The Stillwater Girls by Minka Kent

I find that writing reviews for really awesome books and really horrible books are the easiest. Writing reviews for those that are solidly in the middle are the most difficult of all for me. The Stillwater Girls, my first book by Minka Kent, is a solid 3 star: a good read, interesting, but quite flawed.

51CFdbIbZ9LamazonStillwater is a forest in upstate New York in which two girls, Sage and Wren, have lived with their mother and younger sister, Evie, for their entire lives. They, quite literally, have had no contact with civilization. There are no cell phones, radios, televisions, internet – nothing. They never have seen another human being outside of the women in their cabin. At least, not that they can remember. Their mother occasionally meets up with a “supply man” who sells their homemade soaps and brings them supplies but, for the most part, they are self sufficient and adequately living off of the land around them. Until the night that Evie falls ill and their mother leaves the cabin to take her to find medical help. Wren and Sage wait….and wait…. Wren carefully marking off the days on her homemade calendar, weeks, then a month and then two. Then a man arrives at their cabin and their lives change forever.

Stillwater Girls completely had me hooked for the majority of the book. Kent is an amazing writer and the story of these girls, how they survived, their meager happiness and their fears, were palpable. I absolutely loved them. Until the final stage of the book. It was as though I was watching a ball of yarn unraveling. The storyline itself began to come apart string by string. While I appreciate plot twists and surprises, those in Stillwater Girls, felt so contrived and unbelievable that I wanted to back up and re-read it all again hoping for a different outcome. Surely all of the great writing at the beginning couldn’t fall apart like this at the end, could it? But, sadly, it did. That’s not to say that as whole the book wasn’t good because it was. It could have been terrific, though, and it wasn’t.

I appreciate the advanced copy given to me by #Netgalley, #Thomas&Mercer and #MinkaKent. I have read such great things about Kent’s books and definitely will read one of her other works.

 

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Bone on Bone #JuliaKeller

I wasn’t sure what to think after Fast Falls the Night, Julia Keller’s stunning book about 24 hours in a rust belt town forced to cope with the mounting, egregious death toll from tainted drug overdoses. The protagonist, Bell Elkins, and her town, were left shattered and broken with a deputy fighting for his life and Bell making the decision to confess to a crime she only recently remembered was her fault. I had no idea how, or even if, the series could continue. Bone on Bone, puts the pieces back together and, like things that have been broken, it never will be same but, thankfully, the pieces are there.

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As always, Keller’s writing is superb and her characters are brilliantly and realistically drawn. There are few series characters with whom I identify with more than I do than Bell Elkins. While this book is much slower, not nearly as much action as those in the past, it was needed in order to serve as a bridge from what was to what will be in the future of the series. If you haven’t read Keller’s books before, then I suggest you start at the beginning. If you are a fan, then one is not to be missed!

The Missing Years #LexieElliott

MY FATHER IS….

Missing…  Ailsa Calder’s father is missing and has been for several years. Rumor floating among the little village where he lived is that he ran off with jewels that he stole from his employer. Perhaps he ran away to start a new life or fell to his death into the sea or was murdered and hidden and the jewels stolen. Ailsa has come up with many theories throughout her lifetime but now she has to find out the truth. Her mother is dead and she has inherited one half of a manse. The other half is owned by her missing father. She cannot do anything with it until she either finds her father or proves he is dead.

52681134_642264552856741_4538588784605790208_nI really enjoyed reading Lexie Elliott’s first novel, The French Girl, last year but I will tell you now that The Missing Years eclipses her first and has landed its way onto my favorite’s list! The Missing Years crosses genres from suspense, mystery, a touch of romance to a fair amount of magical realism and she marries these together seamlessly. It has an essence of a ghost story while keeping the reader firmly planted in the here and now and much of what one suspects as supernatural turns out to be ominously too close to reality for comfort.

While both The French Girl and The Missing Years comprise a large ensemble cast of characters, with this one Elliott does a better job of fleshing out her characters so that they are more manageable to distinguish from one another and also easier to relate to, feel compassion for and, ultimately invest in their story. As someone with roots in Scotland, I found the history that was included particularly intriguing and learned more about my own past than I was expecting. Trust me, the history is subtle, never boring for a moment.

The Missing Years is an eclectic, atmospheric and suspenseful tale that I highly recommend. While some readers have questioned the addition of magical realism in this book, I found that it was absolutely marvelous and hope this is a continued direction for Elliott’s future work.

I am very grateful to Elisha @berkleypub and #elliott_lexie for my advanced copy #TheMissingYears.

The Promise #TeresaDriscoll

Happy Publication Day to Teresa Driscoll and #ThePromise

Three girls held a deep, dark secret. Three girls made a promise they vowed to keep forever. Now something and someone is threatening that promise. Will the truth come out or will these women do anything possible to keep their secret hidden forever?

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I am a huge Teresa Driscoll fan and have previously rated her books very highly. The Promise is a slow burning psychological suspense novel – not a thriller – but a book filled with plenty of atmospheric drama. The book begins when the three women are at a private girls school. While we don’t actually learn what the secret is, I suspect that most of us can guess. It’s a terrible thing that happens and traumatizing, too, for each of the girls. However, the secret more than the event becomes the catalyst for problems down the road as is generally the case with secrets, right?

Without giving any of the plot away, I will say that I enjoyed The Promise but not nearly as much as I have liked Driscoll’s precious work. While it’s well written, I had a difficult time actually connecting with any of the three women. Perhaps it’s because I’m too bluntly honest for my own good and keeping a secret for a lifetime isn’t something I can conceive of doing. Just deal it already! Despite misgivings, however, I found myself engrossed in their story and I did read it in one very quick sitting. I suspect that if, like me, you are a Driscoll fan then you will like this selection. If you enjoy slow-burning psychological reads then this will be good one for you as well. If, however, you like thrillers, then this one is not for you. It is very much a solid three-star rating from me.

Thank you to #Netgalley and #ThomasMercer for my advanced copy of #ThePromise

 

The American #NadiaDalbuono

The American is a complex, intricate tale of international espionage and intrigue that weaves through Italy, the US and the walls of the Vatican. It is the follow-up to Nadia  Dalbuono’s stunning debut, The Few, featuring her flawed protagonist, Leone Scamarcio, who is back in The American. 

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Detective Scamarcio is called to the scene of an apparent suicide, one who appears to be an American businessman. But Scamarcio is suspicious when he discovers plaster in the man’s pockets. The set-up is reminiscent of a decades old murder of “God’s Banker,” the Vatican’s treasurer. When a Cardinal with links to the church’s bank is killed and the US government sends in “agents” to threaten Scamarcio, he knows he is onto to something big – and something dangerous. He’s right. As the investigation continues, there are links to every dirty war, conspiracy, “hit” job throughout the past few decades and Scamarcio becomes the target of mobs, governments and the church who all have something to hide and do whatever is necessary to keep their secrets hidden.

The American is an expertly written, fabulously researched and an intensely laid out thriller. There have been times when I’ve read international authors where I became a bit “lost in translation,” but that never was the case with The American. It is a fast paced, edge-of-your-seat story that will hold your attention throughout. If ever a series should be put on the screen, it is this one! The intrigue and suspense is palpable throughout.

I did read The Few, the first book in this series, and I like how Scamarcio is evolving as a character. There are times when a flawed protagonist gets worse or their bad behavior becomes piggish, that is not the case with Scamarcio. He is handled very deftly. Because this is the second in the series, I would strongly suggest that you begin with The Few. While this could be read as a stand alone, I wouldn’t recommend it. I do, however, absolutely recommend both books to anyone who likes thrillers, suspense, international intrigue or well written fiction!

Thank you #Netgalley, and #ScribeUS for my copy of this terrific thriller

 

The Suspect by Fiona Barton

Fiona Barton, bestselling author of The Child and The Widow, is back with her newest thrilling suspense novel, The Suspect.

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Reporter Kate Waters is back in this third offering of Barton’s, along with DI Bob Sparkes. For Kate getting the story, being first on the scene and first to press is key to her success so when she hears about two British girls who have gone missing in Thailand, she manages to find a way into the confidences of the girls’ families. The girls, teens on their “gap year” abroad, were supposed to follow an itinerary but it soon becomes apparent that the girls are not where they were meant to be and are no longer phoning home. As Kate calls on resources in Thailand, she learns that the bodies of two young girls have been discovered in a “flop house.” Their deaths have been ruled accidental. But Kate and the families want answers – they want to know what happened to the girls. Or do they? The answers to the questions will have far reaching implications that fall closer to home than any parent could possibly imagine.

The Suspect is every parent’s worst nightmare – a missing child, the subsequent death of a child, and mountains of international bureaucratic red tape that stymies all questions. I truly empathized with these parents, perhaps because I have grown children who travel abroad nearly as often as they stay at home in the states and they have done so since they were teens. There is such a fine line between trusting your kids and knowing when to be wary of what they are telling you. So, for me, these parents and their reactions were very believable. I also have been a small-time reporter in my much younger days so Kate is someone with whom I also identify. In the end, the entire story – while focusing on the girls’ travels and exploits – ultimately is about the parents, their lifestyles, decisions and, in the end, what they will do to protect their children and their families.

This is, of course, the third book in what appears to be a series but, maybe I’m just dense, I didn’t read it as part of a set. Yes, Kate has been in the previous books but until The Suspect she was not a focal character. She and Sparkes are recurring characters, and I hope they continue to be, but certainly this book could be read as a stand-alone. It should be noted, I suppose, that there is a lot of graphic sex, drug use and descriptions of dead bodies. I’ve grown somewhat callous to this type of thing in suspense/thrillers but I’m noting it just the same. I adore Barton’s writing style and have loved each of her books. She has become an author whose book I know I will relish and I hope that you will enjoy this, her latest book. I couldn’t wait to read it and, now, I cannot wait to read her next one.

Much appreciation to #Edelweiss, @BerkleyPub and #FionaBarton for my copy of #TheSuspect

Watcher in the Woods by Kelley Armstrong #NGEW2019

Casey Duncan is back in this fourth installment of the Rockton saga – a series involving the secluded town and its people in the frozen Yukon of Canada.

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Admittedly, Watcher in the Woods is part of my favorite series. It’s got a terrific cast of characters, all of whom are quite flawed or they wouldn’t be in the town of Rockton. Rockton, you see, is a secret, very secluded town for those who need to escape either because they are the worst in society or from the very worst in society. It makes for an eclectic and often frightening mix of personalities. In addition to the town’s people, you have a two group of renegades living (wandering/surviving) in the forest surrounding Rockton: those who are true survivalists who didn’t want to go back down south after their time in Rockton was finished and those who are simply too savage to live anywhere at all. They add an additional layer of worry and suspense to the story line.

Watcher in the Woods takes place approximately 2-3 weeks after the last book which means the characters are still reeling from a murder, a crazed woman whom they intimately trusted and a wounded man who is part of their patrol. They have been without a doctor in the town since the former doctor was killed and they desperately need to get medical help for their resident, Kenny. Secreting away in the night, Casey and the sheriff bring back help but they also bring back more than they bargain for as they are followed by a US Marshall looking for his bounty. He refuses to say who it is or why it is so important that he finds “his man” – or woman. When the Marshall is killed, it becomes imperative that Casey – the town’s only detective – discovers who the Marshall was after and why. More importantly, she has to find out how the Marshall was able to follow them and plug any leaks there might be regarding Rockton’s well kept secret location.

All of the Rockton tales are action packed and full of secrets, double backs and, yes, romance. That is what makes them so entertaining to read. This one, however, was a bit slow for me in the beginning and I suspect that it was because there was a great deal of minutia laid out for readers who might be joining here at book four rather than at the beginning. There was quite a bit of repetitiveness, who’s who, explanations about the town and how it works, which is fine if you are new to the series but by the fourth book in, it was a little tedious. Once that was past, the book was actually better than any of the previous stories. It was more complex, there was more action, an introduction of new characters, two of whom I suspect are going to be key in future books, and quite a few secrets revealed that led to some “aha” moments. All of this had me looking forward to the next book already and forgetting the tedium that had me skimming in the beginning.

If you haven’t read any of this series you should be able to read this one as a stand alone but I highly recommend that you begin at the start and work up to this one. There is a lot of back story and past history that will make it more interesting for you. Then you can join me in skimming over the mundane catch-up in this book but completely enjoying the majority of the rest. It IS a series that I highly recommend. It’s fun, entertaining, suspenseful and, generally, a quick read.

My thanks to #Netgalley, @StMartinsPress, @MinotaurBooks and Kelley Armstrong for my advanced copy of #WatcherintheWoods.