habits and the tells they each exhibit when one or the other is covering something up. What they are covering up is usually a case, because Craig’s FBI work seems to run into either Kieran’s patients or her pub with well-beyond-coincidental frequency.

Kieran is a trouble magnet, and that is what begins this story.

A woman comes to Kieran’s office, calls her by name, and hands her a baby. Then the woman rushes out the door and is murdered within steps after she gets outside. It’s obvious that there is way more going on here than meets the eye, and there is plenty going on from that beginning.

The baby and the woman, both Jane Does, lead the police and the FBI to the seamy underground world of human trafficking and baby harvesting. And their investigation links to an all too similar five year old cold case.

Equally coincidentally, Kieran’s soon-to-be-sister-in-law, an Irish immigrant herself, is contacted by two young women, one of them also Irish, who are on the run from a human trafficking organization controlled by an unnamed but ruthless “King” and “Queen”.

As Craig, the FBI, the NYPD, Homeland Security AND the U.S. Marshalls’ office all investigate the various aspects of what seems to be an extremely well organized criminal enterprise that has eyes and ears virtually everywhere, Kieran strikes out on her own, putting herself in danger over and over again.

Not that Craig is ever exactly safe, but he is, at least trained for this. Kieran just can’t seem to resist putting herself in harm’s way, repeatedly and perhaps just a little too often.

In the end, they manage to cut off the head of this particular snake. And they decide to get married. All in a day’s work.

Escape Rating B: I have not read the previous books in this series, but I did read Law and Disorder, which seems to be part of a side-series to New York Confidential. It gave me enough background to be able to slide right into Kieran’s and Craig’s “adventures”, and into the terrific atmosphere of Finnegan’s Pub.
But I think a reader could come into A Dangerous Game without having read any of the previous books. Events from those earlier stories are certainly referred to, but don’t actually impact current events, except in the sense that they provide a pattern. It’s pretty clear that both Finnegan’s Pub and Kieran Finnegan herself attract trouble the way that certain lights attract bugs, as in they don’t exactly go looking for trouble, but they can’t resist it once they find it, and they willing dash themselves against it no matter how much damage it does to themselves or others.

The case that they have become involved in has a “ripped from the headlines” feel to it. In spite of our problems, the United States is still a country that many people in terrible situations want to come to. And the situations they are often fleeing are so terrible that they believe that any circumstance here, no matter how awful, must be better than the place they are so desperate to leave. The more the screws tighten on legal immigration, the more desperate people become, and the easier it is for the desperate to become prey to monsters in human form.

The human traffickers in this particular story have eyes and ears everywhere, and tentacles in every organization that can help them find more victims and cover up their crimes. Early on in the story, Craig is aware that someone close to the investigation, if not multiple someones, must be in the pay of the criminals. Figuring out who those person or persons might be takes place over a good chunk of the story. In the end, readers will find that the characters they have suspected all along are actually the guilty parties.

In spite of the frenetic beginning, the case as a whole takes a while to ramp up to speed. I found the first third of the book a bit slow going, but once past that point, events occur at breakneck speed and the reader gets caught up in the chase. In spite of the predictable elements to some parts of the ending, the story does keep you glued to your seat from that point forward. In the end, a good time is had by all, including the reader, and evil does get its just desserts. As it should be.

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.