Intensely character driven and held in an arrestingly deadly setting, this is a lingering read.
Villain(s)/Reveal(s): ★★★ 1/2
Full disclosure: I've been a long-time fan of Nalini Singh. She writes some of the most well-written, beautifully plotted paranormal romances in the game. As in, they're worthy of SFF labels but are tragically only published as mass market paperbacks (I'm a hardcover girl, but I bend my rule for this queen).
So when I heard she was writing a mystery/thriller, I was SHOOK. As in, had to get a copy, was willing to beg, barter, and more to get this gem. And it DID NOT disappoint. In fact, it's elevated my opinion so much that I hope this is just the beginning—there better be more!
A Madness of Sunshine unfolds like a tightly clenched fist in achingly slow fits and starts. A young girl full of vitality, Miriama, goes out for a run one evening along the coast of Golden Cove, New Zealand. She doesn't come back.
Will is a cop hiding from his former life as a hotshot detective in Golden Cove. Not much happens in a small town where everyone knows everyone...but several female hikers have disappeared over the decades, and when Miriama goes missing, the old wounds resurface and the town of "pleasant" neighbors erupts. Can Will solve this current missing persons case amidst the echoes of the past?
Anahera left Golden Cove one year and never looked back. The past only holds pain and secrets, and she's never wanted to relive it—until her London husband dies suddenly and the hidden mistress comes knocking at her door. Shocked at the shattering of her "perfect" life, she returns to Golden Cove with fresh eyes and old wounds.
Will and Anahera come together over the disappearance of Miriama, and it's truly a character study of these two flawed characters finding solace in solving the problems of the past. But, as with other Nalini Singh novels, each and every side character jumps off the page with personality and depth. No one is two dimensional, and no one is overlooked. This felt real.
I'm so happy to see Singh branching out into the mystery/thriller genre. The mystery was tightly plotted, the villain(s) (no spoilers here!) were deeply motivated, and the unfolding of the plot was extremely satisfying. Don't miss this one!
Thank you to the publisher via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
This wasn’t quite what I’d hoped it’d be, but honestly that was on me and not on this book.
Quick take: Two women are trying to make their mark on the film industry of the 1950s during the Communist scare and the Hollywood blacklists that ensued as a result of the Red Menace.
Phoebe Adler is in New York, scratching out a living as a screenwriter for a mid-level detective TV show. Her shows have her name on the credits, but it's hard being a self-made woman after WWII, when the men have returned from the war and want their jobs back. Phoebe doesn't mind much, except for getting her name out there and making sure she's making enough money for her sister, Mona, who depends on her. When the Red Menace comes knocking and Phoebe's world turns on its head, London may just be her saving grace.
Hannah Wolfson is an expatriate living in London. She's managed to create a production company and successfully be an executive producer in a male-dominated world—and her husband and kids support her. But when blacklisted writers and talent arrive in the UK and Hannah decides to risk it all and hire them, odds are something just might fall through the new cracks.
This was such an immersive reading experience. Red Letter Days made me feel like I was in the 1950s, down to the prevalent mannerisms and details. It was harder for me to read the sexism—also a necessary element—because that's something I dislike in my escapist fiction, but I thought the author did a fantastic job of conveying female agency amid those issues.
However, in general I struggled with the density of the descriptions and lack of driving pacing. Due to the fact that this novel is much more exploratory and reliant on slice-of-life, this was definitely a "me" problem. The author did a fantastic job of portraying the real life struggles of these women in real time. I think I just wanted more pizzazz, more intrigue—coming from a predominantly fantasy and mystery/thriller reader, hopefully that further explains my lackluster rating.
If you are a fan of historical fiction and/or old-school Hollywood a la The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, give this a go! The atmosphere is fantastic.
Thank you to Berkley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
LOVE HARD - Nalini Singh
My sister begged me to nab an early copy of Nalini Singh's latest romance featuring her cast of rugby stars in New Zeeland, and I found myself pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this family sports romance.
Love Hard comes out on March 10, 2020!
Now, I know I just said my sister begged me to request this and read it on her behalf, but I was also a bit intrigued myself. Nalini Singh is the author of one of my favorite paranormal romance series, Guild Hunter, as well as her first mystery/thriller, A Madness of Sunshine (which I also read and reviewed! You can check out that review here.). So I knew I was a fan of her romances, and of her writing in general.
But, let's be honest, this series was less intriguing to me—because it's about sports. And I don't really do sports. At all.
So say "I told you so," sister of mine, because I really enjoyed Love Hard.
Jake has no time for fun or acting his age. He's an all-star rugby player in a family of all-star players, and his commitment to his family and to his young daughter, Esme, is the sole focus of his life. After losing his childhood sweetheart, Callie, shortly after the birth of their daughter, Jake has grown up cautious and overprotective.
Juliet's never had a proper family upbringing. Peddled around from family member to family member as a kid left her with scars, and the only saving grace was her best friend, Callie. When Callie passed away, Juliet forgot about Callie's jock boyfriend, Jake, and started making her way in the world—with a few notable bumps in the road, including a nasty ex-husband.
When these two former acquaintances meet at a wedding, what will they do with these brand new sparks?
I thought Love Hard was cute, to the point, and filled with warm fuzzy feelings (and some other, well, feelings too). Jake and Juliet's banter and chemistry was front and center for the entire story. I really enjoyed listening to their banter, and in particular I thought their semi "enemies to lovers" mixed with second chance vibes worked extremely well in this context. I loved how they were both respectful and honest, and miscommunication was NOT used as a plot device.
However, I did struggle quite a bit with the general pacing. Love Hard didn't take place over multiple months or a long time span, but it felt like it anyway given the copious time spent on paragraphs of explanation of the past, backstory, and internal monologue. In fact, at a few points in the story I forgot that I was still in the same scene as dozens of pages later, we were still there! This might not necessarily be a negative for some readers—the descriptions and backstory added quite a bit of character depth—but for my taste in romance, I prefer dialogue-driven scenes with lots of movement in plot.
Overall, another winner from Nalini Singh—and a steamy one too. (Wink wink!)
Thank you to Independent Publishers Group via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
NO BAD DEED - Heather Chavez
This is one of those twisty, adrenaline-filled thrillers that once you start you literally can't stop. What an impressive debut.
Main character: ★★★★★
If you witnessed a violent moment between a man and woman at the side of the road while in your car, what would you do? Would you get out? Would you call the police?
Cassie Larkin gets out of her car. She's coming home late from her shift at the vet office when she sees a battered woman being chased by a man with a knife on the side of a deserted highway. After a tense confrontation, the attacker tells Cassie something strange.
"Your life is a mess. You just don't know it yet. Let her die, and I'll let you live."
Then he flees the scene in Cassie's van—which contains her wallet, ID, and personal information. Cassie doesn't abandon the victim, and the woman survives. But now the clock is ticking, and Cassie knows that a potential killer knows her address. Knows about her husband. Knows about her kids.
The very next day, her husband is taken.
What follows is one of the most intense, pacing-driven thrillers that I have read in a long time. Cassie's propulsive drive to find her husband and solve the mystery of the killer's interest in her and her family was so entertaining, so nerve-wracking, and filled with all of the hard decisions that make you stop and check yourself: would I do that? would I make that jump? would I make that call? would I trust in the police, or would I do it myself?
Cassie was the main reason that I loved this story. She is a woman full of flaws and filled with a sense of unworthiness when it comes to her husband and her kids. With that cocktail blend of past guilt and fierce maternal love, her focus on the trail of the murderer goes from 0 to 100 real fast. (I was so here for it). In addition to her drive to find the truth, the reveals as to why Cassie, and why her family, become increasingly clear. In case you're wondering whether this falls closer to A-B-C thriller or twisted mystery, I'll say that the reveals and mystery were definitely a main portion of the story, and boy was I shocked by that ending. It's crazy, but it fits the story. Loved it.
Can't wait for Heather Chavez's next thriller.
Thank you so much to William Morrow for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
THE RETURN - Rachel Harrison
I was NOT expecting this slim novel to be so awesome, so horror-based, and so suspenseful. Loved it. It would have been an automatic 5 stars, but some things didn't jive.
The Return comes out on March 24, 2020!
Elise is told her best friend, Julie, went missing on a solo hiking trip. Two years go by, and Elise refuses to believe or accept that Julie's dead. She's sure Julie will turn up again, good as new.
Two years to the day that Julie disappears, she returns. She doesn't remember anything about her time missing, and things are...different. But Elise is ecstatic anyway—Julie came back.
To celebrate Julie's return, Elise and Julie's two other friends organize a girl's weekend at a lodge in the New England woods. The lodge is crazy wacky—think individually-themed rooms, Alice in Wonderland, Tim Burton, and The Shining all in one—and the girls are immediately set up for a weird time.
But the lodge isn't the weird part. Julie is.
Something's wrong with Julie, and it might not be what Elise is expecting...
Wow. What a cool, unique, horrific debut. This clocks in at just under 200 pages, and I devoured it in one sitting. The suspense was killer—at any given moment, I was on pins and needles waiting for the next creepy thing, the next reveal. The girls' friendship dynamics were painfully raw, honest, and full of recognizable traits that I identified with from my own friends. The reveal, while easier to guess than others, was still well done and I loved the final climax.
The only thing that kept The Return from being an automatic 5 stars for me was the overall pacing. You can tell that this story had a killer hook and good suspense, but due to the lack of a side-plot or believable red herrings its pacing suffered. Lots of dialogue-based scenes and not enough significant action. However, as the suspense was done SO well, this was relatively easy to ignore. It would have been a much bigger problem if this novel had been longer.
Thank you to Berkley via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
A man waits for his girlfriend to pick up his Skype call. Waiting for her on the webcam, he sees something in her apartment that he wasn't expecting to see—her murder.
Concept: ★★★★ 1/2
Watching from the Dark comes out on February 25, 2020.
Watching From the Dark is the second novel in the British detective series centered on DCI Jonah Sheens and his police team, Hanson, Lightman, and O'Malley.
Aidan Poole is waiting for Zoe on Skype one night, and instead of a chat he's greeted with a gruesome murder. Who killed Zoe, and what should he do about it?
Adding fuel to the fire, Aidan doesn't directly go to the police, and his dodgy avoidance of detail raises the suspicions of DCI Sheens.
As the secrets and lies start to bubble to the surface, it appears that Zoe's life as a graduate art student wasn't as simple as it appeared...
So, some background on this series and my views on DCI Sheens. I read and reviewed the first novel, She Lies in Wait, last year and thought it was...fine. I loved the set-up and I liked the twisty turns to the finish line, but I really, really struggled with feeling a connection to DCI Sheens and found the final reveal to be a small letdown.
I had a similar experience with Watching From the Dark. So at this point it's safe to say that this is definitely a "me" problem and not the fault of these books.
The initial set-up, great. The red herrings and false alarms, entertaining. The interpersonal quagmire of the victim, really interesting. But the detective? Nope. I still didn't vibe with DCI Sheens. I found his sections distanced, nonessential to the plot, and his team's belief in his infallibility seemed extremely bizarre and unfounded to me—he's this super great detective, supposedly, but throughout the entire book the only word I could use to describe him is...predictable. Seconded by the word reactionary. If you took out Sheens and replaced him with a pigeon, the plot would still go on...and the murder would still get solved, as it seems to be his other detective, Hanson, that does most of the mental detecting. She's got character, and I've said it before, she'd make a more compelling lead protagonist.
In addition to my continued lack of interest in Sheens, I also found the ending of Watching From the Dark to be an interesting choice considering the different options presented to us throughout the book. Again, given my response to both books in this series, it seems to be a compatibility issue on my part—which is so personally frustrating, as I keep finding myself drawn to these books.
However, to end on a positive note, this novel did one thing right—I was engrossed in the whodunit pacing. I may have tried to skip through Sheens' parts, but in terms of the mystery itself I found it extremely compelling and couldn't wait to find out who did it.
Thank you to Random House for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
[ ] stars
A Good Neighborhood comes out on March 10, 2020.
I feel uncomfortable rating this work.
What a shattering novel, filled with pain and reflections on America’s veneer of civility over wounds of racism, classism, and hate. And the seeds of hope.
In Oak Knoll, a verdant, tight-knit North Carolina neighborhood, professor of forestry and ecology Valerie Alston-Holt is raising her bright and talented biracial son. Xavier is headed to college in the fall, and after years of single parenting, Valerie is facing the prospect of an empty nest. All is well until the Whitmans move in next door―an apparently traditional family with new money, ambition, and a secretly troubled teenaged daughter. With little in common except a property line, these two very different families quickly find themselves at odds: first, over an historic oak tree in Valerie's yard, and soon after, the blossoming romance between their two teenagers.
Told from multiple points of view, A Good Neighborhood asks big questions about life in America today―What does it mean to be a good neighbor? How do we live alongside each other when we don't see eye to eye?―as it explores the effects of class, race, and heartrending star-crossed love in a story that’s as provocative as it is powerful.
Therese Anne Fowler’s work is a gut-punch delivered in millimeters, something so slow it hurts—and yet the words breeze by with achingly perfect sentences. It is an uncomfortable contrast. I think it means to be.
A Good Neighborhood pulled the tensions like a literary thriller and left me pensive and angry. Simmering. Any novel that provokes such an intense response deserves our attention, but I do wonder at the future purposes of this book. Will it provoke positive change? Or will it just poke at wounds?
I don’t have answers, and I’m not sure my review is overly helpful in the large discussions this novel is engaging.
I will say that I will never forget this, and I did cry. A lot. Powerful words, powerful themes.
Thank you to St Martin’s Press for a giveaway ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.