‘The Escape Room’ by Megan Goldin: nonstop action from the first page to the last

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Greed and arrogance are qualities that permeate the personalities of the characters in Megan Goldin’s “The Escape Room.” The first chapter offers the reader clues that the story will not end well for some of those characters, but just how that comes about is part of the mystery and the thrill. Four hedge fund traders at the competitive firm of Stanhope and Sons are commanded to appear for a team-building exercise. Vincent, Jules, Sylvie, and Sam all have better things to be doing, but they are all extremely competitive, and they all want to get the best bonus possible, so they all show up to the not-quite-completed office building and enter the elevator.

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‘Keeping Lucy’ by T. Greenwood is an emotional story of a mother who will take on the world to protect her daughter

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Ginny Richardson and her successful lawyer husband have one perfect child, Peyton. When Lucy, her second baby, is born with Down syndrome, her wealthy in-laws whisk the newborn to a “school” where she will live and be cared for. Ginny is told she was “enrolled” in the school, and by the time she was coherent after sedative injection after sedative injection, it was too late. Everyone except Ginny’s mother and best friend are told the baby died.

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‘The Two Lila Bennetts’ by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke is clever and frightening

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As someone who went through law school and gave criminal law a thought, my feelings after reading “The Two Lila Bennetts” is that authors Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke got it all right. I’ll never forget working for a criminal law firm while going to law school at night. A lawyer once said to me, “When you practice criminal law, you become as bad as the criminals.”

And that’s the premise of “The Two Lila Bennetts.” The protagonist, Lila Bennett, is a top criminal defense lawyer. Are some of her clients guilty? Assuredly. Does she get them off anyway? Absolutely. At least most of them.

In fact, we come to realize that Lila herself is no angel. Boy, has she made some bad choices in her life. Lying, cheating, sleeping with someone to get an advantage. We are talking really poor choices. And now Lila is paying for those poor choices.

Someone is after Lila. And when the story diverges into two paths, both Lilas suffer, although in different ways. The writing is extremely clever, and we are led down a path where we believe one Lila is going to be fine and the other, maybe not. But the Lilas in both stories are equally brilliant and determined to right past wrongs. Does Lila become a new person? Can we really change who we are? What does it take to cause that change?

Another interesting aspect of the novel is that we don’t really like Lila much at the beginning. She’s simply not a very likable person. But as we see her struggle and the thoughtful process of Lila’s rethinking her life and her decisions, including her marriage, we come to respect her and root for her.

Looking for a lovely summer read? Trying to pick a book that will engender great discussion for a book club? Picking a gift for a friend who loves to read? “The Two Lila Bennetts” won’t disappoint! It’s sure to be a hit with everyone.

Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s copy provided by Lake Union Publishing, the publisher, for review purposes.

‘Betrayal in Time’ by Julie McElwain is a wonderful mystery/scifi/historical fiction novel

betrayal in time

“Betrayal in Time” by Julie McElwain is the fourth novel in which Kendra Donovan, a 21st century FBI agent, is unwittingly sent to the past while trying to avenge the deaths of  most of her team. Her goal is to kill the culprit in England. When someone beats her to the kill, she escapes up a staircase and ends up in 1815, in England.

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‘Heart of Barkness’ by Spencer Quinn: Don’t miss this tail-wagging adventure

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“Heart of Barkness” by Spencer Quinn brings back mystery-lovers’ favorite four-legged detective, Chet, with his sidekick, the two-legged Bernie Little. It’s Bernie Little’s detective agency, but both Chet and Bernie are very aware that it takes two to solve most mysteries. That’s why whenever Bernie introduces himself to someone, he introduces both of them. Chet and Bernie are a team and they are inseparable.

In this mystery, Chet and Bernie meet Lotty Pilgrim, a country singer who seems to have hit rock-bottom. She is playing in dives and lives on a small, run-down ranch. Her manager/boyfriend is much younger than she, and from the start, Bernie is no fan of his.

Bernie has just gotten out of the hospital after a near-death experience (read about it in the last Chet and Bernie book, “Scents and Sensibility”), and Chet is thrilled to be reunited with his other half. In fact, the mystery begins when Chet and Bernie go to hear Lotty sing. Bernie puts a $100 bill in her tip jar, but the money gets stolen by someone at the bar. Chet and Bernie go after the thief, and what happens after that is just one part of what becomes the mystery and history of Lottie’s life and her problems.

Chet’s narration is spot-on doggy, with appropriate distractions (Slim Jims and steak smells) and some canine self-deprecating awareness. After all, when a dog is telling the story, there is definitely some translation needed, but Chet is one sharp dog, and he catches some things mere humans might overlook. Chet explains it beautifully when the thief grabs the money from the tip jar,

“Something sneaky was going down. I knew that in a flash. You might be thinking, Wow Chet, how fast your mind works. But you’d be wrong. My mind had nothing to do with it. My teeth were the smart ones. Sneakiness gives them this powerful urge, the urge to…to do something, let’s leave it at that.”

So they chase the thief, recover the money but not the guy, and consider it done. It’s not. The ties that connect the different characters, the obvious good guys and the obvious and not-so-obvious bad guys are sometimes hard to see. But Chet and Bernie have a special power – the power of the dog and human combination – and they go where others might fail.

Quinn’s narrative, via Chet, is touching but always humorous, too. While reader’s will feel Lottie’s plight and worry about Bernie’s romantic situation, they will chuckle while reading Chet’s wonderfully canine narrative.

Mystery lovers devour the Chet and Bernie series. Dog lovers do, too. No fleas involved.

This review was originally posted on Bookreporter.com.

Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s copy provided by the publisher, Forge, for review purposes.

‘The Summer Country’ by Lauren Willig is an ambitious tale of prejudice and plantations in Barbados during Victorian times

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“The Summer Country” by Lauren Willig refers to the island of Barbados, where it is summer all year long. The story is about three women, and from the beginning it alternates between 1812 and 1854. The story begins in 1854, when Emily Dawson and her cousin Adam travel to Barbados for different reasons. Adam is representing the family business now that his grandfather, Jonathan Fenty, has died, while Emily is traveling to visit Peverills, the sugar cane plantation that her grandfather left her in his will.

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‘Mrs. Everything’ by Jennifer Weiner is a fascinating study of sisters

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“Mrs. Everything” might be Jennifer Weiner’s most ambitious novel yet. She takes readers into the lives of two sisters, Jo and Bethie, who grow up during the 50s. Readers watch Jo and Bethie as the Kaufman family buys their first house in a suburb of Detroit. Readers with at least one sister will nod as the story shows girls who are very different in terms of personality and temperament, but who love each other — much of the time.

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‘Wherever She Goes’ by Kelley Armstrong is a quick-paced thriller

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“Wherever She Goes” by Kelley Armstrong begins slowly with a main character who doubts her actions and her decisions so much that we wonder if she is completely rational. One day, Aubrey Finch thinks she sees a child being kidnapped in a park, but when she reports what she saw to the police, they don’t believe her. After all, one officer explains, “Few crimes are reported as quickly as a snatched kid,” and there was no such report. But Aubrey had briefly met the child and his mother in the park before, and she knows that what she saw was a child being abducted.

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‘Welcome to Wonderland: Beach Battle Blowout’ by Chris Grabenstein is much beloved in this student review

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“Welcome to Wonderland:  Beach Battle Blowout,” by Chris Grabenstein, will excite readers from the first page to the last. This funny and action-packed book is sure to make people laugh and gasp in suspense at the same time. Adding on to the series, New York Times bestselling author of “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library” spins a story that, of course, has a beginning, a middle — and a twist.

P.T. Wilkie and his business-wiz friend Gloria Ortega make a really good team. As P.T. likes to say, Gloria is the “sizzle to his steak.” P.T.’s grandpa, who is the owner of the Wonderland Motel, finds out that all of the bigger attractions like Disney World are not going to be in this year’s Florida Fun in the Sun competition, so the smaller attractions have a chance to win the title of the hottest family attraction. The Wonderland Motel will have to get ready! Continue reading

‘Queen Bee’ by Dorothea Benton Frank

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This review was first posted on Bookreporter.com.

“Queen Bee” by Dorothea Benton Frank is filled with quirky characters, magical bees, and at the center, a woman who is trying to figure out where she belongs. Holly McNee Jensen has always felt like the odd woman out. Her mother, lovingly — and not-so-lovingly — referred to as Queen Bee, adores Holly’s older sister Leslie. Holly always seems to do things wrong.

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‘The Last Time I Saw You’ by Liv Constantine keeps readers guessing until the end

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“The Last Time I Saw You” by Liv Constantine is a fabulous mystery. Like their first novel (Liv Constantine is actually two sisters),  “The Last Mrs. Parrish,” which was a bestseller, this one has twists aplenty and keeps the reader glued to the story until the wonderful ending.

While some mysteries keep the reader guessing and then spring a surprise at the end, the Constantine sisters present many, many suspects, yet the ending isn’t really a total surprise. They’ve cleverly and carefully planted clues all along the way — clues that don’t seem to be clues unless viewed in retrospect — and the reader might begin to suspect toward the end, but won’t truly understand what has happened until the final reveal.

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