Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace by Mindy Mejia (Suspense)

Mindy Mejia (Everything You Want Me to Be) is a master at creating people you can see, feel, and touch. You understand where they’re coming from. You care about them. When the two main characters are both social outcasts as they are in Leave No Trace, it’s even better. Now you really want them to succeed.

Maya, a newly graduated speech therapist with a rocky past, is assigned to the case of Lucas, a nineteen-year-old patient in a mental hospital. Ten years before, he and his widowed dad disappeared into the Minnesota wilderness known as the Boundary Waters. They were assumed dead until Lucas broke into an outfitter’s store and was captured.

Now Maya is tasked with getting Lucas to communicate with her about where he and his father went and why. The death of a landlady occurred just before they disappeared, and the father is a prime suspect. But a bond has formed between Maya and Lucas, and Maya is torn between betraying Lucas’s trust or betraying the mentor who has seen her through thick and thin.

A strong sense of place pervades this novel. The author transports us to Duluth, Minnesota, and the Boundary Waters. We feel the draw the glacial lakes have on Lucas, and we find that Maya herself is no stranger to the outdoor life. She’s also extremely knowledgeable about the geology of the area, as that was the professional interest of the mother who deserted Maya and her father and left Maya with only a few precious agates to remember her by. All of it works together brilliantly to make an absorbing book that was impossible to put down. An unexpected twist near the end was just frosting on a well-constructed cake.

Grandma gives Leave No Trace five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free ARC from the publisher via NetGalley with a request for an honest review.

Leave No Trace will be released on September 4, 2018, and is available for pre-order.

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Lies

Lies

Lies by T.M. Logan (Suspense)

Lies starts out strong. Joe Lynch suspects his wife is having an affair with Ben, a married friend with whom they socialize as couples. He confronts Ben in a hotel parking lot, they get into a fight, and he knocks Ben unconscious, possibly worse. Meanwhile, his own little boy is having an asthma attack in Joe’s car, and Joe must leave the scene if he’s going to save his son’s life. When he returns, Ben is gone and so is Joe’s phone, which he dropped during the scuffle. Things go downhill from there.

Unfortunately, the strong beginning and initial tension were not sustained. Plenty of unexplained things happen, the plot moves right along, but I still found myself putting the book down, sometimes for days at a time, without any longing to get back to the story. Although I was curious as to what was going on, I was never gripped with a need to keep reading in order to find out. Perhaps it was because I had no sympathy for any of the characters except Joe’s little boy.

If there were clues to what was going on, I missed them. Instead, I felt totally sideswiped by the ending. It seemed contrived to me, highly unlikely. On the other hand, I couldn’t really identify with any of the adults, and so it’s possible that their behaviors in this case were plausible; I just don’t think I know anyone who would go so over the top for the reasons given.

Grandma gives Lies three stars. 3 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy from the publisher via NetGalley with a request for an honest review.

 

Jar of Hearts

Jar of Hearts

Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier (Thriller)

Thirty-year-old corporate executive Georgina Shaw is going to prison. Fourteen years ago, her best friend, Angela Wong, disappeared. But Angela’s remains have been found in a shallow grave, and while Georgina didn’t kill Angela, she knew what happened to her high school friend and never told anyone. Now she has plea-bargained a five year sentence in return for testifying against the killer.

But there are additional, gruesome details that Georgina continues to hide, and when she’s about to be released from prison, copy-cat murders — albeit with a twist — begin to occur. Somebody knows Georgina’s secrets, and that person is coming for her.

I read this book in a single day. Everything about it held my interest — the characters, the fast-paced storytelling, the suspense, the writing style. The arresting officer’s unrequited high school crush on Georgina and his current involvement in investigating the new homicides add depth and intrigue to the story, while the author deftly reveals just enough clues to let the reader have the satisfaction of starting to figure it all out.

Grandma gives Jar of Hearts five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley with a request for an honest review.

 

 

The Last Train

The Last Train

The Last Train by Michael Pronko (Thriller/Mystery)

Michael Pronko writes mysteries set in Tokyo, making this book not only a fast-paced thriller but a close look at a city where holy temples rub shoulders with hostess clubs and high-speed trains provide a means for homicide.

Hiroshi Shimitzu is a Tokyo police detective who normally deals with white collar crime, but because he speaks English well, he is pulled into the investigation of an American businessman’s death by train. Insider trading, high-stakes real estate deals, and a mysterious ex-hostess give Hiroshi and his fellow detectives plenty to contemplate as they race against time to capture the murderer. In a unique twist for the average mystery, we already know who the killer is. What remains to be learned is why she did it and will she get away with it?

Novels with a strong, well-drawn sense of place rate highly with me, especially when they provide insights into an unfamiliar culture (Dew Angels, Hillstation, The Brazilian Husband, Savaged Lands). This book is no exception. Pronko takes us deep into Tokyo nightlife as well as giving us glimpses of the holy shrines, religious practices, and food traditions that are an integral part of daily life. We meet everyday people, teen-aged call girls, hard-boiled corporate executives, and ex-sumo wrestlers. At the same time, he creates well-developed characters who keep the reader’s interest.

Grandma gives The Last Train four and a half stars. 4.5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy from the author with a request for an honest review.

Abuse of Discretion

Abuse of Discretion

Abuse of Discretion by Pamela Samuels Young (Suspense)

Sexting is the topic of this excellent courtroom drama. Fourteen-year-old Graylin has a nude photo of a classmate on his cell phone, and someone has tipped off the police. Graylin didn’t take the photo; someone Snapchatted him anonymously, but he took a screenshot and now faces charges of possession of child pornography. He hasn’t distributed it or even shown it to his best friend, but if he is found guilty as charged, this straight-A student and all-around good kid will go on record as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

Compounding the odds against him is the fact that he is a black kid with an ex-con for a dad and a drug-addicted mother who has disappeared from his life. His school friends and family and his attorney, Angela Evans, are all black, as is the author, which gives this novel a welcome freshness in point of view and experience. And, it is a fast-paced, all-absorbing story that was hard to put down.

The story is told through the eyes of several individuals, including Graylin, his friends and family, Angela, and also The Shepherd, a sex trafficker who specializes in kidnapping children. As book three in the Dre Thomas Series, it continues the story of Angela’s boyfriend, Dre Thomas, whose niece was taken by The Shepherd. His testimony has put The Shepherd in prison, and The Shepherd is out for revenge.

Author Pamela Samuels Young is an attorney with experience in the juvenile justice system, and online safety is one of her areas of interest. Sex trafficking in the United States is another topic she covers in an effort to raise awareness about dangers facing young people today. Abuse of Discretion makes a thought-provoking statement about current-day sexual permissiveness in advertising, movies, and television: How can we blame today’s children for accepting as normal what we have allowed to become ubiquitous in their environment?

Grandma gives Abuse of Discretion five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Citizen Kill

Citizen Kill

Citizen Kill by Stephen Clark (Thriller)

This government conspiracy thriller involves a discredited former CIA operative who is seeking to get back into the agency’s good graces. To do so, he must commit covert assassinations that go against his better judgment, killing American citizens who are suspected of, but not proven to be, radicalizing Muslims.

Equipped with an ice gun that shoots bullets of ice coated with a seafood toxin that stimulates a heart attack, Justin Raines begins killing Imams and others whose names are sent to him one by one by a CIA bigwig. Meanwhile, we also follow the newly inaugurated president of the United States, a reporter for a Washington newspaper, a young Muslim woman running a school for American Muslim children, various political figures, and some of Justin’s former CIA team members who form his current support system. While that may sound overwhelming, it’s not, with all but one of the narratives working well together to tell the story.

The one that did not work for me was the president, Savannah Reed. On Inauguration Day, during the parade, her 12-year-old son is killed when a bomb explodes along the route. Like any mother, she is devastated, but unlike a tough woman who has chosen to become the leader of the free world knowing the risks and responsibilities, she lasts one week in the White House and then transfers power to the Vice President and stays away for six months.

During that time, she befriends a young girl who lost her mother to the Inauguration Day bombing and is now in a wheelchair. When Savannah goes back to being president, she moves the child and her immigrant Bosnian father into the White House, along with Savannah’s own husband and teen-aged son. She helps the child with homework, takes her and her father along on political fundraisers across the country, and spends weekends with them dining in Washington restaurants. Then they and the first family all go to Camp David. Her husband is jealous, and then he’s not.

Unfortunately, all of this detail contributes nothing to the thriller’s plot. Instead, we watch a distracted, incompetent president live vicariously through a motherless child while everything around her goes down the drain. So much for being the first woman in the Oval Office.

If one can ignore that part, this is a book thriller aficionados will enjoy.  It has the requisite love story, some redemption, some justice meted out to the guilty, and some surprises. The story moves right along, the writing is fine, and it all wraps up at the end.

Grandma gives Citizen Kill three and a half stars. 3.5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Darkest Night

Darkest Night

Darkest Night by Tara Thomas (Romantic Thriller)

One of the things that drew me to this book was its setting – Charleston, South Carolina. This is the first book in the Sons of Broad series, which implies something location-driven (think Pat Conroy). It is not.

The setting is Charleston, but we could be in Omaha. We never hear anything about the city itself, and it has absolutely no influence on the story. There is none of the lush detail that transports you to its unique beauty, not even a single mention of Spanish moss.

If this book were the work of an indie author, I would be contacting her and suggesting she employ a good content editor. But this book is being published by St. Martin’s Press, and as such, it is a major disappointment.

It feels like a first novel that’s incorporating every storyline the author ever came up with, regardless of whether or not it contributes to a cohesive plot. Keaton is the youngest of three wealthy, handsome brothers: Kipling, Knox, and Keaton Benedict. He  miraculously discovers his spunky long-lost childhood sweetheart, Tilly, working in a gentleman’s club, heroically struggling to make her own way. They reunite and immediately fall into wild, passionate love. But then a crazed, conniving female fortune hunter (Elise), willing to commit blackmail and even murder to get Keaton to marry her, enters their lives. And, a dangerous, powerful villain (The Gentleman) is sending out his minions to destroy the Benedict brothers and makes Tilly his target. There’s also a vulnerable young girl (Jade/Kaja) working for The Gentleman. But she is strangely drawn to helping the Benedict brothers in spite of the fact that doing so will endanger her own life. She’s especially good at being in the right place at the right time. Oh, and did I mention the tough, no-nonsense female detective (Alyssa)? Or the fact that the Benedicts find their deceased father had another family?

The characters are flat but we do know they’re having good sex because we’re treated to all the details since this is billed as a romantic thriller. There’s not a real build-up of tension, but there are victims – dead or grievously injured – showing up regularly. And, because this is the first of a series, a lot is left unresolved. Tilly’s life is still in danger. The identity of The Gentleman remains unknown. Jade/Kaja remains on the run, and Kipling continues to flirt inappropriately with Alyssa.

If the prose were beautiful or the descriptions creative, this review might be nudged to three stars, but neither is true. The book starts with one of the brothers receiving a single, long-stemmed rose in a box, and the author doesn’t even bother to mention what color the rose is. When I found myself picturing a gray rose, I knew this book was in trouble.

Grandma gives Darkest Night two stars. 2-stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.