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Book Review: Last Looks – Amazing Debut Novel

Last Looks

By Howard Michael Gould

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Penguin First to Read in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Charlie Waldo has as many layers as an onion. Most of those layers put people off, but he really doesn’t seem to mind. He lives as a minimalist in the woods away from society. But when the outside world comes crashing into his peace and serenity, he grudgingly decides he has to rejoin the human race (which he mostly despises) for a few days.

Waldo is asked to help clear an obnoxious, over-inflated actor of murdering his wife. He really isn’t a PI, but somehow the lawyer for the actor thought Waldo could and would take the case. When Waldo left the LAPD he was on the top of his game, but that game included a scandal within the ranks that Waldo could not live with, so he took them down just like any other criminal. To say he burned his bridges would be an understatement.

Finding himself back in LA on the set of a movie was not how he envisioned his life. But here he was, somehow too intrigued to go back to the life he chose until he finds the person who he thinks really killed the victim. This choice does not come easily. He is mentally and physically challenged by the reception he more or less expected from his former brothers in blue. As a matter of fact, they hate him, refuse to cooperate when he asks for information and harass him at every encounter.

Stoically, he just can’t shake the feeling that there is a bigger picture than the police and prosecutor are painting, and like a dog with a bone, he just can’t let go until he uncovers the truth – if he lives that long.

Waldo’s world is intriguing. As a minimalist, he only allows himself 100 Things. If he adds a Thing, such as a comb, a pair of socks or a gun, he has to give away one Thing to never have more than 100. This in and of itself makes him interesting, but he is so much more. One of his Things is a MacBook. He is not out of touch with the world or technology. He is quite current on events in the world and is very well read.

He has acquaintances, but not really friends anymore. Donations to charity are part of his monthly routine and he plays chess online daily. The only two people that don’t hate him are the sharp-witted six-year-old daughter of the accused murderer and her kindergarten teacher.

Last Looks is an interestingly multi-layered novel of murder and mystery wrapped in the Waldo’s cloak of minimalism and self-imposed exile from society. Love, lust and revenge are woven into the plot. There is a love scene that is quite possibly the best one I have ever read. It is sensual without being graphic, but not Victorian by any stretch of the imagination.

I loved this book. It has every element to keep a reader grabbing it to read a few pages, then chapters. Soon you realize you have spent hours with the characters and story that it is still impossible to put down.

This stunningly clever, often funny book is the first novel published by Gould. It is an interesting, amazing read – run, don’t walk to your computer to order it today!

Copyright © 2018 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Jar of Hearts – Nail Biting Page Turning Thriller – Read the First 3 Chapters Now

Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

What would you do for love? Teenagers often think they have the world by the tail and are invincible. Unfortunately, due to lack of world experience they may choose the wrong crowd to hang out with, the wrong boyfriend or get themselves into a situation that will most likely have dire repercussions on the rest of their lives. But most of them don’t end up dead or in prison like Geo.

Jar of Hearts begins with the trial of a woman who seemed to have it all. A fabulous job and a huge diamond on her finger from a wealthy man. Unfortunately she also has a past with a connection to a serial killer that will take everything away she has worked so hard to get. Georgina Shaw sits listening to the horrific events of her best friend’s death fourteen years ago with her head down. Her ex-boyfriend, now commonly known as the Sweetbay Strangler, is on trial for the murder of her best friend Angela Wong and Georgina (Geo) is just as guilty. She’ll take a plea, go to prison and send Calvin James, the Sweetbay Strangler, to jail with her testimony.

But what really happened that night? Was Geo so involved with James she would have been a party to murdering the girl that had been her best friend? Why did she cover it up all of these years? What kind of monster kills her best friend and goes about her business day after day knowing where the body is buried while the entire community searches for years? When did she cross the line – or did she?

When she is released from prison, Geo harbors many secrets. Someone may kill her to keep those secrets buried in the past. Her other bestie from high school has become a cop. He seems to be around more than necessary, seemingly ready to pounce at the slightest infraction. To add to Geo’s stress and isolation, the Sweetbay Strangler has escaped from prison – will Geo be his next target?

Hillier’s latest psychological thriller is a tightly woven story of love and betrayal, the hunted and hunters. By covering up a horrific murder, the characters would seem to be contemptable, but all of them are not. They are masterfully created as someone you would have coffee with, sit in meetings at work with and invite over for dinner. That is what makes Jar of Hearts such a superb story. Evil lurks closer than you can imagine in everyday life. We can only hope it only touches us via engrossing psychological thrillers like this.

The publishers have graciously sent this link for you to read the first three chapters of Jar of Hearts now. I suspect you will be hooked by the first chapter and immediately need to finish – I was. Follow the link below:

https://read.macmillan.com/lp/jar-of-hearts/

 

Copyright © 2018 Laura Hartman

 

 

 

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Book Review: Buried in Books – 12th Bibliophile Mystery Must Read for Cozy Lovers

Buried in Books

By Kate Carlisle

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Penguin First to Read in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Rare book restoration expert Brooklyn Wainwright has it all together. She is a renowned bookbinder/restorer and has a wonderful fiancé, security expert Derek Stone, whom she is set to marry in a few days. She is so confident that all of the wedding plans are on track, she agrees to not only attend the annual book conference, but will be teaching a group how to create a book as well as give a tour of literary highlights for charity.

Things start to go a bit strange when she realizes some of the booklovers that have signed up for her class and tour are dying to hear about the dead bodies she has stumbled upon in the past. They seem to be encouraged by comments made by her well-meaning mother and future mother-in-law. Brooklyn loves these two ladies, and tries to discourage the conversation, but her attempts to bring things back to books seem futile with this group.

The two moms have another surprise up their sleeves. Brooklyn is shanghaied into attending a surprise wedding shower. But the bigger surprise is seeing her two former best friends Sara and Heather. The trio split company after Sara stole Heather’s boyfriend. The feud has not ended, but both are somehow there in the same room. And both brought beautiful copies of rare books for gifts. But one of the books could be a fake and one of the women will not survive the night.

Brooklyn didn’t plan to solve a murder hours before her wedding, but she cannot ignore the fact that one of her besties from college is dead and the clue to finding out who did it may be in her possession.

This cozy mystery brings the best of the genre to light. Engaging characters, a quirky murder and a solid plot that teaches the reader a thing or two about book restoration are all wrapped up in a page-turning story. It was fun and had a nice twist at the end. Every element of this book works so well together it is not surprising that readers love this series.

Buried in Books is the twelfth Bibliophile Mystery written by award winning author Kate Carlisle. She is a NY Times best-selling author for good reason. In addition to this book series, she is the author of the Fixer Upper Mystery Series also. The latter series has moved to television and is now part of the Hallmark Mysteries Movies.

This is the first book I have read by Carlisle, but it works well as a stand-alone. I was not confused or lost at any point. I will go back and check out more of her books because her writing style is easy and informative, not to mention fun to read.

Copyright © 2018 Laura Hartman

 

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Book Review: Safe Houses – Page-turning Thriller!


Safe Houses

By Dan Fesperman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Penguin First to Read in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Berlin 1979:  a city full of spies and counterspies. Espionage was dangerous and involved many ordinary people. Helen was one of them. Even though her job was not one of the highest risk, she knew secrets that could come back to haunt her at any time. Today she would be called a feminist, but in 1979 she was removed from her assignment and dismissed from the agency. She thought being sent back to the states was the worst thing that could happen to her, but she was wrong.

August 2014: fast forward to a tiny town in rural Maryland. Willard Shoat shoots and kills his parents as they slept causing uproar in the close knit community. Willard is slow by any man’s definition, but he has never been violent or mean. Sadly, he doesn’t even realize his mother and father are dead or why he is sitting in a jail cell. Anna, his sister, arrives in town to bury her parents and tend to her brother, but is perplexed as to how someone that just wants her to bring his Star War toy to prison could kill their parents in cold blood. She fears he will be lost in the prison system and calls upon a stranger in town to help her find answers.

Anna enlists the new guy in town, Henry Mattick, to help her find out the truth. It is rumored he is a PI, which may or may not be exactly true. That being said, he is already on an undercover job and doesn’t really want to become involved with a local fiasco. But something about Anna makes him more than curious about her family. They become an unlikely duo fighting for a small guy in a huge mess. Secrets from the past are revealed, shedding light upon some very dangerous characters that operate outside of the law with the protection of the government. Mr. and Mrs. Shoat may not be the only casualties by the time this fast-paced novel ends.

Safe Houses is a heart pounding, breath holding thriller wrapped in intrigue and intelligence. Fesperman’s masterfully blends two stories together to make a powerful book that kept me turning pages late into the night. This is the first book by Dan Fesperman I have read, I don’t know how he was not on my radar because Safe House is his eleventh novel. I am putting the other ten on my Christmas list.

Copyright © 2018 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Lady Be Good – Fantastic Fiction

Lady Be Good

By Amber Brock

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Penguin First to Read in exchange for a fair and honest review.

The year is 1953, the place is New York. Kitty Tessler is rich, carefree and conniving. Kitty has everything except what she really wants – to be accepted into the fold of the social elite of the day. By her calculations, she is snubbed because her family is part of the new money generation. She longs to marry into an old money family so she can claim her spot in the social circles that talk about her behind her back.

But time is running out for her plan. Her father owns posh hotels and has given her an ultimatum. If she doesn’t stop partying and settle down, he will cut off her funds and insist she start working for the hotel. As if that isn’t bad enough, she will start at the bottom. Becoming a maid will boot her out of the edge of society she is clinging to, so something has to be done, and soon. To make matters even worse, her father has come up with a prospective groom that will thwart her plan to marry into a well-heeled family.

This is when Kitty begins to hatch an elaborate plan. She has to work quickly and carefully manipulating, planning and lying to those closest to her. What she doesn’t bargain on is falling for the wrong guy and losing someone she dearly loves.

Lady Be Good is light enough to be a beach read, but has an underlying current of a much deeper novel. The plot is interesting, and the real beauty of the story lies in the characters. The main characters are flawed, much like any and every one you may know. No one is perfect, especially Kitty. She is not always likeable, often abrasive and occasionally schemes and plots at other’s expense. The beauty of her and the other characters is the growth they experience as the novel progresses. One of my favorite quotes is, “Sometimes a part of you must die to begin living again.”  This resonates with me as an integral part of emotional growth on many levels.

This is the first novel I have read by Amber Brock. Her critically acclaimed debut book, A Fine Imitation is also available.  Both books are historical novels. Brock brilliantly takes readers back in time with relevant historical facts woven into her fictional character’s lives. I recommend stepping back in time with Kitty and enjoy the ride in vintage style.

  Copyright © 2018 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Undead Girl Gang – Much More than Undead Teen Angst

Undead Girl Gang

By Lily Anderson

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Penguin First to Read in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Sixteen year old Camila Flores (Mila) and her best friend Riley are excluded by most of the social groups at school. They are the kids that no one really gets to know, or hang out with, so the girls make a conscious choice to be different. Really different. The snarl instead of smile, mumble instead of talk and the decision to become Wiccan sets them apart from the other kids even more. Wicca is a religion that scares the bejesus out of the people surrounding the girls. They all assume that the girls believe they are witches and run around casting spells on everyone. No matter if the spells work, or if Mila and Riley are even really casting spells, the other kids keep their distance.

When Riley is found dead, Mila is beside herself. How can she cope with any friends? High school is bad enough with an ally, but being on her own makes school and life almost unbearable. And to make matters worse, she thinks that Riley’s death is murder not an accident or suicide.  When two more classmates take their own lives without any logical explanation, Mila is more than determined to find out what happened. Deciding to bring her BFF back from the dead was the only viable solution to finding out who killed her and the other two girls.

Unfortunately for Mila, the spell actually works, and Riley isn’t the only undead girl Mila has to deal with. The other two dead teens are also undead and complaining about it. Drama queens in life make for snarky undead girls. The three of them can’t remember much to tell Mila, but as the days go on, they start to remember what happened before their deaths. This could put the very much alive Mila in danger of joining her dead classmates. The spell only lasts for seven days, so they only have one week to find enough evidence to stop the killer before it is too late.

Undead Girl Gang is smart, funny, sad, emotional and engrossing. I literally read it in just under 48 hours (one has to stop for food and sleep at some point). Anderson has captured the grittiness of high school; magnified by learning the popular girls are no less tortured than the outcasts. The emotion and depth she adds to the characters brings it to a much higher level than merely teenage angst. The life or death outcome and growth of characters both dead and living will stay with the reader long after the last words are read.

This is the first of Anderson’s Teen/Young Adult books I have read. It is a stand-alone novel, following two others she has written:  Not Now, Not Ever and The Only Thing Worse than Me is You. Fans of YA will delight in finding this new author and fans of Lily Anderson are no doubt excited to see another fabulous read from a gifted YA author.

Copyright © 2018 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Social Creature – Compelling Debut Thriller

Social Creature

By Tara Isabella Burton

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Penguin First to Read and Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Lavinia is rich, wild and daring. Louise is living life on the edge in other ways. She works three jobs just to make the rent on her dinky apartment. When this unlikely duo collide with each other, Louise begins to lose all sense of self as Lavinia becomes a drug and alcohol Auntie Mame, encouraging Louise to live more and more on the edge until she becomes a permanent accessory of her mentor.

Soon Louise is going to all the “in” places and seeing all the chic people. Selfies are a must as well as extravagant food, drink and over the top and sometimes illegal activities. The more involved she becomes, the less she is herself. Both figuratively and literally.

When the sand castle friendship seems to be dissolving, how far will Louise go to keep up the charade of existence Lavinia has created for her? Do we really know who Louise is?

Burton has written a fabulous book of deception and debauchery. Are these two girls Thelma and Louise, just on a joyride through life until the end goes tragically wrong? Are they both cold and calculating – or is one of them manipulating the other to keep from living a lonely existence? The twists, turns and emotions of this novel make it a true page turner.

Like Louise it is fun to step into a world that most of us just read about on the internet or in tabloids. Most of us would not like to participate, but what if we had someone encouraging and paying for all of the craziness? Maybe we would give it a try. What if we got in too deep? My suggestion is to live this craziness through the pages of Burton’s engrossing novel.

Tara Isabella Burton brings her debut novel to life skillfully. With understated realities, the plot can take the reader places he will hopefully never go in real life. Her writing style creates a reality that is so alluring, we are drawn into the characters and story from the first page and held there until the last word is read.

I hope to hear much more from this author. Social Creature is a gem.

Copyright © 2018 Laura Hartman

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