Book Review: The Sorority Murder by Allison Brennan @Allison_Brennan @HarlequinBooks

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Title: The Sorority Murder
Author: Allison Brennan
Publisher: MIRA
Publication Date: December 28, 2021
Genre: Mystery, Psychological Thriller

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Apple // Nook
Google Play // Amazon // Books-A-Million
Indiebound // Bookshop.org

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The Sorority Murder
Allison Brennan
MIRA, December 2021
ISBN 978-0-7783-1168-3
Mass Market Paperback

From the publisher—

New York Times bestselling author Allison Brennan’s suspenseful new mass market original about a college senior’s podcast that delves into an unsolved campus murder of a sorority girl three years earlier, as individual callers explode every fact previously thought to be true.

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 two weeks later, and 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. He asks listeners to crowdsource what they remember and invites guest lecturer, former US Marshal Regan Merritt, 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 dark secret. The pressure is to solve the murder, but first Lucas must come clean about his real motives in pursuing this podcast – before the killer silences him forever.

When a college sorority girl disappeared and was later found murdered, the local police quickly focused on one suspect. After that man also disappeared, law enforcement essentially shelved the investigation but a college senior, Lucas Vega, has now become nearly obsessed with the cold case, determined to find the truth. He has hopes that a podcast program will draw out new evidence that the police can’t continue to ignore.

Former US Marshal Regan Merritt returned home to Flagstaff after the devastating loss of her son, seeking comfort with her father, but coping with her issues and finding true peace are not coming easily. When she’s encouraged to work with Lucas, her initial reluctance soon turns into a quest almost as strong as his and there’s no doubting the value she brings with her background.

Allison Brennan is an author I admire and her books nearly always offer the tight plotting, vivid characters and tense pacing a really good thriller promises. In this instance, while I certainly enjoyed the story, it isn’t one of my top choices among her books because there is too much repetition of information due to, I think, the podcast style. That led to very slow pacing in the first half or so and, with almost any other author, might have caused me to DNF the book. Ms. Brennan’s proven quality of work kept me reading.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2022.

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A Q & A with Allison Brennan

Q: Please give a one sentence pitch for The Sorority Murder.

A: Amateur college podcaster sets out to solve a three-year-old campus murder.

Q: Obvious question, but were you part of sorority?

A: Nope! In fact, I’m a college drop-out …

Q: Why do you think thrillers are so popular?

A: Thrillers are, at their core, stories about justice. A good thriller is also a story about human nature – the good and the bad. People are complex, and no one is wholly good or wholly bad, and thrillers often explore those nuances – but with a focus on how the story is told. Pacing is super important for a thriller. I’ve written both thrillers and mysteries – The Sorority Murder is structured more like a mystery, with a crime that needs to be solved, a slow burn as clues and evidence and hints of menace draw in the reader as the case develops and there is more at stake.

But in the end, thrillers and mysteries must satisfy the reader by giving them answers to the story questions in a fun, interesting, suspenseful way.

Q: Where do you get your ideas? Of course, from your imagination, but do you read, see or hear something that clicks?

A: Ideas come from everywhere … but for me, it’s mostly a combination of different ideas that blend to create a story. When the different ideas – coming from my imagination, the news, a story I read, a comment someone makes, a photograph that draws me in – hit me in just the right way, I get my own story idea. It’s never just one thing.

For The Sorority Murder, for example, I had wanted to write a story about a US Marshal, because it’s not often done. But I already have a series with FBI agents, so I thought – what about a former US Marshal? Why did she leave service? Who is she? So that was in the back of my mind, thinking about Regan Merritt (her name popped into my head, so I was really thinking about her character a lot.) Then, one of my daughter’s was talking about a podcast she was listening to. It had nothing to do with crime, but she sent me a link to an article about podcasts, and in it was a link to a true crime podcast. I love true crime – I always have. So I listened to a couple of episodes, all about unsolved crimes, and I started thinking, what if I had a podcast about an unsolved crime? Would that be interesting? I shelved it for awhile because I couldn’t think about how to make a podcast into a written thriller that would also be interesting and suspenseful. Then one of my daughters was looking at colleges. NAU was one of them – and I love Flagstaff, it’s an interesting town with a lot of history. Then something clicked and I thought, what if a student had a podcast? How would that work … and what case would he investigate? I knew it would have to be a cold case otherwise the police would still be investigating. And, because he’s an amateur and a student, Regan popped into mind – what if she went home to Flagstaff to lick her wounds about a tragedy, and she helped my student with his podcast? And the story was born. I had no idea who the killer was, who the suspects were, the motivation, anything. All I knew was that my podcaster Lucas had a secret and I couldn’t wait to find out what it was.

Q:Are you a plotter or panster?

A: I prefer the term “organic writer.” I do not plot. I hate plotting, writing outlines, anything that might tell me how the story resolves itself. I want to discover the end with my characters.

Q: Do you have any tips for would-be writers?

A: Read a lot, write a lot. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and then learn from them. Be bold. Write because you love it.

Q: What do you like to do when you are not writing?

A: When my kids were younger, I loved spending time with them – going to their games, concerts, taking them to the movies, watching television. Now that my kids are almost grown – and three are out of the house! – I really miss that. I read a lot (of course!) … not as much as I would like. I probably read a book a week (not including for research) when in the past (before I was published) I used to read at least 3 books a week. I’ve recently dived into audio books, which I listen to while walking every morning. I also love baseball (go Giants!) and hiking in the mountains (nothing too steep, but if the trail is flat I can go for miles!) and I’m always on the hunt for good Mexican food.

Q: What books are you reading now?

A: I just finished Nora Robert’s THE OBSESSION on audiobook. It’s one of her older romantic suspense titles and I loved it. She is the master of the craft. Next up is JD Robb’s FORGOTTEN IN DEATH, which I’ve had on my shelf for a few months but between deadlines and Christmas, I haven’t had time to pick it up. I love the series, and will most likely sit down and read it in one or two sittings.

Q: Can you read other author’s books when you are writing yourself?

A: Yes – I write every day, so if I didn’t read other authors, I would never read! I try to read every day, but I’m a binge reader – I like to read a good book in 2-3 sittings, tops. I’ll admit, before I was published, I finished every book I started. Now? I have far too many books I want to read, so if it doesn’t grab me in a couple of chapters, I’m willing to put it down and start something new.

Q: What is your favorite season and why?

A: Fall. I love the change of colors and cool, breezy days. I also love rain, though we don’t get enough of it in Arizona!

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About the Author

Photo credit Brittan Dodd

ALLISON BRENNAN is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of over thirty novels. She has been nominated for Best Paperback Original Thriller by International Thriller Writers and the Daphne du Maurier Award. A former consultant in the California State Legislature, Allison lives in Arizona with her husband, five kids and assorted pets. The Sorority Murder is the first of a new mass market series,

Social Links:

Website // Twitter // Facebook // Instagram // Goodreads

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**A copy of this book was provided by the publisher
via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.**

Book Review: Just Get Home by Bridget Foley @HarlequinBooks

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Title: Just Get Home
Author: Bridget Foley
Publisher: MIRA
Publication Date: April 13, 2021
Genre: Thriller, Post-Disaster Fiction

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble  // Kobo // iTunes // Amazon
Google // Indiebound // Harlequin
Books-A-Million // Walmart // Target

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Just Get Home
Bridget Foley
MIRA, April 2021
ISBN 978-0-7783-3159-9
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

When the Big One earthquake hits LA, a single mother and a teen in the foster system are brought together by their circumstances and an act of violence in order to survive the wrecked streets of the city, working together to just get home.

Dessa, a single mom, is enjoying a rare night out when a devastating earthquake strikes. Roads and overpasses crumble, cell towers are out everywhere, and now she must cross the ruined city to get back to her three-year-old daughter, not even knowing whether she’s dead or alive. Danger in the streets escalates, as looting and lawlessness erupts. When she witnesses a moment of violence but isn’t able to intervene, it nearly puts Dessa over the edge.

Fate throws Dessa a curveball when the victim of the crime—a smart-talking 15-year-old foster kid named Beegie—shows up again in the role of savior, linking the pair together. Beegie is a troubled teen with a relentless sense of humor and resilient spirit that enables them both to survive. Both women learn to rely on each other in ways they never imagined possible, to permit vulnerability and embrace the truth of their own lives.

A propulsive page-turner grounded by unforgettable characters and a deep emotional core, JUST GET HOME will strike a chord with mainstream thriller readers for its legitimately heart-pounding action scenes, and with book club audiences looking for weighty, challenging content.

Minutes, days, perhaps weeks after a major earthquake hits, every survivor’s story becomes a journey of one kind or another, a journey to get to a specific place or people. In Just Get home, we meet a teenager and an older woman who agree to help each other. They have nothing in common, really, other than a need to not be alone in this effort. If anything, the two don’t even share a goal; Dessa wants only to get home to her young child while Beegie has no true home and no one who really cares whether she lives or dies.

Dessa and Beegie are brought together randomly by, first, a vicious crime and then by another, circumstances that are not surprising following such a sudden disaster. As we all know, fear and uncertainty evoke the worst kind of behavior as well as acts of kindness and it’s the latter that initially create the bond between two such different women. Watching their connection grow during their struggles is a thing of emotional satisfaction and becomes the heart of Ms. Foley’s compelling tale.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2020.

An Excerpt from Just Get Home

Prologue

Assist the client in gathering possessions.

Beegie saw it written on a sheet Karen had in her folder. An unticked box next to it.

She knew what it meant. Stuff.

But it was the other meaning that soothed her.

The darker meaning. Possessions.

That was the one she worked over and over in her head.

Beegie imagined her case worker holding up a grey little girl, face obscured by black hair and asking, “This one yours?”  Beegie would nod. Yes, that’s my monster. Together they would shove one snarling, demon-filled person after another into the garbage bags they had been given to pack her things. Soon the bags would fill, growing translucent with strain. When they were done, she and Karen would have to push down on the snapping, bloody faces of Beegie’s possessions so they could close the back of the Prius.

But Karen’s box remained unticked. She didn’t get to help collect Beegie’s possessions, real or unreal, because Beegie’s stuff was already on the street when she got home.

Two garbarge bags filled with nothing special. Her advocate standing next to them with her folder and its helpful advice for what to do when a foster gets kicked out of her home.

Nothing special.

Just almost everything Beegie owned in the world.

Almost but not all.

Whatever.

After Karen dropped her off and Barb had shown her “Her New Home” and given her the rundown on “The Way It Works Here,” Beegie unpacked her possessions into a bureau that the girl who’d lived there before her had made empty, but not clean.

The bottoms of the drawers were covered in spilled glitter. Pink and gold. Beegie had pressed the tips of her fingers into the wood to pull it up, making disco balls of her hands.

But she failed to get it all.

Months later, she would find stray squares of this other girl’s glitter on her clothes. They would catch the light, drawing her back to the moment when she’d finally given up on getting the bureau any cleaner and started to unpack the garbage bags.

There had been things missing.

That Beegie had expected.

But what she had not expected was to find two other neatly folded garbage bags. These were the ones she had used to move her stuff from Janelle’s to the Greely’s. She had kept them, even though back then Mrs. Greely was all smiles and Eric seemed nice, and even Rooster would let her pet him.

Beegie had kept the bags because she’d been around long enough to know that sometimes it doesn’t work out.

In fact, most times it doesn’t work out.

And you need a bag to put your stuff in and you don’t want to have to ask the person who doesn’t want you to live with them anymore to give you one.

But when Mrs. Greely had gathered Beegie’s possessions, she had seen those bags and thought that they were important to Beegie. It made sense to her former foster mother that a “garbage girl” would treasure a garbage bag.

This got Beegie thinking about stuff. The problem of it. The need for things to hold your other things. Things to fix your things. Things to make your things play.

And a place to keep it all.

In Beegie’s brain the problem of possessions multiplied, until she imagined it like a landfill. Things to hold things to hold things, all of it covered with flies, seagulls swooping.

Everything she ever owned was trash or one day would be.

Seeing things this way helped. It made her mind less about the things that hadn’t been in the bag… and other things.

Beegie picked at ownership like a scab, working her way around the edges, flaking it off a bit at a time. Ridding herself of the brown crust of caring.

Because if you care about something it has power over you.

Caring can give someone else the ability to control you and the only real way to own yourself was let go.

So she did.

Or she tried.

Some things Beegie couldn’t quite shed. The want of them stuck to her like the glitter. The pain of their loss catching the light on her sleeves, flashing from the hem of her jeans. The want would wait on her body until it attracted her attention and then eluded the grasping edges of her fingers.

Excerpted from Just Get Home by Bridget Foley, Copyright © 2021 by Bridget Foley. Published by MIRA Books.

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About the Author

Originally from Colorado, Bridget Foley attended NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and UCLA’s School of Theater, Film & Television. She worked as an actor and screenwriter before becoming a novelist. She now lives a fiercely creative life with her family in Boise, Idaho.

Find the author:

Website // Goodreads // Instagram

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**A copy of this book was provided by the publisher
via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.**

Book Review: No One Saw by Beverly Long @BevLongBooks @HarlequinBooks

No One Saw
An A.L. McKittridge Novel #2
Beverly Long
MIRA, June 2020
ISBN 978-0-7783-0965-9
Mass Market Paperback

From the publisher—

Detective team A.L. McKittridge and Rena Morgan are back on their beat after solving the brutal Baywood serial killings, but crime doesn’t rest for long in their small Wisconsin town. In book two of Beverly Long’s electrifying A.L. McKittridge series, NO ONE SAW (MIRA Mass Market Paperback; June 30, 2020; $7.99), a child seemingly vanishes from a day care into thin air and A.L. and Rena must race to bring her home before time runs out.

Baywood police department detective A.L. McKittridge is no stranger to tough cases, but when five-year-old Emma Whitman disappears from her day care, there isn’t a single shred of evidence to go on. There are no witnesses, no trace of where she might have gone. There’s only one thing A.L. and his partner, Rena Morgan, are sure of—somebody is lying.

With the clock ticking, A.L. and Rena discover their instincts are correct: all is not as it seems. The Whitmans are a family with many secrets, and A.L. and Rena must untangle a growing web of lies if they’re going to find the thread that leads them to Emma… before it’s too late.

There’s nothing much worse than a missing child and, when A.L. and Rena catch this case, they’re 100% focused on finding little Emma. The circumstances seem to be unusual as her grandmother says she dropped her off at daycare that morning but no one working there admits to having seen the little girl…and no one’s really giving the detectives all the cooperation they need.

The detectives are already eleven hours behind, a critical loss of time in a missing child situation, and it’s made even worse by all the lies coming from witnesses and family members. So much deception leads them down more than one rabbit hole and causes further delays in the investigation. Along the way, I was just as puzzled and anxious as our two main characters and found myself pinpointing and then discarding one potential suspect after another.

When I read the first book in the series, I thought the pacing was a bit slow but that doesn’t hold so true in No One Saw. Truthfully, the chase to find Emma built at a moderate tempo until it reached a riveting stage and I kept turning the pages, caught up in the tension and the unwavering determination of these partners to separate all the lies from the truth. I also found A.L.’s and Rena’s personal stories engaging; yes, they have baggage but none of it is abnormal and they work together with intelligence and creative thinking. Well done, Ms. Long!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2020.

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Powell’s
Amazon // Books-A-Million // Harlequin

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An Excerpt from No One Saw

One

With a week’s worth of mail in one hand, A.L. McKittridge unlocked his apartment door with the other. Then he dragged his carry-on suitcase inside, almost tripping over Felix, who had uncharacteristically left his spot by the window where the late afternoon sun poured in. He tossed the collection of envelopes and free weekly newspapers onto his kitchen table and bent down to scratch his cat. “You must have missed me,” he said. “Wasn’t Rena nice to you?”

His partner had sent a text every day. Always a picture. Felix eating. Felix taking a dump. Felix giving himself a bath. No messages. Just visual confirmation that all was well while he was off in sunny California, taking a vacation for the first time in four years.

I can take care of your damn cat, she’d insisted. And while he hadn’t wanted to bother her because she’d have plenty to do picking up the slack at work, she was the only one he felt he could ask. His ex-wife Jacqui would have said no. His just turned seventeen-year-old daughter, Traci, would have been willing but he hadn’t liked the idea of her coming round to an empty apartment on her own.

Baywood, Wisconsin—population fifty thousand and change—was generally pretty safe but he didn’t believe in taking chances. Not with Traci’s safety. She’d been back in school for just a week. Her senior year. How the hell was that even possible? College was less than a year away.

No wonder his knees ached. He was getting old.

Or maybe it was flying coach for four hours. But the trip had been worth it. Tess had wanted to see the ocean. Wanted to face her nemesis, she’d claimed. And she’d been a champ. Had stood on the beach where less than a year earlier, she’d almost died after a shark had ripped off a sizable portion of her left arm. Had lifted her pretty face to the wind and stared out into the vast Pacific.

She hadn’t surfed. Said she wasn’t ready for that yet. But he was pretty confident that she’d gotten the closure that she’d been looking for. She’d slept almost the entire flight home, her head resting on A.L.’s shoulder. On the hour-plus drive from Madison to Baywood, she’d been awake but quiet. When he’d dropped her off at her house, she hadn’t asked him in.

He wasn’t offended. He’d have said no anyway. After a week together, they could probably both benefit from a little space. Their relationship was just months old and while the sex was great and the conversation even better, neither of them wanted to screw it up by jumping in too fast or too deep.

Now he had groceries to buy and laundry to do. It was back to work tomorrow. He grabbed the handle of his suitcase and was halfway down the hall when his cell rang. He looked at the number. Rena. Probably wanted to make sure he was home and Felix-watch was over. “McKittridge,” he answered.

“Where are you?”

“Home.”

“Oh, thank God.”

He let go of his suitcase handle. Something was wrong. “What’s up?” he asked.

“We’ve got a missing kid. Five-year-old female. Lakeside Learning Center.”

Missing kid. Fuck. He glanced at his watch. Just after 6:00. That meant they had less than two hours of daylight left. “I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

The Lakeside Learning Center on Oak Avenue had a fancier name than building. It was a two-story building with brown clapboard siding on the first floor and tan vinyl siding on the second. There wasn’t a lake in sight.

The backyard was fenced with something a bit nicer than chain link but not much. Inside the fence was standard playground equipment: several small plastic playhouses, a sandbox on legs and a swing set. The building was located at the end of the block in a mixed-use zone. Across from the front door and on the left were single-person homes. To the right, directly across Wacker Avenue, was a sandwich shop, and kitty-corner was a psychic who could only see the future on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

A.L. took all this in as he beached his SUV in a no parking zone. Stepped over the yellow tape and made a quick stop to sign in with the cop who was at the door. The guy’s job was to ensure that there was a record of everybody who entered and exited the crime scene.

Once he was inside, his first impression was that the inside was much better than the outside. The interior had been gutted, erasing all signs that this had once been the downstairs of a 1960s two-story home. There was a large open space to his right. On the far wall hung a big-screen television and on the wall directly opposite the front door were rows of shelves, four high, stacked with books, games and small toys.

It was painted in a cheery yellow and white and the floor was a light gray tile. There was plenty of natural light coming through the front windows. The hallway he was standing in ran the entire length of the building and ended in a back door.

There was a small office area to his left. The door was open and there was a desk with a couple guest chairs. The space looked no bigger than ten feet by ten feet and was currently empty.

He sent Rena a text. Here.

A door at the far end of the hallway opened and Rena and a woman, middle-aged and white, dressed in khaki pants and a dark green button-down shirt, appeared. Rena waved at him and led the woman in his direction. “This is my partner, Detective McKittridge,” she said to the woman. She looked at A.L. “Alice Quest. Owner and director of Lakeside Learning Center.”

A.L. extended a hand to the woman. She shook it without saying anything.

“If you can excuse us,” Rena said to the woman. “I’d like to take a minute and bring Detective McKittridge up to speed.”

Alice nodded and stepped into the office. She pulled the door shut but not all the way. Rena motioned for A.L. to follow her. She crossed the big room and stopped under the television.

“What do we have?” he asked.

“Emma Whitman is a five-year-old female who has attended Lakeside Learning Center for the last two years. Her grandmother, Elaine Broadstreet, drops her off on Mondays and Wednesdays between 7:15 and 7:30.”

Today was Wednesday. “Did that happen today?”

“I have this secondhand, via her son-in-law who spoke to her minutes before I got here. It did.”

The hair on the back of A.L.’s neck stood up. When Traci had been little, she’d gone to day care. Not at Lakeside Learning Center. Her place had been bigger. “How many kids are here?” he asked.

“Forty. No one younger than three. No one older than five. They have two rooms, twenty kids to a room. Threes and early fours in one room. Older fours and fives in the other. Two staff members in each room. So four teachers. And a cook who works a few hours midday. And then there’s Alice. She fills in when a staff member needs a break or if someone is ill.”

Small operation. That didn’t mean bad. “Where are the other staff?”

“Majority of the kids get picked up by 5:30. According to Alice, she covers the center by herself from 5:30 to 6:00 most days to save on payroll costs. Emma Whitman is generally one of the last ones to be picked up. Everybody else was gone tonight and she’d already locked the outside door around 5:45 when the father pulled up and pounded on the door. At first, she assumed that somebody else had already picked up Emma. But once Troy called his wife and the grandmother, the only other people allowed to pick her up, she called Kara Wiese, one of Emma’s teachers, who said that Emma hadn’t been there all day. That was the first time Alice had thought about the fact that the parents had not reported an absence. She’d been covering for an ill staff member in the classroom that Emma is not assigned to.”

Perfect fucking storm.

Excerpted from No One Saw by Beverly Long, Copyright © 2020 by Beverly Long.

Published by MIRA Books

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About the Author

Beverly Long’s writing career has spanned more than two decades and twenty novels, including TEN DAYS GONE, the first book of her A.L. McKittridge series. She writes romantic suspense with sexy heroes and smart heroines. She can often be found with her laptop in a coffee shop with a cafe au lait and anything made with dark chocolate by her side.

Connect with Beverly:

Website // Twitter //

Facebook // Goodreads // Instagram

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All is not as it seems…

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A Passel of Teeny Reviews, Part 6 @nancyjcohen @JSpencerFleming @MinotaurBooks @CharlesFinch @BevLongBooks @HarlequinBooks @SusanSpann @SeventhStBooks

Once again, big surprise, I find myself with
an overload of books read but not yet reviewed
so I think it’s time for a roundup or two…

Easter Hair Hunt
A Bad Day Hair Mysteries #16
Nancy J. Cohen
Orange Grove Press, March 2020
ISBN 978-09997932-7-5
Trade Paperback

Marla Vail is visiting Tremayne Manor to do her hairstyling thing for Blinky Morris so she’ll be ready for the Easter egg hunt but, after the hunt when Marla is helping to look for unfound eggs, she finds something else, a dead body dressed as a bunny. When it’s discovered that Blinky is missing, the very pregnant Marla jumps right in to investigate,  as fans will expect. Her poor husband, homicide detective Dalton, is right by her side, knowing full well he can’t stop her.

Marla is a character that becomes more appealing with each adventure, largely because she’s an intelligent woman who takes things in stride and doesn’t continually do stupid things. Dalton is her equal and recognizes how good she is at sussing out the facts and following leads; he long ago gave up trying to keep her out of investigations and the pair make a good team. This time, they’re dealing with a plethora of clues and suspects and the twists and turns abound. I’ve followed this series from the beginning and I’m already anticipating the next book because Ms. Cohen never lets me down 🙂

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2020.

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Hid from Our Eyes
A Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne Mystery #9
Julia Spencer-Fleming
Minotaur Books, April 2020
ISBN 978-0-312-60685-5
Hardcover

It seems like years since the last Clare and Russ story because, well, it has been and when I first heard about this one, I was SO excited. I’m not the least bit surprised that Ms. Spencer-Fleming is still at the top of her game.

Three different but very similar cases over a period of many decades have involved three police chiefs but Russ, the current chief, was once accused of the second killing. As this third case ramps up, Russ is under enormous pressure to find the killer before suspicion focuses on him again. Are the three cases really connected in some way or could there be a copycat killer? Who were these young women and why were they targeted or is it possible one or more were, in fact, not murdered?

Russ’s wife, an Episcopal priest and mother of a new baby, has her own issues going on but of course she’s going to help Russ and she brings a lot of intelligence and creative thinking to this case, as she always does. The personal lives of Clare and Russ are given as much weight as the investigation, enough so that I felt like I was seeing old friends again but that didn’t take anything away from the mystery of these three deaths. Leads take them in all directions and I was forced—forced, I tell you!—to stay up late into the night to keep reading. An intriguing plot and great characters make for a story I can heartily recommend but readers new to the series will enjoy it more by starting with the first one.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2020.

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The Vanishing Man
A Charles Lenox Mystery #12
Charles Finch
Minotaur Books, January 2020
ISBN 978-1-250-31137-5
Trade Paperback

In this second prequel, Charles Lenox has recently become known as the young man who bested Scotland Yard in a perplexing case and he’s called upon by the Duke of Dorset to help with an art theft. It seems a second painting was left behind and the Duke is concerned the thieves will return and, if they do, it’s possible a family scandal will be revealed as well as an enormous secret involving a priceless artifact. It isn’t long before there are other crimes and Lenox must delve into long-kept secrets that threaten the family as well as himself.

Fortunately, Lenox has the assistance of his friend, Lady Jane, who once again proves herself to be an intelligent ally, and a coterie of secondary players who bring real depth to the story. This particular adventure drags a little here and there but it’s still an engaging puzzle, especially the question of why the more valuable painting really means so much to the Duke. Mr. Finch brings Victorian London and its people to life again and I really do think this is one of the very best series with the setting and time period.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2020.

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Ten Days Gone
An A.L. McKittridge Novel #1
Beverly Long
MIRA, February 2020
ISBN 978-0-7783-0958-1
Mass Market Paperback

Hunting a serial killer is no doubt one of the most difficult things a police department may ever have to do but, this time, detectives Rena Morgan and A.L. McKittridge are also faced with the nearly impossible task of preventing a fifth murder once the likely victim has been identified. Tess Lyons already suffers psychological damage from previous events and is anything but ready to understand her present danger. Meanwhile, leads in the case are sketchy at best and the detectives are caught up in a cat and mouse game with few obvious answers until they find a petition signed by all four of the murdered women. Figuring out why the petition and the ten day intervals are important may be their best chance to stop this killer.

A.L. and Rena are a well-matched partnership, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and they complement each other in their search for a wily killer. The pacing is a little slow but Ten Days Gone shows promise and is the first in what I hope will be a long-running series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2020.

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Ghost of the Bamboo Road
A Hiro Hattori Novel #7
A Shinobi Mystery
Susan Spann
Seventh Street Books, November 2019
ISBN 978-1-6338-8550-9
Trade Paperback

Even in 16th-century Japan, a list of agents, in this case the shinobi agents of Hiro Hattori’s own clan, can cause deadly problems if it falls into the wrong hands. Hiri needs to warn his clan that a rival warlord is in possession of the list so he travels to a small village where he believes a fellow agent to be on a mission. Accompanied by Father Mateo, the Portuguese Jesuit he protects, along with their housekeeper, Ana, and Hiro’s cat, Gato, he sees that the agent is missing. Hiro and Father Mateo are then drawn in to the investigation of multiple murders that are believed to have been caused by a ghost in the eerily half-deserted village but the situation becomes even more pressing when Ana is accused of stealing from the inn’s proprietor. And where is the missing agent?

Ms. Spann never fails to entertain me and educate me as well since her stories are full of medieval Japanese history. I love the primary characters and their interactions with each other; for instance, Gato always manages to get in the thick of things but Father Mateo can only suffer around him, being highly allergic. The two men have grown to be quite fond of each other (not that they would say so) and the priest accepts the shinobi’s protection as gracefully as he can manage while Ana is irascible and, yet, attentive. The author has a way with words and conveys the times and the setting vividly, so much so that I can practically smell the tea served in the teahouse. My only regret after reading this entry is for the too-long wait for the next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2020.

Book Review: A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen @mikechenwriter @HarlequinBooks @MIRAEditors

A Beginning at the End
Mike Chen
MIRA, January 2020
ISBN 978-0-7783-0934-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

An emotional story about what happens after the end of the world, A BEGINNING AT THE END is a tale of four survivors trying to rebuild their personal lives after a literal apocalypse. For commercial readers who enjoy a speculative twist, or their sci-fi with a heavy dose of family and feelings.

Six years after a global pandemic, it turns out that the End of the World was more like a big pause. Coming out of quarantine, 2 billion unsure survivors split between self-governing big cities, hippie communes, and wasteland gangs. When the father of a presumed-dead pop star announces a global search for his daughter, four lives collide: Krista, a cynical event planner; Moira, the ex-pop star in hiding; Rob, a widowed single father; and Sunny, his seven-year-old daughter. As their lives begin to intertwine, reports of a new outbreak send the fragile society into a panic. And when the government enacts new rules in response to the threat, long-buried secrets surface, causing Sunny to run away seeking the truth behind her mother’s death. Now, Krista, Rob, and Moira must finally confront the demons of their past in order to hit the road and reunite with Sunny — before a coastal lockdown puts the world on pause again.

Most post-apocalyptic stories tend to give a wide view of the world after the critical event but Mike Chen chose to focus on just a few people, a compelling tactic. As much as I love PA, and I really do, it’s sometimes a little difficult to form a connection with the characters but that’s not the case here.

When the survivors of the pandemic begin to emerge into a new and unfamiliar, often frightening, society, their initial focus is on figuring out what to do now. It’s only a few years into our own future and that gives the story an immediacy that’s more than a little nervewracking, especially with the current news about the wuhan coronavirus. Yes, humanity is vulnerable to any number of possible end of the world as we know it scenarios but Mr. Chen chooses to look at the rebuilding of what we had, hence the very effective title.

Just four characters are the core of this story and, at first, only the father and his young daughter are connected. Later, fate brings them together with two quite disparate women; watching these four first form a tenuous friendship and then gradually become a semblance of family gives hope for their future. It also gives us hope that, given a similar deadly crisis, humanity will survive.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2020.

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // iTunes 
Apple Books // Books-A-Million // Google Play
Amazon // Indiebound // Harlequin

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An Excerpt from
A Beginning at the End

Prologue

People were too scared for music tonight. Not that MoJo cared.

Her handlers had broken the news about the low attendance nearly an hour ago with some explanation about how the recent flu epidemic and subsequent rioting and looting kept people at home. They’d served the news with high-end vodka, the good shit imported from Russia, conveniently hidden in a water bottle which she carried from the greenroom to the stage.

“The show must go on,” her father proclaimed, like she was doing humanity a service by performing. She suspected his bravado actually stemmed from the fact that her sophomore album’s second single had stalled at number thirteen—a far cry from the lead single’s number-one debut or her four straight top-five hits off her first album. Either way, the audience, filled with beaming girls a few years younger than herself and their mothers, seemed to agree. Flu or no flu, some people still wanted their songs—or maybe they just wanted normalcy—so MoJo delivered, perfect note after perfect note, each in time to choreographed dance routines. She even gave her trademark smile.

The crowd screamed and sang along, waving their arms to the beat. Halfway through the second song, a peculiar vibe grabbed the audience. Usually, a handful of parents disappeared into their phones, especially as the flu scare had heightened over the past week. This time nearly every adult in the arena was looking at their phone. In the front row, MoJo saw lines of concern on each face.

Before the song even finished, some parents grabbed their children and left, pushing through the arena’s floor seats and funneling to the exit door.

MoJo pushed on, just like she’d always promised her dad. She practically heard his voice over the backup music blasting in her in-ear monitors. There is no sophomore slump. Smile! Between the second and third songs, she gave her customary “Thank you!” and fake talk about how great it was to be wherever they were. New York City, this time, at Madison Square Garden. A girl of nineteen embarking on a tour bigger, more ambitious than she could have ever dreamed and taking the pop world by storm, and yet, she knew nothing real about New York City. She’d never left her hotel room without chaperones and handlers. Not under her dad’s watch.

One long swig of vodka later, and a warmth rushed to her face, so much so that she wondered if it melted her face paint off. She looked off at the side stage, past the elaborate video set and cadre of backup dancers. But where was the gaffer? Why wasn’t anyone at the sound board? The fourth song had a violin section, yet the contracted violinist wasn’t in her spot.

Panic raced through MoJo’s veins, mental checklists of her marks, all trailed by echoes from her dad’s lectures about accountability. Her feet were planted exactly where they should be. Her poise, straight and high. Her last few notes, on key, and her words to the audience, cheerful. It couldn’t have been something she’d done, could it?

No. Not her fault this time. Someone else is facing Dad’s wrath tonight, she thought.

The next song’s opening electronic beats kicked in. Eyes closed, head tilted back, and arms up, her voice pushed out the song’s highest note, despite the fuzziness of the vodka making the vibrato a little harder to sustain. For a few seconds, nothing existed except the sound of her voice and the music behind it— no handlers, no tour, no audience, no record company, no father telling her the next way she’d earn the family fortune—and it almost made the whole thing worth it.

Her eyes opened, body coiled for the middle-eight’s dance routine, but the brightness of the house lights threw her off the beat. The drummer and keyboard player stopped, though the prerecorded backing track continued for a few more seconds before leaving an echo chamber.

No applause. No eyes looked MoJo’s way. Only random yelling and an undecipherable buzz saw of backstage clamor from her in-ear monitors. She stood, frozen, unable to tell if this was from laced vodka or if it was actually unfolding: people—adults and children, parents and daughters— scrambling to the exits, climbing over chairs and tripping on stairs, ushers pushing back at the masses before some turned and ran as well.

Someone grabbed her shoulder and jerked back hard. “We have to go,” said the voice behind her.

“What’s going on?” she asked, allowing the hands to push her toward the stage exit. Steven, her huge forty-something bodyguard, took her by the arm and helped her down the short staircase to the backstage area.

“The flu’s spread,” he said. “A government quarantine. There’s some sort of lockdown on travel. The busing starts tonight. First come, first serve. I think everyone’s trying to get home or get there. I can’t reach your father. Cell phones are jammed up.”

They worked their way through the concrete hallways and industrial lighting of the backstage area, people crossing in a mad scramble left and right. MoJo clutched onto her bottle of vodka, both hands to her chest as Steven ushered her onward. People collapsed in front of her, crying, tripping on their own anxieties, and Steven shoved her around them, apologizing all the way. Something draped over her shoulders, and it took her a moment to realize that he’d put a thick parka around her. She chuckled at the thought of her sparkly halter top and leather pants wrapped in a down parka that smelled like BO, but Steven kept pushing her forward, forward, forward until they hit a set of double doors.

The doors flew open, but rather than the arena’s quiet loading area from a few hours ago, MoJo saw a thick wall of people: all ages and all colors in a current of movement, pushing back and forth. “I’ve got your dad on the line,” Steven yelled over the din, “His car is that way. He wants to get to the airport now. Same thing’s happening back home.” His arm stretched out over her head. “That way! Go!”

They moved as a pair, Steven yelling “excuse me” over and over until the crowd became too dense to overcome. In front of her, a woman with wisps of gray woven into black hair trembled on her knees. Even with the racket around them, MoJo heard her cry. “This is the end. This is the end.”

The end.

People had been making cracks about the End of the World since the flu changed from online rumors to this big thing that everyone talked about all the time. But she’d always figured the “end” meant a giant pit opening, Satan ushering everyone down a staircase to Hell. Not stuck outside Madison Square Garden.

“Hey,” Steven yelled, arms spread out to clear a path through the traffic jam of bodies. “This way!”

MoJo looked at the sobbing woman in front of her, then at Steven. Somewhere further down the road, her father sat in a car and waited. She could feel his pull, an invisible tether that never let her get too far away.

“The end, the end,” the sobbing woman repeated, pausing MoJo in her tracks. But where to go? Every direction just pointed at more chaos, people scrambling with a panic that had overtaken everyone in the loading dock, possibly the neighborhood, possibly all New York City, possibly even the world. And it wasn’t just about a flu.

It was everything.

But… maybe that was good?

No more tours. No more studio sessions. No more threats about financial security, no more lawyer meetings, no more searches through her luggage. No more worrying about hitting every mark. In the studio. Onstage.

In life.

All of that was done.

The very thought caused MoJo to smirk.

If this was the end, then she was going out on her own terms.

“Steven!” she yelled. He turned and met her gaze.

She twisted the cap off the water-turned-vodka bottle, then took most of it down in one long gulp. She poured the remainder on her face paint, a star around her left eye, then wiped it off with her sleeve. The empty bottle flew through the air, probably hitting some poor bloke in the head.

“Tell my dad,” she said, trying extra hard to pronounce the words with the clear British diction she was raised with, “to go fuck himself.”

For an instant, she caught Steven’s widemouthed look, a mix of fear and confusion and disappointment on his face, as though her words crushed his worldview more than the madness around them. But MoJo wouldn’t let herself revel in her first, possibly only victory over her father; she ducked and turned quickly, parka pulled over her head, crushing the product-molded spikes in her hair.

Each step pushing forward, shoulders and arms bumping into her as her eyes locked onto the ground, one step at a time. Left, right, left, then right, all as fast as she could go, screams and car horns and smashing glass building in a wave of desperation around her.

Maybe it was the end. But even though her head was down, she walked with dignity for the first time in years, perhaps ever.

Excerpted from A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen, Copyright © 2020 by Mike Chen. Published by MIRA Books. 

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About the Author

Credit Amanda Chen

Mike Chen is a lifelong writer, from crafting fan fiction as a child to somehow getting paid for words as an adult. He has contributed to major geek websites (The Mary Sue, The Portalist, Tor) and covered the NHL for mainstream media outlets. A member of SFWA and Codex Writers, Mike lives in the Bay Area, where he can be found playing video games and watching Doctor Who with his wife, daughter, and rescue animals. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @mikechenwriter

Author Links:
Website // Twitter // Facebook // Instagram

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By foregrounding family, Chen manages to imbue his apocalypse
with heart, hope, and humanity. Sci-fi fans will delight in this
lovingly rendered tale. — Publishers Weekly

Book Review: Thief’s Mark by Carla Neggers—and a Giveaway!

Thief’s Mark
A Sharpe & Donovan Novel #8
Carla Neggers
MIRA, August 2017
ISBN 978-0-778-33031-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

A murder in a quiet English village, long-buried secrets and a man’s search for answers about his traumatic past entangle FBI agents Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan in the latest edge-of-your-seat Sharpe & Donovan novel 

As a young boy, Oliver York witnessed the murder of his wealthy parents in their London apartment. The killers kidnapped him and held him in an isolated Scottish ruin, but he escaped, thwarting their plans for ransom. Now, after thirty years on the run, one of the two men Oliver identified as his tormentors may have surfaced.  

Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan are enjoying the final day of their Irish honeymoon when a break-in at the home of Emma’s grandfather, private art detective Wendell Sharpe, points to Oliver. The Sharpes have a complicated relationship with the likable, reclusive Englishman, an expert in Celtic mythology and international art thief who taunted Wendell for years. Emma and Colin postpone meetings in London with their elite FBI team and head straight to Oliver. But when they arrive at York’s country home, a man is dead and Oliver has vanished. 

As the danger mounts, new questions arise about Oliver’s account of his boyhood trauma. Do Emma and Colin dare trust him? With the trail leading beyond Oliver’s small village to Ireland, Scotland and their own turf in the United States, the stakes are high, and Emma and Colin must unravel the decades-old tangle of secrets and lies before a killer strikes again.  

My favorite mystery setting, an English village, and a pair of FBI agents who are definitely out of their geographic element…what more could I want? Throw in an art thief (which I’ve always found fun and exciting, probably because these art thieves are daring and, well, sort of James Bond-ish, even the women) and a heinous crime from the past and the stage is set for an engrossing read.

Emma’s grandfather is an art detective in the private collector realm and has a strange tale for Emma and Colin. It seems that he’s had a break-in by someone apparently interested in items connected to one Oliver York. To add a little more mystique, Oliver used to be an accomplished art thief but then became an MI5 agent. Emma and Colin have years-long ties to Oliver through both of his professions but, when a dead man is found at his home, the case becomes ever-expanding and eventually involves multiple countries and law enforcement organizations.

While this is part of the Sharpe & Donovan series, it’s essentially a standalone and focuses largely on Oliver. He is a fascinating man and he makes it easy to understand why cops and robbers sometimes can’t help liking and even respecting each other. Emma and Colin are a delightful couple as well as being really good agents and Oliver’s colleague, Henrietta, is a force of nature but it’s Wendell, Emma’s grandfather, who really stole my heart. All in all, Thief’s Mark was a grand introduction, for me, to this series and the rest of the books are going on my wishlist right now.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Purchase Links:

         

    

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About the Author

Carla Neggers is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 60 novels, including her popular Sharpe and Donovan and Swift River Valley series. Her books have been translated into 24 languages and sold in over 35 countries. A frequent traveler to Ireland, Carla lives with her family in New England. To learn more and to sign up for her newsletter, visit CarlaNeggers.com.

Connect with Carla:

Website | Facebook | Twitter

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Follow the tour here.

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To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Thief’s Mark by Carla Neggers
, just leave
a
comment below. The winning name
will be drawn on Friday
night,
September 22nd and the book will be sent
out after the tour ends. This drawing is

open to residents of the US and Canada.

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Book Review: Lie to Me by J.T. Ellison—and a Giveaway!

Lie to Me
J.T. Ellison
MIRA, September 2017
ISBN 978-0-778-31364-9
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback and ebook

From the publisher—

They built a life on lies

Sutton and Ethan Montclair’s idyllic life is not as it appears. They seem made for each other, but the truth is ugly. Consumed by professional and personal betrayals and financial woes, the two both love and hate each other. As tensions mount, Sutton disappears, leaving behind a note saying not to look for her.

Ethan finds himself the target of vicious gossip as friends, family and the media speculate on what really happened to Sutton Montclair. As the police investigate, the lies the couple have been spinning for years quickly unravel. Is Ethan a killer? Is he being set up? Did Sutton hate him enough to kill the child she never wanted and then herself? The path to the answers is full of twists that will leave the reader breathless.

Are Sutton and Ethan Montclair a so-called normal couple? My word, we can only hope not because they’re about as shallow, selfish and generally unpleasant as any two people can be and perhaps the best thing about them is that they’re tied to each other, thereby saving two other people from horrible marriages.

Once upon a time, this power couple probably cared about each other but even that is doubtful as Ethan admits to himself that he pretty much picked Sutton to be his wife because she looked and sounded good. Still, he is initially sorrowful when he finds her farewell note…until when he realizes she may have done away with herself and his next reaction is intense anger that she did this to him. We don’t know much about her yet but, clearly, he has conflicting feelings about her and that makes him just a little more human, more likeable or, at least, worthy of our compassion. Maybe.

The fact is, this is a too perfect couple and it’s really no surprise that the police would suspect him of harming his missing wife, even beyond the suspicions that naturally fall upon the spouse in such a case. One detective, Holly Graham, isn’t so sure and she’s about to become intensely important to both Ethan and the absent Sutton.

As I followed the story, my emotions were a roller coaster, switching back and forth between sympathy for Ethan and certainty that he’s not to be trusted. At the same time, there were musings from someone else who was distinctly unbalanced so was it possible Ethan really was innocent? As the hunt for Sutton intensified, so did the tension and there were moments that were downright creepy and unnerving. When the truth finally came out, all the twists and turns had turned my stomach in knots.

Of course, I always find myself up very late at night when I pick up one of Ms. Ellison’s books and this is most certainly not an exception. Be prepared to miss a night’s sleep 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Purchase Links:

         

    

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About the Author

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author J.T. Ellison writes standalone domestic noir and psychological thriller series, the latter starring Nashville Homicide Lt. Taylor Jackson and medical examiner Dr. Samantha Owens, and pens the international thriller series “A Brit in the FBI” with #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter. Cohost of the Emmy Award-winning show, “A Word on Words”, Ellison lives in Nashville with her husband.

Connect with J. T.:

            

 

 

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Follow the tour here.

************

To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Lie to Me by
J.T. Ellison, just leave
a
comment below. The winning name
will be drawn on Saturday
night,
September 16th and the book will be sent
out after the tour ends. This drawing is

open to residents of the US and Canada.

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“Wonderful… A one-more-chapter, don’t-eat-dinner, stay-up-late
sensation.” – Lee Child, #1 New York Times bestselling author

“Fans of GONE GIRL will gobble up this thriller about a marriage
from hell, which moves at a blazing-fast pace and smoothly negotiates
more twists and turns than the backroads of Tennessee. J.T. Ellison will
keep you guessing every step of the way to the surprise ending!”
-Lisa Scottoline, New York Times bestselling author of ONE PERFECT LIE

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