Guest Reviews

Never Let Go by Elizabeth Goddard is a mystery tinged with some romance. From the very first page the story’s tension builds.

 

The plot begins when a new born baby is taken away from its birth mother, Katelyn Mason. Now, approximately twenty years later she is dying of cancer and wants to be reunited with her daughter.  Unfortunately, all the investigators she has hired over the years have found no clues. Her only hope is that Anderson Consulting, forensic genealogists, will find her daughter. But someone is trying to stop then.  First the founder was killed in a hit and run accident, and now his granddaughter, Willow Anderson, who took over the case, had her house burned to the ground. She contacts her ex-boyfriend, Austin, to inform him of her grandfather’s passing since they were really close. Having been in law enforcement and now a private investigator Austin joins forces with Willow to find the daughter and get to the bottom of the vicious crimes.

 

Goddard noted, “I ran across an article in my hard copy local newspaper.  It was about a forensic genealogist who assisted the police in finding the true identity of a woman.  She was about thirty and had died. It turned out her background was not what people thought. She was from New Jersey and never told her family that she moved to the Midwest.  In fact, she changed her name so her family never knew what happened to her. Then I found out on a website about a woman who was abducted at birth. She never knew that her mother was not her birth mother until she was about eighteen years old.”

 

Austin is a complex character who grew up in Wyoming with many secrets.  He is a gentle person who is very guarded. “I wanted to write him as a constant professional, an overachiever, part cowboy who wears Stetson hats and part sophisticated lawman.  I hope people see him as a real person with faults. I contrast him with Willow who is all about uncovering the truth. She is determined, persistent, adventurous, and will push people’s boundaries, especially Austin’s. Willow tries to work out problems with Austin instead of walking away.”

 

This cold-case story delves into how past experiences influence the future. Readers are able to solve the case along with the characters because the author provides some insightful clues.

 

Never Tell by Lisa Gardner brings back some of her well-known characters. Detective D. D. Warren and CI Flora Dane must work together to find the truth behind a murder. It powerfully examines how someone’s past can come back to haunt them, especially when the police appear to have tunnel vision. 

The book opens with a pregnant wife, Evelyn “Evie” Carter, returning home to find her husband murdered.  What she does next becomes very puzzling to the police:  She empties the gun bullets into the computer.  As the police rush in she is caught with the gun, leading the detectives, including, Warren, to think it is an open and shut case. Reinforced by the knowledge that Evie previously confessed to accidentally killing her father, the detective sees a pattern. 

Once the news of the husband Conrad’s murder goes public, kidnapping survivor-turned-vigilante and D.D.’s unofficial informant, Flora Dane, asserts that she recognizes Conrad as a man who was acquainted with her kidnapper, Jacob Ness. Flora has survived the emotional and physical abuse Ness inflicted on her and is now determined to find the truth behind different crime scenes. Feeling the police are jumping to conclusions, Flora goes rogue, and hooks up with computer crime analyst Keith Edgar and FBI Agent Kimberly Quincy, who previously tracked down Ness and freed Flora. Believing Conrad is tied to the serial killer Ness, she convinces the FBI and police to recognize that with this case nothing is as it seems to be.  The many lies and secrets need to be deciphered before justice can be found.

Gardner noted, “The relevance of Jacob is that he is the single most powerful relationship Flora ever had.  DD says in the book that any investigation of Jacob will have Flora forever follow. Wherever Flora goes so goes the ghost of Jacob.  There is not one without the other. He is a monster who never repented, but feels victimized because of it.  Jacob is whiny, lonely, not empathetic, downright cruel, and obsessed with being all powerful.  He sees himself victimized by society.  Flora learned to survive by recognizing a loneliness in Jacob and becoming his confidant, his friend. Conversely, this is what she has a hard time reconciling and coming to terms with.  The appeal of her story is her determination to find the light and not see herself always as a victim, but as a survivor.”

The three female protagonists are nothing alike.  According to Gardner, “Evie is sleep-walking through life, and refers to herself as a “dead woman walking.” She has not dealt with her father’s death, her marriage problems, and her poor relationship with her mother.  She has avoided and hidden from real life since her adulthood is built on a pretty big lie. By definition she cannot trust.  But now, because of what happened to her husband, she has to stop running.”

“Flora is a character I wrote and am very fond of.  She is a survivor who struggles with guilt.  Having PTSD has manifested itself in her by making her more hypervigilant.  I think she is a manic who has anxiety and copes by going to extremes.  Flora is obsessed with self-defense.  I think she realizes she has not healed and that she is in active recovery mode.”

“Then there is D.D.  She is a workaholic, possibly to the point of obsession.  She doesn’t care if she is liked.  I think having a child has softened her edges.  Now she questions if she works too much.  I think many readers like that she is unapologetically brash, abrupt, and often rude, with a take no prisoners attitude.” 

This is a story that will resonate with readers because of all the exciting elements. It also has a unique storyline that will force readers to change their minds about the likeability of the three female protagonists. 

Judgment by Joseph Finder takes an occurrence and uses it as a jumping off point.  He has a knack for having an incidental event magnify into a riveting conspiracy mystery.  

 

Finder noted, “I met a judge socially and spoke with her about the pressures she faces.  I started to think, what would happen if her children get into trouble, or what if she gets many speeding tickets?  I interviewed five women judges practicing in Boston for this book.  The sense I got was that they went through a lot to become a judge, having to go through interviews and making sure they do not step on toes as they climbed the ladder. Then I thought how vulnerable judges are in the courtroom.  Unexpected and explosive things could happen.  It is almost as if they are all alone and on their own.”

 

The plot begins with the protagonist, Judge Juliana Brody, in a rare error of judgment, having a one-night stand at a legal conference in Chicago with Matías Sanchez, who claims he’s a businessman from Buenos Aires. Because of this incident her life will swell out of control.  Sanchez is not who he made himself out to be, but is one of the lawyers for a defendant on a high-profile sex discrimination case Brody is presiding over. To make matters worse, he threatens to blackmail her with a video of their encounter unless she rules in the defendant’s favor. It becomes clear that personal humiliation, even the possible destruction of her career, are the least of her concerns, as her own life and the lives of her family are put in mortal jeopardy. She discovers her adversaries include powerful and ruthless criminals who will kill anyone who stands in their way. Brody decides to investigate her enemies and to play their game, becoming cunning and fearless.

 

“I wanted to write Juliana as a kickass.  As a former prosecutor, she is tough and persistent. At the beginning of the story Juliana is someone who always followed the rules, but now is willing to break the law to achieve a greater good. I like writing about ordinary people who are suddenly caught up in something extraordinary.  There is a Russian word that bests describes this story, kompromat. It means compromising materials.  The Russians are very good at blackmailing people.  This includes the oligarchs who are dangerous and should not be trusted.”

 

Brody is someone readers will connect to and root for, especially after it is revealed that she is fighting those in the Russian oligarchy.  Finder has Brody wonder if the Russians are working on their own or puppets for Putin.  She is an admirable person who has always played by the rules and had no sympathy for those who donot. Yet, after her one lapse in judgment she realizes way too late that the attempt to cover up is often regarded as even more reprehensible than the original deed. 

 

This briskly-paced story explores how those in positions of power can be susceptible to blackmail. At every turn, the reader takes a journey with Brody as she becomes involved in double crosses, espionage, financial impropriety, corporate corruption, and sexual harassment.

What Doesn’t Kill Her by Christina Dodd brings back the fabulous characters of Cape Charade.  Dodd has outdone herself by creating this character driven story.  The previous book presented the heroine Kellen Adams as a victim, survivor, and warrior.  But in this novel, readers also see another aspect of her, as a mom.  People will take a journey with Kellen as she grows emotionally, while overcoming the trials and tribulations of having a seven-year-old daughter.

In the last book readers learn that Kellen escaped an abusive husband. Unfortunately, she could not escape his family and was shot in the head where she lied in a coma for thirteen months. Running away, she took her cousin’s identity, and joined the military, rising to the ranks of Captain. After getting a medical discharge she found a job at a Di Luca resort.  While there she was reunited with Max Di Luca, her former boyfriend and unbeknownst to her, the father of her child, Rae.

Kellen undergoes a transition from being frail to being tough. Dodd noted, “I wanted to write her as someone strong, determined, and brave. The year of unconsciousness had her go from Cecilia who needed someone to protect her to Kellen, a self-sufficient person.  In future books this character will have to come to grips with the split personality. In the beginning she was weak, but now she is able to take control over her life.”

 

Realistically, Dodd shows that not all women are suited to motherhood and the bond does not necessarily happen instantaneously. Wanting time to deal with all the new reality Kellen takes a side job to deliver an archeological piece to a recluse in the wilderness. Things do not go as planned because two teams of men are out to kill, one wanting revenge, and the other wanting the antique head.  While being ambushed Kellen realizes that her daughter Rae has been hiding, wanting to bond with her mother. To escape the killers, both are running for their lives through the wilderness. During these scenes, it becomes obvious the two are becoming close. 

 

“I based Rae on my two daughters.  They had an extraordinary vocabulary, possibly because they are the children of an author. Rae is antsy, a typical seven-year-old. She is a chatterbox, very literal, curious, has a good imagination, and like her mother is a fighter.  In the next book, she will be ten years old and a handful as she undergoes personality changes.”

 

The banter between mother and daughter is at times hilariously funny as they journey through this adventure together. This dialogue between Rae and Kellen stole the story.  Rae is a chatterbox, an intelligent and sassy girl. She looks on her mom as a Superhero, and she is the sidekick, naming them ThunderFlash and LightningBug.  Dodd portrays Rae as an innocent child who is still at the age where she feels her parents can do no wrong and looks up to them.  Knowing her mom is a badass, she wants to emulate her and does so with the Superhero hidden identities. At the end of the book, Kellen described her daughter, “She’ll grow up to be a woman who allows no man to hurt her, to abuse her, verbally or physically.  She’s going to be strong. She’s got my back and I’ve got hers.”

 

Readers will have a smile on their face throughout this story.  Although there are intense scenes, the humor makes for a wonderful release. 

The Forgotten Hours by Katrin Schumann

The Forgotten Hours by Katrin Schumann delves into a timely subject.  It is a thought-provoking story about a woman’s search for the haunting truth regarding her best friend and father. The main character Katie wanted to believe that her father was perfect, that he was the same person she knew and loved.  But once he was accused of statutory rape she had to reconcile if her father was being honest with her. As she searched for facts that would give her answers, Katie wondered does she forgive, ignore, or cut off ties. 

 

Schumann noted, “A few years ago I had two friends, almost at the same time, involved in a really nasty and complicated law case about consent.  The cases were not related.  I had this front row seat about the experiences of the accused and accuser.  I felt pulled along in the emotional tide, and realized that people who love them are also victims. I did not want to commit to one side or the other or jump to conclusions.  There are so many grey areas.  At the time of writing this there was the Jerry Sandusky case. I saw on television, the harrowing look of his wife and a comment she made struck me, “This is not the man I know.”  It is disorienting to think we do not know who people really are.”

Ten years ago, when Katie was fifteen her teenage best friend Lulu accused her dad of rape.  Because there was an age difference of about thirty years he was sent off to prison for nine years. Katie was loyal to her father and never questioned his innocence.  Now, with her dad’s release date approaching she must come to grips with what really happened, after being hounded by reporters and knowing she could no longer keep her boyfriend in the dark. To make matters worse she must return to the Eagle Lake cabin where the incident occurred.  While there she discovers letters about the trial that provoke in her questions about her father’s innocence and her own memory of what happened. 

 

This story is a page-turner that also speaks to broader questions of sexual abuse, family loyalty, and the uncertainty of memory. Interestingly, throughout the novel Schumann has readers questioning who is the predator, the accused or the accuser. The plot's themes are all the more powerful in today’s current environment. 

Latest comments

30.03 | 21:07

📚🌻📚🌻❤️... GREAT REVIEW

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24.12 | 00:28

Always look forward to your weekly blog, Marti ... safe travels this week. Merry Christmas!

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01.10 | 16:20

Happy Birthday! I remember when book club started when you turned 50. OMG! 100% agree with political status. So disappointing. Happy Foliage!

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27.05 | 23:23

Outraged, too! It is just getting coverage. This government is shameful under this leadership.

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