Review: The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harlequin MIRA (July 29, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780778316558
  • Source: Publisher

Mia Dennett is the daughter of a prominent Chicago judge.  As the black sheep of the family, she doesn’t necessarily have the strongest of relationships with her parents.

One night, Mia waits at a bar for her boyfriend. When he doesn’t show, she instead opts to go home with a stranger, Colin Thatcher.  That decision puts into motion a series of events that will change her family’s life forever.  Within moments of arriving in Colin’s apartment, he changes from a smooth-moving potential one-night stand to a gun-wielding threat.

It’s Colin’s responsibility to abduct Mia and deliver her to his employer. Yet as they are driving to the rendezvous point, Colin suddenly changes his mind, instead taking Mia to a secluded cabin in Minnesota. Evading the police as well as his employers, Colin soon realizes he can never return to his life. Instead, he and Mia camp out in the cabin, both soon realizing they will never be able to return to the life they once knew.

Meanwhile, Mia’s mother Eve and the detective assigned to the case, Gabe Hoffman, desperately try to find answers to questions about Mia’s disappearance. What they eventually uncover will shatter the Dennett family…forever.

Told from the points of view of each of the key players, the novel alternates between “Before” and “After” Mia’s abduction.  Mia spends their time isolated in the cabin to reflect back on her own life as well and the actions that led to her less than stellar relationship with her parents.  Eve, shattered by her daughter’s disappearance, reflects on her relationship with her daughter, also focusing on the decisions and actions that caused their relationship to shatter. Readers are even given a rare glimpse inside the head of Colin, Mia’s abductor, a rare opportunity to understand his motives and what led him to the position he is currently in. Unlike many other thrillers, readers will have a difficult time not sympathizing with Colin’s situation. Always with the best of intentions, circumstances in his life forced him to take a darker path in life.

The truly genuine nature of the characters are one of the many characteristics that make this thriller shine. They aren’t perfect, yet they aren’t particularly horrible either. They are truly well-meaning individuals forced to make unwise decisions due to circumstances in their lives.

From the beginning, readers know the basics of Mia’s abduction.  We know how, and when, but the why is left unanswered until the final mind-blowing pages.  This novel is often compared to Gone Girl, and unfair comparison in my mind. There was nothing desirable or endearing about the characters in Gone Girl, the only similarities are the shocking revelations made throughout the novel. And, unlike Gone Girl, I didn’t want to hurl the book at the wall when these big revelations were made. They made sense to me, not angering me but instead making me appreciate the author’s writing even more.

Bottom line: if you are looking for a twisty, contemplative thriller, The Good Girl is the book for you. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: The Returned by Jason Mott

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harlequin MIRA (August 27, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0778315339
  • Source: Publisher

In 1966, Harold and Lucille Hargrave’s son died at his eighth birthday party. Now in their seventies, their lives have resumed without him, filled with loss and regret.  Then the dead begin to return, not as zombie-like version of their previous selves but exactly as they were when their lives were brought to an end. Harold and Lucille discussed what would happen if Jacob returned, both convinced that it was impossible for them to accept him as their son if he did return.  And then it happened: a knock at the door changing their lives forever. A government man standing alongside their son, just as he was when he died.

Despite what she stated previously, Lucille welcomed him back with open arms. Harold was more reserved, unsure how to treat this little boy who, on the surface, looked just like his little boy whose body he recovered from the river. Harold isn’t the only one unsure of how to deal with “the Returned.” An entire government agency, the International Bureau of the Returned, was charged with dealing with this unusual phenomenon, including reuniting the Returned with their loved ones and asking the fateful question: “Do you want to keep them?”  So many people were returning that the Bureau soon faced funding issues, spending it faster than they could accumulate it.

The social reaction to the Returned made the decision for them: concentration like camp facilities were created to house these individuals.  One such camp is created in the Hargrave’s small town of Arcadia, causing an influx of Returned.  The town shifts from a quite respite to a military-like front filled with armed soldiers. In addition to dealing with the rapid influx of residents it is difficult to ignore the questions left dangling: how and why did these individuals return? Has the world come to an end? Why are only some individuals returning, but not all?

The setting, our nation’s “Bible Belt” adds an interesting spin to this novel. A region that so passionately embraces and celebrates religion is forced to deal with a situation like no other. Their reaction seemed to be quite polarized: either they embraced the Returned, welcoming them back into their lives or shunned them like some sort of beast sent by the Devil. Their religion is tested at a time in which they are at their most vulnerable.  The worst aspects of human nature come to the surface as the world as  a whole is forced to come to terms with this miraculous event.

This debut novel was one of many books I mentioned during the Fall Preview event hosted by my favorite independent bookstore, One More Page Books & More.  I mentioned it not only because it is a stunning debut, but of the reaction it evokes from readers. You’ll be left questioning your own response if you were in the Hargrave’s shoes. Would you be able to accept your loved one back?

My only issue with this novel is that we never learned how or why these individuals have returned.  It is my fear that so many people will tear through the pages, hoping to receive some glorious revelation as to the cause of the return and in doing so miss out on some pretty outstanding writing.  Mott himself explains that the inspiration from this book came from a dream he had a few years ago in which his mother, who passed away in the summer of 2001, returned from the dead and was waiting for him when he returned home from work.  They had the opportunity to catch up on all things that she missed in the time she’d been gone.  Upon waking from his dream Mott was left wondering what his reaction would be if that really happened.  Understanding that the impetus for this novel came from somewhere so close to the author’s heart moved me, wanting me to contemplate these very questions myself.

So, while the cause of the return is never revealed, I think this was an intentional move on the part of the author. He doesn’t want readers to get caught up in the mechanics of what happened, instead focusing on the characters and their reactions, questioning our own responses should we ever find ourselves in this situation.  So, I implore readers not to get so wrapped up in the how and why it happened but focus on the characters and their response to this life-altering experience. Highly, highly recommended.

It’s no surprise to me that ABC has picked up the pilot of a television series based on The Returned, renamed Resurrection for its television review. Check out the trailer:

The book trailer is pretty outstanding as well:

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to participate in this tour. Please be sure to check out the other stops along the way!

Also, if you are a fan of audiobooks, I do encourage you to check out these free prequels to The Returned.

Frightful Friday: Edge of Black by J. T. Ellison

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week. Feel free to link up yours as well in the comments below.

Today’s featured book is: Edge of Black by J.T. Ellison:

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harlequin MIRA; Original edition (November 13, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0778313727
  • Source: Publisher

Dr. Samantha Owens is starting her new life over in Washington, D.C. Still healing from the loss of her husband and children she is quite vulnerable to the pain. She has a new job and a new man in her life and she’s looking forward to the change. She’s ready to dive in to her new position in Georgetown University’s forensic pathology department but before she’s able to get settled she’s called in to consult on a truly terrifying case: an unknown pathogen was released in DC’s metro system. For obvious reasons, the city and the country are in a panic. Yet only three victims are claimed when there should be many, many more.

Sam begins to investigate the lives of the three victims, finding connections early on. She soon learns individual to blame for this horrific attack has a pretty detailed focus, set on seeking vengeance that is deeply personal. Alongside her new boyfriend, former army ranger Xander Whitfield, the couple get dangerously close to the allusive killer.

Edge of Black is the second book a new series by Ellison focusing on Dr. Samantha Owens, medical examiner. Fans of Ellison’s Taylor Jackson books will recognize Sam for she played a pretty integral role in this novels as Taylor’s best friend. Like with her many other novels, Ellison excels at creating strong, complex, incredibly multidimensional female lead characters. Sam is dedicated to her new job and finding the culprit behind the attack, but she’s also still still recovering from the loss of her husband and children, lives taken away from her by the hands of a devastating flood in her native Tennessee.  This layer to Sam’s character makes her a truly genuine and believable character, readers rooting both for her professionally and personally.

The intensity of this novel begins within the first few pages, building gradually yet steadily. Full of delightful twists and turns, this novel just adds credence to my belief that Ellison is one of the best female thriller authors out there. Highly recommended.

Love is Murder Blog Tour, Featuring Lee Child!

  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Mira (May 29, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0778313441
  • Source: Publisher

To celebrate the release of Love Is Murder, an anthology including works by 30 of the hottest authors writing romantic suspense today, featured bloggers will “host” one of the authors on their blog, including a teaser of that author’s short story.

I’m excited to be hosting Lee Child, by far one of my favorite thriller writers of all time! Following is an excerpt of Lee’s contribution to Love Is Murder:

Lee Child – I Heard a Romantic Story

I heard a romantic story. It was while I was waiting to kill a guy. And not just a guy, by the way. They were calling this guy a prince, and I guess he was. A lot of those guys over there are princes. Not just one or two a country. Families have princes. All kinds of families. They have princes of their own. There are hundreds of them. They have so many that some of them are twenty-five-year-old assholes. That kind of prince. And he was the target. This young asshole. He was going to show up in a large Mercedes sedan. He was going to get out of the backseat and walk about ten steps to the porch of the house.


Previously a television director, union organizer, theater technician and law student, Lee Child was fired and on the dole when he hatched a harebrained scheme to write a bestselling novel, thus saving his family from ruin. Killing Floor went on to win world-wide acclaim. The hero of his series, Jack Reacher, besides being fictional, is a kindhearted soul who allows Lee lots of spare time for reading, listening to music, the Yankees and Aston Villa. Visit him online at

Contributing authors to this anthology include: Lori Armstrong * Jeff Ayers & Jon Land * Beverly Barton * William Bernhardt * Allison Brennan * Robert Browne * Pamela Callow * Lee Child * J.T. Ellison * Bill Floyd * Cindy Gerard * Heather Graham * Laura Griffin * Vicki Hinze * Andrea Kane *Julie Kenner * Sherrilyn Kenyon * Dianna Love * D.P. Lyle * James Macomber * Toni McGee Causey * Carla Neggers * Brenda Novak * Patricia Rosemoor * William Simon * Alexandra Sokoloff * Roxanne St. Claire * Mariah Stewart * Debra Webb

Please be sure to check out my write-up of this title on the SheKnows Book Lounge as well as the other stops in this blog tour.

Frightful Friday: One Breath Away by Heather Gudenkauff

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week.

This week’s featured book is One Breath Away by Heather Gudenkauff:

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harlequin MIRA; Original edition (June 26, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 077831365
  • Source: Publisher


The quiet serenity of the small town of Broken Branch is shattered when an armed man walks into the town’s only school. Officer Meg Barrett is one of the first officers to the scene.  Her own two children would have been in that school had she not given them permission to spend time with their father. She joins the rest of the town as they wait outside the school, desperate to learn more about the identity of the shooter. Joining her is Will Thwaite, guardian for his two grandchildren, Augie & PJ, while his daughter recovers from massive burns after a fire.

One Breath Away is told from multiple viewpoints: a mother, miles away from her children, recovering from burns; Meg, another mother whose children are safe, yet the lives of the town’s children are in her hands; Will, a grandfather who has never met his grandchildren, now responsible for their well-being, this travesty reinforcing how important they are to him; Augie, a young girl struggling with her own feelings of guilt; and Mrs. Oliver, the teacher of the classroom the gunman has taken hostage. These alternating points of view added to the intensity of the drama unfolding. Each chapter was short, only a few pages long, contributing to the intensity. The reader is the only participant in the story able to see all viewpoints, seeing the chaos unfold from the victims’ very own eyes. This rare glimpse permitted the reader a unique opportunity to bond with the characters, to be concerned about their safety and well being.

Honestly, when I learned that a school shooting was the subject of this novel  I have to admit I was a bit concerned. I felt that topic has been done so many times that it isn’t possible to pull it off again in a unique manner.  Given that I am a fan of Gudenkauf’s writing (The Weight of Silence & These Things Hidden), I decided to give it a chance. I’m thankful I did, because Gudenkauf once again succeeds at capturing the intricate details of small town life: the relationships, the people, the secrets. As the characters tried to uncover the identity of the shooter they are forced to examine and reveal their own personal secrets and issues.  Despite these secrets that have the potential for tearing them apart, they come together for the sake of the children and students trapped inside the school.

One Breath Away is a truly gripping thriller that goes beyond the tragedy of a school shooting to reveal a sense of hope, of healing and recovery. Highly recommended.

Thank you to Meryl L. Moss Media Relations, Inc for arranging this tour. Please be sure to check out the tour page to exclusive book excerpts, guest posts, and more.



Review: The Kingdom of Childhood by Rebecca Coleman

Judy McFarland, a kindergarten teacher, and Zach Patterson, a sixteen-year-old high school student, are thrown together to work on a fund-raising project together. Both are extremely lonely: Judy’s family is falling apart, Zach is forced to bear the brunt of his mother’s infidelity by moving to a new school and making new friends.

The affair between Judy & Zach at first seems exciting and thrilling, but ultimately it begins to eat away at each of them.  Judy’s common sense is blurred and she puts her entire life on the line for their “relationship.” Zach turns into a shell of the young man he used to be. Zach sees how their affair is corrupting both of them and attempts to put an end to it.  For Judy, Zach reminds her of a young man she loved as a youth, of a lifetime of buried secrets.

The Kingdom of Childhood is a chilling and yet also enthralling read. It’s hard not to feel sympathy for the characters involved, at least at first.  Judy’s husband barely pays attention to her, instead working on his doctoral dissertation. Her children are growing up, more independent, not needing her like they did when they were younger.  She’s alone, the life she’d known for decades slipping between her fingers. For Zach, his mother’s affair with her yoga instructor, an affair he wasn’t supposed to know about, that forces him to pull away and isolate himself.  Now they’ve moved to a new home, a new school, a new baby on the way.  He doesn’t feel a part of the new life his parents have begun to create.

At each step of the affair, Judy and Zach know what they are doing is wrong. But they are each so desperate for love, for attention, they continue on with this destructive relationship.

Coleman holds nothing back in this vivid portrayal of a teacher/student affair.  All the emotions of the characters in the relationship are made available to the reader, making it impossible to feel the pain they are each experiencing.

I discovered this book at BEA (Book Expo America) this past May. When I learned the author was local to me, I had to learn more about it.

Obviously, as a parent, the subject matter of this book was a bit upsetting. However, Coleman portrays it in a way that is both honest yet also disturbingly chilling. This book is guaranteed to generate a great deal of discussion.

Due to the subject matter, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book to everyone. That said, a reader looking to discover a debut author, filled to the brim with new talent, shouldn’t stray away from this book.  Coleman has made a mark with The Kingdom of Childhood, a mark that won’t soon fade. Highly recommended.

Review: The Summer We Came to Life by Deborah Cloyed

  • Paperback:320 pages
  • Publisher:Mira; Original edition (May 31, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0778312917
  • Source: Planned Television Arts

Childhood friends Samantha, Isabel, Kendra and Mina get together every summer at some luxurious vacation spot, joined by their parents. This year, however, the clan is not complete; Mina lost her battle with cancer six months ago.  They all join Sam at a beach house in the Honduras, struggling to fill the space missing since Mina’s death.

To Sam, it seems wrong not to have Mina around. In addition to dealing with her good friend’s death, she’s struggling with her own identity.  Her boyfriend, a weathly, attractive, French man, proposes marriage. She’s happy with him, but is that enough? She battles with how this big decision will influence her future?  She uses a journal Mina left behind as a sort of “Magic 8″ ball; she asks Mina a question, opening to a random spot in the journal, hoping for some of Mina’s wisdom.

Mina’s not the only one missing from this year’s get together.  Kendra, one of the strongest women of the group, chooses not to join her friends (and parents) this year.  She’s struggling with her own decision. She’s always been the one to make the right decision, always the responsible one. This time, however, things are different.  She’s unable to admit to her closest friends that she’s made a huge mistake, forcing instead to deal with this on her own.

The parents, the older generation, share their insights with the girls, each revealing an elaborate past the girls were unfamiliar with.  This information, and the “messages” Mina appears to be leaving behind for the girls, reveal to each one of them the paths they must take in order to find true happiness.

The Summer We Came to Life is quite an emotional read; not only are the girls still healing from the loss of their best friend, they are all struggling to find their own identities.  Each one thinks rather rationally, not realizing it is their own heart they should follow, the only thing in life that is consistently honest. Cloyed does an outstanding job at building and revealing each of these characters.  One can’t help but feel for Samantha, the lead character.  She seems to be taking Mina’s death the hardest, she still has yet to return to the “real world” and deal with her future.  Life is difficult, meant to be challenged.  Nothing worth living for every comes easily, a stark reality Sam must face.

There is a great deal of discussion about physics in this book, the idea that objects can move between alternate universes.  At first, I thought this was just random filler information thrown in for effect, but ultimately it becomes an integral part of the story, adding a slightly paranormal/”otherworldly” feel to the book.

The book is told in alternating chapters, each character taking the role as the narrator. At first, this got a bit confusing but once I understood and became familiar with each voice, the shift in characters became almost natural.

A lot of deep topics are discussed in this book, including important events in history such as the Iranian Revolution , the Civil Rights movements, as well as topics like the possibility of an after-life, making this the perfect book club selection. Additionally, the gorgeous Honduras setting makes this the perfect beach read.  I hate to refer to this as women’s fiction or chick-lit, because it’s so much more. It’s a book that leaves a resounding message, a book that I highly recommended.

Frightful Friday: So Close the Hand of Death by J.T. Ellison

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week. Feel free to grab the button & join in! Be sure to include a link to your post in the Mr. Linky at the bottom of this post!

This week’s book is So Close the Hand of Death by J.T. Ellison:

In Ellison’s sixth book in the Taylor Jackson series, Taylor is left with no time to recover from the horrible Snow White case before she is forced to hunt down The Pretender, Snow White’s “apprentice.”  The Pretender has created his own army of sadistic killers, ordering each to commit crime all over the country, mimicking the killings of serial killers like the Boston Strangler, The Son of Sam, & The Zodiak.

Taylor’s ready for revenge: The Pretender abducted her father figure & horribly tortured & disfigured his body.  He’s seeking out those she loves in an attempt to weaken her. It’s evident that she is in the killer’s scope now & she’s willing to risk whatever it takes to not only bring him to justice, but rid him of his life.

As indicated above, SO CLOSE THE HAND OF DEATH is the sixth book in a series (previous books: All the Pretty Girls, 14, Judas Kiss, The Cold Room, The Immortals) and while I don’t recommend it, this could serve as a stand-alone.  The reader continues to learn a great deal about the main character, Taylor Jackson, and her relationship with her FBI boyfriend, Baldwin.  However, since I started with the first book in the series, I enjoyed seeing the progression & growth in Taylor’s character.  She’s one tough chick!  I enjoy seeing a strong character like this in thriller novels, a genre that, until recently, was riddled with male main characters.

Additionally, I really appreciated learning about the killer’s childhood, his motives for his behavior.  I studied psychology & criminal justice in college; this was one of the many topics that fascinated me.

The momentum & hatred between The Pretender and Taylor has been building up over the past few books and I felt this relationship came to an intense conclusion.  It was a given Taylor was the only one who could really bring down The Pretender and, based on how he had tormented her so, it was only right that she be the one to determine his fate.

A second smaller storyline was Taylor & Baldwin’s relationship.  Both are extremely strong-willed & minded individuals, therefore often causing strain in the relationship.  When Taylor learns of a secret Baldwin has been keeping from her, the anger she experiences affects her judgment out on the field, putting her life in danger.  I’m anxious to see where this relationship leads!

Bottom line: if you are looking for a new thriller series, this is one you can’t afford to pass up!  Highly recommended.

Don’t forget to link up your frightful posts below!

Review: These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Mira; Original edition (January 18, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0778328791
  • Source: Publisher

    Allison Glenn is about to be released from jail after serving time for committing a horrible crime: killing her own child moments after birth. Now twenty-one, Allison must face the world she’s been protected from for the past five years.  Her parents refuse to speak to her.  Her sister, Brynn, bears a great deal of the weight of the crime that was committed.

    Allison was the golden child: a perfect student, school athlete.  Her younger sister, Brynn, was always forced to live in her shadow.  While Allison was in prison,  gone from their small Iowa town, Brynn has the chance to rise out of the shadows.  But the crime her sister was sentenced for committing is unforgiveable & unforgettable and Brynn is forced to relive it every day.

    Her parents refusing to welcome her into their home, Allison instead goes into a halfway house for women recently released from prison.  This transition is quite difficult; the crime she committed was most heinous and the other women in the halfway house won’t let her forget it.  She’s fortunate enough to find a job working at a bookstore owned by Ellen & her young son, Joshua.

    While Allison was in jail, Brynn moved from her parents home to live with her grandmother.  She’s been taunted by classmates all these years; she’s never been able to forget the part she played that fateful night. With Allison in jail, she was starting to create a new life for herself but now that she’s out, Brynn can’t help but be constantly reminded of the weight she carries.

    Told in alternating chapters from the viewpoints of both Brynn & Allison, These Things Hidden vascillates between past & present.  The reader learns more & more about what happened the night that Allison’s baby ended up in the river.  Gudenkauf does an impressive job of revealing just enough detail to keep the reader’s attention going.

    Ultimately, the entire story is revealed, along with secrets long buried, to reveal a shocking truth.  These Things Hidden is much more than a story about a horrid crime committed by a young girl, it’s about family secrets, mother/child relationships, hope, and love.

    Like her previous book, The Weight of Silence,  These Things Hidden is the perfect book for a book group discussion.  As a matter of fact, it was the first book chosen for a book club I host at my local indie, One More Page Books. I’ll post about our discussion later this weekend.

    Highly recommended!

    Review: American Vampire by Jennifer Armintrout

    • Mass Market Paperback: 336 pages
    • Publisher: Mira (February 22, 2011)
    • ISBN-10: 0778328783
    • Source: Netgalley

    Graf, on his way to a party hosted by his vampire sire Sophia, gets lost and finds himself trapped in the small town of Penance, OH. No one has been able to enter or leave in five years. This situation is made worse by a monster, referred to as It, that stalks the citizens of this small, desolate town.

    Graf meets Jessa, the sole member of her family who has survived. She’s quite reluctant to accept help from a vampire, but she ultimately offers him a dark room to sleep in. Also residing in Penance is Derek, Jessa’s married ex-boyfriend along with his wife Becky & kids.

    The citizens of Penance are already quite critical of Jessa for her relationship with Derek, so when Derek accuses her of being a witch and the creator of It, she & Graf struggle to survive being burned at the stake. At the same time, information about Derkek, and his ties to It, are ultimately unveiled.

    American Vampire is a delightful book that combines several genres including horror, thriller, & paranormal romance. I’m typically not a fan of romance of any type, but Armintrout did a good job of balancing that aspect of the book with others.

    Readers will hate to love Graf & Jessa. Graff, as a vampire, has one thing on his mind: eating. Well, to be quite frank, after meeting Jessa, he’s not only hungry for her blood but her flesh as well. He’s not apologetic about it either. Graf’s inner dialogue is a side of the story I particularly enjoyed.

    Jessa frustrated me to no end. Five years ago she had a potential future but now, like the other citizens, she just had to settle. She continues to go back to her ex-boyfriend despite the fact he is married. She’s known as the town whore, a name they don’t hold back.

    However, when you put Graf & Jessa together you get the most unlikely of couples & quite the comical exchange of insults.

    This small town lives up to it’s name.  Penance is defined as “a punishment undergone in token of penitence for sin” ( and the citizens are certainly attempting to make up for the sins of others.  These sins include, but are not limited to, murder, lust & infidelity.

    American Vampire is a quick read, one that I would recommend to fans of vampire fiction & paranormal romance.

    *Warning: book contains vulgar language, violence, and scenes depicting sex acts*